The Organized Religion Boogeyman

Is it the “organized” part of “organized religion” everyone claims to dislike, or the “religion” part?

This is a question I’ve long pondered. It sticks with me because of the idea that something so complex as salvation and the eternal fate of one’s immortal soul is a wee bit more complex than other things we crave guidance and instruction on.

  • Want to get your house painted? Well, only licensed, approved contractors will do.
  • I’m sending my kid’s to school. Are these teachers degreed?
  • I’d really like a haircut. Did the Department of Professional Licensure say they’re legit?
  • I’m going to interpret ancient Hebrew texts and try to discern the word of the Lord. Meh. I don’t need any help. I’ll just do it myself.

If this doesn’t seem weird to you, then I guess you have full faith and confidence in your ability to comprehend everything and anything.

The rest of us, not so much.

Let’s look at each part of this “organized religion” conundrum. Continue reading “The Organized Religion Boogeyman”

Don’t Judge Me!

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Let’s talk about judgment.

It’s a dirty word these days, a dirty idea. To think, someone will dare tell me how I should do this or that, or that something I think is wrong?

Now extrapolate this concept to the idea of God, and people flip out.

But think about this: Society functions only because of judgment. We have laws and rules. We punish offenders who infringe on the law-abidings’ rights as a matter of course. We even have these people in black robes called “judges,” maybe you’ve heard of them?

And yet, the idea of a God that actually judges us is anathema to many. “It’s not fair!” “It’s mean!” and all of that.

I find this so ridiculous it hurts. It seems like the whinings a of an adolescent who doesn’t want to be held responsible for his actions.

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A lot might be a fundamental misunderstanding of how judgment and salvation work. It’s not arbitrary, nor is it reliant on performing just the right actions while saying just the right words.

I think it’s also because the idea of forgiveness is so alien to us Moderns. We don’t even forgive each other—why on Earth would we forgive ourselves, or expect forgiveness from anyone else? Continue reading “Don’t Judge Me!”

Close Your Mind: A Response to Zigmund Reichenbach’s Guest Post

Hey everyone. In case you missed it, my response to Zigmund Reichenbach‘s guest post has been posted over at his excellent blog, All My Small Thoughts. In it, I discuss how using Zig’s idea of methodological skepticism can strengthen your own arguments and how this relates to debates and even the law, if you’re into that sort of thing.

But I also get into how an excess of skepticism can lead to an inability to judge. In other words, that there is such a thing as being too open-minded. An excerpt:

“Judgment” has become a dirty word, as though making a decision–and sticking with it!–is somehow a bad thing. How dare we place value on anything that anyone alive on this world decides to do or say? Who are you to judge?!

I’ll tell you. I’m a thinking human being.

Open-mindedness is good and all, but at some point you have to close your damn mind and discern and decide and yes, judge.

Read the whole thing at Zigmund’s blog, read the rest of his writing because he’s posting a lot of good stuff over there . . . and tell him Alex sent you.

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Hatred and Revenge

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Must we hate?

If it’s our obligation to fight for what we believe in–to fight for what is right–how are we supposed to drum up the passion? Isn’t hate the best way to do this?

Fighting is by definition nasty. But there comes a point in everyone’s life where they have to do it. So you’d better fight to win.

What does this matter? You’re never going to change most people’s minds, right?

True. But consider:

  1. You might be able to change some people’s minds; and
  2. You still have to live with people whom you disagree with, and real-estate is limited.

Familiarity and proximity breed contempt, and fighting is inevitable. Fighting, by definition, is nasty, but if you’re going to do it, you’d better fight to win.

Fighting is a necessary evil, and when engaging in a necessary evil, it needs to be mitigated to the greatest extent possible.

But there is danger in assuming malice and evil on the part of your opponents. If you view opponents as subhuman, you’ll do anything to them. Anything.

Hanlon’s razor is the name of this philosophical tenet: You shouldn’t assume malice when carelessness or stupidity will suffice as explanations.

I take that a little further. Most people believe that they are doing good when they fight for something or hold a particular position. Doing good is a much more sustainable motivation for most people than hatred and anger.

The trick comes, however, when the results of one’s positions are verifiably proven to be harmful. At that point, continuing to push for them may very well be the result of malice.

The trick has to be to fight for and against ideologies, not people.

On Fighting In General

For Christians like me, this might be a conundrum. The natural impulse–the natural necessity–to fight, to stick up for ourselves, is in direct conflict with the teachings of Christ.

Or is it?

As Jason Berggren puts it using the story of the adultress as an example, Jesus was the most judgmental person ever:

[T]he religious people in a specific town tried to entrap Jesus so they could find a reason to kill him. What they did was trick a woman into commit adultery, caught her in the act, and brought her to the town square to stone her (of course, the first question is, where was the guy?). In his brilliance, Jesus answers the religious people with, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” With that, they all dropped their rocks and split.

But did you know Jesus judged the woman after all that? That’s right. The last words Jesus said to her was, “Go and sin no more.”

This shows that He did stand up and fight back, or be willing to fight back, too. And turning the other cheek was a prohibition against personal revenge, not a call for meek submission in the face of all aggression.

Love the sinner, hate the sin, right?

There’s also that little bit about vengeance being God’s domain and no one else’s.

So the problem isn’t fighting per se–just war theory, after all, was taught by St. Thomas Aquinas.

The issue is with hate. Whether it’s war or politics, I argue that hatred, though a natural human inclination, is counterproductive.

In art, it’s a different story. Sometimes hatred can produce fantastic art (Pink Floyd’s late-1970s catalog is proof of this, as is most of Nine Inch Nails’ recorded output). But life is different.

I think most problems occur when we have malice in our heart. Continue reading “Hatred and Revenge”