Sunday, November 08, 2009

No Need of That Hypothesis

I was smitten with the flu on Wednesday and am currently at the tail end of it (Lord willing). I don't know if it is/was porcine or not, but then I don't care much about the variety for my own sake. The good that came out of it was that my entire family was able to find and receive swine flu vaccinations this week (not fully immunized for two weeks, but it's done). The school kids have all gotten the seasonal flu vaccinations at school, so they're as ready as possible for the rest of the season. We hope. I would still like Laura (who is expecting our seventh baby, if you don't already know - a boy, mid-March), Jack and Cate to get immunized against the seasonal flu, but maybe we can work something out this week. Though fever free all day yesterday, a low-grade fever popped up again last night, so I hope I'll be fever free all day today. I'm still tired and weak, but doing fine. The irony of it all is that of the entire family, I get out the least - I'm around the fewest people. On the other hand, my family is around hundreds of others every day and so I was easy pickings.

My parents rent the house across the street from us, though they are not there all the time - maybe one week per month. And so I quarantined myself over there. It was boring and miserable and I missed my family terribly, even though we were only apart for three days and only across the street and still got to talk to each other through storm doors. I had some books that I had requested from the library come in and so I spent most of my time reading - something I rarely get the chance to do. So on Friday I read - and you'll like this - God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything by Christopher Hitchens and on Saturday I read, The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. I had been wanting to read the two books eventually for a character in my book, though a sympathetic protagonist, lest you get the wrong idea. The books, if you haven't read them, are, well, interesting. Hitchens' book seems more hostile than Dawkins' book, but both are, as you can gather from the titles, not friendly to religion. Hitchens casts his net out broadly and blames all religions with fairly equal robust, while Dawkins turns more toward Christianity, as it is that with which he is most familiar. Both would be gladly rid of any kind of religion, but neither would fight, other than with words, for them to be expunged from the earth. Both seem like fairly friendly gentlemen, as a matter of fact, they just think the majority of evil in our world originates out of our religious impulse. They both often receive charitable Christian mail from charitable Christians who would like nothing better than to see them burn in hell - so perhaps you can understand some of their push back. Ah, the charity of Christians - it does the heart good, does it not?

I am not, after reading both books, an atheist. But I do think they each make excellent cases for atheism and point, in some places, painfully clearly at our sins as Christians. (Here we can only say, as we always say, "Lord, have mercy.") They each have a bevy of narratives that inform their views, just as you and me - though ours are often opposing stories. Both of them seem, at times, arrogant - though I suppose critics often do. I thought it a flaw in their books. Both of them seem, to me, to have missed the point of evil in it all: We are sinners, all of us, of which I am the chief, the first, the foremost, the greatest - the worst. And that it is not the problem of religion, but the problem of evil itself within the heart of all people. And because of religion's ubiquity in our world, and its power, religion is often the greater vehicle. And because of its teachings, its hypocrisy is certainly highlighted. So I think they need to go deeper for their problem - to see that heaven and hell are in every human heart. But overall, and other than their hostility, they seem like decent, well-meaning chaps, and I wouldn't mind sitting down and discussing with them further why they see no possible synthesis between science and faith.

Nevertheless, I had my moments of disagreements with both men. They both seem to - excuse my French - wear shit-colored glasses when it comes to Christianity - and fail to see the wheat for the tares. They pick and choose among denominations and faiths as it suits them - and invariably someone of some faith is erring somewhere in some manner. So while it sounds as if religion does indeed poison everything, they ignore that there are other people of faith (sometimes the same faith) working to stop the same evil. (Dawkins, who tends to be fairer, does point out several minor examples of this.) One of their shared "concerns" about religion was the possibility of faith education as abuse of children - not in a pedophiliac sense, though there is that - but in simply raising children as Christian or Muslim or Hindu or what-you-will. They both thought parents - being parents - rearing their children in their own faith egregious. That children are children and are not Catholic children or Muslim children, but children of parents of those faiths. Now there is something to what they say and it is not simply as crackpot as it sounds. For instance, who would disagree that it is abuse to raise your child to hate a group of people so much that you strap fake bombs to him, making him out to be a suicide bomber, and parade him around? Who would disagree that it is abuse to dress your little ones in white sheets and take them out to a gathering and burn a cross or two? And there are other examples - unfortunately, many other examples, some of which fall in our own laps. And yet, even when I hear, and know of, some of these crazy examples of environments in which children are being raised, I have to stop and wonder about it. No parent is perfect. Many times parents are not even good. Yet the people I know who are people of faith, do a fair job - their best - at raising their children - even while they teach them doctrines that I disagree with, or inadvertently teach them to be racist or elitist or scientifically ignorant. But none of us are perfectly functional; we all fail our children. I imagine that even Mr. Dawkins has failed his children. (Though I also imagine he would be the first to admit it.) I do not think, from the examples he gives in his book, he would have much to say about how I, or many like me, raise my children, if he really knew how we do so - nothing with which he could point a disapproving finger at faith, other than that they are being raised with faith. But it was an interesting charge to read about; a charge I've heard before from other Christians when converting to Catholicism as a matter of fact. But here are my children, even now, out my window, running and playing among golden leaves. Just children. Red-nosed. Laughing. Imagining. Enjoying one another. They do not cower behind closed bedroom doors when I am around. They write notes to me, when I am sick and absent, of how they cannot live without me. They bring me flowers. They share their stories. They love other people. They seem, for the most part, reasonably well children. They do all right. And when they are older, they will choose for themselves whether they will assent to share the faith of our Church, and I will give them the freedom to do so. Of course I hope they choose to share our faith, but even if they choose to become atheists - oh, how I will love them still. Can I do any less?