I want to preface this article by stating that I do not claim to be a devout "anything" except an American and a patriot. I am "Christian" by birth but not by conviction. I make no claim to being an authority on the Bible, the Koran, Torah or any other religious document. This does not mean I don't understand what "faith" means in a literal sense. I am absolutely convinced we are not alone in this universe and that we are not the only beings with intelligence here or in the cosmos. We are not the only beings with advanced civilizations. No one can convince me otherwise"that is faith. A belief you hold because you just "know" it has to be true because the alternative seems impossible.
Faith is what you hold to be true even where evidence is lacking. This is what religious faith is about, believing because you believe. Believing in something even where that has no material factual basis for that belief. Religions typically lack hard evidence or factual basis outside of their own writings.
Were this not so, and if everything that is written in each of the major religions could be proven factually, we would find irreconcilable conflicts between these facts. Their "mysticism" allows for multiple belief systems that all rely on faith for their continued practice. If one could prove beyond any reasonable doubt the non-existence of Christ what would be the fate of Christianity as a religion? I am not talking about the existence of an actual physical person described as Jesus Christ but proof that he was, in fact, the son of a deity, conceived as if by magic. This would first require the provable existence of a deity, whether you call him "God", Jehovah, Allah or what ever name you assign to him or her. The idea that this deity must even have a gender and that must be male is a chauvinist position that probably says more about those who wrote those sacred texts. Men.
There was a time, before Christianity, before Judaism, when man kind worshiped many gods. We had a god of fire, a god for water, for Earth, the sun, and so on. One common thread, however, was that these were all things earlier civilizations had no explanation for. We were ignorant of so much of what makes our planet and our universe function. Man always demands answers, it is our nature, so when early man could not conceive of an answer he ascribed what he could not understand to one or more gods. "It is the will of the gods" was the answer when no other would do.
We know what fire is. That god is gone. We know what water is, we don't need that god any longer. Likewise we no longer need a god to explain wind, or the sun or any other component of nature, due mostly to our intelligence and the time we used to learn about what makes things work. Once you know these things you no longer require some mystical explanation.
We used to pray to a specific god for rain when our crops dried up. Some cultures would sacrifice their fellow humans to appease their gods in exchange for good weather and abundant crops.
People pray for anything and everything today as in the past. In war both sides prays for victory as if God would grant any one a violent advantage over the other when both sides are His children. I am sure no god worth his salt would condone our fighting over possessions and power, helping one human to take from another, by force or politics as we are doing today. This is not an argument for which God wants to become a party.
There are still things we don't know, perhaps that we can never know. Is there a God? How could you prove it one way or another unless you could find where he lives and take his picture? Is there life after absolute death? As long as unknowables exist we will have religions.
None of this is to say that any religion is invalid or some how irrelevant. I happen to believe that no religion is invalid and that all remain relevant to society. It is part of what makes us who we are and, regardless of your faith or lack there of in any particular deity, most of the rules these religions would have their followers abide are good rules based on maintaining the integrity of our society.
To the end that faith demands loyalty and loyalty demands you follow these rules, an untainted religion should bestow peace, cooperation and social structure on man kind. These are good things all religions have in common, even if they don't agree with each other. It is a self-serving fringe or radical offshoot of any religion that causes problems for society.
The first of these problems is more general but not always harmful for society as long as they don't result in bigotry or violence. This is the notion taken by one religion that theirs is the "only true religion", thus everyone else is wrong. You have the right to believe this"but not to act on this belief where it causes harm to those who do not believe the same things you believe.
Much blood has been spilled as a result of this denial of other's right to their own beliefs. Most recent is obviously radical right wing fundamentalist Muslim's terrorist attacks against the US as well as their brutal suppression of women's rights that sometimes extend to murder in the most right-winged factions.
Our forefathers in American came here in part to escape religious persecution in Europe. When they founded this great nation they were mindful of this and chose to codify in our constitution, that our government should never "take sides" against it's citizens when it comes to religious beliefs. While it is true as many point out, that our founders where Christians and held Christian beliefs they deliberately chose to leave religion to the people as an exclusive right to be free of any government intervention or preference. The ideals they held were based on their Christian beliefs but those beliefs are not exclusive to Christianity. Most of those basic beliefs belong to all major religions so they could not claim superiority in that regard and they knew this. From the stand point of our Government, then, they created a secular nation designed to protect all religions beliefs from government intrusion. Wise men indeed.
Today, in America, Christianity is finding itself faced with political pressure, mostly from the very conservative right, to take sides, pitting American against fellow American. There is an obvious appeal to the more right-winged fundamentalist Christians who feel their "grip" sliding away. I believe this fear is not founded in any fact but is, instead, the result of a deliberate manipulation of those who's real agenda is totally unrelated to religion. Anyone with even an unfounded fear regarding something they hold dear, becomes easy prey for manipulation from those who claim to have the method of their "salvation" at hand.
Irrelevant arguments are presented and framed in political terms. At no time has our government sought to undermine, manipulate or otherwise control even the fundamentalists in the free practice of their beliefs.
False arguments abound about government interference in public institutions. The fact is that when such arguments as school prayer, among other things, come to play it is actually the governments constitutional duty under the First Amendment to assure no religion is given preference over any other. If you are a Christian anything that looks like a ban on prayer in a public school can be made by ultra-conservative forces to be a denial of religious freedom. The truth is, that what this says it that your government has upheld its obligation to all Americans to not allow or promote any one religion over another in an institution funded by and for all Americans. If you were Jewish and attended a public school you would be offended if the entire class had to stand and pray to Jesus. Likewise if you are Muslim or Hindu or Buddhist etc. Having to pray to a Christian God says to you that your religious choice is somehow inferior to the rest of your class mates. It is not a judgment against Christianity by a biased government or court"it is an affirmation that they are enforcing the constitutional mandate of our founders that government shall not permit any laws or policies that show a preference for one religion over another. Some continue to frame this as anti-Christian then try to use this notion to generate fear for political purposes that have nothing at all to do with your choice of religion. This spreading of unwarranted fear is always aimed at those easiest to convince, mostly, white Americans, and mostly those with lesser educations who are less likely to question authority.
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