In Defense Of Religion, Part I
All cultures, to my knowledge, strove to convey and control the experience of transcendence, and to name it. The follies and tragedies we humans commit against ourselves and others would seem to belie, belittle, or invalidate attempts to reach and understand the divine, but religion is an indication that we're trying to become more than animals, and are succeeding. While we're still sandwiched tightly between the sacred and the profane, those persistent struggles to find god are actually testimonies that one might exist.
We are all seekers, and even if inactive or atheistic we all confront the mystery of good and evil when we undergo bodily suffering, psychic pain, or loss, and when we genuinely express love or feel its overarching power. Many voices echo from the past, doing their best to honor this mystery and its nature, and the traditions of the major religions all set down principles of ethics which would help us live together and draw out better societies.
The resulting codes of ethics and senses of morals are strikingly similar, and in their basic precepts, they got it right. Although we often fail to do what we should, we come from traditions which contemplated over the basic questions of life and came up with the right answers. We have that much in common, and I try to remember that when someone asks if I have accepted Jesus into my life. Yes, but not for a distorted doctrine which redeems the irredeemable and excuses all manner of pomposity.
Tolerating differing beliefs, so critical a component for the world we hope to build, is a balancing act of respecting their wellsprings and gently but firmly pushing back when they flow too heavily upon the commons, one which newly encompasses not a lazy river or a village green but the entire earth. A path to tolerance is to listen to the other sources of belief and learn about them, and to consider lives in other societies which are unlike our own. Can the differing codas be reconciled, in a practical sense, now that distance has shrunk and we're so intertwined?
I think it's possible, but requires a great deal of luck in leaders, ones who believe a certainty in knowing god's will for application of policy is extremely dangerous. If there is an impulse to fight without reservation, it is religious certainty in government, deeply underscored by menaces recent and present. Governments always try to convert religion into civic religion, but the goals of the theocratic-leaning state show a strong tendency to diverge from the goals of the divine. We're far more likely to find god in what we don't know, and there will always be plenty of that.