Potiphar12's Blog
An Octogenarian in the modern world

CHURCH-GOING? WHY?

It annoys me that I keep on going to a religious institution where people talk with conviction about things I see as uncertain. I support the faith and the institution but can’t say YES to everything. Do others disbelieve, but maintain a pretence? Am I just too pig-headed to abandon the faith of my fathers? Do other people attend because they get some sort of satisfaction out of it that is not related to religion at all? Are other people privately treating heir faith as a metaphor while publicly affirming its literal truth? Can I reconcile what I do believe with what they talk about?

Is there or is there not an intelligent, superior supernatural agency?  (Hereafter ISSA.) If such exists, then everything we don’t understand can be explained away as real but beyond our competence. We don’t understand God (or whatever name you use), just as rabbits don’t understand humans. So any story told about what God is like or how he made the world or what he intends for us MIGHT be true. An obscure tribal creation myth might sound stupid, but if you accept an omnipotent God then he MIGHT have done it. So religious stories must be judged by our own limited and ignorant standards. We ask whether it is likely that God did something – and if he did it, why – and then answer the questions from a human standpoint.

Well, that is all a human is able to do. And when you examine religions in terms of utility and logic and consistency and coherence, Christianity comes top. (Some of today’s versions, anyway. I am not defending the crusades or the Spanish inquisition.) I can and do believe in a historical Jesus who had exceptional powers as a philosopher and healer. I believe that his concept of God is the best available to humans. I also believe that the man who spoke in parables also spoke sometimes in metaphors, and that taking them literally is a mistake. (‘Many mansions’, etc.)

What humans have done with this religion since the time of Christ is a very mixed story, and things have been added on that are not credible. The power structure built by various priesthoods is among them. But the basic doctrine of sin and redemption though sacrifice and then renewed opportunity seems sound. It explains our selfishness, our need for external help and the merit of trying again. It fits with human nature.

How about the non-existence of the ISSA? Did the universe come out of nowhere? What caused the big bang? Even Chaos Theory postulates some cause for whatever happens. Maybe the universe is a colossal clock that somebody wound up and abandoned. After all, your computer has something invisible in its guts that changes from GMT to British Summer Time on the right day. Some agency COULD have programmed the entire history of the universe. That argument, however, accepts that the ISSA existed to do the programming. The only way you can make atheism work is to say that God died when the job was done. That way, there is no ISSA  (now) and the universe is spinning on its pre-determined course with nobody taking he slightest interest.

Except the scientists. Maybe they can figure out the programming. Then – another maybe – they can figure out how it is supposed to end and intervene to alter it. Science will then have substituted for the ISSA.

I think I shall continue going to church. Christianity does offer a prescription for living. It may get tied in knots over sexual issues but behind those stands the principle of charity. The state passes laws about how one should behave, but once it has done so the principle has been left behind and administration takes over. The church points one back to the principle. It may happen that you made a decision that you believed to be charitable and that facts unknown to you turned it all upside down and produced a harmful result. But at least you started from the right point.

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