The Intersection of Religion and Logic
WARNING: Content not suitable for the very young or the very fragile.
I feel the same way toward those who hold uber-religious views as I do the very young who believe in Santa; I feel compassion toward a thought process they have found enjoyment, solace and comfort in, even if, as I believe, that belief system is fictional. I want them to enjoy their chosen pastime, even if its foundational premises make me chuckle out loud given the logical absurdities. I want to respect their chosen beliefs, even if those same beliefs would crucify me for mine.
But there is a line that can get crossed. This essay directs itself not to personal faith or individual meditative practices, but to the practices and actions of organized religions and cults that impose on others inside and outside the organization who elect not to adhere to its rules. This essay seeks to enlighten on when that line is crossed necessitating the intersection of reason with religion.
FAITH, RELIGION, CULTS
First, let me distinguish between what I mean when referring to faith, religion and cults. Faith is pure. Faith has no ulterior motive. Faith is belief: pure and simple. Faith cannot be wrong. Faith is what faith is. Faith is personal, unique to each individual, and constantly evolving with the individual and society.
Religion, in contrast, is the organization of like-minded individuals to achieve like-minded objectives. This is also a pure objective, as with faith, but something happens on the way to the bank. Not unlike political lobbyists, the religious powers corrupt the process at its core. The need of the religion to self-perpetuate supersedes the individual needs of those of faith who adhere to the religion. Thus, policies that encourage more members (i.e. no birth control) and maximize the profits retained by the church (i.e. those who do not attend church go to hell) supersede logic and make the minister of a fire and brimstone church an extortionate thug holding eternal salvation hostage in exchange for blind faith and charitable contribution. The suffering of the individual or the family becomes tantamount to the prosperity of the church.
Cults are “immature” religions that have not withstood the test of time. The premises of cults are no less or more outrageous and laughable than those of religion, but religion cloaks itself in the veil of “tradition,” claiming respect for its ability to survive throughout the ages. Although “appeal to tradition” is a logical fallacy, nevertheless, the modern origination of most cults serves to discredit their validity.
Techniques of Neutralization: At the end of the day, we all have to sleep with ourselves. Thus, we find a way to rationalize our behaviors to make them consistent with the type of person who we wish to reflect to others and to ourselves. So the sort of person with whom we choose to associate is important. If we only elect to associate with selfish people, then the behaviors we would emulate would be selfish behaviors, believing those values to predominate. If we only associate with racists, then we will promote racist actions seeking approval amongst our peer group. Certain religions and cults attract a certain brand of hate and intolerance, thus allowing its members to sleep better with themselves at night, reassured that not only do they hold such hateful beliefs, but others do as well. Thus, religion provides legitimacy to beliefs. This is good when the beliefs are altruistic and generous, but can be dangerously parasitic in society when the beliefs are prejudiced and judgmental.
The uber-religious are cloaked in judgment. There is the right way and the wrong way. One way leads to Nirvana and the other way to Hades. Though no one has been to either and back, many uber-religious profess to know, with certainty, what is right and what is wrong. But eternal salvation or damnation is often not a significant enough consequence. Instead, the uber-religious seek to use secular power to impose its judgment on all others: believers and non-believers alike. Call them Islamic Fundamentalists who shoot little girls in the face for wanting an education. Call them Evangelicals who think the Girl Scouts organization promotes homosexuality and abortion, calling 12-year-old girl scouts, “lesbian baby-killers.” Call them Hasidic Jews whose sexually-repressive practices align with the puritanical and women are to be silent, subservient child-bearers. They seek to compel others to believe as they do through lawful authority.
I cannot offer respect to such belief systems and when challenged by their vocal supporters, I cannot remain silent allowing them to sell their hatred re-wrapped and packaged as religion. When these individuals attempt to defend their hatred of others, by citing antiquated passages of dubious authenticity from a book elevated to higher adulation because its human authors claimed godly inspiration, that line has been crossed.
Faith, at its purest, does not exist to put others down. Even the ugliest of persons, both inside and outside, is entitled to self-dignity. But when persons seek to prop themselves up or those with whom they choose to associate, by demeaning others, putting others down and denying to others rights they hold sacrosanct for themselves, it is incumbent upon the child who see the nudity of the Emperor, to point this out to the crowd.
Hatred, Inequality and Superiority: Religion that seeks to prop itself up by the condemnation of others is hollow and meaningless. Such a faith practice offers no moral repose to its holder. A just God or Gods would support equality in opportunity, equality in love and equality in law amongst all others, and not just amongst those who look similar or hold similar beliefs.
- Misogyny and Misandry: Women and Men pitted against each other, with one believing the other inferior and subservient.
- Racism and Ethnocentrism: holds that persons of a different race or ethnicity are inferior or superior.
- Classism: Proletariats, or the working class who do not own property, are pitted against the Bourgeoisie, wealthy capitalists with the wealthy and privileged seeking to deny opportunity and advantage to those less so.
All of these beliefs assert birth privilege: the idea that when one is born, the gender, race, ethnicity, religion and social class will all pre-determine the earthly privileges and eternal salvation. To deny the reality of the above would be naïve. To pretend, however, that religious values support such claims, would be to give credence to the preposterous. Faith is pure. Faith is kind. Faith tolerates. Faith does not condemn.
One cannot simultaneously respect the individual autonomy of a gay or bisexual person while simultaneously asserting that those who are gay or bisexual are certain to suffer eternal damnation or denying to those who are gay or bisexual the same civil rights afforded to those who are heterosexual. One cannot simultaneously respect the equality of others irrespective of skin color, ancestry or gender while simultaneously asserting societal privilege to some groups and denying those same opportunities to others. These actions and beliefs are inconsistent with faith at its purest level. These actions and beliefs support the promulgation of an organization at the expense of the best interests of society and the individual.
Logic, conversely, is an absolute. Logical syllogisms can be proven true. Inductive premises can be sound or lousy. Logical fallacies are universal. Logic, at its core, is capable of making sense and providing a structure for decisions. Is it raining? Then one needs an umbrella when outside to protect from the elements. Prayer, alone, will make a soggy companion.
Indeed, through logic and its playmate reason, I am able to place religious texts in their proper historical context, affording them due deference as to the lessons they offer, but accepting their imperfections and inadequacies do not offer them blind allegiance.
As to any historical, religious text, the following is generally true:
- A mortal wrote the text.
- The mortal claimed that God inspired the text.
- A literal interpretation of the text cannot be maintained due to the myriad of direct inconsistencies throughout.
- “Cherry picking” which passages to believe and which to ignore or reject renders the entire manuscript suspect in its application or authority.
- Modern day interpretation is based on translation from other languages, with errors in translation attributed to lack of knowledge of the intricacies of the language or an imprecise, vague or misleading translation.
- Political figures and others in positions of power have revised the document to further their political and personal agendas. Revision includes insertion of religious text as well as exclusion of others.
- Games like “telephone” and “whisper down the lane” highlight the likelihood that earlier versions of actual events preserved through oral tradition, might have been altered in the retelling.
- The passages within are based on multiple levels of hearsay without evidence sufficient to attest to their reliability such that they would be inadmissible in a court of law as valid evidence of the truth of the matter asserted.
- The passages were not subjected to peer-review process necessary to elevate sources within one’s field to scholarly sources worthy of respect of experts and scholars.
Imagine if, thousands of years from now, the archived compilation of tweets maintained in the Library of Congress is discovered and imported with significance beyond its original import. Bill O’Reilly has claimed God speaks to him in dreams. Will his subsequent publications be referred to as the “Gospel according to Bill” and afforded irreverent status as a result? The biblical quotes from eras long bygone are no more or less compelling as evidence of the cultural movement of the time than are the globe’s collective tweets. But, like the impulsive and uninspired tweets of today, there is no reason to conclude the passed down passages of the old and new testament to be any more reflective of greater truths or religious ideals.
HISTORICAL and CULTURAL CONTEXT
Despite its glaring inaccuracies and inconsistencies, there are still benefits to a proper contextual understanding of these texts. For example, the Bible offers a glimpse back into history; as exaggerated as that history might now appear. Certain factual truths can be established, offering some historical perspective, though too often these truths are instead mistakenly offered as testament to the literal accuracy of the remainder of the text. The Bible also offers important lessons on morality, often through the parables and other teachings of Jesus and stronger condemnations in the teachings before he was born. While imperfect in their origins and retention, religious texts such as the Bible continue to offer an understanding of the moral and religious evolution over the years and the influence of certain emergent leaders.
Because of the deference afforded these texts and to religious institutions, they were helpful to fill the void not yet reached by science, to protect a population by near certain death, to promote policies intended to grow the community in a time of abundant resources. Certain practices not mentioned in the religious treatises were nonetheless promoted as religiously-inspired by religious leaders to further the safety and welfare of its followers and to help establish the importance of religion across all stratospheres of ones’ life.
For example, the kosher practices of the Orthodox Jewish beliefs originated from a need to protect communities from the sickness plaguing certain foods when not adequately prepared. Certain precautions have taken on modern day extremes, however. While allowing dairy products to co-mingle with meat products could have spread disease in the middle ages when refrigeration and pasteurization were not yet invented, the modern day interpretation requiring separate refrigerators for dairy and meat would appear to be an unnecessary application of a once-necessary rule. The religious leaders provided a valuable service, deterring their followers from ingesting unsafe food products, by tying the rules for food consumption to the tenets of the faith. Modern day, however, that rule and its application requires a more modern interpretation.
Priests in the Catholic faith were permitted to marry through the fifth century. Then, property and estate law of the era was allowing the property of the Church to pass to the widows and children of the priests upon their death. Prohibiting priests from marrying and engaging in sex would eliminate this problem and property would return and remain with the Church. Thus, the rule was born out of the fiscal practicality of the era, but this same motivation no longer exists. After fifteen hundred years of practice, its consequent is to attract those who are sexually attracted to children as the prohibition against marriage would provide cover as to why one is still single and the respectability of the church would provide access to children. Allowing priests to marry would eliminate the cover such prohibition provides to pedophiles and would dilute the deviant population in its ranks. Allowing priests to engage in sex would free them of the psychological repercussions caused by sexual repression and would further dissipate the potential for predatory behavior toward children. Longer treatises could be engaged in on this subject alone. Another time.
The point is that the religious organization and the treatises it reveres to support its beliefs and practices are relevant, contextually, for the peace, security, and stability they offered to the society. Thus, it is possible to compare the bemused reverence of religious texts as historical artifacts to the familial tradition of reading “’Twas the Night before Christmas” each year. Each promote to the audience the need to engage in positive behavior to reap the rewards of a benevolent (and sometimes harsh) master of the universe. I, therefore, find the two populations – that of children believing in Santa Claus or that of adults believing in an omnipotent omniscient God, virtually indistinguishable in their need to believe.
I find it magical and fanciful to allow room for the “unknown” and the “unknowable” in my life. I allow for the possibility that no one person and no one discipline holds all the answers. I consider the journey within ourselves to be equally adventurous to the journey of travels through many lands.
While I want to help guide my son on his spiritual journey, his beliefs will be better influenced when they are personally motivated and not externally imposed. There are those who seek to know the mysteries of magicians and others who would rather revel in the fanciful belief that the law of physics are malleable for some. So again my thoughts return to degree and receptivity. When is one ready to learn a truth and abandon a comfortable but false belief?
Not wanting my son to distrust me in later years, I considered revealing the truth behind the origination of presents under the Christmas tree but elected not to do so. I instead wanted my son to experience the mystery of an altruistic and generous benefactor. Yet, even such a belief was conditioned on a judgment. Good girls and boys received presents. Bad ones got nothing but coal. Even Santa was harsh in his condemnation. The fictional narrative promotes the idea that the poor who cannot afford presents are less-than-worthy in the eyes of a judgmental “Saint Nick.” Thank goodness for social programs such as “Toys for Tots” who help to bridge those inequities.
One day, my son began to question the illogicality of a jolly old fat man who delivered toys by flying on a reindeer-driven sleigh and gained access to people’s homes through their chimneys. When he asked me, one day, if Santa was real, I told him the truth as I knew it: the presents he always received Christmas morning were those I had purchased for him. I never regretted the foundation I provided my son in the magical and mysterious. After all, if one is to understand logic and reason, then it would be equally helpful to understand its opposite and complement: faith. But there comes a time where the further exploration of that faith requires challenge through critical thought and rejection of logical fallacy. Anything else would be an abdication of reason in exchange for the security afforded by blindness.
Those most enlightened are those with the broadest knowledge of world religions and enculturated understanding. Conversely, those least enlightened are those with the narrowest viewpoints and limited enculturation.
My own emergent philosophy and faith is the culmination of 46 years of experiences, readings, and internal reflections. I gain my understandings through my upbringing in Catholicism, my understandings of Christian-Judeo teachings and my exploration of Wicca, Taoism and Tantra. I embrace the reality that my spiritual journey is still in progress and will likely continue until my earthly body shall cease to draw air and circulate blood.
The broader my understanding becomes, the more similarities that present themselves. For example, when Noah’s Ark was crafted, there had already been hundreds of similar flood stories that pre-dated Noah. Christians who believe Noah’s Ark is a literal depiction of an actual event are not knowledgeable of all the other similar myths from other cultures that would suggest it rather egocentric to blindly accept one such myth as true while rejecting out of hand all others. The unwillingness to expose oneself to counter viewpoints helps to foster blindness, not englightenment.
WHEN TO INTERCEDE
I’ve previously expressed an understanding of the individuality of each person’s faith and spirituality. How could I deign to superimpose my own beliefs at this stage of my journey upon another who has not yet reached this stage? I wait until prompted to do so; much as my son demonstrated he would be receptive to such an understanding about Santa Claus, I wait for signs and manifestations that another seeks broader understanding and I have insights that would prove beneficial. This is elusive, sometimes and often appears a Sisyphean task.
The uber-religious are not likely to shift in their beliefs to any appreciable degree. The indication of when the time is right, or when the line gets crossed, may be based on the needs of others, not the readiness of the uber-religious. While it might be ideal to serve only the ripest of apples to the hungriest of people, there are occasions when those who are not-so-hungry would find benefit to eating an apple and even an unripe apple to a hungry person could offer more benefit than foregoing eating anything at all.
The “hungry” in this case are those who religion seeks to deprive and deny; the victims of hate who are told they are hated not just by mere mortals, but by God himself. Remaining silent in the face of such hatred would make such silence acquiescence to such Godly condemnation. Allowing one group of people to assert superiority over another would sanction such practices. So, it is for the victims of religious hatred and intolerance that these alleged religious freedoms will eventually clash with my logic and values.
The spiteful, vengeful and retaliatory nature of the Greek and Roman Gods and Goddesses eventually led to the adoption of a single God that manifested itself in three forms: son, father & holy spirit. Socrates was convicted of corrupting the youth of Athens and sentenced to die, for suggesting through his philosophical questioning, whether the multi-theistic views of immortal beings who behaved so immaturely, was worthy of emulation. In contrast, Jesus was a kind and loving man whose actions cannot be criticized. Thus, a corrupted multi-theism gave way to a pure single theist.
Or did it? Instead of supporting the sick as would Jesus have done, modern day uber-religious would call such individuals moochers and protect the right of insurance companies to make a profit over the opportunity to provide affordable health care for all. Instead of supporting women as would Mary require, modern day uber-religious throw figurative stones at those who could never achieve the unattainable ideal of virgin motherhood. Instead of supporting those of other races and ethnicities as the slavery of the Israelites at the hands of the Egyptians condemned, modern day uber-religious would claim a God-given right to hold others in proximate servitude because of monetary superiority.
The right of one’s religious freedom and freedom of speech cannot exist to impose upon the rights of others. When one’s religion demands the conversion of others through proselytizing, their need to attain salvation overreaches another’s autonomy and free will. The right to free speech is not the right to convince or persuade others you are right. The right to freedom of religion is not the right to impose your religious choices upon others. The right of association is not the right to deny to others with whom you elect not to associate, equal rights and opportunity.
No religion can legitimately claim to condemn others who engage in consensual sexual practices when those sexual practices may be different from their own. No religion can legitimately seek to deny adequate health care to those who most require it. No religion can legitimately seek to repress one ethnicity or race and enrich another. No religion can claim superiority as between genders. No religion can claim wealth affords advantage.
So while the uber-religious are free to believe what they will, they should not accept me to tacitly tolerate their efforts to manipulate me to think as they do. I will not be persuaded by a claim that God is a judgmental being that holds rich, white straight men in favor and thinks lesser of all others. My world view finds such a position illogical. My values for compassion and tolerance require me to speak out against such illogicalities when they are destructive to others, lest I acquiesce through my silence.
I am lucky to live in a time and a place that permits me to challenge the repressive intolerant and hateful views of others when offered up as religious precepts without the certain fear of a torturous death. Calling others on their hatred and not allowing religions to espouse hatred would seem a simple response, not laden with much danger or peril. Makes you wonder, then, why more people don’t. I can’t imagine if there is a singular destination in the afterlife that rewards those most deserving, that it will have much patience for those who elected to remain silent in the face of adversity. But that sounds like the judgmental intolerance that I seek to upend. Ironic, no?