Wednesday, October 21, 2009

I don't like Buddy Jesus

Oh my name it is nothin'
My age it means less
The country I come from
Is called the Midwest
I's taught and brought up there
The laws to abide
And the land that I live in
Has God on its side.

(B. Dylan "With God On Our Side")

A friend recently confided in me that he thought my writing here is bullying and hypocritical. He suggested that my examination of faith is cruel. His theory is that deep down, no matter how mature we may be, we are all essentially children needing a Santa Claus to help buoy our hopes. He told me that my analysis of faith amounts to a mean-spirited "Humbug".

I concede that my ideas regarding belief are blunt but, I find the psychology of faith fascinating and often wonder what 14 years of Catholic education combined with 7 years of Evangelical Christianity have done to me. I like to slice open my mind and probe.

I'm not a delicate surgeon and have little bed-side manner.

This is all done because as I grow and view the world, I find I am changing my mind when it comes to belief.

I still believe in belief or, that our brains find solace in it and I think my friend is correct; we all desire to imagine a transcendent possibility beyond ourselves. And most would say this demands theology, doctrine, orthodoxy but, I don't.

I guess I am unorthodox because I don't know what I believe but admit I am awed by the love I feel for my wife as she sighs her way into consciousness every morning.

Is that God? I don't know.

I've heard the term "Agnostic Christian". Maybe that is me.

My theology was once intricate and arcane but now it is simple - to love and be loved. I no longer wish to defend exclusive claims to universal truth based upon shared cultural stories. I find that type of truth divisive. It seems stupid to me.

I admit now that the stories I claimed as truth are incoherent to me and the only reason I agreed to them was because it afforded me popularity, today I crave authenticity.

The stories of the faith I was given demand a level of self-hatred that I no longer consider sane or useful. The theological concepts of Original Sin and Atonement seem products of primitive minds living in a bloody and dangerous world. I don't know how the insistence that I am corrupt and depraved and worthy of an eternity of torture is an animating idea towards mature awareness. And I really don't want to accept that it is my fault that god sacrificed himself to himself so that I might be able to know Heaven and be released from the generational crime perpetrated by mindless innocents in a garden 6,000 years ago.

I do believe the stories we share can help us deal with the mysteries of life but, this past year I've seen that the stories people tell can often times contradict the morality they claim. I've experienced arrogant and ugly attitudes and behaviors supported by exclusive and presupposed truth. I was afraid of it at first, then disgusted, now I am just tired.

That's not to say I don't enjoy the company of my believing friends and for the most part find them incredibly good people. I count many Evangelical Christians, Catholics, Observant Jews and at least one Buddhist as good and trusted people. They are part of my network of "go to" folks.

Unfortunately some of their doctrine is also upheld by another segment that embodies hate, and fear. These are old acquaintances who embrace a "Buddy Jesus"; a tough god with wrath in his hip-pocket; a thick muscled deity who assures them the hatred they harbor against the disobedient is a revelation into his Godhead. They are the ones who are certain that God is on their side. I fear these folks because I believe that, without our secular protections, they'd become drunk on their religious fervor and, like the Calvinists they are, would enjoy burning me, my liberal friends, and the loving homosexual couples I admire. To these people, Christ is not the Prince of Peace but is the Ultimate Fighter ready to kick the tail of those who defy inerrant Biblical theology. They anxiously await his re-arrival clothed in bloody robes at the end times slicing in half those that are disagreeable.

They are the "Prayer Warriors" who told me they were certain Barack Obama was a Muslim because in their scrupulosity God told them so.

They are the Christian Right who whooped it up with Rush Limbaugh's endorsement of Sarah Palin because she humbly upheld the sixth commandment and boldly violated the ninth.

And they are the ones who, for the sake of tradition, demand their First Amendment rights extend into every area of society including depriving homosexuals their 14th Amendment rights.

I'm stuck. I like my civilized friends who happen to hold storied faith beliefs but, I can no longer honestly identify with the darker members of their body who allow belief to justify unexamined righteousness.

Reinhold Niebuhr wrote in his essay, "The Christian Witness in a Secular Age" that the church,
" . . .must be embarrassed when it calls attention to itself as a proof of the powers of God. For the very pretension of virtue is yet another mark of the sin in the life of the redeemed,"
but I fear the believers in "Buddy Jesus" would discount the good theologian's admonition as evidence to his sinful Marxist politics and support of the UN. Professor Niebuhr, Dean of Union Theological Seminary and author of The Serenity Prayer, wouldn't be on the side of the righteous. "Buddy Jesus" would consider his pacifism disgusting when he claimed in his wise and paradoxical Christian Realism,
"religiously inspired good will, without an intelligent analysis of the factors in a moral situation and of the proper means to gain desirable ends, is unavailing."
I am looking to avail myself of desirable ends. I have come to doubt it will be found in religiously inspired good will and if that makes me a bully well, please just don't burn me at the stake.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

To the brain, faith is fact

Sam Harris of the Reason Project has completed a study that shows people of faith take their "belief without evidence" as fact.

You can read commentary on the study here:

And the study details here:

This seems to offer a hypothesis that supernatural claims of knowing are not what they appear to be. To put it more bluntly, there is no such thing as a Holy Spirit. Victor Stenger in his new book The New Atheism: Taking a Stand for Science and Reason argues for the material manifestation of mind. Harris' study offers confirmation for material reality over supernatural claims and shows that faith as belief without evidence may feel like fact to the person comprehending it but, it does not mean that it is fact.

I find this science fascinating because it supports my understanding of faith and the availability heuristic.

It's amazing that people of faith will activate their brain in such a way to endorse as fact untestable claims. I understand now how people can fly planes into buildings or why James Dobson can shamelessly compare concensual homosexual relationships to some kind of mental illness.

To their brains their faith is a fact and they will do whatever is necessary to animate these facts into righteous action.

It doesn't make faith any more noble but it does explain the power of self-righteous delusions.