There was a thread about Agnosticism versus Deism. Put simply an Agnostic doesn't know what to say on the subject of God or a Higher Power, one way or another. There might be a God or there might not; it's unknowable. A Deist is someone who believes there most certainly is a God or Higher Power, but that entity (or possibly plural) is unknowable and indefinable. This clarification is slight, but significant. It also tends to piss off highly religious individuals who hold their religion as infallible and sacrosanct. *shrug* Grow a skin.
I was in the habit of calling myself Agnostic because the definition assigned to Deist is what I assumed meant Agnostic. I'm highly amused by people who think Agnostic is the same as Atheist. It seems nobody can agree. However, for the record, I will go with Deist as a label for myself. For the sake of clarity and brevity I will refer to the Higher Power in the singular, but also for the record I honestly do not know or presume to assume. I think God is out there. I also think She's [gender is used as satire, not as an attempt to actually label Him/Her/It] laughing Her ass off at the idiocy we come up with.
As a Deist, I believe that a codified system of worship for God is ludicrous and laughable. The Being that created the Universe through whatever series of events (six days? Six eons? On a bet?) is so much more than our limited minds could possibly hope to grasp that to attempt to define Her is pointless. Saying that God is male, misogynist and favors any race over another is to pigeonhole the infinite. A camel through the eye of a needle is an appropriate phrase here. "God is Love" is another codification that really doesn't come close to the absolute. Sure, I believe that God is love. What creator doesn't fall in love with something he or she has built and nurtured into being? If you think I'm not in love with the fiction I've written or the games I've devised and run, try stealing one. Go ahead. I promise to pay the funeral expenses. The point is that restricting God to just "love" or any other one attribute is to again reduce the infinite to a very finite level, which is also a mistake.
The point is, no matter what description we can come up with for The Head Honcho above, it will always fall far short of the mark. Throughout human history, we haven't really appreciated or respected that fact. We've come up with all sorts of ways to try to define and understand God because the Unknown scares us. All of us. We don't like to think there's someone up there who might rain fire and brimstone on us in a moment of whimsy, or reward our enemies over us without some good reason. So we try to reduce the Unknowable to the Knowable, to set some tangible rules for worshiping the Unknowable to try to get a leg up on the competition. Something goes right, that means we pleased Him. Something goes wrong, we messed up somewhere and have to atone for it. It's very structured and logical; thus was organized religion born and we all felt better for it.
Then we run into the logical consequence: no two people can agree on the same thing. What you call purple, I call blue. What you call God, I might call the Devil. Enter the holy wars. You don't believe what I believe; you are therefore a blasphemer. You won't recant or repent, therefore you must die. Or even worse, you believe what I believe, but you have a different interpretation on it. You are therefore a heretic. You won't recant or repent, therefore you must die. Repeat ad nauseum.
We have more interpretations of God and worship than we actually have religions. Everyone is convinced they have a lock on the truth, and anyone who doesn't practice/believe the same way is doomed to everlasting torment. I can name five distinct flavors of Western Judeo worship off the top of my head, all of whom claim to be the "true Christians" and none of whom can agree on the proper way to worship and therefore be rewarded in the afterlife. All of them can point to religious passages from pretty much the same source and claim with perfect conviction that this is the Way, none other. In the past that was all it took to run someone out of town, if they weren't outright killed for their belief. Even if those religious sources aren't the same, everyone is convinced that their tome of wisdom is the true book of Divine Inspiration.
That was then, it's said. We've grown up since then; we're civilized now. Really. Tell that to my housemate, who was fired from her nursing position at a Lutheran hospital because she was accused of being a witch (we both have Wiccan friends and while neither of us practice, we know their rituals and beliefs). Tell that to our new US President who wants to decide what constitutes a religion and what doesn't (hint: if it doesn't have "Christ" in the name, it won't qualify). Tell that to the doctors, nurses and patients of bombing victims who participated in legally recognized abortions. Tell that to the homosexuals who are verbally and physically abused, legally discriminated against and harassed through "prayers" as a "cure." Tell that to the Moral Majority who want to pass laws to dictate what I can say, do or think. Civilized, you say? If not burning people at the stake anymore constitutes civilized, we're almost a utopia! Shame I don't appreciate this very much.
I grew up with a religious fanatic for a mother; this got worse year after year. Being the good little boy I was, I bought into it lock, stock and barrel. I parroted the correct words and opinions. I began to develop a smug, self-righteous bearing over all those condemned sinners around me who were stumbling around in spiritual darkness (you might point out this hasn't changed; I won't argue). I studied my Bible and became very familiar with it, to the degree that I was invited to begin leading my church in song and sermon. I studied various other religions in the light of my own, comparing how they fell so far short of the truth. Baptists, Northern or Southern, aren't terribly gracious people. For ALL have come short of the glory of God, you see.
The problem is that by studying and interpreting the Bible for these purposes, I started actually thinking about things. Men are admonished to keep their hair short, while women are supposed to keep their hair long. Why? I suppose there's some sort of hygiene involved, but why the separate standard for men and women? Obvious differences aside, human biology works the same for both genders: what makes one sick is likely to do the same to the other. We're supposed to separate from our parents to our mates to become one flesh, a new entity in matrimonial union. Why? Procreation is involved, obviously, and identifying lineage is of huge importance in the Bible. This has continued through today, where the parentage and lineage of various individuals is very important to them. You can't be a Son or Daughter of the Revolution in the US unless you can positively identify your ancestors back to people who fought in the Colonial Revolution. Likewise, you can't be accorded status as nobility in Europe unless you can prove your parents were both of noble blood. Just how relevant is that today? Why do I care whether or not I might be genetically linked to the Dauphin or the Earl of Sandwich? I am who I make of myself, not who I'm related to.
As I studied and thought about these things, I began to filter through much of what I was taught by rote. Prohibitions against lying, theft and murder make sense. It keeps us civilized, smooths the social gears so that we can interact honestly, efficiently and without fear of each other. The hair thing didn't stand up to scrutiny. My hair looks good long, and I get compliments on it. Neither does the prohibition against homosexuality. Naturally, homosexual lovers are not going to procreate without artificial assistance that was not available up to seventy years ago (I don't know when artificial insemination first became viable, and I don't care to look it up for the purposes of this article). Hygiene is again an issue, but I assume all individuals are responsible for the consequences of their own actions; we have the education and technology to maintain proper hygiene in homosexual relationships. Furthermore, I know I'm not going to catch something incurable because I shake hands or give a hug to my homosexual friends. Also after further self-examination, I realized I'm not likely to do more than that; guys don't turn me on.
Bit by bit in a process that is ongoing and continues to this day, I went through my values and beliefs one by one to weigh them against my own moral compass. Envy is a bad thing, so that stays. I work hard not to allow feelings of envy or jealousy affect my behavior. Monogamy doesn't stand up for me. Philosophically, I see no reason why we have to treat each other as property, and so long as we're educated and responsible the hygiene issue is again moot. Commitment is another issue, but monogamy and commitment are topics for another rant. And so on and so forth.
In the end, I realized that religion is a social convention at best, and a highly abused social convention at that. There are lots of people capable of embracing the tenants and principles of religion and using them toward self-improvement and altruistic goals. I applaud these individuals. There are far more who cling to religion as an anchor in an ocean of instability and ignorance; they believe in God not because they choose to seek enlightenment or moral guidelines, but because they're frightened and pitiful and want justification for the world that goes on around them. Then there are those who seek religion as a means to an end; they couldn't care less what the system is; they would be just as happy praying to Mecca as they are attending Church. It's the "get out of Hell free" card that allows them to go on with business as usual, paying lip service to the strictures laid upon them. Many of them do this because they've been taught that this is the way it is, and they're not willing to examine what they're taught and judge it for themselves. And quite a few people use religion as an excuse to raise themselves above others, to oppress those they disapprove of or disagree with, to dictate behavior they deem appropriate to everyone, regardless of what anyone else thinks. Racists, moralists, terrorists and fanatics all have one thing in common: they're going to purify the world and save you from yourself no matter what you want. They're doing it for your own good, and that justifies anything.
I believe God is out there. I believe God is watching and shaking Her head, counting the years and centuries until we grow up and grow out of our need to dictate belief, thought and behavior to everyone else. Once we do, we'll find that organized religion isn't necessary anymore; we'll behave with compassion and respect to each other regardless of our differences because we'll understand we are no better than anyone else. We have no lock on the truth, because reality is best defined as a matter of opinion. What is true for me isn't necessarily true for you; the only common good arises from mutual respect and tolerance. Maybe then we'll take the next step toward touching the Face of God.