Monday, April 12, 2010

When I Speak of Religion 2

I have not forgotten the conversation that started with last month's "If Your Religion..." post, I've just let it percolate a bit more before responding...yeah, that's it. (That's my story and I'm sticking to it.)

After the last installment, my friend responded,

The way you speak about religion/spirituality often seems to boil down to those last four words: "always meet your needs." This is the part that I can't quite get past. My whole faith revolves around God, not around me (or at least this is what I strive for). Of course I believe that God loves me more than any human ever could, and that God wants absolutely the best for me, and that God will take care of me and my needs. So my needs do end up being met by my religion/spirituality. But that's just not my starting point, nor is it my bottom line, nor is it the centre of what I believe. My faith is a response to something outside of myself, and to me it seems sad and small to imagine a spirituality that revolves around an individual human.


To the extent that I agree with your "if your religion" posts, it is always because I agree that what you're saying is also what God wants for us. I do disagree with the starting point/bottom line/core belief I am perceiving in your posts that a person's religion must serve their needs. I am theocentric in my beliefs, not anthropocentric. Our ends are often the same, but our means seem to be different, and I believe that the means do matter.

I can absolutely see the issue with the way I've been explaining things. She a good, kind, generous person, who I am lucky to count as a friend, and as such, is actually about the last person I would be talking to in these matters. She absolutely exemplify what I'm talking about when I say that a person's belief system should help them to be "happy and good". If we had about a billion more like her, the world would instantly and irrevocably be a better place.

Everything works out great if one believes that God's plan for them holds nothing more than kindness, generosity, love and joy. But what about those people who believe that God's plan for them is blowing up a train full of people? Or that they are compelled to stick their infant son full of needles? Or to shun someone because of the color of their skin, or because of who they love? What about the plans of a god who is jealous, vengeful, hateful, murderous and cruel?

When one lets an outside force tell them how to behave or think or live, they are at the mercy of that outside force. They could get lucky and have a completely benevolent model, or not. If instead we were to insist on being conscious of our behavior, active instead of passive. Insist on behavior that does the least harm possible and then model our spirituality to alleviate our fears and sorrows from there, the responsibility would then be in our hands and not at the whim of something/one else.

The concept of truth comes up a lot when talking about religion. Seems that one cannot talk about belief in a religion without linking it back to the truth. But if everyone's got it, how can we ever be certain who has the really real truth?

Set aside the desire for the truth for a moment, and consider the possibility of religion for spirit's sake, for wisdom's sake. Let them worship cross-eyed frogs (thanks Mima), and believe in the endless lily pad for an afterlife. Consider religion for no other purpose than to help someone live as good and happy a life as they can be. Understand that generosity, ethical behavior, participation, consideration, and awareness among other virtues, are all absolutely essential. Now, why does it matter that they don't believe the same as someone else, and are unconcerned with the truth?

When a system is set up to include concepts like true/false and right/wrong conflict is automatically included when dealing with those outside of the system. This to me is a fundamental flaw within most religions, and further proof that religion is politics and not spirituality. The means have become more important than the end, and very often the end that was supposed to be there just vanishes altogether.

With the equation, "Mine is right, yours is wrong," aggression is very often the response, because of the fear of being revealed a fraud or a fool. Any sort of resolution ends with someone losing and someone winning. This is counter productive. If instead it was, "Mine is mine, yours is yours," where's the aggression? There's no fear, but instead a connection to the end, rather than the means.

I hope this clarifies things. :)

Till next time, be well,


  1. "Mine is right, yours is wrong." Aren't you yourself saying this exact same thing when you insist on a few essential virtues and condemn the guy who put needles into that boy? How can you claim to believe "Mine is mine, yours is yours" while condemning some people's beliefs outright?

    At least in my faith system it's a little more straight forward because I don't need to justify everyone else's beliefs alongside my own. If people believe that blowing up a bus full of innocent people is right, well then I'd better be doing something to tell them otherwise! These people need to know some proper truth, such as your virtues of ethical behaviour and consideration, or my belief that Jesus commands us to love our enemies and tells us "Thou shalt not kill."

  2. By the way, I am amused that you've got me arguing for "truth" here. Often when fundamentalist-type Christians start talking about capital-T Truth, I'm the first to roll my eyes. That poor, beautiful word has been misappropriated and abused to the point where it has either lost all meaning or has been imbued with all sorts of extra meaning that raises hackles and prejudice.

  3. It shouldn't take a god to tell us that blowing up a train is *bad*. It shouldn't take a god or a prophet or a pope to tell us that life is at the very least precious, if not sacred. I shouldn't even have to argue that purposefully harming another for anything other than medicine (the needle always hurts, no matter what they say, heh) is just wrong. And no, saving my soul doesn't count as medicine.

    Because at that point, it's not even about religion anymore, but about ethical behavior. Our civilization and societies have rules that we have agreed to live by, and religion shouldn't have the authority to countermand those rules.

    Aristotle said that the gods had no place in an ethical system of behavior. You give them their proper due, but let the virtues, both practical and intellectual, and an internalized understanding of right and wrong define your behavior.

    Why? Because eventually you get to a place where one god says turn the other cheek, and the other says kill the infidels, and someone loses their life.

    When I say I don't care what someone else believes, it has always come with the caveat that the other person be happy and good.
    I will absolutely condemn anyone who believes harming someone else is part of their deity's plan for them. If that makes me seem a hypocrite, so be it.

  4. Okay, I did as I promised and have let my thoughts percolate further. Unfortunately my brain has been one big fuzzball this week, and I cannot seem to come up with a concise response. Forgive me, but the only way I could wrap my mind around everything was to go through it paragraph by paragraph. So here comes my epic response, complete with introductory remarks! Enjoy! (Okay, you can roll your eyes a bit too at its lengthiness.)

    Introductory Remarks: I know there are a large variety of Christians out there, and I understand that in the USA things are a bit different than here in Canada (with politics and religion), and of course the most in-your-face Christians are the ones that everyone thinks of first no matter where you live. But for the time being, let me just speak for myself and those in my immediate community of Christians, namely those I worship and study and live out my faith with. If you'd like me to comment on the actions and beliefs of various other Christians out there, that's fine and I can go there if you need me to, but that's an enormously broad topic that I feel is best dealt with separately from the beliefs of my own community. From now on, let it be assumed I always speak for myself and my own, unless someone specifies otherwise.

    P1: Thank you! I also appreciate that you are doing your darndest to be good and to do good.

    P2: Like I mentioned before, for me this is simple: Those people are wrong. I think you and I agree on this.

    P3: I find your language about getting a benevolent model of god by luck of the draw kind of confusing. Shouldn't each person consciously choose their beliefs? I'm no advocate of hoodwinking people or sheltering to protect them from other religious options. Your faith is usually a choice. If you choose to follow a religion that promotes hatred, you shouldn't be surprised if your actions end up hateful.

    P4: Obviously most faiths are not provable in an objective and finite way. But people can believe something is the truth even if they can't prove it with objective certainty. For example, I believe in the one true God who became human and walked among us, who died, and who rose from the dead. I recognize that I cannot prove this to you. But I still believe it's true. I also recognize that you believe something different that you cannot prove to me.

  5. P5: From my point of view, it matters because they don't know the love and grace of Jesus Christ. They're missing something important, because Jesus' life, death and resurrection are basically the most awesome things that have ever happened. I'm glad these ethical people are off to a good start, but I think they're missing the most important piece of their puzzle. Let me make an analogy here to explain why Christians desire to spread the word about Jesus. It's like any great idea that a person believes is genuinely beneficial and life-giving to others, such as vaccines, democracy, recycling or sexual health education. You just don't keep ideas like that to yourself, you spread the word! In the end it's still totally someone's choice if they will recycle or vote or use condoms, and that's fine, even if sometimes their choices make you sad. But most people get passionate about sharing ideas they really believe in, and that they believe are good news for everyone.

    Perhaps this is the place where I point out that I don't want to *make* anyone believe anything, such as some of your facebook commenters have suggested. Forced beliefs are immature and shallow at best, and downright abusive at their worst. I have found deep joy and freedom in Jesus Christ, and I believe that joy and freedom is available to all. Natalie, who commented via Facebook, is totally right: asking me to keep this to myself is like asking me not to breathe. I truly hope others will become interested and also want to know this love & joy for themselves. It's an invitation, and everyone's response to that invitation is their own.

    P6: I believe that Jesus told us to love our neighbours and our enemies. Aggression or violence (physical or spiritual) is never the answer. If people all get to know Jesus, then we all win and nobody loses. If people choose not to love Jesus, then they lose out, but I'm not sure anyone really wins. I don't see where fear plays into this. I'm not afraid of being revealed a fraud or a fool, are you? (That's a rhetorical question there, not an aggressive challenge.) For me, that's because I'm confident in the truth of Jesus Christ's reality and love for us. If others don't know Jesus, I might feel sadness for them, but not fear of them.

  6. And to wrap it all up, my comments on your comment =)

    P1: I don't know about your beliefs, but my beliefs are about more than basic ethics. Of course many people have a basic common idea about basic ethics. But there's more to life than just that. And yikes, I have a needle phobia =). And my goodness, who said saving your soul was supposed to be painful?

    P2: ....I'm going to skip this paragraph for now, because my response will contain an enormous theological tangent that isn't really needed in this already way-too-long comment.

    P3: No comment necessary, you're just stating something about Aristotle here.

    P4: I choose the god who says to turn the other cheek, even if that gets me killed.

    P5: The word "hypocrite" sounds so negative. But yes, I do think you contradict yourself here. I'm glad you're aware of it. I'm okay with cognitive dissonance, I don't have the entire universe all sorted out myself yet =), and I'm glad when I'm aware of my own contradictions as well. Some things take a long time to figure out, and perhaps will only be figured out in eternity. So be it.