Saturday, June 23, 2012

Half-Assed Efforts

Recently I read two books in particular. Three points stood out to me. Although these three points were not to main issues of these books, it struck me that these points were far too often dealt with in half-asses efforts.

I decided, in order to avoid plagiarism, I'd put this post together nearly exclusively with quotes. I hope you can forgive me. ;)

The English Oxford Dictionary defines Agnostic as follows:
""One who holds that the existence of anything beyond or behind material phenomena is unknown and, so far as can be judged, unknowable". In other words, we can guess, we can hope, we can believe or not believe, but whatever we believe or don't believe we don't know and we're not likely to.

""Agnostic was the name demanded by Professor Huxley for those who disclaimed atheism, and believed with him in an 'unknown and unknowable' God"."
The New Columbia Encyclopedia says this of Agnosticism:
""...form of skepticism that hold that the existence of God cannot be logically proved or disproved".

"So an agnostic might believe in God, or might not believe in God. But regardless, what the agnostic also believes is that there is no way to know. Some on both sides of the theist/atheist fence find this unsettling. The agnostic says to the Atheist, "You might be right". But the agnostic also says to the Theist, "You might be right". Equivocation? Consider. It's hard to establish "right belief" when the question of who is "right" becomes something unknowable.

"Some may think of this as weakness. I look on it as a strength: the strength to admit something that is always excruciatingly hard. It is the strength to say, "I don't know" and then carry on."
Steven Greenbaum, The Interfaith Alternative; Embracing Spiritual Diversity, pg. 50-51
It is wisdom to know when to cut your losses.
"Real ignorance is not knowing what you don't know. When you think you know something you don't, it can lead to a kind of make-believe wisdom, an imaginary sense of knowledge that is powerless to free you from your confusion.

"We actually need intelligent doubt and skepticism; they protect us against mistaken views and propaganda. A healthy dose of doubt and skepticism will lead us to precise and clear questions".
Dzogchen Ponlop, Rebel Buddha, pg. 21

It's funny sometimes how accurately we can pin-point a memory of exactly when we learned a word.
Tolerance is one of those. Years ago, I think shortly before high school, when I first began playing Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, I remember reading how the various races views one another. Dwarves and Elves were listed as having tolerance towards each other. Not friendly, but tolerance. I think I knew that tolerance wasn't a good thing. Granted, it wasn't hatred, but it wasn't something we would want to strive to attain.

Fast forward decades later and tolerance is a word I have heard far too often in the wrong context through numerous churches and religious institutions; using like it is a good thing; like it should be the goal to strive to attain.

It never struck me that way... ever.
Tolerance to me is a half-assed effort. It is something that I am forced to settle with when my friendliness or my Love for others has simply failed.
"We think of tolerance as a good thing. We see it as positive. Beneficial. It isn't. Or rather, it's beneficial in the same way that not kicking people in the teeth is beneficial. Without doubt it is a good thing not to kick people in the teeth. But that hardly qualifies it as a worthy life goal. Tolerance, while better than mindless discrimination, should be seen for what it is: a patronizing, self-congratulatory form of prejudice and power.

""You're beneath me, but I'm a terrific person so, within reason, I'll tolerate your existence".

"Or, "You're wrong. Your religious beliefs show you have no idea of the truth about God. But I'm open-minded. I'll tolerate your right to believe those heathen, atheistic, blasphemous ideas that you embrace. Of course, I sit in the smug confidence that God won't let you into heaven because of your wrong-headed beliefs, while i will enjoy eternal bliss, but hey, I'm great. I'll tolerate you".

"Or, "You're wrong. Your religious beliefs show you have no idea of the truth about what you call God. But I'm open-minded. I'll tolerate those infantile, outmoded ideas that you embrace. Of course I know science. You're too naive to understand that 'God' can't possibly exist,and that your beliefs are nothing but childish myths. Any thinking person knows that you're nothing but worm food once you die, but if you want to cling to nonsensical beliefs I will cheerfully tolerate your inability to think".

"The bottom line is this. Tolerance becomes a great enabler. The concept of tolerance allows us to continue with the paradigm of "right belief" (I know the "truth" and you don't) and yet still feel good, even proud of ourselves (even thought I know you're "wrong", I will tolerate you).

"In this day, in this age, stopping at "tolerance" is a sin. For it to be the "comfort zone" where we live is inexcusable. We need to move beyond tolerance. Way beyond it.... We need to start respecting each other's beliefs and heritages, not simply tolerating them."
Steven Greenbaum, The Interfaith Alternative; Embracing Spiritual Diversity, pg. 54-55

Compassion vs. Pity:
I had an experience a few years past.
I will change the individuals names, for I have no desire to embarrass any of them.
I had at one point privately approached Margaret and explained the financial troubles that had befallen our mutual friend, Debbie. It was my hope that, as a church elder, Margaret would have offered through the church some kind of financial aid or relief.
Margaret offered to pray for Debbie with me. Debbie was allowed to continue her tithing, whether she could afford it or not...and that was the extent of this church's help.

It bothers me to this day still, but it has only been recently that I could very specifically pin-point the why of it.
In a word, pity. Where the church should have shown compassion, they showed pity and chose to name it compassion.

One definition of compassion is "the sympathetic consciousness of others' distress together with a desire to alleviate it".
The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines pity as the "sympathetic sorrow for one suffering, distressed, or unhappy".

What's the difference between compassion and pity?
One wishes to alleviate suffering, distress, and  unhappiness and does something about it. The other just sits back. I fear this happens far too often. In fact, I think this may very well be a blight of the modern day church.
Pity is easy to do. It costs nothing. It's self-serving because it allows one to believe they are a good person, but requires nothing of them.
Compassion is not so easy. It can cost dearly.

And isn't that a major problem? When we substitute pity for compassion and then add a mistaken understanding of tolerance into the equation, we are left with a crisis scenario that I think the modern day church is facing today. Factor many religious institutions' demonization of agnosticism into this and we end up with the self-serving, small minded, insular religionists we find today, so frightened of doubt within their belief must be a certainty.

I don't believe the ever shrinking world we live in today can afford these kinds of half-assed attempts of making a better world. In fact, they do not make for a better world but for a far worst one.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

A Pluralistic Sophia (expanded)

I suppose to many, religious pluralism embraces many derogatory issues, like “the path of least resistance”, or watering faith down to the lowest common denominator. I suppose it falls victim to political correctness and attempting to be warm & fuzzy, believing that all paths lead to God.

I can't honestly say I know the proper or official definition of being a religious pluralist, so you'll have to put up with me and the terms and words I choose to use. But I believe there is a certain kind of religious pluralism that doesn't embrace the path of least resistance, or watering one's belief-system down to the lowest common denominator, or being politically correct, or believing all religions are alright and that all paths lead to God. Hardly. I think, possibly, just the opposite.

It is not that I believe all religions lead to God, but that none do. God's wisdom - Sophia - is subtle, elusive, hidden between the lines.

I believe God 'distributes' His wisdom – His Sophia – with all peoples of all nationalities, in all geographic locations, and all cultures. Whether this Sophia speaks their “culturalistic languages” or that they hear her voice through their “culturalistic filters” matters little. The outcome is the same. She meets them where they are.

A think a common accusation levied against pluralists is that they water down the 'truth' to the lowest common denominator. I'd rather see this aspect as deliberate choice to focus on what unites us rather than on what divides us for the sake of relationships, simply getting along, peace, mutual respect and tolerance. In a single word, Compassion.

But what about the actual truth itself, outside of social or civil environments? This doesn't address how to 'hear' God's wisdom; God's Sophia.

It is easy to find common ground within various belief-systems but I'm not totally convinced this is necessarily the voice of Sophia. After all, this could just be various cultures or people in agreement.

I think it is in the contradictions (or possibly paradoxes) in which Sophia is most challenging and speaks the loudest.

It is not in their shared commonalities that she speaks and challenges us to change and grow and learn but in their apparent conflicts. It is in the parts that don't 'fit'.

If God's word and will were so simple, so clear in its intent, then why are holy scriptures so ambiguous? Outside of personal and/or private manipulation and agenda, why can so few people agree? We would be following an apparent omnipotent deity who failed in His endeavor to successfully communicate to us.

If I'm trying to communicate an idea or message to you, there's three places for it to go wrong.

Firstly, I may not have the idea or message straight or correct in my head to begin with. If this is the case there will be guaranteed failure.

Secondly, I may not properly articulate my idea or message and it may be misunderstood.

And finally, you may not properly interpret or understand my idea or message.
If any of these occur the effort to successfully communicate will fail.

Let's lay down several assumptions:
1) the bible is the final and total revelation of or by God.
2) that God is omnipotent,
3) God is omnipresent,
4) and most importantly, God is omniscient and omnibenevolent.

Now, if God has attempted to communicate a message to mankind, there's three areas it could (at least potentially) go wrong.

1) the communicator doesn't have the message properly
2) the communicator doesn't articulate the message well enough or clear enough for the recipient to understand
3) the receiver doesn't proper receive or understand the message.

But, when dealing with an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent entity, these “rules” change somewhat. The first two point deal with errors or flaws with the communicator, which in the case of God, cannot be, or else we need to reevaluate one of our presumptions (omnipotency and/or omniscience). If there were errors or flaws then they would be deliberate omissions, which could put into question God's omnibenevolence.

The problem cannot be in the articulation of the message itself (the bible) unless we are willing to compromise that God is its author, or had less than genuine intentions. (An alternative possibility is that the bible is a sort of hybrid of human and divine authorship and editing, but this carries its own set of problems and issues and is an avenue I don't really want to explore in this topic as I don't think it would be constructive).

And finally, as far as the recipient not correctly receiving or understanding the message properly; I struggle with this one. A perfect God would know how to successfully reach and communicate His message, unless the deliberate intention was to make it veiled, hidden to all except a select few (which would only work with the selected-damned of extreme Calvinism, but, I should think, would compromise this God's omnibenevolence).

We find ourselves in this conundrum because of an assumption; that the bible is the final and total revelation of God. This assumption includes that the bible is somehow the answer or the solution; that it is in and of itself the goal, or contains the goal, or is some sort of map to the goal.

What if it isn't? What if it is directional in the sense that it points to a process, a direction of growth, a spiritual evolution, rather than a goal?

In Christianity alone there are over 35,000 denominations. It isn't just Christians disagreeing and dividing amongst themselves. It isn't just Catholics and Protestants. Catholics don't agree with Catholics and Protestants don't agree with Protestants. Muslims divide into Sunni and Shi'a, as well as Sufi and others. Jews divide into Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionists, and others. Buddhists divide, Hindus divide... every single spiritual path divides. Yet, ironically enough, we have a wellspring of time, experience, and resources at our disposal. Hindus trace back over 4,000 years. Moses led the Hebrews out of captivity more than 3,000 years ago. The Buddha taught his wisdom and shared insight over 2,500 years ago. Jesus preached 2,000 years ago. Muhammad brought forth the Qur'an over 1,500 years ago. Humanists have been around in one form or another since before the Renaissance. If there was one correct way to view or encounter or experience the sacred, in our ever shrinking world, it should have been made absolutely crystal clear by now.

I think the truth is right before us; we're just hold onto the wrong paradigm. All of us know the Golden Rule: Do onto others as you would have other do onto you. The Rabbi Hillel living a generation before Jesus taught this exact same thing. 500 years earlier still Confucius taught the same thing. Muhammad and Buddha likewise.

In nearly all of our religions and sacred traditions we are called to compassion via the Golden Rule. Interestingly it has always been made absolutely crystal clear how we are to treat one another.

Let's make a few assumptions once again. Let's assume God exists (in whatever form we wish to define 'God' as). Let's also assume God has tried and continues to try to communicate his message to us.

Why has God failed to successfully communicate to the world what's the one true, right belief? And more importantly, why has God left absolutely no ambiguity as to how we are to treat one another? Why is Compassion the one message or instruction we are called to?

If we return to the 3 points of potential failure in the act of communicating and factor in the conundrum of God's 'omni's' traits I think we find a clear solution. Whether we choose to approach the problem from a single faith point of view, or even from a global, pluralistic multi-faith point of view, we are given little to no wiggle-room.

God's message - Sophia's wisdom - to the world through numerous times, places, and cultures was never a message of the one true right faith. (That was us looking for something's that not there). Sophia's message was a calling to Compassion. Plain and simple. The rest is our controlling, self-serving propaganda.
I don't believe God's 'revelations' are the answers in and of themselves. I believe they are progressive; that they're directional. I believe there is a divine agenda afoot – a prime mover in and throughout human history.

That is how I see being a religious pluralist. It is no path of least resistance. It is not for the faint of heart. It is not for those who seek spiritual security.

...And to those who would argue with me that there is only one true religion (theirs) and the consequences of turning from this religious truth is to be brutally tortured relentlessly and continually for all eternity......if this is really the case (and I've seriously pondered this), then I am truly screwed, no matter which way I slice and dice it. It paints a picture of a truly dismal and near Lovecraftian cosmos. Because the only hope I have - at best – is to lie to this terrorist and tyrant god and hope he doesn't see through it.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Dangers of Rom-Coms

I hate Romances.
Rom-Coms, Romantic Comedies, Chick-Flicks.

No, I don't hate Chick-Flicks for stereotypical “guy” reasons. I like love stories. (I cried when I read The Bridges of Madison County).

The reason why I hate Chick-Flicks is because they perpetuate and teach a lie. The collective underlying truth that is assumed is that every single solitary man has a natural and innate ability to be 'romantic'. It is only a matter either of getting in touch with it, or caring enough, or 'coming out of their shell', or getting over their shyness, or any number of possibilities their plots will permit.

Again, the underlying assumption is that all men can do romantic. This is perfectly fine in literature or in movies for purely entertainment value.

But that's not where it ends, does it? A sad fact of reality in our Western society today is that – unfortunately – we often are taught by movies.

What's wrong is when the real women, single or in relationships, go out into the real world with the belief that if a man, if their man, cannot be romantic then that must translate into meaning they simply do not really care. (Because, as we know from Rom-Coms and Chick-Flicks, every man innately can do 'romantic' if they truly love their woman enough).

What a facade. What a farce. What a lie. What damage... to both parties.

That's how relationships are damaged and broken. When we fall into the trap of believing in how things are supposed to be rather than how things actually are. We miss out the treasures right before us and fall in love with a fantasy that can only disappoint.

It is like the woman walking along a stony beach at night, fascinated and obsessed with the bright stars in the night sky. It is only when the beach ends and the sun rises does she realize that she has missed all the interesting and wondrous treasures the beach has laid out before her, and left with the fantasy of the stars which are no more than an unattainable memory.