Archive for May, 2008

Faith, Hope and Charity

Friday, May 30th, 2008

There’s a famous passage in the Bible where Paul of Tarsus talks about faith, hope and charity. Of these, he cites charity as the greatest, though listening to modern Christians it sure seems like they place faith at the top of the list. Given this discontinuity, I decided to talk about the three to God, whom I’ve mentioned before seems to have a thing for things that come in threes.

We rambled around and I don’t think we ever said anything too definitive about any of them, in particular about how they and religion reflect on each other, but I can relate kind of the gist of what we did say.

Charity really is the greatest of them, Paul was right about that. Most of the good that has ever been done by religion really was done in the form and spirit of charity. That’s recognized in the United States tax codes by the fact that non-profit corporations, legalese (more or less) for “charities,” are what are tax exempt. Religions themselves are not tax exempt except in that they are charities, and they are placed neither higher nor lower than other charities in this regard.

But charity alone makes for good works, but not for religion.

So that leads us to hope. Hope is there so that we don’t give up in the face of absolutely no evidence whatsoever that religions know what they’re talking about. God herself has not made a general appearance to all of humanity in the entirety of recorded history. She appears occasionally to small groups but mostly to isolated individuals. Moses on the mountain. Noah in his soon-to-be shipyard. Me, in this blog. Hope is what allows us to convince ourselves that these people are not just making up stories for their own benefit. Hope is where religion and gambling converge.

And then faith. Faith is there just to keep us from feeling like fools.

Spiritual Consumption

Friday, May 23rd, 2008

God likes things in threes. There’s the Holy Trinity of the Christian God (that’s the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost). There’s the three big religions based on “the God of Abraham.” And there’s that line in “The Hunting of the Snark” that goes, “What I tell you three times is true.” Okay, maybe that last doesn’t have anything to do with God but it should.

Anyway, my point is that this will be the third time in a row that God and I talked about things that religions do that can be readily compared to things that capitalists do. Actually what he told me about this week isn’t so much what capitalists do as it is what they try to get us to do. We talked about conspicuous consumption.

According to Wikipedia, conspicuous consumption describes lavish spending that is done mainly to display ones wealth. Or, as it was put in “The Producers,” “If you’ve got it, flaunt it.”

A lot of people seem to take that approach to religion. They deck their cars with line drawings of fish. They wear crosses, and put them up in their homes and even get them tattooed on their arms.

And there’s nothing wrong with that.

But God and I would just like to say that if you go to dinner at In’n’out not because they make one of the best fast food burgers around, but because they hide little references to Bible passages in their packaging… Well, you might want to examine your priorities.

Mass Production

Friday, May 16th, 2008

After I discussed with God last week a little of what capitalism and religion have in common, he took some time this week to point out some other similar things. Not things that are essential to capitalism or religion but things that are in the same vein.

The main thing he talked about was the production side of things.

Mass production is how capitalists keep their costs down and allow us to buy an incredible array of things for prices that just about anybody can afford. Mass production is about taking your design work and amortizing its costs over a whole lot of essentially identical copies. In religion it’s about having one guidebook, a bible, if you will, that everybody works from. It used to be that every tribe had its own shaman and he pretty much got to make up whatever stories got across his vision of the gods, but along came organized religion and suddenly your spiritual leaders have a codified book or set of books that they have to work from. They still get to vamp and improvise, but only so long as they don’t move too far afield from the core reference work.

Another important thing about production is incremental improvement. You don’t just come out with a new model of car and then keep selling the same thing year after year, you find ways to improve it, or at least to change it so it keeps seeming like something new. In “western” religion we didn’t just come up with the Torah and say there it is, we’re done. We came up with derivatives and new works that took the old works as given. We’ve got the Koran, we’ve got the Christian Bible (in any number of translations), and we’ve got the Book of Mormon, and that doesn’t even take into account the variations that people like David Koresh and Jim Jones never got around to writing down.

So remember, God may be eternal and unchanging, but not religion, you can always find something new in religion.

The Price of Souls

Friday, May 9th, 2008

I was thinking about politics this week so of course I decided to talk to God about capitalism. I do live in the United States after all.

What I wanted to know, is what does God see in common between capitalism and religion. For instance, one of the basic tenets of capitalism is that something is worth what someone is willing to pay for it. Just because some widget costs twenty dollars to manufacture doesn’t mean it’s worth twenty dollars, let alone twenty plus some necessary markup. The actual quality of the widget doesn’t necessarily matter, and the utility of it doesn’t necessarily matter. All that matters is what the market will bear. Now the market rarely has perfect information and, even if it did, emotions would still come into it.

God told me that that principle applies to churches. She says that some religions do great works, some good, and some not so good. Some of the best never get big, and some of the ones that did get big, got there by not so much doing good as by building a good reputation.

And of course, some got there just by intimidation. After all, there’s a lot to be said for the inspirational value of knowing that the priest gets to select the next person to be sacrificed.

Acid Test

Friday, May 2nd, 2008

Albert Hoffman died this week. It was seventy years ago when he discovered LSD and sixty-five years ago when he (accidentally) became the first person to go on an acid trip. He lived to the ripe old age of 102.

While God and I talked about that, she admitted that a lot of religious inspiration through the years has been more the result of being touched by drugs than by being touched by an angel. The right mushroom or just enough ergot, when you’re not expecting it, can be a real epiphany.

We got off onto a general discussion of spiritual revelation. She acknowledged that she connects with people in a wide variety of ways, but said that only a small fraction of what’s been attributed to her, should actually have been. The rest of it can be chalked up to such diverse things as alcohol and other drugs, chemical imbalances in the brain, and really good, or even really bad, sex.

The gist of it seemed to be that along with sausages and laws, it’s best to not look too closely at how religious revelations are made.