Saturday, June 8, 2013

Musings of a Philosophical Bear:

On Science, Homosexuality, and the New Religion


Scientific discovery has necessarily moved us away from old religious views. Even those of us who profess to be Christians do so while making huge modifications to the traditional Christian worldview. While some fundamentalists will still argue for creationism, the widespread acceptance of evolution demonstrates the impotence of religious texts to explain natural phenomena. Scientific advances in astrophysics, neurology, and genetics with further challenge us to reconsider sacred texts amid a flood of new facts about the world around us. Faith still remains. This is because the greatest questions about life have nothing to do with the external world and everything to do with our subjective experience. What does science have to say about how best to live? Not much. While science has played a major role in the development of our spiritual beliefs, nothing has moved our understanding of Christian theology more than homosexuality.

The fight over gay rights is not simply about redefining traditional marriage or protecting children. It is a fight over acknowledging the very existence of homosexuality itself. Christians have every right to be afraid of gay people. Our existence challenges the very notion of sin and moral law dictated by an external power. Why would God create gay men and then call us an abomination? The only way to square this circle is to deny the existence of homosexuality itself, a notion likely to fail. The cognitive dissonance starts in the mind of every homosexual who believes in God and spreads when we share the story of our spiritual journey.

Christian conservatives are right when they contend that gay marriage will fundamentally change the definition of marriage. How could it not? By acknowledging gay marriages, we affirm the existence of gay people as part of our human family.  Homosexuality challenges the validity of the claims Chritians make about the Bible, mainly that what it says is true. For many of us, realizing we are gay will simply force us to reexamine the religion of our childhood so that it fits with our life as we live it. For others, it will destroy our faith completely. If the Bible gets the easiest question of moral reasoning wrong, that being the inhumanity of slavery, what are the chances that it got something as complex and nuanced as human sexuality right? And if our faith calls us to hate love, and love God, does it really surprise anyone that gay people will be the first to question the other claims and commandments the Bible dictates?

The acceptance of homosexual men and women is a serious threat to traditional religious beliefs. Reading and editing Robby's post on his religious experiences was the inspiration I needed to express myself strongly on this topic. I imagine that many of us have similar stories that we fail to share with each other. But in a world where we're more connected than ever, religious doctrine that conflicts with the lived experience of gay people will become hard to justify, even for straight people. The more we're accepted into mainstream society, the more we will share our experiences with straight people and the more they will question their faith. Religion today is already on shaky ground. The concept of an anthropomorphic God seems silly, knowing what we do about the physical world. It makes sense that ancient people bowed down in prayer to their sky daddy, but it's hard to imagine sending an iMessage to God. It would be a lot easier if Jesus just made an app for that, right?

We twist our faith into concepts that we can understand. God isn't a man in the sky. God is love. God is energy. God is flow. God is no longer projected into an external reality that we can disprove. After all, breaking the rules of reality only works when we don't have a particularly good understanding of those rules. Now, God is a part of us, integral to the very nature of consciousness. God is now found deep within each human being and grows and moves within the complex social interactions of life. While many people who worship the new God as part of a congregation, it's a lot less necessary to go to church when Christ is a spirit that lives within you rather than a man nailed to a cross. LoveGod, EnergyGod, or FlowGod doesn't need to be worshiped. And besides, worshiping yourself just feels creepy.

With this new God, morality no longer comes from obedience to Law, but from our awareness of others' personal dignity and their obvious inclusion in our human family. When we empathize with others, we automatically refrain from stealing, lying, and killing. Because to hurt another human being is to feel their pain as our own. We're not religious anymore, we're spiritual. Spiritual people don't despise the Bible, but we're likely to interpret it in totally different ways. Spiritual followers of Christ are looking for a way that his example can elevate our consciousness to new paths of understanding existence. We're looking for those "wow" moments that open our minds to possibilities absent from traditional religious practices that are so heavily tied down by rules.

What exemplifies this shift in God into spiritual consciousness is an understanding of scripture as metaphor. The meta-scripture emerges when the religious let go of the rules and start to read the text as clues to a deeper understanding of universal consciousness. God can only make sense when we free ourselves from the constraints of religious doctrine. Facts about the external world can be rationalized into a religious worldview, as there are many fundamentalist Christians who are also scientists. Homosexuality can't be rationalized in the same way as evolution has to, in order to fit into the Christian worldview. This is because both are subjective and wholly incompatible with each other. The modern reality in which we live can no more deny homosexuality than we can deny gravity, and yet some of us still try.

When the fracture comes between our life and our faith, which it inevitably does, we have to make a choice. We can refuse to live in the fact-based community and continue living a lie; we can lose our faith altogether and decide that the Bible is a book of fairy-tails used to control primitive people; or we can see the stories as clues to the underlying consciousness alive inside of us all and see them as told in the way that would be acceptable to the psyche of human beings of its time. The last choice makes the most sense, because religion exists for a reason. We shouldn't abandon it because our psyche is forever changed by the flood of new information about the world and our life experiences. The third choice is far superior because religion came into existence to serve a need. There's no reason to believe that the need has gone away.

According to Joseph Campbell, our greatest challenge in life is to come to terms with the image of the "inexhaustible and multifariously wonderful divine essence that is the life in all of us."  I see it as the birth of a new religion in our time. It is the religion of the individual spiritual journey as guided by the myths of our past. As a result of the scientific method, our relationship to "The Truth" has forever been changed. The Universe is being explored through the models of relativity and quantum mechanics. We now know that space stretches out beyond our ability to comprehend. And, as far as it stretches up and out to infinite distances, it so goes down and into infinitesimally small places. How can such information not change the nature of religion? The fight the conservatives are waging is a losing proposition. It doesn't mean they won't hurt people along the way, but they will lose. The question is, "How can we make this shift in consciousness with as few casualties as possible?"

In addition to the physical universe, science is just beginning to discover the mental universe inside each and every human being.  The complexity of the human mind is so vast that its potential to create is a whole new frontier of scientific discovery. We've been compelled to recognize the enormous variety of perspectives formed by minds through a diverse network of cultures and beliefs. Through the development of genetic manipulation, our mind is shaping the very evolution of life on this planet. To deny the power that resides inside our skulls is foolish, even dangerous, and yet we still speak of the essence of humanity with a child's understanding. So whatever we call it, God, mind, consciousness, or spirit, there is a vast potential of human capacity waiting to be tapped.


MALCOLM TRAVERS
Male Media Mind