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Tolerating Imperfection

It wasn’t too long ago that I came upon an evangelism worksheet that posed the following question: if God is perfection, where in this 2-d space would you place yourself? With each subsequent question and scenario, the reader was supposed to draw stick figures. Pretty soon, the scenario became pretty predictable: there was an unbridgeable gap between you and God. The message? You deserved to burn in Hell forever, of course.

atheist_hell

Humanists approach the question of perfection differently. Contrary to popular accusation, we do not celebrate the fact that we are not perfect people. In fact, many of us will admit that the world is a dark place. Our minds are irrational, our societies are broken, and sometimes we do horrible things to each other. Indeed, we should fight for change.

Instead, humanists approach imperfection with a degree of proportion. You said a bad word when you were seven? You stole some money when you were eight? You shouldn’t have done it, but humanists don’t think you deserve to go to Hell.

We also see things in terms of the sentient creatures that are involved and what beings can be harmed, not in absolute theological terms. You think that contraception and/or gay sex is a sin? We beg to differ.

We recognize that rational pursuit of the goal to become better people means we should think critically about justice and punishment. We have to understand there are diminishing returns to enforcing moral values, and that telling people they will face much more “justice” than they deserve is downright cruel.

Vocabulary is tricky. I guess the idea I’m promoting isn’t that we should accept our imperfection and do nothing about it. It’s that we should tolerate them. It’s that we should approach them rationally in accordance with the principle of a compassionate understanding of human limitations.

Of course, you can read and think about this all you like, but there’s nothing like a Tim Minchin song to sum up the ethos of this post:

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Imagine a World Where…

Humbled by God, or Not.

As you all know, this a great blog with no secular bias whatsoever, which is exactly why I want to show you the religious perspective on inspiration. My last post demonstrated the incomprehensible size of stars and how they should humble us, but this is how Christians view the exact same thing:

So he gets a nice sinking feel, huh? And all our false feelings of importance? They come from sin, right?

Remember that this is coming from a religion that for centuries insisted that we really were at the center of the Universe, that we were really the special creation of God completely separate from animals, that everything was tweaked just right for human life.

But let us forget about that. The guy is a Christian, and he claims to be humbled by the awesome size of stars in the Universe.

He’s so incredibly humbled that he, while holding the Bible in one hand, can probably answer the following:

1. Whether God certainly exists or not.

2. How many Gods there are.

3. Whether this God cares about what happens in some negligible nanoscopic alley in the Universe.

4. Which God, out of the millions that humans have believed, is the one true God.

5. Whether or not God really chose to save us by sending Jesus to some backwards part of the Middle East.

6. Whether there is an afterlife or not.

7. What the afterlife consists of, and what thoughts and beliefs (or rituals) you must have to get there.

8. Who you may have sex with.

9. What divine instructions God gave thousands of years ago.

10. Which parts of the Bible are literally true, and which ones are metaphor.

11. Whether God really answers prayers.


As a human being, I maintain that anyone who even remotely claims that they have the answers to some of the questions above are, at the least, extremely suspect and, at worst, complete frauds. The obvious fact, of course, is that anyone who claims to know with some clarity all or most of the answers above are claiming things that human beings cannot possibly know.

This is exactly why I don’t want to see my President having breakfast with people who make a living out of making the claims above. I especially don’t want to hear him saying how faith is about being humble and understanding the limits of your own knowledge.

The problem with faith is that it makes people so incredibly, unbelievably, astronomically, and galatically arrogant, while at the same time making them not realize it.

The inspiration of the day, therefore, comes from Carl Sagan:

We live on a hunk of rock and metal that circles a humdrum star that is one of 400 billion other stars that make up the Milky Way Galaxy which is one of billions of other galaxies which make up a universe which may be one of a very large number, perhaps an infinite number, of other universes. That is a perspective on human life and our culture that is well worth pondering.

How to tell if you aren’t serious about your religion

1. You cannot make a coherent, intelligible argument for your beliefs.

2. You don’t even attempt to do (1).

3. You are willing to let any part of your holy book become “metaphor” if that part looks morally upsetting.

4. You are willing to let any part of your holy book become “metaphor” if scientific discoveries contradict it.

5. You believe all that matters in your religion is charity and good works.

6. You think multiple religions can be true.

7. You don’t really believe in the miracles of your religion.

8. You don’t really believe in the afterlife (and how your religion says you can get there).

9. You mainly stay in your religion to reap the benefits of community and the feeling that there is something greater than you.

10. You have serious doubts about what you’ve been told by a religious leader (rabbi, priest, etc.)

11. You prioritize things in your life as if your religion isn’t true.