Friday, May 06, 2005

Schroedinger of the Divine

Note: This is merely the opinion of the author. It is based on his own personal religious experieces and musing. Any offence taken is your own damn fault.

Part I: Schpatz Goes Holistic

It seems like everyone I know is upgrading there computers lately. Some drastically, some incrementally. A friend of mine just wrote me about buying a new laptop. That's drastic. Another friend of mine just upgraded his graphics card. That's incremental.

I'm not sure which actually ends up being worse. I've found that if you upgrade one part, there's always something else that becomes the bottle neck. I upgraded the graphics card on my desktop a while ago. Now my biggest complaint is the processor speed. Everything seems a bit slow. So now I'm thinking I should get a new CPU. But that would work better with faster, new memory, which needs a new motherboard, which would have a new kind of graphics card interface...

You get the idea.

Oddly enough, with my laptop, I find that the slowness doesn't bother me. It must be due to the fact that I can't upgrade it. Sure, I might be able to add a little more memory, replace the DVD drive, but those things will only help a little bit. The only reason I'm looking to replace it is that it's starting to go. It's "like a military academy. Bit's of it keep passing out."[1]

Part of the reason for not feeling the need to upgrade the laptop is that I can't. I accept it as it is. There's an old prayer (Catholic, I think) the asks for the wisdom to accept the things that I cannot change, or something like that. This acceptance of what the laptop is has allowed my to use it with very little complaint.

The same sort of thing should be used in our interactions with people. We shouldn't try to change people. We can only be ourselves, and hope that, by example, people may change. That's always seemed to me to be the main point of Christianity. From a philosophical stand, the concept of "love thy neighbor as thyself" is to live an example to others. Love thyself means to accept yourself, faults and all. Therefore, one must do the same with others.

Accepting the things we can't change. This doesn't mean that people shouldn't fight corruption or injustice and that sort of things. These are things that can change. They just require more people, more ideas, more social power (i.e. masses) to enact that change.

People are, however, unchangeable. They must choose to change. They must enact the change themselves. They have to replace their own parts, and upgrade their own thinking.

It's choice.

Part II: Where am I going with all this

Every very now and then I get religion. Not in the "Praise Jesus!" sense, just that I start thinking about it philosophically and sociologically. I'm still trying to figure out if it has a place in my life.

This stems back to the fact that I went to Catholic School. Only through the eight grade, mind you, but long enough. I suppose though that is the only reason I even think about it from time to time. It's sort of embedded that sense of social connection that religion provides. As well as that guilt, but that's another story.

The other thing that it's done for me is that I still like all things Catholic. There's something exceptionally profound in all that pomp and circumstance, the ceremony of it all that gives it that feeling of the divine. I never get that from non-Catholic preachers (and I don't mean Lutherans or Anglicans; they seem pretty similar). Their's is more of a "spread the good word" sort of Christianity.

I've also developed an almost morbid fascination with it. When I travel abroad, some of the things that I enjoy seeing is the old (and I mean old) Christian relics and tombs. These things are so bizarre, so occult, that it makes Christianity seem almost pagan. In some ways it could be seen that way, when looked at from afar. Catholics (which, when I'm in Europe, I'll use Catholic and Christian interchangeably) worship and pray to saints, the Virgin Mary, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and, of course, God. That's quite a pantheon.

I'm quite sure that I'm being a bit naive in my view of it all. I'm sure there are some very sound theological arguments for it all.

This is, of course, one opinion from years of very limited observations.

Part III: What's with all the God Talk

Religion has been a bit on my mind lately. I recently spent a weekend at my sister's in Dubuque. Any weekend spent with my family usually means a trip to church.

Now, I don't usually think about religion, unless I'm confronted with it. More often then not, I think about the humanity of it all. What I mean by that is that religion, in the organized sense, is built up by man. It's an arbitrary construction of rules, built around the shared idea that there is something greater than ourselves.

I don't discount the possibility that there is something greater than ourselves. Call it God, if you will. I'm an agnostic, that's certain. I've never considered myself an atheist. Just as the devout Christians, Muslims and Jews have faith in their belief in God, Atheists have faith in their belief that there is no God. This always seemed a bit strange to me. I've heard atheist sound just as fanatical about their beliefs as a fundamentalist.

Not entirely arbitrary. Every religion seems to have a bunch of similar rules. Don't kill people, for example (although there are often some exceptions to this rule, which in itself is a bit strange). These rules, I think are generated out of the social contract. The social contract of all societies has been to not get in the way of other people trying to get by.

I'm also not against the value of religion. There seems to be this built in need for human nature to feel connected.

There are three different theories on why religion exists (that I agree with anyway), all three of which are somewhat right.[2]

The first is from a French sociologist, Emile Durkheim. His definition of religion is as follows: “A religion is a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things, that is to say, things set apart and forbidden -- beliefs and practices which unite into one single moral community called a Church, all those who adhere to them.” [3] The sacred and the profane are two things that oppose each other. This creates a series of rites and rules around protecting the sacred from th profane. This collection of rites and the community of practitioners becomes a religion.[4]

The second is from a Romanian historian, Mircea Eliade. His notions are similar to Durkheim's – the sacred and the profane - but lack the deconstruction of religion into a merely sociological construction. Religion is based on “Timeless forms”[5]. Every religion is built upon the same set of underlying forms. Oddly, enough this concept, reduces all religions to a simple construction of these forms. He makes the point, though, that there is a fundamental similarity of the human condition across cultures.

The third is from a professor in Anthropology at Fordham University, Stewart E. Guthrie. Guthrie proposes that religion is a result of anthropomorphizing nature. This is central to the creation of religion. As for motives of things supernatural, it's attributed to the following:

“Uncertain of what we face,” he writes, “we bet on the most important possibility because if we are wrong we lose little and if we are right we gain much. Religion, asserting that the world is significantly human-like, brings this strategy to its highest pitch.” His ‘tendency,’ then, is, according to Guthrie, more a survival strategy than simply a proclivity.


If such wagers are correct, the payoff is large. In the case of religion and the belief that the spirits have wills, it means either eternal bliss of some sort or a relatively lower level of anxiety here on earth. Both options have their appeal.[6]

Basically, what he's saying is something very similar to Pascal's assertion about religion, which goes something like this: if I choose to believe in God, and it turns out to be false, I've lost nothing. If it turns out to be true, I've gained eternal rewards. On the otherhand if I choose to not believe in God, and I'm wrong, the rest of time will be particularly unpleasant.

These theories (and me coming to this conclusion after several hours of intense study) really describe different aspects of the same thing: the why of religion. As in everything societal, it is a question that's answer is wholly complicated and can't really be distilled down into one theory.

Part IV: Conclusions

Having done the slightest bit of research leaves me with a few questions on the subject of my own belief in God. Where does the Agnostic fit into all this? We're sort of stuck in the middle, a Schroedinger experiment of the divine, where God is in a state of both existence and non-existence. That is, until we open that box.

[1] The Hitchhicker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams. I've been re-reading and watching the BBC series recently. Possibly in anticipation for the theatrical film. Possibly to completely ruin my viewing experience of the film, in order to have something to bitch and moan about for the rest of the summer blockbuster season.

[2] "Explaining Religion," Austin Cline

The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life, Emile Durkheim, 1912

[4] Summary of The Elementary Forms of Religions Life, Robert Alun Jones, 1986

[5] See [2]

[6] Review of Faces in the Clouds, a New Theory of Religion, Russell T. McCutcheon, 1994

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