Sunday, December 04, 2011

The Oddness of Belief and Ritual - Sunday

I was just lying here, reading Bukoswki as my two pugs snored beside me, thinking about the Sabbath Day. I skimmed through the television early this morning and spent some time listening to all of the TV preachers. All in all there were six of them (bear in mind I only have 10 channels) and they were all grinding that same axe. Working that same machine. Telling that same lie. Capitalizing on that same fear.

One of them was talking about misery and struggle (as they all do). He was comparing misery and struggle to being lost in a desert (as they all do). He was telling his listeners to take heart when their struggles and miseries seemed too big to handle. Why? Because the bigger the desert the bigger the blessing. The bigger the hopelessness and misery the bigger the lesson God has for you when/if He chooses to be your deliverer.

The pastor, of course, shouted all of this and when he got to the end the organist, of course, played with passion and the congregation, of course, shouted, laughed and many were even sitting with tears running down their tired faces.

It's all terribly boring, isn't it. It's all terribly pitiable, isn't it?

What are the greatest fears of mankind?

1. We don't know how we got here.
2. We don't know where we are going.
3. We are going to die.
4. There may be no meaning to our suffering.

I certainly don't have any satisfying answers to the above questions and fears. Evolutionary biology has solved the answer of how human beings got here as a species and how life has evolved into the diversity we see around us but the big question of "where it all came from" remains a mystery. As far as where we are going it seems, by all reasonable accounts, that once you reach brain-death you go nowhere and simply cease to exist. Death is something no man can escape, despite our most dearly held mythologies. And other than the small meaning we define for ourselves, there seems to be no cosmic reason for any of our sufferings.

These are my default positions on life's greatest mysteries. I don't find them particularly consoling but it does give me a certain amount of satisfaction to adopt a skeptical posture because it is clearly the most intellectually honest one. Whether you are a Christian, Muslim, Mormon, Buddhist or an atheist, we all share the same fate and the same fears. This I know.

But the Christian has a firm answer to these fears. I heard it clearly on the television today. I heard it clearly in my decade of evangelical christianity. I read it clearly in the teachings of the Bible. It's quite simple and not unlike thousands of other myths across the world. Unsurprisingly there is a thread throughout each answer to our greatest fears.

1. God made you intentionally by his own will and special creation. Though you may not understand it, you were put here for a reason.

As far as marketing an idea goes this is a perfect answer because it appeals to both successful and unsuccessful people. If life is going well for you then you are able to see it as a confirmation that, of course, God is looking out for you. If you suffer in untold miseries (as most of the world does) then you are able to take comfort in the fact that, though you don't understand your present struggle, you were made with a purpose. In this sense Christianity has made a virtue out of suffering. The preacher today was emphasizing this by drawing a correlation between the size of your blessing and the size of your struggle.

2. When you die you will live with God in perfect unity and bliss as you were meant to for all of eternity.

You will finally be freed of struggle. Free of pain and misery. Free of bounced checks and unpaid bills and mundane jobs and tyrannical bosses and abusive fathers and collect callers and dismal parents and no friends and impotency and disease and fatigue and garbage and lost love and disappointment and being picked last and tears and drudgery and slavery and obesity and acne and emasculation and so on and so forth.

3. You were not meant to die.

Death is unnatural. You were made to live in perfect unity with God for all of eternity but that all changed when Eve ate the apple in the Garden of Eden therefore plunging perfect humanity into a condition of total depravity. Luckily, God sent Himself to die for that depravity so that we could all be restored into our original state which was, of course, a state that was never meant to experience or taste death. Life is temporary. It will soon be over and you will be in Paradise forever with no pain.

4. Your suffering has meaning.

When life beats you down mercilessly you can be assured that the God who created everything is intimately involved in your suffering. After all, when he took on humanity and the sins of the world he was able to taste what you taste and may therefore empathize with you wholly. In this way any and all suffering may be neatly filed under "God moves in mysterious ways." Consider Elisabeth Fritzl. At age 11 Elisabeth began suffering abuse at the hands of her father. When she was 18, Elisabeth's father lured her into his basement, drugged her and locked her in. For the next 24 years he visited her three days a week to bring her food and often raped her. Elisabeth gave birth to seven children in her captivity. One child died a few days after birth while three of the children were taken up to live seemingly normal lives while their mother remained imprisoned, tortured and raped below them. Imagine what prayers and petitions ran from this poor girl's heart. For over two decades suffering the most unfathomable misery. God certainly does move in mysterious ways. His ways are so mysterious, it seems, that it is as if he does not move at all. This is one story of countless millions easily forgotten under the auspice of the cosmic meaning of suffering. It is a particularly evil teaching.

Consider these answers, folks. Does it give you any pause that they are so wonderfully tailed to calm your greatest fears? Do these answers strike you at all as pandering to your deepest unsurities?

I do not know many things. I really don't. I do not know if there is a god or not and I certainly don't know if that god is or is not Jesus Christ. I just don't know. Here are a few things I do know, however. I know the following to be ABSOLUTE FACTS. Please consider them seriously.

1. No one knows how we got here.
2. No one knows where we are going.
3. No one escapes death.
4. No one knows if suffering has cosmic meaning.

Think for yourselves. Question authority. Be skeptical about what you've been told your whole life. It was probably untrue and based on fear.

In reason,

Clint Wells

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