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Sunday, July 27, 2008

I Put On My Philosopher-King Hat, And I Spin The Propeller...

It occurred to me that organized religion has expired. Run out of gas. A few people like sitting in the buildings, so they go on Christmas Eve, but as a way of life for the majority of people I just don't see it.

I'm speaking of the "Western" world, of course. I'm not sure that label works any more, if it ever did, but you get the picture. Europe doesn't go to church. America doesn't go to church. There are plenty of places where religion is still the central theme in everybody's life- or else.

When I was little, I was a little shocked to see my Father go down on one knee and kiss a Cardinal's ring. I was in school with the hardcore penguin nuns and went to a Catholic Church with real incense and stained glass and the rest of it, but it still was jarring to see it. It would be jarring just to see a nun in North America now.

The religions I am most familiar with consist of a framework of behaviors that you're supposed to accept without thinking about them all the time. The "not thinking" part gives their shallow detractors a lot of ammo, but there's nothing sensible about being ambivalent and thoughtful when placing your hand on a hot stove, for instance. People who instinctively don't put their hands on a hot stove are wiser than "smart" people who think it's stupid to reflexively do anything simply because someone told them to -- I'll find out if that stove is hot. And I just might find out tomorrow, too, because nobody tells me what to do.

So religion was good for not wasting a lot of time worrying about what you should be doing all the time. You had an abstract sense of right and wrong that carried you quickly through the mundane affairs of men, and you wondered about the big themes from time to time. People spend more time thinking about whether they should take the last donut in the breakroom than they used to contemplating eternity. By the way, I know the security camera is broken in there, but you've got frosting on your face. There was some friction, of course, between competing frameworks. And it's all fading fast. What has replaced it?

The vast majority of my fellow citizens have a new framework for unblinking reflexive activity now: Whatever I can get away with that I feel like doing. That's coupled with: Whatever I'm forced to do. The luxuriant undergrowth of laws is a symptom of people trying to constrain others. This constraint has two prongs. People are not content with minding their own business. Anything they do not care for -- and they do not really know how they came to be a big bag of preferences -- must be banned. Nothing you don't want must be allowed. Until the faddish quality of your lifestyle makes you pull a volte-face and start chaining yourselves to the fence at nuclear power plants, demanding they build more of them this time.

The second prong is people who are making a mess of their own lives want someone to compel them to stop. Stop me before I kill again. I borrowed too much money and took too many drugs and slept with too many people and ate too much food and I'm lazy and watch too much TV and someone should pass a law to keep me from doing all this stuff. Suing a restaurant because you dumped a cup of coffee in your lap is a corollary of Stop Me Before I Kill Again. The murderers will sue their victims' estates, eventually if they haven't already, for allowing themselves to be killed and ruining the murderers' lives with their mortality.

The alternative to religion is a terrifically intrusive government. I've seen your politics and it's a tent meeting you don't invite god to, and your church is a political action committee. But because the government can't just pick up the trash and leave the contemplation of the sublime to others, one man's deity has become another man's ban on bottled water.

8 comments:

Gerard said...

I really wish I'd written that.

Peter Hughes said...

Wonderful thinking followed by enticing writing.

Please consider the following. You are a maker of beautiful things, so you should know better than most that individuals create their worlds. Politics and religion are both premised on someone else creating beauty for them. No wonder politics and religion both fail to fully satisfy. If one's beliefs ultimately determine one's experiences, group beliefs generate a motley result. The other side of the coin of liberty is responsibility. You cannot have one side without the other. Religion takes responsibility and leaves less freedom. Politics takes away freedoms and leaves less responsibility. And it both cases, it is the individual's choice to invest in either.

I look forward to reading you each day.
Pete

Pastor_Jeff said...

California just outlawed trans fats.

BGC said...

I think you are probably correct: I think the evidence suggest that - compared with atheists - Christianity (including Mormonism) makes people somewhat less selfish (or you could say, less good at pursuing their own gratification and self-interest), more engaged and community-spirited (or you could say less individualistic), and more likely to get married and have more children (or you could say less- free to choose to remain unmarried and have zero or few chidlren).

In the long run, assuming that relgious convictions are substantially inherited (partly genetically, partly culturally) differential fertility alone implies that religion will win-out; and that the current mass atheism is a temporary phenomenon - lasting just a few generations.

Of course, it may not be Christianity that wins out...

SippicanCottage said...

I wish Gerard had written it, too. The sentences would scan better, and I could have made a table leg.

I do not understand the logic behind talking about the demographics of religiosity. It's not red hair or blue eyes being passed down. They'll go to public school and watch TV and that's the end of that.

Anwyn said...

Politics and religion are both premised on someone else creating beauty for them.

Mmmm... I would say a sacred yet unholy belief in the ability of a politician to create somebody's idea of cultural beauty is the source of a lot of really stupid political beliefs, actions, and candidates today.

Politics itself is just a fact of life and a tool like any other. You must have politics to have an effective republican (representative) government.

And Sippican, I still don't have have half the guts you've got ... my little one is probably going to private school.

Andy said...

I'm just glad somebody wrote it.

Funny how quickly religion and politics find each other, and it never sounds like this:

"Hey, I just found the coolest things EVER!"

Thud said...

I come from a family all educated by nuns and brothers...thankful for it too. I have a mormon Neice who is currently finishing her studies to be a byu lecturer in religious history.On her travels around America at the moment she frequently stays in convents...now she knows just why her mother speaks fondly of nuns.