Saturday, February 05, 2005

No Snappy Title Comes Immediately to Mind

A reading from the First Comment of Marco: I think I'm just being a tad mischievous because I hate being pigeon-holed.

I empathise entirely, in my chaotic way, with your desire not to be pigeon-holed. I have been worried about the NeoCon label that I have gotten stuck to myself in the course of our discussions, and have skated dangerously close to labelling myself ‘right wing’. I will quickly enunciate some of my more ‘left-wing’ beliefs in a vain attempt to avod being pigeonholed:

* The government should nationalise all the banks and insurance companies
*There should be no private health care system whatsoever; all medical doctors should be government employees;
* The minimum acceptable level of immigration should be approximately 250,000 per annum
* Petrol taxes should be higher, in line with the OECD average, in order to better reflect the true enivronmental costs of driving around- though I admit this will devastate my own happy exurban lifestyle...
* Competence in an Aboriginal language should be a compulsory pre-condition for government employment
* We should build lots of nuclear power plants

Oops, that last one wasn’t particularly ‘left wing’ and was included by mistake. Sorry. I will go on to discuss all the other nifty things you have said in your other comments now!

A reading from the Second Comment of Marco: It's the universe, taunting me like a bored housecat” [is] an equivalent statement to “It's God , taunting me like a [bored?] housecat”.

A reading from the Third Comment of Marco: I sometimes find myself correcting non-christians (in my head) when they mention fate or the Universe – ‘You should have used the word ‘God’ there’

It is valid to have a pantheistic point of view that associates God with Fate and the Universe, but I don’t think such a God would be worthy of human worship. I think it is essential that God be ‘outside’ or ‘bigger than’ the universe. I expect this argument is going to end up sounding terribly pretentious, but this is what I believe:

*the most important thing about God is that He be omnibenevolent

*in order to be omnibenevolent within the Universe, He needs to be omniscient, so he can know the consequences of the actions of all entities within the Universe to nth degree

*But, we know from Gödel that within a logical system you cannot prove all the true propositions that can be enunciated within a system

*Thus- and here all real philosophers can stand ready to belt me about the head and shoulders- if we make the unjustified leap that the Universe is a collection of entities that interact with each other in ways that make it constitute a logical system...

* order for God to know everything that is ‘true’ about our Universe, i.e., to be omniscient, He must not be contained within the Universe, but must be something ‘bigger’ that contains the Universe.

A reading from the Fourth Comment of Marco: I view world religions [as things that] are basically undergoing evolution, where each denomination is a "species", some undergoing gradual genetic change. I guess there is some survival of the fittest going on where some will prosper in certain environments. Some may well become extinct, some will compete vigorously, others will ignore one another, but overall you will see which ones are successful. ... This world view of mine does not lend itself to believing that one or another of these religions is the ‘true’ one. I perhaps would like to associate myself with ‘successful’ denominations and countries and even open myself to their vision of the truth.

Here, I am going to say that I agree completely. I do not think any religion is the ‘true’ one, but I think that the worldly success of a particular religion is an important consideration in determining how true they are. I think the more a belief is consistent with reality, the more ‘successful’ those who believe it will be (witness the relative lack of breathairians about nowadays). I have believed this for a long time, though in my case the roots are actually biblical- there is a statement in Acts that has always stuck in my head, something like this: “If this a human movement, it will die out of its own accord, so we shouldn’t bother persecuting them; if God is with these wacky Christian people, they will prosper anyway, and it would be blasphemous to perscute them.” Though you can tell from the context that the speaker wasn’t particularly holy, the fact that the opinion was preserved suggests that the early Christians felt there was some value in it, and I always felt it contained a strong element of truth.
So, I felt all religions that had managed to survive for thouands of years in the face of competition must be in some way ‘of God’ and that Christians had to take them seriously. What beliefs do successful religions have in common? These were the things that I determined to believe too. For example, I think Christianity, Islam, and the most vibrant forms of Buddhism all have a strong emphasis on what Christians would call ‘grace’. I couldn’t figure out why Hinduism was still around, because its theology seemed so out of kilter with the other three, but when I became a vegetarian I realised it was the world’s one great witness to ‘Thou Shalt Not Kill’. I didn’t understand why Judaism had managed to survive, always hanging on, never prospering, for thousands of years, until I realised that Jewish fundamentalists- unlike all other sorts of fundamentalists- don’t believe that only beleivers in their religion will be saved.

It is almost possible to argue that Christianity is sweeping other religions before it, all over the world, so we can ignore the others- e.g., a factoid I came across the other day playing Trivial Pursuit that there are more Presbyterians in South Korea than in the U.S.- but this falls down badly once you learn any history at all. What is the most common religion nowadays where Jesus was born? How about where he grew up? Where St. Paul was born? Where the disciples were first called ‘Christians’? In the cities to which the Book of Revelation was addressed? Where St. Augustine lived? Where the Nicene Creed was devised? Where the first Christian Emperor set his throne? All of those places are, er, Muslim. Islam is the only religion that has consistently and effectively fought back against Christianity, so it is the one that you cannot possibly ignore.

I don’t pay very much attention to the quickly mutating sects on the left-wing of Christianity that have sprung up in the last 500 years or so; I heard a Coptic priest speak when I was in Devil Bunny City and was struck by how much more ‘mainstream’ he was, after 1600 years of separation, than Luther had been after ten. The author of the ‘Evolution of Religions’ site says that worldly success is used as an argument by Evangelical Christians, but statistically both Catholicism and Islam are growing faster. I believe that if something is believed by both Catholics and Muslims, it has a good chance of reflecting the will of God. The only Islamo-Catholic belief that I can’t bring myself to share is the one about infinite persecution of unbelievers, and this is what has led me to become something I always despised- a lapsed Carholic- for the last six years.

A reading from the Sixth Comment of Marco: I will often make arguments against atheists/agnostics of the benefits of religion and why I think it better for my kids to be christian than atheist even if it is dubious that I believe what I want them to believe.

Yes, I wish there was just one religion that contained no beliefs I found totally repugnant that I could raise my children in. I feel it was of immense value to me being raised in an organised religion and feel like a bad parent that I am not doing so.


Marco said...

I guess that means you don't buy into "creation science" (like for instance Sandor does) which states that evolution is inconsistent with the timelines of the bible. Although creation science starts with the assumptions that the bible is scientifically accurate, then re-interprets geologic etc. evidence to obtain alternative explanations for various formations and fossils, it does it in a fairly strictly scientific methodology. Although, quite a few of the underlying assumptions are dubious at best, I find creation science literature to be a good test of the various assumptions geologists make. I would also point out that believing in "evoloution" over "creation" will not make you a more moral person, and would therefore not particularly help society. The various connected sciences of biology and adaptation are just as useful without making any theological conclusions.

Dr. Clam said...

Yes, believing in 'evolution' over 'creation' will help make you a more moral person, because you will not have to believe in a God who is a malevolent scumbag! See my earlier post, 'Does God suck?'