Saturday, February 25, 2017

A Matter Of Faith

Harold Sidney Brewster
What with all the religion weighing down my family tree, it's a wonder none of it slid onto me. I've got one ancestor that felt so strongly about his faith that he talked all those people into sailing on the Mayflower. I've got a great-grandfather so pious that he sent Mark Twain over the edge when they did a lecture tour together. My grandfather was an Episcopalian minister. My dad quoted the King James Bible all the time, although I'm not sure he meant anything by it. But here I am, bereft of faith.

I'm pretty sure I wasn't rebelling. By the time I was introduced to religion, it was a very inoffensive sort, just like my mom, who was responsible for the introduction. There's nothing to push against with Lutherans. It's just a bunch of nice people and weak coffee and singing in four-part harmony. No brimstone, no damnation. The word on God was that he was love. I expect I bought most of the stories at first. The whole manger scene was easy to imagine, and things didn't get real sketchy until later, but I suppose I bought that too, even though it involved coming back from the dead and floating into the sky, and other things generally accepted to be unlikely in the normal course of events.

No, the first time I questioned anything, it was that line in Mark: "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved." Wait--what? How could that possibly be fair? Are they just making this all up? (This was an intriguing possibility that had not yet occurred to me.) I guess I was willing to go along with the believing part. That seemed like a sound requirement if you're planning to join a club, and of course there are going to be rules: don't swear, remember the Sabbath, no girlz allowed. But throwing in that other makes no sense at all. Why not "he that believeth and performs the chicken dance at midnight on the second Sunday in June shall be saved?"

There are so many ways to go wrong,  once you start larding on these random rituals. So many ways to separate your fortunate self from the less-than-true believers. Take baptism: do you go full dunk or delicate sprinkle? Do you need to douse your infant before she has a chance to go to hell, or can it wait?

I guess there was some sort of Baptism before John the Baptist but he's the one with the marketing. Every good cult needs a gimmick. The word comes from the Greek and means something like "dip" and the general idea is you're getting washed clean and starting over, but I'd be careful where this is coming from. Dipping and washing is one thing, but at least one derivation of baptize gives its primary meaning as "plunge," with helpful examples including plunging a sword into a throat or an embryo, which leads me to believe the simple sprinkle will not suffice, and a sacrifice might be in order. Which, traditionally, is not outside the bounds of religion.

I personally have an aversion to being dipped, plunged, or sprinkled with water that is not coming hot out of a showerhead, and for this and other reasons, I am taking my chances with the heathens. Maybe I'm just not much of a joiner. I think if Jesus had had a different cousin named John the Chicken Dancer, I'd have stuck around a little longer, though.

59 comments:

  1. If you were christened as a baby, like I was, you are not really a heathen, just a non-practising Lutheran, like me. One of my children, the oldest, was christened at 15 months, when friends asked us to be God=parents to their newborn and we turned the affair into a triple christening circus with another new mum joining in. with the second, in a different town, the minister said he would only perform a christening of we promised to bring him to Sunday School every week for the rest of his life. The boy remains unchristened as do his younger siblings. Hasn't done any of them any harm. They all know the teachings and have read much (okay, some) of the Bible, laughing at all the contradictions contained in there and not believing a word of it. I remember going to Sunday School with a friend every year just long enough to be invited to the yearly picnic and then not again until the following year. There's just so much that just doesn't make sense to me.

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    1. That one sprinkle unheathened me? What can I do about that now? Anything?

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    2. Perhaps a ritual dirtying. You'll think of something.

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    3. I like it. The difference between a ritual dirtying and a regular everyday dirtying is the "I meant to do that" aspect.

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    4. Wait Murr - aren't you a "minister" (in the sense that you have performed wedding...rituals for others)? Surely you are then also authorized to self-de-unheathen!

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    5. I am indeed an ordained minister. But I only like to self-de-unheathen in the privacy of my own home.

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    6. Well, go ahead and sprinkle in your shower!

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    7. Brad here, Lynn Malone Wagner's hubby.
      Here is one of many interesting books to read: Breaking The Spell - Religion as a Natural Phenomenon by Daniel C. Dennett.
      Here is another: How We Know What Isn't So - The Fallibility of Human Reason in Everyday Life by Thomas Gilovich
      ...and if you really want to try to get your head around what reality really is, I have some quantum physics books to reccommend. I will warn you first, reality almost certainly is NOT what we have considered it to be. Question reality!

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    8. Hi Brad! Hope you're doing well. I've read some quantum physics books. I think you've tried to reason me into some kind of faith before, but my suspicion is that we're not operating on the same premises at all. It strikes me that one fundamental difference between people involves their tolerance for uncertainty. Mine is very high! Only thing higher is my joy and wonder. Best to you and Lynn.

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    9. Murr: If only I had your flowing and engaging writing style, I think I would be published. Oh well.
      Lynn and I are spectacular! Our choices have been good so Life is good. Hope you are the same or better.
      A clarification: I agree: Fear is a big part of the choices people make - their tolerance for uncertainty. My reply to your post was attempting to agree with your analysis of religion in general and the organized church(s) in particular. My analysis is that it is purely an invention of man, albeit some very clever and wise men. My faith is now in science to tell me of my reality, and we are only beginning in that regard. So the fairy tales mankind invents to help him along the way to, hopefully, his ultimate enlightenment, is just one more thing we can choose to ignore, or not. Buddha’s council is to embrace change. I applaud your tolerance for uncertainty, as I believe it is part of our cognitive being to thrive on it. What would life be without challenges? I don’t think mankind could survive in a world of certainty – he would go insane or take an exit (stage left?) to escape it. Yes, for some our reality is a scary place, so they take solace with their mental crutches, be that the church or Jim Beam. To your joy and wonder: perhaps the meaning of life is simply to experience as much as possible and happily enjoy! Truth is, mankind has no real clue what our reality is, so why not just sit back and enjoy?
      Brad

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    10. That's a little closer to my philosophy, such as it is. The science amplifies the joy. I'm not aspiring to enlightenment, though, or any state that will outlive me. With the Cascadia Subduction Zone, even Oregon might not outlive me!

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  2. Clubs also are known to have hazing rituals, so maybe baptism is actually just that. Think about it, either the baby or the adult is all dressed up in their very best clothes, and you either sprinkle them (you don't want to get too aggressive with a baby) or dunk them in a lake. I'd be pretty ticked off about this, after dressing in my finest, with makeup and hair done just right, then some shmuck comes along and ruins all that effort.

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    1. Depends. Some people look pretty good wet.

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    2. Can you get baptized during a wet T shirt competition?

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  3. The Methodists were kind and took me in as a child, but when I started asking the hard questions and could not get answers beyond Bible quotes, I had to look elsewhere.

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    1. I think the quotes are supposed to do you. Did you ever find any answers?

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    2. Never. World is too complicated for man-made religious texts.

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  4. I can agree wholeheartedly on the believing part -- or, more accurately, the non-believing part -- but in spite of that I'm a fan of religion. Progressive religion, that is. Especially in these times. Jeanette Vizguerra is hiding out in the basement of a Unitarian church right now.

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    1. I think even the "believeth" part isn't compulsory if you're a Unitarian.

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  5. Someone, I don't remember who, said that the word "atheist" shouldn't have to exist. Not believing would be the default position; anything else would be the position needing a label. Anyway, my hairdresser once whispered to me that her brother was an atheist. I said, out loud, that so was I. Shocked, I say, she was shocked.

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    1. I would not say that until the haircut was over.

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  6. I went to catholic school through the 6th grade, St. Francis in Bend. Interestingly, it's now a McMinamens, and I've had a beer in the same area that surly nuns whacked my knuckles.
    My sister, 8 years older, slowly talked me out of the idea of religion, and I bless her memory for that, if that isn't somehow too weird.
    My wife decided in her late 40's that she wanted to become a Unitarian Minister, and in fact accomplished that while working for the State Department, and got her congregation in the year she died.
    I think it is mainly a construct, developed by humans to explain that which they cannot understand, or the idea that this life is all there is.
    Then there is the quote attributed to Voltaire when on his deathbed was asked to renounce Satan "Now is no time to be making new enemies"

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    1. Oh gosh I hope he did say that! I hadn't heard that before. He could get away with it as long as God doesn't speak French, which I think is the case.

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    2. Why are teaching nuns always so surly? I hear about this from others and can't help wondering. Aren't they happy doing their jobs? Or do they believe teaching English, Math etc isn't the same as doing God's work?

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    3. Murr: a big Hah! on the Maria response.
      River: Well, wouldn't you be surly if you were told as a bride of christ there would never be a, um, wedding night? Ever? And no champagne, no dancing, no fun.....hell, I'd of been surly too.

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  7. Speaking as an ex-Catholic, I was baptized as an infant, so I don't remember my baptism at all. As a young adult, I remember being surprised when I saw full-immersion baptisms in a river for the first time.

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    1. I've never seen a river one but I did see a bathtub one. I was amazed.

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  8. A few years ago I was reading the almost inconceivable story of the invention of the Mormon religion in Jon Krakauer's book Under The Banner of Heaven. I was floored that anyone would believe such a ridiculous tale as told by Joseph Smith. I remarked to my husband, "This religion is utterly insane!" He calmly responded, "Not like the others?"

    Ive found that being a non-believer is somehow inherently less problematic for people than being an atheist. So I'm that. Or both.

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    1. And, as you all know by now, I'm a practicing Apatheist.

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  9. I tried and tried, but I can't read what you're pointing to on the back of that Bible. I'm guessing it's your name?

    The second picture takes me back - hat, gloves, ankle socks, little shoe straps over the instep until you were old enough to wear them pushed back behind the heel!

    My position has gone from believer to godless heathen to meh, no one can prove anything at this point either for or against but if there's a supreme being it's not the sort described in the Bible.

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    1. It IS my name. I think that proves something or other. You probably can't make it out because the holiness has worn off.

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    2. Also because the photo has mirror-imaged the text!

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  10. Methodist childhood, Presbyterian adolescence, Nominally-Baptist women's college (they opted out of church affiliation right after I graduated). A degree focused on comparative religions cleared my mind right up. It all looks silly when you back up and look at a bunch of them side-by-side. I think the tuition was worth every red cent.

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    1. I thought there was one about the earth on the back of a turtle. Wasn't there? I'd like that one.

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  11. ...and that turtle is on the back of a bigger turtle, and that stands on a bigger one, and so on, until, well -- it's turtles all the way down, as everyone knows.

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    1. What a lovely thought. I do lean toward salamanders but I can see that the shell is an important part of this.

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  12. The thing about "religion" that is repulsive to me is that it appears to give folks a firm seat at the judgment table. I am a believer in the sense that there is a power in life that is unexplainable. It grounds me in the knowledge that I am but a speck of dust in this universe & during this life I can choose what affects I have here for a very limited time. I learned how to be kind from my parents (thankfully, but it's incredible how many don't), from the Bible & from making mistakes. All civilizations have a concept of God that is expressed in some human perspective, that's all we have to use & it is definitely faulty. I guess I view God as that power which goes beyond explanation, even within the scientific explanations. That power is present in all of life. The problem in my opinion is people's need to feel superior & powerful instead of valuing the smallest form of it & how easily it is destroyed. That's just me.

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    1. Oh my goodness yes, and there is no arguing a point, either. On the one side you got someone saying "Me and God think this" and on the other side of the table you have someone hemming and hawing and looking over her shoulder for reinforcements. As Paula Poundstone said, explaining why there are no atheist evangelists, "I'd go up and knock on the door, and the person would answer, and I'd say, 'Yeah, I got nuthin'.'"

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    2. I LOLed. I love Paula and I love that!

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    3. You can hear it in her voice, can't you?

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    4. I heard Paula say that at a concert in the south. For the first few seconds, it was so quiet I could hear my hair grow. Then we laughed ourselves silly. Love her.

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  13. @ Instigator - Yes!
    @ Murr - LOL!

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  14. I always thought that agnosticism was a bit of a cop-out -- kind of like the voters who remain "undecided" until the last minute, even when the candidates are radically different. So I loved this quote I read in the book, The Life of Pi, by Yann Martel: "To choose doubt as a philosophy of life is akin to choosing immobility as a means of transportation."

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    1. I don't have doubt. I just don't care about certainty.

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  15. I think the Mormon Bible would have to come second to a religious tome by a science fiction writer who evolved it into a church made of money and aliens.
    According to one of Doreen Virtue's books, my sister is an earth angel (choke, laugh) and I am a born again human wizard. After years of practice, I finally read Harry Potter and realize I'm nothing but a squib. My sad old broom sits in the corner and my wand is a door charm.

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    1. Still, better than being a squab. Well, I guess I don't actually know that.

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  16. Still giggling about John the Chicken Dancer. I think he used to live in my neighborhood.

    As a kid I liked church because 1. there was music and 2. I got to wear pretty dresses, especially at Easter. When I taught myself to play the guitar and discovered there were other places I could dress up, I was done with church.

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    1. I loved the music and I still love the music. I even get out the hymnal every so often and hammer stuff out on the piany. And of course I hit the singalong Messiah once a year. Dressing up was never a thing though. I couldn't wait to get home and get in my playsuit.

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  17. My best friend in the 3rd grade was Catholic and she convinced me that me and my family were all going to Hell if I didn't convert quickly. So I made a secret altar in my closet where I hid the Missal & plastic rosary she gave me and where I practiced my Hail Mary's. When my mom discovered it and asked me what the heck was going on in there- I demanded the whole family assemble so I could explain. I told my Dad he was toast (so to speak) since he had already abandoned the Catholic Church when he married my heathen mother, he was headed straight to Hell no matter what. The rest of us would just burn in Purgatory for a few thousand years before making it to Heaven, but ONLY if we converted right away! They all looked at me kind of strangely then burst out laughing. My Catholic phase kind of petered out after that.

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    1. Holy crap! As it were. I can imagine your earnest, stricken little face, and how your family couldn't react any other way to it. Sounds like you all came through unscathed. Well, I guess we don't know that YET.

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  18. An aunt of mine is one of those horrid and inhumane people who mightily contribute to Christians' negative ratings. One year, she sent a Christmas card that said you could sign on the back page to reserve your spot in heaven. I did. She still tried to convert me whenever we saw each other, but I told her I signed my name so we're all good, even if I am an atheist.
    We don't talk any more, thank God!

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    1. Card won't do you any good unless you can remember your PIN number at the Gate.

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    2. Or the Mormon secret handshake...

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  19. To think a whole religion with all its rituals and sacrificing and funny clothes and strange words got started because of one woman's story trying to cover up an affair. It's a good thing that Lutheran college taught me how to think.

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    1. I've thought that same thing, but not out loud in polite company.

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