Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Social Commentary - Enough with the denominations, already!

Disclaimer:
I'm not actively attempting to offend anyone, but if you are offended, then you shouldn't have read it. Don't blame me because your curiousity got the better of you, perhaps like watching a person burning alive in a car wreck, too horrified to turn away. If you disagree with any of my assertions, go make your own website and tell me to fuck off. This is my little slice of the internet, and I am the Supreme Emperor For Life of the Superfly Circus, and if you enter my home and I spit on you, well, you should've read the fucking sign, now shouldn't you, because it clearly read that "spitting season is now open". 

Anyhow, thank you for reading if you are about to, and if you decided not to, bugger off. A game review will be back in town on Sunday (because I don't work Saturdays) and I have a lovely menu of previous reviews to choose from.  My favorite has to be either Scooby Doo Gold Rush Game or El Grande, and I invite you to find your own favorite.

So, there's an ongoing, exhaustive debate on the merits of Christianity on a website I frequent, and I poke in from time to time to stir the pot or smack some people around there who say some ridiculously outlandish shit out of either ignorance or to just plain be nasty. I rarely make appearances, though, becuase it's not a debate where anyone can win.  It's not like someone's all of a sudden going to "find Christ" because of an internet forum that's not even remotely about religion, except this one thread.

Anyhoo, while perusing the thread, I came upon this post that indicated the author had some problems with Christianity because of the existence various, myriad denominations.  Essentially, he couldn't buy into something where everyone has a varying opinion on the same exact subject, where no new information has been revealed in over a millenium.  After pondering this, I realized that while he is correct about the assertion that it's pretty ridiculous that these little tribes have formed with their own, unique version of Salvation, he is incorrect in thinking that this difference of opinion somehow invalidates the original text.

I responded with an open challenge to all readers:
Read the book, interpret it as best you can, and pray for enlightenment (per included instructions) as best you can for that which you find incomprehensible. Once you've done that several times, then attempt to live in that understanding, as you see it to be.

There is no "great truth" out there, only our understanding or perspective of what "truth" really is. That's an individual assessment, and gathering together for "Mass" to share a group of beliefs is both futile and rather difficult to reason out simply because no two people on the planet share the exact same view on every word of that book, provied no outside intervention, saving the divine, is accepted. For instance, if you're a Catholic child, you're expected to go to Catechism, which is outside influence.

If the original book, the Bible, is the Word of God, and is essentially the final say to all the important questions of the universe, why is a second book required? Why a handbook that has little to do with the Holy Bible itself and is more a guidebook to "how to be a Catholic". Seems to me it would be far better to simply have a Bible study, that way 100% of the time invested is actually done to further that child's understanding of the Bible, rather than guaranteeing that child's indoctrination by repetition of the second-source handbook.

Not knocking Catholics, since I am one, and many denominations of Christianity have their own little "how to". Seems to me that people should just determine the truth on their own and forget about going to a place, hoping that the other folks all are on the same page, or worse yet, having to wing it because you don't actually believe what they're saying.

In short, until you read your Codex of Ultimate Wisdom and determine what it means to you, joining one congregation or another is simply following blindly, without actually understanding what it is you're actually following.

Denominations of all religions, be it Baptist versus Calvinist or Sunni versus Shia, are nothing more than going through the motions if you don't understand the underlying tenets and interpretations, most importantly, your own. Were this not so, there'd not be jacket-bombers in Haifa and Tel Aviv, nor would there be Klansmen.

Seems to me that unless you study your Codex and view the contents with an open mind, not blindly accepting what your parents or pastor told you, who are arguably no more qualified than the man sitting next to you in the pew (or rug) is to interpret that Codex, you're just going through the motions hoping your "tutor" wasn't making a terrible mistake about one interpretation or another.

For instance, in Catholicism, people are taught to belive that when you take communion (the drinking of wine and eating of bread) that the wine and bread actually becomes the blood and skin/meat of Jesus Christ inside your body. So...if you died right then, after taking communion, would the coroner find you were a vampiric cannibal? Obviously not. So, that is something that is meant to be symbolic that some guy in an odd hat took too literally. Then he decided to repeat it in Church every Sunday. It's arguable that this mindset is one pair of mirrored sunglasses away from Jonestown. Why on earth would one simply follow along blindly? Because that's what your parents did, or what you've just "always done"?

If on the Seventh day He rested, and we keep the Sabbath by resting as well, why do we do so on the first day of the week, Sunday, and not the last, Saturday, as Jews do? What, Jesus came along and changed the day of Creation? What about Christmas? We just do it because it's a tradition, but it really has no underlying foundation in the Bible. What's ironic is that there's not much more offensive that you can do to pi55 off a Christian than point out how made-up Christmas is. Go to a small town and when someone says "Merry Christmas" tell them, "Sorry, I don't believe it's Biblical". You're likely to get punched, or at least scolded. Do the same on Easter? Maybe an odd look. Why should people praise His birth on a day not noted or prescribed in the Bible and get angry when someone doesn't buy in, yet on the single most important day to Christianity, the rising from the grave of our Lord and Savior, not say a word. I mean, everyone says "happy holidays" or something at Christmas, but it's not uncommon not to hear "happy Easter" on Easter when going to a store.

Even Easter, the most Holy day in Christianity, was Passover long before it was Easter, and only the Jews still celebrate that. People don't get the house all lit up for Easter, nor do they get a special Pagan tree decoration, and generally there's far fewer lavish gifts given. Where, exactly, was all of this in the Bible...that Christmas gets a whole bunch of movies and TV shows, and 5 weeks of shopping frenzy, yet Easter gets an anti-diabetic swag bag, a long weekend and maybe a ham? Which isn't even kosher! Add to that a f$$%ing mythological bunny who lays f##!ing eggs, and there you have it. Where the hell was all of this stuff in the Bible?

Wait...now ham is OK? Shellfish? Milk and Beef? Hell, let's make it Beef Stroganoff; beef that was LITERALLY boiled in its calf's milk. That's OK now because the Jewish guy who was eating kosher died and rose from the grave, so now it's OK? Maybe that's in the bible too, but I don't get why things suddenly changed. No more killing animals as sacrifice..that I get. Jesus gave his blood sacrifice so we could live without having to off the family dog to atone for Sally getting pregnant at 15.

Now we have go to a confessional instead and tell a guy who hasn't had sex in 20 years all the lurid details of how THAT happened, and then hope he isn't having masturbational fantasies and eyeing my son lovingly. But if Jesus sacrificed himself for all mankind so that I can be forgiven my sins, why the need for the middle man? How is it I tell that guy my dirty little secrets, say some repetitious chant-prayers, and it's all OK? Where the hell is THAT in the bible?

So, you see, following along blindly is folly, at best, that may provide you comfort, but shall do nothing to further your understanding of what it is that you actually believe, or why you belive it.

Study, understand as best you can, and live your life based on that, doing no harm. That's all any God that I can imagine could ask for. Seems like a fair tradeoff for everlasting life to me. And if you're wrong, and there is no God, just a dirt nap and worm food...you lived a righteous life, did no harm, and left no stain upon the earth. Perhaps everlasting life isn't in Heaven, but instead is embodied in the fond memories others share about you when you are gone, based on how righteous and good and kind you were in life.

Read the book and find out for yourself.

So, in pondering this all tonight, smoking my Camel Blue and listening to the lovely and talented Ella Fitzgerald, I've realized that the real trick to it all is that if you do not understand the Bible because you've never taken the time to actually read it, you're not only worse off for it because your laziness has pre-empted your interest in actually going to heaven, you're worse off for it because the reality is thatyou do the things you do because some guy told you to. And he might well have graduated with a guy that likes to burn Qu'rans in Florida, or get on TV and preach abstinance and chastity and then cheat on his wife with several Vegas hookers, or rape small boys. How much bollocks is that?

I think I'm going to start reading my Bible again. The more people talk about Christmas and "being holy" right after spending thousands on a diamond for their wife instead of donating that money to people living paycheck to paycheck in a homeless shelter, the more I shake my head and beg God to understand why he allows us to be so fucking daft.

11 comments:

Jur said...

All this hinges on whether you believe in an absolute truth or not. If you feel the Bible (or any other Codex) is open to interpretation, and any interpretation is good, then there is no real problem.

But if you feel that only one interpretation is true, then any other interpretation holds the risk of people missing out on divine absolution and access to heaven.

In fact, if you believe that, it's worth killing people over interpretations as you might save eternal souls (or equivalents in other religions).

That is why fundamentalists of any denomination are so dangerous. The stakes, for them, are very high.

Alchemyguy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alchemyguy said...

You're utterly correct in my mind and it applies not just to the people of The Book, but to "other" folk as well. Any time there's interpretation, there's opportunity for entrenchment and ossification. Religion should be about enquiry into mysteries, not blind sheepdom (as per teh Buddhaz recommendation to examine his teachings for yourself to find the truth) about what some dude that died a few hundred years ago said is The Way.

Jur: You're right, assuming that it's any of my business whether my neighbour goes to my heaven or not. It's interesting that Christianity holds this to be a fairly central tenent, but for others it's more or less a pass.

For the record, I'm agnostic at worst and a filthy heathen at best. Why have one god when you can have many?

Reposted for awful spelling.

Jur said...

That spirit of enquiry is not a normal prerequisite for religions. In many religions a class of intermediaries has sprung up that translate, divine or study the will of the supreme being(s): priests, shamans, imams...

If you just follow their instructions everything will be fine.

Alchemyguy said...

Jur, your ideas are intriguing to me and I wish to subscribe to your newsletter.

I'm not so sure; there is plenty of evidence that 'primitive' (if I can use that word in the sense of 'early' as opposed to the perjorative) relied on shamans and so on as specialists who communed with the spirit world for the regular folk, not the Keepers Of The Truth. More in that I need somebody to help me heal my elf-shot cow than somebody to make sure I give proper offerings to the gods; the gods will deal with me if I'm doing it wrong. More jobber than keeper of the faith, you know?

There are also examples of the grass-roots pressuring leaders to conform to the expected rituals rather than the other way around; a christian king of Norway (Haakon I) was forced to conform and perform the pagan rituals his subjects of him expected.

I'll still contend that at the core, religion is about the great mysteries; just because the current dominant forms are cereal-box packaged solutions doesn't make it an essential characteristic of religion per se.

n2magic said...

While I agree with your larger point that people need to read their chosen religious text rather than merely accept what others say, I think you stray a little far from the Biblical text (since you say you're a Christian denomination) in your challenge.

Just to make a few points:

1. "If the original book, the Bible, is the Word of God, and is essentially the final say to all the important questions of the universe, why is a second book required?"

With the exception of fundamentalist denominations, this isn't really accepted. While the Bible is believed to be the Word of God, it isn't written as the "final say." Indeed, all throughout the Old Testament, prophets were called to extrapolate on the written word. The Apostles continued to do so after Christ's death - thus every book after Acts. Even today, there are arguments related to the Book of Thomas or the Book of Mary - which are not cannonical, but some believe to also provide insight and inspiration. Still other religions take a gnostic approach and believe in continuing miracles and revelation.

2. "Wait...now ham is OK?"

I'm assuming that you made this comment rhetorically since you go on about people needing to read the Bible. But, if not, the New Testament specifically recounts a vision by Peter where the Kosher laws are fulfilled and put away and all animals are pronounced "clean" to eat.

3. "But if Jesus sacrificed himself for all mankind so that I can be forgiven my sins, why the need for the middle man?"

Again, I'm not sure if this is rhetorical or not. But the answer is that God has always used those who held Priesthood Authority. In the Old Testament, the tribe of Levi was (generally) the only tribe who held the priesthood and could officiate in the sacrifices and other ordinances. An intermediary was required. Similarly, in the New Testament, Christ's disciplies acted as the intermediary. In fact, in Acts it recounts that one disciple (maybe Phillip but my memory is foggy) could baptize, but it took Paul - a higher authority - to come and lay hands for the Holy Ghost. This is the way that God has always operated and a read of the Bible confirms this.

4. "That's all any God that I can imagine could ask for."

This is perhaps the most troubling statement which contradicts what I took as the essential argument of your post. The point of reading the Bible (or Qu'ran or other religious document) is to come closer to knowing the Deity. This means that the text will educate you - in fact, it should alter your preconceived notions or "imaginings." If you expect the religious text to conform to your own idea of who and what God is, rather than the other way around, then there's really no point in reading it.

But, as I said, I agree that people should read the religious texts that they profess to believe, and thoughtfully evaluate and reflect on them, rather than blindly following a credo just because that's the way they were raised or because it is what their neighbor's believe.

Jur said...

@Alchemyguy

I think I forgot something. Religion is, at the root, a communal thing. So breaking the rules (taboo) by one of the members, can make bad things happen to all. As such your behaviour is of consequence to others.

It is the shaman/priest's job to figure out what has displeased the god(s)/ancestors/spirits and how the relationship with them can be restored.

The focus on individual relationship with God is a renaissance thing. It does make life a lot easier in dealing with non-believers etc. If it is only your own sin you have to worry about, you can be more relaxed towards others.

This probably accounts for more relaxed attitudes towards other religions in Europe and the US from the late 18th century.

The rise of individuality has been slow and is not complete, so community pressure still plays a role in religion.

I'm much flattered by your wish to follow my newsletter, but I don't have one. You could follow my Twitter (@jurdj) or my Facebookaccount if you think I may have other interesting stuff to say.

Alchemyguy said...

@Jur:

The newsletter reference is a Simpsons quote. It's a bad habit of mine. :)

I don't really disagree with you, but I do think that there's more to the story than you've presented. For example, Anglo-Saxon/Norse/Irish/Germanic paganism as I understand it did not have a priestly class; people certainly congregated for festivals, feasts and observances, but even these were led by the Big Man, not by anybody supported by the community with the sole purpose of minding the faith. I think this boils down to the idea that if everybody is doing it, you don't need 'experts'. Shamans were people understood to have a gift for seeing into the spirit world and could thus, as you say, repair relationships with spirits. I imagine we're splitting hairs at this point.

I recognize that the primary discussion is directed at the major monotheistic religions. I just wanted to throw it out there that just because some dudes in the Enlightenment had some clever idea it doesn't mean they were the first. They're just the most well known. Pagans were having personal relationships with the spiritual forces of their world long before even Judaism broke on the scene.

Jur said...

D'oh!

Hanamigi said...

Scooby-Doo please.

=+=SuperflyTNT=+= said...

I'm sorry, I tried to worship Scooby Doo, but every time I tried to pray to him, I had trouble understanding what I was saying so I had to give it up.

"Ror Rother, roo rart rin reaven, rarrowed re rour rame" just was too hard to get right, and I didn't want to blaspheme. The Archangel Shaggy would come and fuck me up, and something fierce at that.