Posted by: innerpilgrimage | September 4, 2012

Oh, The Places You’ll Go!

          “Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge. It is those who know little, and not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science.”  — Charles Darwin

          “For me, it is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying or reassuring.” — Carl Sagan

          Hm. Well, yesterday wasn’t one of the better days in recovery I’ve had. The rambling, emotional manifesto I put up yesterday was manic and had more than a few grammatical issues. Filled with anger, fear, and sadness, I think it was a pretty bad moment in the recovery process.
          So, I’ve done more knowledge-seeking. Curiously, I just learned that apologetics is not an apology but an aggressive debunking. In Christianity, an apologetic may point to the intricacy and beauty of the Universe to point out their rationalist arguments. That the Universe can’t be accidental. That an intelligence had to have created it for a purpose.
          That doesn’t make sense to me, and I’m not alone. Many apologists from other world religions would agree that the Bible and God and Jesus are not proved in that manner. Of course, they point toward their religions and state that the Universe proves their belief system. So, I have a question: If everyone believes their deity or pantheon is proved by apologetics and they can prove (through apologetics) that those deluded followers of other religions have it wrong, how can any be sure they’re right? Every religion can be proved wrong by every other. It’s like canceling each other out. The one certain tenet is that faith must be called. Not actual reproducible proof. Faith.
          Sam Harris wrote in The End of Faith: “Tell a devout Christian that is wife is cheating on him, or that frozen yogurt can make a man invisible, and he is likely to require as much evidence as anyone else, and to be persuaded only to the extent that you give it. Tell him that the book he keeps by his bedside was written by an invisible deity who will punish him with fire for eternity if he fails to accept its every incredible clain about the universe, and he seems to require no evidence whatsoever.” (p.19, The End of Faith, c. 2004)
          That sits with me because it touches on my own deeply-held fears, ones that I might as well toss into the light of day and reason in order to let them either vanish or be minimized. If I won’t believe something as small as the claim a diet drug or drink or program works (which I don’t, because they are always, always temporary fixes) without consistent proof (which I’ve found Overeaters Anonymous has, if only because it breaks the food obsession and cuts to the core of why we treat food like drug addicts treat drugs or alcoholics treat booze or gambling addicts treat gambling games), how barking mad would I have to be in order to put my sanity on the line to follow any organized religion. Faith is not proof, period. I can go out and find why gravity works, why rainbows occur, why lightning happens around thunderstorms, and even what kind of meteorological conditions create tornadoes. I can learn the debunking techniques of people who look for natural causes to supernatural occurrences (like electrical fields giving people the sensation that ghosts are around–to the point people can hallucinate). What I find baffling is the argument that somehow I am inferior because I dare demand any deity prove itself. That my lack of faith is the source of my problems. People, I got faith. I have faith that if I pay my power bill AND the power stations let electricity flow uninterrupted from working power generation plants, I will be able to send electricity through a lightbulb and receive illumination inside my home. Even better? I can go to the library–the juvenile section, even!–and find a book that explains why it happens that way. I have faith in provable, though invisible, things. I have faith in what I cannot see which others can prove with material evidence. I just don’t have faith in things which have no basis of fact. For example: I have never seen a living australopithecus. Neither gracile nor robust. Yet they lay in the archaelogical record, and through observation? They clearly appear to be part of the tree of human evolution. To paraphrase anti-evolutionists, I also don’t believe I came from a monkey. No, we share a common ancestor. Monkeys and humans split off a long, long time ago. I believe the modern DNA proof we are very closely related to chimpanzees, even more than gorillas. And I believe that the archaelogical record is more compelling than the disproved Shroud of Turin, the disproved forest of pieces of the Holy Cross, and the intuitive guesses about a man who hasn’t been proved to exist in the Roman records yet who was considered a major threat to their control of the Middle East. How many times has the End of The World come compared to how many times it’s been predicted? And I trust the truth that zero divided by any number in this Armageddon word problem leaves me with a null set both mathematially and about religion, too.
          All religion.
          Consider this:

          You meet a person who claims to talk to the dead. That person explains how he or she quiets mind and body, and opens up that connection by speaking either aloud or within the head. Perhaps this person gets a feeling of euphoria when the connection is successful. Now, this person explains, a dead man is currently talking to you and gives you personal signs of his presence–even if you can’t see, feel, hear, smell, or taste any of it. The person assures you the dead man is with you at this moment, and that truth should comfort you, for even talking to that dead man proves an afterlife. This person talks to him as if he’s alive, right in front of you. This person tells you that the dead man watches over you and loves you.

          Now, I have a question: Am I a talking about a Christian, or am I describing a psychic medium? Seriously. Consider for a moment what I just wrote, and look at it with both answers. Is talking to Jesus sacred while talking to someone’s dead grandfather blasphemy? Why? And what about when people take recording equipment into locations which are purported to be haunted and come up with audio-visual anomalies? Why am I supposed to accept on faith something that has no proof? That the hearsay in a book–which is self-contradictory and which demands its followers do violence against others who do not believe in the infallibility of that book–is worthy of blind trust, yet I am supposed to be skeptical of the existence of ghosts? Reason demands I be skeptical of both, and I believe in reason.
          Do I need to go as far as to say religious people live under a cloud of delusion? It hurts, but yes. What is encouraged in the name of organized religion is horrifying. And to say religion makes things better denies the humanist tragedies caused over the timescape of human existence.

          *           *           *           *           *          

          It’s been nearly twelve hours since I wrote that. I took a break midday to go to the library and pick up the Richard Dawkins book, A Devil’s Chaplain. The book is a collection of essays on many topics, Dawkins’s own reflections on belief, faith, and reason. The first essay, which focuses on Darwin’s words to his dearest friend, Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker, in an 1856 letter, starts with a blatant “losing my religion” moment for Darwin–who was a strong believer in creationism at the beginning of the voyages of the H.M.S. Beagle. Darwin’s realization is painful, that a Creator which was benevolent and good and merciful and infallible had put in nature such wretched horrors for a deeply devout man:
         
          “What a book a Devil’s Chaplain might write on the clumsy, wasteful, blundering low and horridly cruel works of nature.”
         
          Nature is not the neat zoological park I once fantasized as being the Garden of Eden when I was a child–the painters of the children’s Bible I had painted it as a supernatural petting zoo, and I loved that image. Well, that’s not reality. Nature is about blood and suffering, about senselessness and possibility joined. Multiple parasitoid species lay larvae into living hosts, paralyzing them as they suffer death by being feasted upon so another creature can successfully create another generation. It comes down to the indifference of nature. If a deity planned this all, down to each horrific act a living entity (even human) is driven to perform in order to procreate successfully (grandchildren being the mark of a successful breeding pair), is there anything else but despair? A perfectly ordered purpose-filled system means that God purposefully created a wasp which leaves eggs in a living creature’s body in order to have it feel itself being eaten alive bite by bite. At the human level, this perfectly-ordered, purpose-filled system caused the Crusades. The Inquisition. The abuses of children in every organized religion (child sexual abuse in Christian organizations being deeply offensive to me because of Matthew 18:10 and 19:14–and I promise you, people in church authority either know or suspect something is wrong yet will hide it). Hitler’s Final Solution (Hitler was deeply religious, not an atheist). The terrorism in Ireland and Britain between Catholics and Protestants. Terrorism and war conditions in the Middle East between all three Abrahamic religions. The list of inhumanity in God’s name goes on and on and on. To stay in an organized religion is to condone by action the bloody acts of the extremists. To tithe is to support financially those extremists.
          I agree the majority of religious people I have met seem generally reasonable and decent, wishing peace and love for people. I even appreciate that the comfort and solace they find in religion is something they want to share because of the mental safety and happiness of neatly partitioning reality from the Utopian vision that people of an organized faith profess is the point of joining or being born into that religion. Trust me, religion has been and sometimes still is a compelling, beautiful Emerald City on the Yellow Brick Road I want to travel in order to reach its gleaming perfection. I still remember the feeling of euphoria looking at the colors of the stained glass windows and thinking how beautiful it was. How Jesus loved me because the song said the Bible told me so. Reality? Was pain and suffering. Sunday School was an escape into a gentle place where lions lay with lambs and stories of happy children helping people in need out of the love they had (which Jesus gave two ethereal thumbs-ups to every time). Really, it only became punitive when the man who drove the van wanted to attend the church service. Then, the bloodlust and suffering began, and the threat of eternal punishment if we didn’t toe the line in mind and body was made. The sermons were for the adults, not the children, and we were left to long-winded ramblings and moralistic diatribes which skipped over the sex and violence in the Bible. Oh, yeah. It was hinted at. Unfortunately, when one has bored children? They end up wondering what happened to Lot after Sodom and Gomorrah got smote. I’ve read they were likely leveled by an earthquake. Natural occurences like earthquakes still probably have that pummeling fist of God feel to them–especially with inferior or non-existent earthquake-readiness building codes. Oh, back to Lot. The punch line? At, oh, seven or eight, I learned about incest. In church. Literally. As in, I was reading the Bible with my fanny in a pew, and there it was: Lot’s daughters got their father drunk in turn and got to begatting with their father–who was still in mourning over his God-smote wife. The pastor ended the tale at its cautionary moral about not defying God or one might be turned into a person-shaped salt lick, not realizing the kids were both bored and able to read. What’s worse? I took from that extended tale that God was irrational. Wanting to be awed and humbled by God’s powerful wrath was an offense punishable by death, but incest resulting in progeny was just fine.
          And please don’t get me started on the relationship between God’s giant-killer, David, and Bathsheba. Loyal general and faithful husband? Allowed to die. King David and the widow of said man? Yeah, they had some bad years, but he still was king of Israel and got to be part of the Jesus begat-begat-begat lineage.
          Then, of course, comes the New Testament which has the resurrection. That’s a nice thought. My problem comes with a human sacrifice to God to replace the Paschal Lamb from the times of the Egyptian Plagues. I understand the part about dying to be resurrected. But that is a bloody, horrific, and terrifying story of man’s inhumanity to man. And, yes, for the same God of Abraham (who commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son, stepping in with a “Just Kidding!” right at the very end). I ask a simple question: Where is the love and mercy? Even asking a father to commit filicide is horrific. Consider personally the deep suffering Abraham endured debating whether or not to defy God (after his kid was miraculously born to nonogenarians).
          How can a God of love and mercy demand blood and suffering of the best of those who believed in it? What purpose does it serve besides having people attempt to guilt others into joining their own splitter church (proof of social evolution, by the way)?
          If suffering and blood equals love? Then we all must despair for our eternal souls if God exists.
         
          Back to A Devil’s Chaplain, and a tenet of atheism which Dawkins offers as proof that living without a bloodthirsty Creator generates gratitude, hope, and reverence for life. Somehow, in this morass of blood and sex and pain, humanity evolved into a fully self-aware being. We possess the mental faculties to consider nature, an ability to reason, a drive to create, and our desire to have that wonder of a child in this equally horrific and beautiful world. We want that sweet innocence–and we can create a better future for the next generation by considering the clumsiness of nature and choosing to be more aware of our surroundings in order to walk dextrously through life. We can observe the wasteful indifference of nature and choose to conserve and preserve for the future. We can keep our minds keen and avoid blundering lowness by choosing the nobler qualities of humanity and expressing them in ourselves. And we can avoid the horribly cruel by choosing kindness and generosity and community-mindedness when we interact with others.
          I expect my mid-entry diatribe against the religion of my indoctrination may be considered horribly cruel and blundering low. Understand, however, it was the second major betrayal in my life. My home life was filled with physical, mental, and emotional abuse covered over by a veneer of a successful and loving upper middle class family unit. Religion was my escape, the life preserver I held to as insanity raged in the home where I spent the rest of the time. When I read the infallible word of God and found Darwin’s “clumsy, wasteful, blundering low and horribly cruel” criticism of nature applied to the Bible? The rock upon which my faith was built became sand.
          It just took me three decades to start letting go of my fallacious belief that this is, was, and will be the only truth out there.
         
          So, uh, I’m not looking forward to OA tomorrow because we’re deep in the book, Seeking the Spiritual Path. However, there is a path through the resentment, and I believe the twelve-step program can help. I really do. It’s hard, but as inspirational teacher and devout Christian Frederick William Sanderson once said, “such is the life of the man who risks safety and happiness for the sake of growth and happiness.” For him, actively seeking knowledge and surrendering to the creative urge led to a joyful life.
          Oh, I am looking forward to resolving this deeply held resentment against organized religion. I don’t really hate “God”. I just hate that punishment equals love. Because it does when I open the Bible and try to divine inspiration from it instead of shrink in terror at the whole picture presented within its pages.
          My name is Jess. I am eating disordered–compulsive overeater and anorexic. I am also love disordered–toxic love addict and social and emotional anorexic. I really don’t hate people. I’m actually more afraid that I will either roll over to get an apologetic or polemic to leave me alone or get aggressive. I don’t want to, so I guess I just won’t answer the door or engage people if at all possible–which is the fortress of solitude against the breastplate of righteousness and sword of whatever-it-is. Religion assisted in sucking the wonder and awe from my life, and I have tried to get that back since childhood. I am only ever at peace out in the world where few or no people are around to interrupt those moments when I consider how small I am in the Universe. How like a grain of sand at an ocean beach I am, or how like a seed in a wondrous vista-filled landscape I am. So small, yet still part of the forward motion of the Universe. For having existed at all? I will be part of the changing Universe. And even if that-which-was-Jess for however long I walk the earth dies forgotten by humanity as nearly every person before me has? I, like they, will have been part of reality itself–and hopefully (once I stop acting out my character defects over this resentment against organized religion, which I 100% accept I need to let go in order to live a life of recovery) I will have left more beauty in the world instead of destroyed that beauty. And there is a comfort in knowing I don’t know. It means I have a whole lot of opportunity to make progress, without the demand of seeking to become “perfect” for my Creator.

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Responses

  1. Wonderful

    You have identified some what you do not believe. Now come the process of identifying what you do believe, one concept at a time. That is a wonderful process, in which you will experience much spiritual growth and wonder. You will begin to see the unknown, and learn about the real world, as it is. You see the random events as random events, and learn of the faith that we will survive until we don’t. Now is all we have to work with. It is all natural, all to be enjoyed, just any way we can.

    It is all about choice, but most of the choices have down sides, as well as up sides. Nothing is all right, but contains negatives as well. It is just about getting more right than wrong, by just a bit. Enjoy the growth.

    • Thank you for this reply. I was thinking about “Acceptance is the Answer”, and your reply settled in very nicely with it. I feel guilty and frustrated I have this deep resentment.

      However, I also have hope because you are right. I’ve exposed something that I resent. It’s out. It’s done. This is the insanity of addiction, to live in the unmanageability and choose not to let it go. Identifying what I do believe, which is hard because I believe I don’t know much, is how gratitude and hope can enter this secularist life. Accepting the ugliness is part of life yet I can take hope in consciously using the wealth of experience of others and myself to rise above the pressures of biology and nature on this thinking ape (we all are primates) and become human. Many roads lead to recovery, and taking the steps as I understand them is part of that conscious journey to a life outside of insanity–a life where instead of being terrified, I can be hopeful.


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