Posts Tagged ‘religion’
Since the dawn of time, humankind has felt that, despite a lack of incontrovertible, tangible evidence, there is a higher power at work in the world. Whether we name it God or Gaia or the collective unconscious or any of countless other names, most of us believe in something greater than ourselves. For the purposes of this post, in the interests of avoiding unnecessary circumlocution, I shall call it God.
For millennia, God has nourished us, guided us, taught us. We have not always listened – far from it! – but that presence has touched most of our lives across the eons.
It strikes me, however, that the nature of God’s guidance may have changed. The title of this post would suggest negativity, but please bear with me and you will see that this is not the case.
Historically, the nature of God’s gifts was simply that of adding something good into our lives – a fruitful harvest, a child or spouse, a favorable environment in which to sell our goods and services. We have had a space, and God has filled it.
There have always been a select few among us who simply saw the world in a different light than most. These people had the imagination and the drive to create something new. For these few, God needed only provide the space, and allow THEM to be the ones to fill it.
From ancient times through the Renaissance and down to the present, the number of these people have grown exponentially. In a sign, perhaps, of God’s changing philosophy, or his view that Man has become worthy of greater things, more and more of us are in a position to be able to fill the spaces, if only God will grant them.
This is true not only of technological innovation, but of great change within ourselves.
I’ve heard people talking about God sending them trials to test their faith, and I think more people are failing those tests than realize it.
When God sends a Southern Baptist family a gay son, this is His gift. The test is not to stand fast against what has been given, to try to cure it, or – worse still – to cast the child out. The family’s test is to grow within themselves, to grow the capacity to love and to understand a facet of the world that is beyond their knowing.
When God sends an earthquake to a country woefully unprepared for it, perhaps this too is a gift, though one tempered with individual tragedy. The test in this case is not to cling to a belief that the afflicted people have somehow sinned beyond redemption but to bring the rest of us together, to allow us to show our generosity of spirit and our greater community.
If you believe – whatever you believe in – define your faith rather than letting it define you. Examine the hits you have taken and see the opportunities to fill the holes in your understanding. Really look at a person outside your race, gender, class, sexuality or religion, and see the person, the human being.
You probably won’t surprise God, but you may well please Him. And you may yet surprise yourself.
I know that the use of language in today’s mass media is geared toward a fifth-grade (or thereabouts) comprehension level. Surely, though, the folks we elect to serve in the highest offices should be at least a little smarter than a fifth grader. Perhaps we should have Jeff Foxworthy come and test the entire lot of our nation’s politicians for actual fitness to serve.
Our nation’s savior?
Allow me to illuminate a few things for all of you in national politics.
1. Bush was not a Nazi. Obama is not a socialist. Labels of ‘fascist’ (which few of you appear able to spell) and ‘communist’ are similarly inapplicable to either of them – though it is inordinately amusing to hear words like these applied to two men of quite different ideology. Less amusingly, I believe anyone who has suffered under the rule of such regimes as those of Hitler and Stalin would be rather offended to hear the comparatively trivial measures taken by these Presidents compared to the savagery they were forced to submit to.
Enough name-calling. If you have an issue with a President’s policies, come up with a reasonable alternative and we can all have a civilized debate. If you can’t do that, then keep your mouth shut.
2. Stop talking about whether there is too much God or too little God in the running of the country. Both of these are meaningless. The country was founded in part to ESCAPE the notion of any kind of state endorsement of religion. I have no problem with people worshipping according to their beliefs and legislating according to their values, but don’t use confuse the two and use religion to justify your political acts. In a nation whose founders specifically tried to avoid mixing religion into the law, such actions are hypocritical and offensive.
3. Related to the above: if you’re a bigot, just man up and be a bigot. If you have a problem with blacks, or Muslims, or the poor, or women, or gays, or conservatives, or any other group, just say so. Don’t get into the “un-American” line of bullshit. They’re just as American as you are. They love freedom just as much as you do. (Not that you even know what ‘freedom’ means, if you’re trying to deny it to anybody else.) Last but by no means least: any right which you would claim for yourself, you should also accord to them, whether it’s specifically spelled out in the Constitution or not.
4. Keep your promises. Don’t tell the public one thing and then do another, unless you also give us a damn good reason for the change. Don’t tell one group something and another group the opposite. We live in the Internet age, and we WILL find out. When it happens, enjoy your retirement money. We won’t vote for you to keep darkening our doorsteps.
5. When you watched movies as a youngster, remember how you cheered when the schoolyard bully got his comeuppance. Look at America’s standing in the international community around, say, 2006-7. If elementary school parable is indeed the limit of your understanding, maybe it can at least be allowed to guide foreign policy in years to come.
6. The national media have provided you with a means of understanding whether you are acting logically – whether you identify with the right or left. His name is Jon Stewart. If your name is mentioned on his show more than twice in any given month, you might wish to take a look at your priorities. Jon Stewart, you see, IS smarter than a fifth grader.
7. Perhaps above all, remember this quote from former President Harry Truman – another individual who was smarter than a fifth grader:
“Don’t piss in the soup, boys – we’ve all got to eat.”
Well, perhaps musings re: “Laodicean”, since neither meaning of the word applies to me.
I have to congratulate 13-year-old Kavya Shivashankar for winning this, especially with an obscure word that I didn’t know the meaning of until I was into my 20s.
The word in question makes me wonder, though, about the inclusion of such a very religion-specific word in a secular contest of this kind – and whether the bee also contains words which are derived from religions other than Christianity.
While “Laodicean” has to some degree been appropriated for use in describing a certain political sentiment (or lack thereof), it is more easily found in the book of Revelations than anywhere else – excepting perhaps a work of Thomas Hardy which still uses it in its religious context.
Can anyone – pardon the pun – enlighten me as to my wonderings above?
This has showed up on a few of my friends’ LiveJournals this morning, and I found I had something to say about it.
Copy this sentence into your livejournal if you’re in a heterosexual marriage, and you don’t want it “protected” by the bigots who think that gay marriage hurts it somehow.
I have a fairly sizable problem with the view that gay marriage is in any way wrong; as I understand it, most of the objections to this appear to have their basis in Scripture.
Nowhere in the Bible does it say that gay marriage is in any way wrong. There are some references to sexual activity between men as being ‘unclean’ (a more correct translation than ‘abomination’), primarily Leviticus 21:13 and several of the writings of Paul, but none of them touch on marriage at all.
And I think it’s painfully obvious that denying gay people the right to marry will not in any way dissuade them from any sexual activity.
I’m not going to go too deep into the exact wording of the passage in Leviticus, but I think most people will realize on an objective reading that “do not lie with a man as you would with a woman” makes sense only in that it refers to a physical impossibility.
Anyone who objects to ANYTHING based on Leviticus really needs to re-read Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Jesus preached unconditional acceptance of the persecuted that day, and explicitly repudiated the blind following of the letter of the law without regard for its spirit.
So what then was the spirit of such a law? As with the proscription against eating shellfish, and many of the 613 pronouncements in Leviticus (come on, just TRY to follow each and every one of them yourselves before you open your mouths) I believe that much of it had to do with health. In the Judaea of two and a half millennia ago, shellfish didn’t stay fresh very long. And people didn’t have access to the same hygienic luxuries we have now. Small wonder then that many things were prohibited – some of these pronouncements were predominantly in the nature of a preemptive universal health care plan.
The very next line of Leviticus proclaims the death penalty for heterosexual adultery. This too makes sense within the health care context – the more people slept around, the more likely it would be that diseases could be passed among the people (who didn’t have access to a Walgreens for antibiotics).
How about that? Universal health care plan. In the Bible. Almost makes you want to vote for that guy who’s not actually a Muslim despite what his opponents want you to believe.
In closing, then, a message to anyone pushing for a ban on gay marriage based on Scripture: I welcome you to step forward if you’ve ever had an affair, eaten shrimp, or played football on the wrong day of the week, and I will be only too happy to stone you to death personally.
Have a nice day.
Perhaps the only silver lining to the twin catastrophes of Ike and Lehman is that the media dust is finally settling on McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin for running mate. With that in mind, I’m going to try to look at both tickets with as strong a hype-filter as I can muster.
First of all, I should say that McCain made a risky but brilliant move in picking Palin, for a variety of reasons: she’s young and fresh; she’s attractive and charismatic; and she’s a member of a “minority demographic”. These three things collectively neutralize a massive piece of Obama’s media advantage, while also giving McCain some much-needed credibility with the less moderate elements of his base. Many of the nation’s “likely Republican voters” care about a candidate’s views on only three things: guns, gays and God. To which Palin gives them a longed-for yes, no, and hallelujah.
Obama, in choosing Biden, has made a sensible choice, but one which is too safe, too pedestrian, to fire the imagination of today’s news junkies. Living as we do in the era of the ever-shortening news cycle and 24-hour coverage, Obama’s choice still barely made a splash compared to the hype preceding it. Joe Biden has strong economic and foreign policy credentials, both areas in which Obama needed bolstering, but he still went with what is being perceived as a boring option. After the weeks of “will they, won’t they” regarding an Obama/Clinton ticket – the suspense almost reaching Mulder and Scully levels – the press were rather more disillusioned than they would have been with Clinton, Kaine or Sebelius.
McCain has, with his choice, largely abnegated his own attacks on Obama’s lack of experience. Obama, with his, has severely damaged the credibility of his message of overthrowing the Washington establishment. With both of these central thrusts rendered impotent, it is hardly surprising that of the two now-completed tickets, the favorable coverage has predominantly been on the more audacious – and more glamorous.
Of course, none of the above even begins to address the question of anyone’s fitness for the position to which they aspire. Swiftboating aside, there are of course pros and cons to both of them.
The Vice-Presidency of the United States has in many cases been a position of great prestige and little actual responsibility. The President has a chief of staff, a communications department, a wide-ranging and experienced Cabinet, an Attorney General, a Surgeon General, the Joint Chiefs and the various intelligence agency heads from whom to draw information. Amongst all of this, the opinion of a single person, even a Vice-President, does not necessarily carry much weight. Historically the role has often been to perform largely ceremonial duties, staying out of the way while the actual governing gets done. These have been Vice-Presidents whose sole purpose has been to continue sucking air longer than the President, should the need arise. However, it is this last function which is perhaps the most terrifying of all; it is simply flabbergasting to think of some of these people being thrust into the position of running the country should that “heartbeat’s distance” abruptly shorten. I imagine that very few people were thrilled with the notion of a President Quayle, and I confess to great trepidation regarding the possibility of a President Cheney.
While other Vice-Presidents have executed their offices laudably and very much to the nation’s benefit, I would not wish to lose sight of the fact that the primary duty of a Vice-President must be to step in and fulfil the constitutionally appointed duties if the worst should befall a President. A Vice-President should be someone solid, reliable, just as much “ready to lead from day one” as the President; what happens if on January 19th, as the President-elect jets into DC, the plane has an accident? I, for one, have to trust that at any moment, the second-billed actor in the great play will be in the starting gate and ready to run the same race. Mixed metaphors aside, I believe that Biden would be the more capable President of the two VP candidates, were anything to happen to Obama. Given the continued existence of white supremacist movements in this country and others, this possibility cannot and must not be ruled out, sickening though it seems to civilized people. In a crisis of such magnitude, America needs someone with the experience to act as the nation’s guiding hand. A fresh face still finding her expensively-shod feet would be a catastrophic backup should McCain’s advancing age get the better of him, saddening though that prospect is.
So with the question of the Vice-Presidency taken care of, who would make the better President? As I mention above, I believe that the vice-presidential choices ultimately put a point in Obama’s column, but that is merely one point among a great many. How do they stack up?
There are a number of deciding factors which will make or break the election for a candidate. The American public’s willingness to vote based on race or gender alone is a worrying one; a reading of online political forums quite clearly shows that there is a small but vocal subset of the population who intend to do just that, regardless of the issues. This, however, cannot be gainsaid by any words or actions by the candidates, and I can only hope that these particular groups cancel each other out enough to leave the rest of the playing field level. The deciding issues, I believe, will be Iraq (and the broader “war on terror”), the economy, and religion.
Yes, religion. Let us admit here and now that the idea of separating church from state is a myth. The new President will be sworn in on a Bible, the Pledge of Allegiance he speaks will refer to “one nation under God”, and it is inevitable that the very convictions that have shaped his views for much of his life will carry over into his actions as President. It will take at least another generation for there to be a paradigm shift of such magnitude that a candidate will be elected without any scrutiny of his or her religious beliefs, and many of the voting public want to know that the country’s top dog believes in their God just as ardently as they do themselves, in order to be able to put any trust in his decision-making. And this is what will guide any talk of same-sex marriage, of abortion, of any of the political issues where we are splintered by religion. Republicans have an edge here, since the more “conservative” positions tend to be better aligned with the Christian viewpoints. But there is a broader issue here: typically, those of us who are non-religious simply roll our eyes and try to logic our way through questions of religion. Those of us who are religious stand firm in the sure knowledge that Holy Scripture has already provided the answers. It is not hard to see that the latter angle inspires more passion in its adherents. At most, the former resent the intrusion of religion into their political arena, but the latter fear its removal from theirs – a much more powerful motivator. Many of these people will vote for the candidate who appears to most closely follow the guidance of the Divine, and this is a sufficiently large group as to significantly benefit McCain.
On Iraq, the candidates will inevitably be pigeonholed into the “bring ‘em home” and “stay the course” boxes. The soundbite-driven news outlets will not allow any room for nuance and subtlety. As such, this part of the vote will come down to the gap between those who believe we are doing more good than harm in the Middle East and vice versa. The debates will allow them to say more, of course, but even those will be restricted to mini-speeches of pre-determined length and content rather than a frank and equal exchange of ideas; there’s no such thing as a real political debate any longer, merely a fencing match between two advertisers. However, short of a major event in the war on terror, I believe Obama has the edge here. A lot of us are sick of this war. Sick of hearing about it, sick of paying for it, sick of their country being viewed with suspicion and contempt by other nations. Truman once used the metaphorical line “Don’t spit in the soup, boys – we all have to eat.” America has been spitting in the international soup for too long now, and I believe Obama will be considered less likely to continue the spitting.
Discussion of the war, and the resulting drain on the US Treasury, will bring us to the economy. This is of course among the most complex issues that anyone faces; there are three hundred million people in this country who want their government to do more for them but still leave more cash in their wallets. This dichotomy is the core around which such phrases as “big government” and “fiscal conservative” orbit at breakneck speeds. Ultimately, though, despite the plethora of small things which make up economic policy, the intricacies of the federal budget and appropriations processes, this will boil down to which candidate does the best job of selling their policy: the one who’s trying to give you bang for your buck, or the one who’s trying to reduce the buck in the first place. Generally I would say that McCain would have an edge here, but Obama has a convenient Republican administration to blame for a national debt spiraling out of control and for gross budget deficits, and that accusation may stick.
On the whole, then, I think Obama has what it takes to make it through. Not necessarily in the landslide which some Democrats have optimistically predicted, but without having to worry too much about hanging chads.
Is he, however, the better man for the job? From what I’ve seen, I don’t think he’s perfect by any stretch, but I do believe that America needs the kind of change he purports to stand for, and I do think he can pull it off. I have a fair amount of respect for McCain (certainly more than for certain other noteworthy Republicans), but I can’t bring myself to trust in him as much as I can Obama.
You’ll notice that I left health care and education out of the big-issue list. These are important issues, but I personally believe that they will be more in the nature of tie-breakers when Super Tuesday rolls around.
I’m sure I can find more to say on all of the above, but I think I have at this point been loquacious enough to get at least an implicit “tl;dr” from pretty much all of you, so I’ll stop here.
Throughout its history, Western science has had one major failing – its inability to ‘think outside the box’. Each passing day brings a new theory or discovery, most of which are ignored or derided by ‘orthodox’ scientists who cling to their safe, comfortable dogma. In the 1860s, chemists refused to acknowledge John Newland’s idea that the elements might fall into eight distinct ‘families’. Later on, Dimitri Mendeleyev was awarded the Nobel Prize for the same idea, which led to the periodic table that hangs on the wall in every high school. The stories of Copernicus and Galileo have become famous examples of maverick scientists proving the establishment wrong. Even such luminaries as Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein suffered the disbelief of their contemporaries at one time or another.
Due to this hostile, neophobic academic climate, few scholars are willing to stick their necks out and embrace a novel idea, regardless of its merits, for fear of losing their reputation or – worse yet – their funding. Indeed, it is an unwritten rule of modern science that the investigation of certain subjects is tantamount to professional suicide. No chemist today will seriously experiment toward the alchemical ideal of ‘transmutation’. Few anthropologists will accept the possibility of trans-Atlantic or trans-Pacific contacts before the days of Columbus (pr at least Leif Erikson), and even those few will guardedly admit that a few small-scale events could have occurred, but no major communication. It is a rare Egyptologist that will look twice at the notion of the Sphinx being older than the Fourth Dynasty, and a still rarer geographer that truly believes in Atlantis.
Science holds tightly to its predetermined ‘facts’ – indeed, just as tightly as religious people hold to their own. Each accuses the other camp of trying to ‘undermine’ theirs with ‘obviously untrue’ statements. Such tensions are understandable, since science and religion are in a sense two roads leading to the very same goal; each is on a quest to understand the ultimate truth of the Universe. I believe it is time that these two take a long, hard, objective look at each other, since there may be a wealth of information in each that would benefit the other. Perhaps Aleister Crowley said it best:
We place no reliance
On Virgin or Pigeon -
Our method is Science
Our aim is Religion.
Crowley’s own unorthodox religious leanings and somewhat dubious reputation aside, this example of his thinking bears remembering. The word ‘religion’ comes from Latin roots meaning ‘re-tying’, more specifically a re-establishment of one’s link with the Divine. ‘Science’, on the other hand, means ‘knowledge, and the pursuit thereof’. I can think of few better ways to be bonded to any God or Goddess than through knowledge – detailed study of Their greatest work, upon whose verdant bosom over six billion of us have made our homes.
“The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing”.
In our arrogance, we claim to know many things. Just as we once ‘knew’ the Sun revolved around the Earth, ‘knew’ the world was flat, we now ‘know’ that we cannot travel faster than light, we ‘know’ the reasons for rainfall and tides and comets and black holes. We couldn’t possibly be wrong, since we’re such smart, highly evolved creatures.
I’m sorry, I said the E-word. Evolution? Creation? A little of both? Who knows?
Today more than fifty million Americans went to school. They learned, or at least heard, certain key factoids which make up a part of the accepted body of American knowledge. Few will have thought to question anything stated by their instructors – indeed, the most frequently asked question across these schools today was probably “will this be on the test?”. Millions of notebooks were half-heartedly flipped open to record unthinkingly the words of the curriculum.
Western society in particular is guilty of this practice; we place inordinate value on sameness, such that within any given socioeconomic group most people will dress the same, listen to the same music, watch the same TV shows. Fashion statements are generated by large corporations, whose subsidiaries pander to the similarly slavish fashions of the niche markets. Record companies churn out new clones of old artists, the promotional machine turning them into superstars and ensuring their marketability. Ultimately, a tiny élite controls the behavior of most of tomorrow’s leaders, who are mindlessly following orders as they are taught more and more definitely how to think – or perhaps more importantly, how not to think. We read Orwell’s 1984 and think of it as fiction when in fact it simply mirrors today’s reality so perfectly that one must almost ask whether Orwell was a latter-day prophet.
We believe that our government has our best interests at heart rather than its own; we believe that the news media is always telling us the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth; we believe that accepted scientific principles are always right and we believe that our textbooks, encyclopedias and religious works provide an unerring guide to the world and everything in it.
Where am I going with all of this?
If the patterns of today continue, it is conceivable that within a few generations humanity will be faced with a completely new scenario, an event which we are unable to predict today, and that the billions of Earthlings faced with this problem will be unable to devise a single new idea between them and will thus perish.
Some may consider this a needlessly alarmist hypothesis. Others may sit comfortably and say that God – and I use the term to indicate any religious figure or figures – will no doubt save us from any such catastrophe. Others still may cling to accepted scientific dogma, believing that the corpus of accumulated data will no doubt yield a solution. What if these people are all wrong?
I believe that it is the duty of today’s Westerner to make himself a royal pain in the tail for the establishment. Perhaps the scientists are indeed right, or the Church, or the historians. I am not willing to bet the continued existence of my species on it. The class of 1491 believed that the world was flat even though the Egyptian, Minoan and Greek civilizations had already mathematically determined otherwise and certain Asiatic folks had already visited the American continent. The learned elders of the sixteenth century were convinced that the Sun revolved around the Earth, going so far as to revile and punish the mavericks who proposed a heliocentric system, notwithstanding teachings from the past suggesting otherwise. Today we all accept the Darwinian theory of evolution, albeit in a rather distorted way that would horrify Darwin himself, though many of us are aware of the establishment’s reluctance to believe him. What do we “know” today that the class of 2100 will ridicule? Nothing, say the scientists. What we know now is obviously the shining, unassailable truth. Their word does not satisfy me any more than the “truths” of yesteryear satisfied Columbus or Galileo.
The Real Truth as we know it today is not an ultimate destination; it is a claim made by closed-minded people who wish to keep their books in the accepted literature and their royalties in their wallets. It is a system of denial whereby anyone proposing a different scenario is immediately dubbed a ‘crank’ (at best) or a ‘heretic’ (at worst). Few members of the establishment are open-minded enough to accept that if a well-loved article of established dogma is proven incorrect it must be amended or replaced. Even on those rare occasions when the ‘lunatic fringe’ is proven correct about something, those very lunatics who dared to dream of something new gather their followers about them and begin to cling to their own discoveries as tightly as the now-discredited generation before them, and before long the new knowledge is just as entrenched as the old, accepted just as blindly by the next generation of students.
If we are to progress, to advance our understanding of Science, of Nature and of God, we must question everything. Only those who believe that faster-than-light travel is possible will have the impetus to make it possible. Only those who believe in human immortality will find the way to make it happen. Only those who learn the lessons of the past will be able to carve out a meaningful future for the human race.
I’m sorry, Henry, but history is no longer bunk. Let’s take another look.
I’m just about sick of this evolution vs. creation debate that seems to pop up every few decades when the writers of educational policy have nothing better to do (or want to divert attention from their continued inability to stop fucking things up).
There is room for both in the world, and in the textbook.
Generally, given the choice between conjecture and evidence, I’ll go with the side that shows evidence. Which is customarily the side of science and technology rather than faith and dogma. I am willing to concede, however, that I don’t have the whole story, and that science is not infallible.
In the beginning the Universe was created. This fact in and of itself has pissed a number of people off, and either George Bush or Osama bin Laden is probably looking for a reason to make war on it.
Was it created by God, or gods? Was it created from concentrated energy by a humongous kablooie? We may never know.
Here’s something to consider. Who is to say that the aforementioned humongous kablooie was random? Perhaps the Big Bang itself was itself ‘intelligent design’. It certainly strikes me as a convenient way to create a great deal of matter very fast.
Evolution, in and of itself, has been scientifically proven. It does happen. The fact of it still being called a theory is no different than the fact that some textbooks still refer to gravity that way. It’s not even all that much of a stretch to deduce the concept of evolution and the notion of the survival of the fittest from Mendel’s first few breeding experiments with garden vegetables. Ultimately, Darwin was not so stupid as to publish his findings unless there was something pretty solid to back them up.
It has not, however, been conclusively proven that we, Homo sapiens sapiens, evolved from anything. However, given our physical resemblance to Homo erectus, whose existence is also known to be fact, it seems at least feasible.
Perhaps evolution was actually a part of a greater plan. When God (or gods, though for simplicity I shall henceforth use the singular) decided that all things should come to be, perhaps it was His (or Her, but again I shall use the conventional phrasing) desire, His wish, that the world move on, beyond the original boundaries of its design. He would thus have created the laws of nature (including evolution) and the laws of physics (including those governing the formation of planets) as a framework within which this growth could occur.
We all know of the Missing Link in evolution – the piece of the puzzle that would supposedly connect us to earlier, less sophisticated primates, if only we could find it. Perhaps we didn’t actually evolve from them the same way everything else evolved. Perhaps God did put us here in place of other primate species which were dying out. He may have wished to see progress sooner, and thus introduced mankind into his design once everything else was in motion, which would be in keeping with the Biblical assertion that we were created last.
In the same vein, it is possible, ludicrous though it sounds, that the reason for the famous Missing Link is that some more advanced race from another planet chose to cross their own genetic strain with that of early humans, giving rise to an altogether new species – us. The Book of Genesis could simply have been their means of rationalizing it.
The creationists have a tough job here, since they not only have to prove the existence of God but prove that He created humans rather than having them evolve. It is very hard to unequivocally prove the existence of an intangible divine entity.
“God exists, for it is written in this Book.”
“How do we know that we can trust what is written in the Book?”
“The Book is the word of God.”
The circular reasoning takes us nowhere, and yet it is all but impossible for many of us to deny the existence of a greater Being of some sort. Many people, myself included, look in awe at the wonders of nature and find it hard to believe that all of this was created by random chance. We look at the unfathomably complex human body and can’t quite tell ourselves that this grew from a few molecules in some primordial muck.
I have moved away somewhat from actual educational policy. My own view is guided by my number one educational principle: that a student should always be free to ask questions, to find his or her own answers. This is progress. Two billion children learning to regurgitate accepted truths is not education, it is stagnation.
I have no objection to the teaching of creationism in schools per se; I do not, however, want to see the teaching of evolution suffer for it. An underlying problem of teaching creationism is the notion of separating Church and State, which I believe to be a good idea. I do not think, though, that too much religion is being introduced if the textbook simply says that “many people believe that the world, and human beings, were created by a God, as detailed in the Bible, Qu’ran and other sacred texts” and encourages students to consider all possibilities.
I think it best to avoid working with certain other discrepancies unless the student wishes to undertake research on it. For example: the creation happening in seven days versus billions of years, the Earth only being 6000 years old and the 13,000-year-old archeological evidence of cities. I myself attempted to pick out flaws in both sides when I was a young boy. My principal argument against the Creation story back then amounted to “Hey, where did Cain get a wife from?” I also learned of the Missing Link at around the same age.
So I don’t know which is true, or which parts of each are true. I only know that we don’t have all the answers yet, and we won’t get them unless we make sure the next generation knows that the answers are still waiting to be found. Throwing accusations and crying heresy will not help either side of this debate, because it’s a debate that doesn’t need sides. It needs open-mindedness from all parties.
Having discussed in a previous post what it means to be America, let us turn our attention to one of the most divisive global issues of the present day: that of religious affiliation.
For all of the technological sophistication we have attained, for all of the nuances of civil discourse we have evolved, in matters of religion we are but a hair’s breadth separated from our tribal ancestors. The mere mention of religion can scrape away the thin veneer of cultural pluralism to which we pretend, leading to attitudes descending rapidly into a my-God’s-better-than-your-God schoolyard-style scrap.
If we accept the validity of all religions and keep our minds open to all of their teachings, we can quickly understand that we are blessed with a plethora of deities, spirits and otherworldly presences, each with wisdom to share if we but listen.
Regrettably, there are many among us whose minds are firmly closed to any truth not conforming to their preconceived mindset and dogma. This fundamentalist attitude is a disease of the small-minded, a disease responsible for unconscionable destruction of human lives and livelihoods. And the disease has proven to be not only resilient but surprisingly virulent in the current political climate.
There is a perception in America today that Islam is fundamentally evil, a perception born of ignorance and intolerance in both directions. The actions of a tiny minority of extremists have drastically colored the views of the American public, and a half billion decent, law-abiding Muslims have been tarred with the same brush. A recent story carried by the American news media showed that some American voters, even registered Democrats, are unwilling to vote for Barack Obama because he is a Muslim. Leaving aside the erroneousness of the statement, it highlights the view that all Muslims are to be considered untrustworthy.
Likewise, there is a view among many Muslims that America has essentially declared a jihad against their faith, that all Americans are intolerant of their beliefs and hell-bent on their eradication. This too is based very much on the actions of certain far-right extremists in the American political arena.
Similar conflicts beset Israel and its neighbors, as well as tribal groups worldwide. The sad fact is that a vast majority of the world’s people genuinely yearn for peace, even those who believe that peace can only come as a result of violence. There are even those who believe that the price of peace is the wholesale vernichtung of one side or the other.
The truth is that most wars, most conflicts, most misunderstandings can be avoided before they begin, simply through the effort to listen to another’s position with an open mind and the willingness to find a mutually acceptable compromise.
I would recommend that every Christian take the time to read al-Qu’ran and that every Muslim take the time to read the Bible. Each making even this much effort to understand the other could lend itself to a massive change.
Muslims are enjoined to greet one another by saying ‘Assalam-o-Alaikum’ that is, peace be upon you. According to a saying of the Prophet, the best Islam is to greet everyone you come across, regardless of whether or not you are acquainted with the person.
Likewise, peace is inherent in Christianity. Jesus said it bluntly: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” (Matthew 5:9). The Gospels also provide this gem from Luke 1:78-79: “By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
Let us not forget Judaism in all of this, a religion often disparaged by Christians and Muslims alike. In the Jerusalem Talmud, Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel said: “By three things is the world preserved: judgment, truth and peace. And all three are in effect one.”
Many of the Eastern traditions stress that peace within oneself and peace within the world go hand in hand, and that neither can be achieved fully without the other. A wide variety of Native American traditions stress similar points.
So is our history truly nothing more than a series of wars over which of these peace-loving religions is supreme?
It would certainly be more constructive to draw a line under the long history of wars and instead allow history yet in the making to be a series of lessons on how best to understand each other.
The word ‘religion’ comes from roots meaning “to re-tie” – that is, to re-establish the bond between oneself and the Divine. Perhaps this bond would be better served if our particular Divine were more than something to take out of our back pockets and wave threateningly at people we don’t know or understand.