Friday, August 08, 2008

Thoughts about "Freedom From Religion"

This is obviously inspired by my previous post, and a comment that seemed to imply that the "wall of separation" between church and state makes even military chaplains unconstitutional. No one can read the words of the founders and honestly say that the intent of the First Amendment was to drive religion that far out of public affairs. If that were the case, then government documents using such phrases as "the Laws of Nature and of nature's God", "Endowed by their Creator", "Supreme Judge of the world", "with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence", "do ordain and establish", and "In the Year of our Lord" would be unconstitutional... rendering the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution itself unconstitutional! Clearly, the intent was to prevent the government from favoring one religion over another, not to deny their existence.

My complaint goes beyond a silly lawsuit, however; I have a problem with the attitude behind it. I have a problem with people who believe that the only permissible public expression of religion is contempt for it. I have a problem with the mindset that led a popular author to say "Molesting the children wasn't as harmful as raising them Catholic in the first place." My distaste for such vitriolic, militant atheism is such that I will make an equally controversial statement: To truly achieve freedom from religion, you must give up part of your humanity as well.

I mean that literally. What C.S. Lewis said poetically- there is a God shaped hole in the human heart that must be filled with something- is now being said by biologists as well. Anthropologists long knew it; the religious drive is older than Homo Sapiens Sapiens- Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon man left evidence of religious rituals, and there is reason to believe that even earlier predecessors did too. We know now that when you say "Give me that old time religion" you are talking at least 100,000 years old.

The militant atheists say that humanity has outgrown the need for religion. Maybe so. But human beings have not. Each of us is born just as clueless as the early hominids, and has to learn for ourselves the lessons of joy and pain, love and loss, the reality of death, and what it means to be human. The first time our hearts are broken, it's as if all those millennia had never passed, because it's the first time in our universe. Our innate sense of religion is the only way we can make sense of all of it.

The only reason anyone can deny this is that western society defines "religion" only in terms of God, and a fairly narrow definition of God at that. If one defines "religion" as "an irrational devotion to something outside one's self", then all sane people are religious. And yes, Secular Humanists, I'm saying your devotion to "Humankind" or "Society" is every bit as irrational as devotion to God. There is no non-emotional, logical case to be made for it.

How can I say that? Example: give me three solid, rational reasons why I shouldn't go through life simply taking what I want. Note: the argument "because if everybody did that, society would collapse, and you'd be hurt too" won't fly for at least three reasons- first, that's also an argument for eugenics and sterilizing homosexuals and "defectives"; second, we both know everybody wouldn't do that. Lots of people genuinely enjoy raising crops and raising kids and building things- there will always be plenty of sheep; why shouldn't I walk like a wolf among them? Third, even if society could collapse, it's too big to collapse within my lifetime- if this life is all I'll ever have, why not make the most of it?

In all the decades I've asked that question, no one has ever given me an argument that didn't boil down to an appeal to a higher power, by whatever name. When a Dawkins denounces religion, all he's really saying is "My irrational devotion to an abstract concept is superior to yours"- the same as any other religious zealot. Humanity cannot be ruled by logic; logic depends upon base assumptions that cannot themselves be proven by logic. Thus the "God shaped hole". I've found something that fits mine; if you don't like it, find your own- don't try to deny the validity of mine.

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