Tuesday, April 11, 2006

What Draws Me to Religion

The question was posed, what draws you to religion. I have known many people who were raised there, but upon entry into adulthood and the end of parental influence and mandatory church attendance, lapsed into apostacy. However, many are left with a sense that there is a God, some far greater power that formed the universe, whose secrets are unknown to us mere mortals.

Perhaps that belief in a "far greater power" is what draws me to religion, and my search for truth results in my rejection of a lot of the literal dogma that dominates modern Christianity, while at the same time I recognize some very real and valid truth is revealed in scripture. Not historical truth mind you...spiritual truth.

My eyes were really opened several years ago when I read a mercifully short but pithy commentary on Maimonides' "A Guide for the Perplexed." I knew I would never actually read the whole thing (all three pondersome tomes of it!), so I cheated and read the equivalent of the Reader's Digest Condensed version. This was a clear concise historical snapshot of 12th century Jewish Mysticism, or Kaballistic Judaism.

What spoke to me was Maimonides' rejection of the anthopomorphism of God found in the Bible. Jesus himself seems to agree with this when he says that "God is Spirit and should be worshipped as Spirit." It is also the basis of the Jewish prohibition of idolatry, though it is easy to see idolatry creeping back into Judaism, and modern Christianity as well. The Christian preoccupation with the cross is but one example. One of my sharp criticisms of fundamentalism, both Christian and Muslim, is that to the fundamentalist, the holy book (Bible or Koran) becomes an idol in and of itself. Taken as the literal and inerrant word of God, it becomes God. This is nothing more than idolatry.

Maimonides then goes on to explain how we can only describe God in terms that are familiar to us, and assigns ten attributes to the Godhead, but continually warns that even though God may be said to have the attributes of love, mercy, judgement, might, etc., these are only tools used to describe God, and are only useful because they are terms familiar to us with which we can speak. To actually say that God is merciful, judgemental, mighty, loving, etc., is to anthropomorphize God into something God is not. Moreover, God is seen as a totally incorporal being (Spirit), and to try and describe God in human terms is to misrepresent the metaphysical role of God in the world, and as such represents severe idolatry.

In other words, it is impossible to know or describe God and to do so is a mistake. Jesus himself did not try. Instead, he, much as Maimonidies did, attempted to describe attributes of God, using parallel and parable to attempt to bring understanding to mankind as to how to worship God, what God's role in the universe was, and what our role was with respect to a God that is totally and completely beyond our human conception. Jesus' reference to God as Father (the word Jesus used actually might be better translated as 'Daddy') illustrates this. It is a parallel, not a literal truth. It would be a mistake to picture God as an old man in the sky with a beard who broods over us like small children. But it couches the metaphysics involved in terms that we can understand, because we are like children compared to God. It gives us an understanding of God that is important, so long as we do not attempt to shove God into that mold and hold Him there.

Great teachers of other religions have also offered insight, but it is always at best an incomplete picture, much like the story of the blind men and the elephant. Each one sees something completely different, and while each one is correct in his perception, he has only experienced a tiny piece of the whole.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Cherokee Wisdom

One evening, an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people. He said, "My son, the battle is between two "wolves" inside us all.

One is Evil...It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.

The other is Good... It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith."

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: "Which wolf wins?" The old Cherokee simply replied, "The one you feed..."

Monday, September 26, 2005

On Intelligent Design

Intelligent Design is in the news again today as courts in Pennsylvania wrestle with the issue of whether or not it has a place in a science classroom. Proponents of ID continue to insist that the theory of evolution is full of holes (it isn't), and that it is only a theory, and not a fact. Apparently, these people either don't realize or are conveniently ignoring the fact that lots of things in this world we take for granted are based on "theories".

Global Positioning Systems take advantage of Einstein's Theory of Relativity. The slight timing differences between the signals received from various GPS satellites are used to triangulate the receiver's position to a great degree of accuracy. Many medical treatments today rely on knowledge of genetics, a byproduct of the theory of evolution, in order to treat countless diseases, and to design and test new medicines.

Somehow this is a threat to religious fundamentalists, who insist that evolution is flawed, and that Intelligent Design needs to be taught as an alternative.

The trouble is that ID is not an alternative. It could be the death of science. It harkens back to the days of primitive mankind who, whenever presented with a situation or scenario they could not explain with their current level of knowledge, immediately attributed it to God. Who needs science when everything can be explained by the Bible?

In reality, Intelligent Design is simply an end-run around laws against teaching Creationism. While the ID proponents claim otherwise, that they are in fact describing a true scientific theory, they aren't fooling anyone. It is clear they understand little about science.

Richard Thompson, the Thomas More center’s president and chief counsel, who is representing the ID proponents in the current Pennsylvania case says, "All the Dover school board did was allow students to get a glimpse of a controversy that is really boiling over in the scientific community."

I don't know to which scientific community Thompson is referring, because every real scientist I have heard weigh in on the issue has clearly stated that intelligent design has no place in a science classroom. The only ones arguing are the non-scientists and the occasional quack. So how can this be boiling over in the scientific community? It isn't. Seems to me more like it's boiling over in coffee hour following Sunday church services.

Personally, I don't need to be able to harmonize the creation story with physical science in order to believe in God. Even if I were to believe that the Bible is the literal "inerrant word of God," that doesn't necessarily mean that I believe the Earth and the known universe were created in a 144 hour time period.

What I do believe is that Genesis is a story, passed down through many generations as oral history (or legend if you prefer), before finally being written down by scribes during a particularly prosperous and settled period in Jewish history. The story itself is meant to represent something, a parable of sorts that we may or may not understand. Just as Jesus spoke in parables, much of the remainder of scripture is likely constructed in the same way. Additionally, there is another whole layer of messages and meaning, hidden in numerological constructs closely linked to the languages of the original tongues in which it was written, and we have not even begun to explore what revelations that may hold...but I digress.

The point is that these things were never meant to be taken literally. They are meant to symbolize something else, or to form parallels with other concepts, some of which are common and familiar to us. To suggest that we should be required to believe that God made everything in six days not only misses the point of the story, it also is dangerous theology, since it places religious teaching in direct opposition to what we can observe with our own eyes in the real world.

Further, to attempt to take this beautiful story and try to shove it into the pigeonhole of science is totally incongruous. The proverbial square peg and round hole.

I can find no good reason why men are attempting to take scripture and clothe it in the discipline of science, except that perhaps it suits some purpose of their own. While study of the scripture is indeed a science, the content of scripture is in no way scientific. Just as faith cannot be plotted on a graph, the story of Genesis cannot serve as a basis for a scientific theory.

I would remind everyone that in the past, the Church got it wrong. They insisted that the Earth was flat, that it was the center of the universe, that the Sun revolved around the Earth. This error was caused by the same kind of futile effort to try and use the Bible to scientifically explain the world around us that we see today when someone opens a museum depicting dinosaurs walking alongside man. It was folly then, is folly now, and will continue to be so.

Finally, I would like to personally state that I don't need scientific proof to provide the underpinning of my faith. My faith is strong enough to exist on its own. Further, my trust in science does not diminish that faith. The fact that the Earth is over 5 billion years old, and that life evolved over time, building upon its previous successes and failures, the miraculous vehicle of the double-helix DNA, and the beautiful vessel of life called Earth - these all instill wonder and awe in me, and gives me all the more reason to worship my Creator/God, whether I understand who and what God is (and isn't) or not.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Prayer in the State House

I recently ran across a thread where the subject of discussion was prayer in the State House. One man refers to it as, "pols doing the pious two step in front of the media...I'm guessing Jesus would dislike that quite a lot."

Personally, I don't think Jesus would dislike it "quite a lot". However I doubt he'd have much use for it. From my reading of the scripture I see Jesus saying that public prayer is a reward in and of itself. In other words, it is not all that valuable in the eyes of God, according to Jesus. Another way of looking at that is that public prayer is more about what is needed by man than by God.

So...this isn't a display of faith. It is indeed, the "pious two step." A little political dance designed to make a public display.

And that ladies and gentlemen is what you get when you blend religion and politics.

Personally, I don't mind non-denominational, vague invocations at public events. I think that is proper and respectful of all people of faith present. Yet I still feel a tinge of discomfort for those who hold no such belief in a greater power. If you water it down to please everyone, it is practically useless.

Actually, any public prayer is bound to include elements of petition, which are difficult to rationalize theologically in the best of circumstances.

It's for us...not God.

I wonder how big an issue this would be if the people who screamed the loudest about it prayed about it privately on a regular basis.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

North Carolina Baptist Minister Thinks God is a Republican

Remember the ads and bumper stickers making the rounds just before the last election? They said, "God is Not a Republican...or a Democrat."

Apparently Rev. Chan Chandler of the East Waynesboro Baptist Church in North Carolina doesn't buy that. From his recent actions, it appears he is quite certain that God is a Republican, and that George Bush is God's annointed leader for our nation.

Nine members of his congregation were voted out in a meeting last Monday, possibly because they did not support President Bush in the last election.

Story is at:
http://www.truthout.org/docs_2005/050705Z.shtml

Friday, May 06, 2005

Bad Science Used to Rationalize Persecution

More bad science being used by the government to persecute gay men. Read my previous post...this is how it starts.

http://apnews.myway.com/article/20050505/D89TAFB00.html

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Past and Present: Nazi Germany and Modern America

Since the last election, a number of my friends have begun to discuss moving away from the United States, especially the gay ones. Recently, some of them have started to get serious. I know of a gay couple who have solid plans to move to Canada next year. They aren't the only ones. I know of a straight couple, both professionals, with kids, who are also exploring the move up north, simply because they are atheists. Sure it's cold up there. But they won't have to worry as much about being threatened, beaten, or killed.

Why do they feel they need to flee our country? It's because they firmly believe that we are but a short time away from beginning a period of genocide against homosexuals. They also believe there are other groups in danger, that do not subscribe to the "moral values" of the nation. Clearly, all current evidence points to an increasingly hostile environment for the homosexual members of our society. They remember how many fled Nazi Germany in the years before World War II. Many stayed behind, believing that the "Final Solution" would never happen in such a civilized society. Eleven million of them died for that belief.

You think I exaggerate? Open the newspapers. Read the blogs. Read some of the venomous hatred being spewed forth in open legislative sessions. Then think again.

Recently, Microsoft withdrew its support for non-discriminatory legislation in its home state of Washington, possibly due to influence from a nearby conservative Christian church, many of whose members work for the software giant. While the company still internally maintains its policy on diversity, which internally prohibits discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation (among other things), it no longer publicly supports legislation that would enforce this. Numerous other Fortune 500 companies also have similar policies on diversity, but at the same time contribute to the war chests of conservative Republican legislators who have voted against legislation that would outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation, and have voted for legislation that would ban gay marriage or even same-sex civil unions.

How much longer do you suppose these companies will be able to maintain these diversity policies in the current public climate? How long will it be before the government declares such policies illegal? Think it can't happen? Think again. I would have never imagined we would be where we are today. So if you tell me it can't possibly get worse, I'll tell you that you're walking around with eyes wide shut.

My friend who is moving to Canada next year claims he has good reason to be afraid. He thinks it entirely possible that this attitude of intolerance may well progress to a new Holocaust. Yes, we can blink back tears and say, "never again." But, did the good people of Germany truly understand the evil they supported? Probably not. My friend points to an anonymous letter posted on the 'net recently from a gay Buddhist, who defends his plans to flee, saying, "We already live under a crypto-fascist regime which has stolen two elections, controls the news media, and is after the courts and universities. When those last two goals are achieved, suddenly the ugly agenda will rear its head for all to see."

But by then, it will be too late.

There is an article, published on Monday, May 2, 2005 by CommonDreams.org titled, "Yesterday and Today: Nazis and the Righteous Right", by Donna Glee Williams. At the end of the article, Ms. Williams is listed as a freelance writer. But on another site, she gives a bit of a bio to put her views in better perspective:

"I'm 48 years old and I have been a registered nurse for 22 years. Part of my psychiatric training in nursing school involved leading groups on the forensic unit of Parish Prison in New Orleans - in other words, I worked with rapists and murderers. As a pediatric nurse, I dealt with child abuse in its many forms, including infanticide. Later, as a psychiatric nurse, I was face to face with a range of human twistedness. I now direct a Holocaust education program for the state of North Carolina, and I regularly revisit (often with survivors) the reality of genocide. When I tell you that I do not believe in evil, it is not because I haven't seen the damage that humans can cause. It is because the idea of evil is not helpful in setting that damage right."


In her article, she draws parallels between the way the German government of the 30's picked off voices of dissent, systematically replacing the governing boards of seminaries seat by seat, much the way the Religious Right is taking over the Southern Baptist Convention today, "board by board, professor by professor, pulpit by pulpit."

Then, she goes for the jugular, drawing a parallel between the villifcation of German Jews and American Homosexuals...

And then there were the Jews. For historical reasons, the Nazi party had, ready to hand, a tiny subgroup of people that they could call “evil” and have that name stick. Once the “evil” was identified, people projected onto the Jews every disowned trait they hated in themselves. Enormous energy was mobilized to oppress, exile, and destroy the theoretically contagious corruption of Jewishness. The righteousness of the cause was “proved” by the visceral disgust the oppressors felt towards the oppressed. Hatred kept the dominant group bonded, energized, focused, and easy to manipulate. Today, similar rhetoric is mobilizing hatred for another tiny minority, homosexuals, who are similarly represented as undermining the entire fabric of American life and values. In the same way, appeals to disgust as a moral arbiter “prove” the validity of the argument. Incidents of violence against gays remind us of the spotty street violence against Jews that came before the systematic, state-sponsored violence of the Holocaust.


Please read the article at:

http://www.commondreams.org/views05/0502-33.htm