Saturday, October 23, 2010

Flipflopping

I seem to have spent my life flipflopping about religion.  As a teenager, I flipped.  To compensate for my sense of inferiority and abnormality, I became such a religious geek that I actually delivered "sermons" (mostly cribbed from Presbyterian Life) at several sunrise Easter services conducted by the youth group of  First Presbyterian Church, Lewiston, MN.  Then, in college, after reading Nietzsche and Sartre, I flopped hard, harshly rejecting everything to do with organized religion and making my mother weep bitterly (even as she continued to pledge money to the church in my name--so that I wouldn't be officially unChristian in case I were to die).  Much later, enticed by the camaraderie and community at Mater Dei High School, and once more in despair about my own emotional life, I flipped again:  converting to Catholicism in a very superficial, affected and self-justifying way (I even taught CCD for a while).  And so, inevitably, another flop loomed.  Because I simply couldn't stomach Catholicism's hateful teachings on human sexuality, I eventually fled to the Episcopalians, hoping thereby to keep the edifying sacramental baby while throwing out the stinky dogmatic bathwater.  I'm not sure whether my Anglican period should be labeled a flip or a flop, but certainly it was a flop in the sense that it "was not a success."  Though I continued to find some residual comfort in the traditional bells and smells of the Episcopalian eucharist, I grew increasingly annoyed by any talk at all about metaphysics or God. It all just seemed "made up."  And, well, if not exactly "evil," at least unhelpful and, probably, unhealthful.

So where does that leave me now?  Pretty much nowhere, I guess.  Exhausted from the futile effort to know anything really important--but unwilling to spend my remaining years vegetating in the "Holy Ignorance" espoused by many Christian divines.

I continue therefore to read widely about the religious "question."  More and more, though, I am choosing my reading material with an eye to freeing myself from the knee-jerk assumptions I acquired as a result of my Christian upbringing (for which, by the way, I do not "blame" my beloved parents--who merely transmitted what they had received and, obviously, found meaningful).  Some help along these lines has been afforded me by a compilation of Bertrand Russell's writings entitled Russell on Religion.  Following are some provocative and (for me) illuminating quotations from that book:

From "What is an Agnostic?"

  • An agnostic is a man who thinks that it is impossible to know the truth in the matters such as God and a future life with which the Christian religion and other religions are concerned.  Or, if not forever impossible, at any rate impossible at present.
  • An atheist, like a Christian, holds that we can know whether or not there is a God.
  • As for 'sin', [the agnostic] thinks it not a useful notion.  He admits, of course, that some kinds of conduct are desirable and some undesirable, but he holds that the punishment of undesirable kinds is only to be commended when it is deterrent or reformatory, not when it is inflicted because it is thought a good thing on its own account that the wicked should suffer.
  • For my part, I do not think there is any good reason to believe that we survive death, but I am open to conviction if adequate evidence should appear.
  • [...] if there were a God, I think it very unlikely that He would have such an uneasy vanity as to be offended by those who doubt His existence.
  • The existence of base and cruel passions is undeniable, but I find  no evidence in history that religion has opposed these passions.  On the contrary, it has sanctified them, and enabled people to indulge them without remorse.
  • I do not think that life in general has any purpose.  It just happened.  But individual human beings have purposes, and there is nothing in agnosticism to cause them to abandon these purposes.
From "The Essence of Religion"

  • In order to free religion from all dependence upon dogma, it is necessary to abstain from any demand that the world shall conform to our standards.  Every such demand is an endeavour to impose self upon the world.
  • Under a strict and conservative religious system individual development is stifled.  Furthermore, oppressive religions make it particularly hard for those with unusual talents to develop freely and contribute intellectually and socially.  Therefore, the civilization of a nation will definitely regress under the oppression of religion.  Some nations may appear strong due to their religion but they are not able to progress.
  • What makes us most comfortable in a religion is that it advances the egotistical notion that Man's desires are not trifling but of great consequence in the universe.
From "Why I am not a Christian"

  • When you come to look into this argument from design, it is a most astonishing thing that people can believe that this world, with all the things that are in it, with all its defects, should be the best that omnipotence and omniscience has been able to produce in millions of years.
  • You find as you look round the world that every single bit of progress in humane feeling, every improvement in the criminal law, every step towards the diminution of war, every step towards better treatment of the coloured races, or every mitigation of slavery, every moral progress that there has been in the world, has been consistently opposed by the organized Churches of the world. I say quite deliberately that the Christian religion, as organized in its Churches, has been and still is the principal enemy of moral progress in the world.
  • Religion is based, I think, primarily and mainly upon fear.  It is partly the terror of the unknown, and partly, as I have said, the wish to feel that you have a kind of elder brother who will stand by you in all your troubles and disputes.
From "Has Religion Contributed to Civilization?"

  • There is no rational ground of any sort or kind for keeping a child ignorant of anything that he may wish to know, whether on sex or on any other matter.
  • The earth will not always remain habitable; the human race will die out; and if the cosmic process is to justify itself hereafter, it will have to do so elsewhere than on the surface of our planet.  And even if this should occur, it must stop sooner or later.  The second law of thermodynamics makes it scarcely possible to doubt that the universe is running down, and that ultimately nothing of the slightest interest will be possible anywhere.
  • No man treats a motor car as foolishly as he treats another human being.  When the car will not go, he does not attribute its annoying behaviour to sin; he does not say: 'You are a wicked motor car, and I shall not give you any more petrol until you go.' He attempts to find out what is wrong, and to set it right.  An analogous way of treating human beings is, however, considered to be contrary to the truths of our holy religion.
Obviously, I'm still flipping and flopping.  I don't agree with everything Russell asserts (e.g., I can think of instances when certain organized Churches supported "progress in humane feeling"; I also wonder if it is always wise to tell a child anything he wishes to know--doesn't the child's level of cognitive and affective development matter at all?)  But in general, I found this book extremely liberating.  I hope that I'm moving toward, if not full Knowledge (obviously impossible), at least a kind of freedom from (unholy) Ignorance.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Boo Who?


Somehow it seems fitting that Halloween--the festival of phony fear--has become the American holiday par excellence.  

We Americans positively love the cheap thrill of feigning fear of things that we don't really find menacing:  goblins, ghosts, witches--of course--but also illegal immigrants, homosexuals, socialists, environmentalists, etc.  On Halloween, our fake terror inspires a lot of festive trompe l'oeil (faux spooks and vampires).  The rest of the year, our phony fears justify mostly sly clins d'oeil (winks).  Be afraid, be very afraid (wink, wink).

Why all this counterfeit horror about spurious menaces?  Well, it gives us good vibes.  It allows us to feel victimized but in complete safety, security and passivity.  Thus, we can hate the "bad" guys, blaming them for all the world's ills--and simultaneously exonerate ourselves from any responsibility for anything unpleasant. And the best part of this Halloweenie Hysteria is that it requires us to take absolutely no action and make absolutely no changes in our cozy "family-values" routines.

On Halloween, all mischief emanates from witches, vampires and ghosts.  The other 364 days of the year, all evil is occasioned by Mexicans, fags, wealth redistributing socialists, tree huggers and Islamic mosque builders.

What's that you say?  You dare to suggest that America has other, more serious problems to ponder?  Problems that really exist?  Problems that (gasp!) can be solved only by doing things and spending money?

A dwindling middle class?  Loss of manufacturing and jobs?  Increasing poverty and an obscene gap between the wealthy and the poor? Untrammeled power of big corporations? Inadequate and unaffordable health care?

Tut, tut and pshaw. You're a real party pooper, aren't you?, fussing and whining and wringing your hands like Cassandra in a fit of nattering negativism.  Calm down and take a pill. And trust me:  you'll feel a lot better if you just stick to happy Halloween fears.  Ghosts.  Fags in speedos.  Mexican nannies with funny accents.

Now get out there and do what proper Americans do:  work yourself into some good old-fashioned phony hysteria! For example, think about Adam Lambert seducing Anderson Cooper! Yikes.

What's that?  You don't know who "those people" are??

Oh dear, oh dear.  Now YOU frighten me.

Like, I'm totally boo who?!

Dark Mistesses

This blog is becoming altogether too serious.  Even I can hardly stand to reread all my recent drivel about religion and good works and other holy horseshit.

Have I become a long-in-the-tooth, long-faced Mrs. Grundy?

It's worrisome.  I don't laugh at much of anything anymore.  I need an attitude adjustment, big time--something to remind me that, in 100 years, even Ann Coulter will be dead.

Halloween is approaching.  That's probably good.  I hate kids and their asinine costumes and their whiny expectations of candy.  Still, I look forward to the crappy old slasher movies that always crop up on the cable channels at this time of year.

I miss Elvira, though.  Elvira, Mistress of the Dark.  Does anyone remember her?  She used to introduce late- night, campy horror films on one of the Los Angeles stations that no one watched.  Kind of a cross between a sex-crazed Lily Munster and an Ann Coulter with boobs.  Dialogue was straight (!) out of The Mysteries of Udolpho (woo hoo, woo hoo...).

BTW, what ever happened to CAMP?  The gays seem to have stopped doing it--and now, all that's left is Betty White on SNL. Sad.  That's what respectability has done to homosexuality:  the "knowing wink" is no longer necessary--and, consequently, we have lost a minor art form. Ann Coulter would be "camp," if only she knew she was really a man who had viciously ripped off her own penis in a sleepwalking fit of Republican Rage about Getting Screwed.  But, of course, the same unfortunate episode also deprived her of her memory (it was in her penis) and without self-awareness (the wink), there simply can be no true camp.


A.C. still has an Adam's apple, though.  Maybe she'll notice it one of these days.

Here's another vital question:  what's with all the pumpkins everywhere?  If life gives you pumpkins, what should you do?  Don't tell me to make pies.  Even ugly faces on Jack-o-Lanterns are numbingly conventional.

Perhaps, given the ubiquity of our subject matter, we could make analogies.  Remember analogies?  They used to appear in the verbal section of the SAT, but as students became less and less verbal and more and more wasted, analogies were replaced by something more "accessible" and esteem-building.  Not sure what.  Multiple choice pictures?  Not very verbal, but scores went up, so everyone was smarter.

Pumpkin is to Halloween as _________________ is to Fox News.

The answer, of course, is Ann Coulter, Mistress of Muck.

YOU can draw the picture.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Imagine...It Isn't Hard to Do.

I guess it all boils down to this:  I would like to remain a Christian, but without believing (or disbelieving) in an unverifiable and, hence, irrelevant God.  Certainly not in any god as defined (and confined) by the dogmas, mythologies and creeds of established, institutionalized churches.  Out with dogma!  Fie on't! It's all made up stuff, like Fox "News."  No one can know, yea or nay, about the veracity of  90% of the gobbledygook in official catechisms.  So why don't we just junk it?

Remember the old saw attributed to Einstein:  "education is what remains after one has forgotten everything he learned in school"?  Couldn't we say something similar about Christianity?  That it is what remains after we have dumped all the exclusiveness and divisiveness of the catechism?

Well, what remains?  Celebration, sacraments (stripped of silly definitions and exclusive claims), connection with other people and with other life, love of all that is--ritual (but real) support for a journey beyond the self and selfishness.

God--because of his rules, his anger, his arbitrariness, his transcendence-- is clearly an impediment to this journey.  But "Christ"--at least the mystery hero probably invented (or borrowed) by the early church--might be very useful, provided we ditch the dogma that has grown up around him.  Divine? Part of the godhead?  Pre-existing?  Oh, it's just tiresome and needless twaddle.  But Jesus as an ideal man:  the model of what it means to be fully and worthily and joyfully HUMAN?  Yes.

That, to my mind, is Christianity without God.  Agnostic Christianity.

Perhaps this thinking is what accounts for the distaste, indeed the repugnance I feel for priests, imams and holy men/women who are so fond of "explaining" that which cannot be explained.  And who simultaneously assert the superiority of THEIR inexplicable dogmas over those of neighboring religions.

Such dogmatism inevitably leads to (or results from) tribalism.  And tribalism is institutionalized hatred.  You cannot love the sinner and hate the sin:  rather, you must simply √©craser hate altogether.  Hate is truly the infamous thing!

Dang, wouldn't it be nice if ALL religions could simply dump their silly GODS and dogmas and retain only the ritual/ceremonial support systems they have developed--the practices that help individuals grow in love and acceptance of themselves and others.  We could have all kinds of worthy "agnostic" religions.

Had he lived, John Lennon would have been 70 this month.  As I conclude this rather odd blog advocating godless religions, I hear the lyrics to  ''Imagine" running plaintively through my mind:  no, it isn't hard to imagine a world without heaven, without hell.

What IS hard, for a rational, aspiring-to-be human being, is to imagine a world WITH heaven or hell. It's Heironymos Bosch, stuff.  Fox News stuff.  So let's just throw out these nightmares and start working toward realizing Lennon's dream of "sharing all the world."