Archive for August, 2008

A Little Suffering

Friday, August 29th, 2008

A lot of people ask how can a just God, a kind God, even just a God that wants us to follow his rules, allow so much suffering and sadness in the world. It’s a legitimate question, theologically speaking. I’ve talked with God about it a couple of times before and gotten pretty reasonable answers, but I brought it up again.

This time he really put me in my place.

See, the thing is, God doesn’t need me. More generally, there isn’t anyone that God needs. In fact, he could get along just fine without the entire human race. Now don’t get me wrong, he likes having us around; he considers us great entertainment, but that’s about it. So if one of us suffers, well, it isn’t that he’s got it in for that person, it’s just that he doesn’t actually care. Face it, there’s six and a half billion of us; most of us just aren’t that special.

So the next time you’re feeling a little down, don’t wait for God to boost your spirits, figure out how to do it yourself. You’ll probably get quicker results.

Mind the Gap

Friday, August 22nd, 2008

Today I want to talk a little about “The God of the Gaps.” This is a term that is used to describe the reductionist approach that the domain of religion is only those things that science cannot explain. There was this notion that most of the universe was ultimately inexplicable, because it was just a manifestation of God’s will. Unfortunately for those who believe this, science, that is the scientific method, has proven amazingly adept at figuring things out to an incredible level of detail. This has led some religious groups and their adherents into some truly bizarre locations, usually by coupling the gaps notion with a dogmatic clinging to “facts” that are justified only by faith.

The most prevalent example of this is in the realm of evolution. Religions have placed mankind on a pedestal. They have declared that we are special creations of God and then, because of some metaphorical fairy tale they were told in their youth, have decided that humans were created by God just as we are today, without any intermediate steps or forms. Yet science has brought us evolution and natural selection, which are among the most thoroughly tested and vetted notions that science has ever addressed. Yet clearly, if our fairy tales are to be believed, we could not have evolved, we could not have an ancestor species at all, let alone have one in common with lowly apes. Despite the fact that we have found missing link after missing link after missing link, many people cling to the notion that we were sculpted by God and then had life breathed into us just as we are today.

Some people suggest that this shows an incredible lack of imagination. The creationist “intelligent designer” idea that something like the eye could not have evolved, is thought to be a sign that creationists are incapable (either in actuality or through willful suppression) of imagining the steps that go from a patch of skin that is sensitive to heat to one that is sensitive to other parts of the electromagnetic spectrum to one that is finely tuned to receiving and interpreting light in the range from above infrared on up to a bit short of ultraviolet.

And I think that’s wrong. I think that doesn’t show a lack of imagination at all. I think it shows that creationists are just as creative as anyone else, perhaps even more so. But it also shows that they don’t know how to tell when they’re being creative and when they’re not.

The Map is not the Religion

Friday, August 15th, 2008

I’m always trying to find new ways to look at what God is. I know that the various forms in which God shows herself to me don’t even begin to scratch the surface, let alone represent the surface. The notion held by so many that God is a man hanging out in Heaven and twiddling the knobs and dials of the universe is just a metaphor, a way for us to relate some small part of God to our everyday existence, in order to make her somewhat comprehensible. Or put more simply, any representation we make of God is a lie.

That’s why Muslims don’t want people drawing pictures of God, they don’t want people to lie about her.

But that’s not what I want to talk about today.

What I want to talk about is the idea, or process, or whatever it is, of dealing with things metaphorically, because, when it comes down to it, there’s an awful lot in the universe that the human mind is really not very good at comprehending, most especially God as she truly is. So we deal with things through metaphor. God is in many ways just a metaphoric way for us to look at the universe. The important thing, is to remember to not take our metaphors too seriously. As Alfred Korzybski famously said, “The map is not the territory.” The gist of that is that we need to remember to use metaphors to illuminate subjects, not to define them. They’re a way of communicating aspects of things, not of explaining them completely.

So how does this apply to religion? Well the important lesson is pretty simple, just remember that people who take their religion literally probably have other mental deficiencies as well, and they should be engaged with that in mind.

Twelve Points on the Circle

Friday, August 8th, 2008

There’s been a lot of talk about how man needs a moral compass, that, without God to guide us and tell us not just to do the right thing but what the right thing is, we’d descend into violent anarchy. I’m of the opinion that we won’t. There’s the whole Secular Humanist movement that provides a good example of how we don’t need an omniscient paternal being to set us straight, it shows that we can figure it out all on our own.

God and I were talking about it and I began to wonder, I mean, if morality without religion is Secular Humanism, than what is religion without morality. Living in the United States I thought I had a pretty good handle on that, it’s Capitalism. I think about all those people that seem to worship the “invisible hand of the market” and it sure looks like a religion to me. How much different is that really, than worshipping an invisible man in the sky? But God set me straight. Religion without morality is Astrology.

I wish it were a better punchline, but sometimes the truth is banal. Actually, I suppose that most of the time the truth is just banal, it’s just that most of the time there’s no reason to point out the things that are so obvious as to be boring. Hm, maybe I should quit digging myself in deeper and just shut up for now.

Be Your Self

Friday, August 1st, 2008

One of the things that mankind does differently now than we used to, and differently than all the other animals, is to belong to more than one tribe. Myself, I belong to the tribe of computer programmers, and the tribe of organized science fiction fandom, and the rather small tribe of my family. I used to belong to other tribes, tribes like Boy Scouts, and Altar Boys, and Renaissance Faire actors. You might think that I’m misusing the word tribe here, but I’m really not, I’m just being expansive with it, expansive in the way that modern life really demands.

My dictionary says that a tribe is a “social division” that consists of “families or communities linked by social, economic, religious, or blood ties” and that’s what I’m talking about. For me the emphasis is on the “social,” but I think I’ve got a kind of blood tie to all the other gay men out there, so they’re one of my tribes too. To a certain extent this multi-tribalism is made possible by technology. We need the speed of cars and other modern transportation to be able to gather together enough people so as to make a tribe based on interests, rather than geography, really work. We need that mobility to be able to intermix in different tribes rather than just have interest groups within our own local clan, our tribe of physical happenstance. And like they do for so many other things, computers and the internet really expand this capability. We can have enough of a telepresence that we don’t have to have quite as much face time to feel the ties of tribalism. We can multitask our tribalism, switching from one to the next at the speed of light.

Was this all part of God’s plan? Did he mean for us to transcend our location and bond together over the contents of our minds rather than contents of our skin? He tells me no. He tells me that like so many things it was made possible by his giving us free will, but he made no attempt to either encourage it or discourage it. So take courage in that and be your self, and when you get the chance, be your self not just alone but with other like-minded souls.