This blog is still alive, just in semi-hibernation. When I want to write something longer than a tweet about something other than math or sci-fi, here is where I'll write it.
Friday, August 22, 2008
The requirements of faith some were born with.
Bill Maher has a movie coming out called Religulous. Directed by Larry Charles, who also directed Borat, the idea is to let the camera record what religious people do and make them look like idiots. Wacky hilarity ensues!
I understand how Bill Maher feels, so I have some sympathy. I felt like he felt. When I was twelve. I know he has the trademark on the phrase, but if I could say something to his face, what I would say is "Get over yourself."
Some people in this country on both sides of the issue want to turn the debate about faith and doubt into a war. I'm an American, and so somewhere down in my cultural memory/DNA is the phrase Don't Tread On Me. That's how I feel about this topic. Whatever form my belief or lack of belief takes, I am most deeply interested in being left alone. If this were just a democracy, it could turn into a tyranny of the majority, and my views are not in the majority. But it is also a nation of laws, and in our supreme law, the Constitution, it says the government cannot make an official national religion. Thanks, Founding Fathers! Good thinkin', pals!
I made a good faith effort to join the faith when I was an adult. I did so with the help of my good friend Michael Dresbach, who was studying to become Padre Mickey back then. I was baptized when I was 36 and attended church regularly for several years. The glib answer I give to people who ask why I left the church is "too much unsupervised Bible study." The more honest answer is that outside of the Dresbach family, I met people few people in the church with whom I could actually say how I really felt.
I took the title of this post from a lyric by the very underappreciated band Madder Rose, a song called Mad Dog. I know this song because Padre Mickey turned me onto this band. My musical tastes would be a lot more vanilla if I didn't know the padre and his clan. His relationship with God is very different from mine, but that doesn't change the history we share and our long friendship.
When I say I felt like Bill Maher until I was twelve, I mean it literally. I had no use for the religious. The most devout folks I knew were cruel idiots, with the exception of some nice old ladies, but I knew non-religious nice old ladies, too. I distrusted people who told me they were religious. Then I discovered that Johann Sebastian Bach, my favorite classical composer, was very devout. That changed my view. Other historical people I admired were also religious, and of course, the civil rights movement had strong ties to the black churches. My own personal connection with the devout was still awkward, but that also changed over time.
Some people have made a hero out of Richard Dawkins, the excellent British evolutionary biologist and outspoken critic of faith. Maybe it's because I'm a Californian and a mathematician, but I have more respect for Donald Knuth. Knuth, now retired from Stanford, is the author of the now four volume classic textbook The Art of Computer Programming. Dr. Knuth is also a devout Lutheran and a deacon at his church. On his website, he lists his speaking engagements chronologically, and so a talk at a math conference will be followed by his next visit to the pulpit at his church, discussing Bible verses.
Some people consider me damned for eternity. I was offered the gift of eternal life and I refused it, in their view. I really do not give a fig what they think. There are requirements of faith that some were born with, and others were not. I know what feeling I should have in my heart to consider myself a Christian, and I know it isn't there. But I do not feel I a need to proselytize my lack of belief or the logical underpinnings of my doubts. I'm not going to buttonhole Padre Mickey or Dr. Knuth and bring them to the One True Path, because just as I have doubts about the nature of God and the universe, I have doubts about the One True Path, even the one I decided to travel on.
I found a lot of live versions of these songs on the You Tubes and I have to say the tightest live band of this crowd is... Garbage! I don't have links to Madder Rose and the song whose lyrics gave me the title of this post, which is a damn shame. Also, no Nino Rota or Rafael Boguslav, which are two more darn shames. Soundgarden plays my favorite song they ever recorded, and just to keep with the religious theme, if we ever come to a "Jesus is back and boy, is he pissed!" moment in the future, Pissed Off Jesus is going to look a lot like Soundgarden guitarist Kim Thayil.