May 19, 2009

Do we need more religion?

"The enemy of humanism is not faith. The enemy of humanism is hate, is fear, is ignorance, is the darker part of man that is in every humanist, every person in the world. That is what we have to fight. Faith is something we have to embrace. Faith in god means believing absolutely in something with no proof whatsoever. Faith in humanity means believing absolutely in something with a huge amount of proof to the contrary. We are the true believers"--Joss Whedon 

On Friday, my mom and I were out shopping when she picked up a couple of copies of The Shack.  Had my dad not mentioned this book to me a few weeks prior, I would not have had a clue what it was about.  He thought I might find it interesting or something, I'm not really sure now.  I remember he prefaced it with "I know you aren't particularly religious..."  and I zoned a little bit after that.  I think my dad might be in some sort of denial that I am not even remotely religious, although some reference was made in another conversation to something he said to Robotson.  I guess he accidentally knocked something over and my dad said "Geez, Robotson!"  My mom pipes up that in fact he had said Jesus and not geez.  My dad says, "Well he probably doesn't even know who that is anyway!"  I was sort of taken aback because of the tone used.  Lately, I've gotten the feeling that maybe my dad is not happy about my being openly atheist.  Maybe I'm just paranoid.  What's really strange is I don't even know my dad's views on religion.  He's the one who I can talk physics with and loves Cosmos.  He's read Hawking and Einstein.  Religion was such a non factor in our house, and since he was more scientifically minded, perhaps I attributed more skepticism to him than I should.  But back to my point.

So I asked my mom why she was getting multiple copies of The Shack and she said she was giving out books for Christmas this year.  She also is giving copies of My Stroke of Insight, which is an amazing book, and the Fair Tax books.  I already have the last two and I'm not interested in the first.  I happened to look down at the books then, and noticed Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food and Christopher Hitchen's God is Not Great.  So I said those were the books I wanted.  She rolled her eyes at me.  

My mom is an interesting character.  She told me once that she wishes she knew if there was a god, but she's not sure.  I've always thought her more "religious" than my dad, but still this was the woman who refused to let me go to church with my friends while in middle school because I was coming home freaking out about the rapture.  On the other hand, she doesn't think dinosaurs existed (please don't ask, I can't explain it), but when I explained creationism to her, she thought that was ridiculous.  

I was reading the little blurb on the back of the book.  It says something similar to this:

Mackenzie Allen Philips' youngest daughter, Missy, has been abducted during a family vacation and evidence that she may have been brutally murdered is found in an abandoned shack deep in the Oregon wilderness. Four years later in the midst of his Great Sadness, Mack receives a suspicious note, apparently from God, inviting him back to that shack for a weekend. Against his better judgment he arrives at the shack on a wintry afternoon and walks back into his darkest nightmare. What he finds there will change Mack's world forever. In a world where religion seems to grow increasingly irrelevant "The Shack" wrestles with the timeless question, "Where is God in a world so filled with unspeakable pain?" The answers Mack gets will astound you and perhaps transform you as much as it did him. You'll want everyone you know to read this book! 
I said the world doesn't need more religion.  Religion has caused more death and destruction than anything in history.  Since she's read it, I asked what the answer is to the question, "Where is God in a world so filled with unspeakable pain?"  She didn't answer me.  I've been thinking about it ever since.  What is it that religion offers that we need more of?  I couldn't figure it out.  

Then today I was listening to a podcast where Christine Carter was being interviewed about happiness*, and how to foster it in children.  In fifteen minutes she talks about the need to teach our children about kindness, empathy, and gratitude, which all lead to happiness, and how they all start with a growth mindset.  I think religions do try to teach these things too, but clearly it's not exclusive to them.  The question then isn't "Where is God?", the question is "Where is our humanity?"   Anyway, from reading the reviews and wikipedia entry, I'm guessing I took the question too literally.   I'm not sure what one is supposed to learn from The Shack, but I'm sure that I know what I need to learn to get closer to humanity.  

*If you are interested in the podcast, it's in iTunes under Half Full Radio Blogs: Science For Raising Happy Kids.

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