Saturday, May 10, 2008

Things That Will Kill You: Plastic Packaging

Babies eating plastic bags? Nope, they claim the packaging contaminates the food...

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Erica The Dictator On Religion

For over a decade now I've playfully toyed with the idea that one day I'd become dictator for the purpose of evaluating whether certain political or sociological ideas would work for the masses rather than just evaluating them at an individual level. Silly, but it makes the exercise fun and allows me to sneak "when I become dictator" into conversation.

Now that I've completed PaulHarrison1976's videos on The Word of Faith Movement and Prosperity Gospel and moved onto the Faith Healing and Televangelism Series I've started thinking about religion as if I was the dictator. How would I rule?

As a person with a feeling that there's a small chance (less than 50%) that there's a non-personal god out there somewhere ruling on religion is hard. I'm sure Dawkins and Hitchens would just turn churches into museums and teach religion as a fictional, silly thing we used to believe in before science came along with REAL answers.

But I recognize in friends and family a real NEED for religion. My Mom was turned off by the church's greed and stopped going for 20 years because of it. But she always believed and tried hard to raise me as a believer as well. But it just never made sense to me. While she found comfort in religion's answers that required faith, and a plan, and the fallback of "tests" when it all seemed to come crashing down, I just couldn't get over the inconsistencies. As she found comfort in Him watching over her at all times, it felt creepy to me. And she found ways around the uncomfortable parts like her belief (against the church) that all good people go to heaven, not just the ones who go to church and believe in Jesus and all that.

Because of our seemingly innate differences in reaction to religion and hearing the stories of friends and strangers like PaulHarrison1976 online as well as reading some of the research coming out about finding ares of the brain linked to belief and religious experiences, I've come to build a hypothesis that religion cannot be done away with. Some people need it, so clearly something besides abolishing it must be done.

So do I choose a religion for everyone to go with? Invent one? Allow total freedom for all religions?

Looking beyond the individual and focusing on society as a whole, I do see organized religion as a problem. Here I can only talk about Christianity because it's all I have any experience with, but from what I've seen it appears to relate to all. The foundation of organized religion -those ideas you think about first are often: "Love thy neighbor", "Do unto others as you'd have done unto you", "Honor thy mother and father", "Thou shall not kill", and so on. All good messages, of use to any society, non-exclusionary, and fairly universally agreed upon.

It's not until you get to religious organizations that you start getting to the more troublesome aspects of religion: pressure to recruit new members, asserting that THEY are the only true faith and others will be eternally punished, and the false assertion that they know the mind of God (Pope John Paul said there WAS a "limbo", the new guy says there's not -did God change his mind? is one of them wrong and therefore not really talking to God? or has it always been more about their own personal opinions and no one really knows the true mind of God?).

So, I've recently realized that it's that hierarchy that I have an issue with. Once you put a person at the front of the congregation speaking FOR God you've given that person some power because, generally, the people who attend church go to hear the sermon and never cross-check what they hear in that big book with the funny words. Even I tried to sit down and read it, but I didn't get farther than the 2nd creation story. The language in Shakespeare doesn't bother me, but add to it the fact that I just couldn't make much sense out of the stories and my interest faded fast. Even if a person reads the Bible and listens to the preacher, they're more likely to believe the preacher than the book because they are likely to not have much confidence in their reading comprehension as far as the Bible goes, and because he's had years in seminary school to pour over the text and learn about the different translations, etc.

And if the man in the front of the room has power, what about Cardinals and Popes? And what about the money that it takes for this non-profit organization to employ not only that preacher, but that Cardinal, Pope, school, etc. They need a lot of donations to keep their organization running. And that drives the need for membership via "Soul Saving", and the fear that if your friends and family are of a different faith, then you won't be seeing them in the afterlife, they'll be burning in hell (unless, of course, you recruit them).

And that's why religion is unsavory to me, but what's the fix? A non-hierarchal religion of some sort where the power lies in the individual instead of the organization. PaulHarrison1976 is starting to look into the Unitarian Universalist church which, from his description, sounds like a very cool and very nice answer to this question. It's a church that's run like a Democracy that allows individuals to take what works for them in the Christian and/or Jewish tradition, and add or subtract other ideas to their liking. Each person's personal beliefs are respected. Now that sounds more like "Love thy neighbor" doesn't it?

So, to sum up: When I become Dictator, you'll get to choose between Atheism, Agnosticism, or the UUA. I've spoken ;-).

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

My (Experiences With) Religion

I've been listening to / watching PaulHarrison1976's videos on YouTube lately and have found them VERY interesting. He's recently gone from being religious to non-religious and he has shared some pretty personal information about how difficult the transition can be and how lost he is without the culture of religion even though he no longer believes the metaphysical part of it. This jives with my previously formed hypothesis about being religious being something innate in a person -perhaps and aspect of their personality or something. And it's led me to wonder about my own feelings on religion and why it is that while I generally don't believe in Ggod, it doesn't cause me despair. And what about that curiosity that creeps up every once in awhile -that feeling like maybe there is something out there. I guess that in reality I haven't quite excluded the possibility. So, I figured I'd delve into that here, kinda free-form. A stream of consciousness. We'll see what the result will be...

I was baptized Catholic (I'm pretty sure that's what it was) when I was just a baby, but if I ever went to church I don't remember it. As a child I remember my Mom having me say the Lord's Prayer before bed at night as well as sometimes blessing people or asking for something or thanking Him for something else. It all didn't mean much to me as far as I remember it puzzled me, it was a chore, something I just had to do before going to bed -like brushing my teeth.

Somewhere along the line the question of going to church was brought up and I remember my Mom saying that they used to go and that it was good to go, but that they had stopped because the church was more concerned about getting their money than whatever it was my parents thought they should be doing and that it had turned them off. I think that made an impression on me. It made sense and it proved that the bedtime prayers that had stopped and started and eventually petered of entirely were kindof silly or at least part of something that had faults other than delaying my bedtime story.

This all happened before school or while I was in the lower half of K-6 as far as I know. After that there was little talk of religion at home except in the context of Native American spirituality. It's odd because that sounds very hippie-ish, but I was raised in a Rush Limbaugh-loving, ultra right-wing, had a brush with the NWO people, Conservative household. But my Dad owned a copy of "Touch The Earth" and I was enthralled by it. The passages that had to do with spirituality really spoke to me and they were often the ones my Dad had marked in his copy. Most of my reading was done alone, but we'd speak of it from time to time and I remember my Dad confiding in me that his spiritual experiences were more like they were described in Touch The Earth -he felt that killing animals for sport was wrong as in a crime against creation, and he said that while he kept his spirituality to himself just like his Dad did he was taught to give thanks (silently, in his head) when he hunted and killed an animal that was meant to be food. This was a very emotional conversation for me to have with my Dad, so this struck me as much more real than the repeating of words that didn't really make much sense to me before going to bed (Our Father, who art? in heaven, hallowed? be thy name...)

Somewhere in Junior High or early high school a friend of mine became Baptist. It was an overnight change and what it meant to her was that she was no longer allowed to wear jeans -she could only wear skirts or dresses that came down past her knees. She complained at first, then started to accept it. One day she invited me to her church for some event. I said ok, and when we arrived I was put into a small room with maybe 6 other kids and they started telling us about how great the Bible was and read us some passages. I don't know how long it went on, but there were several groups of kids in several rooms doing the same thing. I remember feeling trapped, and feeling much like he was trying to sell me something that I could see right through. When he was done he explained that there would be a big talk afterwards and that we'd have a chance to be Baptized right there if we wanted to take Jesus into our hearts and be Saved today.

We were let out, and sat there and listed to another person ramble on about how important Jesus was and I remember at least one kid being Baptized that day. They had him change into some plastic clothes and they dunked him into a big tank of water in front of everyone. At the time I even knew how wrong it was to ask of kids (under 18) to make a life decision of the magnitude they were talking about (you're making a promise to God that you'll dedicate your life to him and serve him and...). Those who didn't get Baptized were pressured to verbally promise to take Jesus as our personal God and savior. I reluctantly took that promise and still regret it to this day because I didn't mean it and I feel promises are sacred -I was pressured into betraying myself and that's inexcusable to me.

In high school I started wondering about Ggod and religion again as I made friends who went to church and others who believed in other things (Ouija boards, crystals, tarot, etc). The question started being asked -What do I believe?

That question was hard to answer. I was never given a name for Native American spirituality and that evoked images of rain gods, and wood elves, and who-knows-what anyway. Besides, Indians weren't cool... So, I started picking up crystals, playing with my Ouija board (and had some interesting results!). I picked up enough to pass with that crowd and no more. I liked the crystals, they were pretty, interesting from a science point of view, and it made me a part of the "alternative crowd", so I did that on and off for awhile.

During the same time period I was friends with a girl, Heather, who was Methodist and when I spent the night at her house I had to go to church with her. The first time I had visions of that Baptist church, but it turned out that their Youth Group leader was very cool with the fact that I told him flat out that I didn't really believe in the Christian God. He said that was ok and never made me feel like an outsider because of it. In fact, a few times I went with the Youth Group as a chaperone to keep an eye on some of the younger kids as they went canoeing. It was cool, but I reconsidered my beliefs because of it. In fact, I remember one of the times while canoeing the song "The God That Failed" by Metallica came into my head and I smiled thinking about how inappropriate that'd be at the time. (But I respected the group enough to keep that to myself.)

In my Sophomore year my Grandfather, who was the most important person in my life outside of my immediate family, died after 7 long years of suffering with the after-effects of a horribly debilitating stroke. This struck me hard because a few weeks earlier I had prayed for him to die. I never prayed -I didn't feel that there was a God out there that interfered with people's personal lives, but after seeing him lying in that same bed for 7 years while before the stroke he had beat me in a running race around his house I just couldn't bear to see him there, incapacitated, no longer able to eat, see, hear, sit -nothing. It just wasn't fair. But the fact that it came true made me feel strange. Awful for wanting it, happy, sad, regretful, you name it...

This lead to a brief period where I'd pray from time to time. I wrested with a name for my god because I guess I was trying to make myself feel better for stooping to that level by clearly defining the fact that it was not the Christian God that I was praying to. I ended up calling him "Gatekeeper" since that's, to me, what he was. The person who stood between this realm and what comes after... This came and went fairly quickly as it simply didn't work and made me feel silly. In college I revisited this briefly calling God "The Great Mystery" as Native Americans do. The results were the same as with "Gatekeeper": nothing but a feeling of betraying myself and reality.

So, in college there were even more people of various religious beliefs and, for varied reasons, I started feeling like there might be some sort of a spiritual messenger -a personal god that surrounded me. There were a few strange events that led me to that conclusion and with the help of a Native American friend I ended up deciding it was something like a totem animal, which I named "Little Guy" and he'd interfere in my life from time to time (odd events occured, but in retrospect they were all explainable). I toyed with this idea and attributing things to him for a year or two and then he "left", and I started calling myself an agnostic -finally putting that "silliness" behind me since I never really took it seriously to begin with. It was always kind of a nice fantasy that I knew all-along was pretend.

But in my adult life there still seems to be that undercurrent. That tiny possibility of there being something out there. I see science and life itself as awesome. I get what I assume is the same feeling some get about God when I see how well the periodic table of elements comes together or when I think that the sun is producing atoms that in turn make ME! It's amazing and it's all explained by science. That doesn't take away from it's greatness, in fact I think it ADDS to it! The fact that it all came from nothing is WAY more awesome than a God. But, on the other hand, I can't rule out a God, so I guess I leave that 1% chance there. It's a bit of mystery and, in fact, each time I hear of someone dying, I think "they know now". And that's how I think of my own death -it's the time I figure it out, what happens to us when we die?

If there's something waiting for us after death, I hope it's fair and that the creator judges what I did in my life instead of punishing me for the lack of worship. If there's nothing, then it'll be just like before I was born -nothing. Sure, it's hard to wrap your head around that, but in the end it doesn't matter. Today, this hour, this second is what matters. It's life, and it's all anyone's sure that we have!