Saturday, May 13, 2006

My Thoughts about God

I think about religion and spirituality a lot. And by a lot, I mean several times a day. It seems to be always on my mind these days. I guess I’m just trying, in my own way, to figure things out.

I mean, I know for certain what I believe about organized religion. It sucks! It has been the single greatest obstacle to human advancement. It has caused more wars, the greatest number of genocides, and has been a bigger contributor to bigotry than any other factor in human history.

So what if people take comfort in their religions. Without religion, they would find something else to take comfort it. So what if it has produced some of the best and most artistic architecture in the world. Great architecture is nice, but we don’t really need it. Besides, there might have been other reasons to create nice buildings even if religion were never a factor.

And what about morality? I contend that religion grew out of morality, not vice versa. If you read the bible, specifically the New Testament, you are told of all the noble, moral acts of Jesus Christ. But you recognize right away that Jesus is exhibiting moral behavior. It is already in you to understand how to treat people. Most atheists are just as moral as most Christians, except without the hypocrisy.

And, speaking of atheists, I sometimes think about how to pigeonhole myself. It’s difficult to do. I certainly am not an atheist; they are far too certain of themselves, much like Christians.

I don’t really call myself an agnostic either. The word means “without knowledge.” I certainly don’t have a lot of knowledge about spiritual matters, but the term is too loose. It doesn’t add enough information about what I believe or why I believe it.

I might better fit with people who call themselves rationalists or secular humanists. But even so, I am reluctant to pigeonhole my spirituality or my philosophy of life. If pressed, I usually just call myself a freethinker.

So, in my free time, as I grow pensive about religion and why many people seem to need it, I am often struck by the irony of how those who are intelligent enough to wield great power, either in government or business, so often don’t think twice about believing in supernatural explanations of natural phenomena.

I hesitate to call Pres. Bush a smart man, but let’s face it; he was smart enough to become the most powerful political leader in the world. Yet he is an evangelical Christian who apparently believes in the biblical account of Creation. Hasn’t he ever just sat back and thought to himself, “Hey, this stuff about Adam and Eve, the serpent, Noah’s Ark, and a man getting eaten by a whale and surviving just doesn’t make a lot of sense.”

And anyone who knows much about history knows that the bible was canonized by committee. When has a committee of lawyers ever done anything that we could put our trust and faith in? But that’s who compiled the bible as we know it, a bunch of Catholic bishop lawyers who were working under a strict deadline set by Emperor Constantine. I’m sure they gave it a lot of thought, but still one has to wonder how much important stuff they left out and how much junk they included.

A product of my ponderings has been the categorization of faith. It takes a lot of faith to believe the bible, especially the good parts. There is virtually no independent corroboration.

So I think that faith can be divided into three types. First, there is innocent faith. It is the faith of a child, and also the faith that people retain as adults when they haven’t learned that faith is an illusion. Generally, people with less formal education who have not traveled far from where they were born and who are quite happy with a simple life have this kind of faith. My mom has this kind of faith and it is probably the most genuine.

The second kind of faith is the kind you have when you’re afraid not to. People who are well-traveled and more highly educated, but who still really want to believe that there is a heaven they can go to when they die have this kind of faith. They know, down deep, that having faith is not logical. But they fool themselves into believing because what if there really is a hell. They know they don’t want to go there. And they know that, according to Christian dogma, by default you go to hell. So they live a deceptive life, going to church, going through the motions, telling themselves and others that they believe – and hoping God doesn’t notice.

Then there is the third type of faith. It is the faith of epiphany. It is owned by those who have had a turning point or milestone in their lives that have caused them to have faith, maybe when they really didn’t before. Maybe they were wrenched from the jaws of death, or maybe they witnessed what they believed was some kind of miracle. Whatever the reason, they now believe in their religion because of their great epiphany.

When I was a child, I had faith number one. As I grew to be an adult, and throughout much of my adult life, I became aware that the stories of the bible couldn’t be literally true. I rationalized my faith, not wanting to lose it out of fear of losing my soul. My faith had become type two.

I hope I never have type three. I don’t want to go through that kind of trauma. But perhaps, if God exists, he chooses people he wants to invite into heaven, and traumatizing them is his way of choosing.

In the end, my ponderings about religion haven’t led to many epiphanies. But here is what I am pretty sure of: I don’t know the mind of God. I know that nobody else knows the mind of God, even though they may think they do. If I don’t know something, and don’t have much evidence that it exists, it’s hard for me to believe in it or have faith in it. If God wanted us to follow the bible, he would have made it much clearer and more understandable. If there is a God, he must be very disappointed in every religion we humans have made up about Him. And finally, the pristine logic of the universe makes me lean toward believing that a force we call God does exist in some form. There is nothing in science that rules him out.

And so, where does that leave me? It leaves me with more stuff to ponder. If I’m willing to take the leap of faith that God does exist, then I’m forced to ask myself, “What is His nature and what, if anything, does He want of me?”

I’m certainly not willing to fall in line behind some bible-thumping evangelist to get my answers. But that’s ok; I enjoy my pensive moments.

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