Monday, August 20, 2007

Belief vs. Action...


So an idea has been running through my head lately, and it has been brought to the surface by a book I'm currently reading titled, "Letter to a Christian Nation," by Sam Harris. Sam Harris, who also wrote "The End of Faith," is an atheist writer (a cohort of Richard Dawkins) and is intent on proving Christianity false and ridding the world of religious dogma. On this idea, I have two general side notes I'd like to discuss this evening.

First, let us assume that there is no God, that all religions are inherently lying to their followers, spirituality is a human construct, and positivism reigns supreme. Would it still be wrong for people to believe in these religions and cling to them?

This is one of the main problems I see with Harris's arguments. Even if Harris's atheism is correct, why would you try to stop people from believing in something bigger than themselves? At their very hearts, every religion is built upon the Golden Rule and learning to love others more thoroughly. It is a code of moral ethics in order for us to better cope with this world and the people in it. What is wrong with that? Why would you try to rid the world of a system set in place to create more morally responsible beings?

Here, I'm sure I'm being overly optimistic and unrealistic in my views of world religions, which can also be used for base purposes, but I'm being intentionally idealistic. I think that the core of world religions is idealistic. In practice, it never works out to be quite so noble, but the ideal is there for people to follow and try to become better through it, no?

The second thought that Sam Harris's book brings to my mind is more of a question than a point. Harris spends a great deal of time talking about how these moral codes that Christianity professes and claims as their own (the ten commandments) are basically implanted into human genetics. We're born with a basic sense of right and wrong, and that helps us propagate our species. It serves a purpose.

Here's what I have a question with in that regard: Is salvation based upon believing in something, or in acting it out properly? Suppose a Buddhist monk works hard her or his entire life to become an exemplary person and succeeds to that end. Now imagine a convict in prison for killing his or her entire family, but this particular convict claims to believe in Jesus Christ. Clearly, the Buddhist monk, who has worked his or her entire life to cultivate compassion and love, is actually living out the precepts of Christianity better than the convict, who clearly does not follow Christ's teachings, but claims to be Christian.

Which is better? Do you think Jesus was more concerned about people living out a faith in HIS name, or living correctly, no matter whose name the follower professes, Buddha or otherwise?

It's hard to have this conversation with myself and not find myself completely smothered in dualism. I'm pretty sure this isn't a black and white conversation, but starting it out as a black and white conversation is a great way for the two to come together under the banner of discussion and create something closer to reality, right? Either way, just some food for thought.

1 comment:

PeterAtLarge said...

Welcome back, Mark! Good to see you back in the blogosphere... "What's wrong" with people believing in something greater than themselves...? An interesting question. For me, the wrong thing happens when they seek to impose their beliefs on others, or judge others for not sharing them, or insist that public policies be made to accomodate them, or attempt to strong arm others into submission to them... People are entitled to believe whatever they want, so long as they don't get mad at me for not sharing their belief, or require me to act as if I did. Cheers, PaL