Introducing the Bird to the Cat
by The Liberator (Ordained Minister of the ULC) [March 19th, 2000]
Do religions promote thought?
I think that it is obvious that religions do not promote thought -- see below for the exceptions to this conclusion. I can draw that conclusion because when one asks a "why" question long enough within the confines of a religious discussion, sooner or later the religious people involved get irked. When proof of fantastical claims is even hinted at, religious people seemingly get offended. Why? It's because many facets of religion are inherently rooted in non-questioning, called 'faith.'
Religious beliefs are passed down, generation to generation, without the ability for the recipients to question them because that is the framework in which in rests. Is this healthy? Does this allow us to come to the best understanding of the universe? Is this a method for gathering meaning and/or purpose? What message does this send to the recipients when our society so desperately needs problem solvers and critical thinkers in every area of life -- spirituality unexempt?
I'm not mentioning my point of view to perturb devout religious readers, but to shed light on the dynamic between science-centered thinking and faith-centered non-questioning. The two views appear to be at war with each other. There certainly is friction. However religion, in my view, needs a strong element of questioning added to it because the ability to freely ask questions is freedom of thought and hinges on freedom of religion. Even The United States Constitution does not prohibit the free exercise of religion. Why should religions do it to its practitioners?
When problems occur, over any topic or situation, the problem is likely to be solved by those who were once allowed to ask questions. Consequently, they understand how things really work. When a similar problem is thrown in the laps of those who have been cultured by non-questioning, are they equally likely to solve the problem? I would guess that it is less likely. This suggests that practical functionality must be a component of religion.
We must accept that religions do change over time. This should be easy to do in light of the Pope recently asking us to forgive the church for its past evils. Keeping that in mind, if I were a proponent of any particular faith, I would want my faith to change in such away that it actually improved. In a culture geared toward non-questioning, what chance does my religion stand to improve? Created by men, religions need to be molded by thinkers who can mutate them to solve the problems and situations of our time. We want these religious thinkers to have the freedom to alter our belief systems in such a way that these changes will have the broadest positive impact on us and future generations. We owe it to ourselves and to our children.
What does the alternative look like if we allow a non-questioning belief system to continue unchecked?
It is my point of view that if organized religions are to ascend into maturity, they would have to learn how to incorporate a true sense of religious freedom. It is certainly clear that this is no easy task, since the role of religion is to, in part, gather people together under a tightly woven umbrella to give them a common spiritual fabric. Allowing people to speculate on religious tenants is risky business. This spoils the dogma and actually attacks the whole notion of dogma, which is so dear to religion. Nevertheless, it must be done.
What happens if religions continue to be non-question based?
The population is split by a mental dichotomy. They are split in a sense by the two major institutions in their lives and the differing methods each one promotes. They spend nearly half of the calendar year in schools that foster creativity and thought. They spend a fewer number of hours in churches that praise a non-questioning belief system. Even though the proportion of time in church is small, the social impact on and from family is still strong.
When people inevitably encounter problems, there is a dilemma. Should they have faith that these problems will go away or should they instinctively roll up their sleeves to tackle the problem? It's that simple. Religion must teach people about creativity and how to question, along with schools. It must be practical else it will eventually die of its own volition.
Sure, religions are about social context: learning how to get along. But why must it deny its practitioners the right to question? Why must it have such a huge amount of complacency centered at its core? Ironically, if more religious people were aware of this, many of them would be making the same points mentioned here. However, getting out of that mode of complacency requires the ability to freely question, which religious institutions -- in general -- squash early.
Donning the colorful robes.
We can persist making extremely ornamental churches. Yes, I enjoy the view. We can allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by the incense and impressed by the shiny, fancy chalices. I like the way they look too. We can even go along with the plan and follow the ritual: stand up, sit down, kneel, and pass the basket. At this point, my ability to coalesce ends. The show has to end when I finally determine that my creativity and right to ponder my own independent thoughts feels stifled.
I would opt for a more practical religion that is bare-bones but is also helpful on many levels. The populace must not be getting this because church attendance is down. The old way is not working anymore. It's time for a change. What is there to fear, save for the literal belief in religious anecdotes?
Knowledge is an interesting thing. When two or more branches come together in the mind, there is a certain "ah" that we internalize. One branch compliments the other. It is much like wearing matching jewelry or color-coordinated clothes. It feels right. Religions could stand to use some redecorating by introducing it to a enormous splash of religious freedom that includes the ability to ask questions. The right to ask them has always been there, but every time it's exercised, practitioners have been conditioned away from it with a ruler-slap on the knuckles.
Welcoming the paradigm shift.
A few religious institutions play with the notion of creativity and the free exchange of thought, but hardly any of them embrace this adequately enough or do it any justice at all. Hence, I have had religious disappointment for years, in fact almost my whole life. I abandoned it entirely for a long time and called myself an atheist as a result! This went on until I encountered The Universal Life Church.
The ULC is like no other church. There's no official walls. There's no strict doctrine, no dogma to inhibit spiritual creativity. In fact, people of all religious faiths, even non-faiths, are welcome. It's absolutely beautiful because it's so revolutionary. Imagine the creativity a diverse set of believers, and non-believers, could do for one another. It is like no other religious 'institution' in existence.
I welcome you to take a peek at the ULC. There's a website at http://www.ulc.org and a newsgroup at alt.religion.universal-life that are worthy of further inspection. I must warn you that you will not recognize the ULC by the typical collection baskets, lessons of guilt and the beating of the proverbial drums in the name of increased church attendance. You will recognize it by the uniqueness that groups people from all different belief systems, even those who maintain a firm grasp on science and the scientific method. Maybe churches like the ULC can put an end to parroting and foster religious freedom.
Note: There are exceptions to the statement that religions do not promote thought. Judaism has a tradition since its inception of questioning everything, including the existence of god. Islam had a great tradition of study of the natural world, based on the premise that it was god's creation, and that working towards understanding it was in itself a form of devotion. Medicine, astronomy, physics and especially mathematics were far more advanced in the Ottoman Empire than they were in Europe, where thought was tragically stunted by the church's demand for obedience. Not all religions demand ignorance.
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