25 November 2007

Random Thoughts on a Comment and a Carnival

New carnival today: Godless. Below the fold is a rather inchoate collection of ramblings inspired by some of the posts therein, and another related post.

From a comment on a deconversion thread:

"if unverifiable spiritual experiences are true, all religions must be considered equally true."

Yes! Exactly! There are really two options here. One is that the human brain is primed for such experiences, and that people just find them in the context of their respective religions. Pure neurobiology and upbringing. The other is that the human brain is capable of perceiving something powerful that really exists, and that everyone finds it in the context of his/her own religion. This is the position adopted by most (all?) mystics. We see the similarities in religious experiences across traditions and embrace them. I would quibble with the word "true" above. A better way of putting it might be that they all have validity.

Of course, there's always the traditional conservative Christian response: that all the experiences not in the (correct) Christian context are from Satan. In which case, Satan would seem to be more powerful than God, since there are more non-Christians on the planet than Christians. For this one to be even remotely interesting, let alone convincing, there would need to be a consistent means of verifying which experiences were from God and which from Satan. That is, someone analyzing the report of the experience itself, knowing nothing of the person's religious background, would have to be able to consistently say that experience A was from God and B was from Satan, and then compare the religious backgrounds at the end and see if all A's were from Version X of Christianity (or ANY version of Christianity). Lacking that, it is meaningless to attribute such experiences to Satan. More than meaningless to me, as Satan Him/It/Herself is just one of many deities.

On prayer: "I eventually concluded that I'd been talking to myself, calming myself down, all those years."

Again, exactly right! Intercessory prayer has never made much sense to me. The descriptions of prayer that made sense to me come much closer to meditation. What is meditation? Exploring your own mind, and seeing where it leads. It can be empty-mind, allowing the thoughts to drift down to the bottom and settle. It can be on a specific emotion or idea, just bringing that into the mind and seeing where it leads you. Some would argue that the latter isn't really meditation, but I disagree. It's a focused meditation. It requires only that you open yourself to what is really in your mind, and this is difficult for many people. It requires acknowledging not only your pain, but your own faults, and accepting that they are yours. It's much easier to split off a part of the mind to hide them away.

Also, from the latest Carnival of the Godless:
A Deeply Religious Nonbeliever

Some of this I could have written not long after deciding I was not a Christian. "The more I go on, the more God feels like Santa, to me. The definition keeps broadening, until it’s indistinguishable from nature. And I don’t mean nature like some trees and a pond. I mean everything in this awesome, unbelievable, almost unknowable universe and beyond it."

I wouldn't have made the comparison to Santa; I'm not sure that I ever believed in Santa, actually. I went through the motions of believing (to the point of sleeping in the living room to try and catch him, knowing full well it would be my parents caught; I was 7) because it seemed to make the people around me happy. I always knew that the Santas in the malls were fake; among other things, one of my cousins worked as a mall Santa one year. I never took seriously the idea that there was a fat man in a red suit living at the North Pole making toys. It was a fun holiday story, but I can't remember ever taking it seriously.

Here's something that bears repeating over and over and over again: "You see, religious people make things up and come to conclusions THEN attempt to prove what they have already concluded – like God, for example. A logical, rational person observes things and then tries to come to conclusions. There is a huge difference. And right off the bat a religious follower and his religion are on the wrong side of logic and reason. The end. There is no discussion necessary beyond this point, because they have already broken the rules of logic."

A few points. The type of religion described here starts by assuming that the Bible (or whatever holy book) is completely infallible. Evidence to the contrary is ignored, derided, or twisted so far out of reality that it's unrecognizable. Science starts by assuming that observable reality is, in fact, reality, and that there are rules that govern reality. Evidence matters to the scientist. It does not matter to this type of religionist, not in the same way. Among other things, there's always the fallback position that Satan planted the evidence. So once again, it appears that Satan is more powerful than God, since nearly all the observable evidence contradicts the Bible (when it's mistaken for a science textbook, anwyay). And if we switch to "fallen humans" making it all go bad, we have humans as a group being more powerful than God, to make such sweeping changes to his/her/its Creation.

Last link is to a curiously Anarchic Response to religious tolerance. I do not agree that organized religion will always lead to intolerance. I don't see much point in organized religion, since spirituality is a profoundly internal and personal matter for me. I don't expect anyone to agree with me on every single issue, nor think that they are wrong/idiots/damned for not doing so. The only purpose for a group meeting would be to discuss exactly those points of disagreement in a logical and consistent manner.

To me, part of "tolerating" or "respecting" another religion is in attacking its vulnerabilities. I suppose that sounds odd to non-martial artists, but that's how you learn in a martial art. The times you win are more immediately satisfying, but it's the times you lose where you learn something. To ignore the weaknesses would be the ultimate sign of disdain and lack of respect. To ignore those vulnerabilities or pretend that they do not exist in your own religion is the ultimate sign of weakness, idiocy and irrationality. To appeal to a higher authority and refuse to think about the issue yourself makes you an automaton in my eyes and worthy of no respect whatsoever.

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