Posts Tagged ‘theism

13
Jul
09

Getting Off Track, Part 2

As is so often the case, I went negative on my “own kind” first by pointing out some serious flaws in many Christian mind-sets (see “Getting Off Track, Part 1“) before I decided to go pointing fingers at the non-Christians. But now, it’s time for some people on the other side to get their share.

I saw a bumper sticker a few days ago: Jesus, Protect Me From Your Followers.

I got a chuckle out of that, because it is true than many Christians make Christianity an easy target due to their actions (and not because there’s anything inherently bad in the tenets of Christianity itself). Frankly, a lot of Christians scare me, and I’m a faithful (if inconsistent) follower of Jesus.

But at the same time, when people get in my face (literally or figuratively) about how arrogant I am that I would say Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, I can only ponder this: “Methinks thou dost protest too much.”

Why the rancor toward Jesus and the faith centered on him? I mean, this is one of the most progressive guys of ancient history. I’m still waiting to see agnostics and atheists pile onto the Jews or Buddhists or anyone else and call them arrogant for believing their paths are the right paths and probably the only legitimate paths.

And please, don’t start with the “Well, Christianity has done more damage than…” It’s a bullshit argument that half the time isn’t even accurate and generally has little to do with Christianity itself, and I’m tired of people arguing that most of the world doesn’t really even know about Jesus, much less believe in him, and thus I should shut the hell up…and yet somehow my faith is doing these people such harm. You can’t have it both ways. Is Christianity abusing them, or are they ignorant of Jesus? Kind of hard to believe both things.

Maybe I’ll start a path toward accepting the argument that having a set of strong beliefs makes me arrogant when more people around me start saying, “Gee, representative democracies in capitlalist nations sure do seem to do a lot of damage to the world! We’d better abandon capitalism and democracy right now!”

It is not arrogance for me to say that Jesus is the right path. It’s my belief, and you are welcome to think otherwise and to disagree with me. But it still doesn’t make me arrogant.

You see, God has an easy way, and a hard way. But it all comes down to Jesus the Christ in the end.

I give Little Girl Blue as much freedom and latitude as I can. I allow her, even at just shy of four years old, to disagree with me strenuously if she likes. But in the end, if something needs to be done a certain way (i.e. Daddy says so), then it will get done my way in the end. Not because I’m a tyrant but because that’s the way it needs to be, for her health, safety, and general well-being and proper growth.

Now, Little Girl Blue can say, “Daddy, I don’t want to” and then do it anyway because I’ve asked her nicely and explained why it’s necessary. That’s the easy way. (Note, I don’t expect the easy way to be to just obey me without question; not even God really expects that of us…He knows us too well). Or, she can throw a tantrum or ignore me repeatedly and do other things that will cause me to raise my voice and possibly snap one of her favorite DVDs in half and throw it out (should she push things that far).

She has options. But eventually, it comes down to me or to mommy and what we’ve laid down as law.

You can give Jesus some serious consideration now (and hopefully come to see that he is the way, the truth and the life), or you can just keep shouting that it’s arrogant to believe such things. But I wonder, when your heart beats its last, and you see Jesus, and he gives you an amused little smile, a shrug of his shoulders and says, “You know, Deac and Big Man and a lot of those other folks pretty much had a lot of it right. So, why don’t we talk about the choice you want to make now”…what are you going to do?

Are you going to say, “Oh, well, I guess we should talk then. I guess I was off track there.”

Or will you say, “Fine, I’m here, you arrogant messianic asshole. You think I’m going to bend my knee now?”

Hard way, easy way…and even a semi-hard way right in between the two, I believe…but hell, it’s your choice, and I’m devout in my conviction that you have every right to make any of those choices. Your right. Your free will. It doesn’t affect me in the end. I wish you well, I hope you do well in this life and the next, and I respect your rights.

If that’s the new definition of arrogance, then I’m happily arrogant.

25
Feb
09

Taking the Leap

the-big-leapNo surprise to regular readers that I have semi-regular discussions with atheists and agnostics on this blog and at others. I don’t try to covert them, because I’m not clinically insane nor masochistic, but I think it’s great to make sure we all understand each other. Much better than one side calling the other a bunch of superstitious idiots, while the other side is calling them narrow-minded secularists.

In fact, TitforTat and The Word of Me have probably been my most frequent foils lately (and I mean that in the nicest recreational fencing/dueling way possible). In terms of longer dialogs, though, TWOM had a conversation with me here with regard to a Mrs. Blue post here, and I’m trading thoughts with him over at one of his postsover at his blog right now.

It’s good stuff, and I like the conversations. As long as no one gets to calling me an out-of-touch looney-toon, all’s good (that hasn’t happened often, and most of those people I don’t even try to engage again). But I have been thinking a lot lately about what divides a spiritual believer from a non-believer, and it strikes me that as much as we intellectually can appreciate each other, it is hard to truly explain ourselves to each other. For both sides, it seems self-evident that our position is the correct one, and it troubles us on some level that the other side hasn’t broken through to our way of thinking.

This struck me in particular when TWOM recently posted in one of his comments something to the effect of “I’ve read the Bible and I’ve tried to understand it and believe.” I’m probably misquoting him a bit, but that was the gist as I recall. And it’s been said to me before by other agnostics and atheists that they have tried to read the Bible with an open mind and “just don’t get it.”

And this is precisely where the rubber meets the road: Faith vs. concrete facts. Intellect vs. surrender.

This is not to say that the faithful lack intellect nor that the doubters and atheists lack any kind of “spiritual” or moral core. Far from it. But here is the best example I can come up with as a person of faith:

Imagine a person who decides to go skydiving. There are a few likely scenarios.

She completely freaks out with fear and doesn’t go to the skydiving takeoff point at all. This would analogous, I believe, to someone who says “Yes, I’ll consider your points and/or read that Bible thing” but never really tries.

She goes to the site, freaks out, and just cannot get on the plane, or she gets on the plane but cannot get herself out of that seat until it lands again. She never jumps, but she at least went to where it would all start. I liken this to the person who does give some consideration to it, but never really turns off the literal/concrete parts of their brain. I mean, I personally enjoy and respect (and use) critical thinking, but you cannot think your way to faith.

She makes it to the door of the plane while it is in midair, but she cannot make the jump. She sees all that open sky beneath her and feels the excitement and fear in her gut. She has a visceral and emotional reaction, but making the leap is just too much. She goes back to her seat. Here we have a person who has managed to open their heart and might see a glimpse of what the faith believer sees, but on some level, the thought of letting go is too much. Whether because of fear that it might be true, and a desire not to find out and have to consider answering to a higher power, or whether fear that faith will lessen them somehow; reduce their intellect or spin them too far away from provable reality perhaps.

She jumps out of the plane and goes for the ride. This would be the person who does make the leap from purely temporal and rational thought to faith. It is a wild and scary ride sometimes, and the person might regret it in some ways. The person might even decide one day to reverse course and deny that faith she tasted or decide not to embrace it fully, but the leap was indeed made, whether for a short time or a lifetime.

None of this is to suggest that atheists or agnostics are cowards. Fear isn’t altogether a bad thing. And they, in turn, could accuse someone of me of being fearful of considering that there isn’t anything beyond this life; that there isn’t any intelligence guiding the universe. They would argue that I am afraid to let go of a comfortable superstition.

Myself, I don’t feel fear at the possibility there might not be a God. I have considered it. Hell, I spent most of my life ignoring spiritual things and the church and might as well have been an agnostic or even atheist, despite having been a baptized Catholic who occasionally went to church. I still find myself at a crossroads at times when I ask, “Am I spiritually delusional?” In the end analysis, having made the leap and feeling the swell of my spirit and sensing things beyond the physical and intellectual, I simply cannot conceive of there not being a God.

It is, to me, as clear and as unassailable as the existence of gravity. That doesn’t mean I don’t doubt some of the specifics of the Bible or wonder if my spiritual path is the right one. But for me, taking the leap wasn’t simply a transient thing. I live in a world where God exists, and I can no more deny Him than I can deny myself.

06
Oct
08

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.?”

24
Aug
08

I Just Don’t Know

So, yesterday’s post by Miz Pink, “I Can See Clearly Now,” got me to thinking about something. In the effort to win souls over to God, it’s really about inspiring the folks who are in non-Christian faiths and those who are agnostic to seek Jesus. It’s not about reaching atheists. Not that atheists cannot come to a point in life where they consider the possibility of God (or gods). They can. But let’s face it: You don’t go straight from atheism to theism. You have to at least progress to agnostic first.

I mean, it’s pretty impossible to go from “I don’t believe” to “I believe” without at least having a few-minutes-long debate in your head that goes something like: “Well, maybe.”

With people of non-Christian faiths, those people tend to come to Christianity because they see something in a Christian person that makes them seriously take pause (in a good way) or because they see some essential truth in the Gospel that is missing from their own faith or because they have come to a point where their own faith is ringing very false but Christianity doesn’t. It seems somehow fairly straightforward because the person already has a grounding in faith. It’s just a matter of realizing the faith was being misdirected.

It gets very complex with agnostic folks, though. And I came to the realization recently that many of the anti-religion folks who have challenged my beliefs online aren’t atheists. I have often thought of them as such, and some of them really are, but most I think are actually agnostic. They dislike Christianity or any other religion because while they can conceive that there might be a spiritual world, they maintain that with so many different faiths, there is no way to know which path is right, and maybe all of them are.

I could go into any number of reasons why it is clear to me that Christianity is the right path and why other faiths exist, but that would get this post to be way too long, get me off my point and generally just irritate some folks. I don’t want to do all of those things in one post, really.

So, back to my angle on agnosticism. I think there are really three main types of agnostics, and two of them pose particular challenges. And I don’t mean challenges in converting them, because that isn’t the job of a Christian. Only the individual, though connection to God through Jesus, can cause a conversion. It isn’t even the job of a Christian to start the process; only to help show by various means that it is a valid process to begin or to at least consider. No, the “problem” with some of the agnostic personalities is that they (a) create barriers to God reaching them and (b) they tend to encourage arguments between the agnostic and Christians that he or she may encounter.

The Seeking Agnostic

This is the kind of agnostic that a Christian is most likely to be able to inspire or support on a path toward becoming born again. The seeking agnostic doesn’t know what the answers are, but he or she desperately wants to know. Such people can be in a very dangerous position, depending on how badly they want answers, because they may seek answers through very charismatic but fringe churches in the Christian sphere, they might be drawn into dangerous cults, or they may get caught up in a faith that isn’t going to get them to where they need to be “on the other side.”

The Apathetic Agnostic

This kind of agnostic doesn’t know and doesn’t really care if they figure it out. These folks often figure that if there is a God or multiple gods, then we are almost all going to get a “pass” because no decent mega-powerful spiritual being could possibly hold our ignorance against us. They are wrong, because they miss the point that any spiritual being who cares about our eternal souls and doesn’t make him or herself obvious clearly wants us to seek connection. I’ve talked about this before, but probably most directly in my “End of the Line?” post. To put it in a nutshell, my personal belief is that God will give a lot more credit to those who try to figure things out, even if they end up on the wrong path, than to those who try to coast through life like there isn’t anything to worry about after life ends. I would go so far as to say that there are some people out there who think of themselves as agnostic but might actually be born again. That’s a complex topic, and probably one for another day, but I think it is possible. But that would be the seeking agnostic, probably not the apathetic agnostic, anyway.

The Almost-Atheist

These are the folks who are probably more likely even than an atheist to try to intellectually smack around believers of all sorts by telling them it is ridiculous to claim that anyone knows the true path to God, assuming that there is actually any God. I think that most hard-core atheists, the ones who truly don’t even try to accept the idea that a spiritual world might exist, really don’t give a shit what believers think. It may concern them on a gut level, but a real atheist who has any intelligence won’t try to convince a faithful person to give up his or her god. Lord know I don’t try to convince atheists or agnostics to believe in God or Jesus, only to treat me as a person with a brain and to try to have some smidgen of empathy for me about why I choose to believe.

The almost-atheist is probably the most likely person on the planet to tell a Christian or any other religiously oriented person that it’s time to give up superstition, stop “rattling the bones and feathers” and join the 21st century world. And part of that, I think, is because they are bothered on some level that they don’t know for sure, and that people are out there acting like they do.

And that’s cool, too. To each their own. There are plenty of people I have encountered in all three camps, both in real life and through the Internet, and I don’t like them any less as human beings. Just thought I’d share some of my insights (or maybe they’re my own biased misconceptions) since Miz Pink inadvertently got me to thinking about all this.

19
Aug
08

Two-fer Tuesday: Spiritual Healing by Deacon Blue

As Miz Pink pointed out a few days ago, I had a small issue with some comments some folks were making at Deus Ex Malcontent. No flame war or anything like that. Not much brawling. No hard feelings (at least not that I’ve noticed so far, though I think there is some lightly gnawing irritation among certain parties); in fact, I think the discussion that was sparked was a good one on both sides of the issue. But as I thought about the whole affair and the comments back and forth about whether religious folks just “haven’t grown up and joined the 21st century,” I started to realize where there is a major gap between the atheists and the theists.

I mean, other than that God guy…which of course is the primary gap between us.

Now, I’m going to confine myself to atheism vs. Christianity specifically, partly because Christianity is predicated on God’s plan to save souls from damnation, and because this ties into today’s topic on spiritual healing, at least for my take on the topic. (No, as much as you might have thought otherwise from the title, I won’t be posting on faith healing or anything like that.) And I realize that some folks, like Votar, who has been vocal in the discussion I noted above at Deus Ex Malcontent, don’t necessarily think of themselves as atheist. Humor me. I’m already about to use a metaphor, so let me deal in extremes, too. And don’t jostle me. This is volatile stuff and I don’t want it blowing my head off.

Basically, I see a large part of the atheism vs. Christianity debate like this: We see the problem of making people (and the world at large) healthier a lot differently.

Being Christian doesn’t necessarily make you a good person. There are some real losers, assholes and arrogant folks within the Christian ranks. But what gets Christians knocked by atheists almost as much as the hyprocrisy we often show as a group is our desire to “save” other people spiritually and to keep focusing on spiritual right and wrong.

This is, I think, part of why atheists often want to write off Christians as being stuck in a 2,000-year old program of supersition. The atheists don’t like the idea that Christians think they need saving. They feel (or so I think) that we are labelling them as deficient. And so the reflex is to label us as deficient for believing in the “invisible man in the sky.” And it works the same way in reverse: Christians don’t like being made to feel like fairy-tale-believing rubes, so they often label atheists as inherently arrogant, mean and tunnel-visioned.

As I see it, though, we’re both often missing the big picture. When trying to make people healthy, there are two major things a truly great physician will do: Relieve the symptoms and locate and treat the main underlying problem that lead to the ill health to begin with. (See, finally I get to my spiritual healing theme and my metaphor)

Problem is, atheists and Chrisitians don’t see the disease state the same way when it comes to human nature and human dealings.

To atheists, we Christians are ignoring the problems of this world. They think that we are only focused on souls and praying for deliverance to the exclusion of trying to fix economic, social and geopolitical problems (and many of us really do behave this way, frankly, so they aren’t all wrong in their belief).

To Christians, atheists are ignoring their souls and their eternal salvation by being so focused on believing only what can be proven that they don’t even consider the possibility that there is a spiritual realm as well.

The truth is (coming from the Christian perspective which is, of course, my own) that the real disease is sin. The basic underlying problem is our sin nature and our rejection of God’s way. And the result of that disease is some nasty consequences in the afterlife and some here on Earth too. So what Christians try to do is to get people to realize their sin nature and deal with it so that they are set for eternity.

Problem is that we sometimes forget that there are very real wordly problems that also need to be dealt with. We forget that we need to be good stewards of the planet. We look toward the bye-and-bye and the fact that all our problems will be solved when we leave the planet and kind of fuck around too much while we’re still in the flesh.

And so, in focusing only on the core disease, too many of us Christians forget to alleviate the symptoms and just go for trying to administer the painful cure. We also forget to treat the “co-morbid” conditions that were either created by the sin nature or that were exacerabated by it. In trying to get to the heart of the problem, we leave the patients still suffering a host of other ailments that we refuse to acknolwedge and we give them no pain relief. In other words, we may save the patient, but at what cost? Certainly, it puts our bed-side manner in question, if not our basic human decency.

Atheists, on the other hand (again, in my humble opinion) are so focused on the most obvious and visible diseases and in relieving the painful symptoms that they ignore and fail to recognize the core problem (sin) and leave the biggest disease untreated. And so the biggest threat is left unresolved, but the physician and patient think they’ve dealt with all the problems. Folks feel better, but are still sick.

Metaphors are always an inexact science of course, and leave out many subtleties. So this post is hardly going to put any nails in the atheism vs. Christianity debate. Just some thoughts, though, in terms of ways to view our respective persectives, by using the medical model, with which I am well acquainted as a healthcare and medical journalist for a number of years.

Of course, I also thought my post on atheism as a religion was harmless, and look what trouble that got me into…Lord only knows what this one might spawn.

(Miz Pink’s post on today’s topic is here.)




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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