February 21, 2006

Faith comes in many variations

Some local clergy have charisma coming out of every pore. They tell of a heaven with golf courses and many other enjoyable things. Another alleged truth they convey is that your deceased loved ones are waiting for you to join them in this place of supreme happiness.

They tell those who don’t have everything figured out what movies and TV programs to avoid, what books to read, the number of children to have and other things one must know for entrance to this abode of the deity and the blessed dead. And it works! Many who listen are eager to be put away in the grave, believing they will be resurrected in young and perfect bodies.

Elsewhere in the world, their colleagues, who possess equal or greater magnetism, use the same Supreme Being, with a different title, as their guide to pass along the truth of what waits after departure from this world. Some variations exist, such as pretty, shapely virgins awaiting males who die in pursuit of their religious beliefs. I wouldn’t consider such inexperienced women a reward any more than I would consider being a suicide bomber, or using any destructive force for an alleged higher cause.

Most people cling to the idea of God because it ties the loose ends of fact and experience together and gives life meaning. They need this belief to have unity and significance for the human quest. I’m happy for them.

But it’s not my cup of tea. I can’t take people like Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and other theologians seriously with some of their outbursts. The recent one about Intelligent Design is really a whopper. This theory is being advanced by clergy who lack the discipline of scientific method. They also seem to lack the faith of human beings in themselves.

No matter how brilliant scientists are, we always ask them for their credentials and subject their views to the most rigorous examination when they wander into fields that are not their own. Shouldn’t we also ask the same of clergy?

I’m not a scientist, but if I were, I’d probably feel threatened by Western Christians who are in the habit of reading the scriptures literally and interpreting doctrines as though they were matters of objective fact.

In reality, however, debates over how to read the Bible, Koran and other scriptures have existed since the documents’ first creation. Arguments over literalism and interpretation are nothing new, and, in fact, reflect the enormous importance society places on these documents. To believe the documents have always been read literally simply ignores historical fact.

It used to be that we who disagreed with likable strong believers were shunned or neglected. Now we are often labeled as enemies who are attacking them. Of course, since 9/11, much of the world has been in a rancorous mood.

Some believe they have a license to divide in the name of patriotism, a license to deny in the name of their particular religion. Ugh!
Many years ago, these words of Corliss Lamont helped me understand deep things I knew (but didn’t know I knew): “We can state that happiness is not properly definable in terms of the glorified heavenly rest home or passive contemplation so common to the supernaturalist tradition. Nor is it to be defined as withdrawal from the world in this life and retreat to some ivory tower of art or reflection. Such ideals of happiness are escapist dreams originating to a large extent in bad social conditions where most work is drudgery, where human living lacks aesthetic quality, and where in general the struggle to maintain life at a decent level is heartbreakingly difficult.”

Clergy mentioned above, and others, have happy and dedicated followers, who, like bowing servants scampering backward, scattering petals at the feet of their icons, accept the gospel passed down as infallible truth. It isn’t! It’s different variations of faith — and not always infallible ones.

The highly opinionated Bob Moore retired from the Navy in 1964 and from full-time teaching in 1982. He is the Kentucky State Director for Uniformed Services Disabled Retirees. Contact him at bobmoorzy@prodigy.net