Friday, November 14, 2008

When religion becomes cruel

I've thought a lot about the nature of reality and read a bit, to the extent that my uneducated mind can comprehend. One of the nuggets I come away with is a sense of scale. We live at a scale where certain physical laws are obeyed, and humans spent centuries decoding them. With the advent of microscopes humankind discovered that our physical presence isn't solid at all, but a collection of cells. These seem to 'obey' the physical laws that govern the macro scale. Humans searched on, to find the nature of those cells, drilled down to molecules, atoms, and subatomic particles. At these scales the 'laws' of physics appear to not apply. It's not gravity that holds the nucleus of an atom together. We see that an atom is mostly empty space, and the location of the electrons around them is a matter of probability.

How can the solid world we experience have its foundation built upon particles that may or may not be there?

When do the physical laws we know cease to apply? Perhaps physicists have already answered this and I don't understand enough to know it.

As I thought about these things, I thought about religion. I thought about the extent to which it is applied. One of the criticisms that the fundamentalist churches have of more liberal churches is that they don't take the Bible literally enough. I suppose the reasoning goes, if you're going to be a Christian, then you need to live in accordance with God's will. And the Bible is that map of God's will. And if we don't apply it literally, well then our (Originally) sinful nature will make excuses to express itself.

As a former fundamentalist I can testify to how crucial a question this is. We firmly believe in Original Sin, which is the reason Christ came to earth to be crucified in order to redeem us. If you're a fundamentalist you believe that your purpose is to live lives that are pleasing to God. You also believe that you're continually locked in a struggle with your "old sin nature" which is wily, tricky, and will assert itself given half a chance. Adhering to the Bible is the antidote to this problem. And once you get started with literal application, there is no logical place to stop.

Lovingkindness is the way that Christianity is supposed to manifest on earth. However, following a logical progression of what it means to take the Bible literally leads to a paradox--it becomes the antithesis of itself. Today I read in a post of a lesbian couple whose son is enrolled in a Christian school. Noticing that one of the partners is frequently at pick-up a teacher asked if they were 'together'. A few days later the boy's mother is called into the school director's office for a 'word'. The director told her that this school has a birthday party policy--that no child can be invited to a party without everyone being invited. However, they were now changing this policy, because some of the parents may not "feel comfortable" with the boy in their homes. A 5 year old boy. They were changing this policy solely on account of this child.

When Jesus made the allegory of straining the gnat and swallowing the camel, it was precisely situations like this he was referring to. I don't know whether to be more floored at the injustice, or at the blindness of this school to what they are doing: they are changing a school policy which is meant to ensure that everyone is included, in order to EXclude a 5 year old boy. They're doing it unaware that they are swallowing the camel. They are acting as an agent of Satan, yet firmly and fervently believe they are acting according to how God would want them to act. Their hearts are hard, and hardened.

I can understand religion as a force for right-behavior, a vehicle for teaching people the kindest way to treat each other. At what point though do the 'laws' that govern Christian behavior cease to have jurisdiction and and different 'laws' apply?

Sadly, looking over Christianity's often bloody history it appears that literal application of the law results in violent ends. And it appears that lesson hasn't been learned yet.


niobe said...

...the blindness of this school to what they are doing: they are changing a school policy which is meant to ensure that everyone is included, in order to EXclude a 5 year old boy.

I hadn't thought of it this way. You've summed up the irony -- and the cruelty -- perfectly.

excavator said...

Hi, Niobe. Thanks for stopping by.

I have to give credit for my remark you quoted to Elizabeth, a commenter on your blog. She said, "the school changing their rule in order to be able to exclude a child is absolutely appalling." My remark was inspired by hers, and so was merely a riff.

As I read over the comments on your blog again to find Elizabeth's some other thoughts jumped out at me: first, the presumptuousness of the school to think for the other families. Who are they to change a policy that's meant to protect my child because of something I might or might not want? Did they ask me? Maybe I liked the policy.

What I wouldn't want is my child in that kind of educational environment because that is contrary to the values I want my child to be immersed in.