Religion ≠ Relationship (Part 1)

In plain straightforward terminology I want to explore why religion should move away from language that describes and purports some kind of “relationship” with unseen divine beings. For many folks who think it is appropriate to use these terms, I believe they are demonstrating some fundamental flaws about human perception and the actual knowledge that they possess.

In every other context that the word relationship is used, it is understood within physical reality toward other human beings, animals, and living things. In other words, in these contexts relationships are very much objective and not disputed by anyone.

Within the realm of religion however, this is a constant in house debate! When I say in house, I mean across the divide of religious belief. Evangelical Christianity is for the most part atheistic toward all other competing religious beliefs. At most, this form of Christianity will often cite demonic spirits as being the source of competing religious experiences.

It is this kind of assertion about reality that fails to acknowledge that religious knowledge claims are in fact rather weak in being able to create a large consensus of agreement. This utter weakness stems from a loss of objectivity pertaining to what all humans are said to experience.Within physical reality the sciences have developed various methods that confirm what is going on behind the veil of what we can see. This cannot be said of any religion.

What religion attempts to do instead is look back to isolated instances in which prophets and teachers were said to have encountered divine beings. What this becomes is a competition for authority. Which religion appears to have established a certain view of God within a collection of separate isolated incidents throughout history?

I am here to contend that an all-knowing, all-powerful God that expects present humanity to trust in one set of past isolated claims from numerous other competing strains of religion is a joke! I mean this in the nicest way possible, but I must maintain that the sheer variety of claims that have been put forth in our present day is far better explained by our previous and continued evolutionary growth as a species.

Human beings undoubtedly have a spiritual component. A longing for a deep connection with people and the universe. We are pattern seeking mammals that have to deal with the consequences of an enlarged frontal cortex. My challenge to my believing friends is this. You have to at the very least acknowledge that your religion is on the very same soil of knowledge claims as all the rest.

Judaism is just as plausible as Christianity is to Hinduism and Islam. Each of these religions is based in tradition and on the teachings of past authoritative prophets and teachers. Religion is a matter of preference. If you can do this, then maybe you can begin to see that the other component that largely shapes every religion is geography and culture.

Religion and Equality

Conservative religions, in a roundabout way, validate their own worst fears. Any time one has a built in authority structure that makes certain human behaviors into black and white, good and evil, then yes, it’s going to give birth to some pretty big phobias to overcome! One such phobia that is still quite alive and well is directed at same sex attraction and marriage equality for all.

What happened in America today is truly historic. A victory for many, and a plague for others. Our culture has collectively chosen to overcome a phobia that has existed for thousands of years. A majority of ancient religions deemed homosexuality as unnatural and a mark of moral depravity. The kind of stigma that has been created from our past is still looming in many homes throughout this country.

The radical ones are going to get more fired up! There is an amazing shift going on throughout the world. It is a collective shift toward recognizing that love truly does come in many different packages. Many who do not identify with or recognize this phenomenon are going to dig their heels in even more. It will create even more of a mountain for the next generation to climb down from once they reach adulthood and must think on their own two feet.

In essence, this is a really big world! It becomes a less scary place when we can turn the volume down and learn from one another. Humanity itself is evolving. Not only biologically but morally as well. Much of what is fueling this change today is influenced by what science has either affirmed or negated. We would do well to continue learning through both self and group evaluation. Correctly distinguishing variety of expression from behaviors that are actually harmful is vital to our progress as well.

A Look At Foundations

This Atheist has been going to church! That is, twice a month out of devotion to a job where I accompany and assist a fellow with special needs. It truly doesn’t feel that out of place for me. Considering it has been about a year since religion officially lost its relevance in my life.

I came out of this fold.The fold of Evangelical Christianity. I would like to now analyze why people feel a need to worship. I think that in part it is driven by a disdain of centering our thoughts around ourselves. Now, this basic premise isn’t all that unbeneficial.

I find relevance in this by surveying the people around me and desiring good counsel and proper action toward human suffering and living a healthy life. So I totally empathize with the whole “good will toward men” bit. I would also include women and children. Wink and smile!

Now, where this begins to break down is when we have large groups of people singing and adoring an unseen, unconfirmed divine entity. An entity that presumably possesses all power and wisdom. In His wisdom it is said that the secrets of the kingdom of God are hidden from the wise and the prudent. This is apparently due to people having a proud and arrogant nature about them.

This judgment of course stems from a sweeping generalization about human nature, does it not? The only way that such a statement about human nature could be true would be to funnel all authority on the subject into one person. This person is said to be Jesus of Nazareth.

However, based on the actual textual evidence that we possess about Jesus, what we do know for certain is that the original manuscript autographs of the New Testament are no longer existent. This means that despite how well these texts appear to be preserved from their original form, it is still quite possible that the previous oral tradition that is said to stem from a prophet named Jesus has been altered from its original format.

It is entirely possible that the original words and thoughts that are said to stem from an actual human prophet named Jesus were greatly expanded upon by those who did eventually write the texts of the New Testament. So it is difficult to actually confirm or deny what the actual words of this Jesus were.

Secondly, we need more than just claims of divinity and appealing word pictures that would seem to demonstrate this in a previous obscure set of scenarios. Christianity exists within a genre of competing religious claims and dogmas. The appeal of belief is uncannily emotional. “Look here to the suffering Savior, the servant that never sinned.”

This ideology wants to plow forward with a notion of indebtedness. We are said to owe this God everything! The message, in other words, the gospel truth is said to have been made perfectly clear to all of humanity. The fact of the matter is that almost every major doctrine is subject to interpretive bias.

How well do we know our tradition? How well do we know the striking differences in doctrine that came out of Christianity from its earliest stages and often using the same set of texts? Good luck in laying a foundation that is said to be made of stone rather than the chaff that blows in the wind.

The Otherwise Principle

In large part, I say that I reject all religions because the principle of “otherwise” has served humanity supremely well. To reject all religions is not to say that I do not take their claims into account. The claims of religion are actually very important to those with an Atheistic framework.

We’ve realized that for centuries, and perhaps from our very point of origin, that human knowledge exists within a vacuum. We are in a vastly dark cavern and our limited access to all that can be known in this universe has sent us branching off into what appears to be millions of different directions.

Different cultures with different sets of learned behaviors and approaches to morality and truth have illustrated that nobody truly has a leg up in regards to religious claims. Also, as an Atheist I want to affirm that human spirituality is important. We all long for an intimate connection with reality.

There is something to be said, perhaps much to be gained from those who have explored the depths of isolation from their cultures and the chaos of daily life and business. As far as exploring and being curious about mystical experiences, I say have at it! This is yet another avenue that can be very helpful in understanding our position in this universe.

It is when people make exclusive knowledge claims about the overarching purpose for our existence that a red flag goes up for me. Human beings, as far as I can tell, do not have such credentials. We must recognize our limited nature. The limited scope of all human knowledge and experience. When we fail to do this, the probability of error increases substantially.

The second downfall to claims of exclusivity is the intentional separation and lack of cooperation that it creates between competing bodies of religious thought. I’m about to say something rather controversial. Human lust for the sacred gets in the way of discovery. Call it lust, desire, zeal, what have you. What I am saying is that the condemnation of competing religious claims does nothing to promote further discovery of the truth.

Isolation from other bodies of thought breeds a lack of trust and consensus about what the most effective approach to true and lasting knowledge is. It puts labels of evil and apostasy where an otherwise foundation of mutual respect could exist. The otherwise principle will lead to further humility and openness among genuine knowledge seekers. Consensus and cooperation is a beautiful thing, it makes us appear just a little smarter.