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I've been having a long and interesting discussion about religion with a distant cousin. I make no claims to have any of the answers, though I do spend damn near all my waking hours engaged in religious thinking in some capacity or another. What's KILLING me is his inability to reason, while all the time trying to convince me that he's too logical and I'm too emotional. Now, I am very emotional: I get passionate, yes, sir. But in my engagement with him I've been very even handed, perhaps too even. But his refusal to understand that in the world of religion X *and* Y need to be considered not incompatible Truths but simultaneous truths, has me coming off as emotional to him. It's not out of some namby-pamby love-fest that I say this. It's because after practicing and studying religions and spending time with people who believe differently than I do, to assume that only Jesus is THE God is to basically tell 4.5 billion other people to fuck off and die. It's not saying Jesus is MY God, but Jesus is THE God. I know the vast majority of Christians don't see it that way, but that's how it is.

I have spend considerable time in Jewish communities and developing friendships with both cultural and religious Jews (which doesn't make me an expert, merely informed to some degree), I have never ever had a Jew tell me that their God was THE God and boy I'd be a lot better off if I argreed. If I want to join their party, many would welcome me (many would not, since I'm not ethnically Jewish), but the Jewish people are content to worship their god and go on their merry way. They don't need to convince the rest of the world of their religious superiority. I would love to know if the Jewish world sees their God as THE God, or merely as THEIR God - that's a huge difference.

I'm really fed up with the mainstream idea that logic means there can only be one big-T Truth. I fear that modern Western schooling has ruined the brains of generations who were taught to find Right Answers - there can be only One! - rather than to develop arguments and think critically. Unless you are in the hard sciences, there is rarely One Answer. I think this is why academics are stereotyped as elitists: because it's very difficult to talk with people for whom there is only One Right Answer. If I had to talk with people like my cousin (who's a Nice Guy) regularly I think my head would explode. This is why people like Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin give America/politics/conservatives/Christianity such a bad name, because they don't reason. At all. Cuz reasoning and arguing is some Lefty Agenda out to confuse the Average Joe. Of course it confuses the Average Joe - because they went to school where there was only one right answer!! (Excuse me while I go stab out my eyes in the corner.)

I'm starting to wonder if there isn't some religious causation here. In the Protestant Christian world (which makes up the vast majority of America) there is one sacred text - the Bible. It is entirely correct. It is The Right Answer. Everything must be squared with it. There is One God. The Bible says X, so X it is. There is no tradition of critical engagement. No tradition of wrestling or questioning. No understanding that the Bible is a sacred text that grew up in certain times and places and is relevant to certain people. One billion Hindus grew up in a different time, place and culture with different sacred texts? Well, fuck them. They're Wrong. How mind-bogglingly ignorant and arrogant is it that?? Oh, says my cousin, truth is truth. Gahhhhh! Religion is not a hard science! The same rules do not apply as when we determine, say, that the earth rotates around sun.

I wonder too if perhaps (stereotypically) more Jews go into academia because of their tradition with engaging with texts. The Jewish tradition has a long and rich tradition of arguing and engaging with their sacred texts and teachers - Midrash and Talmud come immediately to mind. Perhaps there is less of a need for One Right Answer, and therefore the world of academia, where it's not about Right Answers but more about better and worse arguments, comes more naturally?*

I don't know. All I know right now is that mainstream reasoning seems to be dying a slow, disgraced death. Many people considered themselves religiously well educated if they made it through 5 years of Sunday school. It makes me want to hide under the bed and weep. Or just hole up with other people who can think, like the elitist I am.

*[ profile] hraffntinna and [ profile] msmidge please smack me upside the head if I'm full of shit.

This may get long...

Date: 2010-07-07 02:41 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
....because you brought up several points about which I have either opinions or perspective, or both....

First up, your point about western schooling and the hard sciences. I don't think all of western schooling DOES teach that there's only one answer. I think that the average American elementary-to-secondary "education" (if you can call it that) does, but I think that can be traced back to the founding of universal public education and the need for a cheap labor source to teach in those schools-- single women who could read and had done 1-2 years of "teachers college" were the norm; they were underpaid; their working conditions were stringent but still far better than factory or farm work. But the lack of respect for the teaching profession and the lack of investment in recruiting, training and retaining excellent teachers has resulted in a lot of less-than-qualified individuals going into teaching, and teaching from scripts where there IS only one right answer.

Also, as someone with a graduate degree in one of the "hard sciences" (although I know a lot of people don't think of math as one of them), beyond the 200 level in college, there's no one right answer either. In math and physics, you can prove or derive things more than one way, you consider cases and explore possibilities, and you postulate theories. There's a beauty and an art to problem solving that often results in long discussions about the relative merits of various approaches. In chemistry, there's usually more than one way to perform an organic synthesis.

I think it's telling that a lot of the wingnuts (for lack of a better word) are the same people who REJECT math and science as "not of God." At best, many often abridge the mathematical and scientific cannon to exclude areas they don't understand or that seem to conflict with what the Bible says. I think that it's BECAUSE the hard sciences start from the premise that there may be another way of looking at things that so many religious fundamentalists have a problem with them.

With regard to Judaism, I'm coming at it from the same place you are and have come to many of the same conclusions. I'll add a few things but I know you have several LJ-friends who are frum who can fill in our blanks.

I'm pretty sure traditional Judaism does believe that there is only one God and that God is IT-- but that non-Jews aren't bound by the same laws as Jews. In order to be considered righteous, Gentiles need only to adhere to the seven laws of Noah, which are fairly universal principles of decent, moral behavior, rather than the 613 mitzvot. I would imagine that more liberal Jewish denominations take an even more liberal approach to non-Jews.

As a liberal intellectual Christian myself, I've always admired the Jewish tradition of literacy. In Christianity, there's a long tradition of keeping the masses uninformed. Clergy in many denominations are called "pastors," leaving the congregation as the figurative "sheep." Until Vatican II, Catholic Masses were said in Latin with the celebrant's back to the congregation. The reformation was noteworthy because it made the Bible more accessible to the masses, but there was an accompanying message that nothing else needed to be studied. Compare that to the bar mitzvah ceremony, where a child becomes and adult by READING.

Date: 2010-07-07 03:09 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Excellent points about math and science. Because I have no first hand experience with advanced maths I forget how very creative it can be! I have to rely on others here to remind me.

The cynic in me thinks that public education is just a way to babysit so the adults can be cogs in the capitalist machine, and 'educate' kids just enough so that at 18 they think they know something. Of course, that's not really the case....

Date: 2010-07-07 04:48 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
The cynic in you isn't totally off base. The biggest problem with public education is that there are too many people at the wheel. I personally answer to SEVEN bosses directly, and another five or so indirectly, in my district's administration-- that's before you consider the town's school committee, which has final say over all district matters. Then we have the state and federal departments of education, each of which has different standards we have to meet (both individually as professionals, as a school, and as a district) or risk teachers and administrators losing our licenses; the regional accrediting board, without whose approval our kids can't go on to many colleges; and the AP audit, which oversees how we do the AP courses. The school committee and the DOEs at both levels are pandering to various political groups which have conflicting interests. A lot of right-wing groups who have money, and some of whom operate for-profit charter schools, want a say in how we do our job, too, even if nobody in the group has any kind of background in education. The script thing is embraced by the creators of said scripts, who stand to make big bucks when their systems are adopted, and by district administrators who like to have something they can point to to show they're doing their jobs.

A lot of teachers have said this, and I echo it whole-heartedly: tell us what it is you want us to do, and we'll do it and do it well. In some districts, though, nobody knows exactly what they want us to do, or they want us to do mutually exclusive things. Get the kids' test scores up, when what's on the test and how it's asked changes every year? Instill a love of learning as a whole and our subject in particular? Turn out good "cogs" who know how to do whatever the business world decides they need this year? Get kids into the college of their choice? Create critical thinkers who learn not just to question, but HOW to question and WHAT questions to ask? Create good citizens who pay their taxes, follow the law, vote and otherwise contribute to society? Create compassionate individuals who care for others and for the environment? And the elusive "keep the parents happy," when you've got to balance handing out As like candy (which is what a lot of kids and parents want) with challenging the kids sufficiently (which is what they'll need to get good scores on those tests).

Now, that said, I LOVE my job. I love the challenge. But I hate when people think I have it easy.

Date: 2010-07-07 05:24 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Yes, yes, and more yes. A year and a half as a public high school teacher was all I could handle. More power to you for loving your job.

Date: 2010-07-08 12:50 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Hey, I hope I didn't offend you here. I know that Judaism is as varied and complicated as the Christian tradition, but what it is the take on Yahweh as THE God vs the god of the Jewish people? I have heard what amyura above said, about only the Jewish people being required to observe the covenant and other people will be blessed if they follow the laws of Noah. Can you educate me a little on this?

Date: 2010-07-08 03:07 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Not offended, just haven't been in the right mental space to do a lot of writing.

In general, I think Jews would say that our God is THE god and everyone else's versions are different names for the same thing. Waaaay way back, the Israelites/earliest Jewish people did acknowledge that other gods existed but that theirs was the most powerful one, but now there's no acknowledgement that any other gods exist at all. Some Jews feel Judaism is compatible with other religious traditions that don't emphasize their own specific god (Buddhism, varieties of paganism). There's also a strong tradition of Jewish socialist atheism that would say all the gods are pretend, but that's complicated in its own way (the socialists still participated in orthodox Judaism anyway in some cases).

Yes, that's right about the Noachide laws. I don't remember if gentiles who follow them are actually blessed or what. But Jewish law is supposed to be only for Jews, to the extent that someone who is doing an orthodox conversion & isn't Jewish yet is supposed to (according to some, anyway) purposely break Shabbat because full observance is only for Jews.

Date: 2010-07-08 07:24 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Interesting. This raises my Chosen People issues, and I just don't think now is the right time or place to get into that. I do wish you and I could sit down over a good beer/glass of wine/bottle of whiskey and have a long conversation about this.

Date: 2010-07-08 10:24 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I have mad respect for what teachers do, so I hope I didn't come across like the failure of America to think is your personal fault. There is something really screwy with our education system, but most teachers are just trying to do their best. I worked for two years in a high school and loved it - and also walked away not wanting to do what teachers had to do. The kids would be great if it weren't for the parents..... The school would be great if it weren't for the administrators.... etc etc.

I still hate the test based 'learning' goals. And I hate how teachers are supposed to make kids learn - no one can make a student learn. Assuming the teacher isn't awful, it's the student's responsibility to do the learning. The teacher is only the facilitator.

Date: 2010-07-08 01:50 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Not at all! I was agreeing with you-- the problems are inherent in our culture and in the structure of the schools. It's why so many urban teachers burn out and either quit completely or teach somewhere else-- either a private school or a rich suburban school that might as well be private.

The learning goals come out of the teacher-bashing culture of politicians. Schools aren't working? Must be those lazy union hack teachers. The tests are a gotcha designed to pinpoint exactly HOW we aren't doing our jobs. The problem is, as I said, if you tell us to teach the kids the stuff that's going to be on the test, that's what we'll do. We'll try to keep our excitement for the subject matter and a love of learning in general, but if the primary goal is for the kids to pass the test, we do our job.

And you're absolutely right. The STUDENT learns. In an ideal world, we're there ONLY as a guide and facilitator-- that's what unschooling is supposed to be at its core, and what John Holt tried to promote. The Sudbury Schools follow this model, too. The problem is that when you've got compelling societal reasons to impart concrete skills, kids have to learn things that they might not be interested in. A good teacher understands this and tries to get the kids excited and interested so that they'll buy into the curriculum. But if you're handed a bullshit curriculum, that can be nigh on impossible :)

Date: 2010-07-07 06:51 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I'm reading a book right now about scientific theories that are both proven, yet oppose each other (Theory of relativity & quantum mechanics), and how the fact that they don't 'agree' is a mystery and a challenge for scientists....and how it means there is more to understand. It's amazing.

I don't see why the same can't be true for religion.

Anyone who thinks that the bible, as it was written, is true fact is a close minded (in my very humble opinion).

Date: 2010-07-08 10:27 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
See? Exactly. Mystery. The world is full of mystery. The world is *amazing*. Religions are beautiful (well, they can be), science is mind-blowing. I think it's totally true of religion - that one system says, hey we've found things to be like X and Y. And another religion says, hey in our experience we've found it to be like A B and C. And yet another says, hey I think it's like A and Y and Z.

But somehow there can be Only One.

Of course, this was a ranty rant, and I am the queen of generalizations.

Date: 2010-07-07 09:51 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
If you did a degree in theology you did read critical Protestant theologians didn't you? They led the way in a critical interpretation of Scripture and did pioneering work in expanding the role of consciousness in theology.

Maybe "Conservative Evangelicals" have a single minded view
but in the '60's Protestants did some of the leading work in avant guard thinking.

There are also several theologians and writers who seek to take their Christian belief and have a greater understanding by studying other traditions, particularly Yoga, Tao and Zen.
Surely you have met some of these writers.

Date: 2010-07-08 07:52 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Protestant theologians are great. But the vast majority of Christians haven't read them. I am not frustrated with theologians, I'm frustrated with my cousin and the millions like him.

Not to be rude, but did you read my post? I am frustrated at the lack of critical thinking skills I see in the general population. Couple that with a few years of mainstream bible study (where theology is not used at all) and you have the thinking skills that make deep discourse in religious matters beyond difficult.

Date: 2010-07-08 01:49 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
In the Protestant Christian world (which makes up the vast majority of America) there is one sacred text - the Bible. It is entirely correct. It is The Right Answer.

Actually, that depends on which Protestant Christian church you check out. I was raised in the Methodist church, which uses the Wesleyan Quadrilateral:

* Scripture - the Holy Bible (Old and New Testaments)
* Tradition - the two millennia history of the Christian Church
* Reason - rational thinking and sensible interpretation
* Experience - a Christian's personal and communal journey in Christ

Each member of the church is expected to use those four things when coming to theological conclusions. Methodists are big on the personal relationship with God, and while different Methodist congregations have different views, a great many of them emphatically do not hold the Bible to be the inerrant word of God.

And I'm pretty sure they're not the only Protestants who see it that way. The whole inerrant Bible thing is a fundamentalist Protestant thing, not a Protestant thing.

Date: 2010-07-08 02:54 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I have to agree with this. The Episcopal Church uses the Book of Common Prayer, and really any church with a graduated ecclesiastic structure and a liturgy acknowledges the tradition aspect with agreed-upon doctrines. That's most of the mainline denominations-- UCC, Presbyterian USA, Lutheran (and don't forget, Martin Luther wanted to play around with which books were in the Bible, and his recommendations don't match with the Protestant cannon we have today).

I think the Baptists, Nazarenes, all the evangelical denominations, the charismatic denominations (such as Foursquare and Assemblies of God) and of course the self-identified IFB groups definitely fit the inerrant Bible bill, though.

Date: 2010-07-08 07:59 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Some Lutheran, not all, they have multiple branches. I'm not blaming Martin Luther. He would probably roll over in his grave if he saw the state of today's Christianity.

My cousin wasn't raised any of the denominations that follow the inerrant ideas, and yet that form of thinking has crept in. It's very very insidious.

Date: 2010-07-08 07:56 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
It's true. I know there are many really awesome Protestant churches out there. I know loads of fabulous Christians and ministers of all flavors. It's not Christianity per se that I have trouble with. It's the bland Christianized mainstream and the loud mouthed and dominating conservative Christian mindset that drives me to distraction.

I hesitate to use the label fundamentalist, because most people think of separatists, or the most conservative of conservatives. Most people that fall under the fundamentalist banner would never in a million years consider themselves fundamentalist. But I suppose I ought to call a spade a spade!

Also, I admit to being surprised that you are defending a church. ;)

Date: 2010-07-08 01:53 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I think "evangelical" might work as an umbrella term for the mentality you're describing. A lot of them are the opposite of separatists, engaging the culture. That's what's responsible for things like Christian skateboarding ministries, the Left Behind series, Chick comics, and (*shudder*) Contemporary Christian Music.

Date: 2010-07-08 03:00 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I used to think evangelical was like fundamentalist lite, but then I met one of my colleagues at school who used to be a minister in a Texas evangelical megachurch. He's evangelical, but not uncritical at all--more like a red-letter Christian. Now I'm not so sure that the uncritical fundamentalists are what we think they are--maybe they're just a caricature promoted by right- and left-wing political interests for their own purposes.

Date: 2010-07-08 07:52 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I think you are on to something here. Because I also know some evangelicals and while we disagree on a lot most of them are wonderful people. But I do notice certain strains of thought, mostly coming from their style of apologetics which is much like the Bible study stuff, that is disturbing.

Politics in the US is more divided in the media than I think it is in 'real life'. But still - there is something in the zeitgeist (?) that I can't quite put my finger on. Perhaps I'm being the worst of generalizers by just blaming evangelical thought, but where IS it coming from? Maybe all generations bemoan the lack of thinking skills. But maybe it's worse because of mass education everyone *thinks* they're as smart as everyone else... I dunno.

I'm just a cranky bitch who tires of annoying cousins (who I once thought were fantastic!) who keep throwing out the worst of logic and arguments and uses text-speak to send 5 paragraph emails. GAH.

Date: 2010-07-08 04:29 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I often forget people equate fundies with separatists, probably because I was raised in a church that used "fundamentalist" to talk about the Bible-bangers.

Also, I admit to being surprised that you are defending a church. ;)

I know, right? But the thing is, my parents' church is actually pretty awesome. I often think that the fact I went there and still decided Christianity wasn't for me is a sign that it really, REALLY isn't for me. Their church is pro-gay-rights (it was one of the first Reconciling Congregations), pro-civil-rights (it's in one of the first intentionally-integrated communities in the state), and on and on. Heck, most of the pastors who served there while I attended use inclusive terminology around God! ("Creator" instead of "Father," etc.) But YHVH and I just do not get along, and even Jesus being pretty cool overall couldn't make up for that. So I left.

Just cos I think a lot of Christian churches are pretty bad doesn't mean I hate them all. :)

Edited for clarity, d'oh
Edited Date: 2010-07-08 04:30 pm (UTC)


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