Do We Really Need Religion or Simply Pragmatism?

If I’m anything, I’d like to think I’m practical. To be precise, I like to think that I my life is ” Of, relating to, governed by, or acquired through practice or action, rather than theory, speculation, or ideals” (online dictionary). I also like to think that what follows from this state of being is pragmatism; ” Dealing or concerned with facts or actual occurrences; practical.” (ibid). You see, I love to ponder ideas and toss around theories just as much as the next person. But, I do not see how tossing about of said theories does anyone a whit of good unless it brings about some practical action. This is why politics frustrates me. This is why religion frustrates me. Both are ideals and theories that usually bring about no change at all. Why? Because no one can agree on what these changes are supposed to be AND these theories are not well practiced as a group, only as an individual choice.

I don’t believe that human beings are meant to practice group-think or that whole societies are ever going to be so in tune that they act as one. Some have this ideal, yet I don’t think it will ever happen. Why? Because evolution demands that we are concerned first and foremost with our own survival and all that entails. We are here to find food, find shelter, procreate, and stay alive and that’s about it. All else is icing on the cake, so to speak. I don’t believe in “higher purposes.” I don’t believe that we are here to “love” to “dream” or to “create.” These are merely bi-products of living a leisurely and secure life. When you are in the throes of trying to survive you may employ creativity to distract you from the meanness of life, but we are not born to do these things. Sure, sure, you can provide an example otherwise. Can’t we all? But at its heart, life is about survival. I’ve always thought it so and I’ve always operated on that premise.

So when people argue about politics or religion, they aren’t arguing about practical things. They are arguing about whose ideas are the most IDEAL for society. What should we strive for? What is the point of living. You know, that’s great to perhaps wonder that. But what about food? What about shelter? And what about those who don’t have either? What do we do with the violent of our society? How do we protect our selves, our homes, and our family? That, to me, is more important than anything else. Religion is not about survival. Religion is all about having too much time on our hands to think and ponder about the “whys” and “wherefores” of life already being lived. I think we tend to forget about that when it comes election time or when it comes to passing religion on to the young. What’s the purpose of it? Do we do it to further our life here and now or do we pass along unworkable ideals and thoughts of a life “hereafter?” Rather than be focused on “hot-button” issues that have nothing to do with our own survival and how to keep an ordered and civil society, we should be focused ideas that actually work.

In the wonderful online ‘zine Bad Subjects, John Duncan writes about secular progressives and what they think about politics and religion. He writes:

If we take progressivism, the left, etc., to embody an approach to politics in which human discourse and action are mobilized in order to struggle for social and political conditions more in accord with the legitimate claims of justice — claims which are themselves always being debated, tested, and revised — then progressives have no need for religion. Echoing the eighteenth century enlightenment, we argue that justice requires human struggle for improved conditions in the world — that is, in “this” world — whereas religions strain to find nonexistent metaphysical entities beyond the world.

Religious adherents might argue that our ability to improve conditions in the world depends on our relationship to what transcends it, a position which in the early fourteenth century Dante Alighieri famously symbolized at the end of his Purgatorio by representing the worldly paradise as necessarily empty — only by transcending the worldly as such in order to receive guidance from what lies beyond it can we hope to establish the best possible worldly existence. However, for the faithless this position is both a non-starter and a source of concern. It is a non-starter because we do not believe in metaphysical entities that transcend the world, and so we do not believe they have any bearing on the causes of justice. It is a source of concern because such metaphysical entities constitute the inspirational grounds for fundamental features of the discourse and action of our religious allies, but they are not available for rational evaluation.

One of the core values of an enlightened politics is that all stakeholders be involved in open and rational discussion that leads to policy and its implementation. If the secular progressive believes progressive politics to be a strictly secular affair, whereas the religious progressive claims to have access to extra-worldly insights that both transcend and ground his or her politics, then it is theoretically possible for the religious progressive and the secular progressive to be divided. It seems likely that metaphysical insights will trump the merely political if ever a conflict arises between them, and so we have some trouble understanding those who claim to be in solidarity with us but at the same time are capable of metaphysical suspensions of progressive politics, to borrow very freely from Søren Kierkegaard, who in Fear and Trembling (1843) famously characterized Abraham’s willingness to obey God’s command to kill his son Isaac as a “teleological suspension of the ethical.” The possibility of such suspensions is alive wherever religion reaches beyond the merely real world and its struggles. If a choice had to be made between God and worldly justice, our ways could very well part, for we do not believe in God.

And I would say, believing in God does not promote justice; just the opposite. More injustice has been perpetrated in the name of religion than justice has been dispensed by the same religion, and I mean ALL religions. Leave off the argument about which is “true” religion or not. Such arguments only detract from the real issues at hand. Since no one knows what will happen after death, why do so many look forward to it? Why do so many worry about it? I believe it’s because they have no real, practical solution to the problems right now and looking forward to heaven is the perfect way to relieve oneself of the responsibility of action. Prayer is not action at all, because apparently God is not listening. Prayer has not been shown to change anything except perhaps the pray-er. Great, but kids are still starving or are abused.

Look, I don’t claim to be a proponent of the “right” or the “left.” To me extremism is extremism no matter how idealistic their goals; and perhaps that’s why they are extremists. Their goals are TOO idealistic. There is nothing practical or pragmatic to be had in the world of extremist politics and extremist religions and in that respect, both are a huge burden on a society that just wants to survive, take care of loved ones, and just be left alone. Far from being depressing, I find that a practical work to change things here and now to be exciting and hopeful, far more hopeful than a fiery apocalyptic confrontation looked forward to by millions of religionists around the world. It’s truly a “Big Brother” world if Apocalypticism becomes the language of “hope and change.”


“Candle Souls” and a Meditative Moment

RomancingtheCrone has a beautiful post about the peace we should be promoting rather than turmoil. I find it a quiet oasis from the usual static and noise out there in the world. She writes:

We are born with a Candle of Divinity within our souls. However, it is our task to keep our Candle Soul kindled and softly glowing.

Candlelight is Peaceful. Candlelight is Soothing. Candlelight is Welcoming. Candlelight is Softly Illuminating. Our Candle Soul radiates those traits and desires to live with a higher level of consciousness.

Sometimes our Candle Soul flickers. Sometimes it goes out and must rekindle. Sometimes it is repeatedly extinguished by others. Yet, through it all, it yearns to rekindle and continue to softly glow.

Several Candle Souls together bring greater, stronger warmth and illumination. Yet just one Candle Soul can brighten faces and places. We start with brightening our own, and it naturally radiates out from the point of origination.

I like the idea that each of us has a unique light. None of us can imitate another’s light. None of us should even try to imitate them. We should nurture our own light and strive to keep that lit. Shelter it from blow-hards. Feed it the oil of peace and spirit it needs to stay lit regardless of others scampering about to tamp it out. Others see destructive fire where we see cleansing. What a peaceful thing to meditate on, on what has proven to be a very hectic Monday morning already. Thanks RomancingtheCrone!

How Do You Know What the “Answers” Are?

from “The Flame of The Search”
by A.H. Almaas

How do you know that the knowledge you get from others is the truth? How do you know that your teachers, or even the great philosophers, have the answer that is appropriate for you? Christ says to love your neighbor. Do you really know that that is what you need to do? Buddha says that enlightenment is the best thing. How do you know that is what you need?

Some people say you have to learn to be yourself. It sounds good. Some people say you should be free from your personality and develop your Essence. It sounds great. How do you know it will resolve your situation? You don’t really know whether any of these ideas are relevant or true for you. You can’t know with certainty until you have experimented and learned from your own experience. Until then your action is based on faith or belief. If you assume unquestioningly that what someone else says is the truth, your inner flame will be extinguished. You will believe that you have answered questions when you haven’t answered them; someone else has. And they haven’t answered them for you, but for themselves. We comfort ourselves by believing that others know, and that we can use their knowledge. It’s a very comforting thought; it encourages us to be lazy. We comfort ourselves by saying to ourselves, “Somebody knows, and in time I’ll get around to studying it. It’s already known and always available to me.”

But do you, yourself, really know in your heart what is supposed to happen? Do you ever allow yourself to question, to have a burning question–and not put out the flame quickly with the first answer that you hear? You put out the flame so that you can return to your sense of comfort and security.

Someone tells you that it’s good to pay attention, to be aware. When you try it, it helps a little–but you still don’t know whether it’s the answer. You don’t know whether it will actually resolve your situation. And if you believe you know, you’re lying to yourself. You need to keep the question alive while you investigate for yourself.

Enlightened vs. Unenlightened

Sue Blackmore’s says that blind faith is harmful to rational thinking:

Faith is corrosive to the human mind. If someone genuinely believes that it is right to believe things without reason or evidence then they are open to every kind of dogma, whim, coercion, or dangerous infectious idea that’s around. If someone is convinced that it is acceptable to base their beliefs on what is written in an ancient book, or what some teacher tells them they must believe, then they will have no true freedom of thought; they will be trapped by their faith into inconsistency and untruths because they are unable to throw out false ideas when evidence against them comes along.

The whole point of a university education is to learn to think for yourself, to criticise theories, to compare ideas and to find out the truth by research, exploration and experiment. Whether you are studying French, chemistry, or psychology, you are given tools for thinking independently and ways of evaluating other people’s claims. In this there is no room for faith, and should be no room for faith.

I want to be clear about some things I am not saying. First I am not saying that everything has to be rational. There is much about human life that has little or nothing to do with rationality; there’s love and affection, art and poetry, happiness, beauty and intuition. But none of these things has to be taken on faith. University courses include much that is not rational, not just in arts courses but even in science, where one has hunches or enjoys beautiful ideas, but again there is no room for holding onto religious faith – wherever the ideas come from they must ultimately be thrown out if they are shown to be wrong….

Andrian Kreye has a somewhat different view over at The Edge:

In the early seventies, Scott Atran was already asking why since primeval times humans have worked so hard to overpower their need for rational explanations with their faith. Why, he asked in his book In Gods we Trust, are societies ready to pay such a high price for faith, when it costs them valuable resources like time, energy and materials? What threats to survival could be warded off by means of faith? What function does faith serve to the individual and to the collective? And why have religious communities historically shown better chances for survival? Soon after, Darwinist faith research emerged and placed faith firmly in the realm of consciousness, asserting that it was not the pure product of cultural influence and education. However, they could not identify a function that would make faith an evolutionary advantage. So they concluded that faith must be a byproduct of evolution that originated as the result of some earlier, now-gone function.

Nevertheless, Scott Atran was certain of one thing: religion has always played a role in the history of mankind. This is his biggest critique of Harris, Dennett and Dawkins, with whom he has been in a heated debate over the past year. He argues that he isn’t questioning the motive for their call to free the world from dogmatic belief systems that are barbaric, anachronistic and inhumane. But the Neoatheists are not presenting adequate scientific facts, or conclusions drawn from actual faith research. Belief systems by their nature can be neither strictly true nor false, however meaningless. They can’t be necessary, but they can serve a practical purpose. And often enough, these purposes can outweigh the cost, because faith has the capacity build strong, interconnected communities, which in the world of Darwinian competition can help them outsurvive other communities…continued

Both of these articles are worth a thorough going over by atheists and christians alike.

(sometimes I feel like the schoolyard monitor telling two bullies to apologize and shake hands after a scuffle in the dirt!)