Daily Dojo

God Told Me To Tell You . . .

This is a true story . . .

In college, a girl I knew came up to me and said the following:

GIRL
God spoke to me last night.

JOSH
He did?

GIRL
Yes. God spoke to me. Spoke to me about YOU.

JOSH
God spoke to you about me?

GIRL
Yes. God gave me a message to share with you.

JOSH
God . . . left a message for ME . . . with YOU.

GIRL
Yes.

JOSH
Okay. And the message is . . .

GIRL
You CAN be saved. You can, you can be saved by God’s love.

JOSH
Wow. Okay. Thank you. I appreciate you taking that message for me.

GIRL
Will you come join us this Sunday, give testimony, share God’s love?

JOSH
I think I’m gonna pass. But if God asks you about me again . . .

GIRL
Yes?

JOSH
Tell him that next time, He should call direct.

AAAND SCENE!

What’s interesting about the above exchange is that, if you didn’t know the people involved, had no idea of context, you’d assume that the poor girl in this scene was, well, a little bit off her rocker. For the record, she wasn’t (at least, not as far as I can tell, I’m not really in touch with anybody back from my undergraduate years), actually she was an attractive girl with good grades. A sweetheart, if memory serves.

I went to a church-affiliated college, not anything truly nuts like Bob Jones University, but definitely one filled earnest devout youngsters who believed in the Lord.

And I was one of them, my freshman year. I spent the next two years wrestling with massive doubt about my Christian faith (spurring conversations like the above) and my senior year blissfully free of it. Atheist for quite awhile. Now I’m a Buddhist.

Why am I sharing something so personal now?

Well, context is everything, everything is relative, and Einstein nearly flunked out of school as a youngster . . . Basically, there’s bit of a brouhaha on the web regarding religion and people of faith and seeing as that I’ve been leaving monster comments everywhere, I thought I’d put my stamp on my own blog.

It began with David Cote’s post The fundamentalist fallacy which I highly recommend you read . . . some folks took issue with David, as that he posited that people who believe in religion are either seriously deluded or seriously ignorant.

Some folks took issue with that. Some disagreed. Some did so very reasonably and with insight, like this guy and this guy and some with little to none, like this one.

I’m having a very enjoyable conversation on the subject with Mark who thinks David is being really hard on folks by calling all who believe “deluded”.

For the record, I like Mark a lot, really enjoy his blog and even when we’ve disagreed on matters, we’ve managed to do so reasonably like adults . . . but I respectfully disagree with him on this, though I understand his position.

Mark believes it’s a rude, unkind thing to save about millions of nice people, calling them deluded or ignorant. And he’s right, it is. (I’m really paraphrasing, so Mark, feel free to correct me if I got you wrong).

I pointed out in comments that while David believes religious people are deluded, religious people believe that non-believers such as David are destined for torment in eternal damnation.

Now of the two, DELUSION or DAMNATION, which is the worse thing to wish or project upon a person? Is it not delusion to believe that about anyone, a child of another faith, for example?

Who’s the nicer of the two, the guy who thinks you’re deluded, or the guy telling you you’re DAMNED for ETERNITY?

And really, there’s no getting around it, that is what Christians believe because that’s what it says in the bible.

Why shouldn’t David take issue with the view that he’s destined for DAMNATION and why should he not state that such a belief is serious delusion?

Firstly, it’s not a stretch for me, to believe everyone suffers from delusion. It’s part and parcel of the philosophy of Buddhism, which posits that life is suffering and that suffering is caused by delusion, and that to free oneself of suffering one must pierce through delusion and desire . . . etc, I don’t want to bore you, but that’s why I’m sympathetic to David’s position. Hell, not sympathetic, I agree with him.

We are deluded. The level varies from individual to individual, but we all have delusions of one sort or another.

My life is basically a battle between my rational and emotional selves . . . I have irrational superstitions and fears, some of which I’ve conquered and some of which I still struggle with . . . finally understanding that is part and parcel of the human existance, and it’s that struggle that makes us unique.

Nor is it that different from what many a christian pastor would tell us in church . . . they believe we are deluded and clouded by sin and will only see the truth if we accept God’s word.

I have a serious battle between my intellectual self and my supersitious, irrational self, it’s an ongoing project, and a fight I have every day. Every day, the smarter self wins more ground, but only because I keep hammering away at it.

So that’s why I don’t believe it’s a bad thing to call folks deluded. We are.

Life is a struggle against it, we all strive for knowledge and understanding and to cut through the bullshit, so to speak. Some use philosophy, some use science, some use religion. I don’t have an issue with it. We are all at varying levels of delusion. That’s why we have debates like this, to cut through it.

And is it that hard to believe religious folk are at least a wee bit delusional?

Imagine this.

A man comes home, picks up an axe and murders his family. He says, “God told me to do it.”

Do the police believe him? No.

Let’s say it isn’t anything so horrible . . .

Let’s say the man took off his clothes and ran naked down the street, screaming for people to come to Jesus (I knew someone this happened to) and later, when apprehended and covered with a blanket, told cops “God told me to do that.”

And I’d bet if they gave him a polygraph, he’d pass. But is he sane?

But let’s say someone gave away everything he owned. Every penny. And said God told him to do it.

Do we believe him?

A girl doesn’t go into work tomorrow. When her boss calls, she says God told her to stay home.

Should the boss fire her?

A girl broke up with you because God told her to?

Are you relieved?

A girl wanted you to impregnate her, because God told her to (this has also happened)?

Do you run away as fast as you can?

A man on television says God wants you to send him all your money.

Do you do it?

Let’s say a man tells us God told him to run for President?

Do we elect him and trust he’ll do the right thing by us?

Funny, if God tells a fella to murder someone, we lock ‘em up. God tells a President to lie about a war that will kill tens of thousands, that’s okay!

Think about it.

Take any conversation you’ve had with a seriously religious person. Hasn’t it felt a little creepy, like the exchange above? Didn’t it seem like they may have had one teeny, tiny screw loose somewhere in their head?

If we look at it rationally, belief is an irrational thing that often leads to delusional episodes that can damage oneself or others (or in the President’s case, the constitution).

You can make a case for delusion here . . . giving into irrationality . . . I do it every time I avoid saying a certain number (I have a bad luck number, I’ve deluded myself into thinking A NUMBER has it in for me) and let’s face it, there’s nothing like one or two juicy irrationalities every week, just to keep us human. I’ve also had experiences I could not explain, experiences that I would describe as supernatural, despite how crazy that is.

But keep in mind, that’s what it is. Irrational and deluded. Part of what makes me who I am is that struggle. I’ve been drawn to Buddhism because change like that is encouraged, questions are encouraged, doubt is embraced . . . I’m in it because I believe, overall, it’s healthier and I like to ask hard questions.

Some people don’t struggle. Some folks never question. Some folks settled into their delusion because it’s comfortable and change is scary. But I believe it is delusion. And it can be very unhealthy.

Just watch Jesus Camp and try to make an argument otherwise.

So I think it’s perfectly fine David called religious people, like me, deluded. He’s right.

Now, as for the ignorant thing, well . . . first, let’s get one thing out of the way.

If you are religious and don’t accept evolution, you are willfully ignorant. If you don’t accept evolution and get a flu shot, not only are you willfully ignorant, you are also a hypocrite. If you believe homosexuals are deviant and evil, you are willfully ignorant. Same for eating shellfish on Friday.

We all know basic, terrible ignorance in the form of fundalmentalists, like the recently deceased Jerry Falwell, a very ignorant person who blamed the WTC on lesbians and homosexuals, called out a Teletubby for being gay and chastized Donald Duck for not wearing pants (the last is true and hat’s off to Jim Thorn for pointing that out), if you are a religious person of those beliefs, I’m not even wasting time talking to you . . . you’re ignorant and one thing I learned from a difficult conversation I had with a Klan member years ago is this . . . you cannot reason with someone who doesn’t speak the language.

Did I just compare Klan members to Christian fundalmentalists like Jerry Falwell? Yes, I did. We can fight about that one later, okay?

The folks Mark and I discussed in our conversation, however, aren’t fundies like Jerry or Pat Roberston and they aren’t racist bigots . . . we’re speaking of the vast majority of good people out there who don’t go to church regularly, who don’t believe homosexuals are evil or that the bible is the literal word of God.

They just like the idea.

Reasonable, regular folk who want to believe in the idea of God. Technical term for them is agnositic. Some call themselves Christian, though they don’t buy everything written in the bible. They simply throw out what what is of no use to them, or don’t pay attention.

I don’t know why, if they’re throwing out part of it, they simply don’t throw the whole thing out.

And hey, I’m all for that. Believe what you want, if you wish to reinvent the image of God, I think that would be a great idea. But you can’t start a new God-point-five system without dealing with the old PC version still popular throughout the country, especially in the southern states. The one with the hellfire and damnation.

The thing is, a lot of these folks, they’re not really thinking about it, they’re not really investigating the religion they’re endorsing . . . they’re simply just grabbing the easist part to remember “JESUS!” and “PRAY!” and go from there.

They advocate for a organization that they often know little about . . . there are many, many churches filled with people who haven’t read the bible. And maybe never will.

They support a philosophy they haven’t really thought through . . . and while I would have been more tactful about it than David was, it is a wee bit ignorant . . . just a bit.

It’s not the terrible ignorance of a Klan member, far from it, but it fits the definition of un-knowing, right?

They’re also, by association, endorsing the religious view of idiots like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, they give money to their churchs, they support the political power of people like that without really thinking it through.

I know not all of people of faith do that (technically, I am one, as I’ve said) and that many people of faith have done great things (I am a big fan of Dr. King and Malcolm X, for their work in civil rights), I acknowledge that.

But that doesn’t let the agnostic folks off the hook. They state that they “believe in God, just not any of the other stuff, the church stuff,” in other words, they believe as long as they don’t have to study or think too hard about it, it seems.

I’m sorry, but David’s definition still stands.

And so what? I like to eat, but I’m ignorant as hell as how some meals are put together. Why is that terrible, to call me ignorant about cooking? I don’t understand the attraction the game of baseball holds and know nothing about it, but I support my friends when they say it’s the greatest game ever . . . I am ignorant when it comes to baseball. And laundry. I can’t fold laundry to save my life. Or soul, in this case.

Why is that a bad thing, calling someone who admits they don’t know a whole lot about a subject, ignorant? It’s a bit brusque, but it is not still true?

Can’t we just judge people on what they do?

Matt Freeman states so well in his great post How do you make your choices? that some of the most ethical people he knows are agnostic and atheists.

We are people capable of both great and terrible things. Great things have been done in the name of God. And very terrible things. Similar things happened in countries without organized religion. People can be great and terrible.

What burns me is that religion takes credit for the good things (I gave blood for Jesus) but not the bad (I spilled blood for Jesus) . . . you can’t have it both ways, you know. It seems like a way of shifting responsibility . . . it wasn’t me, it was Jesus who told me to do it. Or like David put it, “I’ll think about it becomes I’ll pray on it” which means that one isn’t accountable for their choices.

And they should be.

And I am also frosted that religion seems to be above criticism . . . whenever someone criticizes established religion, we’re often shouted down . . . we’re told not to ask questions, just accept the word of God. Be nice to religion, and maybe religion will be nice to you.

And the middle of the road, ethicial agnostics are oftentimes doing some of the shouting. And damn it, why shouldn’t we call religious people deluded or ignorant? Aren’t they up to the challenge of proving us otherwise? Are people so delicate that one theatre critic calling them deluded shatters their whole faith? And would that be a bad thing?

Isn’t it valuable to actually question faith? I believe so.

How many of you out there USED to believe and now don’t, and now identify yourself as atheist or agnostic? How many of you had a moment of truth where you saw the teachings of the church in a far more illuminating light? Do you believe that dinosaurs didn’t exist? That God made the earth in six days? In Noah, in all of it?

When was it, when you snapped out of it? Was it a conversation you had where someone challenged your beliefs and, as a result, you saw the world in an entirely new way?

Maybe David cut through someone else’s bullshit for them. Maybe he did a good thing.

Hey, I know lots of real good people who believe in God. And that’s cool, for them. We all used to believe in Santa, at one point, too. Some still do. We are all free to believe, as long as we don’t pick up an axe and commit murder, then I say enjoy your delusions, your dreams, your hopes, your desires. I know lots of people of faith who are good folks, little crazy maybe, very generous.

So they’re a little crazy. Who ain’t?

Hey, I myself am all for the idea of God. I’m open. I just want proof.

He can call direct whenever he likes.

I have it set to vibrate.

24 Responses to “ God Told Me To Tell You . . .”

  1. Joshua James Says:

    And right after I wrote this, I found this story:How About A Little Dose of Fundamentalism To Make The Medicine Go Down? and I lived in Iowa City during grad school.

    Damn.

  2. Stacy Says:

    Good post. I felt a bit of the sting of your logic, but I can’t argue with a lot of it.
    So agnostic is the correct term? I guess that’s where I fall closest to on a scale. It becomes easier the older I get to second guess Christianity…and our current administration certainly doesn’t put a good face on it. I guess I feel my faith is personal….I have no desire to push it on anyone. I feel there is a greater power involved, and that He/She/It would like us to be good people. I don’t know….maybe that’s taking the easy way out. But, then again, maybe it doesn’t have to be that hard. As for eternal damnation or Heaven? I guess no one knows until they get there. As for the stories of the bible? I guess those who were actually there are the only ones who know what really happened. That was a long time ago, and everyone’s interpretation of an incident can vary. I know in 20 years, I’ll still think Bush was the worst president in history, but George W. will probably see it a little different.

  3. Joshua James Says:

    Brother, I wouldn’t push mine on you or anyone, either . . . doing good and being good is a highly admirable thing, and I’d be the first to say you’ve been more consistantly successful at it over the years than I have . . . and you’ve never been afraid to talk hard talk and ask hard questions, and that’s more than most folks . . .

  4. Stacy Says:

    Well….I’m certainly far from innocent and saint-like. But I still strive for it. Karma tends to scare me. I see myself as a midwestern sort of Earl….without the trailer trash background. Wait….does that make you Randy?

  5. Joshua James Says:

    LOL!

    Well, we all know Randy is a sex machine!

  6. Doug Says:

    Really interesting post. You cover a lot of ideas and speak clearly about them, though I think at times your initial point gets lost in the shuffle. As someone who was raised Presbyterian and is now an agnostic with Buddhist leanings, there is one point I want to contend.

    You state that agnostics “‘believe in God, just not any of the other stuff, the church stuff’, in other words, they believe as long as they don’t have to study or think too hard about it, it seems”. As someone who has struggled with religious/spiritual faith, I disagree with your definition of agnostic and your categorization that agnostics haven’t thought hard about their decision.

    I define an agnostic as someone who confesses to not knowing either way. I can’t say there is a god or spirit or higher power, and I can’t say that there isn’t. Your point I think may speak specifically to Christians who were raised in a church and have since fallen away (the only Catholics I know are ex-Catholics) or even very liberal denominations like the Unitarians. What I couldn’t go along with was the idea, in the Judeo-Christian tradition, that anything bad I do is from me, and anything good I do is from God. As westerners, the majority of us are going to come from one of the three occidental religions, so regardless of what belief we profess later in life, we are still heavily influenced by our upbringing.

    I can only speak for myself when saying that I have indeed spent a lot of time thinking and studying these issues. I am also someone who likes to ask the big questions (I wouldn’t work in the theatre if I didn’t). The reason I am attracted to Buddhism is that it is the ‘religion of no religion’. I depend on the universe and the universe depends on me. Alan Watts once said, “There is nobody who believes in God like an atheist.” Simply put, no one can know for certain one way or the other, so why bother even fighting about it?

    I agree with you, in the philosophical sense, that we are all deluded, but I don’t know if that’s exactly the emphasis David was going for. I think we need to actually define what ‘deluded’ is. I’m going try to pick up that though on my own blog: www.thalattatheatre.blogspot.com

  7. David Cote Says:

    Damn Joshua (that emphatic, not eschatological)! I wish I could put across my argument as thoroughly, eloquently and humanely as you do. I posted yesterday afternoon in a similar vein of putting the illogic of religion to the test, but I feel you make the point more vividly. (will post an update directing folks here). I think your point about how we’re all deluded, trapped in the bubble of our subjectivity and desire, is very well taken. Of course, it raises the question: how and when is it possible to critique someone else as delusional. From what non-delusional place of empirical certainty can I point my finger and say that such-and-such religious zealot is deluded? I honestly don’t know the answer. The irony might be that I need to have, um, faith in my own perception of the universe to make such (admittedly insulting) statements. Maybe it boils down to moral calculus: My delusion brings less pain and suffering into the world than your delusion. Of course, that determination is born of more delusional thinking. To quote Iago: “Divinity of hell!”

  8. Joshua James Says:

    Doug,

    Agnostic is a broad term covering many things, but I believe my definition holds . . . it’s a christian term, and it means people who believe in God but don’t believe in any of the other things . . . some go to church, many do not . . . basically, non-practicing christians . . .

  9. Joshua James Says:

    David, the first step in piercing delusion is to admit its there . . . so keep doing what you’re doing . . . just showing the hypocrasy of religion is an important first step.

    On a personal level, it’s the effort and questions that count, right?

    I mean, Sophocles and Plato struggling with many of the same issues (and they had more gods to contend with than we do) and look at the good that came out of their dialogue . . .

  10. Scott Walters Says:

    Joshua — Believe it or not, I found this post very insightful. (I’ll pause now while you get off the floor.) If I sort of mentally delete all the delusional stuff, much of what you say I would accept. But part of what I learned is that — and correct me if I am way off here — your background is fairly conservative theologically. And while you reject that orientation now, it still shapes your arguments in the sense that you define Christianity in terms of the belief that the Bible is the Word of God, and should be taken literally and in toto. Anyone who suggests otherwise is cherry-picking the parts they want, and thus aren;t Christian. But there are many, many different Christian sects, many of which see the Bible as a spiritual guide, but who do not accept its literalness or its final authority. It is the starting point for spiritual and ethical thought. This is especially true of those who consider the way the Bible was put together, what was deemed canonical, and what wasn’t (cf Elaine Pagels, for instance). There are others who have a sense that there is a spirit in the world, but do not ascribe to any institutionalized view of that spirit, and in fact who have been persecuted by the Church (e.g., pagans). My wife fits this description — after receiving a Masters of Divinity, she rejected the Christian church completely and has remained unaffiliated while believing she has a personal relationship with a diety. If your image of Christianity is “Jesus Camp,” then I understand your arguments much more clearly. If your definition of Christianity is basically fundamentalist, even in your rejection of it, then I get where you are coming from. I come from a family of High Holiday Lutherans — we went to church about twice a year, and I walked out and never came back when I was a teenager and the minister gave a Mother’s Day sermon that said that homosexuals were “caused” by mothers who were overbearing and pushed fathers out of the way. Like my wife, I find the institutionalization of spirituality objectionable, but that is about flawed humanity and not spirit. When I read about Quantum Physics, and I realize the connectedness of all things, and the way energy flows from person to person, I feel a sense of mystery in the universe, so much so that I can’t rule out a Universal Spirit of some kind. For me, it isn’t the white-bearded patriarch of the Judeo-Christain tradition, but I can see how someone might connect more to such an image. If, when you say religious belief is delusional, you use it in the Hindu sense of Maya, the phenomenal world of separate objects and things, then I am right with you, as long as you throw in things like a belief in things like theatre, too. Then we’re talking about disconnecting from material reality in order to connect to the universal oneness. But if you have a selective understanding of Maya, where you only disconnect from those things that you don’t like — well, then I have a problem. And on a personal note: is angrily calling someone a jackass very Buddhist?

  11. Joshua James Says:

    “And on a personal note: is angrily calling someone a jackass very Buddhist? ”

    Absolutely. It’s one of the many versions of a Zen Slap.

  12. Scott Walters Says:

    *LOL* Man, and here I thought I could get away with anything with a Buddhist.

  13. Scott Walters Says:

    OK — I still disagree with you on many things, and I DON’T think religious leaders can “get away” with saying non-believers will burn in hell (I think there are plenty who would publicly take them to task for such a thing, including other members of the clergy). And I think you have a more narrow definition of Christianity than I would subscribe to (for instance, what about Quakers, to choose the other end of the spectrum?). You have a tendency to choose as examples the more extreme members of Christianity, which is rather like tarring all poets because Ezra Pound was a fascist. But at least now I understand the basis of your ideas. Perhaps we should be certain to define our terms before discussing in the future.

  14. Joshua James Says:

    Scott, I wasn’t even an evangelical when I was a Christian, so I’m not the narrow, extreme definition of it when I was one . . . I was a Methodist, for crying out loud . . . I met real extreme versions.

    Listen, there are basic principles within all religions, basic goals . . . for example, the goal of Buddhism is enlightenment (there’s a bit more than that, but let’s say that for purposes of this discussion) . . . now there are many, many disciplines of Buddhism that vary GREATLY, huge differences . . . but their differences are primarily on HOW to get enlightment . . . none of the differences really deal with the idea of enlightment itself.

    Christianity, in all its forms, basically posits that there is one God and those who accept and give their soul to Him shall go to heaven.

    Like the ten commandments. Don’t break ‘em, or you will be punished. What’s punished? Hell. There are other things, but that’s the cliff’s note’s crux of it, right?

    All the different churchs basically differ on how to get there, but none dispute the existance of heaven, dig? They just dispute the best way to get there (example, Church of England and Catholicism . . . nearly the same, except one lets you divorce and the other does not) . . .

    I actually admire the Quakers (and others) for their principles, and I like many other POF faith as well . . . because I’ve argued David’s side of it, you’ve put me in the same camp and it’s not really true.

    I’ve simply pointed out that Christians believe the faithful ascend to heaven and the unfaithful do not . . .

    As an argument, that’s not very different from an atheist believing scientists have a healthier view of life and the religious have a deluded one . . . as an argument, mind you.

    Keep in mind, I’m technically a religious person . . .

  15. Joshua James Says:

    And Scott,

    Religious leaders say those things all the time . . . maybe you’re not watching, but they are . . . not even religious leaders . . . politicians on the Republican side say outrageous things about non-believers ALL THE TIME . . . are you sure you’re watching them? Have you ever watched Pat Robertson? My goodness . . .

    Cardinal Egan, of New York, who passed away not too long ago, was infamous for his pronouncements . . . and the Pope? Oh my.

    They often do . . . I’ve seen it, anyway . . .

  16. Joshua James Says:

    Oops,

    I said Cardinal Egan, I mean O’Conner, he’s the one who died.

    And I would add, I don’t think Robertson is necessarily a minority Christian leader, he has millions of followers . . . he can get a meeting at the White House whenever he wants, he has his own television channel and law school, etc. He’s not a minority version . . . he’s a very powerful voice with a lot of influence. So is Dobson.

  17. Rob Kendt Says:

    Joshua: I’m taking this outside Histriomastix ’cause this isn’t really about theater anymore, and it’s time to move on from the debate over what David said, and what he meant. I made my point there, just an objection to his choice of words, really. He wouldn’t be the critic he is if he didn’t have strong opinions and a certain knack for impish effrontery; he crossed a line with me, but I’m over it.

    But you seem really insistent on this point, that Christianity can be reduced to a transactional faith: believe this and you get this, don’t believe and you get worse than squat. I was raised in a fairly conservative Lutheran tradition, and maybe I’m thickheaded but that is simply never the message I got. I went to a Jesuit high school and learned from the priests there to see faith as an orientation to the divine, and the concept of “hell” as separation from the divine, and of falling short of our true created potential. Even Billy Graham, at the end of his life, admitted that he had no idea what hell was, if it existed, and used the “separation from God” metaphor (Karl Rahner and Reinhold Neibuhr–check ‘em out.)

    I should also add that the Bible has never been central to my experience of the Christian faith (nor is it to most Catholics, actually, though I’m not Catholic). Instead, the leadership and example of good men and women who’ve struggled and searched and ministered to the faithful and the faltering, and to me, has been much more central to it. What I have gleaned from them and from the community of believers I’ve known is enormous, unearned love and acceptance, as well as a firm but gentle challenge to live up to the unique gifts and moment I’ve been given. No one in my religious or spiritual background has ever, and I can’t stress the word EVER enough, impressed on me the notion that if I don’t do what the church or the Bible tells me I’ll be damned, go to any particularly warm place, or experience exceptional torment. I’ve only gotten the sense, which is really just common sense, that it’s entirely my loss to cut myself off from this source of goodness and love and acceptance I’ve known all my life; at worst, it’s been a kind of spiritual version of parents saying, “We’re not angry, we’re disappointed. You’re so much better than that.” If there’s a hell, it’s that sense of separation from the human family and from the divine spark that’s within it.

    I’m not trying to be perverse or contrarian, but like Scott I know for a fact, from firsthand experience and reading and exploration, that mine is not a “rewrite” of Christian faith or practice, but that there are many, many others like me, and many church leaders and teachers, starting with the very first one (a guy with a name similar to yours), whose experience of the faith is so alien from the evangelical/fundamentalist version that it might as well be from outer space. Even if I didn’t ascribe to this non-fundie take on the faith, I would still be arguing just as vehemently that it does exist, it has existed for a long while, and in the view of many of its adherents, it’s more than just AS validly Christian as the nutjob/fundie/”Jesus Camp” version, it’s much closer to Christ’s teaching.

    I could go on, but it’s late. I respect your sincerity and your persistence, and I actually do relish the opportunity to discuss/argue this stuff with thoughtful folks like yourself.

    What kind of Buddhism do you do, by the way? My girlfriend has taken me a few times to the Chakrasambara Center with a really great guy called Kadam Morton.

  18. Joshua James Says:

    Rob, I’ve met those folks, too . . . sure. In a sense, I am a little bit at a disavantage as that I walked away from that stuff some time ago . . . I follow when I can with the books, but other than getting into deep, most of the time it seems a waste.

    This conversation, however, does not. So it’s worthwhile to me to continue it, if you wish.

    How can we do that?

    I see two problems.

    I’m sure there are many folks like you (my brother is one, as he states) but I’m really talking about those who teach and spread the word, rather than my cool casual friends who think Jesus had that shit going, you know?

    As I mentioned, Robertson reaches millions of people. As did Falwell. Dobson. Oral Roberts. Etc. I know you nor my brother buy the shit they’re selling.

    But I don’t know how different it is, really. And who is your rep, in that regard?

    You are arguing over a basic idea of hell, which is interesting (and one I’ve run into) and changing what some would argue is the literal word of god.

    Since one thing we’re stuck on is what happens to unbelievers, do they do to hell, what’s a proactive way we can solve it?

    I certainly have heard plenty o’ pastors preach about the cost (hell). Sure, they speak of love, too. Absolutely. God is love. But it’s been pretty clear what happens if you reject God’s love, in every church I’ve been in (and I don’t even go to evangelicals.)

    How can we resolve what hte answer is?

    What’s the question we can pose that satisfies both of us?

  19. Rob Kendt Says:

    Joshua: I’m not sure there is any one question, or any one answer. I guess I should say I feel fortunate that I was raised in a community where there wasn’t a lot of pressure to shape up or ship out, get with the program or be shut out in the cold. On the contrary, I’ve come and gone from the fold but always feel welcome when I return. What I get from those absences is a sense of the abyss, of being disconnected, of trying to find meaning and purpose in things that are ultimately passing and ephemeral (Maya, anyone?). When I return to a place where some sense of the divine is being summoned or invoked, whether it’s in a Buddhist center or a Christian church, I am silenced and I sense the enormity of the mystery of consciousness, of our brief life here, and I’m deeply touched by it. I’d call that an experience of God, and I’ve felt it most in churches, though not exclusively.

    Now, every tradition has its texts through which its understanding of a similar experience have been filtered over time. Some religions revere the text itself as divine, as Islam does; others regard scripture as coming directly, innerantly from some kind of divine dictation, as some Christians do–but many, I’d even dare say most, don’t, instead seeing scriptures as documents written by disciples in the context of their times. I mean, for me trying to understand the Bible “literally” makes not a lick of sense, because it’s a self-contradicting collection of stories, myths, aphorisms, teachings. It’s not a coherent guidebook, and its theology is not spelled out simply. If I had to sum it up, I always go back to the line from Micah, which is repeated frequently at the church I go to now, the Greenpoint Reform Church: “This and only this is what the Lord God asks of you: to act justly, love tenderly, and walk humbly with your God.” There’s no “or else” attached to that; the only “or else” I’ve ever known (and I’ve known it well) is: I can not act justly, love tenderly, and walk humbly with God, and the loss is all mine.

  20. Joshua James Says:

    Rob, I would agree with you on much of that . . . and it we’ve primarily been arguing over my tendency to break down your belief system to its “essence” (ie, go to heaven by being good, don’t go to heaven by being bad) and I for certain understand the reasons for doing so . . . no one with any sense of compassion or humanity wants to be grouped with fire and brimstone bigoted types like Fallwell or Dobson, any more than I would like to be linked to the Sarin gas bombing cult of Japanese Buddhists - but we are linked, and admitted that is the first step.

    The Sarin gas freaks were a small Buddhist cult, with little in common to the millions of Buddhists worldwide (comparible to David Koresh in the Christian sense) whereas Dobson, Fallwell, Robertson, the Pope . . . they represent millions. I mean, millions of people around the world who call themselves Christian.

    Now, if the majority of Christians believed as you believe, threw out the bible, in a sense, and started over with Jesus’s single message of love, I doubt we would be arguing right now (and for the record, I do know many people, like yourself, who have essentially done that very thing) . . . if there were more churchs like the one in Greenpoint (there’s another one like that outside LA that’s famous for it’s policies, identical to yours) across the country, we wouldn’t be fighting about this.

    Now I meant it when I said that in terms of ideas, the democratic majority doesn’t matter . . . but we are not defining ideas, but rather a religious movement and what I’m talking about in terms of defining what we are arguing about.

    In terms of ideas, we totally agree that your view and practice is the better one than the fire and brimstome one. Absolutely.

    But we are also indentifying a movement as well, are we not? One closely tied with the bible, which does have all the contradictory things you’ve mentioned, including the non-believers burning in hell deal, as well. That tens of millions of pepole believe. Maybe hundreds.

    You believe that is ridiculous. I believe that is ridiculous. David believes that is ridiculous.

    What are we fighting about? That David believes such belief is ridiculous, or his harsh choice of words?

    They were harsh, you bet. And directed at me as well as anyone. Why am I not as angry as everyone else? Well, I explained that above.

    Why are you? Because he called belief stupid? Obviously, but as I’ve pointed out ad nauseum (and Greg also recently) hasn’t he been called much, much worse . . . and the belief systems of the majority of the religious movements view him far worse than stupid. Atheists are the ugly red-headed stepchildren in American, sitting in the corner on punishment. They’re believed to be less than others and treated as such.

    I know YOU haven’t, I know according to YOUR personal beliefs, you wouldn’t do something like that (nor would I) but I can sure see how David got there and why he thinks it . . . maybe because I’ve been an atheist or something . . . but can’t you understand and have compassion for such a position as David’s?

  21. Mac Says:

    “Why are you? Because he called belief stupid?”

    Well, just to be clear, he didn’t call belief stupid, he called people who go to church stupid. I have total compassion for David’s position - I share a lot of it - just not for that one sentence. And not just because it was harsh, but because in its absolutism, it is demonstrably untrue. We all know intelligent churchgoers, and I for one have attended church services that provided theatrical value that outstripped many plays I’ve seen.

    Here’s the thing: I really value the discussion that has resulted from David’s review, but I wish we’d found some other way into it, because now the whole thing is tainted. We’re having to spend all this time working our way into a position where we can even talk about this with even some shared assumptions and ground rules because the whole thing was started in angry reaction. Maybe I’m a total wincing wimp, but I think there’s more useful ways of starting conversation than that.

  22. Joshua James Says:

    I get that Mac, it was uncivil (which I addressed and Greg did as well) and yes, it was absolutism, tho’ I think I hit a few of those points as well . . . perhaps there could have been a more positive way to intiate the discussion. Not perhaps, there are for certain more positive ways to intitiate than calling church “bad theatre for stupid people”.

    I don’t know, for sure, that it would have more useful for everybody. Would it had sparked the debate that followed? I don’t know, sometimes a good zen slap is necessary to wake folks up to the situation at hand, there are countless examples of that in life, aren’t there . . . and it’s not a bully picking on someone weaker, David saying what he did, I look at what David did as an example of “speaking truth to power” . . . we simply have to strip away the truth from the chaff in his statement. I believe, myself, that there was a lot of truth in it, I truly do (I believe David has readjusted some of what he said on those inflammatory statements).

    I think we would have had just as much trouble defining positions and shared assumptions had it started politely . . . it may have taken longer, if it would have been done at all . . . that’s my experience.

    And we are dramatists, are we not? We are not politicians, so why mince words?

  23. Joshua James Says:

    Rob,

    I just wanted to add one more point . . . there are things I don’t indentify or agree with in Buddhism (it is a broad spectrum and I don’t really want to get into those now) but I would be reluctant to say that my world view of Buddhism has more influence than, say, the Dali Lama . . . even though i know people like me . . . we’re speaking of movements and philosophies, right?

    The nice thing about Buddhism is that change is part of the philosophy (the Lama himself said that if science proved Buddhism was wrong, Buddhism must change) whereas in Christianity, change is unwelcome on a broad scale (it happens, but VERY slowly, think of the Pope and the condom thing). . . so I absolutely support your views, I think it’s too much to dismiss what’s happening with the millions who do practice Chrisitianity differently than you . . .

    And I will admit I was too harsh when I accused you of not following Christianity, and I apologize for such . . .

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