The dichotomy?

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Is this the dichotomy we are living with? I would really like to hear the opinions of Christians on this. It seems correct to me, but I fear I may be biased in this matter and would like to hear from those who believe religion and science can be harmoniously wed. I suspect some would like to try, with various metaphoric or symbolic interpretations of problematic passages, but there seems no easy way to know when to apply this hermeneutical principal in a systematic, non-arbitrary way. And if the adjustments are always made in the direction of science, one wonders what role of religion plays in such a scenario. Religion would increasingly appear to be superfluous beside science.

Truth and Tribulation

I’ve been feeling a little discombobulated of late. It is amazing how isolating it has been to be alone in one’s religious beliefs, surrounded by people whose religion informs them that I am anathema and destined for hell. I long to have a like minded person in my life to talk to and openly express myself. But more than that, I wish I could be open and honest with the people who are most important in my life, my family. I envy the freedom with which my Christian acquaintances express their beliefs, as though it would be unheard of to challenge them, whereas my thoughts are unwelcome and unwanted. I am sick of it all, the charade, the game, the half-lies and partial truths I am forced to use less I upset the religiously informed sentiments of those around me.

I want the truth, I want it just as badly as these Christians want the truth. No, in fact, I am certain I want the truth more than them, for they do not want to know the truth about me, as the lies are more palatable to their ears and present a more pleasant alternative, whereas I am comfortable accepting them whatever their particular beliefs be, so long as it constitutes no threat to myself or others. They proclaim their longing for truth, and indeed their savior is declared to be truth, and yet when presented with the opportunity to acknowledge the truth, they turn aside and embrace gentler falsehoods to ease their minds of the discomfort which truth too often bears.

Cease this senseless bigotry, and let me be who I will be, a truth seeker before gods and men.

An anatomy of bigotry

A college professor stood up on his chair and said, “If God really exists then let him knock me off this chair?!” Nothing happened as the class sat quietly, and he said, “See!”
An Army veteran stood up and punched him in the face, knocking him out and off the chair, then sat back down. As the professor came to, he looked at his student and said, “Why did you do that?!” The veteran said, “God was busy protecting my buddies still fighting for your right to say and do stupid stuff like this, so he sent me!”

I came across this on Facebook recently, and it immediately struck me as a remarkable piece of propaganda.

  1. The utilization of cultural archetypes to bias in favor of Christianity
  2. The explicit suggestion that God is actively favoring American military activity
  3. The implicit suggestion that physical violence is an acceptable response to religious challenges

American culture has always had a conflicted relationship with intellectuals, and despite the desire for children to have the advantages of higher education, there are still strong undercurrents of anti-intellectualism within the culture. . In contrast to this, there has been a long history of support for those who serve in the armed forces, understanding these people, whether rightly or wrongly, to be more patriotic and authentically American. The use of these two archetypes can hardly be accidental considering the powerful contrast they provide, the anti-American intellectual verses the hyper-American veteran. The overtones are clear in the association of Christianity with one, and atheism with the other.

The history of American exceptionalism, and the religious rhetoric used to bolster it, is as long as the history of the American colonies when before even landing the puritans referred to their new colony as a “city on a hill”. It has justified nearly every American ambition from the continental expansion of Manifest Destiny to today’s neoconservatives embrace of the American hegemony and disregard for international legal and moral constraints upon American conduct in foreign policy. It is in essence a belief that there is some sense of a divine sanction upon America that excludes it from the limitations and constraints of other countries. This is actually a convergence of two themes, one religious, the other secular, but both in agreement with the exceptional place of America in the world.

It is these powerful cultural memes that are synthesized into this short morality tale to justify what would otherwise be understood as an infringement upon free speech and an assault. The veteran has the combined attraction of perceived patriotism and alignment with the divine national mandate allowing for him to overcome the obviously negative qualities of his actions. When the equation is further modified with the professors position in an anti-intellectual culture (never mind the common accusation of socialism/communism within intellectual circles), the emotional weight is more than enough to justify the violence performed against him. He is in fact asking for it after the multiple layers of anti-Americanism applied to him.

What, then, is so wrong with this? The average person might have a chuckle over it, but they aren’t going to take it as license to assault outspoken atheists. But most acts of violence are not committed by the average person. They are performed by those living on the fringes of society, radicals that lack many of the constraints that would otherwise inhibit people from acting out the behavior illustrated in the story. Racist, homophobic, misogynist, and religious bigotry are propagated by the masses, but acted upon by the radical fringe. The problem then isn’t that the objects of such bigotry live in direct threat of the general population, but that they provide an umbrella of cultural justification for the actions of the few. Simultaneously, it contributes to a cultural milieu that is implicitly (if not explicitly) hostile to the denigrated persons, creating a host of opportunities for the prejudice to be informally (and sometimes formally) institutionalized to the detriment of those subjected to it.

There is no room for this type of behavior in a pluralistic society under a secular government that claims to value the contributions of all its citizens and respects their rights without prejudice for ethnicity or creed. But even putting that aside, the above statement ought to have been found offensive even to Christian sensibilities, which would have never condoned physical violence against another human being simply because they challenged the legitimacy of Christianity. There is no precedence in the New Testament for such sentiment, and there is a multitude of passages that advocate the opposite. There should not even need to be a mention of passages advocating turning the other cheek, blessing your enemies, or the example of Paul in Athens for how to properly handle intellectual criticism. The story is a failure on both moral and religious grounds and lies in contradiction to the better aspects of both the country and religion it claims to represent.

Another website makes an excellent point: “The anatomy of bigotry is that someone is not seen as a person, but as a symbol”. It is the essence of bigotry that it dehumanizes its target, strips them of their humanity and personhood and reduces them to a symbol, a stereotype. You are no longer the person you are, with the varied experiences that mark out your hopes and fears. Now you are a nigger, or a jew, an arrogant God-hater (isn’t it funny that even the word atheist is considered derogatory), a fag, or a commie. The list goes on for as many prejudices as the human mind can hold. It is always “one of them” or “not one of us”, us being one of the real people with real lives and real hopes and concerns. Just like in the above story, there are no humans involved, only a hero, a villain, and a narrative that plays out to the proper conclusion for both. It is unfortunate that the harm caused by such stories is not similarly constrained to stereotypes and caricatures.

Sunday

I don’t know what I’m doing here Sunday after Sunday.  It drags on and on with no apparent end or purpose other than to pacify the fears of Hyang.  Every week, I come into this building wishing I wasn’t here, hating the circumstances that trap me in this pattern of outward religiosity.

But the costs of breaking out of this trap is the loss of valued parts of myself.  My wife and marriage, perhaps even my children, could be lost.  And yet not acting continues to eat away at me and I feel that something is slowly being lost, my integrity.  I still don’t know how to find my way through this minefield so that I can preserve both. 

I’m going to find a way though, I can’t surrender either of these.  There is to much of who I am and who I want to be at stake here to not try.

Religion

Why is religion so important to us?  Why does itself so tightly to our essence, to the point where its excision leaves us bloodied and raw.  Because it tells us things we would not otherwise know.  It reveals the secrets of the deep, and sheds a light on the darkness that its truths may be known.  But religion is not a window out into the world.  No, that is the error of the religious, though not of religion.  No, religion does not tell us about the world around us, but about ourselves in the world.  It is not a window, but a mirror, a mirror into the soul.  It reflects back to us the many faces we each carry inside us, both known and unknown.  The darkness of our hearts is borne upon its reflection and is thereby made known to us, if only we can understand what it is we see.

Thus is the vital nature of religion, in the revelation of the self unto the self, a way to turn the eye inward and examine the person within.  The failure of the religious is not then that they do not see, but that they fail to comprehend what they see.   The turbulent darkness which fills there vision is thus transformed, no longer the chaotic eddies which stir within each of us, but a cadre of supernatural beings that fill the world with demons and gods, angels and jinn.  How much easier is it to direct our anger, our adoration, and our fears outward, where they can no longer harm us, no longer threaten us with knowledge we would rather not have, an understanding of ourselves.

It is not enough to reject this, to dispense with religion and the fantasies of the religious.  This only disposes of the lie, without ever seeking to address the truth.  And the truth is that religion has not failed us, but rather it is we who have failed religion, we who have shrunken away from its unwanted truths and harsh light exposing a darkness we would rather not confront.  It is not religion that must be rejected, but our own cowardice when it speaks to us and tells us of our hearts.  It is not enough to dispel the lie, we must embrace the truth, and the truth is that the darkness and the light which we religion shows us is within each of us.  We are each one saint and sinner, murderer and martyr, god and devil. 

It is up to us what we do with this material, to shake off the stupor of fate and seize the reins of our life and so put a hand at the till.  It also means recognizing our powerlessness before the tidal wave of human nature, the brute facts of our biology.  These two contradictions, of our total responsibility and complete powerlessness, are layed before us in the stark realities of religion.  It is only left to us to accept the reality for what it is, to embrace the truth and allow its jagged edges to stab deep within our flesh so that we can never again turn away from it.  Let the truth pierce me and so live in me, even as the lies I bound around myself die upon its bloody edge.  As it is said, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”

A new category: Religion

I have been considering this for some time now, especially since I am growing further apart from my religious past, that I wanted to sort out my explicitly religious posts from my other philosophical entries.

Well, I have done it, so if anyone is interested, here are my religious entries and here are my more philosophical entries. As you can tell, I have not stopped posting about religious topics, but it has been more of an outsider perspective now, as well as how to deal with religious social issues from an atheists perspective. I have no idea if anyone will even be interested in this category, but at least if you weren’t interested in it, it has been safely secluded from my other philosophical posts, in case you were interested in those (ha ha).

Disbelief and Decisions

Taken from a forum I now frequent. Content is mine except the comment I respond to:

Do you really believe that everyone lost their faith due to a personal decision? I never saw you answer Positivists rejection of this assertion by you. I will take it up with you if you stopped because of her limited time.

As far as my personal opinion, yes. But I admit that I could be wrong about that. Only the people who have been through this situation can answer this question honestly for themselves.

I “feel” ( this one’s for you Realist) that religion and faith are separate. This is the difference. if someone decides for them self that GOD does not exist and choose to live without faith in Him. That is a decision. Of course, this may be based upon their own observations and their conclusion of “lack of evidence.” But faith is not religion and religion is not faith.

I am fairly certain you are wrong about that, at least for a subset of ex-Christians. I never made the decision that God does not exist, anymore than I made the decision that the sky is blue. I wanted to believe in God. I was desperate to believe in God. I spent probably five of the last six years of my life first trying to keep my faith in God and then to subsequently regain it. I have spared very little in the way of time and mental effort towards this goal, including subjecting myself to constant emotionally painful stimuli. I have wept for God, begged for God, bargained for God, pleaded for God, strugggled for God, and shouted for God. I have been angry, grief stricken, and longing for God. At no point in all of this has the response deviated from a profound, and what I have now come to conclude to be a very telling silence.

Do you believe in Thor? Or Zeus? What about Shiva or the God that spoke to Mohammad? My result was the same as if I had been talking to one of these non-existent gods. Now, I blamed myself for a very long time, but you start to wonder, why am I getting these results? Why isn’t God demonstrating his goodness and helping me in my desperation to know him and be with him? And the doubts begin to peek in. You try to squash them as soon as they appear, but they are persistent, and as long as the cracks in the walls of your belief are their, they can get in and begin to multiply, whether you wish to entertain them or not. Soon enough, you can’t stamp them all out, they’re more numerous and stronger. It is all you can do to beat them back and keep them at bay. But the perimeter of your faith keeps shrinking and the doubts continue to encroach more and more. You start to grow weary of the constant battle, wondering how much longer you can keep it up without reinforcement, without help from this Good God from whom your only demand is that he let his presence be known. And even this, your demand isn’t selfish, it isn’t to enrich yourself, but merely to help you be faithful, to continue believing in this God, it is out of your love for this God. But it doesn’t come, and day by day you beat a slow and weary retreat until there is no more space behind you. The end isn’t grand. It isn’t noble. It is a sad, quiet death, fitting for the futile struggle you have been waging this whole time, waging and waging in the hopes that if you can just hold out long enough, God will come in and rescue you, restore you, and all will be set right. But he never comes, and perhaps the last thought you have in your Christian life is the realization that he will never come, and your heart breaks as your faith slips out of your tired grasp and the life you had dies with it.

Do you know how destructive it is, having who you are, your very identity, ripped away from you, torn out of your unwilling hands and crushed before your eyes? Perhaps you do, and if you do, then there should be no reason for you to entertain the notion that people would willingly do this to themselves. The path leading out from Christianity is not always like this, but it is true for many. I wasn’t angry at God. I wasn’t angry at Christians, or Christianity, or my church. I was happy with all of them. I wanted to keep my life of faith in Jesus Christ. I wasn’t bitter or rebellious. I didn’t have any secret sins I wanted to maintain but which Christianity wouldn’t allow. My whole family, friends, and associates were Christian. My whole life to that point had been Christian. What choice was I given? Where was God to keep things in balance so I could even make a choice? I was an unwilling participant in my own deconversion, and if there is anyone who did have a choice, it was God. So I guess you are right, I did have a choice. I could believe that God is an evil fuck who doesn’t give a shit about his pawns on Earth and only uses them for his own amusement (I’d have precedence considering the book of Job), or I could stop believing in God. I chose to stop believing. Do you think I made the right decision?