Thursday, January 29, 2015

Religion and the Rise of Atheism

Religion and the Rise of Atheism


Recently my friend, Lloyd Agte, forwarded an article to me asking if I wanted to weigh in on it. [1]  The article posed the question: “Will religion ever disappear?”  The author is Rachel Nuwer. It was a fairly long article so I printed it out in order to be able to mark areas I wanted to respond to specifically.  As I read the piece I thought of several of my friends who identify themselves as atheists.  I also realized my comments might end up too long for a simple email response.  So, here is my attempt to “weigh in” on the discussion.

First, here is my disclaimer.   I am a retired Unity minister whom one might expect to be biased to begin with.  That said I have over the years modified my belief systems in many respects.  I do believe in God, though my perspective is certainly different from traditionalists or fundamentalists.  I hope you will see what I mean as I proceed.

I used to argue that there are no “real” atheists.  They were simply folks who did not believe in God by that name or characteristics.  Surely they believed in the Cosmos, the “greater than I” aspect of self, or some other concept of life that most persons would include in the broad definition of God.  Generally speaking, most atheists do not believe in some form of life after death, no divine plan that is responsible for the unseen order of all that is.  For those persons there is one shot at life and this is it.  Oblivion follows. 

While the article points out that atheism is growing, both in sheer numbers as well as a percentage of the world population, it is still a relatively small population.  Should such growth continue, one could postulate that religion, as we know it would eventually disappear.  Of course, the reverse could be true as well, given the proclivity of “believers” to hold on to their faith.

In the course of my education I was introduced to a definition of religion in its simplest of form.  Religion is a system of beliefs.  Interpreted most broadly this could cover almost every conceivable set of beliefs one might subscribe to, including atheists.  Their “system of beliefs” would include such things as one life to live, nature as a system of adaptations supported by scientific principles.  Indeed, science would be the cause celebre for explaining the physical world and all of its forces.

The article also pointed out that religion’s appeal is that it offers security in an uncertain world.  So, the more secure and satisfying the world appears to be, the less need for the support offered by religion and the greater tendency to see scientific thought/principles as the reason for the way things are.  I was reminded at this point of early humankind who placed great emphasis on “gods” of nature; the movement of stars in the skies, the rotation of the seasons, and eventually the understanding of development through evolution.  Icons were developed representing these unseen forces that appeared to bring order and security (or the lack of it when necessary to correct the faulty behavior of humankind).

The author indicates that in countries “where the majority of citizens have European roots are all places where religion was important just a century ago, but that now report some of the lowest belief rates in the world . . . People are less scared about what might befall them.”  She goes on to say, “As climate change wreaks havoc on the world in coming years and natural resources potentially grow scarce, then suffering and hardship could fuel religiosity.” 

One of the principles the author shares has to do neuropsychology of the species.  This principle states that we have two basic forms of thought:  System 1 and System 2.  System 2 evolved relatively recently and enables us to plan and think logically.  System 1 is intuitive, instinctual and automatic.  What this suggests to me is that we are born with System 1 operating for all of us no matter the circumstances or location of our birth. “It makes us prone to looking for patterns to better understand our world, and to seek meaning for seemingly random events like natural disasters and the death of loved ones.”  There is more in the development of this concept in the article, which I will leave for you to read on your own.

It seems to me that we might conclude, at least for now, that religion developed in the pre-science period where explanations for the world came mostly from the natural, intuitive nature.  A system of beliefs developed and modified over time based on a faith in things unseen, but taken as true for lack of any other explanation.  As scientific knowledge grew a new set of explanations came about that for some seemed in opposition to religious beliefs.  This is the crux of the matter.  Is religion/atheism a simple case of either/or?

For me the conflict exists due to the distortions of religious systems based on controlling the masses and bending their independent will to the “higher authority” represented by the church.  If you are going to believe the world (our earth and everything that ever existed on it) came about in all its glory in seven days, you are unlikely to ever accept any other explanation regardless of the demonstrated reality of modern scientific methods.  Most religions long ago resolved, at least in part, what appeared to be a contradiction between religion and science.  Again, for me, the problem of religion comes about through the absolutism of Fundamentalism, which today seems to be growing, especially among the religious right.  Is this the result of the uncertainty existent in our world today—economically, environmentally, and physically?  I would argue that it is.

Finally, I distinguish between religion and spirituality.  Religion, as a system of beliefs, may exist independently of one’s spirituality.  Religion requires persons to subscribe to a set of principles and codes, often at odds with the way the world works today. It excludes those who do not subscribe to the “rules.”  Spirituality, on the other hand subscribes to few, if any, codes of conduct or religious practices.  Spirituality is a view that is inclusive rather than exclusive.  It is intuitive in nature.  Rather than seeking hard and fast rules, it operates as a blending force that sees all things as part of something greater.  The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

In a world that appears often to be out of control, hurtling toward oblivion, persons may tend to defer to the concept of a “god” ultimately taking care of us when we realize we cannot take care of ourselves.  I would like to go on here about children and their natural tendency to believe they are taken care of.  This goes beyond the care of parents. I believe they intuitively know they have come from and are heading toward something greater than themselves, but which INCLUDES them.

The author’s conclusion is that “even if we lose sight of the Christian, Muslim and Hindu gods and all the rest, superstitions and spiritualism will almost certainly still prevail.  Humans need comfort in the face of pain and suffering, and many need to think that there’s something more after this life, that they’re loved by an invisible being.”  I do not subscribe to the “invisible being” concept.  I subscribe to the principle of All That Is as an interconnected, omnipresent essence in all and through all that embraces us and responds to us according to our beliefs and actions.

I hope you will take the time to read the article by Rachel Nuwer footnoted at the end of this article.


Friday, December 19, 2014

Running With Wild Women, Revisited



I originally wrote this article back in July 2012 after I finished reading: Wild:  Lost and Found on the Pacific Crest Trail.  I have just come from watching the movie based on the Cheryl Strayed book.  I hope you will read this reprint and then the postscript that follows in which I briefly share my review of the movie.

Running With Wild Women!—July 2012

Okay, okay, so it’s just a catchy title that I hope will interest you enough to read on a bit.  However, this is about what some would consider as wild women!

In recent years I have read several books that especially interested me.  Both were written by, for and/or about women.  The first book was Women Who Run With the Wolves, by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, PhD (Ballantine Books).  It is about the myths and stories of the wild woman archetype and was so interesting to me that I have probably at least 50 pages flagged and I made copious notes that practically amounted to another book.  In its over 500 pages I gained wonderful insights to the feminine nature and the quest for meaning and empowerment.  This was important to me because I have felt the strong feminine in myself through the years.  Sometimes it expresses as the tender, loving nature that is so nurturing in its expression.  Other times what I experience is the intuitive and mystical aspect that so symbolizes women to me.
 
The other book that I just finished is Wild: From Lost to Found On the Pacific Crest Trail, by Cheryl Strayed (Knopf).  This book is also about finding one’s self, particularly as a woman.  This local Portland author set out alone to hike the Pacific Crest Trail which she describes as, “A world that measures two feet wide by 2663 miles long,” stretching from the Mexican border on the south to Canada on the north.

Her almost unbelievable journey would test the endurance and resolve of the hardiest of trekkers.  While I could imagine making such a journey, reality quickly sets in with the realization that even in my most fit years I could never have made it.  But what is interesting to me is that I could vicariously identify with the author almost step by step.  Even though the story is largely about a woman finding her strength in a world of men, it is also about anyone’s journey into self.  It is about moments in life that include highs and lows.  It is about relationships.  It is about doing things that detract from who we really are but with the redeeming actions that put the lessons in their proper place within the life journey as a whole.  Finally, it is about empowerment whether you are a woman or man seeking the self.

With the turning of the pages each describing some particular challenge along the path, I would think of people I know who I felt could also identify with this journey, or who I think would at least enjoy the accomplishments recorded day by day.  Maybe these thoughts are representative of the old saying that if you find yourself wishing some other person in your life could know this, it is really you that needs the experience.  I can accept that, but still, there are people I know and love that I wish could share this journey, perhaps with the realization that we are on that journey together. 

So often, particularly in close relationships, things begin to be taken for granted.  In that period something is lost in those relationships because expectations begin to diverge almost unnoticed until you find yourself on a different path all together.  The author volitionally chose the most difficult path one could imagine.  On that path she found herself.  She discovered the roots and development of her relationships, particularly with her mother and siblings, but also with others in her life.

Her story telling about the trek is richly enhanced by her flashbacks along the way to events in her life.  Most of these flashbacks involve her mother who died before her 50th birthday and the difficulty of reconciling her loss with feelings of “unfinished business.”  She also tells us of her drug experiences, her sometimes reckless sexual adventures, her marriage and the divorce that framed another part of the reason for her trek.  While much of her journey is done very much alone, there are others she meets along the way.  As she describes these meetings, some challenging or threatening, you see how she is able to weave them into the unfolding understanding of her self. 

It was a deeply emotional experience for the author, and for me as her reader.  She mentioned at one point in the journey how she would not let herself cry.  It was also true that there was often not enough moisture in her body to provide tears.  When she finally reached the Bridge of the Gods that crossed the Columbia River at Cascade Locks and after she allowed herself the pleasure of an ice cream cone that left her with only 20 cents to her name, she cried.  They were tears of exhilaration, not those of exhaustion.  She had accomplished what she had set out to do.  She had begun not knowing for sure why, but ending it knowing who she was and totally empowered as one of those special wild women!
Reese Witherspoon as Cheryl Strayed
I have waited for this movie with eager anticipation since I first heard that it would be made.  I have followed the author’s Facebook page hoping for news.  I enjoyed the movie in most every respect.  To some extent I could fill in parts of the story not carried into the film, but for the most part it well documents the author’s journey of self-discovery and acceptance.  I hope you will see it, especially if you like the outdoors, but more if you find satisfaction in stories of how individuals bring meaning to their lives.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Before the Sun Sets



On Friday, October 31, 2014 I received word from my brother-in-law, Robert Kruse, that my sister, Lucille, had passed on February 15.  She would have been 87 this year.  Long issues with skin cancer from over exposure to the sun finally took its toll.

My sister and my brother, Frank, who was 11 years older than I, were my childhood idols as you might imagine.  Frank was the older brother every child would want.  Lucille was the most beautiful girl/woman in the world (to me).  I never got to be as close to either of them as I would have liked, since the age difference from me placed them in a different circle of friends and relatives.  They were closer to my cousins in age.

From what I was told by my mother in later years of my adult life, Lucille doted on me and did much of the caring for me.  I clearly remember how close I felt to her.  After she left home and married the opportunities to get together with her and her family were rare, but always memorable.  My family drove the Alaskan Highway in 1965 to visit them in Anchorage while Bob was stationed there in the Air Force. 

Lucille was not really interested in maintaining close relationships with family members and had made that clear through the years.  I like to feel I was the one exception she made to that preference.  Certainly, whenever we were together it was a wonderful time.  My last visit with her and Bob was several years ago on one of my trips to Tucson to visit my son and his family.  They had a lovely home in the Phoenix area.  We enjoyed great conversation getting up to date on our lives.

Sometime after that Lucille and I had a falling out over what I now realize was a petty difference of interests.  We had no communication of any kind following that event.
The reason I even found out about her death was that in cleaning out my file cabinet I discovered my folder of correspondence with her from a few years before.  I had copies of all her letters to me and those to my mother prior to her passing in 2002.  I re-read every one of them and realized how much she had cared about mom’s well-being in her last years and how warm her correspondence was with me.  I knew without a doubt that I had to write and apologize for my disrespecting her priorities regarding family interests.  Somehow, even as I wrote that final letter to her, I felt it was going to be too late.  It was.  My heart is broken for failing to realize how important our relationship was and how unfortunate it was to not have healed our wounds sooner.

 In the letter Bob wrote to me he recounted how special I was to Lucille and how much she had cared about me.  I cared as much for her.  Yet here I came to the point of realizing the need to ask her forgiveness too late.  I know that there will always be a connection with Lucille, and I feel our healing will, in fact and in truth, be realized.  But I must admit through streaming tears, I wish it could have been here and now.

My point, dear readers, is: “Be ye angry, and sin not:  let not the sun go down on your wrath.” (Ephesians 4:26 KJV) I have often heard this statement in one form or another.  I have not always found it possible to rise to the occasion of implementing that advice.  Perhaps in my sharing of this personal experience each of us, including me, can find the will, the love and the wisdom to forgive and accept forgiveness offered.




Sunday, October 5, 2014

The Wonderful Oregon Cascade Mountains (Revised)

I recently completed a two-day trip from Dallas, Oregon to Sisters, Redmond, Bend and then back through Sisters traveling the old McKenzie Highway 242. Then I headed north on Hwy 126 to Hwy 20 and then to Sweet Home, Lebanon, Albany and home.

Thanks to a gift from my son several years ago I had a digital camera that should have made it possible to take excellent photos to document my adventure. Unfortunately, one needs a steadier hand and an ability to understand what the camera icons were all about in order to produce the best quality. (Yes, I read the instruction book. Memory fades more quickly these days so it didn’t really help.)

However, after taking nearly 100 photos I have selected the better ones for a slide show so you can travel along with me. I will not try to give you a photo-by-photo narrative. It is the picture that counts anyway. Hope you will enjoy my adventure. And, if you haven’t come to Oregon yet, you are invited to visit.

 Click here  or copy and paste the link below to your browser address line (and hopefully you will now be able to view the photos without getting "permission").

https://plus.google.com/u/0/photos/100223402481787035020/albums/6066431236788158609

Monday, September 1, 2014

Come Take A Walk With Me




Before moving to Dallas, Oregon in March 2013 one of my favorite places to take a walk was the Tualatin Hills Nature Park.  I wrote an article about those walks for this blog in July 2011. [1]  Now I have another regular trail which I take every day, weather permitting.  It takes about a half hour each morning to cover the mile and a half.  It took awhile to develop the habit of walking daily again as a part of my fitness program.  Some days the muscles and joints handle the journey more easily than at other times, but once the habit was re-established; the results for me physically were worth it.
 

The pathway along Rickreal Creek was extended for quite a way since I moved here.  Sometimes I follow the length of the trail on my bicycle and other times I take the shorter mile and a half walk.  During the summer months the stream is almost dry.  During the winter and spring rainy periods it flows heavily making the walk even more pleasurable.
  
 






I usually meet some “regulars” during the walk.  Most of the folks in my age range are walking their dogs.  The younger folks, of course, are getting a jog in before heading to work.



 





LaCreole Drive runs north/south.  (It took me a month of Sundays to get my bearings as to direction!)  It still seems that south is west.  My walk takes me south on LaCreole past the middle school and down to the Dallas Aquatic Center and park.  To vary my walk I sometimes go around the ball park and aquatic center, under the bridge and then back home.
 
So this is part of my effort of seeking to stay as fit as I can, at least in terms of those things I can actually do something about.  I also participate in the Silver Sneakers fitness program twice a week.  It is not as good as the program I took under the tutelage of Jacqueline Sinke at the Stuhr Senior Center in Beaverton, but it keeps me moving.

Home at last.  Thanks for walking with me this morning!