Shuck and Jive

Opinions expressed here are my own and do not represent the views of the congregation I joyfully serve. But my congregation loves me!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Religion: Escape or Reinvent?

I have been having an internal conversation as I am finishing Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion. Overall, I am impressed. I thought I would disagree with him more, but I really don't. He lays out the case that many have before him, that there simply is no work for "God" to do. A supernatural being or collection of beings has no where to lay his head. I am not going to bother going into all of that. I have been pretty well convinced of that for some time.

The conversation I am having with myself is in regards to the place of religion. A few posts ago I answered in the negative the following three questions:
  • Is religion, by definition, concerned with the supernatural?
  • Is it forever wedded to the premise that the supernatural exists?
  • Is religion about God and/or gods?
The issue I was having with Dawkins is that I thought he thought belief in a supernatural being and being religious was the same thing. Throw out the supernatural being and throw out the religious tradition as well. I am not going there because I think there is a great deal of value in our tradition and in the social quest to make meaning which I think is the essence of religion. Religion is about practical living--coping with life--getting the most out of life. That is what religion is about. The supernatural beings are an add on, a superfluous (and now troublesome) aspect of religion. In my view they need to be exorcised.

I was thinking Dawkins doesn't want any of it. His at times careless use of the word religious as a synonym for superstitious can lead you to think that way.

When I finished his second to last chapter I saw his concern. It had to do with how we instruct children. Particularly, he sees the role of religion as making people credulous. Rather than have one's mind changed, "faith" as commonly taught supposedly makes you more rigid. Religion is psychologically abusing children by turning them into gullible believers rather than critical thinkers.

He hasn't been to my church yet. I don't want anyone to believe a damn thing I say, including the kids. Folks should question everything. Not only is my church like that, but a lot of churches are like that. I was bumming on Dawkins because he wasn't getting that there are religious people who are not gullible but who value religion as a product of human creativity and as a source for positive social change.

In his second to last chapter he writes about the Bible and the Christian tradition as something that has value:

I have probably said enough to convince at least my older readers that an atheistic world-view provides no justification for cutting the Bible, and other sacred books, out of our education. And of course we can retain a sentimental loyalty to the cultural and literary traditions of, say, Judaism, Anglicanism or Islam, and even participate in religious rituals such as marriages and funerals, without buying into the supernatural beliefs that historically went along with those traditions. We can give up belief in God while not losing touch with a treasured heritage. p. 344
In addition to marriages and funerals I would add Sunday morning celebrations, study groups, protest marches, potlucks, and various other religious trappings. Perhaps he would even show up for Evolution Sunday?

I do share his concern that much of religion (perhaps most?) is pretty pathetic. Marc Adams who will speak at ETSU this coming Thursday had to escape from religion. I am glad that ETSU has this group for students in the midst of a culture saturated with superstition.

Religion is something many people
should escape from. In his appendix, Dawkins lists some organizations that will help you do just that. They include:
and many others.

Again, for some it is escape from religion. For others it is the reinvention of religion. That is what I am into doing. That is why I like:
and many others.

Back to Dawkins. Even if you disagree with him about religion, he is one hell of an evolutionary biologist. I'll be reading The Greatest Show On Earth: The Evidence for Evolution next.