Rants and Raves

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Friday, September 22, 2006

The Hot Button issue

Religion. (I wonder if you guessed that one?)

Quite obviously there is a culture war going on between the believers and the committed secularists. Or to put it another way, the committed believers in something running the universe and the committed believers in nothing running the universe. The secularists tend to be politically liberal and dominate the culture of Hollywood and its satellite community of Washington, D.C. (I'm kidding - sort of.)

The Believers tend to be conservatives and predominate in the heartland, i.e. the red states. There are of course exceptions. National Review has a witty and acerbic devout Materialist (John Derbyshire) on its staff and there are many liberal church-goers, who probably aren't going just to spite Ann Coulter.

Libertarians tend to fall on the committed secularist side, perhaps due to the influence of Ayn Rand on the modern movement. This has been changing over the past few decades, but you still fined the odd phenomenon of libertarians who despise liberals and church-goers about equally. Must be lonely out there.

My opinion? From my observations, believing Christians, and increasingly Jews as well, are frequently gratuitously insulted in public life and academia. There is quite obviously a movement to erase displays of religious symbolism from public life to an extent I find absurd. The funny thing is that this is being done by "multiculturalists" who I suspect would fight to the death for the right of people to erect tribal fetishes on public property, just so long as they weren't Western/ Christian.

And for the record, I don't have an opinion on religious dogma I'd stick a finger in a match for, much less be burned at the stake.

I'm a lapsed Anglican/ Episcopalian, which is like saying a lapsed library member. I once came up with a definition of Anglican theology, "God is after all, a gentleman. And no gentleman would keep another gentleman out of heaven for anything but the most severe lapses of good taste."*

My mother's reaction to that was, "Stephen! That's not what being an Episcopalian is about." Thoughtful pause. "It does describe your father's theology rather well though." My son's English godmother was so taken by it that she made me write it down to give to her vicar.

The thing about being Episcopalian is that you don't exactly leave the church, you just kind of move and fail to register a forwarding address. It's part of the very old English High Church tradition of being very easygoing on matters of religion.

Point is, though I don't have any firm religious opinions (though I do have some cool speculations I fiddle with from time to time) I don't have any hostility towards religion either.

The way I like to put it is, if religion is a crutch, then what do you call someone who goes around kicking crutches out from under people? A fearless seeker of the Truth or a bloody sadist?

I call my position, Cheerful Agnostic. I used to be a Militant Agnostic, "I don't know the Truth and you don't either!" Now I'm a cheerful one, "I don't know the Truth but what the hell, you might." (No, I don't really believe you do, I'm just not interested in arguing about it.)

Two things I just can't swallow: 1) That a merciful God would send you to eternal torment for your opinions on matters you can't possibly be certain of, and which don't affect your behavior towards other people. I.e. for guessing wrong between all the alternative theologies offered to you. Put another way, I don't care what people believe, I care how they treat each other. How the former influences the latter is another question.

2) That an all-powerful, all-knowing God would require the most sickeningly sycophantic praise, and get murderously petulant when He doesn't get it.

If either of these two things are true, then we are living in Hell. But if it's what it takes to get you though life, by all means believe it. Bottom line is, we are self-aware beings and while that has its rewards, it has its price. That price is the foreknowledge that we are all going to die someday. Whatever you have to believe to deal with it, if it helps - more power to you. If it makes you a better person in your time on Earth, better still.

So what I can't fathom is why the hostility towards believers? More and more I suspect that Eric Hoffer (a professed atheist) was right when he said that a fanatical atheist** is really desperately seeking for belief. He further remarked that the opposite of the fanatical religious is not the fanatical atheist, but the gentle cynic who cares not whether there is a God or not.

* Thanks to Cyril Kornbluth for the inspiration of that one, in his delightful 1950s SF novel The Syndic.

** What's the loneliest thing about being an atheist? You have no one to talk to when you're having an orgasm.

4 Comments:

  • At 2:41 PM, Blogger Canker said…

    I have moved slightly the other way, and describe myself as a "lapsed atheist".

    I very much agree with your position about the sort of God I can imagine/believe in and, more particularly, the two things you can't swallow.

     
  • At 4:20 AM, Blogger Sir Henry Morgan said…

    Sir

    I could't disagree with any of that. I too spent many years as a militant agnostic, but as I've gotten older have moved towards being the cheerful agnostic. Life's too short to get into arguments where you have no chance of changing his mind, nor he yours.

    I do sort of envy sincere believers though: they KNOW death isn't the end of everything - Oblivion. I know it is. I believe that death is the mirror-image of before-conception.

    I think dying is probably easier for the sincere believer. That's the bit I envy.

    One thing I do know with absolute certainty: neither I nor they will be disappointed.

     
  • At 6:37 PM, Blogger Steve Browne said…

    Hey, maybe we should form The Church of the Cheerful Agnostic! Roger Zelazny already wrote an "Agnostics' Prayer" (in "Creatures of Light and Darkness.") Our motto could be, "In God we trust - if there is one."

     
  • At 8:19 AM, Blogger MathTom said…

    Regarding the two comments below form the "Hot Button/Religion" blog...

    I recommend you get a good modern language Bible (New International Version or HarperCollins Study bible should do) and actually READ it. (Probably shorter than "War and Peace" and infinitely more interesting)

    You would find, not only are your concerns NOT taught in the Bible, but the exact OPPOSITE is true.
    You just need to (a)actually READ it; and (b) talk to someone with knowledge of the original languages
    about the OCCASIONAL puzzling passage you may encounter.

    ************(blog quote follows)



    Two things I just can't swallow: 1) That a merciful God would send you to eternal torment for your opinions on matters you can't possibly be certain of, and which don't affect your behavior towards other people. I.e. for guessing wrong between all the alternative theologies offered to you. Put another way, I don't care what people believe, I care how they treat each other. How the former influences the latter is another question.

    2) That an all-powerful, all-knowing God would require the most sickeningly sycophantic praise, and get murderously petulant when He doesn't get it.

     

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