Burt’s Criticism of Religion and Religiosity

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Burt’s Criticism of Religion and Religiosity
by Burt Hunter on Thursday,
August 4, 2011 at 5:59pm

I have noted with interest the passionate Facebook postings over politics and religion, and the invocation of supernatural powers to help us avoid, or recover from, disaster. I have even implored the great Spaghetti Monster for intervention. I believe in the power of prayer, people rooting for one another, encouraging each other, and seeking power from “somewhere”. I think we all benefit by knowing we are not alone in this journey called life.

However, I agree with Elizabeth Edwards that we are naive to seek assistance from an intervening sentient God to cure our cancer, or as I prayed last night, to help me find the missing Buddy the Dog.

This frees me from blaming God for trashing Japan or allowing little girls to be kidnapped, molested, and murdered. I found 3 things lately that helped affirm what I have figured out a long time ago:

1. This morning there was a “coffee break” on NPR, an interview of two Muslim women, one rather devout, and one quite modern, on the eve of Ramadan. The devout one was pleased they were showing live feeds from Mecca, where unbelievers are banned from the entire city. The modern woman pointed out that there is a large superhighway into Mecca, but just outside the city, there is an off-ramp that says “non-believers exit here.” She said Islam as practiced in Saudi Arabia is an abomination of the teachings of Mohamed and the worst interpretation in the world, especially in its treatment of woman. She pointed out that the Saudi version of Islam allows the beating of a woman for driving or having a wisp of hair showing from under her head covering. Converts who backslide, of course, are to be killed. She said that the failure of Islam to modernize is one of the disgraces of civilization. I concur.

2. I downloaded to my Kindle the book “The Religious Virus” by Craig A. James, who quotes Epicurus:

Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing? Then whence comes evil?
Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?

I have heard the palaver trying to answer such questions, and it all comes down to “faith”. Faith is belief without evidence. I am not immune to this,having promised “someone” that if a close relative recovered from illness, I would never quit the choir. The relative recovered (A miracle?), and I have stayed in the Choir for 17 years singing to what I believe is a rather cult-like view of Jesus as superhero.

I ask myself why, since Jesus’ teachings are so profoundly right to me when it comes to behavior, do we have to objectify a “personal savior” who sits around worrying about me all the time? Why tell our children fables and silliness about Jesus’ doing supernatural things, awakening the dead, changing water into wine, calming seas. and multiplying fish?

Why cannot we focus on his teachings and not his party tricks? This comes from a fellow who got his older cousin to admit to him, when he was five, that Santa was not real. (And she got in trouble for doing so!). The Sunday School Jesus is no more real than Santa, but his teachings are very real, better than Santa’s actually.

3. The closest I came to answering the question, “Why do religious teachers and devotees claim to believe in the supernatural?” comes from introductory words to “The Life of Buddha and Its Lessons” by Henry Steel Olcutt, 1912, free on Kindle from Amazon.

He says:

“The thoughtful student, in scanning the religious history of the race, has one fact continually forced upon his notice, viz., that there is an invariable tendency to deify whomsoever shows himself superior to the weakness of our common humanity. Look where we will, we find the saint-like man exalted into a divine persona and worshiped for a god. Though perhaps misunderstood, reviled, and even persecuted while living, the apotheosis (deification) is almost sure to come after death, and the victim of yesterday’s mob, raised to the state of an intercessor in heaven, is besought with prayer and tears, and placatory penances, to mediate with God for the pardon of human sin.”

He calls this a “mean, vile, trait of human nature”, and I agree with him. How can one NOT want to defeat or conquer a neighboring country or religion if it does not recognize your “special savior”?! It is much harder to justify killing someone because his views or preferences are different from mine (Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.’s “can’t helps”) than if the views derive from divine or natural law. By deifying such people, we gain a certitude that justifies wars, crusades, and jihads. Think only of the fellow in Norway who killed 90 people,mostly children, because Europe allows too many Muslims into their countries. So, also, Hitler used his “religion” to justify the Holocaust.

In dealing with people in my practice for nearly 40 years, among those who cause the hair on the back of my head to prickle are the loudly self-professed Christians. And, one of the crookedest I have dealt with so far was the Egyptian Muslim man who sold us our home property and his Va. lawyer. I had to deal with him through three intermediaries, and at every critical stage, he was praying to Mecca! When we met face to face and shook hands, the problems ended, so maybe I do him an injustice and should blame the intermediaries. I think he used the intermediaries to wear me out and gain an advantage. I am sure he deals with “unbelievers” differently than with believers.

So,in spite of the wonderful good that religion sometimes accomplishes, at its core, it wants to do the thinking for us. It wants to tell us what we must believe, and it wants to convert us and make us believe as it teaches.

In reading about Buddha, I learned he was a rich man who learned poverty, and became the most devout of the monks. They revered him and his teaching, but, after a few
generations, his devoted followers fell into the same trap as Islam and Christianity. In order to make their guy better than our guy, they invented a full panoply of supernatural miracles and accomplishments. Things he had never believed about himself.

I thank my friend Larry for turning me to a couple of books on secular Buddhism. I love the idea of a spiritual quest, but in the end, even secular Buddhism wants to set down the rules. I want to figure out the rules for myself. So, I will be in choir singing, if they still let me, and the tear will still come to the eye and the catch in the throat, but I won’t be in Sunday school. Can you imagine my spouting that stuff there? I have been assured that would not be there case. But I will not go to Sunday School and attempt to “convert” my classmates to my way of thinking.

And, lest you want to call me an atheist, I have NO IDEA WHAT IS OUT THERE, one minute before the big bang, one mile OUTSIDE the universe. The Spaghetti Monster is as good a guess as anything. I tend to see a “Matrix”- like, god-like, Gamer with a sense of humor, programing our bizarre world. I have taken two college level courses on cd’s on The Origins of Life, and Biology, the Science of Life, and this stuff is sooo complex, I can barely understand the questions, let alone the answers. And I will not accept the label “agnostic”. I may change my mind about this stuff tomorrow.

But, I will tell you a secret: for the politicians who claim they do not believe in
evolution, there is NO such doubt among scientists.
Evolution is established to a scientific certainty! So, are the politicians dumb, or cynical, or just pandering,? I suggest a combination, depending on the politician. I know Mitt Romney is backing out of the teachings of John Smith of where the Garden of Eden was. But, Michelle Bachman and Rick Perry may believe this stuff, even to the point where they want Christians to have dominion over the world by holding all the key power positions. That is scary.

Why do I post these views here? Because shallow views on religion and radical views on politics, espoused on FB, tend to wear me out. So, I will set out my position once and shut up. If 2-3 of you read this, great! I am sorry to offend anyone.

But, to me, giving God credit for some one’s being lucky enough to be saved in a plane crash, yet giving him a “free ride” for killing all the rest of the passengers, JUST MAKES NO SENSE. Why can’t we realize that even the most brilliant person on earth isn’t sure of these things? The atheists have their valid points, but their arrogance sort of ruins it. And, their efforts to stamp out every sign of our Judeo-Christian tradition and history makes them a hated group.

After all, even our founding fathers gave lip service to “The Almighty”. I say, “live and let live”, but stop teaching the supernatural to our children. I am happy to admit I don’t know the ultimate answers, but I work a lot harder to figure them out than you might think. I think everyone should be curious of why we are here and what we are about. My wife Nancy and I were listening to the ocean last night (Feb 5, 2012) as I edited this blog to become a Kindle Book. We heard the constant noise of the waves and watched its ebb and flow and it occurred to me, if we truly understood that one thing, we would have a clue to what it is all about.

This post was written by Burton Hunter

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