Thursday, October 1, 2009

Finding A Place For Religion

Browsing through the archives over at Richard Dawkins's website, I found this comment about how hard it is to talk Hindus out of their beliefs. Funny:

"I don't know anything about Buddhism but I was brought as a Hindu and the major way in which it is different from the big 3 monotheistic faiths is UTTER INCOHERENCE. You could make practically any statement about Hinduism and it would be true. Hinduism teaches reincarnation, but not really. Hinduism has a million gods and goddesses, but they are all contained in a holy trinity - no, wait, it's all just one God - no, wait, there is just one god and there is ONLY god and everything from that pebble to the tapeworm in your belly is just various manifestations of the One Holy One.

The best I can say is that it's truly a free-for-all... you can believe whatever you wish and call yourself a Hindu. I have openly been an atheist since I was 10, and I've always been told that's Hinduism, too - at the "highest level" of Hinduism, there's no god belief at all. When Christian missionaries try to convert Hindus, they're often baffled to see Hindus listen interestedly to stories of Jesus and then cheerfully add a picture of Jesus to their list of Gods to worship.

I once challenged my father - who is very into Hindu philosophy - to make a single moral statement that would contradict Hinduism without a doubt. But a very popular interpretation of Hinduism is to believe that everybody, even murderers, thieves, rapists and lawyers, are here to do follow their Dharma (occupational principle) and do their Karma (ordained task), so they're never held *personally* responsible for their misdeeds. Hey, I'm a thief, this is what I do for a living! There are judges and gaolers and policemen whose job it is to throw thieves in jail, sure, but it's all as impersonal as can be, and ideally, nobody is supposed to harbour ill feelings towards anybody else.

It's very frustrating. It's also the reason why it's impossible to debate a Hindu."
- comment left by Wendelin, in the debate points section of Richard Dawkins's web site.

That same element of hinduism that frustrates Wendelin is very attractive to me. From what I understand, one of the core principles of hinduism is that all people create a mythology to explain things that cannot be explained to themselves, and this explanation often takes the form of a religion. Now that I have whittled away all of the fluff and pretension of my former religious self, I find that what is left is small, but significant. No one knows if there's a God. The people I have met, and the writers that I have read (and indeed, the selves that I have been) who admit this have all been much more open minded to new ideas, much more comfortable with themselves and others, and far more prone to take this life as seriously as it deserves to be taken.

The end result of religion's attempt to explain the unexplainable is failure, but I think there is something heroic and beautiful in the attempt. Religion predates science. The seeds of philosophy lie in religion. Religion has been the main way in which we have explained morality and art to ourselves up until this point in time.

And now religion wavers. It has built itself an unsteady tower. The architecture of this final product is surreal, and painted in bold colors. The artists holding the brushes are too many to count. They are people of all sexes and races. Some have painted as a way of seeking, some have painted to project themselves, to find themselves, to honor tradition, to unify, to divide, to destroy. Our fingerprints are all over religion. It's mankind's atavistic tail.

In the end, religion hasn't told us anything about any possible gods, but it has told us quite a bit about ourselves. We want answers and comfort, and will often make them up if we have to. We are creative, we are stubborn, we are flexible, and we acknowledge that there is a morality, and a bigger view to take. Mankind has a lot of work to do, and instead of throwing away all of our old tools, maybe we should keep them. If not to be sharpened and used again, then maybe at least as reminders of who we are and where we come from, and, possibly, to use as blueprints for future designs.


Sic Semper Tyrannis said...

Chip away at religion, find all the evolutionary, pre-disposition to believe, contrast the major doctrine to show the incredible inconsistancies and God smiles and says he loves you and everything will be ok. You may find many faults in the foundation of any religion, but God is more solid than the rock of Gibralter. Few believe their religious doctrine to the letter. I believe God is there, his plans may different than mine, but he is there. Religion is the creation of man, and therfore flawed. Faith is good, God created me and my choices have not always been good, I know I'm forgiven.

Spencer Troxell said...

I think that's a nice way to think about God, SST.

Spencer Troxell said...

Just to be sure we're at an understanding, the reader's digest version of what I'm saying is that for as long as we've had religion, we've used it primarily as a descriptive tool. We used it to make proclamations about the way things are, why we are the way we are, what God is like, etcetera. I think religion's usefulness in this area has ended. But instead of throwing religion away, I think we can still use it to lend color, community, and poetry to our experience. I also think we can use it to ask important questions about ourselves, since we invented it.

Lodo Grdzak said...

For someone as together as you seem to be Spence, God and religion sure seem to be on your mind a lot. I certainly have no issue with that--how could I? But it does seem a little odd for someone who (as near as I can tell) has so few real problems. Guess your...beliefs keep you grounded.

Sic Semper Tyrannis said...

Atheism is a non-prophet organization

Spencer Troxell said...

Lodo: Thanks for thinking I seem together and untroubled. I assure you, it's all smoke & mirrors.

SST: Ba-dump-ching!

mather said...

You make any money from those ads?

Spencer Troxell said...

Not so far.

Willie Y said...

I have made over 4 dollars in three years of ads on my website. I am thinking of going crazy and buying 4 gum balls with that money. Life is great, thank Go..........goodness.

mather said...

I suppose you need like four billion hits a day to make any real money, right? I'm new to this game, you see.

Spencer Troxell said...

4 billion hits a day sounds about right. I vaguely remember reading a post on another guy's blog (a blog that is much more popular than mine) that he got his first 100 dollar googleads check after 10 years of blogging. Not exactly a down payment on a summer home.

4 big ones Willie? You're far and away ahead of me. I'll have to get some marketing tips from you at some point.