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Sunday, July 11, 2004

My Naïvete 

by John H
I'm starting to think I'm extremely naïve. There's something I believe that seems like it ought to be the most obvious fact on the planet. "Two plus two equals four" or "the sky is blue" kind of obvious - the sort of thing everyone ought to know.

But it turns out not everyone does know it. And the many people that do know it have long ago made peace with it - it's just not the issue to them that it is to me. I bring it up online or in group discussions, thinking I'm somehow shining some light in the world. In reality, I'm starting to think I'm embarrassing myself, playing the role of the "master of the obvious." So, with that in mind, here goes.

It seems to me that something that ought be understood by all religious people, something that ought to be as plain as the nose on one's face, is that religious beliefs aren't facts. They're called "beliefs" for a reason. We don't really know that the Bible is the word of God - we believe it is. We don't have a scrap of proof or evidence to back us up. We believe God is out there, we don't know God is out there.

Yes, people have spiritual, supernatural, or other-wordly experiences that seem to confirm the truth of these sorts of things. But these experiences, when taken from across the religious spectrum, are so diverse, so numerous, and so contradictory as to make them almost useless in determining truth. Not that individual experiences are worthless, but that using them to compile an idea of what truth is strikes me as pointless. For example, I've had some remarkable experiences in paying tithing. I've experienced things that I label as blessings, and I assign those blessings as having come from the Mormon concept of God. Those experiences are very real to me and I hope people will respect them. But that tells me that I have to respect the experiences of others. If someone else experiences blessings and traces those blessings to Vishnu, how on earth can I tell them they are wrong and that their blessings really come from my concept of what God is.

I remain entirely amazed at what people will do in the name of their religious beliefs, given that there is no way of proving they are somehow "right." Beyond one's own religious tradition, how does one choose Christ over Buddha, for example? Perhaps one tradition will ring truer with one's personal experiences, but it isn't like someone can demonstrate that Christ is the true way, while Buddha isn't.

This "fact" seems so obvious to me, and so very important. If understood by all, it means the guys won't fly the plane into the buildings. In short, it means (at least as I see it) that people don't need to mistreat other people over religion, because they realize we're talking about ideas and beliefs, not truth. Because when someone thinks they have the truth, they can justify anything - everything from religious violence to just being plain mean. Lonnie Persifall (an anti-Mormon preacher in Salt Lake) can call Mormon women "whores of babylon" while professing to love them, because he has "the truth."

But few others seem interested in this "obvious idea". When brought up among true believers, I'm usually seen as weird or even influenced by Satan (this logic is exactly the kind Satan would use to fight the truth, they reason). When brought up among the more intellectually minded (for lack of a better term), I seem to be regarded like the little kid who just figured out something obvious. They've dealt with this issue, and have decided to live their lives following their own faith. And yet I continue to contend that this kind of understanding essential to a peaceful, tolerant religious community.

For what it's worth, I'm not trying to make belief a morally relativistic place where truth is everywhere yet nowhere. I believe in exercising faith - acting on one's belief. That's why I go to Church, obey the commandments as best I can, etc. Belief isn't worth a lot unless it has action to back it up.

Am I being naïve in feeling this way? Am I watering down religion to nothing (and making it boring along the way)?
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