Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Christian Elitism

Somebody close to me recently accused me of being an atheist; they claim my late grandmother told them this.

I find this highly dubious. My grandmother knew what my beliefs were; I've told her point blank that I do believe in God (if not necessarily the strict Christian interpretation of said deity). Of course, on the other hand, this person is quite prone to mishearing what others say because she spends most of her time telling people what she thinks and tends to block out, and sometimes actually interrupt and talk over, things she doesn't want to hear.

As the conversation went on, I got the definite impression that she drew this conclusion herself without any help from my grandmother. This conclusion was based on a statement she made during the conversation. I made the comment that I don't necessarily take The Bible as literal fact based largely on the unavoidable fact that The Bible is a 2000+ year old document that's been translated and retranslated so many times that its accuracy cannot be strictly relied upon.

When I said that, she said, "Anyone who doesn't believe in The Bible doesn't believe in God because The Bible is God."

Is it now? Well, if that's true, so much for the "there's only one God" theory. Given the sheer popularity of The Book (the King James Version was, after all, one of the earliest books ever set in print), there must be literally billions of Copies out there. By this woman's logic, that means there must be billions of Gods.

I imagine she didn't mean it that literally; I'm just a little miffed so I'm on sarcasm overdrive here. I'm guessing that what she meant was that, if you don't believe in The Bible, then you don't believe in God. Obviously, that's where her belief that I am an atheist comes from; if I don't believe strictly in The Bible then I must not believe in God.

I take profound offense to that very concept.

Given that the original writers of The Bible believed that the Earth couldn't have been created much more than 4000 years before the birth of Christ, it stands to reason that The Bible, even the very first, original version of its earliest texts, could not be any older than 6008 years old; this planet, according to modern estimates, is about 4.54 billion years old. If God created the Earth then He must have existed long before this Book.

I'm not saying The Bible isn't a Good Book; It is. It is one of the finest road maps of moral and ethical behavior ever committed to paper. However, this woman believes that The Bible was written by God, using humans as His instruments.

The Bible was not written by God; even Biblical scholars acknowledge that. The Bible is a book about God written by humankind. Does that make it any less important to Christian belief? No. It simply means that, like everything else ever written, it is merely the writers' interpretation of the subject matter. In other words, The Bible describes the Christian interpretation of God.

In that word "interpretation" lies the key to my own beliefs. I do believe in God, but I have my own unique interpretation of Him. One of the key concepts in my own beliefs about God actually flies in the face of a key concept in traditional Christian belief: that Christianity is the "One True Belief." That idea says, in effect, "We know the 'real' God; anyone who does not agree with us is wrong."

My central belief is the diametric opposite of this: I believe it is the height of human arrogance to assume that we, as a species, are even close to advanced enough to understand anything about a life form as advanced as God must be. Therefore, in my view, Christians or, for that matter, a believer of any faith who believes their beliefs are the "One True Belief" are displaying a level of hubris that, to me, calls their very judgment into question.

The other thing that concerns me about beliefs so strict is that such beliefs cannot adapt to changing times. All belief systems, if they're going to remain relevant to modern society, must adapt to advances made in society. For example, the moment we discovered that the Earth was more than 6008 years old, the traditional Christian Story of Creation could no longer be taken literally; creating the Earth obviously took a lot longer than six days.

Personally, I think too much emphasis is often placed on details like this which, in the final analysis, have no relevance whatsoever to the teachings of The Bible. So God took a little longer to create Heaven and Earth than Genesis says. So what? All that means is the people writing this particular interpretation simply didn't have the knowledge and technology needed to learn the true age of the Earth and only guessed on the basis of surface observation.

That doesn't change the idea, however, that this planet was created by an Intelligent Force which the writers have chosen to call God. All it means is that God is so far above us on the evolutionary scale that, beyond the fact that He created this world, we really know virtually nothing whatsoever about Him. In other words, acknowledging that Earth was created in billions of years instead of six days does not automatically dismiss the concept of God.

Therein lies the problem. The woman I've been talking about believes, if you question word one of The Bible, you don't believe in God; that includes such obviously incorrect, and ultimately irrelevant, details as the time Creation took.

This woman is one of the most intelligent people I've known in my life. However, for someone of such keen intellect, she is astonishingly closed-minded in some areas; religion is one of them. This is one of the reasons why I tend not to trust her judgment. I trust her intentions certainly; she means well and is often very helpful to those she loves. However, her judgment is frequently impaired by her priggishness.

I do not appreciate being told I don't believe in God on the basis of a fallacious argument, especially since she apparently told Lisa's mother that I was an atheist. This is particularly troubling given that I've been saying prayers for her, her husband and for Lisa on a regular basis. Now I'm concerned that I'm going to look like a hypocrite or, at the very least, a fraud.

The fact is, I believe in prayer; I always have. Until recently, however, my "praying" was always of an "informal" nature. By that I mean, when I prayed, I'd generally just "talk to" God, or the spirits of my loved ones who passed on, as if I was talking to a friend. Lately, however, with so much turmoil in my life, I've felt a need for a more formal, ritualistic approach to prayer.

Through a Catholic friend, I have discovered of late that some of the most beautiful prayer rituals I've ever encountered come out of Catholic belief; I have therefore chosen a Catholic prayer and prayer tradition as my prayer style of choice. Although I am not Catholic, I choose to respect, and honor, Catholic traditions when it comes to praying because of my admiration for Catholic prayer and ritual.

One of the concepts in Catholic praying I found most intriguing was the concept of the patron saint. This, actually, fits with my beliefs about the spirit world. I have mentioned on this blog previously that I view the spirit world as a sort of "chain of command" with the spirits of those who pass on being the medium by which requests to God are made; the idea of patron saints, who speak to God on your behalf, fits nicely into this belief.

So, I chose a patron saint to whom I now pray regularly: Saint Rita of Cascia. Several times a day, and at least once before bedtime, I say her Prayer of Petition to ask her to help the people I love in my life. There is a certain comfort in the formal ritual of the prayer; by repeating the exact same words every time, it gives me a stronger sense that my prayer is actually being heard. Also, reading a formal prayer, to me, is a sign of respect to both St. Rita and God.

My beliefs about God have not changed; I'm not converting to Catholicism. I simply choose to honor Catholic rituals when it comes to prayer simply because I love and respect their style of prayer and because the concept of patron saints fits so well into my established belief systems. Also, most of the people I love in my life, outside of family, happen to be Catholic; it seems appropriate to honor their beliefs when praying for them.

We all must interpret God in our own way. Some of us may even choose not to believe in Him. However, I maintain, and have always maintained, that the specific details of a person's religious beliefs, or lack thereof, are irrelevant provided that their belief system follows the simple Golden Rule:

"Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

In closing, let me clarify something unequivocally:

I am not an atheist.

2 comments:

  1. If someone called me an athiest, I would ask if he/she were a Christian. Upon receiving the answer, "Yes" I would say "Well, I'm glad I'm not among more of your kind." Glib, yes, but I'm far more rude than you and have had much more experience in delivering such things.

    I have discovered... no, that's not the right word. It has BEEN REVEALED TO ME, that all religions in their most basic structures are about love, compassion, forgiveness, and TOLERANCE! Anyone who doesn't have tolerance is NOT a Christian, nor are they a Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim or Jew! In your words as you quoted so many others:

    "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

    There are far too many judgements in our society today and certainly those who judge as this lady has judged you, are NOT living up to the standards set out for us by the Bible, Koran, Torrah, Dammapada, Upanishads, or the Vedic Scriptures. I find it so sad that there are people who are so unsure of their own beliefs that they have to attack the beliefs of others. That is how they manage to validate their own beliefs.

    Next time you are verbally attacked by this person, tell her you forgive her and ask her to beg God's forgiveness for criticizing one of his creations, one of his children. To quote Prabhushri Swami Amar Jyoti, " If you cannot see God IN all, you cannot see God AT all."

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  2. Hmmm, I had a more-long-winded diatribe cooked up for telling off my bible-thumper "friend" the next time he tells me that Muslims are going to burn in hell; but, "If you cannot see God IN all, you cannot see God AT all", says it all. Thank you!

    This more-religious-than-you-or-me bastard has _really_ pushed me past my limits _now_, by starting to get _me_ to take _him_ in _my_ motor vehicle to do his expensive hobby, on his whim - namely, of hauling his obese ass to McDonald's even more often than I want to go there, and using me as a captive audience along the way to bible-thump to - which he had previously been at least using _his_ motor vehicle to do.

    Well he's due for a shock: I have a second bike almost sufficiently fixed up now, and one of these times when he shows up, I'm going to offer to let him use it, alongside me with mine, to do that 10-mile-each-way trip. When he no doubt refuses, I'll respond by answering _another_ one of the lines that he told me in his diatribe yesterday - namely about how a "true" Christian is so excited about the Word of God that he devotes himself, more than I do, to telling his neighbors about it - by spelling out how _cycling_ is what _I_ choose to be _that_ "true" to.

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