What about Religion? by P. Brannock - 2008, for Private Benefit Trust as published on politac.org
P. Brannock shares observations about the relationship between religion and philosophy.
Religion's relationship to philosophy
Religion is a part of the life philosophy of some, while being the entire life philosophy of others. In the case of atheists, religion is argued by some to be none of their life philosophy. However, it seems that a number of atheists pursue the denial of the existence of God with such dogmatic zeal, that their atheism appears to take on certain aspects of blind devotion to their negative belief about God to the exclusion of reasonable consideration of the subject matter.
Some argue that any consideration of the existence of God defies reason, in and of itself, on the basis of the underlying premise that the existence of God is neither ascertainable nor relevant. Some believe that the definition of God, itself, defies the possibility of its existence in reality.
We recognize that the subject matter warrants scrutiny and respectful attention.
The philosophical choice of religion
Generally speaking, the subject matter of religion is the origin and nature and purpose of the universe, and our relationship and moral duties and obligations to it, to each other, and to any creator. Clearly, these are philosophical questions, touching on metaphysics, (the study of reality) and ethics, (the study of moral values and right and wrong). The metaphysical and ethical issues inherent in this subject matter cannot be properly addressed without the employment of some form of epistemology, (the study of knowledge) and logic, (the study of reasoning). Ultimately, all of the above will inspire aesthetics, (the study of art and beauty) appropriate to the conclusions and motivational outcome of the foregoing.
The adoption of some form of religion or exclusion of any form of religion is clearly a philosophical choice. We do not believe that all possible choices in this area are equal in their beneficial merits because they are not equal in their consistency with what we know and understand about reality and what is most consistent with the preservation and improvement of our lives.
The choice of a church
It seems clear to most, for example, that a choice to integrate a religion into one's life that subscribes to the belief that the universe was created by a particular 3 year old Goodyear tire, which should be worshipped and venerated as a deity and to whom the family dog should be sacrificed by throwing it off a freeway overpass, might be inconsistent with other realities that we are quite sure of. Consistency, or the absence of contradiction, is an essential part of our epistemology.
A strict adherence to a reasonable epistemology can be quite useful in considering the adoption of a religion into one's philosophy. Unless, of course, one arbitrarily chooses to adopt a religion that undermines the value of a reasonable epistemology as part of their life philosophy. Many religions do precisely that. There are those that would argue that all religion does precisely that.
We stop short of jumping on that bandwagon which is popular among certain atheists. "All religion" is simply too broad a brush to be completely dismissive with. The meaning of the term "religion", itself, has evolved over time and will continue to evolve. We argue that such broad dismissal of the topic undermines an appropriate epistemology as much as many religions may, by reason of the employment of a leap of logic and a presumptuous premise about "all religion".
Contemporary definition of religion
In further considering the question of religion and deity, some definitions are useful. A quick lookup of the term "religion" on dictionary.com (now dictionary.reference.com) last returned 3 top definitions. These definitions are:
1.) a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, esp. when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.
2.) a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects: the Christian religion; the Buddhist religion.
3.) the body of persons adhering to a particular set of beliefs and practices: a world council of religions.
Some of the foregoing, somewhat loosely applied, could be said to apply to this association.
We support the association of private individuals with certain shared beliefs. We advocate a set of beliefs concerning the nature of the universe and the highest and best purpose of man.
We do not, as an association, presume to advocate a position on the subject of the purpose of the universe, beyond the interests of man.
Individuals who may be associated through Politac.org may have their own individual positions on this subject. We, as an association, take no position on the subject of the existence of a superhuman agency or agencies associated with the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, and the relevance to man of such agencies.
This should not be construed to mean that we are hostile to the idea, nor should anyone otherwise presume that we favor the idea by distancing our self, as an association, from any hostility to it. We, as an association, remain silent on the idea.
Individuals associated with each other through Politac.org are not obliged by that association to remain silent on the subject as individuals. They are, however, obliged to be respectful of each other's beliefs and treat the subject matter of Deity with reverence as a matter of respect for the beliefs of others.
Our association is not a religion in the more classic sense of the term.
We acknowledge that man has venerated some form of deity from the beginning of recorded history. At the same time, we recognize that the concept of deity has evolved over time and continues to evolve and vary in its meaning in practical usage. The term "deity" has been currently defined to mean "a God or Goddess"; "divine character or nature, esp. that of a Supreme Being; divinity". The term "God" is currently found to have 5 definitions of particular interest at dictionary.com:
1) the one Supreme Being, the creator and ruler of the universe.
2) the Supreme Being considered with reference to a particular attribute: the God of Islam.
3) (lowercase ) one of several deities, esp. a male deity, presiding over some portion of worldly affairs.
4) (often lowercase ) a supreme being according to some particular conception: the god of mercy.
5) Christian Science. the Supreme Being, understood as Life, Truth, Love, Mind, Soul, Spirit, Principle.
From the foregoing it is apparent that the concept of deity is not only evolving, but currently means different things to different people. There is some reason to believe that this has been the case from the beginning of the emergence of the concept among the human family. There is some indication in the New Testament that controversy about the concept of deity rose to the level of the worship of an "Unknown God". See Acts, 17:23.
The evolving concept of God
The concept of God seems to be commonly and often associated with the concept of supremacy. However, this does not appear to always have been the case in every instance of the application of the term. It is relevant to point out that even in the account of Jesus' life, as reported in the Gospel of St. John, there seemed to be some controversy about the proper application of the concept of "God" and its appropriate meaning.
Jesus, responding to questions from certain people about the suggestion that he was the Christ, and being pressed for a plain answer, said, among other things, "I and my Father are one." Some people are reported to have thought to respond by stoning him for blasphemy.
In his own defense he quoted an Old Testament scripture, arguing "Is it not written in your law, I said, 'Ye are gods'?" see John 10:34 The footnotes in a King James translation of the Bible seem to suggest that he was quoting Psalms 82:6, which reads, "I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High." The 82nd Psalm in its entirety not only suggests that the term God was, at times, applied to common man, but also suggests a plurality of Gods.
The Christian God
Amidst some controversy and political pressure an Ecumenical Council gathered at Nicaea in 381 AD adopted the following creed that identifies their deity to be one in the same as Jesus Christ of the New Testament who was understood to be the same being as the God of the Old Testament in the manifestation of an incarnate man:
We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds (aeons), Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father; by whom all things were made, who for us men, and for our salvation, came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made man; he was crucified for us under Pontius Pilot, and suffered and was buried, and the third day he rose again, according to the Scriptures, and ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father; from thence he shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.
And in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of life, who proceedeth from the Father, who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified, who spake by the prophets.
In one holy catholic and apostolic Church; we acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; we look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.
Dogmatic Christian controversy
The foregoing creed has been associated with the beliefs of the Catholic and a number of Protestant Christian religions. A later "Apostolic Creed" which is quite similar with respect to the definitional aspects of Deity has more favor with certain protestant religions.
These "official" creeds are regarded as so essential to the Christian religion advocated by their proponents that considerable controversy has arisen between the advocates of the aforementioned religions and those who profess Christianity while rejecting these creeds as the definition of their faith and their deity.
Notably, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, (Mormons) reject both the Nicene and Apostolic Creeds as false. Offended religious groups have retaliated with the contention that the Mormons are not Christians, by reason of their rejection of the "appropriate" creed.
It seems curious that some Christian groups would accuse the Mormons of not being "Christians" in spite of their (the Mormon's) own profession of Christianity, on the basis of their rejection of the Nicene or any other such popular creed. Some observers have argued there is no less Biblical basis for the Mormon view of Jesus Christ than the view promoted by the Nicene, Apostolic, or other such popular creeds.
To further underscore the nature of the controversy, a historical look into the matter reveals that the Nicene and Apostolic Creeds were definitions of Deity adopted by their adherents as a matter of political compromise, and under some measure of political pressure.
The Mormons do not accept the nature of the Trinity as defined in these creeds. Mormons believe that God the Eternal Father, (Elohim) and Jesus the Christ, are not simply alternate manifestations of the same entity, but rather two distinct personages, one, the Father, the other, the Son, and having completely distinct identities and roles.
The Mormons do, however, accept that Jesus the Christ has a complete divine investiture of authority from God the Father as the Savior and mediator before God the Eternal Father for all, and, as such, is the object of their faith for salvation and eternal life.
There is no ambiguity with the Mormons about the fact that they worship Jesus Christ as divine and as their Lord and Savior.
There does not appear to be any way around the reality that the exclusion of the Mormons from the general category of "Christian" by other Christians, on the basis of their rejection of the Nicene or Apostolic Creeds is simply an arbitrary choice of exclusionary political interpretation.
Religious controversy turns to bloodshed
In the 1800's the Mormons were subjected to alarming persecution by other Christians, justified, at least in part by some while entirely by others, for not being the right "flavor" of Christianity.
Mormons were beaten, tarred and feathered, driven from their homes, and in some cases murdered under the sanction of local government officials.
Jews, having been persecuted throughout the ages and subjected to the horrors of the holocaust, continue today to be subjected to illegitimate discrimination by some Christians for their lack of belief in the divinity of Jesus Christ.
Muslims were subjected to wholesale indiscriminant slaughter by Christians under the sanction of Christian religious leaders for decades apparantly for not being Christian and therefore unfit to rule over Christians in Islamic lands, contributing to the historic roots of the distrust, bias and hatred that still persists in many Muslim cultures against Christians and Christian nations.
This hatred and distrust has much to do with the unrest and economic struggles in the world today and has resulted in entire sub-cultures and well funded multi-national movements allied in their religious zeal to obliterate Christians, Christianity, and Christian nations from the earth.
It is politically convenient and easy to explain away such sub-cultures and movements as "evil". Clearly such cross generational hatred is "evil". However, an over-simplification of the real problem ignores the reality that the evil perpetuated by such sub-cultures is that same evil energy unleashed upon them indiscriminately by Christians in the past in the name of their religion and under the banner of their God and country.
Let's not pick on the Christians
Clearly, Christians do not stand alone as a religious culture or group that has its historical embarrassments, philosophical questions, or doctrinal issues. We are hardly aware of any religion that doesn't.
It is not our purpose here to condemn Christianity and do not single it out for such discussion for any other reason than that of being somewhat more familiar with its history and precepts than others and, therefore, finding it convenient for illustrative commentary.
We think the conceptual philosophical questions that might be found in the history of Christianity, are typical of questions that might come out of close scrutiny of any religion.
The God of Truth
Many religions hold that God is not only omniscient (all knowing) and omnipotent (all powerful) but also either a God of truth, who cannot lie, or a God who is closely associated with truth and who will hold his followers accountable on some level to being truthful.
The Judeo-Christian ethic of being honest has strong ties to the ten commandments received by Moses which include in particular, the morality of truth demonstrated by the forbidding of bearing false witness. Note 1
The book of Leviticus records the Mosaic law's condemnation of fraud. Note 2
The same principle is restated in the gospel of St. Mark. Note 3
Other books of the Old Testament speak more to the subject of God being associated with truth, as specifically differentiated from holding his subjects accountable to a standard of truth. Note 4
Similar associations are made in the New Testament. Note 5
Perhaps one of the clearest indications of the association of God with truth comes from the New Testament account of the interrogation of Jesus by the Roman authority, Pilate, prior to Jesus' crucifiction. Note 6
It would seem, by one interpretation of this interview as recorded in the Gospel of St. John, that Jesus was less concerned and almost dismissive of any association with royalty or power and quick to point out that his own, alternate declaration of purpose was squarely rooted in bearing witness to the truth and identifying his followers by the specific criteria of their association with it.
To "belong" is not necessarily to "behave"
Truth and honesty, which appear to be fundamental if not crowning principles of the Judeo-Christian morality, are consistent with a system of metaphysics which holds that we should accept reality to be what it is, as opposed to what we wish to fantasize it to be; a system of logic, which holds that the appropriate methodology of reasoning should exclude contradiction; and a system of ethics, which holds that we have a moral responsibility to deal with our fellow man respectfully, which would necessarily include reciprocating honesty and good faith.
We recognize that the adoption of these principles into one's life philosophy is essential to the highest and best development of ourselves as individuals and members of the human family and essential to the preservation of peace and harmony among us.
Unfortunately, it would appear that the profession of truth, as a crowning principle by religion, does not necessarily translate into a philosophical discipline to which religious individuals hold themselves, their faith, or their public institutions accountable with regularity and consistency.
It is all too common to find Christians that consider themselves "saved by grace" for simply having "accepted" Jesus Christ as their "personal savior", while feeling no compunction whatsoever about greasing their business skids with the slick oil of deceptive marketing and business practices; Jews who might feel a high level of devotion to the outward rituals observed in the temple while taking some measure of pleasure in profiting from the same deceptive marketing and business practices employed by their Christian counterparts; or far worse, Christians, Jews, or Muslims, who manage to justify the wholesale indiscriminant slaughter of innocent men, women, and children, in the name of some historical political or religious offense for which their victims have no control, responsibility, or even the remotest desire to perpetuate.
A relevant question for all
It is not our desire to condemn or disparage religion, here, but, rather, to point out that the profession of religion or association with religion, neither makes a man moral, honest, or decent, unless such a man consciously and consistently identifies, acknowledges, and applies the philosophical principles of decency his chosen religion may teach him.
Only the sincere philosophical struggle to consistently apply the appropriate principles of metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, logic, and aesthetics, and to strive consistently, however imperfectly, to limit one's life practices, including the choice and practice of one's religion, to those that might be consistently reconciled with such appropriate philosophical principles can make a man a decent human being worthy of the respect and consideration that such a struggle merits.
Perhaps a man may be "saved by Grace" as many Christians might proclaim, for simply acknowledging Jesus Christ as their personal savior. Perhaps not.
Perhaps, as others profess, a man is saved by grace, only "after all he can do."
It is not necessary to take a position on this particularly narrow religious debate to join with those on either side of the debate who realize that a directly relevant question for the entire human family might be this:
What, in the end of the day, is the value of being "saved", for a man, who, by the consistent pattern of his own life choices has not managed to muster the discipline to apply the principles of fairness and decency as a consistent way of life?
Would a just God exalt such a man? Would a just God condemn others who have made such sacrifices to develop their own characters to the blight of his association in the hereafter and for the rest of eternity simply because he "professed" the name of Jesus Christ and bore witness to his divinity?
What kind of people do we choose to be?
What kind of people are we, who's collective character is reflected and punctuated by the fact that we consider people who are regularly associated publicly with obnoxious, ridiculous, and obvious lies to even be worthy of the legal right to call themselves candidates for the potential of being vested with the most political power the world has ever known?
We condemn simple businessmen to onerous criminal punishment for false advertising.
We waste public resources and energy on superfluous debates about nativity scenes in schools and campuses while children among us starve to death, our borders remain unsafe, our lower courts routinely trample on the civil rights of their constituents under administrative pressure to process the throng of complaints brought before them.
Our political leaders publicly misrepresent the true nature, character and content of the public policy or legislation they advocate in order to muster popular support for political action that would never be supported by an informed public if properly disclosed.
We are a society of finger pointers eager to manipulate the system to get an advantage over our neighbors because it seems easier than being fair and reasonable in working together to solve our own problems in good faith.
We are members of the human family, struggling still to outgrow our hypocrisy. Our worst enemy is not overseas. It is us.
We are the greatest stumbling block to the dreams of our youth which are unsustainable amidst wholesale public abandon of the simple philosophical principles of integrity, good faith, and fair dealing with our fellow man.
The great religious irony
We would like to suggest the idea that Jesus, who is known by many to be The Christ, if he were among us today, would be utterly appalled at the bastardization and wholesale corruption of the ideas and principles that he stood for and ultimately became a martyr for.
While presumptuous men in priestly garb have promoted illegitimate discrimination against those who may not share their view of the divinity of Jesus Christ, or the selection of which day to reverence as the Sabbath, or the precise protocols of the ritual of baptism, it continues to be overlooked that the man, Jesus of Nazareth, whether divine or not, was subjected to merciless torture and then slaughtered at the hands of fellow human beings who had the capacity to stop it in the name of simple justice and human decency and did not.
The powerful message that continues to be passed over by all too many, even some who profess to be disciples of Jesus Christ, is not that the "Son of God" was murdered by non-Christians... it is hardly reasonable to categorically condemn all Jewish subjugates under Roman oppression as being responsible for his demise.
One need not accept the divinity of Jesus Christ, to see that a great human message that was inherent in this historic moment was the message of simple injustice which resulted in a horrific example of a torturous death of an innocent and peaceful man while fellow human beings stood silently by, paralyzed by fear of an oppressive regime who would crucify any one of them just as indiscriminately as this one if the need arose to make a similar point to their survivors.
Jesus of Nazareth was illegitimately condemned to a horrific death in an unfair trial. The message is one of injustice. It is one of illegitimate condemnation in an unfair trail. It is one of unchecked political power and the extremes with which such power manifests itself when the ethics of it's constituents reflect the wholesale corruption of their philosophy.
This is the message that is overlooked far too often as we find ourselves in a discussion with our social clique confronted with the option of agreeing openly or by quiet acquiescence with the unjust condemnation or character assassination of a friend or foe or simply a competitor for illegitimate reasons simply to preserve our own social standing or economic interests with the clique.
Not everyone agrees that the greatest missions in life and the most urgent missions of our day are to recruit souls to confess the divinity of Jesus Christ and accept Him as their personal Savior, or to profess loyalty to Mohammad, or to memorize the Torah.
However noble those missions might be, we would like to suggest that Jesus of Nazareth, if he lived among us today together with Buddha, and Elohim, would all agree readily that we need to see to it that our fellow man is treated justly, and that our public institutions are held accountable to a legitimate standard of decency and fairness.
After all, it is reported that even the Christ said, "Inasmuch as you have done it unto the least of these, my brethren, ye have done it unto me." Matt 25:40.
An inescapable axiom of religious choice
Perhaps Jesus was divine. Perhaps he was not. Perhaps he was the son of God. Perhaps he was God. Perhaps he was neither. Perhaps he was both. Perhaps there was an immaculate conception. Perhaps there was not.
In the final analysis, there is no possible faith based conviction on any of these points that will exonerate a member of the human family from their responsibility to be just and fair with their fellow human beings and to accept responsibility for their actions and choices.
There is no possible religious alliance that will excuse a man from the inescapable moral duty that he has to his fellow human beings to speak out against injustice when the opportunity presents itself.
There is no possible religious alliance that will excuse a man for any corruption in his own philosophy.
There is no possible religious alliance that will excuse a free nation for the abdication of their responsibility to see to it, to the extent that they are able, that their government officials deal with their fellow citizens and the citizens of the rest of the world with fairness and decency and respect.
If there is a God, He must be just to warrant being worshipped.
If He is both just and omnipotent, He must ultimately require sincerity and significant personal sacrifice in the ongoing continual struggle to be just and decent human beings who treat our fellow human beings with respect and fairness.
He must require this of all of us who are capable and rational, as a condition for any lofty eternal reward.
This, we believe to be an inescapable axiom to which any religious choice must be reconciled. Any religion that promotes or excuses wholesale injustice against our fellow human beings on any grounds cannot be legitimately reconciled with a rational and sustainable philosophy.
We recognize that those who profess otherwise, do so in vain, and do not truly represent any legitimate authority or deity in so doing.
The choice of religion, in the end of the day, is a philosophical choice that must be reconciled with a legitimate life philosophy, or, on the other hand, reveal a corrupt life philosophy.
There can be no contradiction between one's religion and one's philosophy without corruption of both.
At the end of the day
In the final analysis, religious choice is a philosophical choice.
We do not concern ourselves, as an association, greatly with the specific preferences of your religious affiliations.
Some of us might be found in the next pew. Some of us might be atheists or agnostics. We encourage all members of the human family to treat all philosophical pursuits, including the choice of religious practice, with reverence and respect.
If you would like your nativity scene to be enjoyed at Christmas time in public places, you will find we have no objection.
If you would like a moment of silence in public schools so that those who wish to pray might do so, some of us might be found to bow our heads in supplication to the same God with you, while others may be seen to reverently and respectfully contemplate their own philosophical choices in their own way.
Respectful introspective moments are good things. We encourage self examination, and thoughtful consideration of our worthiness before our chosen God or fellow man.
We are not perfect people. No one is. No one expects us to be. We do not expect anyone else to be.
We fall short of our ideals and aspirations. However, the acknowledgment of our imperfections, does not exempt us from the responsibility to strive to overcome them and be better people, and to openly endorse principles of decency and lofty values as ideals that are worth striving for.
We respect and encourage your religious pursuits as all of your philosophical pursuits and hope you respect ours. Surely we can find peace and harmony and common ground in such things.
Note 1 - "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor." See Exodus, chapter 20, verse 16.
Note 2 - In chapter 19, verse 13, we find, "Thou shalt not defraud thy neighbor."
Note 3 - From Mark, chapter 10, verse 19, we find, "Thou knowest the commmandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Defraud not, Honor thy father and mother."
Note 4 - From Zechariah, chapter 8, verse 8: "And I will bring them and they shall dwell in the midst of Jerusalem: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God, in truth and in righteousness." Similarly, from Psalms chapter 119, verse 142: "Thy righteousness is an everlasting righteousness, and thy law is the truth."
Note 5 - From John, chapter 16, verse 13 we read, "Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come." John, chapter 17, verses 17 and 19 respectively read, "Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth." and "And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth."
Note 6 - From John, chapter 18, verses 37 to 38 we read, "Pilate therefore said unto him, Art thou a King then? Jesus answered, Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Everyone that is of the truth heareth my voice."