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Some personal thoughts and reflections on religion, Christianity and fate.
Several years ago I remember asking my father what he believed (in terms of religion). He pondered for a while and then said he wasn't sure exactly what, but he did believe in something. Perhaps because I was a teenager at the time I found that answer woefully inadequate and I remember being quite short with him, though pursuing the question did no real good as I got no better an answer. This question of religion and belief has always fascinated me, so I have set out to try to clarify my own thoughts and feelings.
Jesus was a great thinker and philosopher whose teachings were set against a time of relative brutality, aggression and oppression. He taught, or set out to influence, by means of persuasion and reason, using stories or parables to illustrate the points he wanted to make, appealing to common experience and encouraging people to show humanity towards one another.
The fact that his "teachings" were social philosophy and appealed to "common sense" and reason is important - his teachings were not dependent on authority but on understanding and seeing "goodness" or at least advantage in showing consideration toward others. By "goodness" I mean social justice, fairness to all, and selflessness - a philosophy which may provide a sort of manual for the survival of society.
His philosophy was not based on random edicts or whims based on personal opinion. Reason lies behind his teachings. Understanding that the common good is best served through altruistic acts is fundamental, but it will be all the more successful if one sees why it should be so. Fundamental to his philosophy is equality and justice for all, and Jesus attempts to illustrate this equality and justice by way of social example, or his parables.
Of course, a common core of humanity whereby you treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself borders on the ontology of the Enlightenment Movement and even Existentialism. Could the early Christian era be likened to the eighteenth century Enlightenment Movement? Both encourage consideration of others and demand accountability (through equality), and both threatened the established (religious and political) orders of the day.
However, with the passage of time conclusions drawn from his teachings became edicts and commands, faith became stronger than reason (with the suggestion and mystery of higher moral authority), and moral authority was created (even required?) by those who had a vested interest in religious and political influence.
Moral and divine authority did away with reasoning and social justice, to be replaced by faith in the conclusions (now edicts) which had originally been reached by means of reason and equality, and the way these conclusions were reached is at least as important as the edicts/conclusions themselves, if man is to learn to think for himself.
Had these edicts been simply divine pronouncements they could have consisted of virtually anything. The reason they appeal to people is in their essential "goodness", so it is the "goodness" and not simply divine authority that people are willing to follow. Belief in Christian principles has come about not just because Jesus stated them, but because he was right and people can recognise the sense in what he said.
It is easy for us in the present day to accept Christian ideals as something worthwhile, but at the time of their pronouncement this was far from the case. Order through brutality and fear were the norm and Jesus offered a brave alternative - a society based on mutual respect and consideration.
Do I believe in God? I don't know - that is not rejection, but a reaction to what I have experienced. I think I may believe in some form of fate or destiny where a sort of balance is produced in the long term, but that need not be attributed to the orthodox understanding of what is God.
This does not mean I believe that whatever happens is what is "written" - from the interpretation I have placed on various events, it seems to me there is a form of balancing out, and a potential influence over events. Naturally this depends on reaction to circumstances and I can quite understand people claiming this is entirely due to happenstance or coincidence, but so often things can "work out" in the longer term. That is not to say that I believe that whatever happens, happens for the best - I believe we can make the best of whatever happens, but the circumstance leading to that choice can often seem "influenced".
When we perceive a pattern (in events or indeed any walk of life), does that prove the pattern exists, or does it merely prove that the perception of this pattern exists? Does perception of a pattern suggest existence of intelligent creation, or does it simply imply intelligence on the part of the perceiver? Is it possible that the pattern observed is just as random as any other occurrence, but its perception appeals to man's desire to render chaos manageable?
It is in man's nature to seek order and try to make sense of apparent chaos. Providing an explanation or imposing order does not, however, mean that this order truly explains nature, merely that the explanation fits the evidence or circumstances as perceived.
My perception of direction or guidance in my life does not necessarily mean it is there, though inductive logic may lead me to conclude it is there and it is undoubtedly emotionally appealing and comforting to think that some influential force is indeed at work.
Even if we were to accept the existence of some form of influence over events, the perceived nature of the supposed instigator would have to be in keeping with the perceived nature of the influence.
Balance may be confused with justice. If a lie catches up with you, or you suffer as a result of an action you committed in the past, this is not evidence of an all-seeing and infinitely wise God. It may be, however, evidence of some form of balance or equilibrium whereby one may suffer the consequence of one's own actions, or indeed be rewarded for them, even if this takes place over a long term.
Is there intelligence at work in this scheme of things? I don't know. Is God responsible? I don't know. Is it purely down to coincidence? My desire to see a pattern and make connections between events says no, but I do not know.
To attribute responsibility for such events would appear somewhat premature as this assumes first of all the genuine existence of links between events, and secondly all we can do is note perceived links (which may, after all, simply be in our heads) - to attribute these links to an omniscient and omnipotent being goes far beyond the premise of the supposed evidence. Having said all that, I think I am satisfied that I have seen too many coincidences for there not to have been some form of influence over them. That is my explanation of my perceptions - this is a conviction, not a truth and I can say no more, but no less.
It appears that man feels the need to believe in something other than (and presumably greater than) himself. Religion will usually involve belief in a superior being who may offer guidance and wisdom. However, as the result of the development of various philosophies, some questionable ethics and general scepticism, there has been a turning away from the traditional values of the church and religion in general in the West, but there remains the fundamental need of a role-model or a source of inspiration to provide hope and guidance.
It also appears that this need, in an age where celebrity is confused with worth and wisdom, can be fulfilled by a book, its author, a film (or one of its characters), devotion to a sport or a particular team or a gifted practitioner of a sport, the advice of a doctor or a teacher - the possibilities are endless, but all involve seeking truth, a code, a way of life - something which will help the individual impose some semblance of order on what he may perceive as the chaos of his life.
This may be regarded as a development of Existentialism which is commonly held to mean belief in nothing, but which is, in fact, based on mutual respect, humanity and recognition of man's equality in the face of apparent nothingness.
In conclusion, then, I have to say that I believe in something, but I'm not sure exactly what. I also have to conclude that I owe my father an apology as I have done no better in trying to answer my own question than he did!
No offence was intended when writing this article - these are simply my own thoughts, and I thank you for taking the time to read it and I hope you found it of some interest.
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Due to technical problems (and my inability to cope with them), new material will be posted on My Blog. Please check for regular updates. These include various articles, discussions of "Dunkirk", "Dances With Wolves", “The Prisoner” (1967 TV series), “Inherit the Wind” (1960 film), a little Flash Fiction and some of my memoirs as a teacher in a small Highland school for some 35 years.