Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Rationality of Religion

I have spent the last year writing a history curriculum for the ancient time period. Reading about the faith of ancient people had never interested or offended me before. Greek mythology was barely interesting, and Egyptian mythology was even less captivating. The Romans were frauds, and the Babylonians were just the bad guys in the Bible.

But reading something to teach it is different from reading it because you have to read it to get your three credits which will help you get to the total required to earn the expensive piece of paper. I have been struck over the past year by how similar we are, across faiths and centuries and millennia. We want the same things: love, health, bread, shelter. We lack the same things: power, control over death and disease. And so we pray. We make sacrifices. We honor the gods. Sometimes things work out, and we point to that as evidence to sustain our faith. Sometimes things don't work out, and we are smitten by the gods, by the devils, by our own shortcomings and sin.

For a while now, the more I read, the smaller my prayers sounded—a single note in a cosmic symphony of human prayers. Yes, I believed my God was true and real...just like so many, many others throughout time have believed. Others who were ridiculous for believing the silly gods who die and return to life again...

I found myself stopping my own train of thought. I have children. I am too old now to question my faith, because the salvation and upbringing of others depends on it (to some extent). But, of course, what is faith if it requires the death of reason? And so I continued to read, to see the similarities, to find issues in the Bible to which I objected but had been able to blissfully ignore since I outgrew my childhood Sunday School classes.

Two things happened. First, I realized that I believe in the Christian God and that that faith is not something to be logically defended. It simply is, like the love I feel for my husband and children. For better or worse, I live by it, act on it, and choose to continue doing so. Even when it doesn't make sense to me; even when they leave messes in the kitchen, don't change the toilet paper roll, leave laundry everywhere, and talk back. It just is.

Second, I quite suddenly saw the similarities in faith from another angle: religion is something we share. Across faiths, across nationalities, race, and time, we look beyond ourselves for help and guidance. Animals do not do that. It is the peculiar habit of rational creatures to look beyond themselves, to imagine gods, to dream of a Creator.

We may not agree on who He is or that He is, but the fact that we (almost?) universally consider the possibility—look with our hearts or minds or spirits—is itself a suggestion of the possibility, the hope that we are not alone in a free fall of biological happenstance, that the human habit of religion is rational.

No comments:

Post a Comment