Friday, November 30, 2012

I've been thinking...

Before I write anything else, some disclaimers. First, I never, ever, ever, ever want to give the impression that I think I am perfect or know anything more than anyone else. Far from it. What I have to say is my opinion. That's it. I don't expect you to agree; it's just the way I see things. Second, the things I'm saying don't apply to everyone. Because, of course, generalizing about people is basically impossible. What I'm talking about just applies to the very vocal minorities with whom I happen to disagree. A lot.
I grew up Christian, and even though my family pretty much stopped going to church by the time I got to high school, I still mostly have maintained my Christian beliefs and values. But lately I haven't been seeing as much of what I always thought Christianity was about, and since I got to college I've been having a hard time believing what I always thought I believed in.
Our country is so unbelievably divided. Not just politically, but religiously, too. It's not just the Liberals vs. the Conservatives; it's the Christians vs. the Muslims vs. the Jews vs. the Atheists. It's "Us" vs. "Them" on all accounts. Maybe it's because of our individualistic culture, but whatever the reason, it's a battle of ideologies in which no one is willing to move an inch. It doesn't even seem to be about beliefs anymore. It's about titles. It's about doctrines. And I just don't think that's how it should work. Church leaders battling about which particular doctrine is better seems to be an utter mockery of what Christ must have envisioned for his people.
I have no intention of being at all judgmental. That would be profoundly hypocritical. But I honestly don't understand how Christians can call themselves true, loving followers of Christ when they pit themselves so pugnaciously against non-Christians and against Christians of other denominations. There is no way to be a loving neighbor when you see the world as us vs. them instead of simply a universal we.
The fundamental basis of essentially every religion is love of all people. Not "love of all people unless they're different from me." Or "love of all people unless I disagree with them." Love of ALL people. And it's hard to love someone when you're too concerned about shouting them into compliance with your beliefs. Part of being a loving Christian (or simply a loving human being) is being understanding and accommodating of other people's beliefs, lifestyles, and worldviews. Differences aren't sins. They're human.
I want to throw out a "controversial" statement: believing in God and believing in science are not mutually exclusive terms. Whoa. I know. But why can't it be that God made science? Why do those have to be separate entities? The Bible was written 2000+ years ago, when we didn't understand germs or the shape of the Earth, let a lone the structure of the universe or the way the human brain works. It's not that I doubt that the events happened. I just think that, in context, scientific discoveries can be a wonderful supplement to what's written in the Bible. The writers needed a way to explain the world around them, in much the same way as the Greeks and Romans did when they wrote their mythology. Albert Einstein (who was Jewish) always claimed that the reason he wanted to study science was so that he could better understand God. That seems to me like a wonderfully logical reason for inquiry. The fact that we've come so far in our scientific understanding should be a sign that we further understand our God and the world He created. And isn't that a wonderful thing?
The Dalai Lama says, "If scientific analysis were conclusively to demonstrate certain claims in Buddhism to be false, then we must accept the findings of science and abandon those claims." If the Dalai Lama can say this about Buddhism, what's stopping us from saying it about Christianity? It's a futile struggle to try and ignore things proven to be true just to avoid admitting being wrong. It doesn't make anything better. It just makes everyone frustrated.
Look at our view of the universe. We've (almost) universally accepted the fact that the Earth is a sphere, not flat. We've accepted the fact that disease is caused by germs, not by demons. We've accepted the fact that the Sun is the center of the solar system, not the Earth. There was a time when saying those things would warrant excommunication or even execution. Now it seems silly to think otherwise. Where would we be if we denied basic scientific evidence for the sake of preserving something that wasn't intended to be preserved? We wouldn't be exploring Mars, our lifespans would be half as long, and you probably wouldn't be reading this on the Internet. We would be living at such a miniscule portion of our potential, and I'm sure that would sadden God far more than saying that the material of which the Earth is made came from stars. Anything that doesn't accept change is condemning itself to death. Languages, religions, empires, species of animals (humans included), all subject to crumble into nothing if they are unable or unwilling to account for natural changes. Our view of the universe has already changed. It doesn't seem right to stop changing it now, when scientific discovery is growing more rapidly than it ever has before.
Take these words from the Buddha: "Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it."
In short, just think. Think about what something means. Think about where it came from. Think about the context in which it was conceived. Think about where you heard it. Don't agree? Then don't agree. There's no reason to contort your brain around something that doesn't fit with your beliefs. I know I'm talking about Christianity and using examples from Buddhism, but that's not what's important. What's important is the sentiment.
Neither of my sisters consider themselves Christian. And yet, they both lead such beautiful, kind-hearted lives that any Christian would be hard-pressed to condemn them. I can't see how any God would condemn them, either. I'm hard-pressed to follow a religion that says that, because my sisters don't call themselves Christians, they don't get to heaven, even though they lead far more "Christian" lives than so many others who feel benefitted by the title. So my question is this: why is it all about the titles when it should be about the way we live and love others? This isn't Republican or Democrat or Christian or Atheist. This is human.