Sunday, May 13, 2007

My old religious "Manifesto" from a few years back. Good stuff.

Religion: for Liberals, Scholars, and Conflicted Conservatives.

Chapter 1: So where do I get off…?

As a conservative in the belly of the beast I see what appears to be “both” sides of the argument. (I say “both” because there are obviously more than two sides) I write this today as a student under the close scrutiny of two professors who are assisting me with my research on Islamic culture and the psychology of terrorism. In studying Islam, Christianity and Judaism I have come across many ideas about religiosity. Some are stringent, others are lax. I have seen fundamentalism and relativism, experienced hate fueled by ignorance and love fueled by ignorance. I have seen academicians butcher the sacred and stand for faith. I have seen the “lost” enlightened and the “enlightened” lost.

A few words about the title. As far as the terms “conservative” or “liberal” I mean each in a general sense. You can vote for a democrat and be religiously conservative and vice-versa. In terms of religion and the title of conservative or liberal I mean do you believe the writers of the Torah, Qur’an and/or Bible are inerrant, unfaultable in their duties as God’s distributor of his message. Further, do you believe that your interpretation of God’s message as received by you, via experiencing the text yourself or having a religious scholar translate/explain it for you, is the correct interpretation? Generally, Conservatives will believe more of a literal translation and use religious precedent to feel comfortable with their own view of their own faith. Liberals will believe that religion can be more relative, that errors can be made by man even inspired men and this gives them comfort. We have already used two terms that may look interchangeable but are not. Religion and Faith. Faith will be used in this work to mean a personal relationship with your religion or God. Religion will be used to encompass all aspects of your beliefs including: doctrine, sacraments, duties, myths, etc. In my view your faith is often a product of your religion, but eventually your religion should be a product of your faith. When I speak of we/our/us in this work I am speaking of the world. Not just the United States. One last note on definitions, MYTH in modern culture has the connotation of an untruth or a fairy-tale. When speaking of religion it simply means the story of your religion. This is not a discussion on whether Arjuna and Krishna really did have a long conversation in the middle of a battlefield or whether Muhammad had his heart taken out and put back in his chest, or whether water did change to wine. This work is meant to help you be OK with all three stories no matter what your faith or religion.

Conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh refers to our learned class as “pointy-headed.” He tends to view them as arrogant and misguided. Well he is at least half right. If you have been to college you know he is right about the arrogance. But I submit that they are arrogant with good reason, though reason is not reason enough for foolish pride. The intelligentsia of our time has earned a place of honor among us. They have committed themselves to lives of learning and teaching. We owe them our gratitude and respect. What is their perception of us? Are we unenlightened? Ignorant? Incapable of responsible thought? Foolish? Having spent an embarrassing amount of time as the loyal subject of a few professors, I would have to say that is exactly how some of them view us. We are viewed as incapable boobs who do not have the intellectual base to consistently make good working decisions. What is scary is wondering…are they right! They most certainly are not, but I see how they could think that way.

Chapter 2: The Mob Rules

So what if the Jew does pray funny or that Christian is an intolerant ass or that Muslim does think your are going to hell. Does it matter what others think of us? Does it matter who the guy next to you is praying to and what he is praying for? You better believe it. In the post 9/11 world we all have to be a bit more vigilant and at the same time tolerant. I need to know if you are praying for my destruction. I need to know if you think of me as a friend but would sell me down the river tomorrow because my soul is already damned. But I don’t need to violate your rights given by the state or by God. It is a precarious position. One that our before mentioned erudite class believes is too complex for the masses. Why would they think such a thing? Well, turn on the TV or read a paper or go online. Because we have cocked it up. We are an intolerant child throwing a tantrum the likes of which the world has never seen. We are killing, maiming and taxing because of fear, because we are offended, because we were told to do it by God, because we are greedy, because of pride. We have demonstrated that we are incapable of any unselfish thought. From Mecca to Salt Lake City we have shown that we are not broadminded. The question at hand is: are we capable of it? Can you pay more for fruit, sneakers and customer assistance? Can you conceive of the pain, hunger and frustration in many parts of the world? Can you do with less so others can do with some? Can you find time to teach so others can do for themselves? Can you give of yourself expecting nothing in return but a better life? Can you do these things? If you can then I have ruined the ending for you for the Torah, the Bible, the Qur’an, the Bhagavad-Gita and basically every other religious text in the world. What I mean is the message is the same. Listen to yourself and read this next sentence aloud. DON’T LOSE THE MESSAGE FOR THE WORDS. You are not capable of understanding God’s words, another universal message from religious texts. But, you are expected to understand and live by his message. “If you worshiped Muhammad he is dead, if you worship God he lives on.”(loose translation)

Chapter 3: So what now?

The word tolerance is thrown around today and I think we need a new definition if not a new word. Tolerance is not agreement. You tolerate your children’s behavior you do not agree with it. You tolerate a rectal exam you do not enjoy it. You tolerate the opposing opinion you are not indifferent to it. Finally, you can criticize another’s religion and not be intolerant!

Unfortunately we are so past the point where mere tolerance would be of any assistance we need to do more. Tolerance alone only works if all parties participate. Now we need understanding. We need what my “pointy headed” friends in our colleges and universities through-out the world have in spades…we need some good ole’ book learnin’. It is impossible to empathize with a Christian in Lebanon if you don’t know what it is like in Lebanon or to be a Christian. You can not understand the need for a redress of grievances in the Middle East if you don’t know what the grievances are and the history behind them. Education builds tolerance. Ultra-Conservatives will say it also is a breeding ground for indoctrination of young minds. Well let me beat them to the punch. Yes that is very true. Suzy may go off to college the apple of your eye and come back a smelly hippy that has not shaved her pits in six months. That is your child. You should have raised her better. Cut off her allowance and money for school. Sit her down and have real conversation with her. But, don’t blame the exchange of information. It is what you do with the information that is the key.

So learning is not enough. You need to be comfortable with the idea that you could be wrong. You need to know that God loves you and everyone else in this world. Do you believe the Catholics across the street? Do they believe the Evangelicals up town? Do the Evangelicals believe the Unitarians? Do the Unitarians believe the Methodist and do the Methodists believe the Jews? All different beliefs all 100% sure that there religion is the correct one. I want you to be comfortable with your faith. I want you to be 100% sure that your faith is what God wants. Talk to God. Pray. Listen to God’s message. Let your religion be your guide. But do not let your religion conflict itself. If God is telling you to kill the infidels know that someone else with a different religion is hearing the same thing and you are the infidel. Who is right? You? Why? Because someone told you? Because God told you? We already established that God told someone else the same thing about you. He believes it to be true as much as you do. You have God on your side? So does he? You’re just right and he is just wrong? Maybe, but you are not God you do not know all things. You are mortal. You are a sinner. These religious concepts are universal. That uneasy feeling in the pit of your stomach is mankind’s aversion to doubt. We fear what we do not understand. Doubt is not fully understanding.

Chapter 4: Comfort in the Uncomfortable

So how do we learn to accept that God is the only one who is inerrant? That no one on this Earth is close to knowing the “truth”. Well, through God, all things are possible. This will be as well. Study other religions, other cultures, other races. Approach it like it were the second most important thing in your life. (God being #1 if you wish) Through this learning process we will become more comfortable and tolerant. You can be comfortable with the fact that God will provide. (Another universal religious truth.) You can be comfortable that Governments can outlaw religions and people can wound and mock your religion but your faith is your own and is perfect. What is more God-like than knowing others? Finding comfort in our differences. Feeling unity in a similarity you did not know you had with another country, culture or religion.

Chapter 5: Tell me more about the difference between faith and religion.

More people have died in the name of God than for any other reason. Do you believe this? Do you believe that we are in the middle of a holy war? Were the Crusades to spread Christendom through out the world? I say no to all of these. I say religion plays(ed) a part in all of these events but God did not. There is separation between religion and God, and faith and God. Religion is the interpretation of God’s message by men. Faith is your interpretation of God’s message. Religion is a guide to a relationship with God. Faith is your relationship with God. Faith is solely your responsibility and your creation. Religion is the responsibility of many men and is the creation of many men. (I separate God’s message from religion, meaning sacred texts are part of a religion, God’s message is his own.)

Chapter 6: What about the fact that my friends can’t go to heaven because they are Jewish or Muslim…and who is that Joseph Smith guy…what’s that about?

Here is where it gets sticky. I would like to say you will just have to trust me…but I don’t want you to trust me. I want you to see it yourself. If you can only get to heaven by being a certain way does that mean that millions of people are doomed to hell just because they are a different religion? What if I am the wrong religion? How many people does that Jehovah Witness bus hold again? You need to show personal responsibility and explore other religions. You will find comfort in that. As well, you need to learn about your own. Not from your Pastor or Imam or Priest or Rabbi you get that every Friday or Saturday or Sunday. You need additional sources. You need to study your own religion as much as others. What is it exactly that you say you believe with all of your heart 100%? Do you believe what educated people have said about your religion? Does that reflect your relationship with God? Is what your religion prescribes in God’s message or is it what your religion says is the best way to live so you can be closer to God? Is something that probably started out as a suggestion over 100, 1000, 2000 years ago on how to better your relationship with God now religious doctrine or is it part of God’s message? How many times has what you lived your life by been translated? After all, it is called the “King James Version”. Are you trusting your salvation to the folks at NIV (New International Version of the Bible) or are you trusting it to God. Through God all things are possible even a metaphor.

Chapter 7: I thought you were a conservative when I started reading this now I think you are a relativist.

I am a conservative. Very conservative. I am not a fundamentalist. I am strong in my faith. I live strictly by it with little to no room for interpretation. That sounds pretty conservative to me. What I am very liberal/relative about is how I am told to live by others. They may be right or they may be wrong. I let my faith and intellect decide. I am asking you to do the same.

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