Monthly Archives: July 2009

Summer Film, Summer Sea

I was never an enthusiast for ocean wading, but after viewing  Steven Spielberg’s Jaws I was definitely phobic –  chiefly, but not solely, about sharks. One summer I was vacationing in Gearhart, Oregon, which was having an “El Nino” wave of unseasonably warm water. The normally chilly Pacific was abnormally tepid – like a lagoon under a tropical summer sky – very unusual for the northern Oregon coast, even in summer. Strangely frequent shark sightings, even of Great Whites, were being reported.

In his short story The Lake, Ray Bradbury writes how water is like a magician who cuts you in half – the solid upper half above the waterline, and the wavey, less solid lower half. I, however, was not to experience that illusion, because the surf that day was such that,  coming to just above my knees, it did not allow my submerged portions visibility. I waded out far enough that the land receded from peripheral vision, so that all I could see was ocean. Visually, I may as well have been all adrift upon this summer sea, and the thought came to me that there was nothing – literally no land – between me and Hawaii.

Then my thoughts turned to the volume and opaqueness of the water I was standing in. Almost anything could be beneath that water, and I would be unable to see it. Old debris… a submerged log, perhaps, that would bump or trip me on the next surge of waves… don’t sharks bump their prey before attacking? What other living creature, naturally equipped with aquatic vision and kinetic skills that I did not have, might be in the water with me – its presence totally undetectable, until it touched me… or a fin broke the surface…?

The water was warm, the day perfect, but I was done. Slowly I turned my back to the indifferent sea, onto which I had projected fears – fears that were mostly the inheritance of one finely-crafted film…


Fearing the Devil more than Honoring God

Not all Christians – or  “religious people” in general – fear the devil or the occult. Many enlightened mainstream Christians view the devil as a metaphor, and the occult as mere superstition.

The types of religious people who do fear the devil and the occult are usually found among fundamentalists who seem not to really take seriously the efficacy of Jesus’ redemptive ministry. Jesus is reported to have said, “Fear not, I have overcome the world.” But most fundamentalists don’t seem to take Jesus at his word.

Instead they fear “the world,” dancing, dating, gambling, secular education, evolution, women’s rights, television, mass media, the Internet, movies, alcohol use. They see Satan lurking in nearly every nook and cranny of ordinary existence. Worse yet – unlike the relatively enlightened approach of the Catholic Church – they see “evidence” of demonic possession in such trivial things such as nervous tics and habits, swearing, anger, normal sexual attraction and interaction. Not for them are the exacting “signs of possession” so well documented, for example, in The Exorcist novel and film. After all, if Satan is manifest in nail-biting, there is no need to go to elaborate ends to establish his – or any other- supernatural interventions.  Paradoxically, due to this seeming universality, the devil and his minions become as common and mundane as migraines or toothache.

And why not?  These are the people who so often claim a supernatural action in answer to prayer, regardless of the reply’s (or the request’s) triviality or venality.  Church need a new sprinkler system?  Pray.  Get the sprinklers?  Then thank God for this “blessing.” But if a prayer goes unanswered or if the opposite of the prayer’s intention comes about, what happens to “blessing”?  God of course cannot be cursed.  Perhaps it has become a question of God’s granting the devil permission – for reasons unknown – to thwart prayer.  This serves to make God’s will extremely obscure while at the same time magnifying Satan’s presence and power.  It is not surprising that a miasma of fear floats over this theological bog.

Their paranoia only serves to drive fundamentalists deeper into their fear and into the “safety” of their respective congregations. Morevover, it inflates their sense of “Election” and  “righteousness”, while intensifiying their condemnation of others – especially fellow Christians whom they deem to be insufficiently “biblical”.  They force themselves to live by moral, social and religious strictures as stringent and as “works”-based as the things they vilify in the Catholic Church or in “pharisaic/legalistic” Judaism.

Fundamentalists battle not against the devil, but rather against their own “Shadow” – their own unacknowledged evils – projected onto a mythical fallen angel, and onto other human beings.

Beliefs of Unbelievers

Unbelief is… well, unbelieving, the denial of beliefs (chiefly defined in this blog as unbelief in religious claims).  However, unbelievers in religion often( and sometimes famously) go well beyond simple denial. They frequently proffer replacement beliefs – beliefs that are meant to dislodge religious dogmas with the “true” and “better” beliefs… of unbelievers, some of whose claims are:

“…God is a delusion
God is a myth
God is a fiction
God is a bad dream
God is a means of intellectual and political oppression

God is an infantile idea that keeps theists in an infantile state

God did not create man; rather, man invented God

God was an invention of pre-scientific man and has been explained away in our modern age of science

God is an excuse to be illiterate, especially in science

God is an excuse to be socially and morally prejudiced

God is an excuse to hate, maim and/or kill others

Science is good and progressive
Religion is bad and regressive

Science proceeds from reason and doubt
Religion proceeds from unreasoning, blind faith

Science successfully explains the origins of cosmos, life, and humankind
unsuccessfully explains ” ” “

Religion makes extraordinary claims
Extraordinary claims require extraordinary investigations

Science helps mankind
Religion impedes mankind

Science educates and edifies
Religion obfuscates and corrupts

The soul is an illusion
The soul is a misidentification of neuroprocesses
Man’s “rational intellect” is his highest “gift”

The human brain is the “creator” of the “soul”

The human brain is the generator and mediator of consciousness: it is  the “enchanted loom,” the “three-pound universe”

Human uniqueness is a myth

Man is insignificant in the cosmos

Genesis’ creation narrative is a “primitive myth told around campfires by nomads”
The Bible is made up of “fables”

Jesus didn’t exist
Jesus was nothing more than a pagan myth
If Jesus
did exist, he was most likely a conservative-nationalist political rebel, and/or a hallucinating schizophrenic or a megalomaniac

It was Paul, not Jesus, who founded Christianity

The Christian testament was written hundreds of years after Jesus’ death…”

Some unbelievers simply think that religion is irrelevant, but they do not appear on the above list because they usually do not attack religion; because they seem to think that religious beliefs are not  important enough to merit active efforts toward attack or replacement.  Aside from that consideration, each of the preceding unbelieving propositions is open to debate.  But the relevant  point is that unbelievers often, and sometimes vehemently, publicly express their non-and-anti-religious beliefs, which they hold to be true and superior to religious beliefs.

In fact it is readily apparent that many unbelievers who promote replacement beliefs are actually motivated by these beliefs and are not content with simple denial of religious propositions.  So the frequently made claim, “unbelievers are defined by unbelief; since they don’t believe, their non-belief cannot be critiqued – for the simple reason that it is empty of content, and therefore non-existent.”  That’s true, as far as it goes.  But when unbelief is founded on stated beliefs,  cherished and strongly expressed in public forums – then it is obvious that unbelief is not necessarily founded on simple negation.  To that extent, the expressed beliefs of unbelievers are as vulnerable to criticism as the beliefs of believers.