Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Remember Pearl Harbor Day

This post is about my thoughts from last Sunday, December 7th, 2008. I would say "Happy" Pearl Harbor Day, but that just doesn't sound right.

I'm writing this because I think I'm more coherent when I write than when I speak extemporaneously. If I were to script out what I'm going to say I might as well just type the article and post it.

The Orthodox gospel reading today was from Luke 13:10-17 (BTW, the Orthodox readings tend to be shorter than the Roman Catholic readings for some reason). The story is about how Jesus healed a woman and was chastised for it because it was working on the Sabbath. Jesus responded, not with a swift, "Shut up, it wasn't work, it was a miracle for crying out loud." He said that the guy who criticized him untied his donkey to let it have a drink on the Sabbath.

I wonder what the situation was that surrounded this. To me, the miracle of healing someone right before their eyes should have been staggering. I don't know how any one could have questioned that. Were they performing "healing miracles" all the time? Did they think that Jesus was doing the same type of, "trick" they were doing? Weren't they impressed? Why wasn't Jesus outraged, why did he play word game with them? Why didn't he just tell them to be quiet?

You must understand that I never believed in miracles, not even before my Crisis in Faith (which started in July 08). I always felt that GOD didn't set up a beautiful, well functioning universe jut to break the rules that G made for it. Miracles are things that work on the mind, not physics or reality. Now, I'm not even so sure of that.

Let me get into the other thoughts I had when I was standing there in church (in the Orthodox service you mostly stand). I stand in the Narthex or the back of the church (more on that later) when my daughters are in Sunday school.

What's the purpose of church? What's the purpose of prayer? Let me suggest that they are useful even if you don't believe in GOD or are shaky about your faith. The reason is that it gives you time to think, time devoted only to thoughts about GOD, the universe, our place in it and our relationships with each other. I think this time is very useful.

I was thinking that I personally use church time and prayer to my own advantage. I listened to a podcast called Skeptoid. The podcaster in that show is an atheist and he suggested that our moral centers are the same for all humans, regardless if you believe in GOD or not. That our morals grow from a basic human cultural community, guided by GOD or not. With that in mind, I think that church could be the way to strengthen that moral center. If you believe in GOD you are there with other believers. If you don't believe then you could put the very same teachings (love your neighbor, etc.) to work to strengthen your moral character, just take out the GOD driven part.

When I was in Afghanistan I led prayer services when there was no priest available. Do I feel hypocritical about that? No, because I was just there to facilitate others prayers even if I didn't pray myself (I did at that time though, but my argument still stands). They used GOD as the source of their morals and strength, I used the community. When I'm with a group of Catholics I feel at home. I know what they know and I know a lot of what they believe. If they are good Catholics I should have nothing to fear, IF they follow the morals prescribed in their religion.

I wonder if you can pray to the community. My prayers for years have been the type of prayers for strength and guidance. The types of prayers for the strength and intelligence to use what I have been given. I could just as easily meditate and try to use the strength of the community around me.

There is a book by Stu Kaufman called Reinventing the Sacred. I haven't read it yet, but I've read a review and in it he talks about the fact that people need a "sacred" and there is sacred right here in the world around us. The beauty of nature and the human community at its best are awesome and worthy of respect and perhaps veneration themselves

In an article I read recently called "Religion for Skeptics" by L. Karl Branting. It was very heartening. In it he said that GOD performs two essential functions for humans, transcendence and morality.

I've written about morality already, but this transcendence is something I find very dear. This is the part where I say I WANT there to be a GOD. I NEED the transcendence. My Scout law tells me to be reverent, but doesn't mandate to whom or what to be reverent.

Branting says that the community is a kind of meta-being (my word) that we are beholden to. It provides the morality. It provides the thing that is bigger than all of us (as individuals). It provides the immortality we all want.

This immortality is not only in the memory of us (which we all know and which seems hollow to me), but in the way we shape others and the world around us, just by being here. Every one of us, no matter how small, petty or reclusive adds to the human "inertia."

This is the community that I'm referring to when I say, "pray" to the community.

There is one small problem. Human communities are flawed because of what they are made of. GOD, if G exists is not, because G isn't made of the same stuff. This is a stronger base for most. It is just that I can't use that base anymore. I have to hope that the human community and it's evolution are moving in the right direction, and maybe I can help it. This is called Cultural Evolution and I think I'm going to have to believe in it to keep up this idea of a community based morality and transcendence.

I have to explain why I stand in the narthex. I do because I don't feel comfortable in the actual church and I think I might make others uncomfortable (what with my note taking and all). That puts me OUTSIDE the community. That doesn't help at all. I need my wife and children to act as my chaperones or proxies.

On the other hand, what my Father said is becoming stronger in my mind. He said that basically Boy Scouts is his religion. I think this may be closer to the truth than he imagines.

In church they talked about leaps of faith. On another episode of Skeptoid the host said that to use science to find evidence for GOD was going against religion, even though it is being done to supposedly help reinforce faith.

This is similar to Douglas Adams' argument that if you have proof of GOD then GOD ceases to exist because GOD is dependent on faith alone. When you have proof you don't need faith, and you actually can't have faith, by definition.

The problem with this argument is painfully obvious, but what I want to point out is the problem of seeing no need to try to find evidence for GOD. The reason I see for looking for evidence of GOD, or for using logic to figure out GOD, or just the logical questioning of GOD is this, you will always need to make a leap of faith in order to believe in GOD (who, by definition is outside, beyond our direct observations and proofs), but just like an actual leap, the more narrow the gap, the easier the leap. Some people can leap very far, some can't go much more than a long step. Personally I always needed a very narrow gap between GOD and our reality.

GOD is in the leaping, not either side. Right now I feel like the space has closed up and there is no room to leap at all.

Maybe the perfect human community in the distance (cultural evolution) is an effort worth working for, and maybe eventually leaping for.


Anonymous said...

On miracles I have to say that this past fall I witnessed one. My father went in for bilateral knee replacement and ended up with an intestinal blockage the size of a 16 in softball (very Chicago huh?). Anyway, he underwent two subsequent surgeries and we almost lost him both times. The first time when the blockage was ignored and the second time when the initial repair burst. He was under sedation and on life support for 8 days. On the eighth day they were going to give him a tracheostomy for more permanant breathing assistance when someone from pastoral care came into ICU. She asked me if I would like a prayer blanket. I will say that the moment the blanket went on him he began to improve. By the end of the day he was off of life support and semi-awake. That afternoon, my mother, father and I said the Our Father with the chaplain and thanked God for giving us our "daddy" back. You have to keep in mind that I am not particularly religious and would not ordinarilly feel comfortable doing this with a stranger. Some things just can't be explained any other way. Now when he is cold he asks for his "holy blanket". He is so funny.

Inner Prop said...

I think this is mostly like what I used to think of miracles: random events that happen that support and grow your faith.

I would never take away the experience of faith you had, nor deny that you felt the miracles in your heart. I think that is where they belong.

Thank you for the comment and I apologize for the very VERY late answer.