we do what we’re told

(I wrote this a couple of years ago for my blog Raw Fruit). 

Here now, are ideas oft repeated:

  • If we could get rid of religion, there would be no more war or social chaos.
  • God is a sadistic tyrant who eternally tortures people just because they don’t believe in him/her/it.
  • Churches expect their people to accept all their teaching, and punish independent thinking. No intelligent, informed person believes in God.
  • Religion has poisoned every culture and resisted all human progress.
  • The Bible is an incoherent mess of writing by superstitious ancients, and is full of contradictions.

I could list many more, but these are the first few that popped into my head.

These notions are dogma to a large segment of our society; ideas so pervasive it almost seems they exist in the intellectual air our minds breathe. It makes sense to turn away from “God” and religion in disgust, since religious zealots scurry about raping the environment, carrying weapons, and secretly plotting to overthrow governments and force the entire world to become a theocracy.

I wonder how many who cling tenaciously to these positions are aware that there are rational, reasoned responses to every single assertion, and others like them? Thinking people through the centuries have wrestled with gigantic questions and doubts and fears, and have come to rational conclusions and positions of faith that can be well-articulated. Whether you agree or not is your prerogative, but you should not dismiss their findings out of hand as if they are ridiculous. To do so is dishonest and foolish.

I have not set out in this post to “prove” the existence of God or the love of Jesus. I am not here to perform quantitative analysis of empirical research. I am merely a pilgrim pointing past myself, past all the garbage and the fluff and even the good and bad “stuff” to signposts, sometimes only dimly perceived, leading us to a place where we can all find hope and truth (and hopefully hope through truth).

Now, it is true that there have been terrible atrocities throughout history performed by individuals and groups claiming to be people of faith. Churches can be hotbeds of uncritical, mesmerized group hysteria, filled with preachers whipping their followers into a frenzy. Religious fundamentalists often speak out with venom and bitterness and appear to hate anyone who feels differently than they do. Since I am a christian, let me confess for us all: mea culpa.

But, consider this well-known quote:

The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully. (Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion)

Or this comment from a blog post (note: I previously included the link, but the post no longer exists):

…if your storybook was true, I find it funny your warped idea of gods love. The relationship your hold with god and jesus isn’t some friendship, your not walking through the woods skipping and dancing. you are being an obedient slave who worships him and strokes his ego and if you don’t you go to hell. seems to me god is a bit of tyrant and is extremely egotisticals and will have anybody who is willing to get on their knees and worship him. if you want to be that pathetic then i really to pitty you all. (comment from “not stupid”)

It appears christians do not “corner the market” on anger and bitterness. When I read comments containing this kind of contemptuous hostility, it sounds as though there is deep hurt beneath it.

I think Mr. Dawkins and “not stupid” both need a hug.

Let’s be real. Anyone who holds to dogma and opinion without at least a bit of examination is a religious fundamentalist. Many militant atheists fall into that category. When we cease to process information critically, with at least a modicum of humility, we are prey to the conformity of “groupthink”.  We have moved lockstep into a herd of sheep who all run the same direction, over the same packed ground. This mentality affects us all in one fashion or another. I have read publications from supposedly enlightened “freethinkers” who spend their energy spouting the same tired rhetoric as they pat each other’s intellectual backs.

Every human has a worldview, a matrix through which they process information. That is important and necessary. It’s just that we need to be continually reminded of mystery. No matter how you slice it, none of us possesses every piece of the knowledge pie. The sheer volume of what we don’t know–and I am speaking of the entire human race en masse here–is staggering. To be a seeker is to be humble, which is one way to become truly wise. It doesn’t mean that a seeker won’t have opinions–strong ones in some cases–it just means that he or she is willing to engage with others in a respectful, open manner.

It has become a tired cliche’ to say “I’m not religious, I am spiritual.” But it is true that every person ever born is a spiritual being. We crave transcendence. We seem to be “hardwired” with a desire to connect with humanity, nature, and the cosmos. Most of us sense intuitively that it is a marvelous thing to immerse our lives in causes greater than ourselves. Those who focus on living for their own pleasure and gain end up shriveled and emaciated husks.

I often marvel at the beauty of nature, or contemplate the magnificence in a clear night sky, and I tremble with awe for the wonders laid out before me by a loving creator. I pray and experience a peace from something or someone outside myself. I ask for wisdom, and am granted understanding that comes from sources I didn’t uncover with my own intellectual ability.

I encounter the love of Jesus Christ, the living God, every day in numerous ways. It would take far more than one post to explain how and why I came to believe and experience him, and continue to have that experience. Many millions of other people through the millennia have lived the same way.

This is a Grand Adventure.

I do not claim to have new understanding; all I can do is share my story, which I do gladly. But I am aware that if someone fortifies themselves with disbelief, any thoughts I could offer will most likely fall on deaf ears.

You can lead a sheep to Living Water, but you can’t make him drink.

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