osewalrus (osewalrus) wrote,

Of God and Seeing Eye Dogs

Stimulated by a recent post by thatcrazycajun, a few personal reflections on the whole God, faith, etc.

I'll begin with a little disclaimer. I never expect to persuade anyone on this topic. I may provide some useful insight to others who care on my own thought processes, and some folks may find it useful or challenging. But I begin with an idea that faith or lack thereof is intrinsically idiosynchratic and irrational. In this, however, it is no different from any other human operating system.

I'll begin with an observation. Most of what I see in the lack of faith or why I shouldn't believe or follow traditional practices or whatever has to do with treating God like a human being, only bigger and better. Thus, God does or doesn't exist because God does or doesn't explain something about the universe or is or isn't consistent with how we think God should or shouldn't act.

For example, people like to say they don't believe in God because God is cruel in some way. Whether it is the slaughter of little children by terrorists, the deaths of hundreds of thousands in the Xmass Tsunami, the ethnic cleansing of Canan in the Bible, whatever. God can't exist because God is cruel.

This strikes me as pretty stupid for a number of reasons. For example, I think biology is pretty cruel because it makes me like sweet things that make me fat. So I have decided biology doesn't exist. Because it is cruel. Yes, biology is different because it is objectively verifiable. But now we're back to personal belief. Whether God is cruel by your definition doesn't prove one way or another whether God exists or not.

A subset of this argument is usually applied to folowing traditional rules. Usually about sex, with whom and how and what is or isn't permissible to do with the possible reproductive consequences. A lot of people who would otherwise totally love the whole "God thing" get very perturbed that their tradition about what God says tells them that something they think is natural, wonderful, and a matter of basic human right is a no-no under the tradition. This makes them conclude that either God doesn't exist or they have the wrong tradition.

I am very sympathetic to this argument. I certainly have no great rational proof otherwise. On the other hand, I still weigh 300 pounds. Any obese person will tell you that socially and physically, being morbidly obese is not in the least fun. I would not choose, given a choice, to be obese. And yet I am. My obesity problem has not in any way impacted the reality of nutritional sciences. Again, my freedom of choice and my deep desires are utterly irrelevant to whether nutritionists are correct. And given the number of diet books, diet regimens, and theories of obesity out there, I am not sure it is irrational of me to keep hoping that chocolate sundaes and no exercise will someday pay off.

Which is why I'm relatively unmoved by the "Mother Teressa had her faith issues" thing. No doubt Catholics who struggle with faith questions may take reassurance that just because you have moments of doubt and moments of struggle, you aren't a bad person. But I always find it rather puzzling what triggers these things. I understand the "I don't believe and I think it's silly." Such an attitude makes complete sense to me. I don't share it, but I understand it. What I never understand is the ability of people to accept in the abstract that God is beyond human understanding, but who lose faith when something bad happens to them or to someone they know, or when they discover that their tradition holds God did or said something that goes against what they think is fundamentally right. It always strikes me as being like the paradigmatic liberal who becomes a conservative on being mugged. What, crime didn't matter before?

Which brings me to seeing eye dogs. As I understand it, seeing eye dogs are bred and trained from puppyhood for the extremely complex task of helping visually impaired people navigate through the completely unnatural environment which is the modern urban world. I'm pretty sure that seeing eye dogs do not understand the economic and social forces that shape their training and environment and the demands set upon them. Heck, I'm pretty sure that puppies do not understand that they are embarking on a lifelong career that someone else has selected for them from birth, because they were born of a particular breed raised through generations to be particularly responsive to human needs and human training. Indeed, I wonder if there are seeing eye dogs who wonder if there is a "higher purpose," or if it is enough that they get rewarded and punished in a way that moves them to particular behavior. And yet human beings are a heck of a lot more like seeing eye dogs than human beings are (if I am right in my beliefs) like God.

Many will find this analogy offensive for a variety of reasons, or confirmatory that religious people, like dogs, can be trained to unthinking obediance. That is always the problem with analogies. While useful to try to illustrate a minor point, they often get strained beyond all imagining. The comparison of corporations to people, for example, has taken a modest and useful legal fiction and turned it into an economic nightmare. Yet we human beings appear stuck with reasoning by analogy.

Others will find little original here. I confess, I am hardly the first to come up with the conclusion that the incomprehnsibility of God is either the ultimate explanation or the ultimate cop out. So why bother writing this essay at all (other than a post-lunch desire to avoid real work)?

I suppose what continues to puzzle me is that people seem to care so much about what other people do or don't believe on this subject. The reasonableness or unreasonableness of faith keeps coming up endlessly in the current social discourse. Worse, it appears to be almost de rigeur for any figure in public life to declare themselves on the subject. It is embarassing for me, as a religious person, to hear people like Hilary Clinton have to defend their position on personal religion and faith. What difference does it make? Whether someone does or doesn't believe in God does not appear to be a good indicator one way or another on whether that person will make a good head of state. Worse, the sight of disgraced celebrities explaining that hey have "found God" as a result of their trials (legal or otherwise), as if God were something you ordered out of a catalog, makes me positively cringe.

So for all you folks prepping for my future confirmation hearing: you now know my personal views on religion. Depending on when this is, odds are good I'm probably too religious, not religious enough, or the wrong religion entirely. But lets do us all a favor and not bother to ask about it at the hearing, o.k.? Because I'll just refer you to this post and tell you to bugger off.

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