Tag Archives: God

Do I hate religion? Should you?

I do not hate religion. I do not look down upon those people who are religious, I do not believe they are inferior intellectually, and I have no illusion that because I am not religious that I am better.

religion

The way I view religion is the way I try to understand most anything. I recognize it exist naturally and for a reason, that religion has good parts, and that it has bad parts. The intellectually challenging part is to examine all of these elements.

But in general I think religion is another  tool that humans carry in their psychological tool-bag. They use it to solve problems, to overcome obstacles, and to survive. And like all tools religion can be both positive and negative.

Sometimes people seek religion for comfort and passion, for community, to overcome addictions and problems, or maybe for the security of having something to believe in unconditionally. When religion is used as a positive tool I fully recognizes its value.

Religion can be used to justify murder, to declare on culture inferior to another, to manipulate, for greed, for tyranny, and worse. When religion is used in these ways we must closely scrutinized and criticize it.

Zooming Out: The big picture

When I discuss religion sometimes I have to remind myself to take a step back – to see the big picture. One way I do this is to remind myself of life. I remember that we all die, that our life is short, nearly meaningless in the grand scheme or cosmic reality (not valueless) and that religion is not worth hating or dwelling over. If religion helps a person achieve happiness then it has done it’s job.

It is perfectly healthy to debate with someone over the accuracy and truth in one religion or another, but in the end it’s important to remember that we are all fellow humans trying to find our way. Trying to find truth, meaning, and purpose. So attacking the thing that has given someone purpose is counterproductive and ineffective.

Finding (and revealing) truth is a slow process. The best one can do is reveal small bits of truth and meaning at a time. To ourselves and to others.

religion

Religion and The Power to Change

Today my Mother called me. I hesitated to answer the phone because – to be frank – her phone calls annoy me. She always seems a bit whiny and I can never listen to her go on for more than a few minutes. I usually pick up the phone and put up with it – for at least a few minutes – just because she’s my Mom.

A call about my Dad

The call goes something like this:

“Daddy really wants you to call him.” She has referred to him like that since I was a kid. “He’s off drugs and called me crying, he really wants you to call him.” I’m annoyed at this point – like going to church is someone’s free pass to sympathy and forgiveness.  I want actions – not a crutch used to help someone to feel less guilty!

“I know, I know. I’ll think about it.” I tell my mother I will consider calling my Father, but the truth is I won’t. I will not even entertain the idea. The phone works both ways and if God can miraculously get him off the methamphetamine then it can help him use the phone to call his son – this isn’t my job.

I get off the phone with my Mom as quickly as she called.

Change is happening everywhere, it seems

I tell my good friend Holden about what’s happened and he shares a similar story. He describes an experience that occurred just last weekend between he and his Father-in-Law (who he shares years of bad blood with).

Dude, I have a pretty fucking crazy story of a similar nature of my own.

So, I told you my father in law has been going to the church of tongues, being ordained as a minister… etc.

Well, last weekend I go to my wife’s grandmother’s house to get a shovel to do some yard work and her dad is back there with a truck, loading it up with old limbs and stuff.

He’s trying to lift a huge ass limb, so I get a hatchet and help him cut it up, load it up, etc. We just exchange small talk and pleasantries. We’re civil to each other.

Then I ask him if he needs help unloading all that shit at the landfill. He says no but says we need to talk.

He proceeds to apologize for every shit thing he’s ever done to me, thanks me for taking good care of his daughter, applauds my work ethic and getting the MBA even with a kid, preggo wife and full time job. Apologizes about everything, tells me he loves me, hes proud of me…

I return all the same gesture, we shake hands and that was that. He didn’t say anything to anyone, I didn’t say anything to the wife, nothing has been said about it since..

I was floored. WTF. Wow. If the attitude sticks, I will forever be proven wrong about the guy. Amazing.

Religion Allows Change

Can religion really change a man? If so, how?

I think there is no doubt that religion allows for change. Especially for the stubborn or prideful (aren’t we all…). However, I doubt the solution is a malevolent one. I mean I somehow doubt the grace of God or Jesus’ hand touches a man’s soul granting serenity. That’s all hocus-pocus to me – but I’m being cynical.

Rather than the mystic – I think the change religion grants a man is more natural, more obvious, and surly as equally effective. My theory is religion gives a prideful man an opening to change his bad habits without losing face to himself, his friends, and family. It give a guy an out, a second chance, a clean slate – and a chance to feel okay about it!

Maybe Christianity really is about forgiveness – like it says in the bible. Except in reality I don’t think it is God or Jesus who is doing the forgiving – rather it allows you to forgive yourself and allows your family to look beyond your mistakes and forgive you too. That is very positive and very powerful.

Maybe for those of us who aren’t religious we can learn an important lesson about the power to truly forgive our fellow man and ourselves. Almost all major religions teach these same lessons – To lose one’s ego and to forgive – I think they’re on to something.

A New Year. An Old Man.

“You better give your Peepaw a hug, I don’t think he has much longer left.” I told my wife.

His eyes were watering, he was struggling to breathe, and sometimes I would see him shake a little as he was trying to move around. The rest of the house was rustling about almost like they didn’t notice the poor old man coming to terms with his own demise.

It was only a year ago, Christmas time last year, that I had spent time with my wife’s Great Grandfather. He seemed so much more alive then, but now his body seems ready to give out. To let go of the life still in his eyes, to rest.

I wonder to myself if he feels alone. The children running around the house, parents chatting about nothing, but Peepaw sits alone in a comfortable recliner enjoying what will probably be his last Christmas. My observations are full of mixed emotions.

Here sits a man who has had a full life, much better than most. He has been married to his dear wife for over 60 years, he has started and handed down a successful business, and has a wonder family surrounding him. What more could a man ask for in his final days. How much more peacefully could anyone go?

On the other hand I feel a hint of dread. The curtains are closing, his inevitable death is coming quickly, but he is alone in his journey in this. No one can truly empathize with what he must be feeling – it must be a little strange that everyone moves around so carelessly going about their daily business as he knows that these are his final hours. Literally his final moments of existence on this planet. Everyone pretends not to notice – getting dessert almost seems more important.

Of course it’s not that no one cares. He’s an 89 year old man and his death is something almost everyone has accepted – even if it’s just subconsciously. Something unsaid we have all agreed to. Inevitability. Finality.

Still part of me feels like we should all be crowded around him – appreciating the man and his life – while he’s still coherent enough to appreciate the gesture. Part of me wants to lean in and whisper a question: “What is the one thing I should know about life?” Oh the knowledge, the wisdom, he must have during these final hours. Regrets, pride, advice.

If there is any sort of afterlife. Any karma. Any higher power. Or even if there isn’t. Let it be known that a young man noticed you that day – your final Christmas. Maybe its some comfort, some justice. A young man unrelated by blood, a young man that never said more than a few words to you, a young man who only shook your hand and stared you in the eyes and tried to communicate at that moment that I appreciated your existence, noticed, cared.

I didn’t ask anything, you never lectured me, but I learned a lot from you.

A Religious Journey: Searching for Faith

I’ve struggled with religion and faith my entire life. My studies began early and continue today. It started before I can remember as my Parents dropped me off at Church. Some of my fondest memories are those in a little Baptist Church as a child. Sunday school, church plays, and of course the plethora of Southern banquets featuring some of the finest dishes Grandmothers from around the county could muster.

Religion and the church community gave to me what everyone desires in life. An absolute truth, the warmth of love and affection, family, the kindness of a stranger smiling at you from a few pews away, and of course belonging. In a word: Comfort.

But from the time I can remember “believing” was always difficult. I would constantly struggle with the nagging feeling religion is make believe. I felt out of place and wondered how everyone else seemed to believe so whole-heartily and so easily while I struggled with my faith constantly.

I didn’t give up. As in life, the things that didn’t come natural to me (faith), I worked twice as hard as the next person to achieve. So I prayed daily for God to help me “believe”.

“Dear God – Please help me with my struggles in faith. Please help me find the evidence I need personally to find strength in my faith in you. I am sorry for my lack of faith and I am working hard to  find it.  Please put me on the right path.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

So my days would go from about the ages of 12 – 18. There were even times I believed strongly that God was there. Sometimes my hard work seemed to be paying off – though my doubts were never far behind.

Search for Faith

When I first arrived in college I decided to get serious about religion. I started watching videos that I hoped would strengthen my faith. I met a “preacher” who taught young people. And so intense self-indoctrination began – seemed to work – but eventually failed.

At one point I was ready to testify to my fellow college students on campus. I had almost convinced myself it all made sense. I painted an almost clear picture of what I had come to believe. But what I found mostly radicalized me and I saw in myself the symptoms of any individual induced to delirium.

Most of what I found I could not reconcile with my own personal thoughts and feelings.  Everything seemed overly radical, lacked evidence, and seemed almost loony. Though I learned many good lessons – those lessons were not independent to Christianity and proved nothing.

There were young earth creationist, those that claimed religion was about faith and not proof, those that claimed man and dinosaurs roamed the Earth together, and worse. Even those whom I admired failed in their efforts to provide reasonable evidence.

So, as a college student I decided to seek knowledge the best way I knew how. I enrolled in a few religion classes and finally I found what I was looking for, but not what I expected to find.

The scholarly approach to Religion was exactly what my personality craved. I learned about the history of the Bible, I found evidence of scholarly research, and was surrounded by people seeking the same information I desired. I had Christian Professors, Professors of different faiths and belief systems, and Professors with no beliefs at all.  I was truly left to gather the evidence and for the first time decide for myself rather than be told what I should believe by a Spiritual/Intellectual leader.

My Decision in Faith

I have become comfortably Agnostic. I’m an Agnostic because after years of searching for the information to strengthen my faith in Christianity, after giving it all I have to feel the right emotions, and after an entire youth spent in the indoctrination process of religion – it all failed.  I still came out hopelessly unable to believe.

I’m an Agnostic because I am a Scientist of sorts. Not a Rocket Scientist, of course, but a Scientist in logic and methodology. I am open to new evidence, new ways of thinking, and new interpretations. For or against religious belief.  Thus far all evidence points toward the non-existence of a God – especially the one described in Abrahamic religions.

I’m an Agnostic because for the first time in my life I feel like I am not lying to myself. I’m not struggling to force myself to feel a certain way or to believe a certain idea because that’s what I’ve been taught is right.  I think that’s something I can live with.

* I have written in length on religious topics on this blog.  You can check them out here.

My Problem with Calvinism

Our destiny is decided.  What we want doesn’t matter.  Whether we follow the path of righteousness and enter heaven or follow a path of evil and find hell awaiting us after death is all predetermined.  Hell, whether we choose Frosted Flakes or Lucky Charms for breakfast tomorrow morning has already been decided too.  Predestination – one of the illogical pillars of Calvinism that I despise.

Calvinism is even illogical from a religious perspective.  Double predestination assumes not only does God choose a few elite persons  (at random?) to go to heaven, but that the rest of us poor saps are going to hell, forever, and there’s nothing we can do about it.  What kind of loving creator creates something to ultimately be tortured for eternity?  If we go by that logic, assuming there is no such thing as free will, then not only is God himself responsible for sin and evil, but also for our eternal damnation.  Surely this can’t be the case.

I mean seriously.  Does it at all seem logical for an all loving, all just, creator to build something, specifically programmed to behave a certain way – then arbitrarily choose most of them to spend the rest of time in pain and agony.  When you created them to be exactly as they are!  Free will seems infinity more logical and just.

The Dangers of Calvinism

The Calvinist way of thinking is a dangerous one.  It’s essentially a hopeless one.  Why do anything when you are doomed to hell or blessed with heaven by no actions of your own?  (Although I’m sure all people who are actually Calvinist believe they are part of the elect selected by God to go to Heaven.  How convenient.) If you do not feel the call of God, you are going to hell anyways, so why live?  Calvinism essentially leads to an overall environment of moral nihilism.

In fact, it only makes sense that people who believe they are going to heaven are Calvinist.  Is anyone a Calvinist who actually believes they are doomed to Hell?  What a bunch of elitist pricks.

The Undeniable Logic of Free Will

If you are a Christian you MUST believe in free will.  If not, what point was it for Jesus to die on the cross for the sins of all mankind?  The fate of the people have already been decided. By the Calvinist’s logic: God decided in advance who goes to heaven or hell, then sent himself to earth to die on the cross for sinners, sinners who he had already decided were going to heaven or hell anyways. Right?

This is all Bullshit Anyways  

Look folks, if we are going to start cherry picking versus from the Bible to support our way of thinking we may as well consider ourselves screwed anyways.  Calvanist pull versus like “…also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will…” to demonstrate clear references to predestination.

Alright, fine. I’ll pull this one “Yet she increased her prostitution, remembering the days of her youth when she engaged in prostitution in the land of Egypt. 23:20 She lusted after their genitals – as large as those of donkeys, and their seminal emission was as strong as that of stallions. This is how you assessed the obscene conduct of your youth, when the Egyptians fondled your nipples and squeezed your young breasts.” (Ezekiel 23:19-20)  The only thing I’m wondering is – are my genitals supposed to be “as large as those of donkeys” or am I missing something?  Wow.

In the End

If you are religious and believe in God – use a little common sense.  The Bible isn’t literal and once we understand that – Calvinism starts falling apart.  If you aren’t religious – well, you know.

Religion’s Flexibility Proves its Improbability

Flexibility in region has been one of its strongest allies when it comes to conversion – especially when the religion you are talking about is Catholicism. I find this strange, especially if you are a Christian who believes and teaches that the bible and your traditions are the result of a one true and infallible God. To me a religion’s ability to change, fundamentally change, in order to gain followers at any cost is more evidence religion is more about power and an innate desire to belong than it is proof religion is a supernatural phenomena.

Church in Guatemala with a number of Christian and Mayan symbols and practices.

For example, while I was in Guatemala, we ran across church after church which had implemented aspects of the Mayan faith in order to gain acceptance of the Catholic church by the local residents. The result is an almost hybrid tradition of Mayan legends, imagery, and stories seamlessly integrated with Catholicism. Sometimes to the point where the former Christian and/or Mayan tradition is almost unrecognizable as its original form. Yet, the Catholic church completely accepts them as Christians and proud members of the church body – a further extension of the power of the Vatican. If there is one true religion, on true law passed down by a supernatural God, then do these hybrids qualify?

Human NOT Supernatural
The fact that most of the world shares a belief in a supreme and supernatural power, but cannot agree upon which supernatural power is “right” leads me to believe that the answer lies within ourselves rather than the supernatural.

It is natural to desire a feeling of transcendence and connection – even if that means making up a religion, a God, or a tradition to develop that connection. Native American tribes did it, the Romans did it, and so has everyone else – the one difference – no one agreed about who is really in charge up there.

Similarly with the Catholic/Mayan hybrids these developments were for people – no the supernatural. They were designed to recruit followers, to empower the already powerful church – NOT to celebrate a strict set of laws written in the Bible.

I get it
I want to draw a clear distinction in my argument. I am not arguing that what the Catholics did was wrong, nor am I arguing that their conversion tactics somehow violated the laws of their religion. Rather, I am arguing that this sheds light to the fundamental nature of mankind and their desire to follow a group. Whether one worships a Mayan, Christian, or Sky God makes little difference as long as the need for community and transcendence is fulfilled.

It seems to me that if there were one true God and religious law there wouldn’t be so much variety in religious experience. If God created men, revealed himself, and created a natural instinct to know him wouldn’t we all be Christian’s by default? However, this isn’t the case.

Native Americans, Mayans, Buddhists, Christians etc. had no inclination each other existed before they bumped into each other throughout history. They had no idea that one group served multiple Gods while another served one. There was no feeling of wrongness for their beliefs, no questioning. This variety of belief, even in geographically close proximity, is evidence religion is a human creation not supernatural one.

Income, Education, Age, and Geography Determine Political Leaning. Religion not as important as expected.

Yesterday I posted about the correlation between people living in cities, having higher income, and more education being more liberal. Today I want to add into the equation the factors of age and religion. Again, I selected the states of Florida, Georgia, and Kansas at random to inspect the data. See below for the results and scroll to the end for the conclusion.

Georgia

Georgia by percent of population over 64
Georgia by religious practitioners

Florida

Florida by percent of population over 64

Florida by religious practitioners

Kansas

Kansas by percent of population over 64
Kansas by religious practitioners

Conclusion

As we can see from the data above and posted yesterday the major factors effecting political leaning are income, age, proximity to major cities (jobs), and education.  Religion, while it appears to have some impact, is not as critical as expected.

Religion:
In Florida and Georgia religion appears to have little to moderate correlation to political leaning. There are less and more religious counties all over each state. However, in Kansas we see a more direct correlation. Near the city of Topeka, a more liberal area, there are less religious practitioners. We can conclude then, if anything, the more religious an area is the more conservative and the less religious the more liberal – in general. (Also the more religious the less educated and poorer an area.)

More stuff to examine
I think the next step would be to examine what are the determining factors when it comes to voting.  Are people voting based on social issues of fiscal issues?  Do people self-identify as progressive or conservative?  How are people voting if there is a conflict between their fiscal beliefs and social beliefs?  What role are independents, libertarians, and members of minority parties playing?

For now, it seems we can safely assume that the individuals with higher income, are below the age of retirement, have a college degree, and live in close proximity to cities are generally more liberal than their older, less educated, lower income counterparts.

Resources:
US Map by Religions Practitioners
US Map by Age

The Irony of Death

My Mom called me about six times last night before I finally answered.  I wasn’t screening her calls I just left my cell phone on vibrate.  I didn’t notice she had been calling until she finally called my wife and left a voice message.

“Your Mom sounds really upset, you should call her.”

Normally I would wait until morning to call my Mom back, but if she is sounding really upset I call back immediately.  I’m just never sure if its an emergency or not.  I call my Mom back and she doesn’t sound that upset so I’m a little relieved.  I was dreading the thought of possibly having to drive an hour at midnight to handle a situation.

“Mom has breast cancer.” Mom in this case is Grandma.  She’s in her early 60′s and found out yesterday that she has early stages of malignant breast cancer.  Her sister, my great aunt, just passed away within the year from the same disease so I gather everyone is concerned.

What struck me wasn’t a feeling of dread about my Grandmother’s potential death, but a lack of empathy and a strong concern and realization about my own death.  That is horribly selfish I know, but I have always had a difficult time feeling well, what you are supposed to feel.  I was more concerned about my lack of raw emotion than concern for my Grandmother having breast cancer – that seems potentially narcissistic.

The other thing that bothered me was my own death.  I don’t dwell it, but occasionally I think how strange it is that one day I will have to face my own death.  I’m not sure how it will come and that is just as weird.

There will be a time where things happen on this earth and I will not be here to witness them.  I will be no more.  I will one day lay in a  hospital bed and count down my own passing.  Or I’ll die instantly in an accident – who knows.  It might be painful or it might be quick – but I will face death.  Strangely, there is some comfort in knowing that every single person on earth and every person who has ever been has and will experience the same thing.  That is one thing we all have in common in the human experience.

Thinking about my own death I thought about the things I would want.  I think I would want to know that people cared for me, that people were rooting for me, and to be prepared.  So I think its only right that I give my Grandmother that same respect.  To let her know I’m rooting for her, that I care for her, and to help her in any way possible to be prepared if it comes to the point where she does have to face death.

I will lie to her if needed.  I will pretend I care more than I do if I have to when the time comes.  I’ll even give in to her religious comforts when inevitably I find myself in a room full of people praying over her sick body.  I’ll even nod my head and put up no fight when people tell her she’s going to a better place, a magical place.  Why?  Because if religion makes her passing easier, provides her comfort, who am I to take that away in her last moments?

I’m being morbid.  They caught this early.  She’ll probably come out fine, but the rules about death still apply – or at least they will someday.  Death, I think it’s just a part of life.  You recognize it’s there, ignore it, prepare for it, hate it, but it’s a gift.  Death is the one thing holding you accountable for life – it’s your term limit – in a way it’s what makes you enjoy life the most. Maybe that’s the irony of death.

Is the Death Penalty Wrong? A Conservative opinion.

I never cry in movies, but no matter how many times I watch “Dead Man Walking” I feel like a pregnant women I’m so emotional inside. It evokes emotion and forces you to question your very beliefs about religion, good and evil, the death penalty, and the nature of man itself. If you have never watched this movie I strongly suggest you get a box of tissues and give it a go.

I’m reminded that men, despite their most evil actions, are effected by factors one cannot understand unless they have gone through it themselves. Though their actions are not justifiable this movie does associate unique and human qualities with a person we may otherwise view as a monster.

At what cost should we put a man to death?  At the cost of losing our own humanity?  At the cost of emotionally damaging everyone involved the in the procedure?  I’m not sure and though I have never experienced the loss of a loved one at the hands of a criminal I can’t help but feel it is wrong.  Not the desire for revenge, not the desire for closure, but the fact that our Government – the supposed shining example of justice for planet earth – has the power and desire to put any human being to death.  Cooler heads should always prevail when given the option to preserve humanity.

Though I am not religious this scene always evokes emotion.

I’ll admit it.  Years ago I was in support of the death penalty.  I thought that keeping an inmate on death row was a terrible drain on tax dollars and dangerous to other inmates and the guards.  That part is still true.  After watching this movie my ideas changed though.  I do not think killing a man helps anyone.  It certainly can’t do the families of the innocent any good emotionally, it destroys the guilty party’s family, and is cruel overall.  What should we do with people like this?  I do not know.  Maybe we should work harder to stop it happening in the first place.

Sure many of these men never become reconciled and never feel sorry for what they did like in this movie, but that changes nothing.  Why do we turn ourselves into murderers to punish one?  What is the right course of action – I have no idea.  I just feel like for our own humanity’s sake – the death penalty does us as individuals no good at all.  I know all the reasons to support it, but a lesson in humanity, forgiveness, and love is enough for me to feel like the death penalty isn’t worth it.

If you still disagree or just want to hear someone say it much better check out what Ron Paul has to say about the death penalty in his book liberty defined. Another great advocate of liberty who’s views about the death penalty changed over time.