I believe I'm a pretty moral person. I have strong convictions and beliefs, and I try to stick to them. This is, of course, with the Ophrah-ization of my generation ("All beliefs should be treated with respect regardless of your own beliefs, and one should never try to forcibly push your belief systems onto others") has led me to largely lead a life quite different from my peers, where I've made conscientious life decisions. Oftentimes I'm confused over my own belief system in regards to Christianity; I think I let down people in both worlds - atheists who believe any religious faith is bad, and Christians who think my generally nonchalant attitude towards Christianity means I'm the worst type of sinner.

I was raised in a Presbyterian church until I went to college - in high school I was that kid who took religion a bit too seriously. Being raised in the church made looking at life so easy - things were evil and things were good. You were either going to heaven or going to hell. This made decisions in high school easy - drugs are bad, underage drinking is bad, not studying for school is bad (just kidding!).

There is an obvious disconnect from reality with this mindset - which is largely the problem with the fundamentalist Christians in America today. It's not that individual Christians are bad - personally I feel very comfortable with the Christians in my life and with their viewpoints - but when you aggregate them into a group, there's a tendency within that group for the moderates to be just apathetic enough so all you end up hearing is mumbo-jumbo from the fundamentalist extreme Christians about "intelligent design" and all sorts of ridiculousness.

Lately I've really started to believe in the impossibility of finding the "right" in any action. I don't want to delve too deeply into the philosophical and semantical problems with the concept of "right" (What exactly is the end result we're trying to achieve with a "right" plan of action given the vast parameters for success?), but I have a few examples that have largely been bothering me.

Look at poverty. Everybody in the world agrees poverty is a Bad Thing. Everybody agrees something must be done about it. So, of course, we say to ourselves, "Let's give Somalia a whole bunch of food! That'll stop the poverty and starving!" But what happens when you ship a whole bunch of food to a starving African country? The market price for food drops to zero, and the agricultural "industry" in Somalia gets destroyed. So one one hand, we give the Somalis some food that sustains and stops the death rate from hunger ... but in the medium to long-term, we've destroyed the one hope for the Somalis to become self-sustaining. That's not to say that aid doesn't help - if the Somalis in my previous example had a solid educational base where allowing them to skip the agrarian cycle for developed nations (farming -> industrialiation -> manufacturing -> services is generally the path that most developed countries followed), this would be a win-win in the short and long term. So we clearly have a situation here with Africa where the "right" thing to do seems to give them food, but this breeds a dependency and destroys the one industry an uneducated, underdeveloped country has a chance at succeeding at.

What about North Korea? I used to be pretty black-and-white with this issue as well. Kim Jong-Il and his regime is largely one which oppresses human rights, murders dissidents (and their family members), and generally makes life difficult for its neighbors. But who are we, as Westerners, to say that the lifestyle and ideology they choose is wrong? Reading some of the NK state propaganda, it seems that they largely have no interest in living a manufactured world where our lives are defined by the money we make and the things we buy. How many times have I read posts and heard people gripe about the vicious cycle of financial dependency that a capitalist system breeds? What if there are some North Koreans who value living in an underdeveloped nation that maintains a pristine environment and maintains that "true" Korean lifestyle without watering it down with Americanization?

Don't confuse what I'm saying by thinking I support the NK regime. My point simply is this - if we truly live in a Lockean society where every person is allowed to hold their own beliefs and the only rights of government are to protect the lives of its citizens and protect the right to property, is it really necessary to impose onto a group of people the idea that pure capitalism is the best way to live? What if they are willing to accept a more inefficient way of living which protects the environment or some other tangential issue that isn't directly addressed by the free markets?

Anyways, going back to the main point I wanted to address - the pervasiveness of Christian lifestyle in our political system today. I still very much consider myself a Christian, but my main reason for leaving the church was that the tolerance the church preaches was not being followed. Although many Christians I know are incredibly open-minded, I felt that going to church was a form of indoctrination that was making me less receptive towards other types of people. I also felt very uncomfortable with the idea that Christians should always try to preach the word of God to non-believers; if someone is interested in learning, I'll explain what little I know of the Christian faith, but never would I actively try to "convert" any one of my friends to that lifestyle for the same reasons I would never push a business issue onto my friends.

As an aside, I've always found people with strong convictions to be the most fascinating people. I mostly run into people who have opposing viewpoints as I do, but as long as their convictions are well-thought out, I've always had a deep respect for people like that. I'm always searching for people who live a completely different lifestyle with a different set of moral values that I do, which is partially why I enjoy consuming online journals so much :)

Going back to this whole evolution/creationism/intelligent design issue, I'm amused by the way the Christians are trying to polarize this into a 'right/wrong' issue. They claim that there are "two sides" to the story, and this I largely agree with. Throughout history, academic truth has largely been influenced by the lens of society. When the Pope was the ultimate authority, everything was viewed through a religious lens, and thus people like Galileo and Darwin were largely ignored. With the advent of the scientific age, our society largely ignores theology as a legitimate science because it's not "real" enough. The one lesson I learned from chemistry is that science requires a similar leap of faith for experimentations as well. Throughout time, theorems have been largely been accepted as truths until later we find out, "Whoa, that was wrong." Based on scientific evidence, at that time, those theorems were largely viewed as truths (not proofs though). Look at scientific studies today - two studies can find the exact opposite items; I think there's a fundamental force of nature (karma, God, luck, fate, the Force) that science can never measure or prove. That is to say, science is not as much of an absolute truth; if anything, good science and good theology are the same level of truth.

My main issue with Christians is that they are trying to push their version of history into the history books under the guise of "telling both sides of the story." But what about all the other explanations to the beginning of the universe? Are we going to start putting the "other side of the story" for every debatable item to our children? What about conspiracy theories that we never landed on the Moon? What about the arguments for racial purity for the sake of maintaining cultural distinctions among humans? What about the theories that FDR purposely allowed Pearl Harbor to happen to allow the US to be drawn into WW2? These are all valid viewpoints from a wide variety of "facts" that we could spend a lifetime explaining to children in schools. The point is that it's pointless to try to explain everything.

Children should be taught to think critically; what facts they learn are largely irrelevant. Teach them a love for books and an open mind; let them read about whatever theories they want in their spare time, but let's try to keep the schools as science-oriented as possible, since we live in a scientific age. (If I had a blog during the 15th cenutry, I'm sure this long rambling would have ended: "but let's try to keep the schools as church-oriented as possible, since we live in a religious age." C'est la vie.)

Edit: This has some minor bearing towards my post at hand, and I feel it's important enough to mention, but I'm far too lazy to fit it in with my crappy framework of an argument above.

People should always strive to expand their horizons in the way they think and the way they live. They should never fall into a habit of living in the comfort zone for their whole lives - disruption and change in life is great for learning. That said, I've seen semi-serious Christians go to church and fall into the routine of simply going there and accepting what they are told. There's no internalization of the lessons and application in one's life. It simply becomes a game of "I love God, God loves me, I'm so grateful for His grace." The extent of the impact of religion on a person is limited to that person - the only way religion ever seems to impact anybody but that person is when they evangelize. Rarely is there an expansion of ideas or an open-mind ... it's simply "Follow God's rules or your wrong." I can't stand the strict interpretation of the Bible.

I get the impression that whenever Christians do something, it's always to try to convert someone to their cause. There is never a purity to their actions - it's always marred by selfishness. Very rarely have I met Christians who are simply interested in improving the lives of people around them - it's always spreading the word of God along with it.

Posted by roy on August 5, 2005 at 08:44 PM in Personal | 22 Comments

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vlad (guest)

Comment posted on August 12th, 2005 at 01:29 PM
Comment posted on August 8th, 2005 at 10:10 PM
While I agree that a lot of Christians are a bit pushy with their faith, do recognize that it may seem that all of them that are like that because they are the loud ones. I consider myself about an 8.5 on the How religious are you scale, but I'm not the preachy, evangelist type. I haven't even gone to church recently. But I have my beliefs, and I pray, but without pushing it on people. I'm sure most of my friends would be surprised to know that, just because I don't talk about it much. I agree that the most important thing is how you treat others and how you manifest your faith in a positive way in the world. Religious people frustrate me, too, but I think most have good intentions (pit preacher aside... I think)
Comment posted on August 8th, 2005 at 09:27 AM
i think this was just a really long-winded way for you to say that you dislike the way christians go about spreading the faith.

You are more of a lead by example type of person. but your type is relatively rare, and not everyone has a personality geared towards it (and certainly not all Christians). The best I can say towards this comment though is that people in general just don't know better. It's not that they are doing it on purpose. I think in general they just love Jesus and are so happy about it they just want to share.
It's almost like going to college. Now a days most people are forced into it, but only a few who want to learn, will gain anything from it. For the vast majority of students though, it's just a process in life. But what is continuously doled out to all high school kids? Go to College. simple as that. Ok, prolly not teh greatest analogy, but it's a monday morning so i don't care.
Comment posted on August 8th, 2005 at 09:29 AM
"<em>i think this was just a really long-winded way for you to say that you dislike the way christians go about spreading the faith.</em>"

That and "The reason I don't go to church is because it breeds a close-mindedness that seems to go against the intuitive nature of Christians - to be open-minded and accepting of everybody."
Comment posted on August 8th, 2005 at 01:36 AM
Hi Roy, what can I say. This has been running through my mind for quite a while and I was planning to pen it down in my blog, and Wow!! I came across this post. I agree to a lot of your points. Still I will go ahead with my thoughts in my blog sometime soon.
Comment posted on August 7th, 2005 at 07:12 PM
Thanks a lot :)
Comment posted on August 7th, 2005 at 12:37 AM
Gonna have to say, I disagree with a lot of that, Roy, because (correct me if I'm wrong) it seems that you're endorsing a false alternative to a strict interpretation to the bible, that "the good" or "the right" is impossible to us as human beings.

There is an absolute and non-religious moral standard. Life is good. Do you deny it?
Comment posted on August 7th, 2005 at 12:25 PM
It's a tricky argument that I haven't really refined, but your point is right. When you break down my argument, it is promoting a false alternative, but I only did that for the sake of simplicity.

Ultimately I think there are very few definite wrongs and rights in this world, and it is not up to religion or government to decide what those are - we should be our own moral compasses.
Comment posted on August 6th, 2005 at 07:33 PM
Wow. Thank you for that thought provoking missive. It could not have come at a better time for me. I just got home from church (Catholic). Up until about two years ago I had not been to church in about 30 years. As a result of some unusual events, I began to read the Bible (something as a Catholic I had not done much of), and then experimenting with various religions and their services. Finally I ended up back where I was comfortable -- the Catholic church. But only because it was familiar so I did not have to learn a bunch of new "steps" to follow in a different congregation. I go alone to services (my wife is Buddhist) and every time I leave I think -- what was that all about? Even while in the church, supposedly praying, I sitting there thinking "is this what God really wanted us to do?" Somehow I think he may be sitting back kind of cracking up at the way we are "honoring" his name. You touched on so many points that I agree with. I really appreciate that because it gives me some incentive to get off my ass and maybe start really "being" a christian instead of just following the steps and the rules. I'm not sure where this will take me, but thank you for the push.
I also was amazed at Tallullah's response. A lot went into that as well.
I hope you don't mind if I added you to my friends list. This is the kind of thing I was hoping to find out here in blogland.
Comment posted on August 7th, 2005 at 12:23 PM
I used to wonder the same thing. With me, at least, there's a fundamental choice I've made so I live the life of a Christian and believe the fundamental beliefs that define me as a Christian (God exists, Jesus was his son, etc.) ...

In any case, glad you've added me as a friend :) Deep posts only come along once in a while... but I'm sure you can use my friends page to find some more interesting people :)
Comment posted on August 7th, 2005 at 12:54 PM
Thanks Roy. I think what you just said is how I am leaning. Just lead my life as a Christian and be good to my fellow human beings (which is sometimes the hardest part) :-)
Comment posted on August 6th, 2005 at 05:42 PM
What an interesting post! My response ended up being so long I decided to post it on my journal, so please excuse my stealing your topic. :)
Comment posted on August 6th, 2005 at 03:51 PM
I put scientific discrepancies down to incomplete analysis and quantum chaos.

For our primitive minds, religion has been a good and bad thing. It is debatably unfortunate that it is riding down the slippery slope of doom, care of the rationality of science.

For good, it is usually a nihilism guard — lately more and more people are not having any purpose in their lives (-> suicide). For bad, it is often used to foster hatred (if perhaps against its original teachings) and general mind-control.

One thing that has caught me about Christians — related to the common evangelism drive — is their determination to 'defend God'. I would think someone who truely believes in God would not be concerned with defending their 'existence' — they _know_ he exists and that is that. A lot of agnostics in denial, perhaps?
Comment posted on August 6th, 2005 at 02:03 PM
oh how I would like to discuss econ and religion with you roy, so much I would learn and some things i'd like to share.

But I would like to say, Christianity without evangelism is a Christianity that is useless or even dead. But on how you evangelize, you have a good point, I believe that a large amount of young Christians are misguided to believe that the only way to evangelize is to impose their idea. But rather than imposition (because in this postmodern age, imposition is frowned upon), I believe the better way would be an invitation, what ever action or interaction that may entail.

btw, you gonna in NC around the 17th?
Comment posted on August 6th, 2005 at 02:16 PM
I will be here around the 17th :)

I definitely think that invitation is the best way to go - to those who are truly interested in learning, one should try to open up their minds to those ideas. But unfortunately the only people I see on the streets are those who feel the need for active envangelism.

Let me know when you're in town :) We can grab some dinner.
Comment posted on August 6th, 2005 at 12:24 AM
i read this to the bitter end and i feel as though i've wasted my time... just kidding! i bet you don't know what I think. muhahaha, i winnar.
Comment posted on August 6th, 2005 at 02:16 PM
:( I'm going to make sure we go on superhard trails so you get hurt :(
Comment posted on August 5th, 2005 at 10:04 PM
And big apology to anyone who was offended by my post. I still think religion is good, it's comforting.
Comment posted on August 5th, 2005 at 10:01 PM
I know what you mean Roy. I used to be very much like you in Junior High. Church girl I was, and in a large sense, I still am in a way. But I can definitely say that I'm no where near Christianity anymore. In a sense, I'm more like a theist. There's a God, he created the universe and now he's chilling wherever. He doesn't judge, he doesn't hate, and ultimately does not love either. He's just there, and being there is cool enough. I mean just look at some of the beautiful sunsets, trees, ocean views. Why judge? Why hate?

People are who they are, and many people though considered as evil have experienced many terrible things themselves that aren't their fault. A girl can't preach about the love of God as easily to a person who's been abused, raped, and thrown out into the streets. Unless someone comes along and help and love them through humankindness, and not religion, they will most likely only feel hate and contempt. In the end, is that really their fault that they hate, that they don't believe?

Not all of us are lucky enough to live a black and white life, and that's what Christianity lacks, depth. You can't ultimately judge someone who was born to have a crappy ass life. No one can, or should.

I think that was my first step into taking off from Christianity. Heaven and Hell is too cruel. Someone living in hell eternally? If I ever hate a person, I might stick them there for a few years, but to suffer for eternity when they've probably suffered in this lifetime, that's bull. I say, just die and be done. Why not let mud pile on you, and have grass and flowers grow over you. It's nice, the earth is nice.

Anyways, read this excerpt from Kurt Vonnegut's timequake. You should read some vonnegut. He's my favorite author. Cat's cradle is great, and Timequake is a must get.

<a href="http://www.tabulas.com/~mingtian/category/4399.html" rel="nofollow">http://www.tabulas.com/~mingtian/category/4399.html</a>
Comment posted on August 7th, 2005 at 01:00 PM
Just wanted to say I really enjoyed your entry. I continually question all this "it is all part of a plan" stuff. I don't think so anymore. I think were are here and that is about as much of a plan as there was. We are left to find our way to the final destiny, whatever that may be. The randomness of it all, and the suffering some go through while others "slide" through, is mysterious to me, but I'll have to wait and ask the creator what the heck that was all about.
Comment posted on August 7th, 2005 at 12:26 PM
I'll have to add it to my to-read list :) Thanks for the suggestions.
Comment posted on August 7th, 2005 at 04:00 PM
This has nothing to do with commenting the entry: Roy, check your PM on NPForums, I wrote about a bug I found in Tabulas.