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Thursday, June 13, 2013

Redeeming God from the Charlatans

One reason I've been redeeming the theological approach to arguing for progressive ideas is that unless religious interpretation is done honestly the field is left to religious demagogues and outright swindlers. When intellectuals fled the field of theology to rejectionist atheism, they also left the field to authoritarian literalist interpretations of religion. More importantly, by rejecting religion as a whole many of them opened themselves up to a kind of spiritual angst not moderated by the kind of guidance that enables moral and reasonable people to put away "the things of childhood" for mature an more nuanced understanding. A lot in religion is anaecdotal, allegorial, metaphorical, metaphysical, thought experiment, or designed to enable exposition of moral points. Religious dogma is often intended for a child's understanding or for those too busy to think deeply. All spiritual people are borderline atheists. An honest person struggles to decide what parts of his or her heritage are myth and legend, and what parts to take literally. We are enjoined to believe, but to also follow the material truth when it's not misleading us. We don't have to believe literally. And we don't have to accept authoritarianism or dogma. The authority should come from the reasonableness of the arguments and the context of the proofs.

There are spiritual and moral reasons for not rejecting "religion" and staying in the fray. Religious information is institutional wisdom. And if the authoritarians trot out sophistry, much of that is falsifiable and the library still contains the arguments and truths to refute such sophistry. A wise person can use exegesis to refute such sophistry, as John locke did the "divine right of kings" in his "Two Treatise on Government." Common folks had been doing this refutation in a brief slogan dating to the thirteenth century; "When Adam spat and Eve span, who was then the nobleman?" The reason this works and the reason it is needed is that behind most tyrannical decision making are selfish and self-interested reasons, and religion has been pitted against greed, anger and arrogance all along -- even when it's own officers; popes, monks, polemicists have been thoroughly flawed people. So the myth is at odds with the reality? The myth is often an exemplar for virtues necessary for people to play a functional role in society. There are gems of wisdom in even the most flawed of arguments, and one can discern the truth from a pack of lies by observing what happens when the lies are tried.

So I don't reject the religious, just their authoritarian and poorly reasoned arguments. I admire their courage and efforts to do the right thing. And if they are honest people they'll make at least some decisions honestly. If they are dishonest people they'll gradually expose the twisted minds behind the fawning smiles.

I don't know if there is a All Wise, all Knowing God, and don't see much evidence in this world that God is sentient, but I can assume that Universe is a Creator, and I can pray that God actually cares while acting as if he might. That doesn't mean I believe in God. I still haven't been talked to by a burning Bush, and probably would check myself in for treatment if one talked to me. But that doesn't mean I'm an atheist either -- the subject is too important to leave to charlatans. I'm also not agnostic. I know the Universe is self-created. I only pray that somewhere in all that vastness there is the capability to wake up, and that we humans will wake up. I have faith that man will do so one day. That faith demands that I strive to do something in the moment to help make it soon.

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