This week I had to do something very difficult. There was one of those occasions which should – by right, by tradition, by all that is proper – be observed publically and in which someone should be honored for choices made and promises kept.
Not being able to go to Portugal for it, I was contacted by my parents and asked to write something in honor of the day.
And then I discovered that – let alone the difficulties of writing in a language whose syntax and spelling become more faltering with each passing day – there is something that embarrasses and paralyzes me more profoundly than writing sex. You see, the person being honored was responsible in large measure for my religious formation and as such I owed him recognition for what has gone right in that. Given my natural bend and my dislike of authority, a lot more has gone right than anyone could expect.
Pick your jaw off the floor, please. It never ceases to amaze me when I get emails that start with “given that you’re pagan” or even better “since you’re an atheist.”
Once for all and for all time, let’s establish I’m not only religious, I’m what my friends often reproach as a “pious bore.” In private. In situations to which it applies. And frankly I think my friends are drinking their own ink. To be a pious bore I’d need to have a way better prayer life and to be a generally better person. I’m a struggling human being – struggling with eternity.
Stay. Put down your pens and take a deep breath. I don’t hold my tongue on religious matters because it’s scary, or because I’m afraid, but because a) It’s intensely private. My strongest religious convictions, even those that are ultimately “conventional” for my faith were arrived at through struggle and fall and near-miracle. Things that if I talked about would get me committed. Yes, even worse than my talk about writing. Besides the circumstances are, nearly all of them, extremely private and involving other lives than mine. And besides, my writing is not religious, and as such it is no business of my public persona or of this blog. b) You don’t convince anyone by screaming Bible verses. Sorry, you don’t. To do so is to play into the hands of the cultural Marxists who want nothing better than for religious people to be believed incapable of thought. c) I know history. I know history to a depth and breadth most Americans don’t. I don’t/can’t buy the excuses for a lot of medieval excesses that it is just, somehow, the Catholic church that went bad. Or that Catholicism is uniquely bad. I have to look at what happens when one forgets to give Cesar that which is Cesar’s and a religion becomes a ruling system. (Which is not the same as religious people being heard and weighed in the political system, note, but taking religious principles wholesale and making them law.)
I don’t particularly hide it, either, except by not naming my religion here. I certainly don’t hide it in my books, and more than one of my fans have pinpointed not only my religion, but the particular flavor of it and the fact that it is woven in my mind to such an extent it comes out in my decidedly non-religious books in symbolism, in character behavior and in resonance.
The thing is, when discussing laws and social issues, I don’t think religion has a right to dictate laws “because we say so” anymore than any of the secular religions currently doing it does. No, we shouldn’t accept extreme environmentalism wholesale, but the only reason it got in as far as it did was because it came in under the cloak of rationality. Now that it’s reduced to shouting what amounts to religious principles “Bow down to the Earth, it is your mother” “Humans evil” it is losing cred, and will be swept out of the public life.
You’re going to tell me the founders were religious men. I believe you. However, note they exerted the same general caution I do. The principles they argued they argued from other reasons than G-d and certainly for other reasons than a specific G-d. (Endowed by their creator is not the same as endowed by G-d the Father. It covered a multitude of beliefs. And while that lent force to their pronouncement, note too that there were other, rational, good reasons for those principles) Note, too, that they enshrined freedom of religion in public life.
This is not the same as freedom FROM religion. I get as incensed as anyone else when creches are swept from public parks, when crosses are struck from city seals, and when kids are told they’re not allowed to pray or read the Bible in school. People should be allowed to visibly practice their religion. They should be allowed to practice it in civic ways too. If it comes to a showdown between the Catholic church and the state over contraception and abortion, I will startle all sides of the debate by landing in jail.
But at the same time I don’t think you can just continuously shout things like “Marriage is between one man and one woman” and carry the day. This is true, for those who believe in it. Religious marriage is just so. But a lot of marriages aren’t religious. To reduce marriage to only its religious dimension is to make it something it is not right now. No? What principle animates the marriage of atheists? Are they forbidden to marry? How about Hollywood marriages? How about the cults and – legally and historically – religions currently int his country that permit polygamy? You know they exist, right? Because periodically they come up in the news on social security fraud.
Would you like to live in a society where another religion’s beliefs are enshrined in law? Where you have to keep a strict separation between dairy and meat, for instance, because it’s ancient religious law and there must have been a reason? And besides, other people believe it’s essential for the proper ordering of human life on Earth?
No, of course you don’t. For one if we applied everyone’s essential religious laws, it would be a complete salad, let alone the interpretations of them.
And don’t come back and tell me it’s a Judeo-Christian society. Yes, and? Let alone the first of that pair (do you wish to separate meat and dairy?) The interpretations of the New Testament by the various Christian denominations and applying them to daily life could lead to wars. It HAS led to wars.
The business of religion is souls. This doesn’t mean staying out of the world and of politics. You must vote as informed by your religion, and if you can find a convincing way to argue for your religious beliefs as law, one that is not just screaming a verse at someone, you should do so, of course. And you should – of COURSE – by example and word lead others to the faith. If you believe your faith is the way – or helps on the way – to eternity, then it’s your duty. (Me, I believe the doors of hell are locked from the inside.)
But a lot of the “arguing from religion” I see is sort of like the left outsourcing charity by getting the state to redistribute money for them, so they can feel virtuous. Instead of taking the long, hard road of talking to the disbelievers or – much, much harder – of showing by your life the advantages of religion, people want to legislate moral matters, so that everyone has to behave as if they were religious.
It won’t work. What you’re actually doing is playing into the hands of those who would rule you by dividing you (and making you look ridiculous.) Supposing one could unite every Christian sect in America (something that would take the advent of Heinlein’s first prophet – and that’s a horrifying prospect) and take over secular power… what then?
First of all, what do you do with the people you can’t convert? Will you, like the Marxists, make plans to eliminate them? (If you say something about omelets and eggs, or the end justifying the means, we can’t be friends anymore.)
Second, let’s suppose you establish your society. Let’s imagine that every one of the organizing principles of your religion is just, fair and well thought out (and there’s no Liberation Theology or laws against usury to spoil the soup.) It will still end in tears. It will end in tears because once ANY set of beliefs has temporal power, it attracts the wrong sort of people: people who are in it for the money and the power and not to serve the greater principle. Studying the middle ages will help in this, and any smugness about how that’s just the Catholic church is unjustified. It happens EVERY TIME a set of principles acquires power. Unless the principles are self limiting. Religion isn’t. By it’s very nature it’s all encompassing. By its very nature it allows the power-greedy to tell everyone what to do, everywhere. That’s a terrifying thing for a government.
So while I think we should let belief inform our public actions, I don’t think we have the right to dictate our belief to others, or to argue PURELY from faith. The conversion of souls is not done in public and with fanfare but often in tears and so privately that only the person and G-d know about it (no matter how many people contributed to it through the years.)
And if you’re wailing that it’s a difficult line to walk, yes it is, but not mine. The instruction is to be in the world but not of the world. And I didn’t come up with it.
I admire the cunning of the social Marxists who, having turned envy into a Cardinal virtue have now managed to convince the religious that religious wars are their religious duty: instead of quiet proselytizing and even quieter living of holy lives. But again I remind you they got there by pretending – at least – to be rational and to reason with others.
I say, use their weapon against them.
Meanwhile on my quandary – I wrote the tribute I owed the gentleman who helped form my religious conscience. It took me an entire day, and I cringe to think of its being read in public.
I expect this will be misunderstood and I will be screamed at. At least try to do it without JUST quoting bible verses at me. It gets very tiring. I don’t expect to get any traction either. People are now convinced screaming is a virtue and yelling their belief is proof of their worthiness.
This was almost as hard to write as that tribute, because again, it details intimate choices and carefully-thought-out beliefs which shouldn’t be anyone’s business and shouldn’t need to be talked about. But I’m getting very tired of the various sects of believers and the various groups of would-be free men shouting over each other, while those who divided them rule, gloating, over them.
This is the only time I intend to talk of this. If it affects one decibel of the yelling, my discomfort will be worth it.