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Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Left-Wing Conservative: Keeping "God" Out of Politics!

  "Socrates thought and so do I that the wisest theory about the gods is no theory at all”- Michel de Montaigne

Like Montaigne, I’m against theology.

Like Montaigne, I am not an atheist.  I am a practicing member of an organized religion, which gives me profound meaning and satisfaction.  But this is as much as you will hear about it from me in this blog.

Unfortunately, we continue to hear about it in our politics.

Public Issues such as abortion, same-sex marriage, and contraception are debated and discussed based on which side God's opinion falls, based on various religious texts.

Most religious texts spend way more time talking about helping the poor and downtrodden and bringing justice to the oppressed that whether someone's Tab A goes into someone else's Slot B. However, we don't hear so much about Whomever's view on these issues.

Anyway, here are a few assumptions and thoughts I bring to this perspective:

1. I don't necessarily think everything happens for a "reason", but I do think ultimately everything is connected to everything else and in some way affects and influences everything else.

2. I think we all have certain powerful subjective experiences where we understand # 1 intuitively; these are variously called flow, being in "the zone", spiritual, or religious experiences.

3. These experiences have a neuronal correlate, in that the part of our brain that defines the boundaries of our body becomes inactive, or less active, during our experience of same.

4. Some practices and behaviors can assist us in creating these experiences - yoga, prayer, chanting, great art, service to others, sex, alcohol, drugs, mindfulness -based meditation, a really good conversation, love, etc.

5. The experiences in #2 tend to increase our wellbeing, make us more compassionate, more open to new experiences, and more accepting of our own, and others, emotions and thoughts, though in some cases - (like alcohol and drugs... and sometimes love of the unrequited type)- the side effects counteract this positive effect.

6. I think religions start as an attempt to create the experiences in #2, and then recreate them via rituals and communal experience. Eventually some people assign themselves as “clergy”.  And they write some stuff down on how to do the rituals correctly, how to mentally prepare to do them, and some ideas about why, even if #2 experiences are not happening, you should keep doing them anyway.

7. An organization soon forms which is always at risk of becoming more about perpetuating itself, the clergy, and the dogmas, to the exclusion of creating the experiences in #2, which, of course, results in less #5.

8.  If practicing a religion (note I said practice, not belief) or any other of the practices in #4 results in more #2 experiences, then it’s (most of the time) a good thing.

9. We are fooling ourselves if we think there is only “one way” to interpret any text, particularly religious texts. This is because interpretations themselves are based on how we perceive, remember, understand, and feel our own subjective experience. And that is, by definition, different for everyone. There are as many interpretations as there are people.

10. But when we have a collection of people who somewhat agree on interpretation, then we have a religion, or, more abstractly, a “theology”. So “theologies” are really just different aggregates of interpretations.

11. I think that “theology” is largely competitive philosophical defensiveness, developed to either a) convince someone of your position or b) defend your own position, by showing its similarity to that of your attacker.

12. Metaphor is the best we can do to offer an image of our own experience to another, which we can do via speech and art, or by our own actions as example.  Metaphor is ultimately the child of our embodied experience, not our rationalism or intellect.

13. For me, religion is about making a commitment to practicing certain actions and rituals, developing certain subjective experiences, and loyalty to a community, and not the promulgation of, or defense of, a certain dogma or creed.

14. So in politics, and in life in general,  think our  interpretive frameworks change not through intellectual debate and discussion, but through actual lived experience (e.g. someone’s kid comes out of the closet, and suddenly a gay person is a real human being that they care about, and their position changes).

Therefore, In lieu of competing interpretations of religious texts, maybe we should, at taxpayer expense, get a bunch of people together who are on different sides of these issues, and have them spend the day together -- have a few meals, a few drinks, do a few “icebreakers”, exchange pictures of their family and friends, and see where they end up at the end of the day.

Call me a cockeyed optimist, but I think the result would be greater mutual acceptance.

And on the religious stuff, express your metaphors of your own #2 experiences poetically and with passion. Exemplify those metaphors through your actions.

Otherwise, keep your theology to yourself.



This is an expanded version of my earlier blog "Against Theology"

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