Sunday, September 16, 2007

Beyond belief

This poor world nowadays not only has to suffer from militant, narrow-minded religion, but militant, narrow-minded atheism. A bad choice, and a false one at that.

The Washington Post round-up on trendy atheism notes:
On both sides of the Atlantic, membership in once-quiet groups of nonbelievers is rising, and books attempting to debunk religion have been surprise bestsellers, including "The God Delusion," by Oxford University professor Richard Dawkins.

New groups of nonbelievers are sprouting on college campuses, anti-religious blogs are expanding across the Internet, and in general, more people are publicly saying they have no religious faith.

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On and on it goes; both sides in this stupid debate confuse religion with spirituality. Spirituality is an experience of a higher order, which leads the experiencer to a new relationship with life and an improved character. Religion is a symbolic statement of the personal insights of those who have known God to some degree, combined with a lot of ritual, doctrines, moralism, faith, and missionary work of very mixed value, designed mainly to transmit the original spiritual experience. Because religion is most often associated with people who have not experienced the Light and for whom it's a loyalty, like supporting a football team, or intellectual conceptualizing, it tends to be dry at best and fanatical at worst.

I don't blame thinking people for being disgusted with all the superstitious garbage that has attached itself to what, for a few souls, has been an immediate intuitive knowledge or grace. Religion has inspired some to seek a personal, rather than institutional, connection with God; it has also led to some wonderful aesthetic experiences, like cathedrals and Fra Angelico paintings and Bach cantatas. Nevertheless, when the score is totted up, formal religion may well have caused as much trouble as benefit. It's understandable that the Salvationless Army wonders why God should have all the best tunes.

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Militant atheism's record is hardly spotless. Exhibit A for the prosecution: the Soviet Union. Thousands of Orthodox priests were martyred and believers forced to hold onto their beliefs in secret.

There is in fact nothing new in the conflict between rationality and religion. It's been in play since the 18th century in the Western world, although mainly among the highly educated, and now the privilege of sneering at religion has become available to the masses. Also likely is that the conflict will now show up in parts of the world where until recently religious traditions were virtually unquestioned.

So it's all the more important to remember that this isn't really an argument about God. It's about various notions of God and man-made ideologies. God is still there and ever will be, for anyone who wants to rise above the folly caused by human ignorance of Spirit.

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