Tag Archives: Faith

On the level

I read a story, a few weeks ago, about a fellow who took a carpenters level with him on a cross country flight, in order to prove that the Earth is flat.

His experiment, it seems, was based upon the following argument: If the Earth is a sphere, an airplane pilot cannot fly on a level course, because to do so would cause the plane to go careening off into space.  Therefore, he, the pilot, must correct for the rounded Earth slipping away below him by occasionally dipping the nose of the plane downward, which action would be easily noticeable on a precision instrument purchased at the Home Depot.

I may not be explaining this as clearly as I should, so I whipped up a graphical aid.

Now, I do try to treat “fringe groups” with a certain amount of patience and good will.  Recognizing, as I do, that my own belief in multiple gods, puts me right out on the edge of things, in many peoples eyes, it seems only natural that I treat other groups with the same friendly manner that I hope people will express toward me and mine.

Is Scientology your thing?  No skin off my nose.

You like pineapple on your pizza?  I’ll just pick those off of my slice, if that’s okay.

You preferred the Star Wars prequel movies to the original three?

….ummm, I’m sure you have many redeeming qualities.

I draw the line with Flat Earthers.

If you truly believe that we are all the victims of a “Global Conspiracy” perpetrated by every school, corporation, government, and independent scientific body on the PLANET, throughout over 2,000-years of history since the day when Eratosthenes proved mathematically that the Earth was a sphere (and only missing the actual circumference by a few percentage points), and if you’re evidence for this is “Well, it looks flat to me,” and/or “The Bible doesn’t say anything about us living on a ball,” then I am done with you.

Yes, my flat earth friends, you have been lied to for the last two-thousand years.

Just not by the people you think.

And it’s not even a lie, really.

At least, I don’t think it was done intentionally.

The ancient tribesmen who wrote those chapters of your holy book were working off of their own observations.  And the world, to them, looked flat.

Now I realize that this takes us into a touchy subject area.  Because, of course, a great many of the Christian faithful believe that scripture was written by God through the hands of men.  The “Inspired Word” they like to call it.  So, in their view, the Bible wasn’t written by a bunch of yokels who could have got it wrong, it was written by God himself and no part of it can be false.

And yet there is plenty in there that is demonstrably untrue.

So what to do?

Well, most of the particularly faithful people that I know, have made some accommodation for themselves in this area.

Maybe God only told the people who were writing things down, things that he knew they could understand.  Maybe God showed them the whole complicated mess, and they could only grasp a small portion of its true shape and function.  Maybe he wanted to keep things mysterious for his creation, and so relied upon vague verbiage to keep his followers guessing.

The line, or lines, that these folks draw, between truth and misprint, seem to move and twist with circumstance, but at least they are there.  At least these folks are trying to reconcile a system of belief with the mechanics of the physical world around them.

The Flat Earth Brigade will do no such thing.

They cover their eyes and stop up their ears and they congratulate themselves for the purity of their faith against opposition from every quarter.

But they are wrong.

What they cling to is not faith.

That’s a thing we call desperation, and it is a desperation that seems to be on the rise.

Today, they are taking levels aboard airplanes, and we point, and we laugh, and we shake our heads in pity and disbelief.

But we have all seen the things that small groups of religiously fervent people are capable of, when they believe that they alone hold the truth, and that the whole world is set in conspiracy against them.

We should never rest too comfortably upon the strides we have made.

Any tool made to create, can also destroy, even something as simple as a level.

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Truth and Clouds

Lunar Eclipse 2015

There’s a red smudge in the sky to the east.

The Earth’s shadow is falling across the surface of the Moon.

Giant bodies are rolling around each other at stunning distances and speeds.

Together, as they dance, they do this occasional trick with the light, where the one becomes lost almost completely in the shadow of the other.

Almost lost, but not quite.

Because the thin sheen of atmosphere which clings to our globe bends the light, curving it around the edges of the globe and refracting it toward our distant dance partner.

We bend the light around us and the red tinge of a million sunsets and a million sunrises paint our normally pale sister with a ruby hue.

It is a beautiful thing to behold.  I’ve seen it before.

But not tonight, not yet.

The clouds have been rolling across the sky all evening, and the rising moon is little more than a red smudge, nearly lost in the haze.  The atmosphere is the thing that makes the miracle, and often enough, obscures it from our vision.

 

I have many friends and acquaintances who are devout followers of this or that monotheist denomination.  When, on occasion, I have wondered aloud about why, in the face of scientific fact, they cling to literalist interpretations of biblical canon, I have been told that their strength lies in their faith.  If any one part of the Bible is found to be false, they explain, then the whole of it is forfeit, and their faith is for nothing.

This, it seems to me, demonstrates a profound misunderstanding of the meaning behind the word.  Any faith that cannot survive in the light of truth is a hollow imitation of belief.

 

The clouds have cleared a bit and the Moon is hanging higher in the sky, a dusky red lantern in the darkness.

I’ve brought my telescope out for the occasion, and it’s finally clear enough that I can put it to use.  The blood-moon of the naked eye is, upon closer inspection, a gradient of hues from orange to deepest maroon.

My cat, weaving her way around the legs of the tripod, sees none of these colors.  For her, the bright white ball has become a dim grey ball.

Do my eyes see the truth of it?  Do hers?

Or does the scientific instrument see things more clearly?

And why would we assume that it must be one or the other?

Especially when there are still so many clouds!

 

For most of the people alive on this globe right now, the gods which I believe in are mere fables, or metaphors, or at best they are Jungian Archetypes which exist as manifestations of the human psyche.

When you spend years of your life, as I have, studying the gods and the mythologies that surround them, you quickly come to accept the fact that most of the scholarship on the topic was written with these biases as their foundation.

It is an unavoidable and perfectly reasonable attitude.

It doesn’t bother me.  It inspires me!

And why shouldn’t it?

These, simple metaphors (if you will), have shaped human art and literature and science for the entire known history of our species.  For almost two-thousand years, they have continued to guide and influence our culture, despite militant, often violent, suppression by the various monotheist orthodoxies that have held power.

If the gods are fictional then that’s pretty damned impressive for a bunch of stories!

Now stop and imagine, for just a moment, that you felt the touch of something that huge and powerful, in your life.  If you count yourself as a believer, would you really need to cling to this idea that every scrap of mythology associated with your deity was true, despite all evidence to the contrary?

 

The clouds are gone.  And so is the eclipse.

I just watched through the big lens as the last of the Earths’ hazy shadow slipped off the rim of the lunar sphere.

Earlier tonight I was using the 20mm lens on my scope, which puts the entire globe on display, but for these final moments I switched over to the 10mm which draws the moon down with stunning detail – craters, mountains, valleys, and the shadows they cast.

The red color is all leeched away by now, of course, and dear Luna is clothed once again in her standard pearlescent garb.

Watching through the scope, I see the last sliver of our shadow…,

…going…

…going…

…and gone.

It is a strange thing to sit there and see the final moments of something that huge, watching it not on television or on some live feed from the internet, but through your own eyes aided only by a couple pieces of glass.  The stark truth of the thing does nothing to diminish the feeling of awe which is inspired by the immensity of the event.

 

I have been challenged, on more than one occasion, to produce some proof that my gods exist.

I can’t even prove that there was an eclipse tonight.

I saw bits and pieces of it.

I’ll wager you did too.

But there were an awful lot of clouds rolling through and most of it I couldn’t see that clearly.

The atmosphere, as I may have mentioned earlier, is the thing that makes the miracle, and often enough, obscures it from our vision.

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A Friend in Deed

I heard you this time.

I didn’t before.

I couldn’t.

I’d closed my ears to all those who came before you.

But, now…, yes, now I understand how very wrong, how foolish I truly was.

The truth, as you must surely realize, is that I was angry.  I feel like I had been betrayed so many times before, by people who I believed to be my friends.  As I grew to know them, my natural caution fell away.  I offered them my confidence and they turned on me, one by one, exploiting that trust in an attempt to undermine my beliefs.

It seemed as if they just wanted me for their church and their god.

Wasn’t I good enough for them the way I was?

Why couldn’t they just accept me for who I was and for what I believed?

For the longest time now, I’ve felt like the failure was with them.

And so I was angry, and so I was wrong.

The failure was mine.

I know now, that I didn’t understand what friendship really meant.

Because when you truly care for someone, and when you see them engaging in self destructive behaviors, there comes a point when you either walk away, or try to guide them to a better, safer path.  Until now, I’ve always seen it as intrusive ‘proselytizing’, when in reality it is far more of an ‘intervention’.  Still intrusive – yes, but done in love, for the greater good.

I don’t doubt that you’d have done the same thing if you’d seen me drinking myself into an early grave, or wandering blindly off some curb and into traffic.

I should thank you for being such a good friend!

You waited and you watched, undoubtedly hoping that I would find my own way away from the all-consuming fires of hell.  And all this time, as I spoke and wrote about discovering the gods of my ancestors, about the spiritual connection I have felt with the world around us, and about my personal growth as a human being, all you could hear were desperate cries for help.  It must have been painful to listen for so long, and still remain silent.

Finally, you could, in good conscience, tolerate it no longer.  You spoke out because you couldn’t stand the thought of my suffering in an eternity of torment.  You spoke out in the true spirit of friendship.

And for the first time your words touched me, and I understood how very wrong I have been, how unfair.

What I have always seen as an intrusive act, was actually selfless.

Your disregard for my personal boundaries, pure heroism.

The lack of respect you hold for my intelligence, heartwarming.

How could I ever have been so foolish?

In your eyes, you see me as only a true friend could: broken, insufficient, and damned.

Friends don’t mince words, tell me what you really think!

But there’s still time.

If I give up the beliefs and experiences of a lifetime, if I reject all that I know in my heart to be true, and if I purge my faith and replace it with your own, we can be better than friends.

We can be “Brothers in Christ” — and oh what a family that must be!

No.

I heard you this time, and I understand now that the failure is mine.

While ‘I’ might try to intervene if I believed you were in immediate physical danger, I guess I don’t care enough to intercede on behalf of your soul.  Oh sure, I may try to “lead by example”, and I’m certainly willing to explain my beliefs to those who show an interest, but when have I ever taken you aside to explain how very wrong you are in your notions?  Have I ever shown you the proper disrespect?  Have I disparaged your life choices as only a true friend would?

In your need, I have failed you.  I am a poor friend, in deed.

Forgive me.

“Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.”

― Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

 

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A Question: Fear, Anger or the Cross?

A few days ago I noticed a few of my more conservative friends posting links to this story on Facebook and Twitter. Initially, I paid it little mind. Then, when I noticed it making it’s merry way around the blogosphere and the various news feeds, inciting outrage along the way, I decided to give it a second read. What, I wondered, was it that I missed the first time around, and why all the protest?

Let’s see…,

“…working student orientation fair for incoming freshmen … supervisor told her to remove the two-inch-long cross necklace … chancellor had a policy against wearing religious items … make incoming students feel unwelcome … as a Christian woman it is my prerogative to display my faith any way I like … so upset she left her student worker job early … state employees may wear crosses while they are performing their duties as long as the wearing does not interfere with the employees’ duties … are trying to contact Jarvis so they can apologize … Our faith was attacked … We need to band together as Christians and fight back…”

Okay, yeah, I think I’ve got it now.

A Christian was treated like everyone else and her reaction was to find a lawyer.

So, did I miss anything?

-sigh-

Now to be fair, I’d like to start out by saying that I do not agree with the stated policy (whether it was an official school policy or a personal guideline of the faculty supervisor) of hiding or removing religious symbols.

That being said, I think the reactions, on the part of Ms. Jarvis and many of the others involved are over-the-top, to say the least. In the first place, where is the evidence that only Christians were asked to remove their symbols of faith? Certainly, none of the stories I have read on this incident, betray a specifically anti-Christian bias. So by what standard then, is this to be considered ‘Unequal Treatment’?

Of course, in the age of the internet, we don’t need actual facts to know that there was discrimination. If you have any questions on that score, you need only look through the comments section of that same linked commentary. There you will see all manner of warrantless condemnation and hate directed at peoples and belief-systems that were not even involved in this incident.

All of which brings me to the question that I really want to ask today:

Can the Christians live, as the rest of us do, in a world that is not shaped and molded to satisfy their particular wants and expectations?

Just a couple months ago, I wrote here about how many of my fellow Pagans (and others) choose to hide the symbols of their faith from view rather than face condemnation (or worse) from friends, family and workplace supervisors. In the same post, I noted how the Wiccans, and more lately, the Asatru have finally won the right to have the symbols of their faith placed on the headstones of their fallen service members. Where then is all the outrage for the many thousands who face the same discrimination that Ms. Jarvis felt – every single day?!

“Christianity is being attacked,” Jarvis says.

Really? Because, I’ve got to tell you, most of us non-Christians just take that sort of casual discrimination for granted. When I hear statements like this, it becomes painfully obvious how little you understand the sheer depth of Christian Privilege in this country.

I am forced to wonder, Audrey, how you will react, when and if you ever feel the sting of true equality.

Yet, it is not as if I do not understand the reaction.

After all, when Christianity rose up and vanquished the ancient religion of Rome, it was not what anyone could describe as a friendly exchange of power. Given the fact that they have only their own example to go by, is it any wonder that, when things do not go their way, the Christians always seem to smell persecution and bloodshed in the wind?

The world is changing, and it may be that, in time, as the west becomes more secular in it’s outlook, the Christian will not be held up above the Pagan, the Buddhist, the Jew or the Atheist.

I understand that this potential loss of status and the corresponding reassurance that Christianity is right and everyone else is wrong, must be terrifying to those unaccustomed to such feelings.

Hey look, it's Yoda.

Am I painting with too broad a brush here?

Then allow me to add some detail.

Christianity does not comprise a singular monoculture and I know many moderate Christians who are friendly to our cause and do not condone the reactionary fears of their more fervent co-religionists.

Still, I am forced to wonder, if push should come to shove, will they be true to the words of their Christ and stand with us against imposed tyranny? Or will they instead remain silent as their brethren seek to tear down that which we are trying, in fits and starts, to build for ourselves and the generations to follow.

It will take many voices from people of many beliefs to calm the rising tide of hate.

If that cross were any bigger, it would be wearing her.

That’s a HUGE cross!
I guess, in matters of faith, size really does matter.

In the meantime, someone should explain to Audrey Jarvis, and to those like her, that her faith is neither contained in her cross pendant, nor is it to be found in the weeping of a spoiled child who shirks her responsibilities and goes running home to mommy and daddy when things don’t go her way.

If Ms. Jarvis is looking for an outward expression of her faith, she would do better to comport herself with humility and honor. If she so needs for others to see her faith, she could choose to display it through her kindness, her generosity of spirit, and her willingness to share the fruits of her own advantage with those less fortunate.

Faith is not something that can be taken away, but is all too easily surrendered by those who choose instead to grasp and claw at some imagined worldly privilege or superiority of the spirit.

And for our own part, for those of us who believe in different gods and creeds, we must stop hiding in the shadows. If we are to have any chance of quieting the fears of the dwindling majority, it is vital that they see us, not as some nebulous “other”, but as their co-workers and neighbors, their classmates, friends and family. We must show them, through the example of our own lives, that true faith will flourish without any of the special privileges or advantages that they have grown to expect.

Our experience will be the answer to the question they have not yet begun to ask.

It has to be. History reminds of the consequences, should we give in to fear.

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