* to encourage a reasoned awareness of how our beliefs impact the way we interact with the world around us
* to foster intelligent and open dialogue
* to inspire a sense of spirituality that has real meaning in day-to-day life

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Eschatos (for now)

Having concluded the gospel of John, I spent some time considering what to tackle next. The decision was difficult. Continuing with the second third of Isaiah would make a lot of sense, considering that so many believers mistakenly conclude that the book is about Jesus. (The "servant" in the book is more likely an idealized, emotionally mature person in the midst of an anxious society.) The letters of Paul, taken in any sequence, would be useful perhaps, since many of the Christianities that exist today are based more on Paul's flawed thinking than on any of the Christ narratives. Especially with regard to judging people who seem different, Christians frequently rely on the words of Paul to condemn others and spread fear.

However, even these compelling possibilities seem uninspiring, at least for now. Thus, the title "Eschatos" -- last things, endings. I have accomplished several things that I set out to demonstrate when I began this exercise. First, I have shown that meaning can be derived from a text without assuming the historical accuracy of the story in the text. Second, I have shown how one might discard harmful assertions from "sacred" texts in order to bring one's beliefs into alignment with one's deepest values. Third, and perhaps most importantly, I have consistently reflected an atheist/Humanist philosophy that holds human beings in high regard and forms a credible foundation for ethical and moral behavior. I have freely interpreted the text through a lens of my own choosing, as every interpreter does, such that the Bible was brought into alignment with the guiding principle that every person has inherent worth and dignity.

It should be noted that some of the text had to be dismissed or refuted in order to do this. This is because the Bible is a flawed document written by imperfect human beings who often didn't know what to do with their anxiety and fear. Yet, I don't really think anything I have written here will convince someone to read things with an open mind if they're prone to believe in a literal translation of the text. And those who are willing to read things with an open mind don't need my encouragement to do so. In any case, I don't need to continue with this particular project in order to demonstrate how you might first clarify your own guiding principles, and then read whatever text you choose to read with an eye toward deepening your integrity and aligning more intentionally with your deepest, most noble self.

I originally chose the Bible because it's such a strong influence in Western culture, much more so than Buddhist writings, for instance, which might more easily line up with my Humanist assertions. Recently, though, I've been saddened by how flippantly some believers use biblical texts as weapons to harm others. The ideas of bigotry and fear, practices of injustice and hatred, even acts of profound dishonesty and abuse are sanctified by words from this collection of texts that ought have no more importance than any other ancient document.

It is clear that a significant portion of the population interprets the words of the Bible as license to not learn how to think critically, as permission not to develop into fully human vessels of love and light that create wholeness. I find that I am repulsed by words that attribute human worth to the benevolence of a supernatural, not least of all because that imagined supernatural is also used to disguise hate as virtue and fear as righteous indignation. Where I may once have easily interpreted Humanist ideals out of a theistic text, I now find it abhorrent to in any way legitimize words that so many believers use to justify lazy, narrow-minded thinking that keeps people from wholeness rather than fueling a journey toward wholeness.

The idea that there is a supernatural who guards and guides human life is simply wrong. Abdicating one's personal responsibility to the will of an imaginary god is simply irresponsible. Human beings do not derive worth from anything outside of themselves, and they do not need to be cleansed or redeemed by a mystical sacrifice. Human beings have inherent worth and dignity. This means that there is nothing a person needs to do to earn the status of being enough. And there is nothing that can take human worth away from anybody.

Human beings are still flawed. We still give in to our anxiety, and we let our fear make decisions for us. An even more flawed mythology isn't going to help us deal with these issues. What we need is to take responsibility for our own part in the greater system of humanity. Human beings are capable of growing in their emotional maturity. Human beings are capable of developing integrity. Human beings are capable of doing the work of creating wholeness in their lives and in the lives of others. And we don't need a god to do these things. And we don't need a sacred book.

Sacred books and gods are convenient, it's true. But they are also easily abused without dispute. Legitimizing belief in a god for the sake of empowering people to do good things in the world unfortunately opens the door for belief in a god to empower people to feel justified in hatred, fear, and violence. As a species, for the last two thousand years, we have failed to teach people to use their myths properly. Thus, it is better to work to discard the myths and replace them with something more useful and better suited to the task of human development.

There are some tools that are necessary to do a certain job, even though they could be dangerous. We keep those tools around because they are useful, and we take precautions that they are used and kept in a way that maintains a level of safety. It would be irresponsible to do otherwise. Belief in a god is not a necessary tool. For the creation of wholeness, for developing greater integrity, for recognizing the inherent worth and dignity of every person, for growing in emotional maturity, belief in a god is unnecessary. More importantly, belief in a god frequently keeps people from creating wholeness, developing integrity, recognizing human worth, and growing in emotional maturity. When a tool is unnecessary and dangerous, the responsible thing to do is to throw it out.

You can say, "Those people don't believe in the god I believe in. The god I believe in is wonderful." That's nice. You don't need it. If you want the luxury of keeping a tool around because you find it convenient, despite the harmful things so many people do with that tool, I believe it is your responsibility to teach people how to use that tool properly. If you want to hang on to your supernatural, it is not alright that you stand by and watch people do abusive, hateful, fear-driven things in the name of your supernatural. You are responsible for how you allow others to use your tools. If you want belief in a god to remain in public usage, you are responsible for speaking out boldly for what kind of god you're willing for that to be. The people I hear speaking out boldly for their god are only saying things that reflect their fears and anxieties veiled in religiosity.

For me, belief in a god is unnecessary, and sacred texts are unnecessary. These things are too dangerous for me to continue accepting and legitimizing them. Accepting the premise of the importance of the Bible has become a distraction from delighting in life and creating wholeness. I'm grateful for your attention as a reader, and I hope that my words have been meaningful to you thus far. My hope for you is that you find ways to deepen your own connection to your deepest most noble self in everything that you read, and that you continually recognize the truth, beauty, and creativity within you. Live into a best possible version of yourself, and the result will be a better world.

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