Wednesday, October 27, 2010


Sharing a world

Usually when I write in a forum that allows anonymous comments, I avoid reading them. In papers like the Waco Tribune-Herald (back when it allowed comments) or the Dallas Morning News, I usually get attacked from the right. However, in the Huffington Post, I am usually savaged by atheists. (Which raises the question-- why are so many atheists reading the "religion" section of the Huffington Post?).

Huffington Post pieces can generate a lot of commentary. For example, one of my previous posts about a minor note in a Supreme Court opinion generated over 500 comments.

My piece this week got 270+ comments. Some were affirming, and that meant a lot to me. Others were thoughtful disagreement, which I also appreciated. Others however, seemed to stridently condemn people of faith as stupid. For example, here was a comment from "Ascanious001:"

Now all you have to do is get over your need to believe in an imaginary magical sky daddy and you'll have come farther still on the road to becoming a fully functioning, rational human being. As is clear from the hideous, abominable way the church has been instrumental in fomenting and perpetuating homophobia in our culture, Christianity, like Islam, is a blight upon mankind. You need to write a little about that, too.

What do you say to respond to someone who describes your faith, the wellspring that feeds your soul, as a "blight upon mankind?"

I was pondering that today as I walked to my house. It was a rainy, windy day here in Minneapolis, but there is a certain beauty in that. The leaves swirl on the ground, or still speckle the trees with red and yellow. On the ground, beneath me, there was one red leaf, a perfect one, its veins a contrasting yellow and a subtle, gorgeous mix of colors fading from yellow to deep crimson from the center to the sides.

Last weekend, with Henry Wright and Matt Johnson, our friend Drew caught a speckled trout that was as resplendent as that leaf. Not large, but achingly perfect in its form, a collage of life's colors on the strong side of that fish. The guide held it out before we threw it back, so we could see the green and pink and cream of it, and then it slipped back into the water, effortlessly, that collage disappearing in the matching glint of ocean and light. It was a still, small moment.

Whoever you are, Ascanious001, we share a hauntingly beautiful place, surrounded by people whose lives we can imbue with meaning and love-- our family, our friends, our students, and those we have not yet met. It may (to me) be a Creation, or (to you) a happy accident, but it simply is, and that is larger than either of us. This world forces humility upon us, and that is consistent with my faith. The resonance of a creator deepens and broadens my experience in what I see and touch and taste. You do not have to share my view, but we do get to share this world.

We are both blessed, a bounty neither of us deserves.

Angry teenager is angry.

I have a theory, and I think I'm allowed a little bit of snark here since I identify as an agnostic. Most "atheists" or "non-believers" just get angry at the religion they were raised in (hence, in the West, it's usually Christianity). They never really get over the anger at having their parents bring them up in the religion, so they feel like they had no choice in their upbringing.

No matter how old they get, they never abandon that anger. They think the problem they had with their religious identity lies with the religion itself.

And I always find it humorous that they point to a societal institution of religion (a church, usually) as an example of "look at all the bad stuff that this organization did in history!"

Yes, that's true... of every human institution ever. Humans are typically bad people to each other. You might believe that's because we have a sinful nature because (metaphorically or literally) early man was imperfect and fell prey to temptation. I might think it is because society is largely structured as a competition against others. The guy down the street may believe that our genetics predispose us to being assholes.

Point is, this guy is angry, and unable to develop intellectually past his anger at religion in general to an understanding of religion and its place in our personal identities.

A friend and I were discussing Hegel, and he brought up this quote:

"Civilization has raised this latest era so far above the ancient antithesis of Reason and faith, of philosophy and positive religion that this opposition of faith and knowledge has acquired quite a different sense and has now been transferred into the field of philosophy itself. In earlier times philosophy was said to be the handmaid of faith. Ideas and expressions of this sort have vanished and philosophy has irresistibly affirmed its absolute autonomy. Reason, if it is in fact Reason that appropriates this name, has made itself into such an authority within positive religion that a philosophical struggle against the positive, against miracles and suchlike, is now regarded as obsolete and unenlightened. Kant tried to put new life into the positive form of religion with a meaning derived from his philosophy, but his attempt was received poorly, not because it would have changed the meaning peculiar to these forms, but because they no longer appeared to be worth the bother. The question arises, however, whether victorious Reason has not suffered the same fate that the barbarous nations in their victorious strength have usually suffered at the hands of civilized nations that weakly succumbed to them. As rulers the barbarians may have held the upper hand outwardly, but they surrendered to the defeated spiritually. Enlightened Reason won a glorious victory over what it believed, in its limited conception of religion, to be faith as opposed to Reason. Yet seen in a clear light the victory comes to no more than this: the positive element with which Reason busied itself to do battle, is no longer religion, and victorious Reason is no longer Reason. The new born peace that hovers triumphantly over the corpse of Reason and faith, uniting them as the child of both, has as little of Reason in it as it has of authentic faith." (from Hegel's "Faith and Knowledge."
There's a certain nihilism inherent in the anger that guy feels, a denial of meaning in the world, because he is still stuck with his anger at something he shouldn't be angry with. He hasn't yet grasped that he, and only he, is responsible for developing his sense of self, including his religious opinion, and until he does, he won't be able to find the meaning you do in the world, because (whatever your beliefs) you are at a stage in your personal development where you can find that meaning.

You ask what you say to him, and my answer is: nothing. You would be talking different languages. But don't worry, most people move out of the angry at religion stage (I did).
Your response was lovely.

On the other had you can perhaps guide this person to the Aqua Buddha or the photos of the magical sky thing you posted on your site.
Bunny: Uli doesn't care about anything. He's a nihilist

The Dude: Ah, that must be exhausting.

I agree with Lane. Or at least don't disagree with him.

I always find comments like the one you point out here remarkable. They always go something like this, "Christianity breeds hate and contempt of (insert group here, recently usually being Muslims, homosexuals, abortion doctors, etc.) and therefore Christians are stupid and silly people that believe in an imaginary God because they miss their mommies."

I'm always amazed that the people that type such comments aren't able to see the irony in what they are saying.
Say what you will about the tenets of national socialism, at least it's an ethos.
Do what Jesus would do and brush them haters off.
Tell him that he is a poopy head and call it a day.
What a poetic response.
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