The Pokey Finger of God

meditations on religion and culture

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Questions from a seeker: 3

November 16th, 2003 · No Comments · metaphysics, ritual

Q: How can I make the “leap of ” to accept someone else’s religion?

Suspension of disbelief is a handy tool to use when examining religion. This is the same tool used when you watch action movies or Star Trek that allows you to enjoy it without getting all twisted up about the goofy science. It’s handy for studying religions, to allow yourself to temporarily adopt other mindsets to discover what a believer “gets” out of that belief.

The trick to making it work is maintaining respect for the believer. Odd or exaggerated tales are frequently memory devices used to convey a complex message. So, suspend your disbelief long enough to hear the whole message, then try to determine what the underlying message is. There’s no threat of losing your social position or eternally staining your soul through contemplating an alternate perspective for fifteen minutes.

If you can spend an hour watching Star Trek, and then blissfully live the rest of your life without the conveniences of teleportation or matter regeneration machines, then you make the distinction between your reality and that of someone else’s without letting it effect your enjoyment of the situation. When someone shares their religion with you, they are sharing an intimate and personal view of the world. It may be naive, it may not be logical, but it is a product of their construct of the world and how it’s built says a lot of about the mind that built it.

Certain actions or rituals are frequently part of the religious equation, and the manner, frequency, and duration of these vary from one observance to the next. Performing or witnessing religious ritual requires an acceptance of an other reality. The nature of this other reality is often determined by custom and dogma, but it is a reality of a type that has been continuously shared over the millennia of human existence. It’s a reality that has captured the most ancient of human learning and mental tools. Certainly, it’s not your reality, but you can allow yourself to enjoy the art within the context of that shared reality.

If you ever find that one of these beliefs benefits more than they harm you, you may no longer need to maintain your disbelief in that area. If you find them all offensively puerile, then you don’t have to allow that topic with your friends. But by taking the opportunity to understand the context of another faith, however, you change the chasm of disbelief into a light of understanding.

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