The Christians and the Pagans

So the Christians and the Pagans sat together at the table,
Finding faith and common ground the best that they were able,
Lighting trees in darkness, learning new ways from the old, and
Making sense of history and drawing warmth out of the cold.

 

 

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Those of you who have been reading this blog for years know that I am a fairly serious Christian. You also know I rarely partner with fellow Christians, I enjoy the differences. I am far from typical.
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My current partner is a recovering Atheist. I say “recovering” because she has actually been fired from one atheist group she had been a part of for two years, and left the national and local groups within a few years of that. She still has no belief in any deity, but she also believes that insulting and offending religions are not values she wishes to identify with. American Atheism has become Anti-Theistic, to the point that factions are creating other names to avoid being connected to Atheism. Not that changing names changes habits; an angry person is still angry by any other name.
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Janice loves Christmas, not the religious part but the spectacle. She waits until the day after Thanksgiving and the decorations go up. She has many sentimental objects with warm stories behind them. As we had coffee that morning, she mentioned an article about a Muslim who was placed on the “No Fly” list because he refused to be an informant, and was suing because he had to fly as a part of his job. We discussed the limits of the Separation of Church and State clause of the first amendment, as the article pointed out that a win for the plaintiff would be a win for the “Religious Right,” allowing citizens to discriminate on religious grounds. It is a complicated subject, measuring the values of various rights.
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As Janice continued decorating, she came across an old stocking, and asked if she could hang it in the living room. It was green, with an image and the sentiment of a message to Christians that Atheists believe in Science instead of God. I told her not to hang it in the living room and she asked if it would be okay to hang it in the bedroom. It was not the location I objected to, it was the stocking itself. I personally found it offensive and Janice  couldn’t quite understand, “It’s just a joke between atheists” she said. When I replied “Like the jokes about Nig***s you can share with your friends?” I think she understood. Insulting other religions is not funny, and is often a display of ignorance. There is no disparity between Christianity and Science, as I have mentioned before.

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Old habits die hard. She tried to defend the stocking, saying “It doesn’t actually say that Christians do not believe in science.” No it does not, it implies it, that’s what you found so funny when you were an Atheist. I think once she recognized that behaving in the manner you imagine your “evil” opponent does is also evil, she could see what she was doing.
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Later, we discussed a Holiday Party, and decided to have an Open House on Christmas. I went on Facebook and announced it on both of our pages, Janice is off Facebook following another run in with Antitheists who believed, due to her open and friendly personality, that she was as filled with hatred towards religions as they were. The old “my friends are just like me” blindness. I invited everyone, it will be interesting to see if any of her friends respond.
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Later this Christian and this Pagan set out to enjoy the night together. We went to a Holiday show by Bob Beru, followed by a show at a local restaurant with the band “Sal’s Last Minute All Stars,” aka the best band that never played together before. Sal greeted us warmly and we stayed until 0100.
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For the most part, we all have the same goals, Peace and Goodwill. We have far more in common than not. It is easy to find the differences and build them into a rationale for xenophobia, the truly intelligent find the commonalities.

A difference of opinion

 

The Ichthys is a symbol in Christianity, from the Koine Greek word for fish, based on Matthew 4:18-19:

18 And Jesus, walking by the sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers.19 And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.

During the time of persecution by the Roman Empire, the Ichthys was a symbol used to mark meeting places, and even as a “salute”, to covertly distinguish friends from persecutors. If you recall the television program “The Prisoner,” you might recognize the symbol.

The Ichthys salutation

The Ichthys salutation modified to mean “I’ll be seeing you”

 

In the last few decades, the symbol has been re-popularized, initially as a bumper sticker or medallion quietly acknowledging Christianity. Not willing to let a private expression of faith go without an argument, several groups decided to mock the Ichthys, creating their own variants.

 

Evolution of the Ichthys

Evolution of the Ichthys

If you know so little about both Christianity and evolution you believe the two are in conflict with each other, you might find some of the more aggressive variants (none of which are shown here) as expressing something you consider to be “truth.” The truth is, by displaying a “Darwin Fish” you have expressed your general ignorance and arrogance. Christ had nothing to do with creation. That was his father, God, who gave the people sixteen centuries before Christ a story of the creation of Earth they could understand. There is no rational reason to believe that the creation story in Genesis reflects the actual or complete mechanics of the creation of the universe, but it does follow the path that scientists believe took place. Some people might feel that lends some veracity to the story. Other would prefer to pick apart the story for what is left out. If you think Genesis is a science book, you missed the point, regardless of your religious beliefs.

In a recent conversation about arrogance, one contributor displayed both his arrogance and ignorance as he attempted to preserve his point of view with something that no doubt sounded wise and noble to him by saying “it should also be noted that respecting someone’s right to have a belief in something is a given. But it in no way means that the belief itself, especially one that is considered to be the cause of much damage and suffering, should be respected. Indeed, it becomes one’s duty to hold it up for ridicule and scorn.”

I can respect someone I don’t agree with, but when you feel it is your duty to ridicule and scorn someone’s beliefs, you are not in any way respecting the person, their right to have the belief, or the belief. Trying to sugar coat your arrogance only makes you appear more arrogant, as if the foolish Christian can not see through your self deceit. Very little elicits more pity than a fool who genuinely believes he is wise.

If you choose not to believe the Judea-Christian beliefs, so be it. You are not alone, roughly two thirds of he world’s population is neither Jewish or Christian. However, very few people actually believe there is no God. If you wish to express the superiority of your views that no God exists, even claiming them to be backed by science, you might want to consider the meaning of both “Atheism” and “science.” To say you believe there is no deity, none at all, because you have no empirical evidence of its existence, indicates faith. You believe in something you can not prove. Were you to have any understanding of science you would know that the absence of empirical evidence of something does not imply the actual absence of that thing’s existence. There is no empirical evidence of the existence of electrons, yet we are all certain they exist. Intellectual honesty would require a thoughtful person who does not believe in a deity to accept the possibility that a deity might exist. Such an intellectually honest person would call themselves an Agnostic.

If you call yourself a Christian, there are rational discussions to be had about your beliefs, such as “why you think you are in a position to judge other people.” If you call yourself a Muslim there are rational discussions to be had, such as “why do you believe you should kill people who do not share your faith.” If you call yourself an Atheist there are rational discussion to be had, such as”Why do you have faith in something that can not be proven (there is no God) yet feel you can judge others who have faith in something that can not be proven (there is a God).”

We all have differences of opinion, and if we are secure in our opinions can discuss them without insulting other people’s opinions. People who feel they can simply shout down any opinion that is contrary to theirs lack security in their beliefs, whether they be the Westboro Baptist Church, the Taliban, or Atheists. They are all equally annoying to those of us who have explored our spirituality and can express our beliefs rationally.

Secure in our beliefs, most of us can take a joke. I might even put this medallion on my car.

car-emblem-sticker-fish-n-and-chips-darwin-fish_350314693843

 

 

Religions, Chapter five “What is God”

The previous chapters, Religions, Islam, Eastern Religions, and “Others”, may be viewed by clicking those links.

Having reviewed the major religions of the world, we have (I hope) seen the similarities at their cores. Most common is a belief, or faith, in a higher being, “God” or “Gods”. These God concepts may differ in manifestation, but one commonality is love, God’s benevolent love of mankind, and the teaching that we should love each other, and love ourselves.

So why do differences in religion generate so much hatred?

Most people are raised in a religion, and taught its ways through childhood. Whether they agree with the religion or not, they accept these teaching as “fact” (with the exception of Atheism, which I’ll get to later). Anyone challenging those facts, directly or indirectly, is challenging their childhood. You’ve probably known people who have abandoned their faith, but still defend it. So it’s not difficult to understand how people who don’t understand the nonviolent nature of their faith will kill to defend it.

Every religion I have studied tells its followers to share their religion. If you live life as a Buddhist, you share your values with others. No religion that I have studied advocates in their sacred teachings to force others to convert to that religion. This is where organized religions slip away from their roots. Catholics have had forced conversions, Muslims have chosen to kill non believers, Jehovah’s Witnesses have bored many people nearly to death, but the actual scriptures of these religions teach respect for other beliefs.

It is the human element, the ego, that chooses to interpret ancient texts to justify actions rather than be a guide to actions. It is the charismatic element, religious leaders, who guide the uninformed away from the path laid out by the foundations of a religion. If a belief system is based on faith, how does forcing someone to accept it allow for free will? No God says “believe in me or die”, but many say “believe in me or I will not be there for you when you die”. Only the weak minded will believe by force, and it is the weak minded who attempt to convert by force.

One of my favorite moments in the television program “Seinfeld” is when one character, an Atheist, is in a relationship with a Christian. When she challenges the Christian with “Why aren’t you angry with me?” he nonchalantly replies “What do I care? You’re the one going to hell”.

Atheists, by and large, seek justification for their refusal to believe in God. They routinely (not always, I have known more enlightened Atheists) will practice their belief by insulting the faith of Theists as lacking in intelligence. “Faith” has a meaning. It does not mean “proven”, it means “believed”. My wife is an Atheist, and her motto is “I’ll do my thing, you do yours”, I try to take a similar approach with her. What do I care, she’s the one going to hell.

Most Atheists will insist that Atheism is not a religion. It most certainly is. It is faith that God does not exist. A negative (God does not exist) cannot be proven, so it is faith. Atheists tend to be rebelling against a particular religion (quite obvious when you see them react to being identified as a religion), most often because they are rebelling against authority, they didn’t like being told how to behave, Nonetheless, they accepted the teachings of that religion, and confused “religion” with “God”, so in rejecting that religion they believe they have rejected all God, and with it all religions. An Agnostic, on the other hand, has examined his spirituality, and finding no “proof” of a God chooses to question its existence. They neither proclaim that God exists, nor deny its existence. Atheists are as susceptible as Theists to not understanding their religion.

Monotheistic religions tend to refer to God as “He”, and the majority of religions have a human explanation of what God is. What other explanation could humans have? With Christianity, people will describe God as a man in a long robe with a flowing white beard. I suppose, having lived for eternity one’s beard might grow quite long, but did it go white when he was sixty, or sixty million? My description of God comes from Genesis 1:2 “Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters”. That’s it. God created us in the image of its soul, not of its body. The being that created the universe most likely does not have a corporeal form, much less two legs, two arms and genitalia. Being capable of creating the universe would put God apart from time, it would not age or breath oxygen. God’s being is beyond our ability to comprehend, in fact some religions teach that actually seeing God would cause death. Religion is about knowing God, but we are confined by what we can imagine. God said to Moses “I am”, no further description can be put into words. But words are all we have.

Knowing all this, people still try to define God. People attempt to poke holes in different beliefs because the adjectives used thousands of years ago don’t fit our level of understanding. Religion is our interpretation of descriptions given by people who had just developed a written language. The stories had been passed through the generations verbally prior to that after humans developed the ability to speak. And we expect an in depth description of the process of creation, the being that accomplished it, and a complete history of the world? There are no dinosaurs in the Bible because they are not relevant to the subject.

Holy texts contain the elements germane to the faith. The Qur’an describes the life of Mohammed, and very clearly states that it is not a pattern to be replicated. The Old Testament speaks to the people of the Iron Age, the New Testament proclaims itself as NEW, in several passages Jesus says “that was then, this is now” (in Aramaic).

Each of us has a personal relationship with God. I believe that is far more important than the religion we belong to, and it is only important to the individual, and the God in which they believe. Beyond that, we can share our beliefs, but we can never expect anyone to feel the way that we do.

I think that wraps up this series, next Sunday will be a spiritual topic not directly related to this set. And I’ll probably write an article on the “religion of politics” at some point, but that will be a secular piece.

Religions, Chapter four, “Other”

The previous chapters focusing on Christianity, Islam, and Eastern Religions, can be accessed by clicking those links.

rel_pie

There should be nothing taken from my choice to address the various religions by size. Spirituality is not a democracy, there is nothing to be judged by the members of adherents about the validity of any system. I don’t like the title “others”, it somehow degrades the remaining religions. I go back to my own Christian beliefs, and Jesus’ words in Matthew 18:20,For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” from which I interpret that a “Church” is when at least two people gather. I see this scripture as anti-charismatic, validating the individual rather than the organization.

For this grouping I have included the sectors of the above graph “Non-religious” (which includes several religions, and in doing so, cultural bias), “Primal- Indigenous”, “Other”, Sikhism, and Judaism. One of the first surprises when I started researching this series was the relative size of various religions, I would have never have guessed there are so few Jews.

I’m going to approach this group in reverse order, starting with the smallest sector.

Judaism is more familiar in the Western world than many other religions, and by familiar I do not mean understood. With around fourteen million followers, Judaism is the smallest of the recognized unique religions. Within Judaism there are three distinct “movements” (Orthodox, Conservative, and the Reform/liberal/progressive movements) and like other religions variants within those branches.

Judaism is not simply Christianity without Christ, The Tanakh (Jewish Bible) is broken down into three sections, the Torah, (the five books of Moses), the Nevi’im (book of prophets), and the K’tuvim (book of writings). There are difference between the Tanakh and the Christian Old Testament, as well as different books in each. For the most part, Jews and Christians celebrate the same God, but don’t really agree on much of the last two thousand years.

Sikhism, while having more followers than Judaism, is hardly known at all, at least in the United States. Sikhs wear turbans, and are often assumed to be Islamic (more ignorance, Arabs don’t wear turbans). Sikhism was founded in what is now India in the sixteenth century, and is a monotheistic religion that sees a coexistence with spiritual and secular worlds. This translates to a fundamental Sikh teaching, deeds are more important than rituals.

Some interesting Sikh traditions are a prohibition on consuming ritualistically killed meat (the exact opposite of Judaism and Islam), and a prohibition against “blind spirituality”, or participating in rituals such as pilgrimages and purification. It is easy to see Sikhism as a rebellion against the structure of Islam, Judaism, and Catholicism.

Other contains all the religions that do not fit in other categories but are still considered religions. This is murky territory. Certainly within this group are such diverse beliefs as Baha’i, Jainism, Zoroastrianism, Rastafarianism, and Scientology, but also other religions that appear to be a part of a larger group but have emphatically denied any bond, such as Unitarian-Universalism, and Shinto. Wicca and Paganism are included in this group.

Essentially, to be part of “Other”, there is a belief system and an organized church, but in fact several religions in this category don’t fit that definition. When we get to “Non-religious” I’ll explore this cultural bias a little deeper.

Primal- Indigenous, religions are generally “tribal” religions, practiced by small communities in Africa, the Americas, and Island nations. Why these are separated from “Other” is outside my understanding. Every major religion began in a tribe,

What I have found interesting is the similarities in traditions. There are stories in several Indigenous religions that mirror stories in major religions. Stories of sinful cities destroyed by God, stories of a great flood, stories of exodus.

Non-religious is the most poorly labeled group, in that half of the people in it identified themselves as “theistic”. While the group includes Agnostics, who profess to have no proof of God and thus no faith or religion, and Atheists, who deny the existence of God, I can testify to the fact that there are no Atheists in foxholes. I have seen the most adamant Atheists search for a higher power when faced with calamity.

Every Atheist I have known developed their beliefs as a reaction to a religion, typically Catholic, and they couldn’t live within the structure of the religion. As the religions they are rebelling against are typically authoritarian, they are under the belief that God is the church, so in leaving the church that they have no faith in, they believe they are leaving God. I have asked a couple of Atheists to participate in the discussion, but they have not responded. If and when they do, I would like to write an entire article on Atheism.

This is where we need to discuss “What is a religion?”. Is a religion a building? From a Christian point of view, no. In Matthew 16:18 Christ says “And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” The “Church” is the leader. And when he later says in Matthew 18:20 “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” he is saying that any two may be a church. The phrase “The Church” strikes me the same way as when people refer to New York as “The City”. There are many.

So a religion is a set of principles. Not a church, and not a building, not a deity.

I would then say the half who said they are “theistic” believe in a higher power, and are therefore a religion. I would say Agnosticism, when followed as a way of life, with moral underpinnings, is a religion. I would even say that Atheism is a religion, because to believe that something is not God, you have to have faith, faith in yourself, alone in the universe, but faith nonetheless.

Is a religion a system of beliefs? To this I would say yes. Most of the Eastern religions are simply systems of beliefs. Common among all religions is a belief in the sanctity of life. Even the Aztecs and Mayan, who performed human sacrifices, were sacrificing something they felt was precious, the purest gift they could give to God.

However you express your faith, it is you, a human being, expressing it. Be it an all powerful god, or many gods working together, or no God. As humans we like to help other people see what we see, especially when it’s a good thing, so we share our beliefs. The problem occurs when people don’t want to hear anyone’s beliefs but their own, or when people insist on sharing beliefs that you’re just not interested in.

As annoying as Christians can be with their proselytizing, when they won’t go away remind them of Matthew 10:14 “And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet.”

Next week, I’d like to summarize these similarities and point out the radical elements that take the headlines away from peaceful followers, or I may choose to write about proselytizing by different religions I haven’t decided on the focus yet.  See you then.

God’s thumbprint

Sunday again.

There is an opinion that religion is for the weak minded. I find such moral cynicism, the idea that faith is foolish, to say a great deal about the arrogance and insecurities of the person speaking. It seems important to such people to recite names of famous or popular well educated people that are atheists. Faith is not a democracy, and despite my charitable hope that everyone will experience the love of God, if they choose to turn away, I will not chase them. I think of Christ’s words in Matthew 10:14 “And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet.”

Faith does not require proof, but I can see evidence of a creator. Evidence that we are not merely an accident.

The Earth, Moon, and Sun create a spectacular set of relationships. Due to the inclination of the Earth/Moon orbit in relation to the Earth/Sun orbit, eclipses are relatively rare. The amazing part is that they happen at all. The Sun is about four hundred times larger than the moon. The Sun is also about four hundred times farther away than the Moon. Therefore they appear to be about the same size in the sky, and on those occasions that the moon passes directly between the Earth and Sun, the moon cleanly eclipses the Sun. This will not always be true. As the orbits decay, the relationships will cease to hold their ratios. But today, when our technology has advanced to the point that we can understand why it is happening, we can witness eclipses. Keep in mind that our Moon is roughly one quarter the size of the Earth, a planet/moon ratio seen nowhere else in the universe (so far) and you can understand why I call this phenomena “God’s Thumbprint”.

There is the fact that the number of petals on a flower follow the Fibonnaci sequence, a pattern discovered in the 12th century, fn =  Phi n / 5½ where n=0, a sequence that converges on phi and is reflected in the architecture of not only plants, but also human structures.

None of this is “proof” of an intelligent creator. Statistics indicate that anything is possible, that the Brownian motion that disperses molecules in the air could result in all the oxygen moving into another room. It hasn’t ever happened, but an adequate experiment would require an infinite number of tests.

This brings me back to the myth that atheists tend to be of greater intelligence. Atheism requires faith, the faith that God does not exist. What I have found, is that people of extraordinary intelligence (for example, Albert Einstein) tend toward agnosticism. Unable to prove or disprove the existence of God, and unwilling to acknowledge faith, they adopt the view that God is unknowable. In Einstein’s words, an “attitude of humility corresponding to the weakness of our intellectual understanding of nature and of our own being”. Einstein regularly acknowledged God in a non religious sense, he refuted quantum mechanics with the phrase “God does not play dice“, expressing his own faith in an orderly universe.

While I believe in God, I make no claim to understand it. I feel God, I have faith that all things work towards a purpose of which I am a part. I have no hope, or even desire, to know what that purpose may be. I lack the level of faith required to be an atheist.

An outwardly orderly universe built out of chaos. That is God’s Thumbprint.