“If he is infinitely good, what reason should we have to fear him? If he is infinitely wise, why should we have doubts concerning our future? If he knows all, why warn him of our needs and fatigue him with our prayers? If he is everywhere, why erect temples to him? If he is just, why fear that he will punish the creatures that he has filled with weaknesses? …If he is reasonable, how can he be angry at the blind, to whom he has given the liberty of being unreasonable? … If he is inconceivable, why occupy ourselves with him? … and if he has spoken, why is the world not convinced?”
-Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822)
One of the conundrums of religion is the sad but real fact that many people of faith have little tolerance for those without faith. In other words, there appears to be a lot of hate going around. Why does this happen? It is my view that any form of atheism and agnosticism are perceived as a threat to the religious. After all, if one believes they are strong in their faith and a question about their faith appears unanswerable, who wouldn’t begin to wonder and speculate about the foundations of their faith? It happens to everyone. At this point the only thing left to do for a person without an answer is to resort to “faith” as faith gets by with little or no logical formation for it to exist. While this debate could be productive it is stopped cold in its tracks when arguing from logic or supposition. The subsequent “disliking” of faithless non-believers usually takes the form of distancing one’s self from the logician. If you remain distant from the cause of discomfort then discomfort does not have to consciously exist nor do inconvenient reminders of one’s irrational faith and logic. All one needs to do is stay away from its cause. In the short term this works but in the longer view one must take ever stronger and stronger measures to counteract the possibility that logical thoughts of others are the cause of many fears and anxieties.
There are a number of tools we have at our disposal to manage the questions and subsequent anxiety about religion. We could talk it out, try to understand it, we could rationalize it to ourselves, ignore it, pretend it doesn’t exist, run away from it, and get angry. Anger, minimizing, ignoring and exclusion appear to be the most frequently used tools to deal with what is not acceptable thinking or questioning about one’s faith. That is why there is so much religious hostility in the world. Too often the mantra of those with clear-cut but unprovable religious mandates espouse something like the following statement: “If you don’t believe as I do, I will (kill, hurt, ostracize, label, etc. [fill in the blank]) you!” Nations often take up arms against each other because of one’s beliefs. These nations are often driven by religious ideations and are no different than an individual. Taking up word weaponry to prove one is wrong or to hurt another is not uncommon. Most war efforts are driven by fear and/or anger. In order for one to avoid confrontation or lose a word war we resort to hostile statements while ostracizing the offender. The result is rage, intolerance and isolation. The tendency to isolate one who thinks differently than we do is born of a lack of understanding of both one’s own views and that of others. Of course this works both ways.
The irony in all of this is that many religious types claim to be concerned about the behaviors and thinking of those whose views run contrary to theirs. Yet, when pushed to understand that of another an impenetrable wall arises and communication is severely thrashed. This is an unfortunate result of closed minds, minds that will not consider the views of another when a position runs contrary to theirs. The need to perpetuate their thinking brings a kind of comfort outlasting that of logic. A place of disgrace lingers in the background as a person of faith will surely find themselves placed should they ask the wrong questions or betray their growing lack of faith in their religious culture.
Integrity is at the heart of most religions and expressions of faith. Therefore, it seems only right that a person of faith who is seeking to be a person of integrity would be willing to open up their faith questions and those of others with an approach that questions with honesty, fairness and reasonableness and not hostility, isolation, shunning and ridicule.
There is no religion existing today that has not rebelled or distanced itself from its religious roots, including Christianity and Islam. It appears that part of every religious community, at some time or another, becomes dissatisfied with its concepts, structure, revelation or theology and yearns to fill those gaps. As a result a new religion, or an overhauled one, comes into existence often with a person who declares a new and unprovable personal revelation of truth.
I am “non-religious”, not an atheist as some suppose, since after reading what I have written many wonder if I believe in “God”. I just don’t have a name for the concept, “God”, nor do I have an origination story or theological mystery tour to stretch your faith. (I have no proof of what I believe and I wonder if my belief in “God” is supportable as I have increasing doubts.) I just can’t accept an inflexible point of view that says, “I know what you need, and I know what you should know and here it is, you can have it too.” Religionists present yet another obstacle to finding “truth” as they claim to have succeeded exclusively in finding it.
Having been a part of the religious scene for years it is clear to me how easily duped we are to believe in something we have no proof of, has caused an abundance of divisions, and “territorialized” people into believers and non-believers. Furthermore, my belief in “God” equates to the larger perspective which includes an awareness of “God” in everything. I speculate at times whether or not consciousness is “God”. So, my belief in “God” does not necessarily match up to the Christian/Judaeo tradition of a being existing somewhere in the beyond or in one’s “heart”. If there is a “God” he/she/it could be anywhere and in anything. Do I hear an “Amen”?
I have recently come to the conclusion that I am a rationalist, a cognitive realist. I have come to see the world less clearly than I once did when I thought I knew what there was needed to know and I trusted that reality. Things have changed for me. And, I might add, for some of my acquaintances. Life and its issues are not so simple. Having discoursed with some of divergent opinions regarding politics and religion, one wrote that he was bored with the conversation as it had basically reached its end. I disagree as conversations around religion and politics seem to merely scratch the surface. When it comes to “push-back” I can’t expect much in return as some reputations are on the line. I’m too old and past my prime to concern myself with that. Take this diatribe, and any of my other short diatribes, as coming from a citizen who has chosen to question a few of the “realities” of life. I am a seeker of truth and find that truth can burn into the soul’s imaginations and cause it to question life-long held suppositions.
I have pondered the following quote off and on for many years. “I am convinced that a God the mind rejects will never be a God the heart can adore.” -John Shelby Spong, Jesus for the Non-Religious
If I am to be true to my person I acknowledge that God made my mind. Yet, If God is perceived as unable to handle my puny questions about His universe and my realities I cannot serve that god. It/He/She must be the wrong one. There has to be another to whom I can turn. The god most of us have served is a god we have been told about, and most of us sadly accept that idea without question. We, primarily in the western world, have been told that the Bible is the way to truth and we do not question that premise while being told that it is because the Bible says it is so.
So, I am a seeker of God, not because the Bible tells me so but because I am on the lookout for reasons, both cognitive and spiritual, to experience Him. The real “Him” not the imagined Him, not the church Him, not even your Him. But Him who would accept and answer my questions without judging me as wrong for asking or ridiculing me in front of my peers, or assigning me to the Devil’s playground for having questions many don’t seem to have.
Is there a “Him” out there? Let’s talk!