Saturday, June 17, 2017

Religion and politics -- let’s go there

I am, after all, a YA author. You probably don’t want to select a YA author with incompatible values.

As far as politics, I’ve mentioned before that I’m a liberal social democrat, I believe in a safety net that includes universal health care. I believe discrimination is bad. I don’t believe in censorship but I have a narrow view of “censorship” which is limited to edits performed by the state, and I support the rights of private individuals to curate speech as they see fit. I definitely lean libertarian and have always hung out with my libertarian buddies, but I think libertarianism needs some hard caps because people tend to group up and unfairly dominate outliers, and some are hypercompetitive while others are unlucky. 

As far as philosophy, I am a compatibilist. I lean more towards determinism than behaviorism, but I do think we have a certain amount of free will when it comes to veto power and technological assistance (see my novels for further meditation on this).

With regard to religion, you may file me under “agnostic.” I was brought up under a spiteful, isolationist version of the Southern Baptist faith. We went to churches when I was little, in Hawai'i, where they were multiracial and full of singing, but we stopped around the time I entered my teens. My dad had entered his socioeconomic decline and apparently he could only socialize if he was strutting around being prosperous. Once the prosperity started slipping it turned into John Birch and talk radio. 

My mom backed him up, agreeing that all those strangers were far too sinful for a good moral family like ours to hang out with. She would act friendly toward neighbor women, then disclose all their secrets to me, apparently as some kind of moral warning. She was also kind of extreme in her submission to the patriarchy, as she never held a job, never learned to drive, never went anywhere farther than the grocery store unless accompanied by dad, refused to touch computers. Recently on Facebook I noticed a cousin on her side in a thread chortling about how all liberals were demons, with each comment containing a typographical error; it brought back memories.

Once I finally got out of there at age seventeen, I was predisposed to dislike religion. I went around being an insufferable atheist for a while, ridiculing everyone’s beliefs, then a new ager dared me to open my mind. So I spent a few years joining all kinds of mystical cults and nascent religions and secret societies and nontraditional faiths – we have a lot of those in Northern California. I ended up having a fling with an official in a particularly notorious one, which is indirectly how I got started working in civil litigation, but that’s a digression. 

By the time I hit forty I had snapped back to nonbelief, having made a sincere effort to be religious. Ultimately I was unable to suspend my disbelief as to the metaphysical aspects. I did learn several things about religion along the way: (i) not all religious people are ignorant (e.g. Jesuits); (ii) not all religious people hate art (e.g. JS Bach); (iii) in fact, some people are more about the contemplation-of-beauty or other religious aspects separate and apart from social aggression; (iv) religion provides an excuse for people to get dressed up and gather while appreciating poetry and art and music and fellowship with friends and family; (v) religion provides a comforting sense of historical continuity; (vi) atheists can be just as evil as persons of faith (e.g. Pol Pot) so attributing default good/evil toward religion is a fallacy; and (vii) ignorant atheists who don’t care about any of that dumb religious stuff are every bit as infuriating as people who write incorrectly spelled comments about other people being demons.  The real enemies -- ignorance, cruelty, violence, etc. – are nonsectarian. And rather than define myself as an atheist (thus, as GK Chesterton pointed out, asserting a universal negative), I now define myself as agnostic (i.e. idk).  

Since then I’ve tried not to be infuriating. Not always successfully, but I work on it.

Because I was raised in a Christian culture, and understand its idioms and am familiar with its traditions, I count myself as a culturally Christian agnostic. I don’t balk at singing hymns or reciting the Lord’s Prayer or wishing people a Merry Christmas. You probably won’t catch me attending services, but you may find me sitting around being contemplative in empty churches, or spacing out while listening to various religious and secular pieces of music, or while staring at the beauty of nature. My preferred religious text would be the Jefferson Bible, with the gnostic gospel of Thomas coming in second, and I might fit within the boundaries of the Unitarian and/or Quaker churches should I ever feel the need to commit myself to a faith. I believe in positive Christian values like loving neighbors and being nonviolent and caring for the unfortunate.

With regard to the new age teachings, the only one that ever lodged in my brain was astrology, since it meshes with compatibilism – mostly deterministic, a little bit of leeway in the execution. Similar to religion, I’m far more interested in the symbolism than the application. I don’t really feel the need to engage in any of the other beliefs/practices. I get my transcendence through art and music, and my humility from contemplating the cosmos.

I think that kids should be taught about religion, since it’s such an important cultural foundation. If I had grown up with the knowledge there were many religions besides the kind in my house, I might have spent less time being hostile to the very concept of religion. I don't teach about religion myself, as I'm not qualified, but I like to occasionally sprinkle ethics situations into my science fiction.

I will note that I have a remaining and persistent dislike for magic feather systems like The Secret and prosperity gospel that claim all the world’s problems can be solved by privileged people wishing real hard. I’m more inclined to think that the world’s problems can be mitigated by people who are willing to get their hands dirty, and that blaming victims of accidents/catastrophes/wars for bringing on their fates by not thinking happy-enough thoughts is cruel and narcissistic.

Sermon over. May whatever you believe in inspire you to have positive emotions. 

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