Thursday, November 6, 2008

Here's the Dilemma

So, here's the dilemma. I have no use for God or faith or religion. Never have. I judge people who are devout. I can't help it. The stubborn part of me wants to shake people and make them understand that they're wasting big chunks of their emotional energy on superstition, no different than a belief in the Tooth Fairy or leprechauns.

But then I read a story like this one, on one of my favorite blogs.

The husband of the blogger is visiting the Dominican Republic, and he visited two homes, one where he observed a lack of faith (and hope), and another household filled with faith (and hope).

I'm not sure how nonbelievers can begrudge these people their faith, no matter how much we consider faith folly, because they have nothing else. If faith gives someone comfort in a life filled with strife, how is that destructive? If there were another option, I'd be for it, but I don't get the feeling there is.

Nonbelievers go on and on about the negative influence of religion, but we have the luxury of being free from religion and faith. We don't need it because we have abundance and prosperity. But what if faith were all we had? (And before you say the hope created by faith is "false hope," I'd say, from the looks of things, no, it's actual hope.)

I recently went to see "Religulous." It's not a good movie, but I agree with many of the sentiments put forth (especially when it comes to the loopy beliefs put forth by some of the world's largest and most successful organized religions). Bill Maher is arrogant, and condescending, and chooses only the most inarticulate people to make the case for religion, choosing to ridicule their beliefs rather than to really listen to what they're saying. In the end, the movie said a lot that needs saying, because nonbelievers don't seem to have much of a voice in America, at least not an organized one, anyway.

But what the movie completely missed was the Dominican Republic factor. Where do we get off saying these people should give up their faith because we don't agree with what they believe?

For many years, I've sponsored a child in India through an organization called Children, Inc. It's been incredibly fulfilling. This organization works through Christian schools to do their work, educating children who otherwise would have no access to education. I've never agonized over whether I want to give to a group that works with Christian schools because for the people receiving their help, faith may be the only bright spot in their lives.

So, let's cut religion some slack. Sure, we can still still slam TV evangelists who exploit the weak and vulnerable, and we should still make sure to take jabs at Xenu and Kolob and other such nonsense. But let's understand that the things we dislike about religion are just part of the picture. Faith may also give people peace. Faith may give people hope. Faith has its place. Not in the Pledge of Allegiance or the Oval Office, but maybe in a little shack in the Dominican Republic, it has its place.


Chris Robinson said...

Even Bill Maher commented in Religilous that he gets why people in horrible situations take comfort in their faith. If it gets you through, awesome.

George Carlin, in the 70's, compared religion to a lift in your shoe. Sometimes you need it. Sometimes you don't. But don't make me wear your shoes and don't going nailing lifts to the natives' feet.

Jonderson said...

I have a very smart son. He has just got this gift for complex math that astounds me. He does polar graphing in his head. The other day he came into the room with his Rubik's Cube and said, "I was just playing with this, and realized that if there were a fourth dimension, you wouldn't be able to know it unless you were in it." That comment applies to this topic, but I am not sure exactly how at this point.

Anyway, my two-cents:

I think most organizations which call themselves "Biblical Christians" are no such thing. At the same time I think that Christians who do act as the Bible says they should are very enjoyable people to be around.

Brandon Muller said...

Great post!

Looks like the 2nd mother was sponsored as a child whereas the first mother wasn't. That could be a big factor in their differing outlooks.

Certainly, people do great things in the name of religion. But I wonder if faith is what religious people call their positive outlook whereas nonreligious people call it something else--like, a positive outlook, for instance.

In my experience, people's personalities play a much larger role in who they are as people than what they do or do not believe in. Yes, religion can be life-changing, but so can non-religious things such as a drastic change in diet and exercise.

Jonderson said...

Re: the Rubik's cube analogy

OK, here it is:

The extemely large and vocal political organizations which call themselves by names like "moral majority", "biblical christians", etc., and who are the people attempting to both force and enforce "religious" dogma onto others (whether it be in this country or abroad) are not, in fact Christians at all, at least as far as the Bible is concerned. However, they are reliant upon the fact that non-religious people are outside the biblical dimension and therefore unable to accurately identify this misrepresentation. I say reliant, because the relatively small groups of people who are truly biblical Christians, and who speak out against these pretenders, are generally ignored by the non-religious population because the non-religious population has no framework by which to distinguish biblical from non-biblical. As a result all people who claim to be christian get lumped into the same category by the non-religious population, which by default assumes all religious statements by religious people to be falsely based.

This is problematic because while the claim by "real" Christians that these people attempting to control the world in the name of Jesus are actually basing their actions on something else is about religion, it is not a religious statement, it is a factual statement. Person X is doing Action Y for reason Z. Reason Z prohibits Action Y. Therefore Person X is doing Action Y for a reason other than Reason Z.

The fact that non-religious people do not have knowledge of Reason Z is the reason that these megatheocrats (I still don't know how best to refer to them) have gotten as far as they have.

The unfortunate part of all of this, is that the analogy of the Rubik's cube/4th dimension is a good one. The only way for non-religious people to become convinced that there is a difference is to enter, at least a little bit, into that dimension. Meaning, study what the bible says it means to be a christian. At least in enough depth to be able to identify a false one. And that is just not going to happen. I did it, but I am an obsessive reader of all things pertaining to social phenomena to begin with. Plus I have a good friend who is a fairly well known biblical history scholar to help me with the Greek and Hebrew etymology and some of the historical stuff.

altadenahiker said...

totally agree with you. Evangelical atheists bore me as much as evangelical christians. I kind of envy those with beliefs and faith. I think, from an evolutionary standpoint, people function better when they see a goal and purpose in sight.

Brandon Muller said...

Re: John's quote" what the bible says it means to be a christian."

The problem is that the Bible doesn't "say" what it means to be a Christian. It is collection of works by different authors and only by framing the texts within your own presuppositions can you claim any sort of grandiose theology of what it means to "be a Christian."

For example, we all know that Christianity would look much different if none of the works of Paul were in the NT canon, but who's to say that the pure gospel accounts of Jesus' teachings (or even narrowed down to just the theoretical Q source) represents "true" Christianity?

Yes, one could master Hebrew and Greek entomology, but with 30,000+ different Christian denominations, the idea of one, true objective exegesis of Biblical text is one prayer that has little hope of being answered.

But your larger point, John, about real, honest-to-goodness, humble, moral people being lumped in with hypocrites and intolerant zealots is absolutely correct and worth noting. And worth noting often.

Jonderson said...


The problem is that the Bible doesn't "say" what it means to be a Christian.

It says it closely enough to make the distinction between the two types I am talking about, even without in-depth analysis.

It is collection of works by different authors and only by framing the texts within your own presuppositions can you claim any sort of grandiose theology of what it means to "be a Christian."

I'd argue with that. By framing the texts within the historical records of the time, and by framing the translations of Hebrew and Greek into the historical/cultural background of the people who wrote them, the picture of what the christian life is supposed to be like (among other things) is quite clear. Unfortunately, biblical scholars who are able to do this are nearly all tied to some "special interest group" (which is really what these big "religious" organizations are). There are some who aren't though. There are some who are dedicated to finding out exactly what the bible says and what it does not say expressly in order to be able to stop people from basing evil actions on false claims of religion.

Whether a "true objective exegesis of Biblical text" existed or not is irrelevant. because even if it did exist it would not be accepted.

Brandon Muller said...

Well, I still have to disagree.

You'd have to specifically define "Christian" and then defend that as the only true definition of the word.

Is a Christian simply a follower of the teachings of Jesus? Or does a Christian have to take into account the writings of Paul and the other apostles as well? Also, since you mention Hebrew, I take it a true Christian must also take into account the Jewish scriptures, as well?

But the Jewish scriptures certainly weren't written to inform about the Christian lifestyle because Christianity didn't even exist at the time they were written. Theology says otherwise, but your argument is that theology is not needed. However, to include the "O.T" in the Christian lifestyle, it certainly is.

Also, there is no reason (apart from theological claims) to think that the writers of Matthew, Luke, and John wanted their gospels to be placed together in one book.

But mostly, I just really disagree that there is some kind of "pure" Christianity to be gleamed from the Bible (as a whole!?!) that is completely divorced from any theological presuppositions.

At most, you can only take just Jesus' sayings and construct a sort of way-to-live-your-life manual. But my point is that to call that the one true "Biblical Christianity" is presumptuous because the idea of a "Christian" came after the resurrection and immediately developed within a theological framework.