This was originally written in response to a dialog I was having with a fellow blogger on a political site. I have fashioned my self as the resident anti-theist and we were discussing the religious origins of traditions. I think that tradition often falls into the trap of dogma but if we are careful, we can fashion new traditions to promote discovery and learning.
I actually see the beauty and meaning in many of the traditions of many religions. They were developed as ways to deal with, explain and survive life. Some are wonderful in their symbolism. I get all that and it is why I was once interested in pursuing a career in the church. But I underwent a personal evolution and it has opened my mind to new fields of wonder.
As human culture has evolved our understanding has evolved, generally. We once needed an invisible force to explain the motions of the stars, the change of seasons, the tides. The more we understand these systems the less we need to attribute them to magical thinking. God is slowly pushed back into the dark corners of our mind as science illuminates the world. I experienced this evolution in thought personally. I once believed in God and grace. I was naive. The more I learned, the more I saw that there was no evidence for a higher power and all the evidence that was there pointed to the mechanics of the universe instead. And it is not just a "mechanical' universe, it is a universe full of wonder, discovery, and mathematical simplicity. The universe really can be understood by human minds and we are adding to that knowledge all the time. The thing we are likely to never understand is the moments before the Universe came into existence. We are getting closer and closer to understanding the moment that it happened, but in a way the whole concept of trying to understand something that did not exist seems futile. So I am happy with the wondrous elegance we do understand.
As far as traditions are concerned, there are many that are useful. There are some that are beautiful and there are some that have outlived their reason for creation. Dietary traditions and rules are now quite archaic. The means for storing and preserving foods were very primitive when many of the laws involving diet were created. They were needed to keep tribes alive and to keep disease down. Times have changed and food preservation methods are much better. But because of tradition and dogma, there exists still prohibitions on certain foods. It is an archaic and irrational way of thinking.
There are other rules and I think the "because god said so" is now very dangerous. It is dangerous to the advancement of knowledge, to people living peacefully and to how we deal with many aspects of daily living. That is the reason I say that religious belief is a form of mental illness. It is form of indoctrination that traditionally happens when a mind is forming. If the mind is infected with the "because god said so" meme, then the mind is less likely to assimilate new knowledge and less likely to attempt to see the universe for the way it truly is. That is the reason that I say that religion is dangerous and is an illness.
As far as tradition, helping each other out, community... these are things that do not need irrational belief in a higher power, they just need what I feel. A sense of kinship with my fellow humans. A sense that we are bound by the common thread of our humanity and the challenges we face for survival and our desire to express the beauty we see in the world and in each other. That is one reason I am an artist. My art has improved with my increasing understanding of nature.
And finally, in Christianity and Judaism, there is a tendency that the more you learn about your faith, the less you believe in God. That was my path and I have read many similar stories. Especially when the minister or rabbi becomes a scholar of the history and texts. Many stick with it because of the richness of tradition and the belief that they are helping others and that is good. Others stick with it and promote the beliefs that they themselves do not hold because they are financially, temporally , and emotionally invested in their path. It is hard to recapture all those years learning something only to find out it is false and purse a new course. A lot of people just don't have the time or money to do so. And on it goes. I have personally seen it, read many accounts of it and believe it explains a lot of the hypocrisy we see from clergy.
I think a compassionate humanist approach to life would benefit everyone far better. First, it immediately removes the false barriers that religion has constructed. There is no us and them on that level any more. Second, it frees the mind to see the world as it really is instead of how ancient texts tells them that it is. And finally and most importantly the transition will take us from a stance of we know it all because it is written so, to a wonderful world of discovery where we can open new levels of understanding and truly grasp the beauty of the Universe around us.
Perhaps we should construct an effigy of all the Gods. We can place these effigies on a raft of flowers and place other symbols for them there. Then we can gently set a torch to the raft and put it to sea. As it sails towards the horizon a representative of all faiths can work together to plant a tree in Africa, the cradle of humanity.