Friday before last, on my way down for coffee, I spotted a book on the new books shelf of the UAA/APU Consortium Library whose title caught my interest: The Religious Case Against Belief. Its author, James P. Carse, is a professor emeritus of religion at New York University, where he spent 30 years directing its religious studies program.
I checked it out & spent a good part of the next morning waiting for my tire changeover at Johnson Tires & fighting my muzziness (I’d been up into the early morning hours finishing my post on same-sex marriage) to read it, & actually getting a lot out of it despite my sleepiness.
Later in the day, a friend of mine came to visited my blog & made a comment on a post I’d written way back in 2006 called “The god thing.” It was interesting coincidence — or perhaps, as I said in my reply to her comment, “perhaps the intervention of Dice the spirit of luck, or so I call her in my eternally forthcoming novel Mistress of Woodland” — that my friend should find that post to comment on just when I’d found this book, which in part discusses what I was saying in that post, and in part what my friend was critical of in organized religion. As she stated:
I don’t believe in any religion on the planet. (Jim Jones and his mass murder/suicide of men, women and children Guyana in 1975 was my wake-up call.) As far as I’m concerned, if the leader has a human body/mind that person can be wrong, wrong wrong…about anything. No flipping way I’m going to follow them.
So far, I’ve found in Carse a pretty good explication of what turns both my friend & I away from organized religion. My main difficulty (at least on the muzzy, sleep-deprived mind I had last Saturday) is that Carse uses terminology in a way that is unfamiliar to me (despite my B.A. in Religion): e.g., he uses the terms religion where I would more likely use the terms spirituality, & belief or belief system where I would more likely say organized religion or religious ideology.
But same diff. By Carse’s light, belief system is the kind of horror we’re used to having to put up with from the hardcore “true believer” types who’d like to kill people for differing with them, & who are so hardwire-tied to their belief systems that they’d die for them. And they do both.
It’s this kind of ideological attachment to belief systems — to religious & other putatively all-explaining ideologies, which claim to have all the answers, & to hold the blueprints of the heavens, as it were— that are responsible for most of the wars in the world. And those belief systems are not, by Carse’s light, truly religion, because true religion does not presume to hold all the answers; true religions recognizes the unknowable. Carse is, in essence, calling for religion to toss out the belief systems — the ideologies that are the true destructive forces which lead people into violence, murder, war.
And now that I’m getting accustomed to his terminology, I’m in full agreement with him.
As I wrote in my post “The god thing” —
Any time science learns how to “explain,” answers a question, it gives rise to umpteen further question: there is no end to them because we, just tiny motes of what-god-is, can’t fit any more into our understanding than what we can fit into our thoughts, our speech, our books. As my calculus tutor used to explain, no system can contain a metasystem. No matter how much we understand, there will always be Mystery beyond that. Which is why, I think, people who are wise are also people with humility: however much they know, they are aware how very little that really is.
Somehow, for me, using that word god keeps me mindful about all that. But I don’t think one must use that word to be conscious of it.
As I wrote in my poem “Sermon” —
God cannot be enclosed in a book
or in the miser’s soul
which portions out justice in dribbles
and rations out love in crumbs,
then wonders why we starve.
I’m still reading this book. I’m finding Carse’s analysis very useful for looking at some of the bad stuff going on in the world, both in the larger world of international politics — Israel & Palestine, Iraq, the “War on Terror” — & in the world closer to home, as our local “true believers” continue to wield the weapon of their willful ignorance, willful misuse of language, & false witness to maintain an unjust status quo.