We're apes

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A new pope is elected and the world is abuzz. In Western media, a recurring theme leading up to the election (that’s what it is: a group of old men deciding who will lead their large, powerful political entity) was whether a new pope would mean reform.

It won’t of course, and this spells out the reasons why: http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2013/03/12/michael-den-tandt-catholicisms-mainstream-is-not-in-canada/

I don’t know this writer. I sense his sympathies lie with Catholic conservatism but maybe not. That’s irrelevant to the fact his analysis is spot-on. Western liberalism isn’t where the power lies in RCism. Power is found in conservative doctrine sold to conservative cultures.

There is a problem facing all organized religions and Christian denominations, and that is specificity.

Let me explain: To be one kind of Christian instead of another is to make assumptions about God. Let’s talk about leaps of faith. Christians acknowledge belief in Jesus and God requires a leap of faith. This is, perhaps unwittingly, a misrepresentation, because belief in the doctrines of a Christian denomination require hundreds of leaps of faith.

For example, leap one: There is a God.

Leap two: God is/was conscious.

Leap three: God still exists.

Leap four: God has awareness of our universe.

Leap five: God has the power to act in our universe.

Leap six…well, you get the point. It’s only when we get to leap 943 that we start to parse whether the RCs are correct or the Anglicans. Around faith leap 1,467, we arrive at whether or not God thinks women should be ordained and priests should be celibate.

What’s my point? Well, the problem is that as we become more specific, the assumptions we make about this allegedly almighty being called God become more and more absurd. Remember, even Christians acknowledge belief requires a leap of faith; they know they can’t actually “prove” they’re right. So on the basis of a really old book, Popes are issuing edicts about whether modern latex prophylactics are permitted.

Maybe an analogy would help.

Let’s say I’m sitting in a room with a door and I need to guess whether there’s a room on the other side or the outdoors.

Based on the style of door and room (the features of existence and the universe, and my experiences), I decide to guess there’s another room on the other side of the door (I decide a god exists).

Now, at this point I’ve made a guess. I could be right, I could be wrong, but the guess I’ve made can’t be wholesale ridiculous (even if the atheist in this analogy thinks the room is obviously a front hallway which will let out to the outdoors).

At this point in our analogy, we’ve made a choice: the universe just is (atheism/outdoors) or it’s caused by a first something (the very start of theism/another room).

Let’s go back in the room. OK, I’ve guessed there’s another room beyond the door. Maybe there is, maybe there isn’t. But what if I decide to guess further? What if I guess the room I can’t see is painted blue? What if I guess it has a black leather couch on the right-hand wall? What if I guess there are three people in the room? What if I guess one is a woman and two are men? What if I guess the woman is 45 and her birthday is August 1st, and the men are twin brothers whose father is named Ferdinand?

What if I guess they have not one TV in the room, but three, and are simultaneously watching Swamp People, Antiques Roadshow and The Simpsons? What if I guess the colour of dress Marg is wearing on-screen at that very moment?

When would this guessing game become ridiculous? Probably way back when I guessed the colour of the paint on the imagined room’s walls.

In other words, the more specific we get in our assumptions about a God we’ve decided to believe in, the less likely we are to be describing God and the more likely we are to be engaged in a worldly pursuit that has nothing to do with spirituality and everything to do with human prejudices and history.

So are Catholics wrong? Absolutely. So are Anglicans and Muslims, Hindus and Baptists, Sikhs and Buddhists. I would put the odds of any one of these faiths being remotely accurate descriptions of a god or reality – here or beyond – at about ten trillion to one.

What? What’s that? What about the Bible? Ah yes, the good book. I forgot to give the person in the empty room a bible or, in our analogy, a pamphlet describing the room beyond the one I’m in. Wouldn’t I believe the pamphlet?

Here’s the problem: there isn’t one pamphlet. There’s a giant bookcase overflowing with pamphlets, all of them describing different conditions beyond the door. One says the walls are painted red and another orange. Another says the couch is brown and another has no couch at all. Still another says there’s no room there at all, just a meadow. And why, exactly, are the authors of any of these brochures supposed to be credible?

Is the pope in touch with God? Seems pretty unlikely to me. Jorge is a man, and men are smart apes. I’m OK with that.

 

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