Posts Tagged ‘Religion’

The Perfect Book?

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009

Of course, the book I’m referring to is the Bible. I could also be referring to the Torah or Qur’an, but as the US is made mostly of Protestant Christians, I’m going to use the Bible for this discussion, which is to explore the reasoning behind why these books are taken so literally.

So I make the following three assumptions:

  • God is perfect
  • Man is imperfect
  • The Bible is the word of God and meant to enlighten the flock as well as bring non-believers into the light

If any of these predication aren’t true, please comment and tell me why.

So to examine why the Bible is taken so literally, we have to look into how it came to be. The first I was going to talk about was basically the idea that God wrote the Bible Himself, but I decided against it, as even the most devout Christians don’t believe that is the case. Anyone who does believe the Bible was written by God has no hope of seeing any other viewpoint, and so it would be a moot point. Besides, supposedly, God doesn’t directly interfere with the world, except for his wrath.

The generally accepted explanation is that the books of the Bible are written by people. This is vague, because depending on who you ask, you get a different response as to who the authors are. To religious scholars, the books are written (dictated) by Biblically significant authors, by the influence of God.� Because its believed these authors were touched by God, the words are taken to be intrinsically holy, and are so free from the burden of proof. And so I have to ask, if the words are holy, if they are the word of God, are they perfect? I don’t think its a stretch to say if someone believes the Bible is literal, then the words are perfect. If the words aren’t perfect, how can it be literally true? If the words are prefect, and we accept the truth of the Bible is/has been written/copied down the years by man, and man is imperfect, how does the Bible maintain its perfection? Does the act of writing/copying the Bible make man infallible during the process? If not, are the people who wrote/copy the Bible touched by God while doing so?

Eastern Orthodox icon depicting the First Coun...

Image via Wikipedia

All this is to question, why should you believe the Bible as a literal tale of the world? As a non-believer, if I started to copy the Bible, word for word, would I be granted this degree of holiness while writing it? If not, is it still holy? I realize this seems like a pointless endeavor, but my point is this. From where does the Bible gain its literal value? As with the questions before, man is fallible, and man copies the Bible. Prior to the printing press (and actual availability of the Bible to anyone besides clergy and the rich), the Bible was copied by man, by hand. It was the biggest game of telephone ever played. And I can tell you, when I play telephone with 20 people, we get all sorts of crazy results. Telephone over centuries?

Most secular historians believe that the Bible was written years after Biblically claimed. The Council of Nicaea picked and chose what books and gospels were appropriate for a uniform Bible. Granted, it wasn’t some simple vote, but it was a choice. If this is God’s word, how can mere men decide what belongs? I know someone will argue that they were also touched by God, but again I wonder this: how can the Bible hold any literal value? The Bible outlines slavery and the rules associated as early as Exodus 21. It calls for stoning for various offenses through the entire thing. It disallows any followers from eating shellfish. If the Bible is so literal, why do Christians not follow these edicts today?

At the end, I think the Bible holds a lot of value. I think it provides some great ideas, and professes some wonderful ethics. And the key there is some. The Bible is supposed to be your holy book. You can’t choose to believe some of it and not others by claiming “That’s the Old Testament” or “That was for that age”. Your God is supposed to be unchanging. He’s beyond time and space. Even if you’re Christian and think the Old Testament is for the followers for Judas, and that the words of Jesus are the path to salvation, that doesn’t negate that your God said those things in the Old Testament. If you want to believe the Bible is the word of God, but not literal, as lessons for life, good for you. If you think that some parts are meant to be transcendental and others are meant to be left behind, great. It won’t be the end of your world. You won’t lose your beloved “christian ethics” (which are a different story if you’re a hard-core, the Bible is the end all, Christian); ethics are generated by the integration of multiple societies and religions.

Society has grown and advanced by dropping ideas that no longer make sense, and moving to ideas that do. We’ve dropped customs that seem barbaric and immoral today, such as primae noctis, slavery, and gender roles (to some extent). Laws are added and dropped as they fit into the culture we define. And culture has changed as we’ve expanded our horizons beyond the local cultural and religious norm. You can claim that today’s scientific discoveries were already in the Bible, but you can’t simultaneously claim the Bible is meant to be taken literally. I’ll be able to take you much more seriously when you can accept that you should learn from history, but you shouldn’t live in the past.

As a quick edit of sorts, I was pointed to this YouTube video, which explains my points in a different way, maybe more nicely. The entire set is very interesting, and I would love to hear a Creationist’s or at least a Christian’s view on it.

Faith and Politics

Friday, November 21st, 2008

Sometimes when I watch some YouTube videos on religion, I just get depressed. Our most recent election brought religious fury to the foreground, bringing doubt of our political leader’s religion, for no other reason then to bring doubt to the politician himself. Now mind you, I have a lot to say about religious “arguments” on YouTube in general, but I really do wanna talk about faith, politics and public policy, and how they meet.

I’m gonna preface this by saying, to be clear, I am not an atheist. I don’t dislike religion. In fact, I believe in the power and use of religion. If there were ever to be a debate on whether religions should be discontinued or not, I would be on the site advocating for their continuation. What I can’t abide by are some of the uses of religion as an inconsistent moral compass, whether it can be taken apart and subjected to individual whim to fit the view you think (on purpose or not) as the most advantageous for yourself. Religion has its purposes; I don’t believe it has a direct role in public welfare.

I Stumble a lot. I don’t know what people did to find websites before Stumble. I guess viral was really the only way. Anyway, I happened to stumble across a YouTube video where then Senator Obama spoke about his views on religion mixing with public policy. I found this rather interesting, as the views were sort of in line with how I see faith and politics. More importantly, after watching it, I watched some of the related videos, including one by a Mediterranean or Middle Eastern Christian (sorry, can’t pinpoint his accent) who first thanks a Muslim for bringing out the “truth” on Obama, then attacks passages from the Qaran, one where Dr. Dobson talks about how Obama is just distorting the Bible, and Ann Coulter “puts down” Obama on this particular speech.

I am deeply disturbed by the religious elements of this past election, namely the attacks on Obama. I have never seen attacks on a candidates religion like this before. Clearly a Christian, Obama was accused of being a Muslim (as if that in itself made him a threat), he was attacked for his pastor, he was attacked for his view points on Christianity. Even now as President elect, he seems to be portrayed as the most dangerous thing to ever happen to America. This from many of the same people who denounce anyone who speaks out against President Bush. A friend of mine made an interesting comment a little earlier: “It’s funny that the most prudish, moralistic people are also the ones most likely to breach basic ethics for the sake of their agenda.”

Any attack on Obama having possibly been Muslim at some point in his childhood is pointless. To say he’s “secretly” a Muslim while pretending to be a Christian is just insulting to anyone who can think on their own. Most Christian denominations pride themselves on the fact that once someone is “converted”, they are saved. Obama faithfully attended a church for at least 20 years, and for all accounts and purposes, has shown himself to be a true Christian, much more then many today. Graduating from a prestigious law school, instead of taking up a big salary job, he gave back to his community. He appears to be a faithful husband and father. He supports the unity of all mankind with minimum violence. Now given, this also sounds like what Islam teaches as well… but we’ll ignore that because apparently, Islam is “evil”. Anyway, these attacks are no more then the grown up versions of the childhood insults like “He’s gay!”, given when a bully doesn’t like one kid, with of course no evidence or even logical reasons. Dr. Dobsen even attacked Obama’s interpretation of the Bible. What makes Dobsen more correct then Obama? Does Dobsen know something about the Bible that the rest of the world doesn’t? Honestly, I think people like Dobsen are the ones with a distorted version of the Bible. I always wonder about this… the Bible is the word of God, who is perfect, but written by men, who are imperfect, yet the Bible maintains it’s holy level of perfection. Does this means that the people who transcribe the bible are infallible? Or that they are touched by God? If I choose to copy the bible, word for word, what would that mean for me?

The Codex Gigas from the 13th century, held at...

Image via Wikipedia

In general, the attacks on his views on Christianity seem to only come from the super conservatives who think they and their followers are the only true Christians. Lets take a look at some of what Obama said. First and foremost, he advocates for the separation of religion and policy. He talks about the diversity of religion, and the diversity of Christianity itself. He talks about not taking the Bible literally, quoting lines from the Bible that no sensible person today would implement. He asks that religion be translated into universal reasoning in cases of public policy. He says he’ll use logic before religion. Most importantly, he makes the audacious claim that people want to use religion to bridge, not divide! (That’s me being sarcastic in case it’s not obvious).

Now, I’ve never been a big follower of people like Ann Coulter. I didn’t know much about her before this. I’m not sure how someone like her actually becomes popular. It scares me to think ideas like her are common-place enough to have multiple books authored. I don’t think every Christian out there was scared that Obama was Muslim (or Arab, as if those are connected), but I do know a lot were, as evident from one of McCain’s supporter’s misconceptions. It does scare me to think that people could be brought to such levels of fear by a religion that teaches the value of every human life. The truth is Obama has one of the best religious-political views I’ve ever heard. He doesn’t denounce religion, nor reduce his support of it, but he uses it as a guiding factor of morality. Anyone who can attack him for being moral without bringing religion directly into fray while spouting on and on about Christianity and the values of this great nation needs to reexamine both accounts and truly look within themselves. I’m no Christian, but I believe in the value of the good Book rather then select one of its hundreds of interpretations to cherry-pick my religious beliefs. I figure its better to believe in the whole of one religion rather then the pieces of a dozen.

Have we really changed?

Friday, November 7th, 2008

Obama 08 Logo

Obama '08 Logo

I think a lot of people will remember where they were at 11PM on November 4th, 2008. Whether you agree with his politics or not, it was a historic moment when Senator Barack Obama became the President Elect, 44th to hold the highest office in the United States. The first non-white man to become president, Obama hopefully represents a new age in race relations in America. It was a big step in unified equality in the US. Or was it?

As California’s results came in to secure Obama’s victory, the populous of the state also passed Proposition 8, banning gay marriage. So as non-whites (or perhaps only African Americans) took a step forward, gays took a step back. Gay couples still retain rights as a couple, so what does marriage matter? Now note, I’m not from the Sunshine State, so any “facts” are from conversation and research. To me the answer is simple: denying a couple marriage says they are not the same, puts them apart. It says gay people do not deserve the same things, or do not deserve the same choices the rest of us have. At one point, non-white, non-men could not vote, and over time, as Americans we stood up against this discrimination. At one point, an African American had to give up their seat on a bus to a white American, and as Americans, we stood up against this discrimination. Now gays are being denied the right to marry, and as Americans, we’re the ones denying them this right. How is it not discrimination?

King and King

King and King

It seems one of the biggest pushes was a campaign that didn’t want homosexual marriage taught in schools. I came across the site for Protect Marriage – Vote Yes on 8. I watched some of the videos on the site, and the only thought I had was, are you kidding me? Two parents were upset because their child read a book about a prince marrying another prince… and this is a problem why? Should a gay couple be up in arms every time a story is read in class about a prince marrying a princess? Kids don’t pull these fascinating conclusions out of simple fairy or folk tales that we adults do. The reason a story about a prince marrying a prince stands out so much to them is because its ingrained everywhere else in our world that marriage is between a man and a woman. The parents from Massachusetts said they thought the school would at least wait till the kids had been through sex ed. What in the world does gay marriage have to do with sex ed? Perhaps all discussion on straight marriage should be banned until kids go though sex ed. To say the two are connected is absolute bull.

A majority of objection to gay marriage comes from the religious crowd, who clamor that marriage should only be between a man and a woman. They say the sanctity of marriage needs to be protected. Where is the sanctity of marriage upheld in Vegas side-street chapels, with the ceremony behind conducted by an Elvis look-alike, with a drunken bride and groom? Where the sanctity of marriage being preserved with the divorce rate in America on the rise? Oh, right. Its protected as long as it follows their religious beliefs. Which are up to their interpretation, but never correctly analyzed by non-believers. I’ve done a bit of research, and I really think I need to read the Bible myself, because as far as I can tell, the evidence condemning homosexuality is circumstantial at least, up for interpretation at best. And yet that same book is very clear on other facts, like not judging others.

To me, this was a great move to show that while as a people we can accept non-Caucasians in America, or again maybe just African Americans, that’s pretty much the extent of our understanding (as an Indian, I still get discriminated against). We still think certain people don’t deserve rights, simply because we don’t agree with them. But in a sense, the 5th was also an ending step of discrimination in America. Its been gone on the surface for a while, but its the first sign that its really dying as a whole. Now that one battle is over, the next can begin.

My “Why?”

Friday, September 19th, 2008

No easy answers you say? But 2+2 has a very easy answer you say? 4 huh?

Not a synergy person I see. But regardless, there are basics answers to basic questions, and its always been easy to pose a question, thinking you’ve gotten the best of someone, but its often the hardest thing to come up with an answer that’s satisfactory to more then just you. Then I think about Anekantavada. And I think about how everyone thinks they have the right answer. Even I always seem to. But maybe a little less as of late.

Sunday was the last day of Das Lukshan, the Jain (Digambar) holy days to reflect on the past year, and clear the body, mind, and soul. I’m not really a spiritual person, but I do partake in Das Lukshan. I see a lot of sense in taking some time to reflect on the previous year. Christians have Thanksgiving (how in the world did that become known as a religious holiday? But I digress, that’s a different argument), and Digambar Jains have Das Luckshan.

I like debates. Ask people I interact with and they’ll tell you how often I play devil’s advocate just to get a debate. I also believe debate is essential to a complete decision. But I I have a strong habit of arguing. Not debating, but arguing. I like to be right; who doesn’t? But I start with debates then tend to get into aggressive, adversarial, and it tends to go in the exact opposite direction of where convincing debate should go. This doesn’t happen often; mostly with my dad. And given I’m home all the time now, I’m around my dad all the time, for better or worse.

And so we’re in the middle of Das Lukshan, and one morning I find for some reason, someone’s put a tube of empty toothpaste back into the drawer. I’ve already started brushing my teeth, and I’m thinking, I have to find out which of my parents did this. They’re always on my case to clean up, throw out the trash, etc, yet here is a perfectly worthless tube of toothpaste. I took it out to throw out, forgot, but they still put it back?

Then all of a sudden, something of an epiphany. What would be the point in arguing why they put back the toothpaste? I didn’t throw it out, and whatever their reason, did it matter? It was a tube of toothpaste. And there are bigger issues. We’ve got immigration troubles. My parents have to get my brother through college. Gas prices are through the roof. Countless problems across the world. Does a tube of not-yet-thrown out toothpaste matter that much?

Mind you, my dad is a self-righteous know it all. It doesn’t matter if he has no experience or study in a field, if he’s heard of it, or forbid read a book on it, he’s a master of a subject. Just yesterday I had to prove to him how poll statistics work (that’s an interesting story for another time). But we started with a discussion, and it became an argument. And as we argued, I would say some statements then immediately realize, Holy crap, how full of it am I for saying that? It’s like I just wanted to be right. And that’s where a lot of my arguments did come from. I had to leave the room and calm down a bit, and prove it a bit later (his acceptance of proof is most often simply asserting how that’s what he meant the whole time).

It doesn’t sound like such an epiphany, does it? But really think about it, how often do you make a proverbial mountain out of a toothpaste tube-sized molehill?

And so maybe this Das Lukshan was good for something more then just fasting to appease my parents, and pretending I believe in perfect souls. I thought about it and learned a bit about arguing and I learned arguing isn’t worth it.

Debating helps you see another view point, shed light on the darker regions of an idea. A nice debate, structured or not, even if its just in your own head, helps look for the cracks, and potential filler. And even if you can’t find a filler, you are aware the cracks are there and can work on it. To be effective in a debate, you have to be aware of the opposition, listen to the opposition, and use the opposition’s arguments against them. You have to understand someone to actually convince them of something they don’t currently believe in.

Arguing helps raise some blood pressure, and really blocks you from seeing another view point. In an argument, you get so absorbed in making sure you’re right, that it doesn’t matter what the other person says. Think about it. When you’re arguing, somehow even the other person’s statements are proof to your viewpoint. It becomes so easy to bend everything they say to prove your point, through your own eyes. But normally what you’re saying is gibberish.

And that’s really what pushed me to start this blog. There are so many ideas out there, so many topics, and everyone seems to have the answer. It seems so simple. The answer seems so easy. But looking at what you believe to be the truth is what’s truely easy. The hard part is getting past that self-centered notion, considering the oppositions viewpoint as potentially possible, even if you know its not. And I’m fortunate: thats the environment I was raised in, even if thats not what my parents intended on doing. In fact, I’m pretty sure they didn’t see it coming. In all situations, I can’t help but think, What does the other guy think about this?