Thursday, January 22, 2009

on religion and morals

Being both a philosophy student and a person who, for some probably logical but as of yet unknown reason, has a weird amount of Christians in her inner circle of friends, this is an area of great interest and importance to me. As a result, I’ve spent a lot of time in thought and conversation regarding the place of religion in my life and in the world, and have a painful abundance of material to share regarding my relation to religion and its development.

My start in the world (not accounting for the possibility of past lives and such) was dictated to a relatively significant extent by religion; I refer to myself occasionally as a “cradle Catholic”, a term which, for those unfamiliar, describes a person who, like myself, was born into a Catholic family and consequently Christened under and raised within the Catholic church. And so, every Sunday until my parents’ divorce (and thus our alienation as a family from the church) we went to mass, my sister and I attended Catholic school, and I can say pretty confidently that I was a perfect little Catholic girl, due to the solid faith which was programmed into my impressionable little mind that there was an all powerful and relatively fickle deity up there watching my every move.

And so, fairly predictably, the volatile combination of my own deeply inquisitive, thoughtful nature, and the pressure any child is under when involved so inevitably in what I would describe as essentially a cult, when met with the catalyst of my wonderfully liberal maternal Grandmother introducing me to genuine, thrillingly new alternatives to Christianity, led to my rebellion from the Catholic church, which had been becoming increasingly unsatisfactory to me as I approached my pre-teen years as it was. From this new awareness I had gained of this idea of freedom of religion, I went out and proceeded, naturally, to subscribe to yet another organized religion, but this time it was a) one that made a lot of sense to me logically and morally, and b) about the coolest one I could find: Paganism, or, Wicca. And so off I went into teendom, with my Grandmother’s graceful, seemingly eternal ‘Mother Nature’-esque example in front of me, as a very green, but also remarkably revering, witch. I was Pagan because I loved that I could be a part of a religion which worshipped not something ethereal and male; both “omnipresent” and yet seemingly omni-absent, but instead something which I could see all around me, and see as worthy of worship in its undeniable beauty and power, something which was both male and female, like the World itself, and capable of both good and evil, like Humanity itself: Nature. At last I could channel my prefab faith and appreciation into something which I had decided for myself with my own mind was worthy of worship. I remained involved in Wicca for a few years, until eventually my involvement waned to interest, and finally simply an objective appreciation and affection, which it remains to this day.

Again I had given my all to a religion, my energy and interest and faith, and this time entirely voluntarily, and yet still, with time, that faith which I tried so stubbornly to truly feel and live had diminished, fading eventually into nonexistence. I was sure there were some things I believed in, but what I did believe was not only considerably vague in my own mind, but unsettlingly contrary any of the mainstream, or even the less mainstream, religious groups which I was aware of. And so, after a brief period of fashionably cocky staunch Atheism, I at last found my true Savior: Philosophy. Or, to be more specific, you could say that I found my true Holy Trinity: Philosophy of Religion, Mrs. Evry, and Bertrand Russell. I took Philosophy at A-level because for some reason I was just drawn to it. And, unintelligently “wishy-washy” (as Evry would, I suspect, observe) as that sounds, I cannot give you any more reason than that because there really isn’t any. But thank the heavens I did (and yes, for someone who doesn’t believe in the Judeo-Christian concept of God, I do vocally invoke him rather often; if you are offended by this, don’t worry, I’ll get mine).

Through my two years’ study of Philosophy, I learned how to essentially do some much needed clearing out and organizing of my thoughts and beliefs, and to begin to think in a different, more coherent and logical way, which vastly improved my state of mind, capability as a student, and proficiency as a person, and which to this day impacts greatly how I think and live. On my Facebook (or Bacefook as I prefer to call it) profile, my religion is listed as simply “:Bertrand Russell”, as I have him, along with my wonderful, witty, inspiring teacher Catherine Evry, to thank for my current comfortable, crafted almost, religious outlook. And although I am yet of only the tender age of eighteen years, the perspective which I hold now I feel intrinsically allows for any future alterations in my views. So what are my religious beliefs now? Some might describe me as having no religion. Were the whim to take me to subscribe to an organized religion of some form it would probably be Hinduism, as this fits most comfortably with my moral and spiritual life, but as of yet this particular whim has not taken me. I could describe myself fairly accurately, I would say, as a ‘fideist agnostic’; I believe very fundamentally that any belief must be understood and treated as just what it is, (as is evidenced even in the dual definition of its synonym)- faith. Not knowledge, not a self-evident, indisputable truth which others must be informed or convinced of or else, but belief.

I have a hard time imagining that a person is no more than their physical composition, and this, along with my own obscure ‘sense’ or ‘feeling’ that I have a soul, leads me to believe that human beings have souls or spirits. It also makes quite a lot of sense to me that perhaps these souls could be in a kind of recycling process, moving into new bodies and experiencing new lives once our current bodies cease to be handy vehicles via which we can live. My moral structure is a simple but logical one; I live by the incontestable principle that joy is good, and hurt is bad (to utilize some simple but effective nursery-style vocab.), and so my moral objective is to create as much happiness and as little harm as possible. Obviously this is a large-scale theory, and must be understood as such-so anyone who is about to interject with some example of the joy one man may find in bashing another’s head against a wall is asked to think more broadly in order to understand that this is not justified within the theory, because the hurt caused by this man’s theoretical Neanderthal actions would negate overwhelmingly any superficial happiness that he may gain from the attack; the idea is for the most overall positivity in the world, and so takes into account collateral ramifications of every action. And so I try, day to day as well as on the long-term, bigger scale of my intentions for my life, to live and work for the avoidance and healing of pain, and the creation of joy. My specific ethical beliefs can hopefully be inferred from their derivation in this principle, but any questions as to my views on particular moral issues are welcome and will be met with, yes, you guessed it, yet more rambling transcript from my overactive mind.

I believe that the Judeo-Christian concept of God is logically incoherent to the extent that, although it cannot be strictly disproven via reason, I personally am incapable of having any genuine conviction of the possibility of his existence. I also believe, while we’re in the vicinity of gendered pronouns, that the gender imbalance in the World, caused greatly by religion since the hostile replacement of earlier, more gender-balanced faiths with Christianity (and Islam, et cetera), is the root of many if not all of the major issues which we as a species have faced for centuries and continue to face. My views on this coincide fairly accurately with my views on partisanship U.S. politics; there’s a reason the flag involves both red and blue- elements of both are required to create a balanced state, just as a balance of gender is required for society to function to its fullest. Religion’s part in this gender crisis (no, not hyperbolic in the least) somewhat shakes my appreciation of the positive societal role it plays in giving people hope and direction, although this appreciation does fundamentally endure, and is one reason why I find it very difficult to condemn organized religion outright.

Another intrinsic problem I have with organized religion is the tradition of its involuntary enforcement onto entirely defenseless children by parents and other adults in positions of authority. I am a very strong advocate, as a citizen of the United States of America, of freedom in all senses of the word, including of course religious freedom (incidentally, when I turned sixteen I was ordained as a minister of the Universal Life Church, the simplicity and wit of which I respect greatly to this day), and raising a child into a religion without elucidating to him or her that this religion is not fact and is not the only option, seems to me to be a flagrant disregard of that child’s freedom of thought and of lifestyle. I appreciate how this may be a tough one, especially for the very devout among parents and guardians, as even I will attest to the disciplinary and developmental positives of religion in a child’s life, and can of course understand the desire of a parent to want their child to share in their faith, but I truly believe that children, as human beings, respect not only honesty but the opportunity to think for themselves, and are likely to, in turn, respect greatly any adult which offers them these things. Try to imagine yourself, as a child, having a grown-up explain to you what religion is, and that there are a myriad of religions out there which you are free to explore and understand and become a part of if you wish, and then explain, as an example, his or her own religious views. All I can say is that I believe I would have had a great deal of respect for that person, most likely which would’ve led to me joining them voluntarily in their beliefs. Then, if, when I hit my teens, I decided to explore other faiths, it wouldn’t need to be a rebellion, and there would be no possible necessary resentment towards the parent or guardian for having forcibly confined my belief system. But this, of course, as always, is only my view.

And these are only my views on religion and morals, not some kind of alleged higher truth I’m trying to spread or even some idea I’m trying to sell. Of course, I am in the human habit of hoping for people to share in my beliefs, or to read some of this stuff and think ‘hey, y’know, that makes sense’, but I wouldn’t wish for anyone to just buy something I’ve said because it’s interesting or new (she said, with disturbing arrogance), because much as I’d revel in people finding logic in my long and winding prose, the most valuable message I would hope for anyone to take from this post, would be to explore your own mind and beliefs without that fear of being proven wrong hanging over you. This is not by any means an easy task, and it’s something which I’m still learning to remember to do as often as possible, but the level of clarity and understanding which is gained from changing a winner-loser, debate type discussion into a mutual search for truth via the amalgamation of others’ experience and intellect with your own is unparalleled, and indescribably worthwhile.

Edit: Feb. 26th '10

So, I found myself scribbling these random little notes into my notebook a little while back in the dark, and I figure this is the place to plonk them; what I didn't include so much of in the original post here was actual disclosure/description of my personal views, and what follows is kind of a rough outline of that.

"I worship the World, Nature, Existence itself, as opposed to some presumed creator, and without the capacity or will even to imagine a beginning or an end.

I look up and I am in awe at the sheer, blinding beauty of even a grey sky, and this is what I worship.

I look around a subway car, and I am reduced quietly to laughter or tears by the phenomenon of human nature, and this is what I worship.

Does this sound like not being able to see the forest for the trees? Well, I'd rather see the people than the crowd."

2 comments:

Dom said...

Hey, fascinating stuff, I actually never knew that you had been ordained!! Ha!

However...although almost everything you said was entirely reasonable and fairly indisputable;

"the level of clarity and understanding which is gained from changing a winner-loser, debate type discussion into a mutual search for truth via the amalgamation of others’ experience and intellect with your own"

I can appreciate that this last phrase attacks those who stubbornly and unbudgingly defend their own faith, but although your attempt at redefining faith is convincing;

"Not knowledge, not a self-evident, indisputable truth which others must be informed or convinced of or else, but belief."

holding such a belief only partially; starting an 'amalgamation' process; is barely possible. For most people, religion is an on or off switch, the holy trinity falls apart like a doorway without a keystone if you remove, for example, Jesus, or the idea of a soul is merely superfluous if you assert that God only "might exist".

Secondly, on a related but not necessarily directly dependent point: as you demonstrated through your alienation from the church upon your parents divorce, some religions are fickle and jealous, and if you disagree with a single point, you have to start a new denomination! The issue is that being religious has many other benefits above and beyond a set of beliefs, the benefits of which are lost if you take such action. This is not to say that everyone should keep quiet about their grievances with religion, but rather an attempt to explain why many people do.

Anyway, my prose is beginning to become as winding as yours haha (just kidding - the necessity to keep re-clarifying every point means that every point made in a discussion like this is saturated with qualifications!) But anyway, I thought I'd throw in my lot with the mutual journey and what not, my points were hardly substantial; certainly indoctrination is worrying, and people ought to at least think about what they're being spoon-fed!

Thanks for a thought-provoking read, I love the way you write, and could read you all day. You remind ne of the good parts of Virginia Woolf (the bad parts are just a rambling mess).

Speak to you soon

P.s. i have incidentally been forced to compare living standards between US and UK, and chose Religiosity, in particular Christianity, as my primary indicator, seems relevant, especially on those 'other benefits' that I so briefly mentioned...

xx

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