The Foremost Function of Religion

This may be one essay that you might not like at all. In it, I am setting myself up for lots of nay-saying. And yet, I feel obligated to make my statement. It is something I feel very strongly about because I have experienced it first hand. I have lost my wife. I was with her a very long time. It was an excellent marriage. We did many really good things together. It was the only marriage we each had, and made at a mature age. This idea I have has grown out of much grief. Out of that grief, I have had to confront a great many thoughts about life and death. The greatest thought is about some way to see her again, to have her back, somehow. Religion offers the only pathway back to her, doesn’t it?

But I have been an agnostic for most of my life. I was baptized in the First Baptist Church, oh, maybe, at the age of 10 or 12, in a huge tub in the down right corner of the main auditorium. The water was warm and I wore some white sheet-cloth pants and shirt for the full immersion. I took religion very sincerely, and it gave me a strong introduction to morals. That is something everyone should have as a dominant sense inculcated early in life, no matter how it comes for you. But it is also a sense to be modified by basic education and higher education in literature, history, philosophy and scientific understanding. You cannot take the message of religion literally as kids will do. However, there are an awful lot of very bad kids. There must, always, be that counterweight to evil in the educational up-bringing of young people. Religion should be tested and handed out so that it becomes a matter of enlightened choice, rather than a result of coercive persuasion, as happens to many young ones. I say “coercive” because the very young have no choice nor counter-culture to the religion that has been chosen for them.

Yes, religion is a force for “good”. I learned that. But it covered with guilt some human acts that are very normal, some more than others, having an inhibiting effect where it can damage normal understanding by attaching a sense of “sin” and “damnation” onto some very human behavior, perverting the functions of what are very normal ways of responding to other people and one’s own natural urges. Those perverting and inhibiting pressures on the behavior of any youngster are powerful influences bending the youngster’s character, for life.

Now I see one function of religion may be to promise a way to go to seek its power for seeing her again. Many people sympathizing with me have said that very thing. I think that may be one of the most important functions of religion, its primary force, its greatest promise, in spite of all the guilt it causes. However, I am completely satisfied to retain my doubting unbelief. Upon seeing me say that, I am sure the true believers will be thinking, “Poor sap. He’ll be roasting for eternity in Hell.” I can only say that I can’t see myself burning up over and over a billion times and more just because I was of a different mind. Otherwise, how can you burn in hell and not burn up? Think of the excruciating pain that must go on and on, ad infinitum. All because I questioned and refused to believe something. That’s JUSTICE?! How perverse. Once I am burned up, must I be reconstructed in order to be burned up again and again and . . . . . forever? Religion wants to punish me for having a different way of thinking about life and death. That’s the powerful draw of religion. The urge to see her once again. In paradise. For eternal bliss. That could get old, too.

I will continue to miss her. In my own way. In recall. With no hope for anything other than that. That is life. I can be moral without religion. Is being moral the same as believing? I do not think so. Without believing, I can still be put into Hell, even if I have strict moral behavior. Thou shalt believe! There is only one way to Heaven, but there are two ways to Hell.
Eh?

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Published in: on April 24, 2014 at 2:20 pm  Comments (4)  

Paradise for Eternity?

Here I am, ageing fast, but not acquiring desirable qualities by being left undisturbed for some time, like a pound-ball of cheese. Or not maturing with age like a good wine would.

More like, the experience of the death of a life’s partner will age one with the pins and needles of grief piercing the mind. I have never before thought so much about religion since that passing. It is my choice to believe or not to believe, thanks to the open, free, non-coercive culture if this nation. Not the case with many who were given the parents’ choice before they could think for themselves about the choice, nor where the vast multitudes are compelled to take the religion of the nation and the larger regions beyond state.

This North American culture is more difficult to live in and follow those monumental lines of reasoning and thinking and making a choice. Here, the pressure comes from living with those life closings of those we love and cling to. We know what a variety of religions offer. For the most part, there is the offer of paradise for an eternity or burning in hell for eternity. Paradise is a palliative. Hell has been depicted by those threat mongers in the pulpits defining sin in lurid detail. ‘Sinners in the hands of an angry God” is the Puritanical treatment. And my early dose of First Baptists-ism.

Think of it, eternity in Paradise, Heaven. Perfection, the most powerful palliative ever invented. Meeting all your saved relatives and friends. The best goad ever invented to make human beings be and do good.

Eternity. Paradise. Perfection. How boring! I would prefer another go-round with a rebirth on Earth. With that promise, would everyone become concerned about the coming global warming? You bet! We’d have a higher stake in working NOW toward achieving climate control for future generations. Being Earth-bound futurists would make the best religion if we thought we might become another generation of humans, instead of lolling around in the perfections of paradise.

I am certain the concept of paradise was the invention of people living in the ages before the human brain invented scientific and technological reasoning.

I can hear some saying, “Let God do it! In an afterlife, with all those I knew before standing around me in the perfection of heaven, forever and forever.” I say, “Ad nauseam!!! How dull. All right at first, but then, the punishment of eternal ennui and mental and physical torpor. Someone would have to invent some interesting deviltry, in paradise, to offset and define the perfection. Or else puncture the brain to de-activate it before entering those pearly gates.”

Another on “GOD” and the Bifurcation of Faith and Science

I know you all as the benevolent spirit of nature that created the conditions for the possibility of me. With that spirit and that set of conditions still viable, I have the faith and belief that more like me will continue to be produced.
The trouble is, those potential beings like me may have all the attributes of people like me, but they may be missing some good sense of reason and, with a flawed reason, find their nefarious, or extremly unreasonable thinking process leading to ways of action that undermine the reasonable majority, for example, affecting the climate to such an extent that Goldilocks may have to die, that millions must be afflicted with the terror of improvised death, that some will experience gut-wrenching diseases, and mind-blowing inhalations, and the parade toward extinction will thin out to a few hardy souls, crying, “Why couldn’t they just go and leave us few behind, healthy and reasonable and wholly competent to make life rightly lived?!”
What would a life “rightly lived” be?
For that answer, I must bring up the parable of “Doubting Thomas”. It was one of the stories told by Jesus to convey his religious message, straight from the Bible. This point in time has given us the historical dichotomy between faith and reason. Thomas wanted to see the wounds of the Crucifixion of Jesus on the cross. “Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails . . . I will not believe.” (John 20 [25]).
Jesus answered, “Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.”
Does that imply no blessing for Thomas, perhaps even a curse, or some severe affliction or evil spell on Thomas, as the opposite of a “blessing” on unbelievers? Or was it meant simply as a mere slight? No, I think it was something more powerful and hurtful than that. (I know how seriously “scriptural” people take these things.) I think there is something hurtful in a “non-blessing”. It says to me that Jesus, for all his deified presence, did not anticipate the modern era of scientific reasoning, or he could have, or should have, given his blessing to the desire of Thomas for proof in reliable, not rumored, knowledge.
At that point, it seems to me, faith and the power and hope of science part ways, two divergent pathways to truth. A state of being of two minds, is that possible, or healthy? Schizophrenic? Mentally ill? Bipolar, certifiable, confused, demented, deranged, diminished responsibility, insane? The scientist being a Christian?
And yet, I believe people have found some way to live lives in two different compartments, without feeling any need to reconcile the two opposed behaviors. How do they do it, have two ways of thinking, faith and/or reason, a scientific method and “creation”? Some have created “creation science”, or the “science” of “creation”. The acceptance of a creation beginning was the result of the methods of poetry, which prevailed long before science presented a different method of observing phenomena. Early scientists came under the murderous hand of believers who had the upperhand in society. Society made the atrocities of the purgation of heresy happen. It could not happen in present society, could it? Orthodoxy will continue trying, won’t it?
However, the dichotomy still exists, not so much between groups of people, but more within individual people.
How would you agree or disagree?
I believe that any imagineable deity would be accepting of a life-form which, through a species-magnified intelligence, creates an environment that advances survivability for that life-form, or adapts to a given environment that furthers the survival of that life form.
The powers that led to the prosecution and killing of scientists have themselves been “killed”, by the fruits of the labors of the “doubting Thomases” of the healthy skepticisms, living in harmony side-by-side the true believers. Science: “Don’t tell me it can’t be done!? I will prove it to you.” Technology: “I am telling you, this must be done! I will show you how it’s done.”
If a claim to know is spoken, the voice of reliable knowledge in good science and technology will ask you to believe and then deliver, saying, “You will be healthier, safer, because there is a demonstrable way. I will show you.” We must all become “Doubting Thomases”.

The Inter-Faith Service for the Boston Bombing: One Thing Missing

Recently, the “Boston Marathon Bombing” catastrophe occasioned an inter-faith service. The meeting was appropriate and beautifully spoken by all the presenters. Impressive. But I must demur. In each of the last two services, A PRESUMPTION HAS BEEN MADE that ought to be corrected, forever! One segment of the population was omitted. What is that presumption?

It is consistently and continually presumed that humanists or agnostics have no faith. That is a prejudgment. WE DO! Therefore, they had no presence in YOUR inter-faith services. YOUR blind thinking wants only organized religious denominations to be represented. Agnostics do have a belief system, called a philosophy, and a faith even though they may not have an organization with a power in organized numbers behind it to compel attention.

It is a faith “at large” with the method of reason promoting human welfare and humanitarianism. Yes, it may be secular, a cultural movement, and highly individual, but we would recognize and identify with some one speaking about that school of thought that puts the individual human being gazing squarely into the face of evil, and mayhem, and unreason, and speaking for the force that buoys up a large segment of human life on this globe.

There are many great humanists who should be asked to speak and represent us humanists.

People of religious faiths have failed to include, twice now, a humanist or agnostic or atheist to represent a growing segment of the population of the United States. Your premise that overlooks some great members of this society is fatally flawed with what? prejudice? ignorance? denominationalism? supernaturalism? narrow-mindedness?

Please, in the future, show some of the competence of reasonable adults! Do not be afraid of independent thinkers who may use different pathways toward the same end as the doctrinaire. Believe it, there are some great thinkers in our society who share my view. You show yourselves fearful, of what? That service about the bombing of the marathon was good. But there was some representation missing. I felt it. I resented it. I wanted to hear my point of view applied to that moment. There may have been a humanist among those attacked and hurt or killed.

I hope we do not have to have another such memorial rite. Without that sort of wickedness we can do. But —

“GOD” — Again!

I have had much to say lately about the subject of religion and “God”. I am getting closer to my final word on the subject. I am mainly writing all this on the subject of religion because I am in a crisis situation regarding a death in the family. Sympathetic folks always say something like, “Believe me, you will be with her again in a better place.” AS comfort to the aggrieved.

I have come to the conclusion that I am not an “atheist”, as my thoughtful expressions would have one believe. I thought I was, but I have come to a refinement as I examine it more closely. I am not one without a thesis (since that is what the word literally means); hence, not an atheist. Close, maybe, and perhaps in the eyes of others. It probably doesn’t matter to any on-looker, but it may to my family. To codify a religious belief, the belief must have a struggle with the universal quandry of good and evil, light and darkness, truth and falsehood, personified to make it more real and immediate, threatening with whips and scorns, or rewards of eternal life and paradise. The organizers must have a system of rewards and punishments to properly “condition” those who come to them for help with personal anguish. And life certainly has mountains of that anguish to climb in the ordeals of living!

The original organizers, over two millenia of the gradual accretion of codes and ritual and excavations and cathedrals and artifacts, have the majesty and systematic organization and indoctrination of the young down to a catechism, the book summarizing the principles of the religion, written as questions and answers for inculcation of the young. They have had their dissenters, breaking off into a new organization over some differences, and that was good for those dissenters to get away from the monopoly which looked like a good thing, and so there was the whole business opened up for all types of new organizing principles.

Therefore, when I reason to my own end, I realize I am not an “a-theist”, without a thesis. Any “thesis” about religion is an unprovable proposition. The ultimate appeal is to “belief”, devotion to that belief on pain of, whatever will discourage more free-thinking. The very thing that must be organized is such a way of thinking that people will feel “belief” to be factual, real, consequential, urgent truth, with an “or else-ness”. The organizers find that personification of characters in a grand struggle is dramatic, and the organizers eminently resort to pageantry and drama. At one time, the drama was burning heretics on a square downtown. At another, the organizers sent whole armies on crusades against the heresies threatening their organization.

There is still today the incipient warfare divided between a more populist politics and a way of crusading religious life.

Here in the United States today, the organizers have been tamed somewhat, by a lawful hands-off freedom of belief.

I am not one without a belief. I have a thesis, my unproved and unprovable statement of my point of view based on a lifetime of observation, the empirical “data” of my a posteriori perceptions of what I can state are the facts of my observations, the way people behave. If there is that higher power of a deity, to which believers must attribute some sort of miracle, which stands as evidence of the intervention of that deity into everyday life, then I have not seen anything but theatre. Most everyday uses of that word miracle are for such events as the “miracle on the Hudson”. To me, the miracle was widely reported as such but it only came down to everything going according to plan. The survival had been practiced and anticipated in the manufacture of the airplane and the training of th crew.

In a previous essay, I stated my thesis, which was not total disbelief. It was my belief that God, if it is a “he” or “father”, if it was the “creator of the universe”, is a tantalizing object of righteous, religious organizers of beliefs to offer some admirable goodness activities, and it has a “hands-off” or “laissez-faire” policy of operation and is not a part of everyday life, listening to prayers and answering prayers of those in trouble. Such beliefs have some power to motivate extraordinary exertions for good ends, no doubt.

I am not an atheist, one without a thesis. But my thesis views any higher power, or deity, as having no part in controlling nor intervening in human life on Earth. Good things can come out of prayer. That cannot disprove my thesis.

Look up the word “agnostic” please. Perhaps that is a better fit, meaning, a person who claims that he cannot have true knowledge about the existence of God (but does not deny that God might exist). That means, a fence sitter, doesn’t it. I say it again, if God “exists”, I do not know where it is, or how to prove it. Its policy is “laissez-faire” as far as Earthlings go. Any church must have a difficult time with the concept of the “miracle”. They are nice to have, in order to give its believers that confidently strong feeling that God is near and imminent and available and will, on occasion, actually play, openly, some material and specific part in the individual human’s life. One church must have specific proof of that provable, demonstrable intervention in human affairs. That would create a “saint”. Otherwise, the church might just have to adopt the suggested “laissez-faire” policy to be the plan of action of the deity, “hands off”. Belief is good. But do not expect the deity to play a part in your private affairs, for which you are solely responsible. Any reckoning will take place, according to your belief, at another time and place.

You might say that I am treating the concept of God as an enterprise, an organization constituting a business venture in the name of God. You might say that your tithe is a religious tax. And the profits go to —, oh, you contemplate that a bit.

Just say that I am a “Doubting Thomas”. I read that part of the story. I might consider Thomas to be the first prominent scientist. He had the scientists’ basic skepticism. He wanted to be shown the evidence that would support the claim. It was Jesus who rebuked him for his scientific bent. Thomas said, “Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails…I will not believe.” Later, Jesus said, “Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed. Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.” (John 20, 26-29) Jesus had to prove it before Thomas would believe it. Of course, Jesus was speaking in an age and a culture that had not developed the basic operating principles of scientific proofs for producing reliable knowledge. Thomas was not appreciated for what he stood for. That age was to be far into the future for those times.

Am I bound for HELL?

Post Script (4-4-13): What is truly my God? What do I worship? Classical melody and harmony of music I associate with that beauty in my spouse. She is still evocative of the beauties of classic and classy classical music, a warm and sunny day of light breezes, the company of family who are stars, contemplation of a great work for the betterment of human life (as in the book I am trying to write). What I worship comes to tears in those associations. I am lonely. I was a loner before I married. Now, a loner again. Your God does not look like me nor I Him. The closest I can come to a God-form is the scientific and artistic expressions of magnificent intelligence. That breaks down to shards of God in many places, and I can see trashy attempts that fail. As in people who let themselves go, for one example, in appearance and short-cut deeds of the ungovernable. Right now, I am specializing in my gaze on politicians.