Thursday, December 04, 2008

The Case For Faith Part 2

The second question addressed in the film is the question of evil. How can there be a loving, all-powerful God when there is so much evil and suffering in the world. Again, I garnered two answers given in the film. The first was that evil is a result of humanity's moral free-will. We have the freedom to choose not to do the right thing, and when we choose the wrong thing, evil is created. I have no argument against this, I believe it makes perfect sense. That said, I don't need the problem of evil to remain unanswered to disbelieve. There are plenty of other reasons not to believe in God. If the film had ended there, it would have made a few less arguable points. The question was raised, why did God give us free will when he knew it would create evil. The answer given is that he wanted us to be able to love him, and this requires free will. Why is God in need of our love? Why does he think that us loving him makes having evil in the world worthwhile? Even the ability to love each other may not make up for the pain and suffering going on every second of every day. I don't know what the world would be like without free-will or the illusion of it. I'm just saying that the ability to love might not be as valuable as freedom from evil and suffering. Personally, I think I would give up my capacity for love to be free from my pain. Hell, love causes as much pain as it does joy, so it cancels itself out regardless of the multitude of other suffering going on in the world.

Another answer given to the question of suffering, is that, if there isn't God allowing suffering for a greater purpose, the only alternative is that life is meaningless and painful and horrible and there's no reason for any of it and none of it matters. Basically, there has to be a God, because the alternative is too distasteful. Turns out this is not a reason at all, just an expression of a desire for things to make sense. Just because we don't like something doesn't mean it's not true, for pete's sake. The documentary would have been better off if they had left this piece of opinion out. Besides, just because things might not be exactly the way the Christians want, doesn't necessarily mean life is horrible and pointless. There are other alternatives, like the perspectives of other religions, but all of a sudden the pundits have forgotten that in favour of their black and white stance. Furthermore, there are non-religious options that don't require things to be so bleak. My favourite one is that the universe itself is intelligent, conscious in a way, and that we are in fact part of a teleological unfolding of the universe becoming conscious of itself. I don't necessarily believe this, but it is a nice idea, and at least as likely as some supernatural being existing somewhere that we can't see or interact with in any real capacity. The point is, we may be living in a Godless universe, but that doesn't mean it's a kind of meaningless hell. At the very least, we make our own meaning. Man is a meaning-making creature. We get to choose how we see our lives in the context of the universe, and contrary to swallowing doctrine, the process of making our own meaning is itself an enlightening and extremely valuable experience. People have difficulty because it seems so arbitrary, like pulling a world-view out of a hat, but, having gone through the process myself (and continuing to cultivate it), I can say that it's more like creating a masterpiece of art, and it includes reconciling yourself with the possibility of arbitrariness. Instead of being stuck in a dogmatic version of life, those of us who question what we are told can experience massive freedom in the liberty to create our own reality. Ask yourself this: is the Mona Lisa arbitrary?

Pffft. I must be Neitzche reincarnated.

The Case For Faith Film

I am currently in the middle of this film. After having read The God Delusion, Letter to a Christian Nation, and one of Christopher Hitchens books (but not the most relevant one to this disussion), I thought I should take a look at the rebuttals, just to be sort of fair. Of course, I had made my decision about the existence of God and the value of Christianity long before any of this, but the topic still intrigues me to a very large degree. It is probably on my top five interesting issues. Anyway. This film attempts to answer two questions posed by skeptics, specifically the Canadian Charles Templeton, who started out as a hugely successful evangelist in his youth, but had to quit because these questions 'disintegrated' his faith. Lee Strobel, the journalist who wrote the book and hosts the film, was an athiest until 1981, when after 21 months of research into whether or not Jesus actually existed, converted to Christianity.

The first of these two questions is "Why is Jesus the only way?" Technically, if you are asking why he's the only way to "God", you are presupposing the existence of God, and therefore changing the question quite radically. If you presuppose the existence of God, implying that 'getting' to Him is your ultimate purpose, then the answers given in this documentary are sufficient. However, those are all big presumptions. My interest is in the way the question was meant to be asked, and which is relevant to more people, including myself, which is "Why is Jesus the only way to reach the ultimate (that which I would call enlightenment). This is the real question, and the question the skeptics are asking. In this case, the answers given are completely insufficient. As far as I have reckoned after watching this part of the documentary, the answers are as follows: 1) There is no reason for God to create more than one path to Him; and 2) Jesus himself said that he was the only way to God, and he is, after Strobel's examination (we have to acknowledge that he did make an effort to prove it), a credible witness whom we can believe. In addition, another comment was made that Christianity is true, because it is the only religion that solves the problem of us being not good enough to be accepted by God - grace. Since we are sinners, we will never be able to earn God's love, so in grace he gives it freely. As far as I'm concerned, all three of these answers are ridiculous.

The way I see it, the Christian doctrine creates the problem that grace so perfectly solves, the idea of sin. Who decides what is a sin, or even that there is such thing as sin? I guess that would be God. So God makes up sin, and then makes up grace in order to nullify it. What is the point? And obviously, this is all hypothetically based on the unproved assumption of his existence. Since the man who gives this answer is using it to prove the truth of Christianity, and therefore the Christian God, it's all circular reasoning. You can't prove the existence of God by saying he must exist because he created a problem and then solved it. Absurd.

Secondly, the evidence that Jesus was a reliable source and that therefore we should believe what he says about him being the only way to God, is not as convincing to me as it obviously is to Strobel. Now, I have not had the priveledge of reading all of the scrolls and documents that he has, but he did not even mention the fact and/or possibility that the Bible, at least, has been edited and its 'books' selected for over however many hundreds of years have passed since it was first written. It was not even written for at least 100 years after Christ's death, so therefore no person alive at the time of Jesus had a hand in it's authorship. It was the church which decided which gospels should be included and which should not. There was that whole Nicene Creed debacle. I'm far from an expert on Christian history, or any other part of history for that matter, but I do remember enough from my university courses to know that the Bible and other "commentaries" are not written in stone by Jesus' own hand. Thus there is reason to doubt the validity of the evidence we now have. I don't deny the probability of the existence of the historical Jesus, but there is, as far as I know, no concrete evidence of his divinity or resurrection. All we have is thousand-hand testimony. It wouldn't hold up in court, so it won't hold up in the courts of the mind of reasonable humans.

I have to agree with the first argument. There is no reason God would need or want to create more than one path to him. But again, this presupposes he exists in the first place. And the whole nature of the argument presupposes he's worth getting to.

So far this film bothers me for another reason as well, maybe moreso. It reduces the human race to wretched, helpless individuals. One statement was made (I can't remember by who), that the emptiness and alienation we all feel is because we are isolated from God. This statement made in an off-hand way on the road to another point, which makes it even more arrogant. There's nothing to back it up whatsoever. The emptiness we feel is more likely isolation from each other. We don't, as the film asserts, need a purpose from God - we are each other's purpose. Humanity's individual and collective power is far greater than these pundits acknowledge, and I fully believe we have the capacity to be our own salvation. Whether it will happen is not guarenteed, of course, but this is the nature of free-will! By diverting our attention away from each other, towards God through Jesus, Christianity is sapping our collective power from us. It is stealing the potential for humanity to unite, and actually fostering people to think of themselves as individuals, for in a Christian view, one must develop a one-on-one relationship with Jesus in order to save only himself. Sure, this is remedied by the demand to spread the good news to others so that they may save themselves, but in our diversified society, most Christians know they will be met with hostility if they do this. Christianity divides people into self-absorbed individuals who feel secure in their own salvation, relieving them of feeling the need and responsibility to unite with their fellow man in order to save everyone. There are many fundamentalist Christians who are so certain Jesus will save them from global warming they refuse to change their earth-ravinging consumption. They truly believe the doctrine that the earth was given to them to 'use up'. Not only is this annoying, it is also dangerous and it has and will continue to have repercussions for everybody on earth. And yet, these people seem not to care about anyone else, contrary to what is supposed to be "Christian" behaviour. The only good thing about this particular situation is that most of them will live to see the consequences of their beliefs. Jesus is not going to swoop down and save them when the tidal waves and hurricanes and rising sea-levels and forest fires destroy their properties and those of their friends. Perhaps some of them will be reasonable enough to wake up to reality when these things occur. There is a slight chance that enough other people will start to do what is necessary to prevent major climate disaster, but I think the probability is very slim. And if this does happen, we will have to listen to these fundamentalists tell us that it was Jesus who prevented it, or that the scientists were wrong about global warming from the start, because us wretched helpless sinners could not possibly have been able to affect our own salvation. The blind always find a way to keep themselves blind.

My point is that, in general, seriously religious Christians are uncompassionate, ignorant, selfish, narrow-minded, materialistic, and short-sighted. By 'seriously religious' I mean those who truly believe everything they read in the bible and have been told by their priest or minister. I believe my anger towards the religion is justified, and by co-operating and identifying with the Church, these people have put themselves in the path of my anger. I'm not going to apologize for that. I know one person who identifies as a Christian, says she believes, but still cares for the earth and other people, but I don't think she believes Jesus is going to save her from global warming. It is hard to argue with individuals that they are bad merely because they believe in God. And indeed, I don't have a problem with someone who simply believes in God. I think it is very difficult to un-believe in something you've been led to believe is an undeniable part of reality since the moment you could believe in anything, but I don't understand these people's lack of interest in making sure what they believe is in fact true, or as close to true as one can get. It is a terrific irony, now that I think of it, that the collective power of the church (or the collective power of church-goers which is then bestowed on, say, a Pope), has been able to significantly disturb most if not all the cultures of the world, not to mention kill and torture enormous amounts of people, and yet each Christian is taught, and seems to believe, that humans are without means to take care of ourselves without the help of a supernatural deity. The power of their own institution should be enough to convince them that organized collective will can do amazing things. Of course, they probably believe the power of the church to be given to it by God, not by lowly church-goers.

I am quite defensive when anyone tries to compare Buddhism to a religion such as Christianity or Islam. It only serves to show their ignorance of Buddhism. The documentary, to make the point that Jesus' words are not the foundation of Christianity (instead it is his divinity and the reality of his resurrection), accuses Buddhism of having the fault: "without the Buddha, you still have the buddha's words". In other words, Christianity would not exist without the personage of Jesus, but buddhism could survive without reference to Siddhartha Gautama. I don't see how not being dependent on the fact of a historical individual can be considered a flaw! In fact, I think not only is it a positive attribute, it's one of the Buddha's major points. It is the knowledge and the path (the dharma, to be exact), that matters, not the historical person. You don't need Buddha to attain enlightenment, but you need Jesus to attain God. Furthermore, in buddhism you are not starting from a place of wretched, hopeless, inferiority that necessitates a gift of grace from above, you are starting from a place of your own unrealized Buddhahood. All you need is already within you. As a "solution" to the "problem" of being a sinner, buddhism annihalates the problem so there is no need for a solution. Isn't that even better than Christianity's perfect solution of grace? Buddhism is empowering, and positive. Christianity is degrading, negative and sets us up for even more misery than human life already entails. Why is it necessary to be forcefully reduced to indignity in order to acheive peace? I can't imagine a person can go through life without losing his dignity on his own at least once. He can surely do without the help of being constantly reminded of his inferiority in comparison with a perfect deity (an unfair comparison, if you ask me). My point is we don't need help from Jesus or God. What is the point of creating this unnecessary dependence if not for reasons of control? This then begs the question of why we are granted free will, if God's just going to find a backdoor way to control us anyway, through his church's generous administration of guilt and helplessness?

Well, I haven't even finished watching the video, and despite appearances, I have been trying to watch it with an open mind. By this I mean a mind of rationality, not influenced by what I have already absorbed from the books I mentioned at the beginning of this entry. I can't help that the people interviewed are using circular reasoning and creating imaginary problems that God can perfectly solve. This is the kind of propaganda that offends reason itself. And it worries me, because, though reason is not necessarily the standard by which we should judge all things, it is very important and should be applied in such decision-making, along with whatever intuitive or heartfelt senses we have. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people out there who won't analyze these statements through this lense at all, either from bias, laziness, or inability, and they will be convinced by unconvincing arguments. The church seems to thrive and prey on irrational or slow-minded people. Is that the kind of group we should rely on to give us the real truth?

I know this post is going to be incredibly offensive to many people, but I also know there are others out there who share my - well call it what it is - hatred for Christianity, not only for its past injustices, but also its present hypocrisy. I try to be a very tolerant person, but is it really a virtue to tolerate something you deem to be dangerous, harmful and predatory? I think perhaps not. Perhaps in such a case, justice demands we put tolerance aside and take action against that which would perpetuate ignorance and suffering. At this time, expressing my opinion is all the action I know to take.

Monday, December 01, 2008

A thought

I spent my whole childhood trying to make life easier for my mother, but she still seemed perpetually exhausted and over-burdened. I worked very hard at being self-sufficient, staying out of the way, not asking for anything or any time, getting good grades, being, in essence, "the perfect child". In the end, my efforts did not seem to help relieve my mother's stress. Nothing changed. Perhaps this is where I got the idea that nothing I do is good enough, that working hard comes to nothing, that nothing I do matters. I couldn't make it better, I learned I was powerless.

I also never learned to live for myself. In adolescence, I probably made an effort to try, but then I started living for the boys I was dating. Now, so many years later, I remain single, in a semi-conscious effort to learn to live for myself. So far my efforts have been unsuccessful, yesterday being a prime example. I can't even motivate myself to do the things I want to do. I did not have much problem with motivation when I was a youth. I was constantly anxious about my grades, and pushed myself to be a good athlete. When I did work, I tried to be perfect too, even though I was in jobs that were completely contrary to my nature. This got so exhausting, I eventually ceased to be able to do it, after many starts and stops. When I went back to University full-time in 2003, I was able to regain that motivation to maintain excellent grades, but that is the only time in my adult life I was able to function consistently in any capacity. I had a severely reduced social life during this time, my life was school and nothing else, but that was okay. I enjoy learning, and learning is still a requirement for my mental health.

As a teen, I traded mother for boyfriend. As far as my mother went, I thought it was enough that I maintained my grades. I felt if I did that, and continued to stay out of her way, I was doing my job. I spent all my free time in my room or out of the house. This seemed to work for her, except on the one or two occasions I got myself in trouble with drugs (not including the times I used drugs or drank and didn't get in trouble). To this day I don't think my mom knows how much I used these substances. Of course, she didn't want to know, so maybe she just stuck her head in the sand when she caught a whiff. Our relationship since my parents' divorce has been all about avoidance. I avoided her to stay out of her way, and she avoided me period. I was probably a sore spot for her. Maybe whenever she saw me she was reminded that there was something wrong, and she notoriously disowns evidence of serious wrongness. Was it easier when I moved out? She's still able to not think about my suffering.

When I was home in adolescence, locked in my room, I would feverishly write pages and pages and pages in my journal, analyzing myself, my friends, life, everything, in a frenzied attempt to figure out what the hell was wrong with me. Often I would cry. Not once did anyone ask me what was wrong. I don't know if they heard me or not (they being my mother, brother, and mother's partner, whose house we moved into when I was 16). Cry isn't really the word. Bawl, maybe? It was wretched, from the deepest place inside me that was utterly empty and alone. I had really good friends, yet they had no idea I did this either. They knew I hated my mother and her partner, but they didn't know how I felt about myself.

I guess the relevant insight today is that I still don't know how to live for myself. No matter how much brow-beating, pressure, shame, or guilt I laid upon myself, I could never get myself to do anything, at least consistently. Without an authority figure - parent, teacher, boss - there is nobody to try to get approval from, nobody to make happy, no fear of loss: loss of house and home, loss of job, loss of approval. I've recently stopped trying to motivate myself with negativity, since after so many years...well, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results. But I haven't found an alternative way to motivate myself. I do things either out of necessity or impulse. I can't decide between activities that are not neccessary. Even my motivation to read or watch a movie is most often motivated by library due dates. One might suggest I set myself deadlines for everything, but since I know they are arbitrary, I can always find an excuse not to meet them. Or, things that are meant to be enjoyable become tedious because they've become chores, "shoulds", and "have to's". In that case, there is no point in doing them because the only reason I want to do them in the first place is because they are enjoyable. Sometimes it is easier to do necessary things than to do something fun, like yesterday. I get a sense of accomplishment from cleaning and doing laundry and taking out the garbage etc. Also relief, and a sense of being 'good'. The past two weeks or so I've managed to do well at keeping up with chores, but there are periods that I have been unable to do dishes or laundry for a month or more. What is regulating these patterns? Now that I think about it, either I take care of my real necessities, or I am being productive creatively with my crafts. I never seem to strike a daily balance between the two and do both. It's an either-or proposition, and maybe this is why I had such a dismal weekend craft-wise. My apartment is looking pretty good though (for me - my standards are, because of physical limitations - low. There are certain things that get done maybe once or twice a year, or less, such as the bathtub and the floors. Cleaning the bathtub is next to unbearable except in very short spurts, and the floor...I sweep, but never wash. Sometimes I go around with a sponge or cloth and clean up specific messes, but that's about it.)

I really need help with motivation, living for myself. I need a place to start. Funnily enough, I've read and done a report on Maslow's "Motivation and Emotion" for school. I seem only to be motivated to maintain the first level of his heirarchy - food and shelter. The rest is a real struggle. I was doing very well with the social aspect from last winter until this fall, but now I've sunk back into relative isolation. The weather and money problems have much to do with this, but I am not making much of an effort either. There have also been some doubts about some of my friendships, and the friend I used to socialize with most often has first moved away, and then I had to sever contact with her because of how her illness was affecting her behaviour and demands on me. I think what has saved me has been the almost daily messaging with JK. Especially since she is the only person on earth besides my therapist who can stand to listen to what's really going on in my life and my mind. I'm grateful for that, to be sure. I think I would have gone really over the edge the past few weeks while my therapist was away if I hadn't been able to be honest with JK. I hope I have been a similar help to her, since she is also going through a lot of suffering, even more than me. It has helped me to be able to write out some positive things that have improved my life, in hopes that it would help her. Unlike R, she doesn't get defensive and think of it as 'advice'. She actually appreciates what I say. Contrasting my friendship with R (even when she wasn't as sick) with my friendship with JK has opened my eyes a bit more, realizing that R probably never had my best interest in mind. To be sure, I have never been the greatest friend to her either, though I tried, especially in the last two years. But I now see the huge extent that R resented my progress in recovery, and completely stopped listening to me altogether as I got better and she got worse. I did not realize how much she got from feeling 'better' than me until our positions switched, and she never was able to adjust. I spent years thinking she was such a great person, so nice and generous with her attention, so mature. There were a few moments over the years when I couldn't help but notice her saying a thing or two that didn't fit with this, but I was able to disregard them and go back to thinking the world of her. Lately I have realized to an extent that her maturity was an act, a very good act. She fooled everyone, including all of her doctors and therapists (which prevents them from helping her), too. Nowadays, she is so sick her behaviour has become blatantly infantile and she doesn't even try to hide it anymore. Well. I don't have that in my life anymore. There are many things we both probably wish we had gotten to say to each other but never did, and I'm trying to let go of it. The point is, she never was the terrific friend I thought she was. She was completely unsupportive. I didn't know, because I'd never had a truly supportive friend before. All my friendships have been marked by jealousy and competetiveness (a result of my low self-esteem, for one thing), but with JK there is just mutual admiration and care. If she is jealous, she doesn't let it affect how she treats me, she doesn't get resentful.

How did I get from not living for myself to talking about friendship? The nature of journal writing, I guess.

By the way, I was originally 'sparked' to write this entry (the first paragraph, anyway) while I was reading this article: Child Abuse and Neglect and the Brain.

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I sometimes write things that I don't really mean or believe. These are not to be taken literally, nor as definitive statements about me or my beliefs. Thoughts and emotions are transient, and I reserve the right to change my mind, generalize, exaggerate, give strong opinions, or write other possibly offensive statements. I don't lie, but I may say something that's not true to check whether I believe it or not, or to make a point. Call it creative license. This is my blog, and do have the right to say what I want. I'm using it in creatively therapeutic ways. Whatever the reader may think of me and my words, please believe that my core intentions are always good and I never willingly hurt anyone.