Archive for October 6th, 2008


Necessity of Faith

We’ll consider this post a sort of follow-on to the previous one I posted in the wee hours of this morning.

Because, frankly, there were some other things from the Bill Maher-Jon Stewart interview on the on The Daily Show a few days back that have been rolling around in my mind.

And we’ll start with the question I posed at the end of the previous post, “Necessary Dogma?

That question was: Why do we insist on looking to (and for) a higher power now that we no longer need to explain why the sun rises and sets, why the seasons change, why people get sick and die, etc.?

Bill Maher brought this up in his interview when he noted that it was understandable and forgivable for ancient cultures to create gods (or a single God) because they had no other way to explain what was happening in nature and in their bodies and so many other things. He also mentioned that when someone is hopeless and without any real resources like, say, a guy in prison, that he understands why a person like that might say “All I have is my faith”—and Maher was uncharacteristically sympathetic with that kind of plight, noting that he wouldn’t want to take that away from someone in that kind of situation.

But I think this misses the point a bit, and still paints religion in a bad and—in my opinion—highly inaccurate way.

It seems to me that critics of religion want to make like faith is a crutch for the weak-willed or hopeless. I agree that it is often used as such, but not to the extent they would like to think. I myself am far from a weak-willed follower. I’m not an easily lead automaton who is looking for someone else to tell me what to do. Also, while my life is crappy in a lot of ways right now, I don’t feel hopeless, and besides, I became born again at a time when life seemed pretty damn good, really.

I think it is a mistake to discount people like me, whom I am pretty sure represent a decent sized chunk of the faith populace (maybe not anywhere near a majority or even half, but a significant slice nonetheless). I am one of a number of people who are reasonably intelligent, educated, well-read and didn’t have some gaping void needing to be filled. And yet we came to Christ anyway (or to other faiths). What does this say? To me it says that religion and faith speak to something deeper than just need. They speak to something separate from the intellect.

I was raised Catholic and grew to loathe going to church. I didn’t, in fact, for most of my college years and several years thereafter. I was happy to sidestep the people handing out religious tracts on the street and preaching from soapboxes outside storefronts. I didn’t have any problem ignoring the Bible and I didn’t much think about God. And yet there came a point at which I was exposed to the Word, in going to church once again (for the sake of the woman I was dating, who was a churchgoer, and not for my own), and it finally clicked for me. It made sense. Now, if I wasn’t experiencing a void or loss of some sort, and I wasn’t seeking God, then why would it click? The only explanation I have is that the spirit does exist, the soul is real, and I connected with my spiritual side for probably the first time. And I still didn’t jump into things blindly. I read the Bible, I thought as well as prayed, and I considered things. And I didn’t find any good reasons to disbelieve. And when I had my born-again moment where I really knew, it wasn’t even in church. In fact, I was driving down the street, thinking about where I was going to go shop.

So, getting back to Maher. What about the need to explain things, which is no longer necessary thanks to science?

I would argue that most major religions don’t try to explain anything about nature. Not anymore. They try to explain matters of spiritual connection. I mean, really, outside of a few stories in Genesis, does the Bible try to explain nature? The vast majority of the Bible is about the power of faith and the problems of disconnecting ourselves from God. That’s complex shit. We’re not talking about trying to explain why it rains or who moves the sun. The Bible simply tells us that God created it. It doesn’t even really make out like God has to do much to keep things moving. And considering that Judaism and Islam spring from the same Abrahamic and pre-Abrahamic origins as Christianity, I figure the same much be true of them. And are the Hindu, Buddhist, Shinto or any other major faiths trying to explain base reality much? I don’t think so. So to knock religions as mythology by comparing them to ancient faiths that were trying to explain nature instead of spirituality, is to already be starting off on the wrong foot.

One final thing about Maher’s comments. Jon Stewart was trying to swing things around to a “well, aren’t there valid issues about religion as a legitimate source of comfort” kind of tack. Maher shot back with a lines that went kind of like, “sure, aside from all that stuff like slavery and wars and oppression of woman and everything else.”

I know I’ve said before that it is unfair to knock religion as being the source of so much trouble when in fact religion was simply used as an excuse, and in the absence of religion folks wanting to do nasty things would have found some other way to justify their actions.

But more than that, something hit me when I heard Maher make that comment.

It’s a cop-out.

It’s just as bad as when someone says “The Devil made me do it.” We ridicule someone for saying such a thing, and it is, in fact, ridiculous because I don’t believe Satan can make anyone do anything that the person isn’t already quite willing to be convinced to do or already rip-roaring ready to do. But it’s equally silly to blame religion for crap that people do. Just like it would be silly to blame politics or economics in and of themselves for the world’s problems.

Because, when you get right down to it, what’s the difference between “the Devil made them do it” or “Religion makes them do it,” huh? Not much.


Necessary Dogma?

I’m going to start with a simple question:

Can we exist without religion?

Now, I don’t mean can you personally exist without religious, faith-based beliefs. Obviously, you can. Many of you do. What I mean is: Is it possible for us to be human and have a society in which there is no religion?

You can feel free to disagree with me, but I am going to throw down the gauntlet and say, “No.” Because I don’t believe we can ever remove religion from the human experience no matter how far science goes and how much evidence accumulates that faith in a higher power is silly.

I’ve been thinking about this since seeing Bill Maher on The Daily Show a couple days ago. At one point in his newly released documentary film Religulous, in a clip shown on The Daily Show, Maher stood in a park shouting out some of the tenets of Scientology just to see how crazy people would think he was. And, of course, also to make the point that as crazy as Scientology’s underlying sci-fi mystical underpinnings are, Christianity and other religions should be seen as equally silly because their underlying “mythology” is nonsensical, too.

Later in his interview with Jon Stewart, Maher noted that he wasn’t an atheist himself, despite the hard time he gives religion, because atheism itself is still a belief system based in absolutism, and he abhors that. In other words, there is no way to know, he seems to be arguing, and thus agnosticism is the only way to be if one is going to be intellectually honest. (These aren’t his words, but my interpretation of his meaning.)

OK, I’m not arguing Maher’s logic here. No point or need to anyway, as religious faith is by its very definition something that cannot be explained or proved by science. What I want to talk about is two things that Maher has shown me in this segment with Jon Stewart.

First, since he’s admitted that atheism seems just as stupid to him as belief in God or in multiple gods, he obviously isn’t quite the douchebag I’ve always felt he was. I still find him frequently irritating when he riffs on political, social or religious issues and I think he can be way too smarmy, but this statement alone make me respect him much more than I did before. But a corollary to this is that it also proves my point that religion will always be with us in some organized fashion or another, not matter how much certain people would like it to go away. If we cannot know for sure either way, you can therefore assume that someone will always gravitate toward, or even create, a religion no matter how silly it might seem to most everyone else. In other words, no matter how much science advances, there will always be doubt and thus always niches for both theism and atheism.

Second, the fact that Scientology exists, even though it is so eminently mockable, is proof religion will always be with us. Scientology is based on the lunatic sci-fi egomaniacal ravings of author L. Ron Hubbard. Now, there are people who swear by Scientology’s ability to help people, but they look like a bunch of loons to me, and Tom Cruise’s increasing zaniness, bordering on outright insanity, just cements that idea for me. But back to my point: Scientology uses science fiction-type concepts to create a religion instead of using mystical ones. Given that science will likely never advance enough to explain the whole of existence, this means that even if you wipe out all the old religions, someone will simply create a new one that draws more from science than mysticism/magic.

Nothing I’ve said here proves anything. I still have ample reasons both spiritually and even historically to believe that Christianity is honestly the path to God and the true way, spiritually speaking. And if you have alternate religious beliefs, you will tell me that I am wrong. Fair enough. Just rambling a bit and posing what I hope is an interesting question.

And, as a follow-up to the “Can we exist without religion?” question, I find myself wondering, “Why, then, do we insist on looking to (and for) a higher power now that we no longer need to explain why the sun rises and sets, why the seasons change, why people get sick and die, etc.?”

Deacon Blue is the blogging persona of editor and writer Jeffrey Bouley. The opinions of Jeff himself on this blog, and those expressed as Deacon Blue, in NO WAY should be construed as the opinions of anyone with whom he has worked, currently works, or will work with in the future. They are personal opinions and views, and are sometimes, frankly, expressed in more outrageous terms than I truly feel most days.

Jeff Bouley


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October 2008

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