Thursday, February 27, 2014

"Why Do So Many Dullards Hang Around Religion?"

That's a little comment from an atheist in response to an article suggesting that Science and Religion can be made to agree. The entire paragraph was:
Why do so many dullards hang around religion? Why cannot you see how flimsy and ridiculously stupid your response is?
And that was followed up with one more salvo:

"intelligent" and "god" in the same sentence. Well I never.
If there is one aspect of modern atheism I extremely dislike it is this one, this idea that only fools can entertain notions of a Higher Power.

Every time I hear an atheist worry out loud about the dangers of Theocracy I can't help but think of the kind of atheism that is being expressed here and wonder what would happen if the day came that the majority of folks came to believe in an alleged inferiority of "dullards."

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Our God-Breathed Constitution

When I raised in Christian Fundamentalism I was taught that the Bible IS the very Word of God. That is, that the Scriptures were God-breathed, based on 2 Timothy 3:16,17:
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (New International Version)
The most theologically conservative Christians still believe this.
This past week former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay brought pandering to this segment of the American people to new heights when he said:
I think we got off that track when we allowed our government to become a secular government, when we stopped realizing that God created this nation, that He wrote the constitution, that's based on biblical principles....
That was a snippet from his interview with Matthew Hagee, son of controversial clergyman John Hagee, and is my reason for suggesting he was pandering or "tickling" people's ears.
At first I thought DeLay perhaps had not exactly said that and was misquoted. That isn't the case. I've kept watching the news to see if DeLay would clarify himself by perhaps declaring that he simply misspoke. If he has I haven't found such an explanation. Neither have I noted a rush of conservative politicians attempting to distance themselves from this.
The claim that God wrote the US Constitution is shocking. And the implications of such a claim would be even more shocking. In that connection I am going to quote another politician, President Harry S. Truman:
Those who want the Government to regulate matters of the mind and spirit are like men who are so afraid of being murdered that they commit suicide to avoid assassination.

In fact, I think such a position is intellectual suicide.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

If Religious Believers Shouldn't Be Anti-science...

I passed on blogging about the recent Science Guy versus Bible Guy debate. I'm so beyond all that now in my personal journey of discovery. I like science and I like the study of the human religious impulse. However, I don't like being a participant in some "religion versus science war."
In other words, I opt out. My personal opinion is that either study might inform the other, but I don't think one should be used to attempt to nullify the other.
Extremism. That's what really bores me. I don't prefer religious "revelations" beyond what I (or anyone) am able to discover using normal means. At the same time, I sure don't enjoy listening to science geeks pontificate on things that seems to me beyond the proper realm of their study. (I'm not here defending NOMA, but IF there is a supernatural realm, surely that isn't something science can tell us much about.)
Bram Stoker, noted for his horror classic Dracula, wrote "Ah, it is the fault of our science that it wants to explain all; and if it explains not, then it says there is nothing to explain.”
There is a God of the gaps - where the unknown is categorically chalked up to "God did it" - to be sure; but as has been noted, there is also a science-of-the-gaps that feels certain knowledge gaps eventually will be fully explained by naturalism. 
The ultimate why question still resonates with me: Why is there a Cosmos instead of a chaos, or nothing at all?
That seems to be a real toughie.

If religious believers shouldn't be anti-science (and I firmly believe they shouldn't and folks like Ken Ham are way out there in the Twilight Zone), should scientists be anti-religion (not a-religious, but vehemently against), and use their scientific disciplines to argue against the possibility of there be something beyond the natural?

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Deadly "Faith"

The snakebite death of reality television personality and pastor Jamie Coots as he practiced his religion was front-page news here in my neck of the woods.
It is thought rude to speak ill of the dead, and certainly my heart bleeds for Rev. Coots' family. (I read also that Coots had no life insurance and his family is accepting donations.) But I feel nauseous that so much of the news coverage I'm seeing seems mainly to applaud Jamie Coots' sincerity and willingness to "die for his faith."

Personally, I have great sympathy for religious faith, little sympathy for unreasonable religious faith, and zero sympathy for idiotic religious faith. I can feel nothing but disapproval for anyone like Coots who puts himself and others, especially his loved ones, at great risk this way in the name of religion.
It is noticeable that most educated Christians find less sensational ways of interpreting the two biblical passages which speak of "snake-handling." This sensationalistic aspect of Pentecostalism seems only to be popular in backwoods areas.
Is the taking up of poisonous serpents faith or ignorance? Is refusal to use common sense in religious matters faith or stubbornness?
Coots' son is vowing to carry on his father's legacy. In the meantime the snakes will continue to ignore the memo on how this is to be properly done. 

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Holy Shit!

“But I resist the devil, and often it is with a fart that I chase him away.” A favorite method of dealing with devil used by Christian reformer Martin Luther. I was always attracted to Luther - not so much for his theology - but because he had  a certain, shall we say, earthy way of putting things. My impression is that he was something of a mean-spirited bigot, but we all have our crosses to bear, I suppose. He just had a certain way of putting things that always brought a smile to my face (examples: "You are like mouse-dropping in the pepper"; "I can with good conscience consider you a fart-ass and an enemy of God.").
Maybe I never fully outgrew the childish enjoyment of scatological humor.
Legend has it that Luther was given the insight which launched his efforts to reform the Catholic Church while sitting on the toilet, having often spent time there because he allegedly suffered from severe constipation. How true this I don't know. Like so many things it comes down to how certain words should be translated or interpreted - in this case the words "in cloaca."
Somehow I choose to believe the legend is true.
There is, unbeknownst to some, a condition that has been identified as Poophoria. Dr. Stool's humorous little website explains:
This poo can turn an atheist into a believer and is distinguished by the sense of euphoria and ecstasy that you feel throughout your body when this type of feces departs your system.
Dr. Anish Sheth and Josh Richman have written a book about defecation titled What's Your Poo Telling You? Therein the explanation for poophoria involves the stimulation of the vagus nerve which can occur when passing large masses of feces. Some think of it not in terms of religion but in sex, as in an "orgasmic" feeling. Hey, but even sex can have religious overtones, as in the so-called Religious orgasm ("oh, God, oh, God!).
Butt seriously - er, I mean - But seriously, what if the roots of the Reformation, the theology which highly emphasizes God's Grace as over human efforts to be good, got its start as a poophoric experience?
What a way to do (or doo-doo) theology!
Well, this post has become just so much foul wind, so with that last bad pun I'll sign off for now. 

Friday, February 14, 2014

Saints And Sinners In The Family

Labels can be helpful, sometimes not so much. We humans have a way of dividing in order to conquer. Even families can be split up by ideology. We need more openness and willingness to accept others as they are. Enthusiasm for one's own hobbyhorse(s) is no excuse for being overbearing.
My own family had been fractured from way back. I hardly know anyone in my family outside my immediate members. We were divided into various "saints" (cults, Catholics and various forms of Protestants, including my immediate family's Pentecostalism - which by nature of itself separated from even other more "worldly" forms of Christianity) and "sinners" (including harlots, drunks, several freethinkers, and a homosexual uncle).
The older I get the more keenly I feel the sense of loss. Damage of this type, once done, is extremely difficult to repair.
There could have been a real rift between my parents and me over my dabblings in unbelief. There could have been, had I been more outspoken with them. However, I tended to do no more than gently probe what I thought to be weaknesses in some of their more excessive religious tenets. Then we just loved each other anyway.
I can't help thinking that if Jesus was truly the model for the spiritual-minded in my family - and he was! - there should have more harmony and less friction. Jesus did not seem to want to fragment those trying to do the right thing ( "he who is not against you is for you," Luke 9;50), and certainly he did not seem to think himself above the sinners, because that was one of the "religious" knocks against him, that he "rubbed elbows" with them.
Yet here I stand at age 54 with family associations consisting of my elderly mother and my younger brother. The other members of my immediate family are dead now. The rest of my family are either dead or distant.
I'm glad that I have friends who are both believers of various sorts and unbelievers of various sorts. I'm glad that I have "sinners" who are my friends as well as "saints." I'm glad I cultivated the habit of looking beyond the labels. I guess I'm an unbelieving believer and certainly more of a sinner than a saint!
The older I get the less I care for extremism (or excessive enthusiasm).
It's not that I'm wild about people who lack some type of direction. I just think that people are more important than ideas, the human family is greater than it's various tribes.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Otis God Saved!

I don't know why this story is on my mind today as I finally get around to adding a new post to my dwindling blog. It occurred when I was in my mid-teens, fourteen or fifteen years old; I can't recall exactly.

My mother worked in one of the abundant at the time yarn factories in this area. That factory now sits empty and idle. One of the truck drivers for the company was a rough and tough fellow named Otis. He was a hard drinking, hard living "sinner" (as we called anyone who was not of the faith, but especially those who were particular vile). He was a huge man, not one to be trifled with, very vulgar in his speech and crude in his behavior. He also liked to good-naturedly "persecute" my mom for her old-fashioned and quite conservative Christian ways.
Many were the times my I listened as Mom updated us about Otis' latest antics. These stories were always quite entertaining to me, but probably they were intended as cautionary tales as well.

One hot summer day Mom came into the house after driving up after work and said to my stepfather and me: "You'll never guess what has happened."

Now here is the weird part (one of those things I can't explain but swear really happened), I blurted out without any aforethought whatsoever, "Otis got saved" (which is how we typically referred to a religious conversion into conservative Christianity).
My mom just looked at me all wide-eyed and asked how I knew that.

As I said, I can't explain it. I have no idea why that thought popped into my mind at that moment, when my mother could have been about to relate seemingly anything.  Otis getting religion certainly didn't seem a very likely thing to happen.

My mom would have said God spoke to my heart and revealed that to me. I would have said it, too, I suppose, because that was a part of our religious tradition. I don't exactly know how to account for it today. There have been many such notable examples of this kind of flash knowledge, especially in my younger years. Indeed, the more I got into rationalism after I left the faith, the less such things happened to me. And no wonder: it isn't rational apart from a spiritual context.

This I can say, afterwards I met Otis when I visited the church he had become a member of. Later I worked with him at the same factory where my mom worked and got to know him personally. It can truly be said that Otis was a changed man. "A new creature," as Christians would say. Gone was all the crudeness and roughness, and in its place was a meek, gentle giant of a man.

And his conversion lasted, too.

Otis found his peace.

Later I lost I mine. 

Monday, February 3, 2014

Remarkably Unoriginal

That is the way atheist Matthew Kneale characterizes the worldwide phenomenon of religious belief in his An Atheist's History Of Belief. Human beings have always had certain fears that religion gives answer to, or in effect, as Kneale puts it, for "keeping their worst nightmares at bay."
While there is much mileage in that vehicle, as something of a believer myself I doubt it is the whole trip. Personally, I find more instructive the idea of religious belief being an attempt to sate the soul's deepest desires
I have this notion that God is the Supreme Mind and that our human minds just naturally follow the thoughts of God, albeit very imperfectly. That - for me at least - accounts for our "remarkably unoriginal" systems of religious belief.
I've come around to seriously considering the instinctive way of knowing. The remarkable unoriginality of belief might be similar to the new born baby instinctively searching for its mother's breast, the sunflower's constant solar tracking to face the sun, perhaps in similar fashion to the way spiders learn to weave webs without benefit of a web-weaving school.
We humans are living beings who find ourselves in a living, evolving world. I like the concept of evolution. I believe religions evolve. They borrow from each other, mesh together, then grow extravagant branches off a tree with deep roots.
Religious believers also unfortunately have a habit of developing a tunnel vision which causes them to forget the tree and its roots. In my opinion that weakens the entire concept. It leads to exclusiveness. It distracts us from what I think is perhaps the strongest argument for religious belief: it is a natural instinct.

For that reason I find the history of unbelief much more interesting. 

Sunday, February 2, 2014

The Church Of Aesop

When I was eight years old I was given a used children's book that was a wonderful collection of literature for young minds like mine. Being an avid reader for as long as I can remember, of course I almost "read the print off the pages" (as my dad used to kid me). 
My favorite portion was the illustrated collection of Aesop's favorites. I loved Aesop then and do still today, often referencing one of his tales when I want to make a point. I love stories that have a moral. And why not? I was reared on Jesus and his parables. Even today I still get a real kick out of certain of Jesus' stories.
But back to Aesop. Mind you, there is a bit of debate about the man - whether he really existed at all (although there are indeed brief references to him in ancient writings). Then also we don't have any of his original writings (assuming he did exist, of course). Students of Aesop's fables have not failed to notice that many of his tales exist in various versions all across the world, and so probably all could not have been original with him. And the fables themselves detail the most incredible accounts of things, talking animals, for instance.
Ah, but I still find great value in Aesop's little stories. They hold more than a bit of the sacred for me because I treasure wisdom. So details about who thought them up or when or if they have a true basis are totally beside the point for me.

Does this make me a mythic theologian?