Saturday, June 8, 2013

That Hideous Dance Between Faith and Critical Thinking

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As a kid I once asked Dad what was the difference between religion and cult. "Dad, why do we call 'theirs' cult and 'ours' religion?" I clearly remember his baffled stumped response speaking volumes; made me think wow, there must not be much of a difference. This question came at about the time of the People's Temple Jonestown deaths down in Guyana, South America. The Jonestown event so shocking and the word cult was in the news with dire meaning each and every day. In the end, Dad had finally said, It has something to do with the number of people in the group.

In retrospect I can see that that was a great answer and I'm glad that that is the one he came up with because it gave me food for thought about how so-called greater truth had something to do with how many people believed it. I'm sure that that was not Dad's intended lesson, but that is the one that I got.

Do you have a religion? 
OK.  Fine by me.
If you notice, I do not disrespect a belief system or a person for having one. This isn't just an oversight. I simply don't think that way or operate that way in life. I live my life to embrace all people. But that does not prevent me from finding some basic realities of any religion to be full of confusion, in need of consideration, and even quite worth rejection.

What upsets me about many religious beliefs is the "Us vs Them" way of thinking. In fact, I can't avoid sounding "Us vs. Them" as I write about this. I am very disturbed by the de facto divisive nature of religions that claim to be all about a loving god but, in the end, create huge rifts between believers and those do not believe. (Believe me, it is not me who is avoiding/rejecting/pushing away my mother. It is her fear of losing out on the paradise of the afterlife...) I'm not even angry at the people who embrace their faith to find comfort. I understand their fears.  

I am angry at the institution of religion for causing such discomfiture and distress in the well-meaning, desperate hearts of fellow human beings.

Being human brings about the very human experience of existential angst, of distressing over the basic questions of existence and of purpose. I am certain that the majority of thinking people on earth must come to grips with their own mortality at some point. My own children each have already had those moments of awareness of death and its finality and how difficult that is to consider; I know they will face those questions again and again in life for that is a part of the human condition. 

We have had many extensive conversations and questions about how hard it is to accept the fact that our lives exist, that our individual lives are so very complex, that our brains are as amazing as they are, and that, then, we die. I clearly recall struggling to understand how that reality effected my life and my 'self' as I was growing up as a believer. It all seems pointless at times. No wonder people embrace supernatural belief systems to chase away the reality of our own mortality.

But the kids and I have learned that living this life gives our lives tremendous meaning and joy!  
We have learned to embrace this moment. 
To love the people we love. 
To apologize. 
To make good. 
To do good. 
To try new things.  
To open ourselves up to experiences.  
To take care of ourselves and to do healthy things.  
And most importantly, to feel JOY at every possible moment.

I am going to offer my view on things, a view that might surprise you. I notice that people who embrace an afterlife are, in fact, not comforted by it. Just the opposite, really. Not only are they hopeful of that eternity, they are also mortally fearful of losing it and wildly overwhelmed with the possibility of being in heaven without other loved ones. Petrified to their bones of missing out on this eternity. 

Tell me that you notice how that invention to remove the angst just amped the angst up infinitely?

But back to my point! This religion that sought to bring comfort actually tears people from one another. What if you, in your golden dream of religion, discover that your loved one does not share your belief. Do you allow live-and-let-live freedom?  Probably not. Instead you fear and fret and feel apart from them.  

Read that again. You feel extreme fear in your heart that your loved one who does not embrace your belief system. You, in your sincere desire to feel peace and to find comfort, worry that the people that you love that do not share your belief system are going to be punished, eternally.  

And, when these beloved people live a life apart from your belief system, you actually distance yourself from them in a hideous dance between faith and critical thinking that can bring such wrenching fear into the heart of a believer.

Comforted yet?

If you enjoyed this post, you may also like:  
Whatever Made You the Way You Are? 
First-Generation Atheist Parenting 
All-Knowing, All-Powerful, and Ever-Loving God 
You Were Never a Real Believer


  1. "What upsets me about many religious beliefs is the 'Us vs Them' way of thinking."

    This is what ultimately drove me away from organized religion. I was raised in a Pentecostal church, but went to college for science. I could never reconcile the idea that there was one right choice for religion, especially since every religion out there says they are right and everyone else has gotten it wrong. How do you know which one is right? You don't, so you can't pick just one. So I don't.

    1. The super-de-duper angry atheists out there throw around the sound bites about how a person only knows their religion based on which family they are born into. And I think that is so true... I guess I just want to express how understandable it is when a person has been brought up with a certain 'truth' and how passionately they cling to that "truth".
      It takes SO MUCH WORK to break out of it.
      Speaking for myself, it took me years to get out from under it.
      I am talking with a very old friend privately online. He is clergy and is totally losing his faith. A part of him fears it so much while the other part of him wants to run into the light. I am getting a renewed appreciation about how difficult the journey out of belief is...

  2. Wow! This has truly reached me! How very eloquent and to the root of my issues with religions as well. I will never understand why those who believe cannot accept those who do not! "Live and let live" why can't religious people do this? You got it! Fear! Fear can motivate people to do terrible things! Just take a look throughout history. Nothing positive ever comes from acting out of fear. If only people could take a step back; a brief pause before acting and think rationally, they could overcome it!
    "Life is short but wide", a quote I saw today. I'm not sure what it was aimed at but I like it. Our lives are short but we can do so much in that time! We have the power to overcome base emotions and find joy and compassion for others. We are all individuals. We each are everything and nothing in this universe! We should accept others and their differences as they are for we each walk our own paths in life and no-one can be the same. Embrace what makes each of us unique and just enjoy the time we do have!

    1. It is my experience right now with Mom that she does not acknowledge that she is motivated by fear. But she speaks it with everything she says. I find it painful to know how much distress it keeps her in.
      As always, it requires love and compassion.
      That is all we all have.

      Brandy, I'm very happy to see you here. <3

    2. Also, thank you so much for telling me that this post reached your heart. That means alot to me.

  3. I'm leaving religion and owning up to my own doubt and starting to feel more comfortable in doubt and even atheism than I ever did in religion - thanks for this post and blog.

    1. Janie,
      Well wow!
      That is really saying something.
      I'm here and would love to listen! I hope to hear more from you.

  4. I find this to be a bit disappointing. The majority of asshats who follow religion get to speak for the entire religion despite what the texts say.

    One can follow religion without following religious jerks. It is possible, just as one can be an atheist without being a douchebag.

    1. To be honest, Anonymous, I'm not sure what you are referring to in your comment. Perhaps you can be clearer with what you are disappointed in.


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