Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Monday Sermon: What If What You Believe Is Really Just...Crap?

Belief is hallowed in our country.
Maybe a bit too much.

"I believe for every drop of rain that falls, a flower grows..." Nice. Inspirational. Not true, but who cares?(1) Statements of belief in any credo, philosophy, experience or person have always been sacrosanct to Americans. When "I believe" is uttered with any amount of intensity, it commands respect. "I believe in Joe Blow" rings with commitment. Sometimes "I believe" challenges the listener: NOT believing is decidedly wrong.

"It's what we BELIEVE!" is probably the most ubiquitous response to any criticism of religion. Visitors to the Creation Museum in Kentucky chimed "This is what we BELIEVE!" in defense of their prideful support. Many people divide the country into "us" and "them: "believers" and "non-believers." Belief has, in effect, become a catchall defense mechanism as well as a rally cry. It is a weapon for both defense and attack. And sometimes it becomes an unassailable fortress in war.(2)

It's no wonder that criticism of any belief system (especially involving blind belief) is almost immediately looked upon with an enormous amount of contempt. And if you can't stand the contempt, well, tough - you made a conscious decision to question the system and it's your fault if you're held in contempt. True believers (and they are all true believers) don't take criticism very well.

So what if some belief is such crapola, such bullshit, such cretinous crud  that its mere existence labels the believer as someone uneducated and out of touch with reality or -worse - an unmitigated moron? Young earth Creationism is perhaps a prime example: the Creation Museum in Kentucky, in its quest to somehow "adjust" science with belief, has a Tyrannosaurus Rex blissfully chomping on vegetation in the Garden of Eden. The idea that Adam and Eve may have romped with Pebbles Flintstone and Bam Bam Rubble has given legitimate scientists cause to call the museum's reasoning "Yabba Dabba Science."

The ensuing guffaws were well deserved, but they weren't enough to stop the Museum's creators from embarking on another piece of WTF: a "lifesize" rendering of Noah's Ark.(3)

Another example of belief that is absolutely ludicrous is snake handling. The practice of snake handling is still observed in rural parts of Appalachia and the South, with handlers believing that survival from snake bites gave evidence of grace and faith. Some handlers have imbibed poisons like strychnine to prove the New Testament's Mark 16: " and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them." Needless to say, there have been some fatalities in snake handler churches.

The belief that satanic forces are at work in everything that the believer does not consider God-sanctioned are, for the most part, irrational and ludicrous:

- Evangelist C. Peter Wagner:
...asserts that Catholic saints bring honor to the spirits of darkness, and promotes the burning of their statues in Argentina. Wagner asserts that the Holy Spirit came to his associate, Cindy Jacobs (a "prophet" in Wagner’s Apostolic Council of Prophetic Elders) and "told her that in [the Argentinian city of] Resistencia they must burn the idols, like the magicians did in Ephesus"

- The founder of Heartland Apostolic Prayer Network, John Benefiel, has posited that the Statue of Liberty is a demonic idol (see video below)(4)

And the belief in a vengeful God always smacks of medieval superstition:

- Pat Robertson proposed that Orlando's Disney World having a "Gay Day" would result in floods, hurricanes "and possibly a meteor."
- Cindy Japan-is--shaped-like-a-dragon Jacobs said that the unusual occurrence of a mass of birds falling dead in Texas was the result of the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell.

Belief and Faith

And the attitude of faith is the very opposite of clinging to belief, of holding on. Belief is clinging to a rock in the middle of a stream. Faith is knowing how to swim.
 - Alan Watts

Personally, I do not harbor a belief in God. I have, instead, a faith in God inextricably coupled with humanity: as creations, God is in all of us and faith in humanity is faith in God. One cannot exist without the other. It is the placement of God beside us, or rather, above us, that makes "believers" prone to self-loathing and have an inherent distrust of humanity. (Saint) Augustine of Hippo gave us the vehicle for self-loathing in Original Sin and its transmission through sex. "We're all sinners, born in sin" is the great leveling retort for many Christians who need to dispel any appearance of self-righteousness. 

So perhaps belief in Original Sin is...crap. It certainly is the greatest guilt complex mankind has ever had, the kind that has forced him to compensate with a bravado of wars. 

The Power of Blind Belief

It's time we should qualify the term "belief" by saying that what is meant is really "blind belief", belief where no substantial proof exists, like belief in a myth or belief in a rumor. But that qualification does not lessen its power. Blind belief has erected monuments and created wars.

Perhaps the true power of blind belief lies in the hold it has on the believer: the one who believes that all gay men die in diapers believes (or wants to believe) everything Pastor Patrick Wooden puts forth. The power of blind belief can lead the believer to automatically respect almost anyone with an "Rev." in front of their name.(5)

Blind belief has a kind of "trickle down" effect: the blind belief people have in religion trickles down -with very few filters - to belief of everything their pastors say. And it is because it has few filters that blind belief is strong: education, for example, is a filter that "true" believers distrust and many times avoid. Qualify that: education outside of the system of blind belief. That's why people actually believe Rev. Patrick Wooden.

Blind belief also feeds people's self-righteousness: in order to feel righteous, people need to be enabled by a belief which is more superior, more uplifting, more...righteous than others. That's why organizations like Americans For Truth About Homosexuality have people like Patrick Wooden on their media broadcasts. The sheer righteous arrogance that comes out of men like Patrick Wooden, DL ("Down Low") Foster, Bryan Fischer and Pat Robertson is astounding.

Yet people believe them.

Vetting Your Belief

As we've seen in the Republican party, vetting is not a conservative's strong point (e.g. Sarah Palin). The same could be said for many "social" conservatives: if a candidate says "God" and "Bible" enough times, well, that's enough for them. (6)

And it's the same with some beliefs: "That ole time religion is good enough for me" merely says that the person has never been allowed (or allowed himself) to look behind what today is called his "belief." After all, to question a televangelist like Pat Robertson, a "Prophetess" like Cindy Jacobs or a "Pastor" like Rick Warren is to question what they preach. And they preach THE WORD OF GOD! Looking in the past to believers who promoted slavery, who caused wars, who tortured and killed in the name of God is! The authority of the Bible is never questioned, and neither is the authority of the pulpit. 

It's ironic that more than any other time in history, you (and by extension - we) need to vet your beliefs, simply because purveyors of the "crap" have expanded their horizons to such a degree that some of the beliefs they proselytize are more dangerous than ever: one only need to look to Uganda and Russia, and at home, our own state legislatures. The culture wars are real. And politicians who specially pander to the Christian Right are merely enabling those televangelists and pastors who shepherd their blind believers. 

So you need to vet your beliefs as well as expose the underpinnings of others. And maybe in vetting your beliefs, you shouldn't be afraid to call some of it "crap."

1. If it were true, we'd be drowning in nasturtiums.
2. Europe's 30-years' War pitted Protestants against Catholics and claimed approximately 2 million "believers."
3. The new theme park will cost an estimated $170 million - $55 million basically subsidized by the state of Kentucky. 
4. One response/comment to the video:
ctually, the 'name' of the statue in New York is "The New Colossus" and is symbolic of all things that are great about America. Freemasons had nothing to do with funding or constructing it, the statue was a gift to the United States from French Schoolchildren. This man is either stupid, ill-read, power hungry, or, most likely, all the above.
5.myself included.
6. In the case of Newt Gingrich, it was "God" "bible" and "mea culpas".