“I will admit upfront that I have been heavily influenced by the study of religion, for my maternal grandfather and great grandfather were preachers, and I inherited a massive library on the subject and read all of the books that were in English. …”
Being in education, I have always tried to remain neutral to political parties and religion. I strongly believe that my job as an educator is to open the minds of students to opposing views, so they can make informed decisions – not preach to them what is right and what is wrong. Although I have shared some opinions that, arguably, could be described as political, I have refrained from making public comments about religion – until now. These are MY opinions, and it is okay if we disagree – that is the fundamental principle of an educated society.
I recently read The Age of American Unreason. Although I agree with much of what the author said, and was intrigued by her thesis, I found her argument invalid and sometimes offensive. The main reason for taking offense, is her duplicity of condemning religion (specifically Christian fundamentalists), while belonging to a dogmatic religion of her own; that is, she is a self-proclaimed atheist and has no respect for anybody who does not agree with her. Although I agree that people believing the earth is flat and less than 10,000 years old is rather odd in today’s world, I harbor no ill will towards those people who do, and will do all I can to ensure that they are allowed to continue those beliefs, as long as they are choosing to do so of their own freewill; hence, the directive for instructors to offer opposing views.
What I cannot abide, from either side, is the nonsensical rhetoric that it is “my way or the highway.” From the Christian perspective, the only way is through Christ. Really? Half the world is doomed? Atheists seem to believe that anybody who has “superstitious” beliefs about a higher order are stupid and in need of a cure. Really? You are so smart that you know with certainty that God does not exist, and some of you are scientists? It is interesting to note that about half of the world population believes in the God of Abraham, while less than 10% of the population is atheist. It makes one wonder…
As a scientist, I am confident there is a very high correlation between intelligence and atheism, but I also know correlation is not causation. Further, I have witnessed too many highly intelligent people who fully endorse the concept of God for me to proclaim there is not a God (or gods). Logically speaking, one should believe in God, as Pascal argued. Why, then, do people with barely above average intellects feel the need to proselytize about atheism?
As I started with the opening disclosure that I am well read in the Judeo-Christian beliefs, I have also studied many other forms of religion/belief-systems. I am not a religious man, but I have faith. Through different times in my life, I have been religious. I have gone through times when I railed against organized religion. And times, like now, where I take a much more accepting view – the same way I view dying: I may not like it, but it is inevitable. My beliefs have evolved over my lifetime and continue to evolve.
I was born of a Presbyterian minister’s daughter. I joined a Methodist church when I was young. I attended an Episcopalian school from Grade 5 through Grade 8. In other words, I was immersed in Christianity during the most impressionable years of my life. But in my early teens I had a conversation with my grandpa – the minister. It was the first time I had read the Bible (King James Version) from start to finish, and I had questions. He brushed me off and said, “Most of it is rubbish (He was British.). The only thing you need to know is, “God is love.”” At 13 or 14 years old, I didn’t have a clue what that meant, but I think I’ve finally figured it out…
My first doubt in Christianity came only a year or two after that conversation, when many parts of my life were up-ended. For example, the first time I knew somebody my age who died, seeing people afraid to receive the sacraments from a shared chalice due to the AIDS scare, families torn apart by divorce, etcetera. I did not understand how Love could be so painful. Although these events rocked my world, I still hung to the belief that Jesus was my Savior and He had a plan. I thought of God as somebody who listened to my prayers and helped me out, and would be with me when I died. That is, I still believed that the Bible was “God’s gift to us,” and the Gospels were eyewitness evidence of the Ministry of Christ.
Through my early adult years I worked – seemingly all of the time – so attending church services fell out of my life. I did, however, meet some interesting people who held very strong beliefs about religion. I met one fundamentalist who honestly believed the world was 4,000 years old and the Bible was written by God (He also had a college education.). It was the first time I encountered Pascal’s Wager, without it being called by name. When pressed about the dinosaurs, his response was, “If you accept that God is all powerful, then it is not difficult to believe that he created distractions to test our faith.” For a high school dropout, that was an interesting argument; although I may have been naïve, I never believed the world was only 4,000 years old. Another fundamentalist I met was honestly offended because I said, “Jim, you are a good man.” He thought only Jesus was worthy of that title. I met another guy who told me I was going to burn in hell for eternity because I was not “born again.” The Beirut bombings and the Media rehashing the Munich Massacre were also a part of my early life. A very heavy straw (possibly the final straw) was a preacher’s wife who commented, “We have to lock the Sanctuary so the bums don’t come in to sleep at night.” I could go on with examples, but I think these illustrate how I came to believe that organized religion wasn’t for me.
Denise, my wife, has Native-American ancestry. With the movie Dance with Wolves came an acceptance of Native-American culture that our country had not previously seen. We did a lot of research on the subject. The book Black Elk Speaks helped significantly change the way I viewed religion and belief. Shortly thereafter, I enrolled in a World Religions course at Brevard Community College; the instructor was phenomenal and the course focused on what the major religions of the world had in common – as opposed to focusing on the differences. It was also when I discovered that the Gospels were not written by the disciples, which meant that religion had lied to me... We examined the similarities among Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Taoism, and Mormonism. As is my nature, I continued to explore these concepts and learn as much as I could about them.
Add a little science and the Force from Star Wars, and you have a strong cornerstone for a belief system. I am a believer in something, but that something is certainly not an old white guy (or gal) living in the clouds waiting to welcome me home when I die, and hopefully that something hasn’t been split into three beings. I actually believe it is two: good (Love, right, kind, positive, light, etc.) and bad (hate, wrong, evil, negative, darkness, etc.).
From the Conservation of Energy we know that energy cannot be created or destroyed, so we just keep reusing the same stuff to produce new humans, but rarely will we get exactly the same one twice. From Newton, we know that force (pun intended) is directional, which can be described as positive or negative. Thus, putting both of these ideas together, we get people who are a mixture of positive and negative energy.
Further, from a statistical perspective large quantities generally converge towards the middle with a few scattered above and below the middle. So it stands to reason that the vast majority of people have about equal parts of positive and negative energy, and a few have lots of positive (e.g., Dalai Lama, Mother Teresa, etc.) or negative (e.g., Adolf Hitler, Elizabeth Bathory, etc.) energy, and those personify kindness and evil. I believe these dichotomous thoughts are the core to all religion (and most government) functions). It certainly explains an enormous amount of anecdotal evidence of good and bad people.
We also know that Nature and Nurture have differing effects on all aspects of human development, so it stands to reason that both have an effect on what we do with our positive and negative energy. Thus, it is very conceivable that the vast majority of humans have the inherent ability to choose to be good or bad. With the development of humanistic values, we have established systems (i.e., religion and/or government) to “help” the majority of people choose to be good, which is also evident in Moral Development Theory.
Although one could argue that Mahatma Gandhi was certainly constructed with more positive energy than the vast majority of people, he was still strongly influenced by the religious (i.e., passive) teachings of Hindu. Without being an expert in the field, I wince at speculating, but I postulate that if we were to have studied this thought process among primitive peoples, my conclusions would have been proven correct. That is, the moral compass that pushes us towards the “good” (or the “bad”), is simply peer pressure. Thus, how we define our peers is largely how we determine if we will tend towards the light or the darkness.
Hopefully it is apparent that this belief follows my misanthropic, Darwinist outlook as well. That is, we are a species of clans (or peers), and we evolved to realize that we survive better working together – as opposed to always fighting. Further, a misanthrope (as opposed to a Humanist or a Christian) believes people are neither good nor bad – they just are – which corresponds nicely to my statistical belief that the vast majority of us have the energy to be either good or bad, depending on Nurture and circumstance.
Although there is an equal amount of Love and hate in the world, my faith is that through the Nurturing process the vast majority of people choose Love. And, it honestly doesn’t matter to me if they do so by following a dogmatic religion, governmental laws, or by proclamation of self-righteous humanitarianism.