The Pokey Finger of God

meditations on religion and culture

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Of Gods And Devils

May 16th, 2007 · No Comments · culture, media

As the hyper-rationalists like Dawkins are on the rise and old-school moralists like Robertson and Falwell are draining away, I find myself, unable to embrace either position, hoping for the mutual destruction of each in some dramatic, dying battle.

Selfish Gene was a mind-blowing read, and it allowed me a perspective that has significantly colored my view of the universe. I wouldn’t want to be placed in a position of having to defend it as a scholarly work, as it’s a confusing mix of studies and speculation. But he makes his point quite clearly: the idea that DNA has its own evolutionary agenda is really spectacular.

It’s very likely that Dawkins makes another excellent point in his latest book, The God Delusion. I am loathe to read it, however, as I find the title to be deliberately offensive. Further, the author’s appearances and debates have revealed the gist of the material, and my experiences with other people holding similar perspectives have rarely resulted in positive rewards.

Christopher Hitchens recent book, God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, has placed him squarely on Dawkins’ coat-tails. Hitchens recently “debated” local theocratic apologist Marvin Olasky. The debate very quickly became an opportunity for Hitchens to blame every evil in the world on the belief in God. Olasky is left fighting a staged retreat, pointing out the flaws in Hitchens rhetoric, but unable to even keep up with the punches.

All these guys mentioned so far are smart people. Hitchens and Dawkins make an obvious point — a lot of the worlds problems today can be traced back to something the Catholic church does or did. But what these hyper-rationalists fail to understand is that religion is not something the Catholic church made up, nor is the practice of religion somehow indicative of mental failing. Implying, or even stating, that belief in deity is like a self-imposed lobotomy is a tremendous insult to the vast majority of the people who’ve ever lived on this planet.

In this country, when you talk about Religion, you’re talking about Christianity. Discussions about Buddhism, Hinduism, Shintoism, or any form of animism are couched in terms of cults and mythologies, never as legitimate religions. Perhaps Dawkins et al., feel that by railing against (big-R) Religion in English, in America, that their primary target — protestant Christianity — will be nearly exclusively attacked. Perhaps they never thought this hard about it.

The objective existence of any deity (no matter how great) is irrelevant to the practice of religion. The founders of Christianity knew this, and went to great lengths to found a faith about nothing and everything. The subjective idea of deity that exists in the minds of its believers is the deity, no external connection needed. True believers, naturally, are told everything but this.

In fact, the typical path for the average Christian believer through any sort of church is chock full of moralism and deeply metaphoric stories about people who lived so long ago and far away that the stories themselves have to be explained. The actual technology of religion: the philosophy, the theology, the mental and spiritual practices that lead to a satisfying religious experience — these are hidden from the common believer and only revealed (in parts and pieces) as the members advance through the church’s hierarchical control structure.

From my perspective, this is the biggest problem with our particular monolithic religious culture: whatever skills we had as spiritual peoples in our respective early tribal cultures were completely lost under the monoculture steamroller of Roman Catholicism. Pre-Christian peoples in Europe and Western Asia had powerfully spiritual lives that connected them in a very dynamic way to their ancestors and their gods. Most of these people also had far more leisure time and relatively little stress in their lives, following patterns that had been successful for humans for thousands of years.

In contrast, we’ve lost our way. We’ve lost our families, our gods, our cultures. One could argue that we’ve advanced in so many other ways, pointing to Sports Utility Vehicles and Dancing with the Stars as examples of our shining progress. Nonetheless, the dominant faith in our country is shockingly primitive and threadbare, serving only to keep us easily distracted during times of trouble.

If Dawkins and Hitchens were sincerely interested in advancing the general cause of human knowledge, they’d do much better to teach meditation than spend a second arguing over the existence of god. Deities have had a place in the human psyche for millennia. Arguing that intelligence is enhanced by artificially cutting off some aspect of the mind seems Orwellian at best. It would be much better for everyone to have the knowledge of how to build their own, vibrant spiritual worlds.