Monday, August 31, 2009

Life Soundtrack 17

Baby I Can't Please You, by Sam Phillips

As much as I prefer to find embeddable videos for the songs in this series, sometimes there just isn't one on YouTube. The video is worth linking to anyway; it even suggests that I wasn't far off in using this song as my Ode to Fundamentalism...

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Items of Note

In no particular order, a few posts of interest from around the blogosphere...

1. Greg Boyd offers a thoroughly biblical refutation to the fundamentalistic notion that God uses natural disasters to punish "immorality." Not that the fundamentalists who make such claims would ever allow a well-reasoned argument, no matter how biblically supported, to get in the way of their latest crusade, but we can at least try to limit the amount of damage that such people routinely do to the church's reputation.

2. Doorman-Priest weighs in on the ELCA's recent decision to allow member churches to fully include GLBT individuals in the life of the congregation, and the ways that conservatives use the Bible to argue against inclusion. Key quote:
The situation we face is one where people believe they know their Bibles: after all they can quote verses at the drop of a hat as if that were somehow evidence. That is not the same as understanding their Bibles and without understanding there is not knowledge. Without understanding and knowledge there can not be evaluation.

3. Groups like Exodus and Focus on the Family would flatly deny that they in any way support miscarriages of justice like this one. And I believe that, from their perspective, they sincerely believe in the goodness of their own cause. Yet it's precisely because of their tireless efforts to pathologize and stigmatize homosexuality in the public arena (couched in plenty of talk about "compassion," but still geared toward equating "gay" with mental illness and sin of the worst sort) that an innocent man could be presumed guilty simply because he was gay.

Granted, much has changed since the late '80s when Bernard Baran was imprisoned on false charges, but the attitude of the court that convicted him was fully in line with what one still hears from the religious right during public policy debates.

4. Peterson offers some more thoughts on mixed-orientation marriages. While such unions can occasionally work, I'm very thankful that I never entered into one myself - as much for the sake of the woman I might have loved but would have never truly desired as for myself.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Thank You

I've added the Followers widget to the list of items displayed on the right, in appreciation of those who believe that what I have to say is worth reading. I'm not the best at responding to or reciprocating comments on posts, but I do appreciate the feedback. And one of these days I'll get around to signing myself up as a follower on some of your blogs...

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Human Nature

Worth repeating:

Often I read arguments made by Atheists, Marxists, or Agnostics that primarily focus on organized religion as a source of most of the world’s problems. They correctly point out that a majority of wars are started upon religious unrest, or major humanitarian atrocities were performed under the guise of religious obedience. If religion was to be eradicated from the earth, they believe that mankind would live a much more peaceful existence. I have no problem acknowledging the problems religion has caused the world, but I think it’s foolish to assume that religion is what brings the worst out of mankind. I think it’s exactly the opposite; mankind has used the power of faith to execute its existing desires. Religion is merely a platform from which to operate, and if it wasn’t religion, it would be something else. You’re welcome to make a straw-man out of religion, but it is mankind itself who is responsible for its own misdeeds.

I've written more than once about the disrespect (sometimes blatant, sometimes thinly veiled) that evangelicals have traditionally expressed toward the rest of the world. While that seems to be slowly changing, the church still has a long way to go toward treating its neighbors as though they were anything more than conversion targets.

On the flip side of that, of course, is the fact that respect must ultimately flow in more than one direction. There are certainly many atheists who respect those who believe differently than they do, but there are many more who don't. "Fundamentalist" may have strong religious connotations, but when two or more groups are similarly militant, dogmatic and intolerant, it's not unreasonable to use the same label to describe those traits wherever they appear.

And any atheist who argues that eliminating religion would make the world a better place is overlooking the fact that two of history's biggest mass murderers (Stalin and Mao) were atheists. (Hitler may or may not have been a strict atheist, but in practice he demonstrated little regard toward organized religion except as a temporary means to an end.) As fallacious as it may be to claim that atheism must lead to the kinds of atrocities that have been perpetrated by Communist regimes over the last 90 years, it's just as wrong to insist that religion automatically leads down a similar path.

In the end, human nature is human nature regardless of the circumstances people find themselves in. Most people seem to have an inborn need to align themselves with something larger and more important than themselves. If not religion, such individuals will rally around patriotism, communism, environmentalism or some other -ism. Within James Fowler's system, these individuals are at Stage Three in their faith development, and most people are content to stop growing once they reach that point. Most are capable of growing further, but such growth cannot be forced and life certainly is far more comfortable when one can leave all the difficult choices to an external authority that claims to have all of life's answers.

Thus history continually repeats itself as majorities follow after demagogues, who wield the power granted by their followers to crush nonconformists and wage crusades against those outside the group. Take away any given religion or -ism and another will take its place.

Even from a strictly utilitarian standpoint, then, there is value in any religion that teaches its followers to tend to their own affairs and live in peace with nonbelievers. Such faiths have their limits, since many Stage Three individuals crave conformity to such a degree that they will only be satisfied by a group that zealously condemns and works to stamp out the sins of others. Nonetheless, no secular ideology has yet been devised that handles such individuals any better. And those of us who believe that our respective faiths are more than superstition are not going to abandon our beliefs simply because they can be exploited by the unscrupulous to manipulate those who are content to remain children.

Perhaps someday a society will arise that is capable of ushering the majority of its citizens into the moral and spiritual adulthood of Stage Five. In the meantime, the best place we can start if we want to see positive change lies not in eradicating our ideological rivals but in being agents for peace and compassion in our own lives.