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Friday, March 22, 2013

Choosing My Religion. Melvin on Theology

So here we all floating around the universe on what is basically a big blue ball and we all have pretty much one thing in common. We have no fucking clue. Why are we here? How did we get here? What is the meaning of it all? We have no fucking clue. We go through our lives day by day and we have no clue what it all means. Some will tell you with great conviction that they know all the hows and whys of human existence. They don’t. They, like all the rest of us, have no fucking clue.

There all kinds of theories and stories about how we got here. The people of the book, Christians, Jews and Muslims, believe God created the heavens and earth and made man in his own image. Muslims of course have named God Allah while Jews and Christians prefer just the title itself. According to the Hindus we are the creation of a bored lonely god by the name of Brahma. Brahma apparently creates many worlds all the time only to have them destroyed by his alter ego, Lord Shiva. The ancient Greeks though that out of Chaos game Chai who created and copulated with Uranus to spawn a legion of Gods who eventually created we lowly humans as their playthings. There are many stories as to how we got here and all were made up to cover one important fact. We have no fucking clue.

Scientists have a pretty elegant theory to explain it all. The big bang happened and then eventually life evolved into where we are now. There is probably a lot of truth in their theories but there are some things science has not been able to explain. What preceded the big bang and where did the elements that collided and set off the bang come from. What force provided the first spark of life to that first amoeba or whatever it was that first slithered? The math of the big bang and science of evolution are elegant and sensible. They cover up for one important fact. In spite of some seriously well educated guesses, they have no fucking clue.

The meaning of it all is even tougher for most of us. It would be nice to think there was some point to all this. We are born, we live, we die and search for some meaning it to all. Along the way we live, we love, we struggle, we succeed, we have kids, fall in and out of love a few times, we screw, we bleed, we shit, we cry and then it is over. Is our purpose just the propagation and continuance of the species? Is this all just some way station in the path of evolution? Are we supposed to be loving and serving some harsh man who lives in the sky?

This is a question that has troubled man for as long as he has existed. The early Greeks argued endlessly about the meaning of it all, giving birth to the field of philosophy to the horror of undergrads everywhere. Plato and Aristotle thought the meaning of life was to use knowledge to attain a state of being good. Epicurus believed that it was all about using simple and modest pleasure to achieve freedom from fear and a sound body. The Stoics decided that controlling ones harmful emotions and using reason to improve the stat of ones should gave meaning to it all. While they all have excellent points in their reasoning the underlying truth once again is that they have no fucking clue.

Naturally religions have taken a shot at the whole meaning of it all question. Christians believe that our purpose is to glorify and serve God in the form of Jesus. Muslims think that we are here to serve Allah by following the rules laid out in the Koran. The Jews think that we are here to elevate life and connect with God. Hindus think we are here to uncover fundamental truths about ourselves and move onto our next form. The central idea of Buddhism is that we are here to suffer until we can achieve the state of Nirvana.  Again they all have some merit and are worthy of thought but the central truth applies. No matter how pretty or comforting the story the truth is that they have no fucking clue.

Some believe life has no meaning and this is all one grand cosmic accident without meaning or purpose. Douglass Adams tells us in his great Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy that the answer to the question is 42. Others say our purpose is evolve and be part of the continual chain of creation and being. Robert Louis Stevenson once said that the whole purpose of life was to become what we are capable of becoming. Other will tell you that life is all about accumulating possessions giving rise to the adage that he who dies with the most toys win. For the great philosopher Snoopy live is all about dancing. Again there is much food for thought here but I suspect only Snoopy is correct. The rest have no fucking clue.

We are born and we die. In between all sorts of things happen to us. Some are wondrous. Some are horrible. There is joy. There are tears. We all, some of us desperately want to think there is some grand meaning and purpose to it. There may be but we will not know it until the end if at all. Some force or being created us and breathed the spark we call life into us. I don’t know if it was a little old man who sits in the sky, a six legged snake charmer or an accident of physics and biology. Neither do you. Nor does anyone else have anything definitive on the subject. There are some pretty cure theories and ideas but the truth is that even while we search for the meaning of it all at the end of the day we simply have no fucking clue.

This does not mean that your life is without meaning to you or mine to me. It is possible to get so caught up in worrying about the meaning of it all to miss what life actually is and can be. I also see people get so caught up in the day to day mundane slogging that can occupy so much of our lives that they miss the simple fact that life is actually pretty fucking cool. We are here. We have no idea how, why or what is next. Life has some pretty damn magical moments and experiences to enjoy. I think we are all better off if we accept the fact that we indeed have absolutely no fucking clue and just enjoy the ride that is life.

Religion seems a natural path to follow in trying to make some sense of it. At its heart religion is just an attempt to understand who we are and what we are doing here. We look for the answers from whatever version of God happens to be in vogue in our corner of the world. Many of us will try several religions over life time trying them on and discarding like shoe shopping. It would seem if we could just understand who God is and what he expects of us this whole mess would make more sense. Maybe if we understood our relationship with God and out place in the universe we could find some happiness.

The problem with that is we cannot. God is not knowable in the sense we want Her to be. If there is a God , an all knowing and all understanding creator of the universe, He is beyond our scope of understanding. God is just too big for our little minds to wrap itself around. If God really is everything there is no chance we can understand God. Most of us don’t even understand how to program a VCR but we claim to understand God? There truth is that we can believe, we can hope, we can contemplate but at the end of the day when it comes to God we have no fucking clue.

Our attempts to understand God have lead us to make some horrific mistakes along the way. Religions start with an attempt to understand God and end up as something else altogether. As the stories and concepts of God spread folks join up to give the new religion a try. An infrastructure begins to form to spread the new gospel. The leaders of the church quickly figure out two things. First there is a buck or two to be made here. If people think they are giving money to God they tend to be generous. Since god has no need for cash, the leaders end up deciding what to do with the donations of the faithful. Shockingly throughout history the choice has been to keep a whole bunch of it for themselves. The heads of almost all the Worlds religions live in pretty nice pads and want for little or nothing.

The next thing they figure out is that now that they have a group of followers they can use the religion to influence and control the population. I have no doubt that all of these efforts started out with the best of intentions. Divorce is not good for families so let’s pass a law against that in our new religion. Drunk people aren’t very productive and cause a lot of damage in the community so let’s pass a rule against that. Loose women can cause havoc and wreck homes so better have a rule about that as well. If we are going to really help our followers we need to know what is going on with them and where they are falling short. Better make them confess their sins every week so we know how to help them find our new and improved version of God. While we are at it my cousin says the fishing business really sucks this summer. Can we throw something in about not eating meat one day a week? It becomes too easy to make up new rules and interpret old collections of fable and parables in a manner that influences people to behave as the leaders with in order to find God ( I do not claim to have a in depth understanding of God but whatever or whoever She is I am pretty sure She is not lost). 

I have spent a fair amount of time of late thinking about religion. Much of this is sparked by the recent Muslim riots and calls for laws preventing defaming the prophet of their faith. I am not on a first name basis with God but I am pretty sure that no god meant for this be the central faith of the world. I keep hearing from moderate Muslims that Islam is the religion of peace. Excuse me but I sure as shit do not see it. In the parts of the world where Islam holds sway I see violence, ignorance, subjection of women, illiteracy and pure hatred of everyone who does think like the local mullah. This is all blamed on the small percentage of Muslims that are extremists. Forgive me but I do not see anyone who claims to be a moderate peace loving Muslim condemning them or helping to eradicate the so called extremists. Furthermore I have read your books of faith and they seem pretty damn violent to me. I view Islam as serious threat to a peaceful world and cannot fathom how intelligent people can follow such a hate filled and violent faith.  The religion itself strikes me as extreme and harmful to its followers to say nothing of those they would convert at the point of the sword.

The other train of thought is aimed at those who would call themselves Christians, especially those of the conservative version of the faith. For a group whose God gave you the commandment to love one another you sure seem to hate a lot of people. You invent and spin texts to prove that it is right and just to hate everyone who does not share your view of the world. Rather than love, you loathe those who thinks differently than you . You hate gays, women who want to make their own choices in life, doctors who make what they considered to be the most humane decisions, politicians who do not vote the way you want, and pretty much anyone who does not think exactly as you do.  You encourage ignorance and ignore science and discovery. You think we should base our government and society on your narrow minded beliefs. You do not like abortion but think the death penalty is A-okay. All of which given the commandments to love one another and judge not lest ye be judged is pretty suspect.  To say nothing of the central doctrine of forgiving others as God has forgiven you. Not a shit ton of difference between and your narrow minded Muslim Brothers of the book.

I think a lot about Jesus’ statements about money changers and his idea of selling all that you have, give to the poor and follow him. I drive around town, the state, the country and I am in absolute fucking awe of the amount of prime property owned by churches. Then I contemplate how much money pours into the offering baskets every Sunday and I think I have a way to solve many of our social ills. If you sold the trillions of dollars’ worth of property and devoted the tens of billions thrown in the basket every Sunday how many schools could be built? How many people could be fed? How many micro loans could be funded to create small businesses and jobs? How serious are you about this whole love one another thing? Love one another, feed the poor, and forgive. You Christian folks should actually try this shit sometime instead of building impressive edifices from which you may judge and hate the rest of humanity. 

When a religion is big enough to have temples and building along with a seven figure weekly income it is no longer at attempt to find God. It is a business and means of social control. When a religious committee is formed to discuss the meaning of it all what it usually means is they have a new set of rules that someone wants you to follow. If you have canon lawyers and Torah scholars your religion is too complicated to have a hell of a lot to do with God. I just cannot fathom that God would be so petty as to care how you washed your vegetables or your masturbation habit. Something as big as God could not possibly be that petty.

What is interesting to me is that pretty much every religion will tell you that they and they alone have figured it out. They know who God is and everyone else is wrong. How incredibly arrogant for anyone to assume that they and they alone understand the desire, purpose and nature of omniscient omnipotent being? Remember the movie “Oh God”where when asked which religion is right George Burns in the role of the deity said “ I think they are all kind of cute”? How do we know God did not just present Himself to different groups of people in a form and format that would be understandable to acceptable to the various cultures He had created?  Odds are very high that if some unseen being is whispering the secrets of the universe in your ear it is not God. You are schizophrenic. I reiterate my main point. You can guess, you can hope you can even believe but the truth is you have no fucking clue.

I am pretty sure there is a god or universal power. Perhaps this deity did not create us individually but merely allowed the mathematics to develop that allowed us to exist. Maybe He or She was simply bored and created us a celestial comedy channel. But a look around at the world in which we live in convinces me that there is a God that created us and gave us a world of wonderful things to appreciate and enjoy. I think that any God that gave us love, music, literature, sex, sunsets, beaches, mountains, sunshine, rainy days and baseball is going to be highly pissed off when you present yourself afterwards and tell her that you eschewed all that good stuff in hopes you could cut a better deal later.

 You are born into a world of sunny days, glorious oceans, serene lakes, first kisses, 10,000th kisses, the smell of a newborn, the laughter of a child and the love of a parent. To ignore all this is a sin. Along the way you have good cigars, wine, friends, gin and tonic, Miles Davis, Mickey Mantle, Beethoven, Twain, sweaty sex, sleeping in, lazy dogs and long walks at twilight. To spend your days inside a sterile man made building exploring ancient texts for a justification for your prejudices and bargaining with God for a better life banging 72 virgins or playing harp on a cloud seems foolish and downright disrespectful to the god who gave you such blessings.

I have talked about this before but we need a new religion. One that more to do with love, music, books, wines and perhaps baseball. It need to be a religion that embraces sex, and kisses and if not kindness at least a philosophy of leaving each other the fuck alone. We need to embrace the fact that we have no fucking clue who god is or what She wants and enjoy what we have here without fucking up anyone elses life any more than comes natural.  

Let’s start by taking a look at some of the basic tents of our new church. I will start by saying that if you have faith and it fits you and you are happy with your life, I salute you. I am not trying  to change anybody’s mind about anything that makes them happy. I have a few friends who are deeply religious and lead good solid lives and seem to be very happy individuals. To them I say Shalom, Agape and everything in between. If it works don’t fix it.

But that’s not usually the case is it? Most of the really religious people I meet are uptight unhappy assholes who could benefit from an enema and a good blowjob. They do not seem to be for anything except tithing money to the church. They are against everything that makes life even marginally enjoyable for most of us mere mortal. Religions are against drinking, dancing, consensual sex, gay sex, gay marriage,  couples living together without benefit of marriage, coffee, tea, cigarettes, modern music, any music that doesn’t mention Jesus in every verse, blacks, whites, women, and trimming your beard. If you can think of it there is a religion somewhere that is against it and thinks you will spend a lifetime in hell because of it. I really do not want to spend my life being against everything.

  I have had my flirtations with religion. I started out in life a catholic and after my parents’ divorce Mom exchanged some choice words with the local priest over status and left the church. She drug us to the Methodist Church for several years and I have some good memories of that time. It was a great youth oriented church and I still have friends from those times. However as a church itself the Methodists area a pretty boring bunch and it functions very much like the multi-billion dollar corporation it is. It didn’t really matter because shortly past puberty I discovered beer, vagina and general thuggery so the Methodists and I parted company.

I came back to the Catholic Church in my late 30s when I was going through a rough spot in my life. I was going through a divorce and looking for some meaning to it all. I didn’t really find it. There is much to like about the Catholic Church with its history and traditions. At its very heart it is based on a forgiving God who loves his creations. However the Catholics are the poster child for adding man made rules to the basics and being against everything. When they Church tried to defend the pedophilia crisis I was done with them. We went for a bit when it was time for my stepdaughters First Communion but once she accomplished that task of indoctrination we were done. On top of everything else Mass has gone from a great theatrical tradition to a boring ceremony not that different from the Methodists. I never thought it possible but the music is worse than the Episcopalians and other hybrid high white religions.

This is not to say I do not believe in God. In my own way I do. There is so much order and perfection in the world that there has to be a creator. There are just enough miracles to sustain my belief that there is some sort of deity that created this circus. If you can walk the shoreline as the waves roll in and out in an endless dance of motion and beauty and still deny there is a God you think very differently than I . If you can watch the birth of a child and deny a deity you are looking at things far too rationally. Sure it is evolution and biology but it is too perfect in design and implementation to be a grand cosmic accident. Someone or something had a hand in this thing.

Maybe God is just math. After all math explains almost everything and can be used to solve just about every problem known to man. Math is elegant and versatile. It was Pythagoras himself who pointed out thousands of years ago that numbers are everything and rule everything. Math explains much of life and can be used to conquer much of life’s difficulties. I could totally buy that God is pure math expect for one tickling little question. Who created the elegant perfection which is math?

For my own reasons I believe there is a God. I am not however arrogant enough to think I know her name or what She expects of me. God does not speak to me, and with the exception of that one peyote incident I have never had an in depth conversation with Him. I do not think God is going to hand pick the lottery numbers or guide my favorite football team to victory. Likewise God has kept his hand of baseball since Koufax retired I am clueless about God does all day or who his friends are. I have no idea why bad things happen to good people or good things happen to bad people. My best guess is that God created us, gave us life and left us to our own devices for much of this life.

Here is where I think most religions screw the proverbial pooch. Just about every major religion has its heart a philosophy of following the rules in this life to attain a better deal in the next life. We either sacrifice everything may be the tiniest bit enjoyable while we are here so we can be happy in the afterlife or sacrifice ourselves to get a better reincarnation. To hear the major religions tell the story all the really good stuff about life is one giant temptation that must be avoided in order to attain some happiness in your next life.

If we put a kid in a room full of cookies, candy and ponies and smacked the shit out of them every time they tried to enjoy them we would be guilty of child abuse. Let these learned individuals would have us believe that this is exactly what their so called loving God has done. Here we have this vast landscape of sensual pleasures and intellectual delights at every turn but we should avoid these at all costs so as not burn in the fires of hell or come back as a Steelers fan or someone other lower life form. No sex except for procreation and do your best not to enjoy it. No drinking to excess no matter how much fun it is. Put down those Volumes of Galton and Darwin and quit trying to understand how it all works. Cover the breathtakingly beautiful female form in a burlap sack. Turn down the heathenistic  Jazz and Rock and Roll. Keep your eyes in the gutter focused on your sinful deplorable nature and do not gaze skyward to take in the beauty of the stars. Read these books of fables, parables and stories instead of science, poetry and literature. If it feels good stop it. You will be rewarded in some uncertain fashion at some uncertain moment in time after you are dead.

If this is in fact the case then God is one cruel SOB. To create so beautiful and wonderful a world with so many mysteries and lengths and then deny enjoyment and exploration of them would be just flat mean spirited.  Something as magnificent an actual God could not possibly be this petty.

I think the religions with all their rules and sacrifice have gotten all this dead wrong. Whatever God created us GAVE is all this good shit specifically to enjoy.  Here you are and here it is. You can explore the mysteries of the universe like a little boy in the woods behind the house. You can indeed eat, drink and be merry. You can fall in love, you can dance until dawn to this really great shit I made for you called music. You can sleep in on a rainy Sunday and be drowsily aware of the wonder that is life. You can make love in languorous fashion and have wild monkey sex as suits your mood. You can create, you can enjoy you can learn and you can feel all the wonders that is life. Once in a while I’ll send along a sunset, a rainbow or even a wild ass thunderstorm for your enjoyment. This place, this home called Earth that I have given you is full of wonder and beauty and is yours to enjoy. I have given you a brain that is capable of wondrous and incredible achievements and it is yours to use. I have given you bodies that help you not only achieve your needs but can experience intense pleasure form food, from drink and even from the touch of each other. I have given you feelings so that you may know joy and happiness, and even to know sadness as that makes the others even sweeter in comparison. There are games to play, books to read, music to hear, knowledge to share and mysteries to explore. It is all here and it is all yours. I will not tell you what, if anything, is next but I have laid before you a magical world, a place where you may enjoy the life I have given you and the pleasures and happiness to which you entitled by being alive.

My view can’t explain away the bad shit that happens any more than the devout religionists can. The natural world can cause disasters and tragedies as well know and perhaps even God in all His power cannot escape physics or math and natural disasters are just part of the equation of life. Much of the truly bad shit we see is the result of bad choices by us, or attempts to force our will on other or take from them what is theirs. A lot of it is caused by us trying to force someone else to accept our view of the world and even of God himself. I do not know why bad shit happens. I Know that it does. I also know that if we take the time to look around and enjoy all that life can offer there is far more good shit than bad.

I have a suspicion that those who preach avoidance and abstinence may have some explaining to do when they approach that heavenly judgment. I can just here a kind and living God asking for an explanation. “I sent you two tickets to the seventh game of the World Series and you threw them out and instead went to some big old sterile building and sat around listening to bad music and apologizing for feeling urges I gave you?” You made your kids listen to the sappy serenades of Pat Boone instead of dancing with wild abandon to the Rolling Stones?”” I gave you a partner to love and enjoy and you spent your life either avoiding or apologizing for being intimate with each other.” Did you really spend your life criticizing and condemning others for enjoying what I created instead of seeing to your own joy and the happiness of your children?” “I sent you books that could inspire, entertain, teach, and you refused to read them because someone told you they were naughty and evil?” If your religion is based on denial, sacrifice and the condemnation of others I suspect you better hope there is no judgment day. Hell hath no fury like a deity spurned.


Selina said...

Well done !

Raymond Moreland said...

Interesting analysis, Melvin. I'd love to debate the 10,000 ideas you developed, but that would take me forever and I am not sure your cosmology or theology could wait that long. Yet I wish you well on the journey you have chosen and blessings from one who still believes in the mystery of the transcendent and immanent God, whatever name you want to call Him/Her.

buffalin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
buffalin said...

Enjoyable post. I have some objections to some of the simplistic observations of the practices of the 'the people of the book' but by and large I share your overall view. If you're looking to explore some established religions with which you may have much in common, I suggest Pantheism (not the goofy science-fiction cult it's portrayed to be in mass media), or, for a more 'traditional' religion, look at Baha'i. Your thesis is right in line with a Utilitarian ethic within Hedonism, but there is no practicing group for this vein of thinking. Keep on enjoying the sensual delights of this earthly existence!