Sunday, January 28, 2007

The difference between abstract and real

Thursday night on HBO, they were showing a documentary about evangelical Christians by Alexandra Pelosi (yes, the Speaker’s daughter). I had mixed feelings about watching it, so I dragged my feet until 10 – 15 minutes into it before turning it on. At that point the subject was indoctrinating kids to be against evolution. Ken Ham, Australian creationist, was speaking to the children in a church audience. I’ve seen him before. He is extremely simplistic in attacks on evolution, saying things such as how Noah’s flood was just as likely to have created all the fossils found by science as the accepted scientific story of geological time. He even had a slide that said: God said it; I believe it; that settles it. It was something like that if not the slide’s exact words. My focus was mostly on the first two parts of that. There are other possibilities about what God said, you know.

Afterward, the film interviewed at least 3 children of elementary school age. They were sold on believing in creation according to the Bible, not evolution. Why? Because the Bible is true. God wrote it. How did they know? No one asked, but I suppose the answer is that everyone in their life told them so. Who’s going to disagree with that?

I was surprised by how much emotion those children brought out in me. I bet it was because they were children. I can see children as innocents as much as anyone, and here they are being used by adults to mirror the fantasies the adults cling to so that they can feel secure about life.

I feel secure from ideas that it took me a long time to see simply. Attacks on evolution are all lies, you know. Evolution is a fact, from comparative anatomy, from fossils, from population biology, from molecular biology. People will argue against that, even some smart people, but only in the way a defense attorney will try to keep a guilty defendant out of prison, with misdirection and suggestion.

Human nature gets so extreme in that. It’s not enough for people to preach that the best way to live is found in the Bible, the Quran, or A Course in Miracles, they have to say that God wrote the book of their choice. God says their way is best. Who can argue for anything else? Only with considerable conflict can someone argue for something else.

This is what the children of religion are raised for. So are the children of atheism, though I suppose without the same degree of indoctrination. People raise their children to carry on a tradition. I’ve watched this, having gone to many different types of churches. Only the children going to charismatic churches are taught it’s OK to speak in tongues. Only the children going to conservative churches are taught that it’s OK to say Jesus is the only way to God. Only the children in liberal churches are taught it’s OK to think the Bible might be wrong in places. Part of that is love, to teach one’s children what one believes to be true, but part of it is giving one’s own burden to one’s children, giving one’s pride and idolatries to them, one’s sins.

I rarely think of that. I think of the future, how children may believe their parents for the time, but someday any house of cards will collapse, even the one that says the secular world is all there is. It’s somewhat abstract to picture some future time when all the lies of the present have collapsed. Then what? That’s even harder to picture.

Yet to watch children right now being told what I’m sure is a lie is not abstract. The children are trusting, but they’re being told lies. In turn they’ll tell their own children lies, until the lies collapse. That’s the generation that suffers the most, when the lies collapse. They’ll know they’ve been lied to. They’ll wonder why. They’ll reach out for something else. Who knows what they’ll get? It won’t be people who love them as parents who’ll be trying to sell them their next belief. My goodness, this is my resentment, isn’t it? Why yes, it is! I can feel it right here. It’s mental, but it’s not abstract. There are so many memories I could connect to it, so many ways to live that I’ve rejected, though to some degree accepted at the same time.

One thing I’ve rejected is the perennial philosophy, that all religions are true. There may be some truth in all religions, but it is very well camouflaged in some. It’s just been 4 or 5 years since I discovered my preference for saying all religions are false, not true, even my own liberal Christianity. I’m not sure exactly what’s false about my own religion, or I’d change it, but there must be something wrong somewhere, about the exact nature of God, the exact nature of the world, the exact nature of life or of me.

That’s abstract. I could work on fleshing it up with examples, things in my life that led me to say, “Yes, that’s it,” about all religions being false. There are such examples, but there not important to me at the present. What’s important me was how different it was to me to be confronted by a real life example that all religions are false. It was harder than I expected it to be. After all, I feel quite confident that all religions are false. So what’s the problem?

One problem is my worldview. If everyone is full of it, what kind of world is that? Fortunately not everyone is full of it about everything. Only a few are that bad, and I suspect even they could talk about something real if they were speaking to me as my patients used to or my clients do now. I’ve always helped people with real things, not fantasies. Sometimes I help people with their fears provoked by some fantasy, but those are real fears, fears that are countered by truth and love, also real things.

Yet I’m not sure I’ve adapted to just how much people are full of it compared to when I hoped to be a more typical liberal who thinks everyone has something worth saying. I focus on the future instead, when all the lies of today have collapsed. Maybe they’ll be new lies, but I have no emotions from those.

Belief that any holy book is God’s instructions to us is already dead. It will just take time to lose any appearance of being alive. Belief in the traditional God, a distant Creator who has made the universe perfect for those who obey Him, a God who is perfect is every way, is dead. Belief in nothing beyond the physical is dead. My intellectual beliefs are broader than that. It’s my intellect that accepts the full range of God being whoever and whatever God is. But there is a narrower part of me that sees all sorts of beliefs as dead. Their proponents can argue all they want, but their arguments are like arguments against evolution. They are contrived and only convince those who already believe in the position, theist or atheist.

That’s abstract. There are people I’ve observed at church or on the internet who I think of as I write things like the above, but they’re just characters, not real people like my family, patients and clients.

And those kids on TV. How were they to know how untrustworthy Ken Ham is? Isn’t anyone who speaks from the front in church close to God? How old does one have to be before realizing the answer to that?

Older than these kids. There’s nothing I can do about it. Even in writing this I don’t intend to spread my ideas. I write because I realize I’m still adapting to just how evil human beings are. Some people think it’s just conservatives. Others think it’s just liberals. Still others have different groupings. It’s everyone. It’s human nature.

Yet not everything about humanity is evil. In fact just guessing, I’d say the world is getting better. So culture and God are improving us, giving us disciplines that keep our lies and selfishness in check some. I’d even say these kids that made me change the channel may have remarkably contented lives thinking traditional Christianity is exactly how they should live. I don’t begrudge them that. Those who will suffer on realizing that their parents lied to them have my sympathy. I don’t have to hate their parents to be sympathetic.

Yet to be utterly serene about all this doesn’t work, either. I wish it did. I think it’s a real problem that so many people are serene about the needs of the poor, but even when it comes to something like evolution, it’s not OK that so many traditionalists waste resources trying to keep the Bible as being the last word. And none talk about even the possibility that God knows that the Bible is not the last word and that evolution is correct.

I’ve tried to say that being on the wrong side like that is not my concern, that it’s up to God whether to be concerned about that. It hasn’t worked to make me serene. I think it’s because God is not serene about this. He may know perfectly well that it won’t matter in 500 years, but today people are lying about nature and about God. It’s a basic issue in one’s religion how God sees such a thing. Is it abominable sin and that’s that, even if the sin’s perpetrators will someday be forgiven? Or is God above all that? Any human being who answers that is just speaking out of his or her beliefs, so I ask God.

God says, “Look at those kids.” It’s not abstract. It’s real. If I could only say this one point well, it would be worth so many words. God has not been abstract to me since He first spoke to me 18 years ago, since He was the one who answered when I prayed, “God help me!” An experience is not abstract. Interpreting an experience is likely to become abstract, but that’s not the only way. One can stick to reality. One can try to find fantastic metaphors that explain something.

It may be fantastic metaphor that I connect everything I experience spiritually to God. Maybe the reality of God is quite different, but there is a reality for me to experience. As Paul wrote, the Spirit lives in me, and I live in the Spirit. It may be metaphor, but it’s about something real.

I think about the abstraction that all religions are false, and I know it’s true. I’ve argued for that before. I can do it again. It is what it is. I remember those kids being suckers for creationists, and it pushes me just a little toward crying. Maybe they will learn the truth. Maybe it will take some number of generations. It is about human nature, and human nature is what it is. But the first is accepting something abstract, and the second is accepting something real, something that is on the wrong side of God. The first is much easier. The second requires knowing the real God in order to appreciate the problem. It’s not a little thing. So many people talk about God as an abstraction, even believers. It gets in the way of knowing the real God. First things first.

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