bardicvoice (bardicvoice) wrote,

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This I Believe: A Personal Essay on Religion

I haven’t had much time for blogging lately. Starting a new business while still working a full-time job has meant stepping away from writing meta essays and episode commentaries on Supernatural and indulging in other creative exercises, but it hasn’t stopped me from thinking. And recent events, combined with the habits of all the philosophical and analytical thinking that went into those Supernatural blogs, pushed me into codifying certain essential things I believe.

This essay has nothing to do with Supernatural, so if you visit this blog for fannish things, feel free to bypass this entry. But if you would like to learn something about the core of who I am, you’re welcome to read. Just be aware that what is contained here is personal to me. You may or may not agree with what I think, and that’s fine. But this is not a debate. This is my belief, born of long and careful thought. And it is my personal response to the increasing polarization of society along ideological lines largely driven by conflicting religious and cultural imperatives.

I was raised Catholic, but I’m not Catholic any more. I’m not religious in any sense. I think the best descriptive term for me these days is agnostic. I do not accept anyone’s “revealed truth,” or any claim by any religion or culture that it is right and true because it is chosen by or follows the orders of God. I started down this road when I was a teenager, but it wasn’t until recently that I felt obliged to put my reasons into words in order to fully understand and be able to explain to others my social and political stance.

My evolution began the summer I embarked on my own comparative religion study. I read the Bible cover to cover, and did the same to the Qur’an, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Book of Mormon. I had grown up in a house containing a fascinating multi-volume encyclopedia of mythology, so I had long been exposed to belief systems that no longer had contemporary adherents, including the polytheism of the Greeks, the Romans, and the Norse. And then I discovered Joseph Campbell, who put all religions, mythologies, and belief systems on the same footing, looking across them all for lessons on humanity.

From what I saw, each and every religion at its core consisted of two things: the stories we humans told ourselves to explain things empirically beyond our knowing – why does life exist, how did we come to be, why do bad things happen to good people, what happens to our consciousness when our bodies die – and a system of rules defining appropriate behaviors to perpetuate the survival and growth of a particular social structure consistent with the explanations in the stories. I realized that every scripture, every single “holy book,” was written and compiled by humans, mostly men, who generally claimed divine inspiration or command, but who wrote from within the filter of their own specific cultures and the framework of the limits of their understanding of the systematized knowledge of nature and the physical world.

I concluded that none of those books comprised the word of God. Instead, they were the words of men, attempting to render in humanly understandable terms a human individual’s or group's perception of the intent and desire of the divine – a perception of necessity colored by the language, culture, assumptions, knowledge base, geographic location, and customs of the writers.

I also came to the conclusion that, to the extent there may be a God – by which I mean an organizing intelligence underlying the universe that set it in motion and defined the rules by which it exists and develops, a concept on which I remain undecided – its (pardon the pronoun) direct Word was represented only by that presumed creation. For me, God’s Word is written in the DNA of every living earthly organism; in the molecular, atomic, sub-atomic, and as-yet-unknown structures of matter; in the properties that govern the behavior of energy; in the vast emptiness (that may not be empty) between planets, stars, and galaxies; in the governing principles we’re discovering through our study of science; and even in the inventiveness of the human mind.

I'm not opposed to religion in principle. Far from it. I think religion has provided comfort and consolation to many people by giving them reassurance that things happen for a reason, even if it's a reason we humans can't immediately understand or appreciate, and by promising that the people we have loved and lost are not gone forever, but will live on with us in some form of afterlife. Religions have also been a civilizing influence by prescribing rules for co-existence.

However, religion has also been misused to divide and destroy, often by political entities. By claiming to have the unique truth and word of God, most religions have justified dehumanizing and even destroying any people not of their distinct faith, and anyone within the faith who didn't accept all of its tenets. Just within the Christian faith, witness the Crusades, the Inquisition, the pogroms against the Jews, and the persecution of heretics. Perceive the divisions between different forms of Christianity – Catholics, Protestants, Methodists, Anglicans, Evangelicals, Latter Day Saints. Islam, Judaism, and other faiths are guilty of similar abuses and schisms among sects. Even Buddhism has its divisions, although their distinctions have generally been non-violent, in keeping with Buddhist ethics.

But that, by and large, is why I will never again profess allegiance to any specific religious sect. I do not believe in the particular and necessarily limited truth contained in any human-written “holy book,”and I do not buy any faith that compels belief in a Supreme Being limited by human thoughts and behaviors. Why would an omniscient and omnipotent God who created the amazing, expansive diversity of our physical universe favor one sex or race over another, or disavow any entity in that creation that acted in accordance with its nature? Why would that Supreme Being favor any transient human political nation over another, any more than God would favor any individual human sports team over another? To my mind, all those ideas are equally ludicrous.

That is also why I felt the need to explain what I believe. Lately, the news has been full of fervent declarations by adherents of various faiths proclaiming their versions of truth and passing judgment on everyone not of their belief. Islamic zealots declare jihad on Western democracies, proclaiming our freedoms and statements of gender, race, and religious equality as heresy. Fundamentalist Christians cite the Bible as authority and justification for ostracizing anyone not Christian or living in violation of biblical laws, including homosexuals, and – in the U.S., at least – proclaiming anyone who disagrees with them as unpatriotic. Religious conservatives in the U.S. even oppose the findings of contemporary science because they don't track with the literal words of the Bible – a document written when the human understanding of science was in its infancy, limited at most to a toddler's vocabulary and comprehension.

So this is my testament. This is what I believe. If there is a God – some days I believe, and some I don't – the diversity of Creation is his/her/its only Word and only Truth. The teachings of the Bible, the Qur'an, or any holy book aren't sufficient rationale for banning or discounting full participation in society by any peaceful human, whether man, woman, heterosexual, homosexual, black, white, red, yellow, or purple with yellow dots. All life deserves respect, and all the systems of nature, protection.

And all of us, as free-willed creatures, have the right to believe as we will, so long as the exercise of that belief does not impede or infringe upon the rights of others similarly to live and believe. So yes, I believe gays should be able to marry and have families. I believe women should have equal rights with men. I believe people of all races should have the same opportunities to live, advance, and thrive.

And I believe anyone who violates any of those rights should be called to justice and answer for the pain they inflict on others.

This, I believe.

Tags: meta, philosophy, real life, theology

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