Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Fooling Ourselves


We readily recognize the biases in the thinking of others. But our own biases? Not so much. Let me start with a bold comment:

Much of what passes for “religion” -- beliefs, rites, statements, commandments, holy artifacts, sacred places, theories, histories, hierarchies, etc. ranges from sheer ranting to misguided, unfounded, warped and sometimes dangerous ideas.

Most of what we label “religious” is self-based and generated -- like urinating in your boots to keep your feet warm. If all the “religious” wars, religious hatreds, religious-generated pain and suffering throughout human history is not convincing enough of such thinking, then we are not thinking.

So, what works with us ? For us?

If a major goal of life is to grow, what in our religion supports that? That’s a good starting thought. All living beings are meant to grow. If consideration feels life giving, let’s be considerate and choose that which achieves consideration. All life is enabled by consideration. Consideration is moral. It supports. Love is often supportive, but it waxes and wanes. Consideration is steadier as a support. What in a religion is considerate, kind, helpful is of value to us all.

We all know what growth is and what consideration is. We do not all know what love is. I do not want my neighbor to love me: who knows what he or she thinks “love” is? One “loves” mom, ice cream, scotch, french fries, bacon, dogs, baseball, wearing masks, being macho, taunting gay people …. the list is endless for each of us and often hurtful. Some feel it a religious duty to defend, fight for or even kill for their concept of religion. Many “love” their guns, or swords or dogmas.

One’s individual faith or belief is generally harmless to others when it is held alone, but often aggressive and potentially dangerous when organized by a particular sect. Some beliefs are merely a form of prejudice meant to elevate the status of the believers, or to foist some kind of behavior upon others. Not so long ago, it was the cry of the New England zealots: “Let us burn the witches to save them.” Salvation by murder!

There is little more unsettling or frightening than to be faced by a Christian bearing down upon you determined to “love” or to “save you”, unless it’s a radical Muslim who sees you as an unbeliever representing the Great Satan of the West, or the teenager in your granddaughter’s school itching to quit and join ISIS for thrills.

Most of us rest rather securely in our beliefs, little realizing that many of our beliefs are not just unreasonable or unfounded, but actually costly and even self-defeating. There are those who believe everyone needs 8 glasses of 8 ounces of water a day, or that so-called “natural” foods are best, or that bottled water is better than tap water (after all it costs about 1500 to 2000 times as much)! To them these things are “common knowledge”.

Knowledge is not wisdom or truth. Much of our “knowledge” is false, misleading. We don’t even know what we see. A 5-year study of the accuracy of eyewitness testimony versus DNA evidence has shown that eye witnesses court testimony is wrong 76% of the time.

There are two things to remember about seeing. We see what we believe, we do not believe what we see; we interpret everything. We have attitudes, reactions, and prejudices.

What is the truth about what we see? Could it be that truth cannot be seen? Therefore: There is always another way to see something. Whenever you get angry or annoyed because of what someone says or does, take a few seconds to see it another way before reacting.

Many believe one should avoid irradiated foods. But the radiation passes through the food and there is no harmful residue and the radiation kills much of the bacteria and helps preserve the food. Some are passionate about organic foods although a 50-year review by the Journal of Clinical Nutrition states that all the research so far shows no health advantage or nutritional superiority in organic foods. But they cost more.

Perhaps we have more passionate beliefs that are just wrong or insignificant about food than almost anything else. 
Here are a few that many are almost “religious” about:
· Sugar makes children hyperactive
· Vaccines cause ADHD or even AIDS

Many of us believe:
· You can boost your immune system with supplements
· Herbal remedies are ancient so therefore they are safe
· Eat a lot of beef, it’s good for you

Some people believe:
· Microwaves alter the chemical composition of food
· Magnets will draw iron from your blood
· Ear candling draws out impurities
· Hypnosis can aid memory, and that
· We use only 10% of our brain

In the 3rd world, others believe:
· You can get rid of HIV by having sex with a virgin
· Killing a non-believer will earn you a special spot in paradise.

And here at home, many believe:
· An ice bath can treat a fever
· Don’t put an infant to bed on its side
· Playing Mozart recordings for a pregnant woman increases the chance of her having a smart baby
· Farm-raised Atlantic salmon is as good for you as wild Pacific salmon

Knowledge is not benign. Beliefs affect your attitude, your behavior and your health. Are your religious beliefs positive or negative basically? Do they promote growth or decay? Are they considerate, supportive, caring? Are they inclusive rather than exclusive? Are they truer than your beliefs about food?

One way to make your own religion helpful to you and others is to practice gratitude as a belief – even as a “religious” act.

Gratitude helps you heal yourself and forgive others. It leads you to a state of peace. It does what religion ought to do. It teaches us to take responsibility for our thoughts and feelings. Gratitude makes a fine religion, as does consideration.

Your first job is not to save the world or straighten out humanity or even to die on a cross for others. It’s not to spread the truth – whatever that is – or to make others aware of anything. It’s not even to forgive others or accept unkindness or to reconcile with those who have hurt you. No, important as those things are, your FIRST job is always to start with you. First, forgive yourself. Let anger or guilt or grief or disappointment go. Give it up willingly, as fully as you can. Empty yourself.

A religion may instruct you that your first duty in life is to commit your life to a god on high and to praise him always. Well, we creatures do not do “always” very well and, as Henry Thoreau well said: “I do not want to live what is not life for life is too dear and some have somewhat hastily concluded that the chief end of man here is to 'glorify God and enjoy him forever', rather than to let reality that surrounds us drench us.”

Your thoughts are yours. They control you. They can lead you to do unhealthful, even dangerous things. You are responsible for you. If you don’t take good care of you, then you have less to offer, less ability to care or be considerate because you cannot turn outward and grow if you are bound up inside. When you are calm, at peace, grateful, whatever religious attitude you develop will be more healthful and the God you turn to for guidance and growth will not be vengeful, hateful, or discriminating and therefore too limited to be of help. Life is coping with growth and change, not avoiding it through orthodoxy. “Status quo” is Latin for “the same mess we were in yesterday is what we are in today.” Change is the only constant in life, not orthodoxy.

I know that you and I sometimes feel overwhelmed, tired out, defenseless, depressed, denied, scared, hurt. We long for a Big Brother with broad shoulders. Someone to take over and make it all right. Maybe we cling to a loved one, call a friend, pray or go to a comforting place. A place “religious” to us. That’s helpful.

Or we could be bursting with good news, feeling so expansive we could run a mile on the beach. We want to hug someone special, dance, sing, tell a silly story, give thanks, to say or do something “religious”. That’s good.
On a very special occasion we want to get together with others and share an event meaningful to some or all of us. A marriage, a birth, a thanksgiving for the end of a stressful time, or the beginning of a better time. Celebration in a “religious” venue is appropriate.

Religious scripture may teach us ways to think about life, or direct our behavior in mutually helpful ways when it guides us individually. But, when our religious actions are directed by our “religion” we need to be careful. When the noun “religion” controls the adjective “religious” we become puppets, controlled from outside.

In the Middle East, Indonesia and Africa, we are witnessing “religions” directing rapes, abductions, beheadings, wars. No-growth marks the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Sunnis and Shias do not share consideration or gratitude. Passion and hatred characterize “religious” behavior when a “religion” feels stressed anywhere.

When religions become organized, bureaucratic, they become problematic because they tend to become top-down in power, self-absorbed and even prejudiced and cruel.

We learned in school about the Catholic rulers of Spain, Ferdinand and Isabella, who commissioned Columbus in 1492 to sail westward. We did not learn that on that August 3rd when he was to leave, he had to wait until the ship carrying the last of the Jews who chose deportation over forced conversion or execution had sailed.

I enjoy joining with Unitarians and Quakers because it is hardly likely that their organizations – such as they are – will ever solidify and turn belligerent in any cause. They encourage growth and they exude consideration. They are pro-human enterprises and the religious actions of their members are individually based. Orthodox religions beheaded people in the West as some now do in the East. So far, Quakers and Unitarians have not done that.

It’s as if they believe in a God who is a good parent who doesn’t force a dogma on them or praise them for forcing others to convert to their dogma. A God who doesn’t care to stamp them with a “religion” but encourages them to be considerate, who fosters their growth as individuals rather than form them up in ranks as “Crusaders”.

I started this talk with the statement about how we fool ourselves and I rambled on about a number of day-to-day beliefs we have that are untrue. “Religious” beliefs are a hotbed of un-truths. When a religion enforces the beliefs about infallibility and the necessity to force others into those beliefs or else, we need to remind ourselves that we don’t know even some basic things we “believe” such as: when Jesus was born or where (Nazareth? Bethlehem?). Even our celebration of Independence Day is wrong -- nothing happened on July 4th: it was voted upon on July 2nd and signed August 2nd!

 So relax and remember:
· When we mix politics and religion, people get burned at the stake, and that
· We should believe the truth seekers, not those who claim to have found it, and that
· God is too big to fit into any one religion, and that
· God’s original plan was just to hang out in a garden with a couple of vegetarians.

May the God of your choice help you grow, to feel gratitude, and be considerate in and with your “religious” beliefs.

Fooling Ourselves, a sermon delivered by Chip Chapin at 1stUUPB, Dec 14, 2014.

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