Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Recent Reflections Concerning Religion

I have finally found a quite, rare moment to write . . .

Lately, I noticed that I was developing hostility towards religion. I didn't notice this within myself until I felt extremely annoyed at the notion that religion and myth are such powerful forces in so many lives. Ironically, I had come to admire the works of Joseph Campbell as my life's journey brought me to a posture of atheism. Campbell eloquently shows how the influence of myth is powerfully ingrained in the human psyche. Religious metaphor moves and inspires people-- without question. And at first, this was an intriguing and beautiful discovery to me despite my growing sense of non-belief. But in these recent weeks, his ideas were starting to bother me more and more.

I especially noticed this when a dear friend of mine recommend that I read a book entitled The End of Education. This book seemed to really rub my nose in "it" by constantly expressing that religion is a fixture in most of humanity. At this stage of the evolutionary cycle, human kind cannot, as a whole, expect to suddenly detach from religion any time soon. As a result, education's engine may run best when wrapped up in a mythological or religious-like narrative. The author of this book was not advocating religion itself, or any specific religion. Just the idea that narrative in a mythological style may be the best seeds for planting the important lessons of life.

And he quoted Joseph Campbell on top of everything else as he made his case!

And that's when I came to realize something . . .

It's OK if religion hangs around for a while.

I've come to realize that nothing is wrong with being inspired by a myth or a religious faith. Nothing is wrong with drawing inspiration from a narrative. Our minds almost seem wired for this. Yes, our minds seem to have an ingrown place that is wired for mythological narrative, faith talk, and religion. If that be true, who am I to be angry about this?

I have also come to realize for myself that while I can personally do without religion, others cannot or will not. It is not my place to judge people whose lives are driven by faith.

Also, I cannot prove that god does not exist. And while the burden of proof rest upon the claimant, I cannot be totally certain that the claimant will never find evidence for their deity's existence.

That doesn't mean that I've become a theist again. Not at all. That only means that I realize that I have no right to push someone into thinking that there is no god.

Just as a theist has no right trying to push god upon me.

I thought about what I wanted to see happen in society as an atheist or agnostic. What did I really want to see change in society around me?

Here's all the change that I ask for concerning the clash between the religious and the non-religious. I wish that more people would take time to:

1. Understand that I want religious people to have the freedom to worship their deity. This is their right as human beings.

2. Understand that I want to exercise the right to interpret religion just as freely as other religious people already get to do. So, whatever deity I have or do not have in my life is my business and my personal right. I should not be treated differently because of this.

3. Understand that I do not deserve to be threatened with eternal torture of the hereafter or with imminent death in the here and now simply because I have a difference of opinion. Remember: Someone else has a deity that breaths threats of eternal punishment for you in their prediction of the afterlife, too. So, are you going to drop your faith and follow theirs now? No? Please, then, do not expect this of me.

4. Understand that I do not want to turn the world into an atheistic society that has flushed away all religion. I want religious people to maintain their freedom to worship. I would simply ask that more religious people become tolerant of non-religious people.

5. Understand that if you have to always speak for your deity, punish for your deity, and badger others for your deity, then perhaps your deity is mute and impotent: that's (after all) the mark of a lifeless, idol god. I'm not saying . . . but, I'm just saying. Give your deity a chance to take care of him or herself before you terrorize and threaten others on your deity's behalf.

6. Understand that I realize that I could be completely wrong about the existence of God. I revisit that idea frequently, but I'm very comfortable where I am right now in my non-belief.

7. Understand that you could be completely wrong about (at the very least) your faith. Be open and tolerant therefore, of those with whom you disagree.

8. Understand that freedom is enjoyed best when everyone can enjoy it. Everyone cannot enjoy our nation if any specific religion is oppressed by Government or controlled by Government. The same potential for tyranny holds true if any specific religion oppresses our society or rises up to control and assimilate our Government.

After mulling over these reflections for a few days, I felt much better. My hostility towards religion dissipated. Just as Thomas Jefferson said, "But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg". While this is true, the problem comes when your neighbor cannot stand the fact that you disagree and (as a result) wants to actively break your legs because you are different.

So, in that vein: I do not hate god or religion-- rather, I hate the notion that people feel they ever have a right to force an ideal upon me with which I disagree. And when speaking in those terms, it doesn't matter if the ideal is a religious one or not.

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