Thursday, March 28, 2013

Disagreeing With Religion

When I was young, I remember sitting with my Papa (that's what we called my dad) at the table, in the car, at his office, on the couch. Papa was a very intellectual man, with two doctorates and a love of study. As his brother recently put it "This is my brother, he has more degrees than a thermometer."

We would talk about all sorts of things, and as I grew older I began to develop a desire to emulate his seemingly endless knowledge of life. I, too, began to read voraciously. I, too, began to love learning. I, too, began to enjoy the opportunity for educational, critical discussion and observation. Many of his tenets have stuck with me to this day, which are obviously not of his invention. Still, in my developmental years, he was their origin.

There are three things I would like you to do: Be kind, be kind, be kind.

The one who wins the argument is the one who says what they have to say, then shuts up.

If you don't have anything kind to say, don't say anything at all.

You can look for a new job all you like, but you don't leave the one you have until you have another.

A marriage where decisions are made equally is best -- but if the balance needs to tilt, let it tilt to the wife. In all the unhappy marriages I've seen, the husband made all the decisions. Never the other way.

You might fool someone in many things, but you can never make someone that you don't love believe that you love them.

If you're going to err, err on the side of the Lord.

Obviously the above points are philosophical in nature, but I learned plenty of the factual from him as well. Credit for my learning to read, write, and do math goes to my brother, Seth. Papa then set a standard for me, in literature, in skill, in ability, and in manhood, which I strive to attain to this day. I suspect I will do so until the day I die. In many ways, for my formative years and onwards, he was a standard of truth.

Papa made a good standard of truth because you never doubted he loved you, but he didn't hesitate to tell you when you were wrong. Because I have a hefty dose of pride in me, being told I was wrong was always a sting. Like many sons, craving the approval of my father, his every praise was gold to me, and his disagreement was a hard blow to my ego (of which I deserved and deserve many). Still, when Papa and I disagreed on a point, I knew what to do. It was time to learn and change. My father's information or opinion guide the development of my own, and I course corrected. I would not make that mistake again, because Papa told me what it was, and I knew he would guide me true.

Later on I would fly half way around the world (nearly literally) to serve as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) in a small country called Armenia. Bordering Iran, Azerbaijan, Turkey, and Georgia, Armenia was about the size of Maryland. Missionary work there is much more encouraging than in the US, because the introductions are easier. The naturally friendly Armenian people invite you into their homes out of curiosity and hospitality. I never failed to find a friendly face, despite my out-of-the-ordinary appearance, in both dress and ethnicity.

In sitting with Armenians and discussing beliefs and religion, I would often hear people say: "I believe this, but this Church doesn't," or "I don't believe this, but that religion does," and on these conflicting viewpoints, people would choose to go somewhere where the theology most closely matched their personal opinion. From observation, I developed a conviction on such methodology:

If you find a religion that agrees with all of your personal beliefs, you can be certain that's not the one for you.

I think of little me and my relationship with Papa. I wonder who I would've ended up with if, as a child, I was given the opportunity to choose a father whose beliefs, knowledge, and opinions aligned most closely with mine. Such a father would likely have taught me that playing video games for hours at a time is awesome, that nutrition is irrelevant, that there really is no greater achievement in life than staying up all night watching a teenage mutant ninja turtles marathon, and that cleaning my room was utterly useless. Such a father would have certainly destroyed me, and I would not be where I am today.

My experience is that anyone who believes in God, believes that he is all-knowing, and that compared to him our knowledge is irrelevant. No one is questioning the intelligence or abilities of God: if He is indeed God, it is understood His power and intelligence trumps the sum total of all men on earth.

If that is true, then why would we look for a religion that agrees with us?

In fact, it can be assumed that a religion that agrees with us perfectly is definitely not truly God's, because let's face it, we're just not that smart. There could perhaps be no greater expression of pride than believing that the philosophy system that we developed in our walk of life has raised us up to such an extent, that our own beliefs and thoughts are on par with the Father of all mankind, who created us, this world, and perhaps the entire Universe.

A religion that agrees with you completely? Not God's.

And why would we expect it to be? Math isn't governed by the students, and chemistry is not decided by the chemists. Physicists have no control over physics, and history, though perhaps rewritten by historians, cannot truly be changed by them. Truths cannot be altered by the observer -- this is what makes them true.

We are not born with truth, we acquire it through study and error.

My religion has disagreed with me many a time, and just as Papa disagreed with me when I was young, I thought, I asked, I learned, I grew.

'But wait!' one might rightly protest 'How then can we avoid being taught something false in the search for truth?' That is a crucial question, to which I have found two answers.

There are two ways to assess truth:

1. Experiment.
2. Ask someone who can be safely relied on.

Of these two options, experimenting is the greatest, and easiest to use.

Is there a God? To know, I must experiment. I must read, I must ask, I must question, I must try, I must fail. I have heard He answers prayers, and it is logical that He would if He loves me, so that could be a good place to start. Ask Him if He is there.

If and once I have ascertained that He is there, I can seek His aid in determining where I might go to learn more. This has been my process in life, which I learned from Papa. I learn, I try, I attempt, and then I am told I am wrong. When I am told I am wrong, I must think, ask, learn, and grow, so that I am now right where once I was wrong. And considering how often I am wrong, I'm getting a lot of practice with this method.

But there is one road that leads to failure, and that's looking for a system that agrees with me, one where my beliefs are all held, not challenged, and those around me are all too happy to confirm to me that my every thought and opinion is true, right, and good.

A deadlier trap in which more men have fallen, perhaps we have never seen.