Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Some Notes on Religion

 1. Is Religion Good or Bad?
This is the most basic question about religion. Atheists and other skeptics feel that religion is bad, and there is a good case to be made for that. For starters, nothing has caused more war and bloodshed than religion, and it continues today.

On the other hand, the vast majority of humanity feels that religion is good. In the first place, people feel this way because they believe in God. Furthermore, even an agnostic would agree that religion provides moral guidelines, and that it is palliative. It soothes suffering. So even if you are not sure that God exists, religion can be accepted on these pragmatic grounds. As Voltaire said: “if God didn’t exist, man would have to invent him.”

There is, at least in educated and progressive circles, AMBIVALENCE about religion. I was listening to National Public Radio. They had a marvelous section about the Harlem Renaissance. In the 1930s, Harlem had this fantastic black musical revival, and it was largely rooted in Negro spirituals and gospel singing. In other words, it was very Christian stuff.

When it is African-Americans, slaves and other simpatico or oppressed people who express their rebellion and their liberation through religious/Christian forms of expression, as in the Blues, we liberals love this, at least culturally.

On the other hand, when we look at today’s evangelicals, Islamofascists and a Catholic hierarchy which excuses child rape while it forbids contraception and homosexuality, we see insane and destructive beliefs in action, we see that religion is superstition, and that it is the cause of much evil in the world.

In the past, there was the same paradox: the Inquisition, the witch burnings, the Crusades, the Dark Ages, all terrible manifestations of religion. But there is also Bach’s Passions, Notre Dame Cathedral, Mother Theresa and the Sistine Chapel. So Religion also produces beauty and love.

So when religion is embodied by Mahalia Jackson, Negro spirituals and the Sistine Chapel, we love it, but when it’s Tea Party white supremacist fundamentalist nonsense we liberals hate it.

“Truth” is one criterion by which religion can be judged - and probably failed.

“Consequences” are another. Remember Voltaire’s acceptance of God on moral and pragmatic grounds. And while Marx called religion the “opium of the masses,” there is much to be said for religions’ analgesic benefits.

2. On freedom of religion:
It is enshrined in our First Amendment. In 2014, the Supreme Court ruled in its “Hobby Lobby” decision that (certain) companies are entitled to religious freedom, and must not be required to provide (certain) contraceptives to their female employees. Think of the retrograde logic of this decision: An abstraction (a company) is suddenly endowed with religious beliefs, while flesh-and-blood human beings lose their reproductive rights. Topsy-turvy, if you ask me.

3. On Christianity and Islam:
Each of the two major world religions has well over a billion adherents. Both are conservative belief systems that are in conflict with science, progress and equality, and which I therefore reject. They  both also have an incredibly  bloody record.

One difference is that Christianity has evolved to a point where it is now largely  non-violent, whereas (some strands of)  Islam (ISIS, the Iranian regime, etc.) are still where Christianity was five hundred  years ago -  conservative, anti-scientific, anti-egalitarian AND still violent.

4. A spoof on the biblical view of human genealogy, and of the relationship between God, Jesus, Mary and the Holy Spirit:
I was in Rome recently, and I made my obligatory pilgrimage to the Vatican. (I grew up Catholic). That’s when I had some of the thoughts that follow, making fun of biblical nonsense:

Christian doctrine about human genealogy is of course nonsensical, especially the Catholic variant. The fairy tale starts with Adam and Eve living and breeding 6,000 years ago, fratricide, humanity being wiped out by a flood, immaculate conception, etc. Plus, there is a holy trinity which includes a father, a son and a holy ghost. By the way, did you know that Adam's first wife was not Eve, but Lilith? However, Lilith was unwilling, so Adam divorced her and married Eve. (This is not in the bible, but elsewhere in Jewish scriptures).

Christians/Catholics have been debating and clarifying their doctrines for 2,000 years: For example in 325 AD, Emperor Constantine convened the Council of Nicea. There, hundreds of bishops worked to define the nature of God so as to eliminate confusion and controversy within the church. Later, throughout the Middle Ages, “Scholasticism” was the continuing theological and philosophical work of the Catholic experts, who provided the people with the desired explanations.

As a young boy, I was always in awe of the majesty of Catholic theology. For example, the Holy Trinity. the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. A triad, but also a unity. Wow. How mysterious, how grand, I thought. Such theories had the same appeal to me as they had for the millions of natives converted by missionaries throughout the world. To children and to other innocent people, the more incomprehensible an idea is, the more beautiful it appears to be. Like a native Hawaiian, American Indian or African, I knew that the ideas of Catholicism were TRUE because they were unintelligible. I knew that my infinitesimally small and inferior brain couldn’t possibly fathom these ideas, and this proved to me that they were true.

But I finally figured it out. I now understand the situation with respect to God, Jesus and Mary:

God is almighty father to all of us. Not only is Jesus his son incarnate, but Mary is also his daughter, as are all women. Therefore, Mary is not only Jesus’ mother, but she is also Jesus’ sister. At the same time, since God is Jesus’ father and Mary is his mother, Mary must also be God’s wife. In addition, she is also Joseph’s wife, so she is a bigamist. Furthermore, Jesus also claimed that he and God are ONE, i.e. that he himself IS God. In that case, Mary is also God’s mother, which makes her Jesus’ grandmother. Alas ,I still don’t know who the holy ghost is.  leave comment here

© Tom Kando 2014