Monday, May 23, 2011

The Rapture: Is Anybody Else Still Here?

According to sources, the Rapture was supposed to happen on Saturday where God was supposed to take the righteous to Heaven.

Either it was postponed or the righteous are thinner on the ground than one would hope.

I tease, Christians. Although most of the Christians I know were skeptical about the whole raputre thing too. Something about “not knowing the hour.”

I find most religions cool. There’s something amazing about the way we’ve found so many different and creative ways to explain the unexplainable and to give purpose to our lives. I’m not sure which--if any of them--is the One True Way, of course. I practice Buddhism myself, but the absurdist in me would love it if it was something nobody expected so Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Jews, Atheists, and the world’s other religious people could look dumbfounded at each other in the afterlife: “So the universe is actually the shell of a turtle being led by a team of mice? Didn‘t see that one coming.”

Lately I’ve been reading a lot of atheist blogs. I really like atheism. They make a great case for themselves and the appeals to reason, rationality, and skepticism really warm my heart. There’s a place for faith in the world, but blind belief is no substitute for critical thinking skills.

Some atheists go beyond arguing why atheism is good and start making claims that religion is harmful. Which is fine, except that their arguments get a little less rigorous, the terms get less operationally defined, and the tendency to use anecdotes and historical cherry-picking becomes a little stronger. If you’re going to challenge the existence of God or gods on rational, scientific, and skeptical grounds, you have to apply the same intellectual rigour to your claim that religion is harmful.

I don’t even know how you would make that kind of a study. First you have to define your terms--for example, is it religious belief that is bad or religious institutions? Do Church-Once-A-Year-For-Christmas folks count as religious? What about people who go to church for social or political reasons but don‘t really believe? What harmful behaviours do religion bring about that are not present in secular institutions? I can‘t figure out how you would isolate those variables.

But I hope they find a way.

Because while many of us with religious backgrounds tend to get defensive when atheists start attacking religion, but the more I think about it, the more I think they’re doing us a favor.

If our religion, whatever it may be, is harming people, then I think we as religious people have a duty to do something about it. I didn’t get into Buddhism to hurt myself or people around me. So if there’s something that we are doing badly, I think we should want to know about it and address those problems.

Let’s face it: many religious organizations DO have problems. Over the years we’ve made mistakes in the name of religion on both large and small scales. There’s been violence, sexual abuse, financial misconduct, mental cruelty, and bad fashion sense…the worst excesses of human nature. Worse, instead of dealing with those problems, we’ve often tried to ignore, deny, downplay, or justify them in the name of whatever we happen to believe.

That’s not okay. Bad things are still bad things. It’s easy to blame religion, but I don’t think religion is so much the cause as a convenient excuse. But there’s no excuse for some things, and no church or set of beliefs will shield us from the moral consequences of our actions.

That’s why I’m glad the louder elements of the atheist movement are there to point things out when we fall short. It would be nice if religious institutions were better at seeing their own shortcomings and policing themselves but sometimes it’s hard to stay objective when you’re on the inside.

Most religions I know of extol the value of gratitude. I think the people we should be most grateful for are the ones who see the world differently than we do, regardless of whether those differences are religious, political, or over the musical and cultural contributions of Lady Gaga. Through them, we see the world with new eyes.

That’s why I’m hoping the Rapture doesn’t happen and the Faithful aren’t taken up to Heaven.

Whether we realize it or not, we need them right here.

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