Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Random Rant: Faith in General

I was having a discussion regarding the Grimm's Fairy Tales with a co-worker.  This is a reasonably intelligent person I've worked with in the past at this job, a test-scoring facility here in San Antonio.  She's educated and well spoken and knows at least one more language than I do because English is her second language (I tend not to count my limited French and Korean as 'knowing' a language).  At any case, I started to discuss this one Grimm story that involves the Virgin Mary taking a child up to Heaven and taking care of her.  My co-worker interrupted me and asked me to clarify that the story was about the Virgin Mary, and I commented that it was, but that a lot of the old European fairy tales were pre-Christian stories that had become Christianized afterwards.

Her response to that was "well, Europe has always been Christian."

This made me stop and blink because, well, hasn't.

Christianity is not a religion started by Anglo-Saxons, the Norse, the Gauls or even the Romans.  It started as a small off-shoot of Judaism based around the teachings of a Hebrew carpenter whom many believe, myself among them, was the Son of God.  Almost all the original adherents to Christianity, back when it was an obscure cult, were Middle-Eastern in descent, primarily Hebrew, with probably the odd Roman or other traveler in as well.  One of the oldest sects of Christianity still in existence is the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, which has its roots in a passage of the Bible where Philip the Evangelist baptized a royal Ethiopian official.

I'm not surprised that people equate Christian with Europe, because Europeans have done the most to spread the religion in the past seventeen hundred years, but it did surprise me to find that college-educated people had forgotten that Europe had not started with the religion.  Forgotten or never realized.

It started me to thinking about ideologies and religions and culture.

European culture was essentially stripped bare and built from scratch by Christian missionaries in the early AD centuries.  It is certainly not completely gone, you can see elements of the older cultures still in place in things like the Maypole, the Christmas Tree and so on, but given the way that a number of Christians of the time pressed through and obliterated anything they felt was evil while assuming anything they felt was useful and acceptable, much of what we think about pre-Christian Europe is largely guesswork.

It seems to me that every ideology goes through this stage at some point, and not just religions.  The sad thing is, a lot of the times, the methods used to spread the ideology are not always in accordance with the aims, ideals and teachings of the ideology itself.

Notice I'm saying ideology rather than religion.  This is because it isn't just religions this happens with, it's any unified system of faith or belief.  As an example of this, there is an idea among some that religions are inherently bad because they lead to wars and fanatical behavior.  One of the films I transcribed discussed a psychological phenomena that they felt explained religious fanatics.  That discussion runs as follows:


"Gunnar: (Narration) On the surface, I found a complex diversity of beliefs and tradition.  Underneath, it was all about the same thing.  Many of their ways were beautiful.  Their rituals.  Their techniques.  Their meditations.  So how is it possible, so easily can turn into violence and horror?  One day, I met an expert on the human being.  He said it is possible because we experience what is real, differently.

Scientist: When we have a dream, as real as it may feel, when we wake up, we realize that it is an inferior level of reality.  We recognize that this reality is more consistent, more definitive, more vivid and the dream was just a dream.  When people have mystical experiences where they perceive ultimate reality and God.  Those are perceived not only to be real but to be more real than our everyday realities and appearances.  So just like our everyday reality makes the dream reality seem inferior, the mystical reality makes our everyday reality seem inferior.  And that raises some very challenging questions if we ultimately accept the idea that only way we know what reality is, is by how real it feels.

Gunnar: (Narration) He said that when you have  this deep connection to a specific belief, this changes how your brain perceives the world.  If your connection with Shiva, Buddha, Jesus Christ or Mohammed as the ultimate connection, it's so strong that it changes your life from inside out.  And it creates a feeling that this reality is the only one.  Nothing else is real.  And that's where the whole scene turns bad.

Scientist: When we interact with other people in the world, it's very hard for one person to physically injure another person, because even if they don't agree with you, you at least recognize them as another person with feelings or a family like that.  Well, if you don't even recognize them as part of reality, then you really can do anything you want to them, because you're not even affecting the real world.  And your whole sense of morals.  You're not hurting another person, you're hurting something that's evil and unreal.

Gunnar: (Narration) When I saw that potential in religion, even in me.  I made a choice.  I turned my back on God.  "

- Gunnar Goes God,


The statements are not wrong, but the assumption is that it is religions only that provoke these reactions and the narrator of the film decided that the mere potential for it to happen was enough for him to give up on religion, at least for a while.  In reality, that "mystical" or "religious" experience can come about in relation to any of a number of beliefs.

All of them in fact.

Every form of Faith has had its harmful fanatics, and some number of such people exist as long as the Faith does.

In addition, I think there is another problem beyond what the scientist mentions.  If another person were simply not part of your reality, there'd be no reason to deliberately and directly attack them or press them to come to your way of thinking.  If they're not a part of your reality, then they are no threat to you, after all.  However, fanatics don't simply live with an opinion that they and only they are right, they feel actively threatened by people that do not agree with them.

To the fanatic, not agreeing with them is the same thing as attacking them.

Look at every Faith structure:

There are atheists that go to extraordinary lengths to humiliate, repudiate and even harm people that believe in a religion.  Words like "superstition" and "primitive" are often bandied about with rather heavy helpings of sarcasm.

There are strong elements in the American culture that will not be happy until every country in the world enforces the same ideal of freedom that we have.

The Christian efforts to convert people are well documented what with the aforementioned scouring and piecemeal assimilation of European culture and the actions of missionaries following that.

Look to the Bible's history of Exodus and then on to the lives of David and Solomon to get a hint of what the ancient Hebrews thought was appropriate to do to their enemies.

Germany, Japan and Italy took National pride on into demonically horrid levels.

The leaders of Capitalism have been often defamed for taking advantage of people whenever and wherever they can.

Communism is an ideology that has been especially harmed by its own fanatics.  And while I tend to think the idea just doesn't work since it devalues the efforts of individuals in society, I'm fairly certain that Marx did not have Stalin in mind when he came up with the idea.

The list goes on and on.

I can even look at my personal ideology and see where it could be corrupted.  I dislike the notion of a chosen people, it just seems wrong to me.  I also believe in God in a primarily Catholic perception, though I feel that most religions probably have God at their base, partially because of my disbelief that any of us are particularly more chosen than the others.  Add to this the fact that I believe in evolution and other such scientific theories because they make sense and God must have given us our sense for a reason.  I also believe in the soul, that the body is essentially a shell around the soul and that we are inherently immortal and that anybody and anything can be redeemed if they choose.  Reincarnation makes a lot of sense to me because it would give a soul pretty much infinite opportunities to redeem itself, and that feels like something God would give us.

All in all that sounds like a rather tolerant and open-minded view on things.

But, it does carry the threat of fanaticism like anything else.  I can see where someone following this line of thought could become hostile to anybody that believed their people to be chosen by Heaven.  The fear would come that such a person would come to force that way of thinking on me.  I'd have to get them to change their mind and come to my way of thinking, and, if not, well if I kill them to protect myself then they'll just go on to their next life and maybe then they'll understand better.  It's not like I'm hurting the real person, just the physical body.

This is not exactly a happy thought.

Though, of course, I'm pretty much just Joe-Schmoe nobody over here, nobody is likely to up and decide I'm some sort of spiritual guru and go off on crusades in my name.

I just wanted to show case the process.

Personally, I tend to think that fanaticism is more a show of a lack of Faith than a show of Faith.  Fanatics seem to me to be afraid of the idea that they could be wrong, where as for me the knowledge that you are human and thus capable of being wrong about anything, especially religion and ideology, is a necessary awareness to have for actual Faith.

I believe in the existence of God.  I believe so, but I do not know so.  Knowing would mean it is a fact and you can't have faith in a fact.  A fact is whether you believe it or not.  It requires no effort to believe in a fact.

Faith requires active effort.

Since Faith isn't something I can know, it can only be something I believe, therefor it logical includes the concept that I could be wrong.

This is a problem for a lot of people.  Because if its possible to be wrong, then how can the Faith be true?

But then, Truth does not require proof.  Only Fact requires proof.

And, yes, I know I'm butchering Descartes, I'm sorry.

In any case, a lot of people equate "I believe, but I could be wrong" with "I say I believe, but I really don't" because in a lot of people's minds, belief requires that you not accept that you could be wrong.

But look at this.

I think *I* could be wrong.

I don't think God could be wrong.

Accepting the possibility that I'm wrong about the existence of God is not a denial of God's existence, but simply an acceptance of the fact that I'm a pitiful human being that is capable of hallucinating or having errors in logic.

Accepting the fallibility of humanity does not mean I don't believe in God.

In addition, if I am right, that doesn't necessarily mean that another person is wrong.

In the case of an atheist, yes, my belief in Christ and God is directly counter to their belief in the lack of a supreme being.

But in the case of Islam, my belief that Christ is the Messiah does not mean Mohammed was not a prophet of God.  There are, of course, likely individual beliefs that I would not agree with, but again, I could be wrong.

Likewise, with Shinto, my belief that God is supreme and the creator of all does not mean that things like kami and yokai don't exist.  After all, Christianity has angels and demons and Catholicism has saints, so within Christianity it is canon to accept the existence of beings that are neither God nor human and yet have supernatural power.

My belief in American democracy and civil liberties doesn't mean that a dictatorship is automatically bad.

Being proud of my heritage as a American does not instantly make me proud of the atrocities committed by Americans against the Native Americans and around the world.

One thing being right does not always make another thing wrong.  It is possible to believe two different things.

Now, a fanatic believes in their chosen ideology, but that belief is shaky.  The sight of someone else who believes something else bothers them.  It bothers them even more if that someone else is happy and successful.  After all, if they're right, then nobody who doesn't follow their ways should be either happy or successful, right?   This means that the very existence of the other person threatens not just their lives, but their entire concept of life and existence.

And this threat exists simply because the other person

Without the acceptance of "you could be wrong" or at the very least the idea that someone else could be right, then you are closer to a situation where your world view can be threatened and you feel the need to defend it.

Anyway, that's my random rant.

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