Conservatives in the US - especially of the evangelical-Christian variety - have been wailing about our nation's plight in this week since the election proved Romney is no kind of savior. An author whose blog I watch (largely out of "I want to understand the other side" motivation) recently linked to this post by a religious teacher trying to understand what it means that Obama was re-elected. I found reading the post and other people's responses immensely enlightening. I've always wondered why otherwise-seeming reasonable people go off the rails about President Obama. He is not a socialist (far from it), fascist (less so than other recent Presidents, anyway), Kenyan (really?), or Muslim (did they forget his controversy-stirring Christian pastor?). He is not the antichrist (one assumes). So I've wondered why they were so freaked out about him. I've also wondered why I've wondered why they're so filled with bile and venom about gays, secular government, even the new healthcare law - I mean, it does the kinds of things Jesus taught, like helping the poor. Heck, if it had lived up to what many wanted it to be - nonprofit healthcare for all Americans (what the US Right feared, and what the US Left wanted, and which no one got) - we would be living in a much more Christian nation.

Well, now I think I understand the fundamentalist, evangelical Right a lot more:

1) Fundamental religionists (particularly from the evangelical branches of Islam and Christianity) hope to establish religious states not only where they live but to spread their fundamentalism across the world.

2) Those who do not believe as they do are wrong in the eyes of their respective gods, lost, and therefore unworthy of respect. Those gods, I might add, are the same "one true God," only with different prophets reforming His message in slightly but significantly different ways.

3) When fundamentalists pray but do not get what they want, they do not see the opposite result as God's will. Instead, they twist the results to prove that this is God teaching them a lesson... say, to work harder on the thing that someone with clear vision would see as something God did not want. If God really did want, say, Romney as President of the US, and you believe in an omnipotent god, don't you think it would have happened? By simple deduction, Obama's winning re-election despite people praying otherwise proves that God wanted Obama to win. (This sort of reasoning is nonsense, of course, in either direction.)

4) The recent US healthcare law is the work of anti-religion because it includes women's health and family planning as part of "healthcare."

5) I knew this one: Favorite passages from the Old Testament of the Christian Bible are more important than the teachings of Jesus.

This brings me to two conclusions:

A) "Fundamentalist" is another word for "illogical" and "self-contradictory."

B) Most importantly: So-called "fundamentalist" religionists don't follow the fundamentals of their religion at all. They pick-and-choose their favorite messages of hate and exclusion from pre-prophet writings while ignoring their chosen prophet's messages. They use their religion and the strength of numbers it provides in order to get what they want, rather than following the teachings of their prophets.

Fundamentalist religion is just another display of human selfishness. The illogic and ignorance they display is a symptom of their selfishness. They feel they know their god better than God's chosen prophet, who came to Earth to teach us the truer message. I don't claim to be an Islamic scholar, but I was raised Christian in an evangelical, fundamentalist branch of Lutheranism, so I'll talk in terms of Jesus' message.

If Christian fundamentalists were truly "Christian," they would follow the reformations that Jesus taught:

They would love one another as themselves, not fear everyone who is different. They would feel sorrow, sympathy, and compassion for others, not hate the "other."

They would turn the other cheek when attacked and love their enemies, not identify everyone who isn't just like themselves as "enemy" and then seek to destroy them.

They would sell everything you have and give to the poor, not strive to accumulate wealth by sucking dry the middle class, placing corporate profits above human welfare, and exploiting the lower class.

Finally, they would follow Jesus' "greatest commandment," which was, "Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind," followed closely by, "Love thy neighbor as thyself." This precludes hating others, because that is hating God's work. It precludes hate at all, because if "God is love," then hating is turning one's back on God's love - giving in to Satan, to use Christian metaphor.

So this loony little post taught me a lot about American fundamentalist Christians: They are not Christians at all. Fundamentally, they are no different from the Taliban: Selfish hate-mongers who think they understand their gods better than their chosen prophets. If, in all practical ways, they oppose Jesus (or Mohammed), how can they claim to follow the reformed religion with which they associate?

If empathy is the highest goal a human can strive to achieve (in these and many other religions), what happened to make their fundamentalist adherents so blind to their prophets' teachings and spiritually sick?

I can only conclude that ethical humanism is closer to the fundamentalist teachings of these reformist prophets than the modern evangelical religions, and that - in their recent US election defeats, however they perceive them - the lesson their gods are trying to teach them is: You are wrong. Pay attention.

Full disclosure:
I abandoned organized Christianity decades ago. This dissociation started when my church tried to teach me that all unbaptized babies to go Hell. This did not sync with the teachings of Jesus, and when I tried to argue this point, I was told I could not be "confirmed" (accept Communion) without saying the words. This taught me fundamentalist evangelical Christianity is more concerned with human interpretation and the spread of their church than with understanding God's message from Jesus. My disillusion grew whenever I visited my stepfather's Catholic mass, which was less overtly hateful yet more smugly certain that everyone who went against the Pope's message was wrong. My search for spiritual fulfillment led me to study many other forms of religion, including the Christian mystics, Buddhism, Shinto, and countless less-favored forms. At the root of all these, I felt, we can identify God's or the gods' true message.

The mental readjustment for me arrived one day when I was camping in the Montana Badlands. This was the last day I lived in that state. I was the only human being for hundreds of miles around. A lone deer attended me as I hiked through dinosaur-bone-studded buttes. Layers of gray, brown, and black stone and dirt described in measurable form more than 100 million years of time piling upon the Earth. Occasionally the little deer came upon a flowering cactus - the only real color in that dusty place - and munched it, then resumed following me on my quest. At some point, in the quiet of my own thoughts punctuated only by breezes brushing loose mudstone pebbles, I realized that I was walking through a cathedral more holy than the greatest structure built by human hands.

As the sky darkened from cyan to cobalt to black, the endless universe around our little pebble of Earth began to appear in little pinpricks of light, extending the cathedral 12 billion light-years. Through telescopes I've glimpsed the miracle of star-birth amid vast clouds of gas and dust; I've seen stars gold and blue and yellow; I've watched distant galaxies pinwheel around their central supermassive black holes. By sweeping my telescope at random across the sky, I've explored the mysteries of the Milky Way, stumbled upon star-clusters ten thousand times the size of our Solar System, watched planets and their moons spin and orbit around the Sun, the hydrogen-powered ball of plasma and fusion from which all life on Earth depends.

Astronomy shows us the magic of the large-scale universe. It is silence and an infinity of stars overhead, an eyepiece to reveal the secrets hidden among them, Earth's rotation slowly sweeping new stars into view. For me, that's the best way to feel at one with the universe.

Biology and paleontology show us the magic of life, how living beings come to be, how they reshape over time and survive changing conditions, how they eat and mate and bear young and, yes, even love.

Geology and paleontology show us time, manifest. Each layer is an epoch, a million or ten million years of dust and death, compressed into stone. Buttes filled with relics of ancient days: Dinosaur bones literally poured out of those hillsides; you can feel the passage of time locked in rock.

Every science does this. They all seek to reveal the fundamental magic of the universe. Scientists openly share their results with others, and the practitioners who do it right praise the discoveries of others - even when new discoveries disprove part of what they believed until the moment when it was disproven. They then seek to fit this new discovery into their own world-view, or discard their prior belief if it cannot fit. And thus does science progress.

So that night in the Badlands, fatigued from hiking all day through rocks in my cowboy boots, I had to sit atop a dry-grass butte, for I could not stand beneath this beauty and glory that was the universal cathedral. The wondrous thing about the cathedral of science is that you do not avert your eyes from its mysteries; you stare into them to better understand! This is the moment I realized that religion is not the answer.

We will never find God at the core of any human-invented religion. The messages of religion are what's important, when they are appropriately examined, tested, and adapted to fit changing circumstances. By being secular humanists who strive to make the world a better place, who strive to feel empathy for all other creatures, who seek deeper understanding, we become closer to God than any fundamentalist evangelical follower of a human-manufactured organization could hope to approach.

We can only reach a fundamental understanding of our personal spirituality - become "at one with God," if you will - by seeking our individual connection with others and the universe around us. If there is any god, it resides in the energy of the stars, in the life-force of all living things, in sapient species' striving to understand the universe. All of this is God, as close as a secular universe allows. The stars and planets and galaxies form its body, nuclear fusion and other forces power its life, living beings comprise its spirit, and our self-awareness encompasses its mind. Our search for truth and understanding - the scientific process - is the universe coming to understand itself. So science, and sharing what we learn, and being open with one another, and active empathy - these are far better methods to be good followers of God than you could hope for by being part of any fundamentalist religion.

Chris
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