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Knowledge vs Preaching

16 April 2009

While reading one of Ray Whiting’s typically excellent posts to his My Life blog — about Joss Whedon‘s speech while receiving the Outstanding Lifetime Achievement Award in Cultural Humanism from Harvard University — a couple of Ray’s comments struck me as profound, and well worth sharing:

Only in humanity, and having faith in humanity, will we expand our potential to overcome the fear, the ignorance, and the hatred that is directly bred by religion.  Belief in God leads to fear and ignorance and hatred, and it doesn’t matter which God you believe in.  Every single religion that espouses a belief in a God automatically separates people into “Us” and “Them”. Religion instills a sense of “othering” that requires treating Others as outsiders, as enemies, and by its nature religion demands ignorance of Others — believers are required to be separate and not to mingle or know Others.

It’s important here that the term faith isn’t to be mistaken for worship. It refers instead to the focus, goals and what we strive for together as a species, the continuation of life. Remove all references to gods and supreme brings or forces, and consider for a moment that we need to stop looking at the past and unseen forces, and start doing what needs to be done to ensure that life not only continues but thrives.

If we continue allowing ourselves this indulgent, unsubstantiated fantasy of religion then we’re forever doomed to maintain this destructive tribal mentality, for the reasons mentioned in the quote above. And when those primitive-minded tribes have nuclear weapons little more than a button-press away, then it doesn’t take a genius to realise our days are numbered unless something changes. (In fact, the cynic in me wonders how the world made it through the previous 8 years of US government without ending up living the Fallout lifestyle).

Ray then ended the post with:

Would you like to know what I want to see?   I’d like to see fact-checkers sitting in every church, recording the stuff preachers say, and then reporting on just how ill-informed, biased, and even downright deliberately deceptive some of those preachers are.  That would be very cool.

How brilliant would that be? For people to catalogue the litany of garbage that flies from the mouths of these Protestant Popes, who continue to spout ignorance, lies and deceit in an assumed atmosphere of Parliamentary privilege, free from having to justify what they’re saying. Imagine that catalogue being checked and then shown to them by a reporter with a camera, asking them to explain all the mistakes which were supposed to be divinely inspired?

You don’t have to imagine too hard, as many of you may be aware that this just happened to Rick Warren (mega-church bible-thumper and speaker of the Presidential Inauguration Invocation). A quick Google search will return many proofs contradicting his current statements.

I’d go a step further than merely dreaming about monitors who hold such people responsible for their words. I’d love to see an Anonymous-type movement — but without the masks and rapidly growing internal troubles — with free Sunday mornings or evenings do just that: visit their local church, chat with those who greet them (after all they’re people just like you and me, but with an imaginary friend), and note what’s said. The preacher’s message may take the form of comparing a piece of news with what the Bible says about something (classic cherry-picking: anti-gay stuff will be from Leviticus, love will be from the gospels, science will be from Genesis, etc), it might be the preacher’s version of a news topic (same as an opinion piece in a newspaper, but without the press regulation and standards), and so on.

For those of you with Friday lunchtimes free, and assuming they’ll let you, you may care to visit your local mosque and observe jumuah, the early afternoon prayer followed by the khutba (the Muslim weekly equivalent of a sermon). Or the Jewish temple, Buddhist temple, and so on and so forth. All of the above welcome newcomers as potential converts.

However, if anyone does do this it’s important to keep your opinions to yourself. Don’t lie, but remember you’re in someone else’s domain and need to show the person respect, regardless of your opinion of their belief. The Golden Rule, people. Also make sure you’re dressed appropriately and that can include skin and hair being covered, depending upon the religion, local cultural mix, and level of fundamentalism — particularly if you’re female. Also be sure to let us know how it went.

I have done what I suggest above in depth, as I have blogged about previously, so from a position of experience I have to ask you: what’s the worst that could happen? At worst you’ll be turned away at the door, perhaps for no reason other than the colour of your skin, or perhaps rudely without reason; but at best you’ll have an insight into another religious culture. You’ll realise that those people also have concerns about many of the same things you do: job security, child’s education, grandmother’s illness, etc. I found it made a huge difference to my level of compassion for my fellow human.

After all, we’re all clinging to the same rock, trying to make it to the end of the day.

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