Monday, October 27, 2008


I was recently invited by a friend to consider taking part in a discussion group that "examines, in a scholarly manner, diverse aspects of the world's religions. Caveats include no attempt to argue the superiority, inferiority, correctness, or incorrectness of any religion(s)." While tempted to join in if they allowed me, I had to decline. Here is why:


I don't think I would be a very good participant in this group. In my estimation, good scholarship requires not only comparison, but critical evaluations with a view to choosing a more correct and superior idea as a course to follow and apply. I always remember what G.K. Chesterton said, "Merely having an open mind is nothing; the object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid."

One of the most scholarly and idea-changing books I have read recently is The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success by agnostic Rodney Stark, former University of Washington sociologist. He argues brilliantly from the evidence that the title 'Dark Ages' was largely a smear campaign by Voltaire and a few other adamant anti-religionists. They were 'enlightened' and the religionists were 'in the dark.' Stark provides overwhelming evidence that the advent and gradual evolution of the Christian religious methodology and spiritual principles brought on the modern era, including technological advances, democratic freedoms and capitalist economics. Eastern religions in particular so identify with Nature that they could not and cannot harness natural phenomena to serve humankind while simultaneously worshipping the Natural Forces as Divine. They have since adopted Western ideas, but ideologically could not have discovered them. Another internationally recognized sociologist, Peter Berger, said something similar in his classic book, The Sacred Canopy: Elements of a Sociological Theory of Religion, "In Genesis, with man being made in the image of God, you have the seeds of modern democracy." According to a growing number of scholarly sociologists, psychologists and historians, Christianity appears to be superior in certain ways. This is not to say that one religion or culture is superior or more correct in all areas, but that superiority and correctness are not ipso facto bad qualities. Thomas Cahill does something similar in his series of books on various cultures and their superior ideas.

It constantly puzzles me that people who argue superior political or economic ideas and policies are afraid to argue superior religious ideas. What makes religion sacrosanct? The same person who has a bumper sticker that reads, OBAMA/BIDEN 2008, makes fun of the intolerant fundie whose bumper sticker reads JESUS SAVES. Frankly, while one could and should argue with either bumper sticker, each has the right to 'close his mouth' on what he feels to be the most solid idea with regard to matters of politics and/or religion. It seems we have become obsessed with being 'being polite', politically and religiously 'correct' and appropriately 'multi-cultural'. Lewis Carroll saw this 'politeness' trend decades ago when he wrote Alice in Wonderland. After the Dodo set up a race course and the participants ran and ran, the Dodo randomly declared the race over. Someone asked, "Who won?" "At last the Dodo said, ‘everybody has won, and all must have prizes.’ ‘But who is to give the prizes?’ quite a chorus of voices asked."

We seem to live in an age where everybody wins and there is no one to give out prizes. It seems to me that we have made feeling good a virtue over the universals of Truth, Right and Beauty. I see that as the bane of the New Age and much so called 'liberalism,' and God knows that conservatives exude their fair share of poison. The reason I moved out of the evangelical camp was because people strongly critiqued and challenged my religious ideas; I fought them ferociously, and gradually saw they were Right. I do realize this is a complicated subject and has many other angles that I haven't addressed, but the bottom line is that I think we need to cease being afraid to critique as we compare - and ideally with a spirit of respect. If I were in that group, based on their criteria, I would be a trouble maker. Nuf from me...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I get so tired of these people who say 'all religions are the same'. Each religion needs to be evaluated and judged through knowledge, not a prejudice for or against a religion or religions in general. Bill Maher is an example of a man who hates all religion, and is as dumb as a post when it comes to really knowing what he is talking about. He must have been really wounded as a kid by religion.