Thursday, 16 February 2012

Why I think all religion is personal

In my previous entry I talked about why I thought you ought to be religious, but I also brought up my own personal beliefs. I think that word 'personal' is an important distinction. Most people, I imagine, wouldn't see anything to be gained from what I believe and even those who subscribe to something similar probably experience and understand it in a very different way. Equally I believe Christians (as an example of the religion I know the most about) take many different things from the religion, different parts comfort them and they focus on different sections. This is true across not just between the various denominations, but even within each church.

The trouble is, I don't think that this is how we treat religion and religious people. On one side of the argument, we have Atheists with a tendency to treat all religion in a very blanket way, generalising and even, at times, victimising. On the other, we have religions and religious people, who force various teachings and rules upon people and who have a tendency to treat themselves as a singular tribe (in much the same reductive way that the Atheists do).

Let me clarify something which I think will be misunderstood. Religions, the institutions upon which this is all based, are clearly rigid, often immovable and not at all fluid. What I'm defending is the personal sense of belief which each person takes, either from those religions or from their own experiences or, more often, a mixture of the two. People are bundles of contradictions and uncertainties and, as an example, I think many people see science and religion as being diametrically opposed. For a huge number of people, scientists included, I don't think this is true. Of course it makes no logical sense to believe in both science and a religion, but people are, generally, not very logical beings and really those two things serve very different purposes in the human brain.

This is getting a little close to the argument I made last week. My point is that there seems to be a sense that people's inner worlds (which is what we are really talking about here) should conform and fit with some previous model. Really, every person's inner world is a new and different land and they very rarely conform to much at all.

This misunderstanding/mistreatment of belief causes a number of problems. Firstly, belief is a very delicate and intricate thing, and trying to foist your own sense of the world upon someone else (as any writer will tell you) is an incredibly delicate operation. The way that a lot of religions evangelise and advertise seems to ignore this and, as a result, as much as they attract some of the disenfranchised, I also think they put off a lot of thinking people who otherwise might have something to gain from what they are teaching.

Equally, Atheism (at least the aggressive modern form) makes very little allowance for thought and depth to an individual person's religiousness, beyond what their central religion teaches. Again, I feel that this often creates umbrage where there is no need for it to exist, it allows so little room for compromise.

I think the reasons for this are quite interesting. Going back a bit to my post about tigers (and tribalism), I believe that in the kind of small society which we evolved in it is correct to treat any strange new ideas as potentially very dangerous. For this reason, when I, as a part of some perceived group, find that I disagree with someone else, my immediate instinct may be to point out how wrong they are and how bad their idea is as vehemently as possible. In a small society these kinds of reactions keep us cohesive and, as a result, safe. However in a larger society (such as we find ourselves a part of today), I think differences in ideas and ideologies are our very lifeblood, that variety is necessary for our survival.

To put this entirely another way, imagine a musician who spends their lives just playing music and doing nothing else. They have no reason to believe in or have any opinion on science or religion, in fact they may even find themselves, because of their distance, strongly disagreeing with both outlooks on the world. This doesn't make them especially wrong, immoral or even stupid, they are just different and, of that difference, they may make great music.

At this point, as an aside, I think I should address the problem which most people likely have with this argument. Specifically that everyone will claim that they are fine with a live and let live approach, but that the other side simply aren't allowing them that privilege. That: the Religious/Atheists insist on trying to have an influence on government and law, and by doing so they make it your business to argue against them.

Honestly, I don't want to get into who is in the right/wrong here (I have an opinion, but it seems like stating it will cloud my whole argument), what I will say though is that this right in a way. If I as a religious person believe that abortion is murder, or I as an Atheist believe that prayer in schools is wrong, then I ought to go to my representative and try, through democracy, to get this changed (which presumably ought to happen if a majority agree with me).

The important thing though, is that in getting into these arguments, people seem to get too involved in that tribal mindset. That means that they can end up arguing or attacking other people in a more personal setting, ignoring the fact that that person has a vital and full inner world which, really, it is meaningless to attack. It is fine to fight these ideas back and forth in a world of ideas, like politics, but doing so in a one to one way is totally unproductive and destructive.

Finally, I wanted to finish by saying that I think what I'm arguing here, although it is very rarely articulated, is quite widely understood by most people. Christians may often be friends with people who are having sex before marriage or otherwise violating what they believe in and yet never mention this. Equally Atheists may have many religious friends without being destructive towards their beliefs at all (often even expressing a genuine and heartfelt interest). In both cases they understand that they have enough in common to enjoy one another's company and that their respective inner worlds really don't have much influence on that. Really I suppose the people I am making this argument to/at are zealots, and what I'm saying is that our differences really, although they mean we often disagree, are amazing

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