Michael Battalio

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Serious conversations... (part 3)

A bit of a disclaimer, this is the third in series of serious blog posts about religion and philosophy. If you have ever chatted with me about philosophy and religion and very much disagree, be prepared for that to continue.
 These are my responses (Edited, of course, to offend as few people as possible; although offense is inevitable with me.) from a conversation I am having with an atheist friend of mine about the meaning of life, consciousness, physics, the kitchen sink, religion and a couple of moral issues thrown in to boot. 
 Before every single religious person starts chomping at the bit, let me say this is not an argument about whether there is a God. This is more philosophical in nature. Also let me say that my unnamed friend is one of the most moral, responsible and decent people I have ever met, so no one take the high ground until you’ve read the entire series, and still don’t take it then either. This third entry consists of some of my thoughts on organized religion. (As a kind of editor’s note, one paragraph doesn’t necessarily flow with they next. They can be read independently.)

Prepare to be offended. Sorry. Religion has the tendency to make people deny the scientific truth. (Before everyone gets up in arms let me provide an example: it took the deaths and imprisonment of many scientists [e.g. Galileo, although he specifically wasn’t killed by the Church] before the Catholic Church would admit the earth went around the sun. Same too with evolution. [I can’t think of anyone killed because of it though.]) Whether this critical skepticism (I’m not saying skepticism of science is a bad thing; I’m saying the reason for the skepticism could be misguided.) is an unconscious, learned response or something someone chooses to do depends on the person. I am not saying most people blindly accept religion but possibly.
Religion also does a good job of making sure people don't question its validity. Religion says it's good for people to question their faith, but most religious people I know don't act that way. (In my quest for an understanding of faith, I am about to read a book by an atheist about why religion is nonsense. I think I've read enough books about why there should be a God, I think it's time to view the other side. I'll let you know if it's any good.) I believe this stems from the fact that those with religious power do not want to give up that power because in the not so distant past religious power meant you had political power. And the way to keep political power is to keep the masses stupid or at least unquestioning.
People have a tendency to mix religion with everything (By that I mean use religion to influence decisions that have nothing to do with religion.) under the assumption that religion is always right simply because it was ordained by God. (Before you get up in arms with that statement let me say that just because God ordained specific people to “manage” his followers doesn’t mean they can’t still screw the religion up. [Anyone heard of the Avignon Antipapacy?])
Most people worry about religion being injected into science, where it really does not belong. I’m not concerned with that. Science can do a very good job of defending itself against purely religious ideals. The thing that worries me most is people confusing religion and politics. Politics has no defense against religion, and one need only look at the president to see some of the consequences of religion dominating political decisions. It seems every day we get closer and closer to a theocracy. That does worry me. (And just because it’s a theocracy of my own religion doesn’t make me worry less. Just because the Taliban was an Islamic government didn’t mean those with that faith liked it there.)
Humanity's need to believe in something greater than itself is very strong, and I have no idea where it comes from. Religion would say that is God trying to "bring us home." I don't blindly subscribe to that; I hope. I think it has to do with there not really seeming to be an obvious purpose to existence. One has to find it. And religion is the easy way out, because let's face it, most people are too lazy to figure out a purpose, and religion is a convenient, easy way to have a purpose to life. (Don't take that to mean I think all religious people are lazy, unintelligent people. I don't, but some people actually are.) I think that's why so many people accept a religion without understanding it. (As an aside, I think that's where the majority of problems concerning religion come from, people not really understanding what they believe.)
The only thing I can say about organized religion demanding that other organized religions are wrong is that I hope I've picked the correct religion. I know that must be unsettling to you. It is to me as well. The truth is, there is no way to know which is actually right (if any) until you die, so there is no use in worrying about it.
The interesting thing about organized religion is that if you don’t already subscribe to one, and you don’t see one you like, you can start your own. There are so many Christian denominations alone, who would notice another. And besides, I would argue that you don't need to belong to an organized religion to be religious. Organized religion is a forum and a place for people to celebrate what they believe as a community. And community is what humanity is all about. That’s purpose enough right there.

Next, let’s move onto the meaning of life…

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