Let’s talk about sects, baby…

Prevailing logic states that there are two things that you really shouldn’t talk about with strangers. One is politics. Long time readers of this blog know I’ve violated that one at least once.

I’m trying for the other one tonight. Let’s talk about religion. In specific, let’s talk about faith.

I know what you’re thinking, and trust me. I’m might lose a few of you on this trip. Stick with me and we’ll get through just fine. But before we get underway, an anecdote for you all.

When I was going to college, there were two very devout Christians in my orbit. One frequented the library and was constantly trying to convert people, including my existentialist philosopher dad who worked there. He inspired a story, and, to the best of my knowledge, didn’t convert anybody. The other was a fellow student who worked at the library named Tom.

Tom was a devout Baptist. And he was also one of the kindest people I knew. He taught at a bible camp down south in the summer. And during the school year, he was always happy to discuss comparative religion, be it Buddhism, Islam, Wicca, you name it. And he was always polite and respectful when he did it, full of well thought out questions. He never tried to sway anyone’s religious views. Through him, I got a much better picture of his faith. Tom was a truly wonderful person, even if we were never on the same religions footing. He died one summer while working at the bible camp when his car went off a bridge, flipped, and he was trapped and drowned. If there is a heaven, Tom is there.

I guess that story really didn’t have a point, other than that Tom was a great guy who died far too soon.

So on with the two points I really do want to make and break down for you.

  1. Religion is insane…
  2. ...and that’s kind of the whole idea.
Pick a world religion. In the interest of fairness, pick your own, or if you don’t have one, play along with me anyway. We’ll get to atheists in a bit. They don’t get off scott-free either. For my example I’ll illustrate with Buddhism, not because it is crazier than any other religion, but because I am, nominally, a Buddhist. Let’s take the soul and afterlife as basis for this exercise. Consider the religion that you chose to work with and look at what happens when you die. In Buddhism, it’s reincarnation, wherein the spirit is reborn into another lifetime to continue to learn and evolve. On the surface, that’s kind of nutty. Most religions believe in another form of afterlife – a heaven and hell, for example.

When you look at it rationally, it’s also nutty.

Religions are full of these kind of things, these stories that stretch the bounds of credibility to the breaking point. If you know your scripture, you don’t have to look to hard to find some prime examples. People living for hundreds of years. Demons and angels. Gods turning people into animals. Every religion has them. These stories are important in how they explain the world through the lens of that belief structure. But logically? Nutty as a Payday bar.

And that’s the whole point of faith.

Faith is, at it’s root, insanity. If you don’t believe me, look it up. Faith, which is the core of all religion (and science to a certain degree I’ll explain later. You don’t get off easy either, atheists!) is defined as the belief in something for which there is no proof.

The power of faith is a belief, down to our core, in something that we can’t prove. Faith is something we just have to feel. It can be faith that you’re going to find your soul mate, or it can be faith that when you die, you’ll be rewarded with a harp and a cloud of your own if you lived a good life. And in so far as this faith guides your actions towards being a good person, it doesn’t matter if you’re right or not. And that’s what I learned from Tom two decades ago, even though it took me a while to process that I actually learned it. It didn’t matter to me if Tom believed in the traditional generic Christian heaven or if he believed that the world was controlled by a sentient plate of Saag Paneer, as long as it helped guide him to be the exemplary person that he was.

That’s why I don’t harsh on other religions. I don’t care what you believe in. I really don’t. Provided it doesn’t harm anyone and you’re not trying to strong-arm me into agreeing with you, it doesn’t matter to me. What does matter is that I feel it’s important for people to have faith in something. Anything. It’s a big, scary world. It’s easy to think that we’re all alone in this. Having faith grounds us, helps guide us. And ultimately, it makes the world a better place.

Oh, and Atheists? You thought I forgot about you? Unless you’ve done all the math, and I mean ALL the math, you’re taking your science on faith as well. It might not sound like the same thing, but it is. Science is changing all the time. What is true today might not be true tomorrow. So every scientific fact you hang your hat on, you have to take on faith that it’s accurate, and that the science that research is built on is accurate as well. As long as it helps you sleep at night and keeps you from being a smug little prick, that’s fine. But don’t try disproving reincarnation or the immortal soul, because you won’t find an ally here.

I close now with a hymn of sorts. From the current Broadway smash The Book of Mormon, the song “I Believe” teaches us that there is power in faith. Even in the faith of things that, to an outside observer, are insane.

That concludes our sermon.

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