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Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Only Spirituality Can Solve The Problems Of The World

Religion is as apt to be co-opted by evil as any other institution. But no more, either. The search for meaning, for a way to deal with existential angst or fear of death leads in many directions. "Faith" is vital to many of us because there is a limit beyond which the conscious mind cannot grasp and hold reality. We sense that there is more...but cannot quantify it precisely. Those who we believe have grasped more of this pattern often teach "spirituality" and inspire their followers...but as soon as they die, those followers cut down the living tree of their teaching and build a church with it. Most of the people in those churches, mosques or whatever are good and decent people just trying to raise a family and live with dignity. But the heart can be led as easily as the head, and those seeking to steal land and resources find religion an excellent excuse to do so. We have the responsibility to live our lives with dignity, grace and love. And uncounted human beings have found religions to be a source of comfort and strength. I will not denigrate them, any more than condemn "politics" or "science", both of which have been used to kill millions. We, humanity, are the problem. Our institutions are no better than we are.
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost


Steve Perry said...

Got to disagree with this one. "Religion" and "spirituality" aren't the same, and religions have been the cause for all kinds of bad shit over the centuries.

Slaves? They don't count -- they don't have souls like we do. They aren't real people. God favors us.
I can still remember the blue-eyed, blond surfer Jesus from my Sunday school days. Really?

When you are sure that god is on your side, you will happily slaughter a room full of babies if you believe that's what your god wants.

Burning heretics was a way to keep warm on cold days; throw in a few witches, and holy wars, the body count goes up fast.

Organized religion has a lot to answer for.

You don't need to hijack anything if the underlying premise is we are going to heaven and they aren't, so fuck 'em, so infidel slaughter doesn't count.

Spirituality and religion are sometimes connected; sometimes they aren't even distant cousins. You can be spiritual without being religious.

Or vice-versa.

Scott said...

I disagree very strongly with the word 'only'. Spirituality might solve some problems, but it's hardly the best, let alone only, tool in our toolbox.

Shady_Grady said...

Religion and "spirituality" have a great deal of difficulty self-correcting errors. Religion makes claims about the world which science has shown to be untrue. Where given temporal power, most religions become pretty intolerant of non-believers.

Reason and rationality are much better tools for describing and understanding the world and will be better tools for solving problems.

Ethiopian_Infidel said...

"Spirituality might solve some problems, but it's hardly the best, let alone only, tool in our toolbox."

Our sharpest and most consistently effective cognitive tool is REASON. Unlike passion, against which cold calculation's often contrasted, reason can diagnose and remedy its own failures. Further, rationality and its methods ore dynamic and evolving. Whereas human emotions seem intractably mired in the cave and savanna, human reason has soured and grasped the stars.

As to the scourge of religion:

"..religions to be a source of comfort and strength. I will not denigrate them.."

I WILL denigrate them!! Religion has been the cause of unending ignorance, stagnation, misery and atrocity, and may be the agent of our extinction. As we speak, American freedoms and education are under siege from Evangelical Christianity, reproductive rights and sane sexuality are being savaged by Catholicism, modernism worldwide is under violent attack from Muslim Jihad and hundreds of millions of "low caste" Indians are being ground beneath Hindu-mandated oppression more complete and vile than the worst of Apartheid or Nazism. If the strength and consolation that religion furnishes the wretched is offered as good works that atone for its brutality, I'd argue this constitutes faith's greatest evil. Having likely been instrumental in inflicting their woes, supernatural devotion then awakens the believer's slumbering strength and dupes her into crediting tribal goblins for her triumphs. Arthur C. Clarke said it much more eloquently: "Possibly history's greatest tragedy was religion's hijacking of ethics".

Marty S said...

Religion is neither good nor evil, it is a tool. Like a hammer which can be used to build a house to shelter or bash someone over their head to steal their purse. Its goodness or evilness depends upon who is wielding it, to what purpose.

Steve Perry said...

Marty --

The tool metaphor is a bit sketchy. If a religion has, say, a dogma that allows that non-members are lesser beings and thus not worthy in the eyes of their god, it has an intrinsic problem.

Infidels get short shrift, don't they? I mean, they are going to hell no matter what, so who cares how one deals with them?

Not just that somebody is overzealous and decides that shooting doctors is okay because God hates abortion, but that the children of lesser gods can be dealt with in ways that those of the One True Faith™ cannot be.

Only takes just one itty-bitty turd in the punchbowl to spoil the party.

Most major religions have learned to skirt these issue with care, but there are always these nasty little pockets of one kind of ism or another hidden in the forest.

I always liked George Emory's quote: Jesus said he was the Way, that it was through him we get to the Father, And here we are, two thousand years later, worshipping the door ...

Lot of righteous smiting going on in the OT, and some of the eastern religious get fairly bloody, too.

When the chaplain comes out to bless the troops and pray for victory, that kind of makes that turn-the-other-cheek stuff seem less than convincing.

If the practice doesn't match the theory?

I have a lot a trouble believing any kind of omnipotent god would take sides in a local argument, much less in which football team wins on Sunday after church.

What you do matters more than what you say, and you judge accordingly. That's where the truth of it lies -- walk the walk, not just talk the talk.

Marty S said...

Steve Perry:The tool metaphor really isn't sketchy. Take my own religion's kosher laws. The leaders of the Jewish people at the time who created those laws knew that certain dietary habits tended to reduce deaths from certain diseases. Knowing that just saying certain things were good or bad for you wasn't going to get people to do what was good for them they made these good habits part of god's law because fear of god was a powerful tool in those days. This was using the tool of religion in a good way. Too bad it doesn't work so well today so we could get people to stop smoking. Denigrating those who don't belong to our religion so as to get people to be willing to wage war against nonmembers is an example of the the leaders using religion as a tool to get people to fight a war they might otherwise be unwilling to fight.

Steve Perry said...

Because a thing once was valid doesn't mean it is now. Keeping kosher might have had a basis, but with current knowledge of nutrition, that need isn't what it was. Most Jews, save for those who are Orthodox don't do it any more.

Jews as a group don't live any longer than people who don't keep kosher these days.

Supposed to wear a skullcap, too, but outside of the temple how many still wear kippah? And what function other than religious does that one serve?

Be fruitful and multiply was useful when the tribes were small and persecuted. Maybe not so much today.

Tradition codified into religious law sometimes doesn't serve.

The great holy books are wonderful metaphors in some of the lessons they offer. Other lessons no longer apply -- morally or legally -- and if you try to read the Bible, OT and New, as literal documents of fact, they come apart like old tinker toys under the hand of an angry child.

If Mom turns into a pillar of salt, then it's okay for the daughters to get Dad drunk and sleep with him, in order to get pregnant an keep the family name going? Not so much, no. One of many such morality tales that we left behind.

I'm not arguing agains the idea of spirituality or even religion -- only that the two aren't the same, and that religion has done as much harm as good because of how it works in the real world.

And I'm not convinced that secular humanists can't do as good a job solving the problems of the world. We are engaged in a war on two fronts now because some religious nut decided that flying airplanes into buildings was a good idea, and another religious nut went after him with the Army, Nayv, Air Force, Marines, and the National Guard Reserves. (And, in case anybody didn't notice, spend a fortune and thousands of lives and didn't get him ...)

When everybody has god on their side, the battles get particularly bloody.

Travis said...

"When everybody has god on their side, the battles get particularly bloody."

Well do YOU want to be the poor bastard that goes to war WITHOUT god on his side?

Note the tounge planted firmly in cheek...

Pagan Topologist said...

As might be expected, I believe that most of the evils of religion can be traced to monotheism. Polytheists tend not to believe that there is just one correct way to do things, and are more tolerant, generally.

Of course many Pagans will not agree, but I think that gods and goddesses are creations of human cultures, much like such things as the Poisson distribution, random walks, perfect circles, Banach spaces, etc. They can be profoundly useful, but what it means to say that they "exist" is open to question and much debate.

Travis said...

" and didn't get him"

Actually that's quite the debat now isn't it?

Although we did get a lot of OTHER religour wackos.

Ethiopian_Infidel said...

"..I believe that most of the evils of religion can be traced to monotheism."

I'd tend to agree, except for the evil perpetrated by Hinduism through its caste system. The most enduring and absolutely loathsome institution of discrimination and dehumanization was concocted by polytheists who conceived a cosmos populated with a veritable infinitude of gods, who pronounced millions of humans and their endless descendants beneath dirt.

Be they one or legion, the gods must be banished completely from the human psyche.

Steve Perry said...

Trav --

Sure, but knocking off religious wackos is like cutting blackberries canes with a pair of fingernail scissors. The brambles are going to come back and your tool isn't ever going to be up to the job unless that's all you do full time.

Kill a fanatic, make a martyr, and ten spring up to replace him. Tell me it's not so.

Religious wars keep going because the faithful don't care if they die -- their god is waiting to welcome and install them in their version of Paradise and if they believe that, then dying in his or her service is so much the better.

What sane man flies an airplane full of people into a skyscraper?

A bunch of religious thought is about the future and not the present. Toe the line, get your reward in heaven -- or next incarnation. And if they are wrong? There's your evil right there.

Kill 'em all, God'll know his own ...

Marty S said...

There is more than onside to every issue. When you debate political issues you find the craziest kooks on the other side and use them to invalidate any points made by anybody who doesn't agree with you. When you discuss religion all talk about is religious wars and other evils that arise from religious beliefs and ignore the charitable works done by the religious and the help it provides to those who believe when they have trouble. You can believe that the bad outweighs the good, but at least acknowledge the good exists and that others may judge that the good outweighs the bad.

Ethiopian_Infidel said...

".. acknowledge the good (that religion does) exists.."

Even acknowledging the good works wrought by most faiths and arguing these outweigh their voluminous evils, the fact remains that religion is a lie! Simply put, the cosmos depicted by the major faiths, however many their gods, has been shown to be erroneous. The continued propagation of such patently false and silly beliefs constitutes the perpetuation of ignorance, and is thus itself evil. Forget crusades, jihads and the like. Contemplate the irreplaceable hours and effort lost to Biblical or Koranic recitation that would be vastly more usefully spent advancing science or mathematics or learning marketable skills. Consider the millions of minds captivated and warped by hoary and infantile tales of Eden, Sin or God, only a few of which break free to savor the mature splendors of Darwin's and Einstein's Cosmos.

Marty S said...

The man I have most admired and wanted to be like is my grandfather. He knew the Torah and the Talmud backwards and forward, but religion to him wasn't about Eden, Sin or God. He didn't obey the kosher laws because he recognized that they were out of date, but he found a lot of wisdom in the Talmud and used what he found as a basis a good and ethical life. There is a story in the Talmud where a man faces the dilemma that he has two actions he can take one will offend a neighbor, one will offend God. The recommended action in the Talmud is to offend God not your neighbor because God will forgive you and your neighbor will not. One time when my parents were in a similar dilemma between my sisters and my grandfather, my grandfather related to my parents the story in the Talmud, but the ending was your parents will forgive you, but your children won't. So he told to meet their children's need. So for some us religion is more about living a way of life then about god or life after death.

Pagan Topologist said...

Ethiopian Infidel, The essay at the site I have posted above gives a pretty good analysis of the proper relation between science and religion as I and many others see it. In a nutshell, subjective feelings expressed as metaphor have nothing to do with scientific reality. They are constructs, as surely as are mathematical entities I have mentioned here previously. The statement that "religion is a lie" attempts to put religion into the same realm of discourse as science, where none but fundamentalists believe it belongs.