Skirting Paradox

Over at his new digs, Daily-Ink, David Truss takes a moment to write about The Paradox of Religion. Before I reflect on his points, I have to call attention to the fact that this conversation is happening at all among two educators. I also have to point out that I know nothing about this topic except that religion shouldn't be pushed on public school children and educators. Let's leave the metaphysical for the appropriate class on Sunday, at home, or in religion class. Let science and civility be studied without the inappropriate hand of proselytizers on their bodies.

An empty threat, only made unreal if you believe in the fiction of a disgraced author

Among Friends

One of my favorite quotes from Scripture is the idea that "where are two or three are gathered together in My Name, I am there in the midst of them" (Matthew 18:19-20). It's funny that for bloggers, the spirit of conversation and interaction exists by virtue of the holy internet. 

While I don't want to necessarily discuss religion, politics, and education, these are topics made necessary by the fact that those who do, are. And, that they are moving beyond conversation to imposing their views on others. 

Aside: I might want to discuss the end of edtech, but friends, that conversation is past. Evidence-based research reigns supreme, the rest is unverified assertions. More critical thinking is needed, but that is also the point...stop doing fantasy pedagogy.

That's different than setting up a platform for people who express and be who they are without being told how to think or believe. As in the spirit of Matthew 18:19-20, we are called on to intercede, to confront errant brothers/sisters who are pushing their blasphemy (right-wing evangelicals, Christian Nationalism) that makes praying in public schools, and public prayer of one faith that coerces others, OK.

Of course, consider that the consequences of these chats among early Christians was a bit more serious than today's. Let's hope that right-wing radicals do not move us back to an uncivilized age that resorted to sacred totems resulting in violence to end a confrontation. 

So let's take a moment.

Motion for Separation

If errant brothers/sisters are preaching blasphemy and working to make a theocracy from the sow's ear of present democracy (when pigs fly), then I must agree with David's points:
Meanwhile, religion is used by bad people. Bad priests who prey on believers. Foolish people who take words from ancient texts literally. Weak people who feel hopeless and lost. And sometimes it even takes good people and clouds their judgement, turning their faith into misguided devotion... 
But religion is often used to to harm ‘others’; to ostracize and attack those that don’t fit. The crusades, military jihadists, ethnic cleansing, these are examples of how religious beliefs undermine morality as opposed to foster it. 
Man’s inhumanity against Man has often been driven by faith.
Discussing religion, though, is a fruitless argument. It's like arguing with certainty about a fact that neither of you remember, only half-care about, and then lose your temper about...but the false certainty only results in hurt feelings, and for what? Nothing real or tangible. 

David asks the question whose response is one I have started to think isn't so dastardly. That is...
If religions were to suddenly disappear, would there be more or less violence in the world?
It would be nice to think, "Yes, there would be less violence." But the truth is probably harsher than that. Violent people use whatever means at their disposal to justify their brutal acts against others. Religion is but a convenient excuse. 

The more a believer to legislate his/her religion, usually involves them persecuting others as less than s/he. The irony is that some have argued that, certainly with Christ, He would be the last one to join the believer.

It sets you up with the question, not "are we good without God?," but rather, are we good without religion and its ardent believers and functionaries?

Good without Religion

Good without Religion reminds me of the humanist text, Good without God. Below are some of my notes/quotes from that text by Greg Epstein:
Humanism's basic focus is about engaging with life, acknowledging the reality of aging, sickness, death, and other problems so that we can learn to most fully appreciate the time, health, and life we have. 
Essentially all the world's religions were founded on the principle that divine beings or forces can promise a level of justice in a supernatural realm that cannot be perceived in this natural one.

Humanists reject the idea that any supposedly divine commandments, as they are proclaimed by human beings, ought to have absolute authority over our lives. Humanists believe that laws and ethical principles must come from human reason and compassion. 

If a given religious precept can help lead to a good life and society, we may adopt it.
If God can exist independent of us (He does not require our worship and adoration to endure), then wouldn't it make sense to follow his example of non-interference? Do our best to help other human beings so we can all be happy? Why is believers' happiness dependent on others being converted by the sword or their beliefs being enshrined in the rule of law?

Good without religion. People CAN live and love and support each other without the benefits of a church binding them together in realization of their original sin, imperfect from creation. Epstein's point about The Humpty Dumpty story is well-taken and should make any person on the fence think twice:
The HD mentality says that the world--be it our personal lives or society as a whole or whatever--needs to be repaired. That things were once perfect and round and bright and shiny like an egg until they fell and broke into a million pieces, and now it's our job to reassemble all the pieces. 
The only problem with this mentality is everything. Because there was never, ever, at any point in our lives or in human history, a perfect egg of goodness to shatter.
You can either work to do good or to re-assemble goodness without having to embrace original sin. There's something wrong with becoming a sinner before you first can be saved from it. So, you become a sinner before birth because that justifies being saved. Let's leave that in the past. The unknowable lies before us...let's admit it and then do our best to help out fellow human beings and other creatures we share the Earth with.

Precepts to Live a Life That is Good

As a Christ follower, one can certainly see the benefit of the following humanist precepts:
  1. Seek the best in yourself and in others, and believe in your own ability to make a positive difference in the world.
  2. Pursue truth and honesty in all you do; and be wary of allowing power, status, or possessions to substitute for moral courage, dignity, and goodness.
  3. Be positive and constructive rather than negative and disrespectful.
  4. To be healthy, you must balance work, play, and rest.
  5. All members of the family should respect each other.
  6. Do not commit murder.
  7. Do not be unfaithful to your husband or wife.
  8. Do not steal.
  9. Do not lie or speak badly about others.
  10. When you see nice things owned by others, let them be your inspiration, rather than a source of bad feelings. If there are things that you want, work hard to get them.
One need not abandon their beliefs to do these things.

Supporting Good People

Does religion make a positive difference in the world? Folks who are starving, without water, appreciate it when they get help from missionaries. But are they required to accept proselytizing to get the good? A spiritual concession for a physical benefit? 

David makes a point that I have also been pondering. I revise one of his paragraphs and shorten it to:
What religion does to support good people is grossly outweighed by what [evil] it does.
But any believer need not throw up their hands in despair. Simply, retreat to your respective closets and pray for the fury to pass. Ensure free will has space to flower and avoid judgment of those who choose to say, "My will be done" instead of, "May thy will be done."


As a private school educator early in my career, it was a simple matter to teach history and science separate from religion. I could share my personal beliefs, aligned to Church doctrine, and also teach the scientific method. But, in public school, I never would want to mix religious beliefs, tell children what to believe. I would not want to legislate my beliefs unless they met the standards of the humanist precepts, that is, that they benefit all human beings.

I suppose the worst part of this discussion is that belief shouldn't enter the equation at all in schools. Having gone to a Catholic school from grades 1-12, I do not regret the wonderful feelings of love and support I gleaned from religion class, the powerful lessons to love God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and your neighbor as yourself. Yet, it's obvious to me that those lessons have fundamentally failed to have their intended effect, on me, as well as many others.

Worse, the desire to show their love of God, avoiding the contradictions of creation, mean that subjects like science, history, government have been changed to reflect a biased perspective. That is, they are lies against the truth of what actually happened, what does happen, and how the world works.

We live in the world, but we are not a part of it. We may be content to dwell in the ignorance of platitudes and everlasting peace, trust in the divine rescue plan from the grave. 

And, work to better the lot of all humans, whatever their beliefs. But we need not legislate our false, erroneous interpretations of God Almighty by men in a book that is old and was negotiated at some archaic meeting of folks ignorant by today's standards.

If you find that incomprehensible, that you are left without a staff to grasp and aid your doddering steps towards wisdom, then perhaps, you may pray for faith to guide your walk in the dark.

If you find that you want to make others learn as you think they must, cobble together lies to fool children too young to understand the truth, then find a millstone and a sea to hide in.

Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin's blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure


Anonymous said…
Miguel, thank you for sharing such an insightful post! It took a while to read because I paused to go to every link. I appreciate your links to scripture and your perspective on them. I wrote this back in March,
In honesty I did not remember writing this when I wrote the post above… the consequence of writing every day is that I often repeat concepts months later, not remembering what is unexpressed versus written thoughts in my mind. But the slant in the link is a little different, less harsh, less of an attack on religion (which I was concerned about, but you saw through in your response). This previous writing reminds me of a conversation I recently had with a religious colleague, whom pre-covid I often spent time with speaking of and about religion. In this conversation I said to him at one point: (paraphrasing)

When I share my atheistic points, they are not intended to convert you. I do not perceive atheism as a religion to adopt, simply a lack of religion… there is no intent to change your mind on your faith… in fact I see how your faith grounds you and I see no benefit in you not believing what you do.

But that is a conversation between two educators, two public school principals, both of whom do not share their religion/beliefs with students. This does not change the ideas above that you succinctly reduced to:

“What religion does to support good people is grossly outweighed by what [evil] it does.”

That is the thesis statement. That is the problem today, be it with evangelical beliefs on abortion versus the liberty of women over their bodies in the US; Or warring Shiites versus Sunnis in the Middle East; Or Chinese versus Tibetans in Asia; Or… Or… Or… the list is almost endless. Why would a benevolent, all-knowing, and un-interfering God want His/Her worshippers to impose their beliefs on others? When two people of differing faiths squabble, no finger of God comes waving down upon one of them. When that squabble leads to the use of swords or guns, no hand of God shields the supposed Righteous One. Instead, Man’s evil against Man is shed, and the God they love is no longer represented in their actions.
And there in lies the problem of religion, it does not remain in the ‘respective closets’ you mention. Instead, it manifests in hatred of the heathen non-believers. In fact, the wrath of God on non-believers in scripture is what turned me away from religion. I wondered as a teen, “What kind of cruel God would do this?”

“What religion does to support good people is grossly outweighed by what [evil] it does.”

Faith in God will not ever end, but maybe we can find a humanist… (I fear saying Humanist with a capital ‘H’, for this too can become dogma worth fighting to protect)… maybe we can find a humanist approach to faith that invites love of life and liberty, dialogue not conflict, and faith without evil.
Thanks again for your insightful reflection.

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