Friday, May 6, 2011

Is Religion Fact or Opinion?

        Religion is like ice cream.  You can suggest your favorite flavors to people, but don't you dare say that chocolate is actually better than vanilla.  That's just your opinion, it's not a fact that chocolate is better than vanilla.  Likewise, you can't say that Christianity is any more true, as a fact, than say Islam.  That's just your opinion.  Or at least this is the mentality.
        You may have seen cars bearing the bumper sticker spelling "Coexist" in the Muslim crescent moon, peace sign, "e" with male and female signs protruding, Star of David, Wiccan pentagram as the dot of the "i", yin yang, and Christian cross.  If you've ever heard me talk about things such as pluralism, etc., you will have most likely heard the disdain and contempt for the ideas that "Coexist" embodies.  So much so that I have actively removed the words "judge" and "tolerance" from my vocabulary, knowing that the words have been so twisted that they no longer hold their proper meanings.
        As a note, when I refer to "Coexist" or the "tolerance movement", I'm not referring to some organization.  Rather, I'm referring to a societal undercurrent, displayed by popular figures like Oprah, or even perceived in daily conversation.
        "Coexist" is a complex ideology.  At its face value, it merely means that people of different beliefs should exist together with peace and understanding.  That doesn't sound so bad, right?  Who doesn't want peace and understanding?  The problem arises, however, when people start changing the definition of "peace and understanding" to something like "you can tell people about your beliefs [promoting understanding] but you can't tell them that your beliefs are any more correct than theirs [moving away from conflict and towards peace]".  Look!  Peace and understanding!  We like those.
        Can you see the problem, though?  No one's beliefs, especially religious, is any more correct than another's beliefs.  Where would humanity be if we actually kept this ideology?  Ptolemy's geocentric solar system is just as correct as Copernicus' heliocentric?  Aristotle's theory that heavier bodies fall faster than lighter bodies is just as correct as Galileo's proof otherwise?  The theory that the universe is expanding is just as correct as a still universe?  We would never say such things.
        Oh, but here's the kicker: "But these are issues of science!  Science is fact!"  And what is religion?  Opinion.  Ice cream flavors.  Something that has no bearing on reality.
        This kind of thinking is wrong.  And that's not my opinion.  That's a fact.
        Religion, much like philosophy, asks and answers questions of ultimate reality, things that exist, but aren't (or even can't be) necessarily looked at through the lenses of empirical study.  Does a divine being exist?  If a divine being does indeed exist, what attributes does it have?  Do humans have some purpose outside of passing along their genetic code or not?  What is this purpose?  Are humans inherently good?  Evil?  Is their such thing as either?  Upon what do we base what is good or evil?  Is there any way to be saved from our wrongdoings?  These all have factual basis in reality.
        Let's take the question of a divine being as an example.  If we look at the question , we come to three possible conclusions.  (1) One divine being exists.  (2) Multiple divine beings exist.  (3) No divine being exists.  If (1) is true, then a divine being exists whether we believe in that divine being or not.  Likewise, if (3) is true, it is true despite every religion and ideology that believes (1) or (2).  One of these statements must be true, because we're talking about the literal, factual existence of something, not whether or not we prefer whether or not a divine being exists.
        And while we're on preference, I'd just like to mention that if religion was merely a matter of preference, why wouldn't more people be hedonistic atheists?  Absolutely zero moral accountability with the ultimate goal of doing that which pleases you, whenever it pleases you.  This sounds much more attractive than my own religion, Christianity, in which we are all morally responsible for our actions, which constantly fail to live up to the standard of the holy God, and our only escape from the eternal punishment we deserve was the death of God's only son.
        But what about something that's not as black and white as existence?  What about morality?  Surely that's just opinion.  Since it would take too long to get into objective morality, basis for morality, and other important things, I'd like to use someone else's brilliant work to prove my point.  A simple parody of the Coexist bumper sticker.
        So I ask, should we Coexist?

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Coexist Creamery

        The little brass bells jingle as you step through the door.  The pleasant scent of cream and waffle cone wafts through the summer air.  As you approach the counter, you glance at a family happily licking their cold desserts.  The youngest child licks the melting treat off her hand, pausing only to look at her hand, absolutely befuddled by the strange phenomenon.  You turn to look over the various flavors.
        "Would you like to try any of the flavors today?"  The cheery employee smiles at you.  She has bright hazel eyes with mouse-brown hair pulled back in a tight bun hardly visible behind her green company visor sporting the logo and words "Coexist Creamery".
        "Um, sure.  Let me try Buddhism." You say almost at random.  Unlimited free samples, right?  The employee opens up the glass and reaches down with the tiny spoon and scoops a pea-sized portion of the soft cream.  She hands it to you, still smiling with rosy cheeks.  You lick the sample off the spoon, tasting what appears to be lemon sherbet with a hint of the Eastern fruit lychee.  Deciding that you ought to try out some more flavors, you ask for a sample of Islam.  Reaching down again, the girl hands you a tiny spoonful of deep crimson cream.  Rich and flavorful, it reminds you of plums and strawberries.  It is perhaps too rich, however, and all you want that day is something small to beat the heat.
        Noticing your indecision, the girl, trying to be helpful suggests, "Wicca seems to be increasing in popularity lately."
        "No thanks," You reply, looking at the black cream, "I don't much care for the taste of licorice.  See, I've usually just ordered Christianity, but that's been getting pretty bland lately.  I want to try something a little more exciting."
        She nods in agreement.  "Well, if you like, we have some of our more exotic religions over on your left.  If you're feeling adventurous, you could try Rastafari or Scientology."
        "I don't think I'm that adventurous," You say, laughing.  The employee no longer smiles, but now looks at you strangely, wondering what was so funny.
        "Well, if you don't want to stray too far, mixes are available."  She offered.
        "Mixes?"
        "Oh sure, people do it all the time.  It's a little more rare with flavors like Islam, but you mentioned you usually get Christianity and I see people do it all the time with that.  I know New Age tends to go pretty well with everything, but Buddhism and Hinduism are pretty similar so you could try it with those as well.  We're always adding new flavors too, so if you don't find something you like now you can always come back.  Soon, our new Mormonism flavor will come in.  It tastes like Christianity, only instead of vanilla fudge ripple, it's more like vanilla caramel ripple, if you want to try that."
        "You know what, I think I'm going to try a mix.  Let me do Christianity and Buddhism, please."
        "Sure thing!" Her smile was now more brilliant as ever as she took the two scoops out of the respective containers and smashed them between her two flat tools, creating a ball of streaks of vanilla, chocolate, and sherbet.  You pay and she hands you the bowl of religion cream and a spoon.  "Have a nice day!"
        You step out into the sun, already longing for the air conditioning of the shop as you stroll leisurely to your car.  Taking a bite out of your Christianity-Buddhism religion cream, you are pleasantly surprised at how well it tastes.  Sure, most of the pleasure may come from tasting vanilla and fudge and sherbet, and not the combination, but you are satisfied.  Perhaps this will become your regular order; at least until you decide to try something else.