Saturday, June 18, 2005

Always with the questions...

After breakfast this morning I was sitting at the table trying to read (about the early archaeological explorations of Mesopotamia, actually) and things just started popping into my mind. They pretty much grew out of all the talk lately about Scientology (around Tom Crusie and his strange behavior) and the "20/20" segment last night about Kaballah. So I put my book down (well, the library's book) and started jotting. This is what resulted.

Issues relating to religious/spiritual belief:

1) Is it sane to hold religious/spiritual beliefs? (Some would say no, actually.)

2) Should holding religious beliefs be privileged? (Should speech codes saying that one cannot say anything bad about a religious belief be allowed? There was an interesting opinion piece about this in the Financial Times this week that I only scanned and that I have to go back and read more closely.)

ITEM: I think that professing a belief that there is not God/gods or that religion is not valid is, in fact, a religious belief in the sens that it is a belief about religion.

3) What is religion? Who gets to decide?

ITEM: I don't actually think, based on the little that I know about it, that Scientology is really a religion, but should that be up to me? (I don't think so.) Can we say that religion, like art, is anything you can get away with?

4) Is it possible to say that some beliefs are "bad" and that other beliefs are "good"? (There are separate practical/legal and theoretical components to this question. Also, it can be relevant to other kinds of belief than religious/spiritual beliefs.)

Now, the real question is, I suppose, should I change what I eat for breakfast (Rice Krispies and sourdough toast and strawberry jam in this case), or is it natural for me to be thinking about this kind of thing so early in the morning?

And the other question is, Is there any point in the consideration of beliefs and belief systems where the questions slow down and there begin to be some kind of answers? Because it seems like my list of questions about all kinds of belief (not just religion) just keeps getting longer and longer, while any kind of answers, even preliminary ones, are very hard to come by. I'm beginning to think that there aren't any answers.

7 comments:

FrankWit said...

I must agree with Bill Maher. "We are a nation that is unenlightened because of religion…I think that religion stops people from thinking. I think it justifies crazies. I think that flying planes into a building was a faith-based initiative. I think religion is a neurological disorder. If you look at it logically, it's something that was drilled into your head when you were a small child."

Greg said...

I think that anyone can think and believe in what they want. I really don't know a lot about Scientology, or many other belief systems for that matter. I'm sure that Scientology is no less/more screwy than any other religion or belief system. As a devout atheist, my only concern is when someone’s belief systems becomes a public issue discussed or considered by public intuitions, or when there is an attempt to force it on someone.

lma said...

Thanks for your interesting comments.

frankwit...Your observation is interesting. I do think that Bill Maher sometimes says things more for the effect than anything else, but that's neither here nor there. I do have to say that I'm not sure about the implications of the characteriza tion of religion as a "neurological disorder" in terms of freedom. I'd be just as hesitant to try to "fix" or "cure" a religious person as I would be to try the same thing with someone's sexual orientation or with a belief in other area. I might not agree with someone who is very evangelical about their religious beliefs, but I don't really think that gives me license to label them as mentally ill, as some folks have done and continue to do. Seems like the old Soviet Union tried to do that with those whose beliefs (political beliefs for sure, and I think religious beliefs as well)didn't agree with the state's and that didn't really work out that well for them.

grex...I agree with you that it is worrying when individuals or groups try to push their beliefs on either other individuals or on society as a whole. I've seen it way too much. And on another note, I have to say that I find the way you label yourself, as a "devout" atheist, to be interesting in that it is a word usually associated with those having deep religious beliefs.

Greg said...

I use the term "devout" for two reasons. First, for the reason you mention. Most people would consider the term to be mainly associated with some type of belief in a higher power. Using it in conjunction with the term "atheist" might give some pause to think - and that is good. Secondly, I am devoted to my belief as much, if not more, than any person who believes in a god or gods. Atheism is simply another belief. It is not something I decided on, or something I take lightly. I am very devoted to my belief that there is no god. That is not to say that I am saying that a god does not exist. I’m simply saying that I don't believe in it. It is a question of faith, after all. I have no empirical data one way or the other to prove or disprove the existence of a god. In the absence of a tangible god I have to chose to believe or not. I chose not.

Also, in my first post I meant to write "public institutions" not "public intuitions".

lma said...

greg...I figured you meant "institutions" rather than "intuitions". Just call it "editor's intution" - I've done a lot of copy editing and proofreading, for myself and for others.

Thanks for taking the time to explain why you use the terminology you do in relation to your atheism. I find it interesting that you say that you have no empirical data concerning the existenc or non-existence of God, in light of the fact that I've run into a good number of atheists who will insist that there is absolute proof that God does not exist, just as I've run into religious people who insist that there is such proof.

I tend to agree with you, that there is no empirical data on the question, and that belief about God - for or against - is just that: belief. Personally, I'm currently leaning very slightly toward the belief that something rougly correlating to what some folks call "God" exists, but I have a lot of trouble with the folks who try to say that they not only know that God exists, but understand his/her/its nature and intentions. I'm pretty sure that even if that is possible (and I have my doubts about that possibility, no one has achieved it yet. But that's just me.

Tom Meade said...

Scientology is an interesting little chestnut. On the one hand, it's entirely alright to believe in such a thing, but on the other, it is a religion born of one man's mind a few dozen years ago, quite evangelical in nature, and displays various tendencies that some might label worryingly-anit-social and (some might say) exploitative.

So at what point does one start monitoring and regulating a religion. Can anything, no matter how worrisome, be condoned if enough people believe in it. I'm not suggesting such a thing with Scientology, but it poses the question.

lma said...

Tom...Thanks for your thoughts. I think that was exactly the question I was asking in my post - at what point can either an individual or the government, make the distinction between a religion and a confidence game or some individual's bid at godhood (I'm thinking of Charlie Manson here)? On the one hand, some things look really worrying, even exploitative. And goodness knows that Scientology isn't the only religious institution that does that when one is looking in from the outside. On the other hand, how can one say - especially in a society like that here in the States that has protections of religious freedom built into the Constitution (no matter how much what those protections really mean are debated) - that one thing is a religion that deserves protection but another thing is not, simply based on how it looks to an outsider. It just isn't possible, I don't think, without stepping on someone's rights and sensibilities.

Honestly, I don't think there is an answer to the problem. I think you have to give religions the benefit of the doubt as long as they don't actively break the law. Again Charlie Manson comes to mind. His case is an easy call - he wanted people to think he was God/the Devil, and had them breaking laws left and right even before he sent them out to kill. On the other hand, taking up the case of Scientology again, it may look to many people as if the fees they are said to charge for advancement in their religion is exploitative. On the other hand, people have the right to spend their money in the way they wish. There are religious groups in the US (and probably elsewhere) today who are much closer to breaking existing laws of all kinds; the FLDS polygamous group is only one such sect. How do we find a happy medium, where people's rights to free exercise of religion are protected but they are also protected from confidence games posing as religion (and I don't necessarily mean Scientology at all here; in fact I've got some other, much more mainstream-looking religious groups in mind) or lone sociopaths trying to build their own little empires? Somebody much smarter than I am is going to have to figure that one out, I'm afraid.

I'm especially interested that you posed your question in terms of the numbers of people who hold a belief. That really is a part of it, as I learned in a sociology of religion class I took a few years ago. The number of adherents a group claims is one of the characteristics that is used to distinguish a marginal sect from a respected and established religion.