61. desideratum

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Soooo… Easter.

Tweeted a bit about this on Sunday morning. It was strange, driving around and seeing everyone going to church, and knowing that a year ago I was one of those people. And frankly, it was a little lonely. There’s comfort in being a part of a group, in marking the passage of time in ritual, and in such a manifest way and explicit terms.

Jesus is alive

Satan is defeated

I spent the first part of the morning watching the Marx Brothers’ Night at the Opera with my friend Emily at her place. And the strange thing is that it felt just like any other day. It wasn’t until later, when I was driving back to my place to get ready for a 10am meeting with my Former Fundementalists group that I really noticed the church-goers; the couples holding hands on their way to church; the little girls in their pink and white dresses; the families piling out of mini-vans like clowns packed into a Yugo.

Last week, a blogger I follow posted an entry that consisted of a note card with the following quote from Spinoza’s Tractatus Theologico-Politicus (trans. Samuel Shirley): “The things whose goodness derives only from authority and tradition, or from their symbolic representation of some good, cannot perfect our intellect; they are mere shadows, and cannot be counted as actions that are… the offspring and fruit of intellect and sound mind. ”

Basically, this is how I feel about religion right now. After lunch on Easter, both my mom and dad and brother-in-law ganged up on me to try to poke holes in my fledgling belief system and save my soul from damnation–which, if you know me, is about the least effective way to try to get through to me. It only resorts in me reverting to lizard behavior and digging myself further into whatever defenses.

Here’s the facts, as I know them: My gut tells me that there’s a God, and that Jesus was a real person and who he claimed to be. I feel uneasy when saying anything else, and I’ve learned to listen to that inner compass. However, I simply don’t buy Christianity as it’s wrapped and sold these days; believe in the tenability of evolution as the origin for the human species; am still not sure whether the whole resurrection thing happened; and would be far more likely to side with a more ancient and non-western sect of Christianity (e.g., Eastern Orthodox) than with Evangelicalism and its dogmatic fetishism. I still consider myself a skeptic (with secular humanist leanings), don’t believe the Bible to be the inerrant “word of God” (any more than any other book is “inspired”), and, as Augustine presumably advised (I’m still looking for a direct citation for where that idea comes from), favor science over religion where the facts seem clear:

When they [scholars] are able, from reliable evidence (erax documentum), to prove some fact of physical science, we shall show that it is not contrary to our Scripture. But when they produce from any of their books a theory contrary to Scripture, and therefore contrary to the Catholic faith, either we shall have some ability to demonstrate that is absolutely false, or at least we ourselves will hold it so without any shadow of a doubt. (Book I, Chapter 21)

Augustine wrote that in 402 AD, and it’s a much more generous stance than what we hear today from the Church, which is often Bible-thumping dogmatic dismissal of scientific evidence. We have the faculties of logic and reason: why should we turn off that critical thinking part of the mind when it comes to religion that we apply to every other field of human learning and research? When the facts seem to say that the earth is older than 10,000 years, based on both physical geological and cosmological data, who do we side with? Science? Or a book written two thousand years ago by a bronze-age people with rudimentary scientific knowledge of the universe (who, I might add, weren’t even attempting to write a scientific treatise in the first place, and were basing their creation account around contemporary Near East etiological myths)? I believe that we can glean truths from any human writing when we properly use the aforementioned logic and reason, and that the physical universe is just as much revelation as anything else.

Basically what Augustine is saying in his treatise on Genesis is that science and religion don’t necessarily have to conflict; that one informs and shapes the other; and I’ve always felt that. It’s the dissonance that comes from the conservative right saying that science is anathema that has bothered me, and it’s that that I’m distancing myself from, not necessarily God. (That said, however, I also must admit that from a scientific perspective, the earth, our solar system and the universe behave exactly as they would if there weren’t a God. It seems to largely run and correct itself.) For example, on a personal level, that’s the conclusion that I came to in wrestling over whether homosexuality was a sin or not: that this is my experience; that I’ve always been attracted to men (as supposed to being abused or something); that the mounting psychological and psychiatric data suggests that it’s a normal expression of human sexuality; that trying to alter an individual’s orientation is dangerous and unnecessary; and that the religious right’s opposition and scrambling to throw up objections to homosexuality comes from a patriarchal panic over their threatened status quo and losing what power they still have over the culture at large.

But more than anything, I believe that God would want me to get out and enjoy life, not worry about whether I’m living in “his perfect will” or whatever it is that the kids are saying nowadays. Be good to people, play fair, and leave the world better than you found it. That’s my religion.

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