Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Dear Children, Dear God

Writing Out Loud to Clarify my Position on Religion, Which is Muddy at Best, Because my Kids Keep Asking Questions... (Sidestep from #reverb10. This is on my mind)

My children, I feel the need to speak but what can I tell you of God that makes any sense? For years I have scorned the very notion. And, largely, I still do. Any notion that you’re likely to hear of God, I do not accept.

In fact, I accept nothing. That there is order to the universe seems increasingly undeniable. The implications of this order extending as far as galaxies and as deep as our own living cells only recently began to dawn on us as a species. How arrogant to think we can even begin to comprehend meaning in this order. Religions are designed to control people’s behaviour towards particular ideologies, all of which are part of a universal truth we cannot possibly comprehend. To choose a religion is to deliberately narrow your field of study to achieve depth, not to find a truth that excludes that which contradicts it. To treat any religion as “true” helps no one. All religious and spiritual beliefs are just puzzle pieces, with most of the pieces missing or so tarnished as to be hardly recognizable. Deep understanding is critical, within the larger context.

On the other hand, the anti-religious. How perversely, falsely modest to think that our smallness in the scheme of things means that we don’t matter. How perversely, falsely proud to believe that this plane of reality is exclusive, our understanding of it largely complete. Even if we could accurately measure what we don’t know exists, it seems unlikely that the limited tools we call brains would be capable of comprehending the resulting data in any useful fashion. Instead, people would look for ways to exploit their limited understanding for personal gain at cost to others, as people have done with all understanding since the dawn of time. Given the economic drivers of research and development activities, and the almost total withdrawal of western society from active civic participation (or even paying attention and demanding accountability from their own investments), it seems unlikely that enough human endeavour is being put into finding out what we don’t already know, rather than using what we know to drive the economic engine we’ve created to greater and greater excess.

All this to say, if we don’t know about God, it’s arrogant to think that’s because there is no divinity. I’m not saying I think it’s likely that there is a single being sitting up above us, watching and judging and putting some of us in heaven and others in hell when we die, interfering in our lives at our behest through prayer, punishing us when we aren’t nice. Such a simple model makes no sense in light of the complexity we mistake for chaos. There is clearly order. If that order is driven by intelligence, I cannot possibly hope to understand it, through lack of data, lack of competence, and probably lack of physical capability in the brain.

So I’ve decided to withhold my judgment and hold no belief as wrong, though many beliefs are wrongly applied. Any information or data taken out of context, in too thin a slice, becomes ineffective at communicating its truth and can be easily misunderstood and misapplied. Most religious teachings come from much different times and contexts, and represent only the dominant aspects of thinking that managed to make it through biased translations of translations. So I respect those who choose a religious path for their diligence in pursuing spiritual depth, and I expect that they should respect that their discipline is just one of many, as History, English and Sociology co-exist in an Arts Department within a University within a Community and so on. We are all seeking the whole of knowledge in our ways, from where we are.

Accepting that a belief is part of the truth is not the same as accepting that the intolerant, oppressive or harmful implementations of that belief are acceptable. Every human life matters. I want every human to live secure of person - safe place to sleep, nutritious food to eat, shelter from the elements including adequate clothing, protection from animals and pests, clean water, the ability to be be clean and hygienic, participation in a community of people, protection from violence and coercion , love. Any beliefs that implement in ways that enhance the likelihood that every human can have these things, every day, I will support. Any beliefs that hinder a human's chances of having those things, I must question.

I find sifting through the sea of existing beliefs more difficult and far less interesting than thinking the problem through for myself, with some hints and help along the way that are largely driven by interest and chance. I try on ways of thinking, distilling that which fits what I know, that which challenges what I know. I feel the truth and I feel when it is distorted. Yet who am I to judge? Even my own judgement is suspect.

I am not seeking a belief system to settle into, I’m just seeking. That is my belief system – remaining in non-belief. I’m willing to hold possibilities open, as many as I can. I don’t accept the explanations that exist as they exist, scientific or religious. I feel I that I am divine in this body, no matter what I think, and no matter how unskilled I am at living my divinity. Seeking in that direction feels like a pull, it interests me, it adds wonder back into my life. Is it right? What is the metric?

Life is impossible. My very existence means that anything is possible. Thus, accepting nothing becomes accepting everything as part of the truth. With love, they are the same acceptance, the paradox that appears again and again. The same one.

(Okay, that's the best I can do at an explanation. Now, I just have to put it in language that preschoolers can understand. No problem.)

Musical accompaniment from Sarah McLachlan: Dear God