Heavy thoughts

I was talking to my friend Sexy D yesterday (and his new ink is GORGEOUS), and we started talking about Heavy Things. We sometimes do that, him and me. He’s good to talk to because I don’t think he comes from a perspective of trying to change my mind, and I don’t try to change his, and he understands about things like how an entire argument/discussion can be completely derailed because the two folks participating in it are using completely different definitions or connotations of a word or phrase.

Anyway, he lent me this book called The Evolution of God, which I’ll add to the reviews section when I’m finished, and in reading it, I’ve been thinking of something that I used to think about rather a lot.

First, something that always bothered me about all religions is that there is somehow a concept that the people who cleave *to* that religion are somehow more right or the ‘chosen people’ (this is nowhere more apparent than in the Abrahamic religions where God actually says, “you are my chosen people”). There are very few faith-based forms of worship which do not claim that they are the one true path, the only path.  This has always been a major sticking point for me, from the time when I was a complete non-believer, to the time I dabbled in pagan worship, to the place I am now.

This may be heretical to my faith, and it’s certainly not the first time I’ve held a belief that’s contrary to the doctrine of my faith, but I kind of don’t believe that only the people who worship my God get to be a part of the afterlife. And I don’t believe in hell at all. I never have. I *do* believe in evil, but I think the concept of hell is, to be blunt, kind of silly. In fact, I’m not sure what I believe about heaven. They’re not real places. They may describe states of consciousness or of being in proximity to the Creative Force that I call God. But Dante? Great story, nice illustrations, but dude, what were you SMOKING?

This kind of leads me to the problem of morality. People always get into trouble when they assume that their deity is, essentially, a moral entity. Or is in some way able to be described in terms of morality that we would understand. I don’t believe that God is “good” in the ways in which we understand what “goodness” is. My God transcends that. I think the only way I can truly understand the nature of my faith is to completely remove morality from the equation.

What I mean to say is this: I don’t do good things, right things, because God tells me to. I don’t do good things and right things because I want or expect better treatment in the afterlife. Why waste your entire known consciousness waiting for something you know not what? I do good things and right things because they are the right things to do, regardless of whether God has said to do them. The fact that they *are* Commandments is a nice bonus. I was taught as a child, and I teach my own children, that you must do the right things because they are the right things to do, and because they maximise joy and minimise suffering.

Lying (“bearing false witness”, in biblical terms) is wrong not because god says it is, but rather, God says it is wrong because it is. Because lies hurt. They cause suffering. If we are all interdependent on one another (and I believe we are), then bearing false witness damages our relationships. Stealing is wrong because it sours our relationships with one another, not because God says it is wrong. If you separate morality from faith, everything becomes much more clear.

This is why it’s possible, of course, that atheists are good, moral people (inasmuch as anyone is). It is also why there are faithful people who are horrible, immoral monsters. Because God has nothing to do with morality. To claim otherwise is to take a shallow and, in my opinion, dangerous view of God.

So how then, do we describe God? Well, we don’t. To attempt to do otherwise is ridiculous. To me, it makes no sense not to believe that there is a force greater than ourselves. But it also makes no sense to me to assume that that force a) conforms to any morality we may understand in our current state of evolution; and b) can even be described in terms we understand. But that’s just me. That’s my understanding of God. That’s part of the reason I believe that Christ was sent among us; so that we could have the beginnings of a rudimentary understanding.

But people, being the independent thinkers that we are, we bugger everything up. Celibacy, tithing, indulgences, Confession…hell, even having priests and bishops and popes…why do we need these (predominantly) men to tell us how to understand our relationships with the Divine? Because people of means kept those means from people without means, which is, if you remember, one of the seven deadly sins (avarice). But it’s not a sin because God says “you there, don’t be greedy. Share that pomegranate with the beggar next to you”. It’s a sin because avarice causes inequity, and inequity propagates itself and causes more social problems.

Those are some of my Heavy Thoughts today.

cenobyte
cenobyte is a writer, editor, blogger, and super genius from Saskatchewan, Canada.

21 Comments

  1. And that is why, despite our differing views, we are still somewhat on the same wavelength.

    When I asked awhile ago why I couldn’t blame christianity for the “bad things”, it is because I view religion as a man made thing and the men that made religion must have been smoking some really bad crack. Or good crack that told them how to scare people into thinking that certain men should be the moral authority for the people of earth.

    I have very little problem with people who “have faith”, although I find it rather silly and if there is something bigger than us, why is it worthy of “worship”? What I have a problem with is religion in general. It never ends well. Or ends. At all. And so we have a lot of apes running around this place with a bunch of pointy sticks trying to claim their status as chosen people.

    1. Actually, I think what you said is why you can’t blame religion. But either way, it’s the same.

      I say again, it’s not the fault of the faith, or of the denomination, that people do bad things. It’s the fault of the people.

      People’s belief in something greater than themselves, something that will help them gain an understanding of the universe in which they have evolved, has been present since the very beginning of sentient life on the planet. It will probably continue until the end of sentient life on the planet, because human beings are hard-wired to ask “why”, and are hard-wired to think up all kinds of answers.

      If not for religion, we probably wouldn’t have a lot of science.

  2. What I’ve never really understood is why people cling to corrupt religious organizations that they don’t believe in the tenets of.

    If every person who thought virtuous nonbelievers being tortured for eternity was a stupid idea got up out of the pews and found or founded a faith that didn’t contradict their conscience, these dinosaurs would wither and die and we could get on with our lives.

    1. I dunno if they would.

      Many of the people who follow religions may not lead ‘virtuous’ lives; does that mean they don’t understand, care about, or apply the teachings of their faith to their everyday lives? Maybe. Some people go to organised religious gatherings because it is a social gathering for them. I don’t know if the majority of people who claim to *be* faithful ever question their faith at all. THAT, I think, is the most sad thing of all. And the most frightening.

  3. I’ve been reading The Evolution of God myself, off and on, over the last month and a bit. I’m slow at reading non-fiction, but am finding this one an interesting read.

  4. **And i didn’t mean to imply with the ‘(predominantly) men’ comment that the male gender is somehow attempting to underhandedly or overtly poison or jeopardise our understanding of the divine.

  5. But religion, and even the idea of God, is the invention of the people and the reason for which a lot of “bad things” have happened.

    Perhaps you don’t see it that way but when I take a look at a lot of injustices that are happening today, a LOT of them have religion written across them, whether it be the religious wars happening overseas, the crazies south of our boarder, hell – CENTURIES of opression of not just women but people of colour and alternative lifestyles. All because “God” says it is wrong. THAT is religion. That is not people. I would be extremely interested to see a world that never had “God” or mom and dad, or X Religious leader telling anyone that A, B, or C, is immoral.

    And again, if there is a higher being, what makes this being worthy of worship?

    1. But, no, that isn’t God saying it’s wrong. That’s people misinterpreting the Word, or deliberately misusing the Word for their own purposes. It’d be no different from me eating some babies and claiming that you told me to do it.

      And the thing is – I think morality comes from people as well. In order to survive, and to prosper, we have to have a functioning society. What is morality but a measure of how much harm or the kind of harm people can perpetrate on one another?

      If there is a higher being, what makes it worthy of worship is the decision of people *to* worship.

      1. You did say the commandment of not bearing false witness was something God says is wrong because it was wrong, and in the same set of rules, He also basically says “Worship me and nothing else, or else I will do horrible things to you, your children, your children’s children, and their kids too.”

        That doesn’t allow a lot of leeway for a nice way of interpreting it.

        1. No, it doesn’t, but my point is that morality should be separated from religion. Morality evolved because people needed to treat each other well in the small societies they lived in, and as those societies grew, the people began to come up with consequences to motivate them to treat one another well….basically, anytime a society grows from the point of everyone contributing (a hunting or agrarian society where everyone has a role in the wellbeing of the community) to the point of some people having higher status (whether politically, financially, religiously, or socially), I think a disparity emerges there that disconnects people from their understanding of the interconnectedness of all things and the necessity for …essentially… being good to one another.

          I’m not disputing that holy books talk about rules and morals. My point is that the morality existed *first* and that the holy books came along and said “oh yeah, you should do this (or not do this) because I said so (or because I said not to and you will be punished”, not “you should do this because it is the right thing to do”.

          But I’ve kind of derailed myself here. Back to your point more specifically, sure, there are words attributed to God in the Old Testament that have been interpreted for thousands of years by priests and rabbis and holy men, and some of them really don’t sound all that nice. I’m reading about this right now in “The Evolution of God”. Ultimately, why *should* they sound nice? Religion was still taught by and revealed by people. Christians believe that the only words we *know* came from God are those of the Christ Jesus. Even still, the words of Christ are written about by fallible people.

          So where does that leave us?

          Well, I guess we have to choose whether faith matters to us, and if it does matter to us, in what way we express that.

          MAN, I’m good at derailing myself.

          Final point: there are two great motivators that all animals respond to, including humans: fear and anger. In ancient religious worship all over the world, God or Gods were far removed from the people, and were primarily there to explain the workings of the universe. In many ancient cultures, morality and acts done “for the good of the people” were *enforced by* fear of retribution from the Gods. The Commandment to “worship me and nothing else (“for I am a jealous God”)” is one of those fear of retribution things. In a society trying to distance itself from its polytheistic antagonists, it makes sense that the rule would be enforced by the fear of having your entire lineage suffer.

          The passage does *NOT* say: “Worship me and nothing else, or my priests are going to show up and beat the crap out of your kids”. My point in my response to Melistress is that the horrible things done by men in the name of God are usually not the result of what the God actually says to do. God, after all, can visit whatever plagues He wants upon your children and upon your children’s children…for all we know, that means freckles and red hair – not a good combination in the desert.

  6. Your thinking here is very similar to why I would consider myself a philosophical Christian despite being an atheist. I don’t believe in God or the supernatural, but I think JC had a lot of worthy things to say about being excellent to each other, and I don’t need to believe in the other stuff to think I should probably be living by those tenets, although I realize I’m not doing as good a job of that as I should.

    1. I think most of us live by most of those tenets most of the time. Because most of us are, at the core of our beings, Good People.

      Whether or not God exists, most of us are Good People.

      And that is what I find amazing. Well. One of many, many things I find amazing.

  7. Funny you should mention the ‘one true god’ stuff. I’m quite convinced, now, that my reading of Roman, Greek, Egyptian, Norse, Celtic and other myths in my early teens is what lead me to atheism.

    It occurs to me more recently that if there is an omnipresent being who wants us all to follow his completely arbitrary rules in order to get into his country club after we die, it was pretty mean of him to not turn up at the very beginning to let all those pre-Judaism folks know what the deal was.

    1. Well, according to many scholars (not just of theology, but of sociology, anthropology, mythology, and a bunch of other ologies), He did. Or they did.

      Words like ‘omnipresent’ doesn’t represent at all well the way I understand “the unknown and unknowable Great Other”. And the rules aren’t arbitrary; they’re based in our own societies. In fact, they evolved *out of* our own societies. It’s a tail wagging the dog argument – God (or Gods or whatever) didn’t come up with morality; *we* came up with morality in order to survive and flourish.

      I mean, atheism makes as little sense to me as theism makes to you. And reading all those myths during the tween-teen years just made me think about how people are all the same and that the similarities among them indicated there’s something universal there…

  8. Completely honest question here…

    Everything I’m reading on this page from you seems to point to a grand statement that the important bit (morality) comes from people. So if it’s people coming up with a system of morals, why inject a deistic father figure into it? What’s the value-add on all the confusing mysticism over just having a moral system that addresses what we see, feel and touch in the world?

    1. Because if you remove the idea of morality from the idea of a deity, then the reason for faith becomes more clear, at least to me. If God has nothing to do with morality, or if God’s involvement in morality is to create a race that will develop its own morality as a result of sociological evolution, then the reason to worship God is for very personal reasons. The mysticism is by way of trying to understand those things we don’t understand. In short. I mean, I’ll think a bit more about this and see if it makes more sense in a while.

  9. You’ve grokked my question backwards. A grok is a good thing regardless, though.

    Anyhow, I meant to ask why inject the god into the morality, not why inject the morality into the god. As in: if you have a moral code that promotes good for all, why then add the god-stuff on top when you had something that didn’t need any further tinkering?

    Food for thought, indeed…

    1. That’s a good question. I’m pretty sure people far smarter than me could answer it much better. For me, the idea of the divine is something comforting – something comforting outside of the rules by which I try to live *anyway*. I have difficulty understanding the genesis of…well…everything without a cause. So for *me*, the injection of a god has more to do with my understanding of life, the universe, and everything and less to do with the fear that people who treat me badly will end up in hell.

  10. *knock knock*

    Hello, have you tried Buddhism, the One True Way? No?

    Here’s the basic kit– a one-size-fits-most “Don’t be a dick to other people and creatures” attitude, very popular with a lot of faiths, and a promise that if you do it right, you don’t have to start over.

    Yes, I’m sure there were some Christians by earlier. You can, as far as Buddhists are concerned, try both. We’re not too worried about deities, and if you’re Not A Dick in a slightly wrong way, you might get to be one, which sounds like fun.

    Afterlife? Not… really. If you ARE a dick, you just have to take another run on The Wheel of Life. If you’re Not A Dick in just the right way, you’re right out of the game.

    Not interested? That’s fine, totally your choice. We’ll probably end up talking to you again… for a certain value of “you,” anyway.

    *slam*

    …and yet, there’s still oppression of women in Buddhist countries and inter-sect rivalry. One suspects humanity needs to go back to the shop for a little polishing.

i make squee noises when you tell me stuff.

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