This post is prompted, in part, by recent entries from theferret and city_of_dis, as well as by current "hot button topics." But most immediately, it is prompted by this:
I am in my car, thinking idle thoughts, driving home from work. Thinking about Lee, and Joe, and work, and the other posts I intend to make tonight (on the purpose of my journal and my relationship with my mother, in case you're wondering). Usual stuff. I get stopped by a light behind a Suburban Land Tank (aka an over-sized SUV), which appears to be populated by a soccer mom and her teeny-bopper daughter.
And discover the following bumper sticker, pasted to the back window:
Jesus is the Answer.
And had to control some serious rapid-onset rage.
Those four words, dear readers, have caused more pain and heartache than most people care to think about.
Please don't take this as a bash against Christian theology in and of itself, because it really is not intended as such, although I do have a number of bones to pick with Christian dogma.
But my problem, my ultimate problem, with this sentiment is that what I feel it should read is "Jesus is an answer." Not *the* answer. *An* answer.
Countless wars have been fought, countless lives have been lost, for want of an "an" instead of a "the."
For a billion-odd people world wide, Jesus is the answer (and no, I'm not going to look up exact statistics on the numbers of Christians in the world). But there are four or five billion *other* people out there who would beg to differ.
Christianity is a religion which claims to preach "love thy neighbor" and general tolerance. And for some individual Christians, I've no doubt that this is true. But far too many adhere instead to the "my way or the highway" version of Christianity and shun, denigrate, discriminate against, etc. those who do *not* believe that "Jesus is the answer."
The inherent problem with Christianity (and with Islam, for that matter, although it will not be discussed here) is that it is a proselytizing religion. It's not good enough *not* to persecute Christianity - you must become a Christian oneself. One of the primary tenets of many (and probably most) organized Christian churches is the need to spread "the good news." Convert far, convert wide, and don't take no for an answer.
I've always liked the Hindus. As many of you know, I spent six months in India doing study abroad during my undergraduate years. While I was there, I participated in a number of Hindu religious celebrations and festivals. My friends (and random strangers) were always glad to involve me, and delighted that I showed an interest.
But you know what?
They could give two shits whether or not I believed.
In Hinduism, you're either born a Hindu, or you're not. There is no conversion, in any real sense of the word. Want to believe in the Hindu gods? Cool. But unless mama and daddy were Hindu, you're not considered a Hindu. They believe that their gods apply to them, and our gods apply to us. They acknowledge the existence of other gods, they just don't worship them.
No proselytizing. No conversion. No wars with the intent of subverting the heathens (I'm not arguing that Indians/Hindus are saints. I am fully cognizant of the extent and history of the India-Pakistan feud, but it really has more to do with territory than religion). You do your thing, I'll do mine. Hinduism is *an* answer, but it doesn't claim to be *the* answer.
Likewise with the Hare Krishnas. When I was in high school, we would sometimes walk over to Duke to go to the Hare Krishna dinners. Free vegetarian food, which was seriously tasty. Of course, they always had their pamphlets and tracts laid out right beside the food. But taking them was optional. If you wanted to take one, or wanted to talk with them about their religion, they were happy to oblige. But they didn't force it down your throat, and they didn't get mad if all you wanted was the food.
Christianity is the religious equivalent of the "popular" clique in high school. The clique (Christianity) is the dominant presence. It sets the trends. And it mocks and tortures the violators.
And it's also the religious equivalent of the "bullies." My God can beat up your God. Disagree with me? Earn a smackdown.
Contrary to popular belief, I *have* read large portions of the Bible, including all of the Gospels. Originally (in my die-hard atheist phase), my purpose was along the line of "know your enemies." And I still do use it as source material for my snarkiness when I get in the mood to gripe about inconsistencies (such as my previous post on religion). But I'm older, wiser, and less cynical now, and so I can appreciate it for what it is - an interesting collection of stories and parables, some of which have an excellent take-home truth.
Despite its many virtues, I also find it to be racist and misogynistic in places. Slavery, holy wars, and numerous other injustices (including the idea of homosexuality as an abomination) have been justified using the Bible.
The Bible is a product of the time in which it was written. Even if it is the "dictated word of God," that Word was dictated to a bunch of men who wrote it down. Men are fallible creatures, and men are a product of the time in which they exist. Most of the laws, tenets, and ideas presented in the Bible may have been perfectly consistent and logical several thousand years ago. But to imply that all of these same laws, tenets, and ideas are equally as consistent and logical today is absolutely inane and naive.
Applicability is mutable. Societies grow and change. Every other field of thought and discipline changes with it. We understand now that perfume does not substitute for bathing (unless we live in France, of course, but that's a whole *other* can of worms), that cats are not handmaidens of Satan, that agriculture is more efficient than hunting and gathering, etc. Why can we not also understand that religious ideas which worked 3000 years ago must be adapted to fit the current times?
So back to the love and tolerance. Do I think that preaching love and tolerance is bad? Of course not. Do I think that there is a vast chasm between the written teachings of Jesus and what is actually being practiced? Abso-friggin-lutely.
My mother was raised Catholic. The going-to-church-three-times-a-week kind of Catholic. Midwest, rural...you get the picture. My father was raised generic Protestant. He agreed to get married in a Catholic church, just to please her family. It didn't work. My mother's family essentially *disowned* her for about five years because my father wasn't a Catholic. Where is the love in that?
In my own life, obviously, the big "love" question arrises over who it is, exactly, that I have chosen to love. "The love that dare not speak its name" still must dare not, in many aspects of daily life. I change pronouns at work, because there is no sexual discrimination protection clause for state workers in North Carolina (and she is in the Army, so the constraints on her obvious). My girlfriend and I will not be entitled to the same recognition as a couple as my husband and I have been. I do not need to rehash for you here the entire gay marriage debate - it's been done far more eloquently a thousand times over elsewhere. But the reasoning behind why gays do not have the same rights, recognitions, etc. as heterosexuals comes down to the enforcing of Christian ideology on the laws of our society. Where is the separation of church and state? Where is the tolerance and love Jesus preached in the Sermon on the Mount?
Religion does not equal morality. One can be religious without being moral, and one can be moral without being religious. Or both, or neither. Some people may find that having a religion helps them in guiding their moral and ethical choices. And there's nothing wrong with that. For myself, I don't feel I need one. If you do, no problem.
But please don't presume to tell me that your Book is entitled to control my ethics. This country was based on freedom, not tyranny. And it is tyranny to base the codification of American law on Christian moral dogma. You're a man who doesn't believe men should marry other men? Fine - don't marry another man. But do not seek to insist upon an identical morality in others.
Yes, you can argue that there are *some* moral absolutes. Thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not steal, etc. But to exclaim that it is a moral absolute that only certain kinds of people are allowed to love each other? Ridiculous.
Many people have asked me about my religious beliefs. I will now attempt to explain them, and hope I don't befuddle the debate more.
To paraphrase Rufus (Chris Rock) in Dogma, the problem with religions is that they take perfectly good ideas and screw them up by turning them into belief systems. I don't have beliefs, I have ideas.
Beliefs are awfully hard to change, because they are founded on faith. Ideas, on the other hand, are malleable. Have a good argument to give me? Present it. I may or may not be swayed by it, but at least I'll listen.
The argument usually provided to me as to why the Bible is THE TRUTH is that the Bible is the word of God. But when you ask the same persons how you know that the Bible is the word of God, the answer you typically get is "Because the Bible says so." Very circular, and highly redundant.
I am an agnostic because I am a scientist. I need proof for my beliefs, be they scientific or spiritual. Until I have proof, all else remains simply "a good idea." I don't discount the possibility of a God.
My ultimate problem with God-based religions is something I like to call "The Ultimate Causality Dilemma." I can accept that there is a God (or other higher power). I can accept that he created the world (which, to me, would involve putting the Big Bang in motion, and making little nudges to get the ball rolling in the creation of life from the boiling sea of protoplasm).
But I get hung up on the origins of God. God may have created life, but who/what created God? I've come up with a nifty idea that I like to ponder on sometimes:
1) God creates man.
2) Because God is omnipotent, God creates man with the potential for infinite evolution.
3) Man eventually evolves to the point where he is technologically advanced enough to create God.
4) God creates man.
Very circular. But the only viable solution I can posit to the Ultimate Causality Dilemma.
I've also been puzzled by those little Philosophy 101 paradoxes - If God is omnipotent, can God create a rock he can't lift? Does the world exist, or am I God and this is therefore the reality I have created? And so on...and possibly my favorite paradox: Since God is omnipotent and never truly knowable, how can we ever know if our ideas about God are correct?
Personally, I like the idea of reincarnation. Of coming back again and again and again until you finally get it "right" (whatever that may be). One of my favorite movies of all time is Defending Your Life for this reason.
Is there a God? Are the Christians (or Jews or Muslims or Hindus or Zoroastrians, etc.) the ones who've got it right? I have absolutely no idea.
And you know what?
Neither do you.
We'll all find out someday, once we're pushing up daisies. But naturally, no one will ever know what we find out, despite Shirley McLaine's arguments to the contrary.
Perhaps I will burn in hell. Perhaps you will. Perhaps we all will.
But let me get there on my own time, okay? There's room at the table for all of us, I promise.