A collection of ideas for your interest and for the benefit of my mental health.

10 August 2011

Ice Cold: Serious issue edition.

I was having a discussion with my friend Joe (whose shamefully neglected blog is here) a propos religious beliefs which stirred me to write about an issue I have been grappling with for a while.  I make no secret of being an agnostic and a humanist. Could there be a God?  Is there evidence for there being a God?  I have, in the past fortnight, compared myself to Jesus and my phone to Lazarus after my successful resurrection, to the disdain of a Catholic in my company.  I do not however, look down on the religious.  I wonder, though, whether many of the people who belong to organised religions actually take their religion seriously; in turn, is following of a religious scripture or teacher to the letter an ideal behaviour or the definition of dangerous fundamentalism?  Inspired by Stevo's experiences with the 'pious' detailed in his fine blog, Studenting, I'm moved to explore the issue.  In this most serious of my blog posts, I will weigh in my views and hopefully figure out what I actually think once I've hashed it out in front of your very eyes.

The water of thoughts into the judgement of wine.  Not my best metaphor.
If I ever became religious I know that in doing do I would attempt to follow every rule in the holy book.  Rather digressing, I wonder why I would subject myself to someone else's prescribed way of life but let's pretend I do understand that mindset.  By choosing an organised religion I would expect to follow the precepts otherwise what would the point be in being a part of the religion?  So in a sense I would expect followers of, for example, the Catholic Church to obey all of the Pope's teachings, to study the bible and live by its rules to the letter. Is this an unreasonable point of view?

A quick discussion with my dad brought up a question of forgiveness.  This concept, central to Christianity obviously, seems to forgive transgressions and in some sense permits adaption and bending of the rules to suit different needs or situations.  Not necessarily a bad thing.  I do wonder though if the concept of the shepherd and his flock was invented by naughty men to justify their disobedience?  If we view organised religions as relics of a bygone age, in which they were necessary socio-politico-economic tools to guide a less moral and more maleable population towards the will of the rulers.  Perhaps this is overly cynical. I'm inclined to think of this as a pertinent question and those who would censor it as afraid.

Linked to this atmosphere of questioning the status quo,  dogmatism, or the stubborn clinging to beliefs even against crippling evidence that these are ill founded, is a major issue.  In a world where people often confuse belief, or personal opinion, with true facts (Q: Why, in theist circles, does the belief in a deity equate to its existence?[thanks Mark, whose blog is here]) it can be difficult to tell somebody that their 'opinion' is wrong. In absense of the population clearing up its vocabulary, the problem can only be exasperated by the inclusion of religious belief in a world of increasing skepticism and irreligiousness.  Does genuine dogmatism become galvanised by this hostile, cynical environment and lead to a violent zeal and agressive fundamentalism that we read about on the news?

I feel like Mini with his Tracy Jordan images.

At this point I should say I have realised my beliefs so the rest of the post might be more cogent.

I am of course entirely against violence (we've had our fair share now, enough to make kickass entertainment of all sorts) and we have learnt enough to know that even the victor of a brawl is a loser.  As such the prospect of religious wars or extremism that we have seen throughout the world throughout history to me is abhorent and I would not be seen to be supporting such people.  If I assume that this is the inevitable product of total religious obedience in today's world (I won't even approach the idea that devotees can be used by faith leaders after indoctrination) then I shun such an approach to one's spirituality.  Where does that leave me?

It leaves me to believe that organised religion has no real place in a moderate and cooperating utopian world (forged by my hand via eugenics and targetted thought policing).  In our real world, organised religion should only exist if you are willing to follow it properly and to the letter and because of this rigidity it can unfortunately be dangerous depending on the teachings (and I don't believe any are beyond reproach in this regard).  This is not to cast all of those who individually come to the same conclusions as wrong-doers, that is how religious organisations are formed and there is much good to be found in all of them in my opinion.  I think however that when, within these institutions, ideas do split then it is not a debate issue but a reason to dissolve the organisation because you can't agree on it so you're not the same thing any more. A divorce of opinion in the catholic church, for example, really means you're not all under the same church any more.

My primary thrust, though, concerns the majority of people involved in religion.  To those guys, who are in a church or what have you but do not conform to all of its teachings or beliefs, you are not making what you want of your prescribed religion (in saying that you are only fooling yourself and those around you).  You are creating your own religion. Be proud, you have developed a moral code entirely divorced from your deity.  Your god is an embodiment of your own morality, regardless of the existence of Allah or Yahweh or Brahma or whatever.  You decide what is right and wrong.  You don't even need to realise you're doing it.  But please try and realise, because by association a lot of organised religions are bringing you down.  And also know that atheists are the same as you but without the pretext;  I am my own God.

Hope this wasn't too extreme, if it was then maybe you have misunderstood or we just can't agree.  If you're a friend of God you can still be a friend of mine.  Perhaps next time I can try and reconcile religion and socialism (not sure I can).