Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Religion Is Not The Problem

My husband and I just began attending Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University, and let me tell you, it has been an eye-opener. (I promise this whole post is not one big ad for the class. I have no affiliation with Dave Ramsey except this weekly class I just started taking.) Up until now, my personal strategy with my finances has been the Ostrich Method: stick your head in the sand and pretend the threats to your well-being do not exist.

It’s not a good recipe for peace of mind, you know? Ignorance isn't bliss; it's deferment. As anyone with student loans can attest, the longer responsibility is deferred, the bigger the problem gets. So I’m trying something else. And it’s already difficult, to be sure, but it also feels better, already, to look my demons in the eye and roll up my sleeves. Our entire financial system is designed to predate on those not paying attention. If you don't know what's going on, you're likely being taken advantage of. I highly recommend this class to anyone who does not feel in control of their financial lives. (For my non-religious friends: it's got a Christian slant to it, but swallow the meat and spit out the bones.)

One thing Dave addresses, which I really needed to hear, was the idea that poverty is holy. This has long been an excuse I’ve given myself as to why I shouldn’t have to do the work to regulate myself and live within my means: I don’t like money taking up my mental space. I want to save my mental space for what matters. Relationships. Service. My work.

But of course, by not focusing on it on the front end, money always ends up taking up quite a bit of my mental space on the back end. When I don’t have it, and really need it, it takes up way too much space. The money I owe to my dentist takes up mental space. The money I owe to my cousin takes up mental space. The subcurrent of anxiety that lives in me always because of my massive unaddressed debt takes up who even knows how much mental space.

I can’t help but equate this whole situation to the state of our world. A huge number of people are ostriching pretty hard when it comes to the very serious threats we’re facing. And they’re doing it in the name of holiness.

I grew up in a religious community, and now I live in a place where religion is widely considered to be The Problem. I’m here to say that religion isn’t The Problem. The religious just happen to be the most willing to discard facts that don’t serve them. But they’re not alone in this. Atheists do it too. For example, they’re all too willing to dismiss faith as an important phenomenon, despite the fact that the majority of the world finds it beneficial to their lives, simply because it doesn’t fit into their conclusions about the universe.

The real problem is the idea that faith and science are in conflict, and it is the job of the religious to see that faith wins.

First, let’s establish a definition for truth. It can get pretty complicated to try and break down, but the kind of truth I want to talk about here is simply “that which is consistent and unchangeable regardless of the angle from which it is observed.”

According to this definition, science is the language of truth. Why? Because no matter who you are or where you are, you can follow the rules laid out by science and observe the same consistent, unchangeable results, and (importantly), if you observe different results, and can demonstrate these different results, it necessitates a change in the language itself.

Science is the language of universal truth, the common truth of humanity, because everyone who calls herself a scientist must hold to the same standard of truth: absolute consistency. Not only is a scientist willing, they are dedicated to letting go of conclusions, no matter how much it means to them, the moment their results are shown to be inconsistent.

This stands in clear contrast to certain definitions of faith, which set out to hold onto certainty, no matter what external inconsistencies appear to occur. The idea here is that there is a higher truth than the one that we observe around us, one with higher laws that supercede the laws of nature, of the world. So what about Truth with a capital T? What about that understanding of the universe that many claim to be higher than science? Where does God, the Great Everything, the Divine, the Design fit into the picture of our common truth?

It doesn’t. Faith does not belong to realm of our common truth because it is not observably consistent. The bible is full of stories of miracles, but these, too, belong in the realm of personal belief, since they occurred, if at all, before the time of scientific documentation, before the time of the camera. If the Divine All chose to keep miracles exclusive to a time before pocket video recorders, that seems to me enough evidence that Truth was never supposed to try and occupy the space of truth. Either way, not a single modern account has emerged of someone who can convincingly, consistently demonstrate a line of communication with the Great Everything. For all our ability to record evidence, no one has been able to demonstrate a consistent relationship between prayer and outcome, between internal impression and outside world event.

I’m not trying to demonstrate here that God does not exist and/or that there is no Great Everything that communicates with humans. What I’m trying to establish is that this communication, if it DOES exist, does not fall under the umbrella of truth YET.

One day we may understand the mechanics of that communication such that we WILL be able to observe the consistency of it. But that day has not yet arrived, or trust me, we would know it. So when you’re talking about God, understand that you have (for the time being) exited the realm of a discussion about truth. Now you are talking about faith.

Faith is a conviction in the existence of things for which we have not yet established observable consistency.

Scientists really ought to understand better than anybody the need for faith (and many do!). Our documented observations about the world have been reimagined and essentially overturned too many times to count. Things we once held for crazy are now the most agreed-upon explanation. Science is not a group of set-in-stone rules--it’s a fluid language, constantly being refined, redefined, restated, upset.

But what the anti-science crowd really needs to understand is that while science is not infallible, it is still the best language we have for our common truth, and indeed the only language that describes a truth common to us all, because that is the entire point of it: to describe the most universal truth in the most accurate way possible.

We can tell that it is the best language for our common truth because when people learn it, they become more able than any other to exert mastery over the world around them. Science might as well be the language of God, because it consistently makes the impossible possible. Breathing underwater. Traveling to the moon. Changing the shape of animals over time. Healing ourselves.

So what is the place of faith?

Faith gives us the ability to hold a narrative for ourselves in this world. It shapes, encourages, and defines our personal journey through life. It gives meaning to our struggles and offers comfort when we are afraid. Faith is the language of our highly personal relationship with What Is.

As such, it is not anybody else’s business what anyone chooses to believe. And in any case, it is pointless to attack someone’s beliefs or faith. There is literally nothing that can convince someone to relinquish a belief system that they feel serves them: science, logic, the clearest evidence, the most carefully outlined statements, not even torture or threat of death can have the slightest effect on someone’s faith. Internal beliefs are 100% impenetrable from the outside. The only thing that can move someone to change their beliefs is the personal, internal conviction that they will benefit from the change.

Huge problem, right? No. It isn’t. Faith in a higher power isn’t what’s destroying our world, creating so much conflict, leading so many to reject the things that serve them, their communities, their children’s future.

What needs to change is the idea that faith and science are in conflict, and it is the job of the religious to see that faith wins.

This mentality has become the curtain behind which the wizard hides; the wizard, in this case, being anyone who does not want to take accountability for the outcome of their actions. Industry in and of itself is not evil, but common outcomes of industry are most certainly evil: children getting leukemia because of chemicals dumped carelessly or leaked carelessly into their water supplies. Whole ecosystems being destroyed. Forests that took centuries to reach maturity, decimated in seconds, with no research into what the loss will mean. Industrialists have found a way to completely absolve themselves of accountability for the consequences they are dumping upon us, upon our children--consequences that don’t go away just because no responsible party is called to the carpet.

All they have to do, they’ve discovered, is convince the religious that to oppose the rape and pillage of the Earth is tantamount to opposing the will of God that His children should prosper and flourish. All they have to do is convince the faithful that it’s holy to extract resources from the Earth without accountability.

They’ve already convinced most that we all share in the benefit from these extractions at least as much as we suffer the consequences from them, evidence to the contrary be damned.

It’s become all too clear that they’ve even managed to link the right of industrialists to do as they see fit without preparation or accountability for consequences to faithful’s eager anticipation of the second coming: that is, the more you allow the world to be destroyed, the more that exhibits your love of Jesus, because when the world goes down in flames, that’s when Jesus comes again. The more warnings the Earth sends us in the form of natural disasters, the more the faithful seem to believe that they are serving God’s will.

If anything, this attitude exhibits a lack of faith, a lack of humility, a lack of willingness to bend to the will of God. The eagerness to rush on Armageddon is the modern Tower of Babel: the desire of the faithful to reach the kingdom of heaven at their speed, on their own terms, rather than His. The religious have been awaiting the End of Times since long before any of us were born; it seems they’re getting increasingly impatient about it.

But I personally have faith that this world will rehabilitate, that the religious will trust once again in divine will, that they will stop relinquishing their accountability to their neighbors, to their friends, to their grandchildren in the name of faith. The saying is not, after all, "God rewards those who destroy themselves." We have become a nation of deferrers, of destroyers, of people who write checks that they cannot cash. But that is not what this country stands for. This is a country of people who take pride in reaping what they sow, in earning what they have, in building something for themselves out of nothing.

I've been stressed about money since I began gleaning, as a small child, the kind of stress it caused my parents. If I can look my money problems in the face and start to take charge, by all that is holy, we on this planet can start figuring out how to start taking responsible stewardship of this planet.

1 comment:

  1. Brilliant and elegantly written. ~Charli Adams