Saturday, 18 August 2007

If homosexuality is natural, Christianity is wrong.

Please consider the following extract from a recent post on A Penitent Atheist (see links). In the context of the theme of my own blog (Shared Difference) I will just add this: although we may all share a capacity for love, we all require the freedom to pursue in the way we choose and with whom we choose (provided we do not cause unjustifiable harm). If one man finds love and happiness with a consenting thin female, so be it; if another man finds love and happiness with a consenting large male, so be it! Too often a terrible wrong has been perpetrated, when people have been forced, whether overtly or more incideously, to suppress their natural impulses for love and relationships...

"The title of my blog, A Penitent Atheist, indicates a degree of regret, even remorse, that exists in me because of the things I taught and preached as a Christian minister. One of the things I regret the most is my persecution of homosexuals.

When anyone attempts to find that Christianity is tolerant of homosexuals, they must choose to admit that certain parts of the Bible are wrong. Because the Bible is unequivocally anti-homosexual. And therefore, as a preacher, so was I.

As it turned out, the issue of homosexuality, among others, helped me see that the Bible, and Christianity, were false. It is very simple, really. If homosexuality is not a choice, then Christianity is wrong. And it is patently clear that homosexuality is not a choice; it is no more a choice than is heterosexuality."

Wednesday, 15 August 2007

Why Religion Still Makes Me Cross, Part 10: Go In Peace to Love and Serve...?

Anglican congregations rise to close their services with a hymn, and so they are already standing tall – perhaps invigorated by the imminent prospect of coffee and then Sunday lunch – when the Reverend exhorts them to “Go in peace, to love and serve the Lord”. But I feel obliged to exclaim “by Jove, isn’t that rather a lot to ask?”, having established (see parts II, VII, and VIII) that the Lord of the Bible - in His transcendence - cannot be anything other than unknown in every strict or verifiable sense. Good luck to individuals who undertake to guess what kind of “service” He wants, especially if they hope to come up with an answer and achieve a consensus; pity them, given the persistent inability to agree (ranging from petty bickering to out-and-out discord) which explains why religion makes religious people cross!

So then, with no solution, no resolution, and therefore with no clear Way to serve Him in sight, why do Christian solders march on? They’re hampered to the point of being ineffectual – incapable of coming together to choose between a frontal assault and a pincer movement, or even agree on which hill to take in the first place – so why don’t they demob? Well, perhaps that’s mostly because there is a security that comes with the expectation of a pending capital-T Truth; that can appear to outweigh the insecurity associated with the inability to define that Truth now, or agree on the Way to realise it. Unless… it could be that all the schisms and long-winded disputes conceal a hidden purpose: the Anglican Communion alone − without even needing to enlist other sects, or make anything of their divergences − may one day create enough hot air to fill a giant balloon so that they can float to Heaven. Why else sit there in General Synod and, straight faced, situate antagonised arguments about the “problem” of homosexuality alongside moral debates concerning poverty and climate change?

Another thing, the Godhead doesn’t need serving, or praising, or prayer. He’s ok, up there being sung to sleep every night by heavenly hosts. Surely He’s big enough to take care of Himself, and I see no reason to single Him out for special treatment just because He’s rumoured to be Older, Wiser, and more Powerful than the rest of us. (The that Humans are ‘lesser beings makes “Humanist” start to sound like a form of discrimination, like “sexist” or “racist”! Are Christian’s “Humanist” in that sense?) No, if we are to serve at all lets stay focussed on helping one another, because life isn't easy for us mortals. (Not that we can care for each other without also caring for ourselves, for no one would be happy and all our efforts would be wasted if everyone were to confuse “goodness” with misery and self-sacrifice!)

Of course the mystery of God is still there – distracting, perplexing, and generally getting in the way – somehow secure within a cultural milieu which politely accepts long-standing fallacies. Clearly I don’t like it, and yet you know, for now I do myself some favours if I can accept and come to terms with it, rather than become angry or demoralized (and as such ineffectual). Life goes on, even though we cannot be sure that life will offer us what we want, or anything at all: we cannot be sure that life will always give us secularism any more than health, money, or status, just as Christians certainly cannot be sure of God or Heaven. But I say to you: there is still always meaning in what you can give or offer – through your attitudes and actions – and in the love that you (uniquely, like no other) can feel or create even if the harshest and most hopeless circumstances. That’s everything, and that’s enough.

Tuesday, 14 August 2007

Why Religion Still Makes Me Cross, Part 9: Why Religion Doesn't Always Make Me Cross.

I’ve sought to explain and justify my persistent vexatious feelings about religion, but now I’ve said enough. Lets move on because, well, I’ve moved on. I’m positive, excited about the future, confident that claims to exclusive religious truth will fade in time, like an empty, irrelevant, and potentially divisive rumour. It’ll happen when it finally becomes clear even to religious people that the symbols that make up our languages and texts cannot really contain or express truth – religious or otherwise. Nevertheless, for now religion remains an inescapable ‘reality’, and I chose not to remain angry or demoralised about it. I wish to avoid the kind of excessive bile which could skew my perceptions, or distort my arguments. I am striving to be fair-minded, even handed, and capable of acknowledging the provisional and limited nature of my own words and hypotheses.

In that spirit, let me concede I like some aspects of religion (just as I might like some aspects of the American government’s activity in Israel or Africa, without being fond of American foreign policy as a whole): Despite myself I still like old Church buildings, and Anglican hymns whose words I learned by heart as a young choirboy: such familiar sights and sounds reliably counteract a kind of empty “home sick” feeling, whenever my surroundings seem ‘alien’ or threatening somehow. I also like kindly old ladies who bake for Church functions and spoil little children. I enjoy Christmas carols, and for me TaizĂ© music can be ‘heavenly’. I even have affection for parts of the Bible – notably parables like ‘The Good Samaritan’ (Luke 10), and the one with the widow who gives away her last two copper coins while no one is looking (Mark 12). Further, if I were ever truly in desperate need, I think I might go to a priest or an imam, a church or a mosque – places where I know well-meaning individuals tend to congregate.

Religious or not, people tend to grow on me, once I get passed my preconceptions and appreciate their rounded individuality. In particular, I have a lot of time for religious people who honestly ‘don’t know’. These are open people who, it seems to me, gain much from not being sure about what they believe: they’re humble, and they don’t indoctrinate or force their beliefs on others. They are spiritual people whose spirituality performs a very real function in their lives; they tend to find solace in ceremony and constancy in the services, rituals, and festivals that break up their year. Hanging onto some kind of “open belief” can provide an avenue for genuine reflection, as well as relaxation and personal development – vital aspects of a life well lived, which many of us have lost. For others, notably “non-practicing” individuals who were brought up in the faith, God remains an important notion: few of these read or attempt to defend the Bible, and, for my own part, I’m disinclined to disapprove of them. We can’t all be philosophers, and people who are happy and harmless can’t all be expected to halt their daily lives in order to critically assess their unseen assumptions.

Clearly I’m making an effort to be kind here, and as a final gesture I’d like to mention two very important words – “love” and “forgiveness”. I’ll allow those words stand there alone, because they are strong expressive words that do not need to be borne up by philosophical explication or religious structure. Love and forgiveness have been working for a long time now, occasionally loudly or publicly, but perhaps more often quietly and privately. It appears Jesus and/or the gospel writers, like Gautama and Lao-tze, chose to use these words, and for that at least lets give them a nod. And spare a bow for people down the ages who may have read the whole Bible, but have nevertheless singled out and acted upon these two words. As Victor Frankl (author of ‘Man’s Search For Meaning’) discovered in Auschwitz, love allows us rise high, far above physical life and suffering – it is our salvation.