Thursday, July 15, 2010

10 False Arguments About Religion

1)    Is there a God? No. There isn’t. Yes, it’s that easy. There’s no magical sky daddy who created us and lives in a place called heaven or anywhere else. There are also no angels, devils, heavens, hells, heavenly saints or magic virgins. These categories we’ve inherited have perverted the discussion of religion, resulting in an understanding of the subject in our culture that ranges from sadly ignorant to profoundly dumb. Though it’s not entirely our fault. We’re taught from an early age that the question of religion comes down to whether we “believe in God” or not. It doesn’t. Or, it shouldn’t. The anthropomorphic God is virtual idolatry. Monotheism with a polytheistic mindset.
2)    If there’s no God then who made the world? No one. If the world didn’t work, we simply wouldn’t be here. End of story. Like Ann Richards said about George Bush: “He found himself on third base and assumed he hit a triple.” Just like us. We found ourselves alive on Earth and assumed we were meant to be here instead of looking around at a world that functions and taking delight in the fact that it does, and gave rise to us. Per Alan Watts: “Man is a little germ that lives on an unimportant rock ball that revolves about an insignificant star on the outer edges of one of the smaller galaxies.” But how cool is that?
3)    What about the conflict between science and religion? There is none. This silly alleged debate is the sad result of those who take the Book of Genesis as history instead of poetry. Science explores the origin and nature of the physical universe. Religion explores a deeper, more profound, psychological experience of human life. They work two completely different sides of the street. The nonsense that is creationism, or its uptown cousin, intelligent design -- which is just creationism with a GED -- is the sad byproduct of those who need to feel that the Bible is literally true in its entirety, or it’s rendered entirely false. This perverts both science and religion. The phenomenon of a magnificent sunset can be explained scientifically -- what causes the brilliant lights, how my eyes take in the sight and how my brain processes it, how many muscles move in my face when I smile. None of this negates or diminishes the joy or wonder I might feel sitting on the beach watching it. That is a moment for poets to write about, or artists to paint. Why do we need to feel that there is any purpose to the sunset beyond the sunset itself?
4)    Doesn’t the question of God and religion come down to faith vs. reason? No. Faith is an element in our lives. But it’s informed by reason. There are times in life that reason will only take you so far. Like when you’re in a plane that’s barreling down the runway. You can be comfortable in the knowledge that the odds are on your side and that the pilot is experienced and sober, but in that moment before takeoff you are in a world beyond your control. Experientially, there is little difference between saying “I have faith in God,” and “I believe life is good.” Either can give one the strength to persevere in tough times. Now, perhaps the God connotation is too strong for people to hear the word any differently, but there is a meaning to faith that arises out of human experience but which has nothing to do with some benevolent God looking out for you. At one of the many poignant moments in The Power of Myth -- conversations between Bill Moyers and Joseph Campbell -- Moyers asks him about faith, saying: “You are a man of faith. Of wonder.” To which Campbell replied: “I don’t need to have faith. I have experience.”
5)    What about the afterlife? There is none. There’s no beforelife. There’s no afterlife. The kingdom of Heaven is a psychological, or mystical concept that has been misconstrued as a physical place. Eternal life is an experience of the here and now. Our yearning for an afterlife is based on our insecurities and fears about death and the unknown. What we are is energy that can neither be created nor destroyed. Our lives are waves coming in off the ocean. Nothing more. There is no soul that is in any way attached to our personalities. Of course we want to think we go on. Who wouldn’t? You put all this effort into a life and then it’s like you’re mugged and it’s all taken away. But the notion of an eternal soul has to do with our common essence, not our individual existence. When the energy goes out of us, “us” goes.
6)    If there’s no God then what is the meaning of life? Wrong question? Why do we assume that meaning needs to come down from above and that our lives only have significance if they’re part of some great plan? The right question is: where is the meaning in life? Meaning is something we infer from the experience of being alive. Within the fact that our lives are finite. In fact, it’s because of that fact that life’s meaning is heightened. The meaning is in the experience.
7)    Doesn’t religious war negate the claims of religion? No. It proves the harm can be done when a cunning dictator manipulates a race of stupid, gullible, desperate people. Religious war is an oxymoron. While every tradition has blood on its hands the culprit is blind belief and obedience, and at various times in history that has been transferred from the church to the state. Marx’s opiate of the masses easily becomes the amphetamine of the extremists. Though the crime when religion is used as a justification for murder or genocide is even greater because of the inherent expectation of moral behavior. Religion can be used as a weapon only when people are stupid enough to fall for it.
8)    What about those who claim to speak for God? Villains, thieves, and con men. Or women. God is not an entity. There is no God who speaks or endorses political candidates. When a preacher or politician claims their efforts are part of God’s plan, they should have a net thrown over them, because that is insane. Anyone who claims to be receiving these messages is either crazy, or lying for power, or money. Or both.
9)    But isn’t God interested in my life? No. And neither is Jesus. Jesus doesn’t love you because Jesus doesn’t know you. He died 2000 years ago and is not coming back because people don’t come back from the dead. Jesus doesn’t want you to be rich, successful or happy. Nor does he want you to be poor, homeless, and miserable. That’s up to you. Only in America could we conflate the two things we worship: God and money. This has created some very well off happy talk preachers who have managed to sell the notion of divine sanction for greed and personal aggrandizement. This is not religion. It’s purpose-driven megachurch nonsense.
10) But we can’t have religion without God. Yes, we can. Most people in the west approach this notion as an impossibility. But as an exercise ask it as a possibility. In other words: how might it be possible to understand religion without our traditional understanding of God? Religion has not been handed down from above. It erupted from within the collective unconscious and the knowledge that our ego-driven experience of life is limited, and a more profound experience is there to be known by anyone at anytime. This awareness -- call it spiritual, mystical, psychological -- is the experiential core of religion. Of all religions. All traditions have the purpose of laying out a road map to it, not a replacement for our normal experience, but as an enhancement of it. We need to refocus religion as an activity. Not something we are. But something we do. We need to bring religion back down to Earth. Lose the Gods, heavens, angels, miracles, and childish, magical thinking, and resurrect religion as an activity of connecting with that part of us that is not us, but lives in us, or flows though us. Call it energy, being, essence, Tao, Brahman, God -- it doesn’t matter. These are just linguistic and cultural variations on a single theme. Religion is an outgrowth of a very human desire for self-knowledge and an experience not just of our common humanity, but of our unity with all life. But as long as the discussion remains mired in silly arguments between faith and reason, religion and science, or belief and atheism, we will never crawl out of this intellectual hole we’ve inherited and we run the risk of losing the message that religion is there to communicate.

This post is adapted from a book I just published: Deconstructing God – A Heretic’s Case For Religion. Available on Amazon or Amazon

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