Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind


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A personal challenge

Over on Clare Flourish’s post on comment policy, Ark asks

Do you think you would be unable to live your life, or even have a life full of equal meaning and quality without religion?

9th March, 2021 at 7:18 pm

to which I responded with

Ark, you really need to stop thinking that “religion is believing in things you know ain’t true”. I won’t speak for Clare – She is quite capable of doing so herself, but for myself, religion adds to life – gives it a little oomph, and I would miss it if it wasn’t there. If you want a materialistic analogy, while I could probably live quite well on military rations, it pales in comparison to the experience of creating and consuming meals with my wife.

My understanding of religion is, and I’ll quote Sir Lloyd Geering: “Religion is a total mode of the interpreting and living of life“. As he explains:
Everybody who takes life seriously, in my view, is taking the first steps in religion. And this definition of religion, fortunately, covers all the types of religions we’ve had or will have in the future, because it recognises that religion is a human product. Religion is what we humans have evolved in our culture to enable us to make meaning of life…”

Belief in deities, the supernatural, or any superstition at all is not a necessary component of religion. And while you may consider religion serves no useful purpose, I feel the same about repeatedly whacking a tiny ball over a net.

9th March, 2021 at 9:28 pm

Ark’s response was

Hello Barry. We rarely converse on the internet so this might be interesting.
I will try not to be boring as I know Clare will be monitoring me very closely. 

In order to appreciate my views on religion let’s for a moment consider its origins, and I don’t just mean the Judeo/Christian religions, (though, as we are dealing primarily with Christianity, we can swing back and focus more on it, if you fancy?) but all of them.

Humans have always assigned agency to the things they did/do not understand.
The ‘gods’ were responsible for everything from rain, to thunder and lightening[sic], volcanoes, babies, and toothache.

When we became a tad sophisticated – developing the basics of language perhaps? – it seemed natural that the gods would choose some of the more sophisticated among us – shaman, spirit guides, voodoo doctors, prophets …. maybe a particular rabbi – to convey His / his /her /their wishes to the rest of the unwashed.

And, umpteen years further down the road, what we now have are considerably more sophisticated humans and therefore, the gods or God, even, has naturally. required much more sophisticated intermediaries, with many many more sophisticated arguments.

It is unfortunate that none of these arguments have ever demonstrated one iota of veracity pertaining to any religious/god claim. This strongly suggests that our willingness to believe is all down to two things: Indoctrination and credulity.
If one needs a religion – in whatever form you choose – to validate one’s life, maybe it’s time for a serious rethink?

I suppose some might say that table tennis is Hell, however, within the rules of the ITTF no one gets sent there for playing badly or deconverting and opting to play badminton.

Regards

Ark.

10th March, 2021 at 8:52 am

Ark has also started a similar line of enquiry over on makagutu’s blog:

@ Barry.
If we are honest there would likely be no Judeo/Christian religion if it were not for the bible, it being highly doubtful oral tradition would have survived intact with out the written word, and certainly Christianity probably would have died a miserable( but welcome ) death.

So, I wonder what specific value religion can offer anyone?

March 28, 2021 at 17:48

I can’t help having a feeling that Ark is trying to “convert” me from religion and Quakerism in order to “save” me from some undefined, but possibly unfortunate delusional fate. Apologies to Ark if that isn’t the case, but leading statements such as “…maybe it’s time for a serious rethink?” leads me to think otherwise.

Rather than hijack Clare’s post on comment policy, I’ve started this post so that Ark or anyone else for that matter can continue the conversation here. However there are some rules (aren’t there always?) that apply to this particular post. Please respect them.

  • Courtesy and respect are paramount. No name calling, insults or denigration, even by implication.
  • Acknowledgement that even where evidence is not in dispute, the interpretation or conclusions drawn from that evidence can be.
  • There are no absolute “truths”. We draw our conclusion from the evidence, wisdom and knowledge available to us. It is open to new insights at any time.
  • Do not frame opinion to appear to be statements of fact.
  • Discussion must be on the basis that all religions are products of human creativity; that there is no “true” religion.
  • If you wish to argue that any sacred works are infallible, non-contradictory or accurately convey all the truth and wisdom necessary to live life according to the desires of a deity, please find another platform on which to express your beliefs.
  • As I don’t have god-like powers of anticipating the content of comments that any contributors might make, I reserve the right to change these rules as I see fit.

Okay, with that out of the way, I’ll get right down to responding to Ark. In reverse order:

I suppose some might say that table tennis is Hell, however, within the rules of the ITTF no one gets sent there for playing badly or deconverting and opting to play badminton.

There are sporting codes where the banishment did occur for playing another code. For example, until fairly recently, anyone who played Rugby League in this country faced a lifetime ban from playing Rugby Union. For many that was the equivalent of being sent to hell.

I would also like to venture that all claims of having the “wrong” religion or none at all will lead to some sort of divine retribution are human inventions. As far as I’m aware no deity has ever stated otherwise. And quoting a passage from a sacred text without some other independent supporting evidence just won’t cut it.

If one needs a religion – in whatever form you choose – to validate one’s life, maybe it’s time for a serious rethink?

My first thought is “Why should I?” The only basis for doing so would be if there was no exception to the claim that all religions are harmful, and I am yet to be persuaded of that. But if I break the whole sentence down into its components (it’s something my autistic brain does in an attempt to be sure I understand the nuance(s) that neurotypical folk include in their communications) I’m left with uncertainty over two words: needs and validate.

I’m uncertain whether Ark means need as in I need to breathe or eat or whether he means need as in I need the companionship of my wife or I need mental stimulation. The former is a necessity for life itself, the latter for a fulfilling life.

What does to validate one’s life mean? I exist. Why is there any need to validate it? On the other hand, for sixty years my experiences as an undiagnosed autistic were invalidated (written off as unsound, erroneous or inconsequential, and my behaviour as a result of being autistic were considered to be wrong, bad, selfish, inconsiderate and rude and that my future would amount to nothing worthwhile), so perhaps Ark means validate in terms of affirming the worth of one’s experiences or even of one’s existence.

By putting it all back together I presume by needs religion to validate one’s life, Ark means that religion is necessary to have a worthwhile life. If so, Ark must be referring to my own religion as I have made it abundantly clear on many occasions that religion isn’t necessary for a worthwhile or fulfilling life. At a personal level, I find religion enriches my life, but I must emphasise that this is my personal experience, and I would be foolish to claim what is true for me must be true for anyone else let alone true for everyone else. The evidence does not bear this out.

Which brings me right back to “why is it time for a serious rethink?” If anyone is still with me after the tortuous workings of an autistic mind coping with a non-autistic world, I’m going to leave this thought for a moment before returning to it.

As an aside, If anyone is wondering why I deconstruct sentences so much, it’s the result of some rather unpleasant experiences resulting my failure to grasp the intended or implied meaning of a communication and instead grasping the literal meaning, and also of others reading far more into what I have said than what I actually said. Self preservation starts to kick in after being on the receiving end of sometimes high levels of violence, not to mention lower levels of assaults and bullying due to miscommunication.

Ark refers to veracity pertaining to any religious/god claim. Immediately I run into a problem. I appreciate that apologists attempt to “prove” that their beliefs are true, but I make no such claim. So is Ark referring to claims I have not made but assumes I might believe or is he referring to the claims of others? I don’t know. As I’m convinced religion is experiential, and doesn’t come from intermediaries or sacred texts, both of which are of human origin, every person’s experience will be unique and not repeatable.

I suppose there might be an issue with my convincement that religion is experiential because that too cannot be verified. However, if I start from the premise that Lloyd Geering’s definition of religion is accurate, then I think one has little option but to accept that religion can only be experiential.

In the very next sentence Ark suggests that our willingness to believe is all down to two things: Indoctrination and/or credulity. I presume “our” does not include Ark, so that leaves me (and others) to believe something (what?), and that I believe the something because I’ve been indoctrinated (by who) or that I’m credulous. So I wonder what I believe that might be false or due to credulity? Let me repeat Lloyd Geering’s definition of religion:

Religion is a total mode of the interpreting and living of life

Where in that definition does it suggest any specific belief is necessary? It’s a mode of living, not a set of beliefs. I’ll grant that many religions do come with a string of beliefs attached, some of which are untenable in this age, but simply holding a belief that one feels one holds out of religious conviction does not mean that the belief is erroneous, false or or not worth holding. I’ll come back to that shortly.

The first section of Ark’s comment contains an overly simplistic, and might I add condescending, “history” of religion as if I was unaware how religion may have originated. I would say that Ark is only partially correct when he states that humans apply agency to the things they did/do not understand. Humans apply agency to everything. It’s where the agency is unknown or unknowable that they use their creative minds to imagine a possible agency.

Even ignoring the fact that there is no hierarchical structure nor authority within Quakerism, I find the association of hierarchical religious structures to “sophistication” inappropriate. It might have been acceptable to19th century anthropologists but not today. Perhaps Ark didn’t mean to imply refined, clever or cultivated but those concepts are often associated with sophisticated.

On the other hand, if Ark means sophisticated as in a concept that is thorough and well-worked-out, I’d venture that some “modern” religions fall very short. Theological beliefs that are obviously contradictory while insisting they are objectively true doesn not indicate a high level of sophistication to me. I’ll add that “unwashed” is a pejorative term, and I’d prefer it not used here to label those without privilege or with less privilege, which is what I presume Ark means.

Now back to Ark’s serious rethink. To me, religion is a mode of living, a way one experiences the world and the choices one makes as a consequence. I can no more choose to be not religious than I can choose to be not autistic. For sixty years society tried to mould me into “normalcy”. All it did was force me to hide behind a mask where I acted out being “normal”, clumsily at first but I got better with practice, although never perfect. However it came at a high cost: exhaustion and burnout. Does Ark suggest I should pretend to not be religious, and if so, how?

I grew up under the influence of two very different cultures. One that belonged to my parents and many of my peers, and one that was very present in the small community I lived in until well into my fifteenth year. I received wisdom from both, and equally important, I learnt of the mythology of both. I wouldn’t have been ten years old when it dawned on me that the two cultures were different in one very important aspect. One culture divided life into the secular and the religious. The other culture didn’t. Additionally, one culture believed, in fact insisted, that it was the only correct lens through which to view the world. The other didn’t.

In my twenties, I met and married my wife whose background, being Japanese, is very different from my own. She grew up in an environment where Shintoism and Buddhism are integral aspects of life although religiosity is not., and during university she was exposed to some elements of Christianity. Her perspectives have only enriched my understanding of the nature of religion and how one’s world view and religion are intricately intertwined.

While it’s true I’m a product of the society that I grew up within, and probably hold a great many values and ideas that I’m unaware are uniquely a product of culture(s) I am immersed within, I am aware that everything that I value and the way I perceive the world is the product of my exposure to multiple belief systems and world views.

I reached my current position on religion through a process of continually re-evaluating my perspectives based on new information or insights as they became available – a process that still continues and hopefully will continue until such time as this brain ceases to indicate any sign of life. I’m certain that what I consider My Truth today is not the same as My Truth of five years ao, and is unlikely to be the same as My Truth in another 5 years time. I’m sure that’s true of all thinking people whether they are religious or not. So I see no need to make any immediate rethink based purely on Ark’s suggestion. Unless of course Ark has some important information that I’m not aware of, in which case I might reconsider my position based on the new evidence.

Okay, back to being indoctrinated and/or credulity. For this to be true there must be some beliefs that are unsupportable or erroneous or have simply accepted as truths without giving them much thought, so I’m looking forward to learning what those might be. I suppose this might be the place to ask which comes first: beliefs or values. Are specific beliefs derived from the values one holds, or do values arise from a set of beliefs? Or are they merely different sides of the same coin?

Like 90% of Quakers in Aotearoa New Zealand, I came to Quakerism from a non-Quaker background. I understand the situation is similar within most liberal Quaker Yearly meetings. I was first introduced to Quakerism when my wife was asked to provide translation services for a group of Hiroshima survivors and their descendants who were visiting the Quaker Settlement in Whanganui. What struck me at the time was that the values they held and the way they were expressed were consistent with my own.

It would be many years before I ventured to attend a Quaker Meeting for Worship, but when I finally did I was almost overwhelmed by a feeling of “coming home”. There was no mention of God, Jesus, salvation or sin. The Bible was not quoted from or even mentioned during the hour of worship. If my memory serves me right, two people stood and spoke, each for less than a minute. One spoke on a new personal insight in relation to the Quaker testimony on simplicity. The other spoke on a social justice issue and a concern he had about it.

After worship I was again struck by the absolute equality of worth of every person that emanated from the group. For once, my experiences were not dismissed or invalidated. Of course there were other attractions such as how discussion was carried out allowing someone with very little understanding of social cues to make an equitable contribution. That is something I seldom experience on other social experiences including at times within my whānau. And unless you’re autistic, you possibly have no idea what an hour of silence can mean.

The feeling of “being home” is one I do not experience anywhere else other than within my whānau. So Ark, If you think I should give that up please tell me why and what advantages I will gain.

I have titled this post A personal challenge because I suspect coping with responses to this might very much be a challenge for me.


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Don’t expect an easy definition of Quakerism…

Taken directly from the Quakers in Leeds Website (the emphasis in bold is mine):

Quaker thought and practice has always refused to be contained in credal formulas or systems of belief. We don’t offer neat creeds or doctrine. Instead, we try to help each other work out how we should live. All people are welcome and accepted at a Quaker meeting.

Quakers seek religious truth in inner experience and everyday life, rather than authority, ritual and ceremony.

Quakerism is not itself a religion nor is it, any longer, entirely accurate to describe it as a Christian denomination because many of our followers find no purpose in affirming or denying traditional Christian beliefs about God or Christ.

The Quakers are probably best described by their official title; we are a “Religious Society of Friends”.

I was led to this site by a post on Raking Sand, Leeds Trinity University staff and students raking over religion and philosophy titled Considerations of the insider/outsider problem in a Quaker meeting.