Tonight I feel like plunging right into a big old hornets' nest. I'm going to talk about religion, a topic I usually like to stay away from in this blog. I don't write these posts because I want to be controversial or get under people's skin; I'd rather be entertaining, intentionally or otherwise. And frankly, I'd rather write about myself than about Big Issues like religion. I'm shallow that way.
The great thing about taking on this subject, however, is that in doing so I can express what I believe without having to claim expertise in anything except my own faith. That is what's so appealing about faith in general. It is - or should be - very personal. Let's face it, the know-it-alls just mess it up for the rest of us. So I'm going to profess my faith, which I freely admit is a mishmosh of Roman Catholicism, existential philosophy, feminism, and a dash of misanthropy.
I believe in God. Sorry, Stephen Hawking: Even if, as you headline-grabbingly asserted in your latest book, the universe was capable of spontaneously generating itself without a divine spark, I still call shenanigans on your conclusion that God doesn't exist because He isn't necessary. In my own infinitesimally small corner of the universe, He's necessary to me. After thousands of years of science, philosophy, and wild-ass guesses, there are still mysteries in the universe - big cosmic ones like "what exists past the edge of existence?" and small personal ones like "why do I always have to do the right thing?" I don't have the answers, and since I cannot know, I must believe. I believe there are forces at work that govern our minds, shape our environment, and form patterns where otherwise there would seem to be chaos. I can't see those forces, and I don't understand them. But I accept their existence, and I choose to collectively call them God.
I believe that Jesus was the Son of God. Why not? He was at least a great philospher, an influential spiritual leader, and a good guy. I will accept that God sent Him to us as an emissary to keep our hearts and minds focused on the greater good and obedient to His benevolent will. (Yes, I believe that God's will is benevolent, and none of this nonsense about vengeance or other oligarchal thinkspeak.) I will also accept that not everyone believes the same thing, and I will further accept as valid the beliefs of other faiths with regard to saviors, emissaries, prophets, and the like. I know, I know: Them's excommunicatin' words. So be it. I prefer my faith without a hard crunchy outer shell of ideology. I don't believe these things out of a need to be right, but to feel more at ease with so often being wrong.
I believe that the Bible is a great work of literature. It tells wonderful stories, it records a number of very important sociocultural myths, it preserves for history the customs and social structures of its time, and it contains a lot of really good advice, along with some that is irrelevant if not outrageous. (Beat your kids and stone your wife? Really?) I do not know if it's the divinely inspired word of God - although I don't doubt that some of its authors were inspired by their faith - and I don't believe that complete and literal adherence to its teachings is required. I think it's far more likely that the early Church found it handy to present the Bible as a rulebook in order to maintain control and promote conformity in its members; the larger and potentially more diverse the Church grew, the more advantageous it became to codify philosophy into religious doctrine. Sorry, but I enjoy reading the Bible. I don't enjoy being bludgeoned with it.
I believe that churches are important social institutions. They're community centers; they're launching pads for education, activism, and charitable works; they're a public forum where shared beliefs and commitment to good can thrive and be affirmed. At their best, churches are safe, welcoming, and nourishing of mind, body, and soul. At their worst, they are a physical manifestation of an institutional mindset: rigid, exclusionary, patriarchal. I believe a church that advertises itself loses all credibility, and a minister who becomes a household name is a hypocrite. My faith doesn't involve worshiping buildings or people.
Finally, I believe that religion has been used to justify and perpetrate every form of evil that it claims God Himself deplores, from bigotry to greed to murder. I think there are truly bad people in the world (and have been throughout history), and many of them have cloaked themselves in religion to carry out their evil deeds. Those people make it harder for the rest of us to have faith - I don't know about you, but evil makes me feel scared, small, and powerless. I continue to believe because I want to know that the world can be better, that I can be better, and that those two things are related. All the rest is just the Seven Deadly Sins trying to their best to take over and screw up the cosmic balance.
Pardon my mixing of spiritual traditions. Some would call that heresy. Let 'em believe what they want to believe. It's all good. I believe that.