Tolerance from the other side

On the religious side, there are those who manage to harmonize with the non believers, and those who respond aggressively. Naturally, I’m more sympathetic to the former.

I often encounter believers whose religiosity is sustained by two guiding motifs: one is the mystery of internal experience and the external cosmos; the other is love. For them, their deepest sensibilities guide their understanding of their religion, and their scriptures are far less important than their personal faith. That’s consonant with my own sense of what it is to be here alive, in this place, in this time and together.

The mystery motif impresses me with its poetry. I don’t dismiss it as mere poetry. There’s more to life than just truth — there’s also sensibility. How we approach inner and outer experience cannot be rationalized: those who are lucky enough to be able to suspend rationality or consistency far enough to be able to believe in a deity, are open to a profound and exalting sensibility of a cosmos shot through with beauty and meaning.

I describe it as poetic because it overlooks the bitter injustice and brutality of the natural and human world. For my part, if there is a god, then I deplore him or her. Mickey Mouse could have done a better job with creation from a moral point of view. At least MM has a conscience and shame and tries to fix his messes. Behemoth and Leviathan notwithstanding, the still small voice has a lot to answer for, and no sophistry is clever enough to satisfy the integrity of my notion of justice. But as poetry, the adoration of a deity is almost enough to melt craggy inconsistencies into a placid release from truth. Those who can buy into it are truly lucky. A long list of inspiring religious music testifies to it.

Love is an appealing place to begin a moral view (though not to libertarians), but dwelling on love is double-edged. Love is wonderful by definition, I venture. But it is not our only nature, and therein lies a danger of denial. For a while I worked for a church (I made my living briefly as a vocalist). The environment struck me as, above all, a ground for cultivating hypocrisy. All this pretending to be loving, denying every genuine mean sentiment, shocked me. It really shocked me. I couldn’t believe it. I’d never been in a social circumstance where denial and hypocrisy was so readily and easily assumed. It seemed to me that the prostitutes who lived in my neighborhood in the LES back in the 80’s were far more honest, decent and real than anyone in their Sunday suits and dresses (except when the occasional male functionary in the church would privately out with a racy or frankly obscene joke).

Humans have a lot of dark emotions. Understanding them is useful, but it just doesn’t work to repress them or deny them. If they lead to harm, avoiding those consequences should be the responsibility of the state, not morality.

That said, I am much readier to listen to believers who base their morality on love, than those who base it on some scripture. I find fundamentalism appalling and threatening: certainty is an approach to battle.


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