Friday, 20 July 2007

Why Religion Still Makes Me Cross, Part 5: Not just "is", but "ought" as well!

Personally I am just about able to tolerate or endure faith-based efforts to explain what “is”, because they are deficient and laughable in equal measure. But it’s just hurtful, and personal, when faith is brought to bear on the question of “ought”. It makes me cross when some (certainly not all) religious people suppose that their access to Higher Truth obliges them to tell me what I am and what I ought to be. They behave as if it were up to them to decide what my life means. An appalling violation: who are they to say I can’t make sense of my own existence through my personal experiences?

It’s paradoxical, but true to say that difference is something we all share. We are the same in the sense that we all have distinctive genes, experiences, aptitudes, and inclinations. With infinite variety our characters tend towards opposing poles: dependent or independent; silly or solemn; intellectual or practical; extrovert or introvert, and so on. So how can there be One Path to happiness? Sorry but I tried worshiping God, confessing my sins, and essentially giving Him all the praise while giving my self all the condemnation. It didn’t work, and made me unhappy: thankfully I realised I had a problem before all that left me utterly demoralised, inward-looking, and ineffectual.

Were I to take my critique of the Christian Path to a believer, he might try the following classic rebuff, which can be readily adapted to destabilise almost any critic: he could say “It’s easier to destroy than it is to build”. My reply would be “Yes, it certainly is easier to destroy than to build”. I’d politely suggest that a superior path to happiness involves praising our unique selves, accepting our potential even in the face of our failings in order to BUILD hope, motivation, and also confidence. Confident individuals are secure, and as such aren’t disproportionately defensive or aggressive; they don’t need to dominate over others, or fear difference in others. So, they feel good, and their actions tend to be “morally good”. How about it: “Imagine all the people, living life in peace”?

It’s not that I’m saying good behaviour is easy to define or accomplish, but at least the whopping existential challenge before us comes alive once we are free of simplistic ‘Rules from Above’. We can confront “morality” as that which asks us to perpetually assess and re-assess our own actions, as well as our conceptions of meaning – most notably in our personal variations on the theme of love – and responsibility. It’s as if we must mould and re-mould our intentions and actions into shapes, then fit them into an infinite number of different jigsaws (or different situations) as best we can. Morality is grey, however much our fear of uncertainty and/or our indolence may cause us to wish it were written in black and white on some handy stone tablets. Compassion is grey too, by nature constantly inconstant; based on flexibility and compromise.

The sort of benign avoidance of judgement that compassion often calls for is, furthermore, absolutely opposed to biblical absolutes: were an accident or degenerative illness to devastate my body, so that the pain and indignity were too much to bear, I might beg to be helped to die; who could say, who would dare say, that it would always be right to refuse me? Now the kind-heartedness of ‘good’ and ‘true’ Christians frequently takes me aback – bless them, they want to help. But too often they decide what help is appropriate for me, or what help I need. Were I gay I might like it if the Church chose to help me campaign against prejudice, or perhaps promote civil partnership. But instead many Christians would seek to ‘help’ me make an alternative “lifestyle choice”! Were I hungry I might desperately seek relief from material poverty, and yet scores of concerned Christians would continue diverting efforts and resources towards saving me from my “spiritual poverty”.

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