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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Namer of god

As an “agnostic,” one finds often that you are alone in the world. There are millions of you, but it’s extremely hard to set up an “agnostic” church, because most churches are religious institutions devoted to the worship of a certainty. The closest thing to an agnostic church I’ve found in this life is the Unitarian church, followed closely by the church of Satan, the latter of which has an ideology (and a stupid, intentionally confrontational and misleading name) and the former of which is broadly rooted in Christianity.

If I were required to be anything that already exists, I suppose I’d be a Unitarian, for lack of any better options.

But I’m not. So I’m not. I’m a searcher - agnostic in the true sense, I’m open-minded and looking for a path through the muck and the mire, guided by my own conscience. I love discussing religion, but most of the interested parties have already made up their mind one way or another, so the conversation tends to take the form of Preach-equivocate-preach-equivocate and essentially resembles the sensation of me banging my head against a brick wall. Eventually I get dizzy enough to make concessions, a phenomenon I think explains most of the success of organized religion.

I digress.

I don’t have a religious community, but I want a religious community, and since a proper one doesn’t exist, I’m going to make one. I’m going to start a religion.

The religion I’m forming has no particular ideology. It is quite literally a church of agnosticism. There’s a sense recently that people have started worshiping books at the expense of god, and I feel that this is problematic. God is being taken out of his/her/its own picture.

The only requisite for being a member, a “Namer of god,” is an open mind. You don’t even have to stop being a Catholic, or a Jew, or a Muslim. Keep your old faith if you want it. The only rule within the bounds of the church is toleration. You may seek converts to your old faith within the bounds of this new one, but should they choose to seek god in another manner, you may not obstruct them. If you do not believe that your current religion allows for such tolerance, then this is not the place for you. But if you’re sick of all this fighting, bickering, killing, maiming, stealing, lying, cheating, men and women who claim that their way is the only way, then maybe this is right for you.

One day, I hope to set up sanctuaries where people who are willing to listen, to try to understand, to seek truth rather than begging for revelation like a dog begging for table scraps, can gather and talk, can sermonize, can argue, can shout and cry and pray in whatever way and language they damn well please, and do it all under one roof: a statement of solidarity in their differences.

We all want to get to god. I think all this my-way-or-the-highway crap is just that. Crap. I think it detracts from the brotherhood of man. I think it detracts from god’s vision of the world. I think it causes unnecessary pain and suffering, and distracts believers from what really matters, from the greater good, and from the humanity of those around them.

So I hereby declare the formation of the Namers of god, those who seek the name of god however they might choose to. Those who are tired of being the black sheep, the lone operator. Those who are tired of being stereotyped as atheists, abused as non-believers, harassed and distrusted for their “ungodliness.” We will be a bastion for the lost, the confused, and all the various believers who, for minor differences, have begun to feel themselves estranged from their establishments. I think this is as good a time as any to make our own way in the world.

Let there be a new, less exclusive club of god, and for a symbol take whatever the hell you want and wear it out. You can borrow mine if you’d like, or wear another. It doesn’t matter, so long as when someone asks "what does that symbol mean" you reply "It means I'm a Namer of god."

-

In truth, I started this religion quite some time ago, but I’ve been the only member, and the idea has been refining since then, mulling about in brain-juices and being bounced off unsuspecting minds in one form or another.

My personal beliefs are ultimately irrelevant to the religion, but I feel they should be outlined nonetheless, in case anyone should feel like jumping on board for the hell of it, or just wants to know where I’m coming from:

I believe that god exists in the unknown, and is responsible for the unknown. You could say he/she/it exists in the cracks of our knowledge. As we learn more, god becomes bigger, because the cracks in our knowledge become more numerous and larger (the more complex our image of the universe becomes, the more questions we have in proportion to our answers). But god also becomes farther away and less relevant to our daily lives. One way to put it would be that as soon as we know something, it becomes our responsibility.

Metaphorically speaking, think of god as a good parent and our species as a child. That which the child cannot understand, the parent protects them from (to the best of their abilities), but that which they can understand becomes more and more their own responsibility to deal with. Laundry, Yard work, Dating, homework, one by one things that the child’s parents help with become things that they don’t. Eventually, food, lodging, clothing, and all other bucks get passed, and the child is responsible for everything. The child will ask his or her parent for advice from time to time, and receive it, and when unforeseen circumstances deal them a bad hand, the parent may bail them out. But the parent no longer intervenes directly in their daily, hourly, minutely life.

Sure, that means the child has more responsibility than he’d sometimes like, but that’s just part of growing up, and responsibility is a necessary side-effect of freedom. Furthermore, it is the responsibility of the child to grow up, even if he/she might not want to.

One could extend that principle to say that mankind may have been bound by god to rules before, but those rules are being reevaluated as we grow. Christianity in many ways envisioned itself as a growing-up from Judaism... much of the new testament is a tract of liberation, promising to mankind that a new pact has been formed with god. You get less allowance, and you’ll have to get a job, but you can own a car now and go on dates, and your curfew is midnight now, rather than ten. You get to wear cotton and eat pigs. That sort of stuff. A pretty grand idea if someone hadn’t come along and started mucking up the principle.

In short, in my estimation, it’s time for mankind to move out of the nest altogether and start taking responsibility for itself. It's time we stop justifying our actions and start understanding them.

But that’s mine. Take up the mantle of a Namer and show me yours.


------------------------------


Anyway, if anyone wants to take on the mantle and feels the need for some officialness (after all, the point of this whole mess is to form a community of sorts), email me at Karrakis@gmail.com and I’ll start building a roster, just for fun. Who knows but that one day, we might graduate to having a forum!

This is the symbol I’ve taken up. Whether you take it up yourself or craft your own is your own beef.



That’s my ten cents for the day.

Tomorrow: The same thing we do every night, Pinky, try to take over the world.

13 comments:

kirlynz said...

One thing I disagree with in the article, is that the more that man learns, the more distant God becomes. I think its the opposite! The more we learn about God's nature and purpose for us, the closer we get to Him! God promises that He will never leave or forsake us, so the notion that He is growing further away is slightly contradictory to that. The more I learn and come to know God, the closer I draw to Him. Because only by doing this can we truly enjoy the fruits of the Spirit that God promised us as part of the easy and light lifestyle... love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. The more I trust and lean on God, the easier and more peaceful my life becomes! :) And let me tell you, it has!!!

I do agree though that there is too much bickering and hostility between the different religions of the world. If man would just calm down and learn to love one another, things would be so much better!

Maxwell Evans said...

Do you feel closer to your parents than you did when you were three, or less close?

kirlynz said...

I'm much more conscious of them (and their impact on and involvement in my life) now than when I was 3. I have known them longer, interacted with them more and come to understand and love them more as people. I may not be quite as dependent on them (materially) as I was then, but that has nothing to do with the spiritual and emotional bond I have with them.

Maxwell Evans said...

Which is exactly my point. Your needs now are different from what your needs were at age three. Your relationship with your parents is probably no less "close," but it is definitely different. They no longer wipe your bottom, dress you, or hold your hand when you cross the street. You tie your own shoes.

You may even feel *closer* to your parents now than you did when you were three precisely because you know them so much better. You also know more in general, so you are better able to relate to them.

But they are still farther away than they used to be. They love you, but they intervene less in your daily life. They probably prefer if you solve your problems yourself, and are disappointed (on some level) when you need them to rescue you.

This is what I mean when I say that god gets bigger, but also farther away as we learn. He's bigger because he means more to us and we understand him better. He's farther away because we can tie our own shoes.

kirlynz said...

I do see the point you are trying to make, and understand what you are trying to say. But the biggest difference between your parents and God (and any other god, for that matter)... is that God lives INSIDE you. The Holy Spirit dwells within you, guiding and helping you on a daily basis. Every one is different, but I (and many Christians that I know) DO interact with God on a daily (and even hourly) basis. John 15:5 says "Apart from you, I can do nothing." And Ph. 4:13 says "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." The true meaning of having a relationship with God is having constant interaction with Him... trusting in Him and leaning not on your own understanding. When I have questions, needs or even just when I mess up... I run straight TO Him, and that is what He intended! The more I come to know God and understand His nature (and incredible love for me), the closer I draw to Him. So I'm afraid I still have to humbly disagree that the more we learn, the more distant God becomes. : )

Maxwell Evans said...

In my NIV version of the bible, the quote John 15:5 is "Apart from me you can do nothing" and some broader context is "I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned."

The general message (in my reading) is not that we can do nothing without God's helping hand, it is that worth can only be attained by those within God. The difference is not between tying your own shoes and having God tie them, it is a black and white line drawn between "us" and "them" with "us" being good and "them" being fit to burn.

It is, in fact, a very good example of biblical rhetoric taking on a form I find inconsistent with the broader message of the Christian God. If your relationship with God is personal, and something in the bible does not jive well with that personal relationship, do you trust in the book, or in the God?

In Ph. 4:10-20, (in my reading) Paul is thanking the Phillipeans for their gifts and assistance in a time of need and the sentence "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" is in the context of enduring any hardship ("I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want"). Paul isn't saying that through the power of God he cancels out the bad, he's saying that through God he can endure until he can get *himself* out of the hardship, with perhaps a little help from some friends.

Regardless:

Whether or not you and I share the same god, the bible is not my book. I am not affected by quotations from it the way some are. This does not mean I begrudge you your belief. I am not here to convert, or to bring others away from their gods. To be a Namer does not require that you abandon the faith you walk in with. While it would be ideal if that faith both impacts and is impacted by interaction with the community, not even that much is required. All that is required is that you abandon the construction of "us" and "them" and open your mind, ears and mouth.

So far, you're doing grand :p

Marcus Tullius Tiro said...

Maxwell,

Your society of Namers sounds suspiciously like Unitarian Universalism -- although the religion began as two separate religious movements within Christianity (one as a group that rejected the concept of the trinity, and one that rejected the doctrine of predestination), the current incarnation is most certainly non-Christian.

In the briefest terms, the 'religion' - and even some people who consider themselves UUs do not think the term is necessarily appropriate - is the traditional religious model minus the god.

More specifically, it provides the community and spiritual nourishment afforded by other religions without the direct worship of a god of any specific type. Although the religion is non-creedal - there is no formal statement of beliefs - there are a set of guiding principles:

*The inherent worth and dignity of every person
*Justice, equity and compassion in human relations
*Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations
*A free and responsible search for truth and meaning
*The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large
*The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all
*Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part

As you mentioned about the Namers, one can most certainly consider oneself a Christian and a Unitarian, a Jew and a Unitarian (or 'Junitarian'), a Buddhist and a Unitarian. In fact, I have good friends in each of these categories.

Forgive me if I sound defensive, or if I seem as if I am attacking your position; that is not my intention, and I apologize if that's how it sounds. There is one bigger issue that I would like to point out, though: ministers.

Unitarianism, like most other religions, has ministers who devote their lives to the study of religion and spiritual matters, give sermons during services, provide counseling services, and so on. In my humble opinion, this is a good thing, and one of the benefits of a truly organized 'religion.' While no Unitarian I know would take the word of a minister as absolute Truth, there are benefits of the lifetime study of religious matters that a minister can convey that simply aren't feasible for a person with a full time job, family, etc.

If you like, I can elaborate more fully later on. It's a fascinating religion, and a rather misunderstood one, too. Additionally, as churches almost completely independent (for example, the congregation on a whole must approve a new minister, and can simply get rid of him/her if they aren't working), each congregation is unique. Some are very heavily Christian influenced, some are more 'secular' in nature.

I'll end with a joke:

Jews say that if you ask 3 rabbis a question, you'll get 4 different answers. Unitarians are amazed by such consensus.

Tiro

Maxwell Evans said...

The difference between theory and practice is often stark, and while a good minister is a great thing, a bad minister is a tragedy.

The Kirkwood chapter of the Unitarian Universalist church recently had its minister replaced, and the new one has made the church an uncomfortable place for a large percentage of its members, including both my parents and several of my friends. With a different minister, it became quite literally a different church. That is the trouble with having a minister.

Perhaps the largest single difference between the Namers and the UU is the lack of ministers. The format, should we ever achieve a church building of our own, will be analogous to the Quaker way of doing things: if someone feels moved that day, they'll stand up and talk for awhile. I envision a circular church with a simple platform in the middle with a wireless microphone. There will probably need to be a paid caretaker of some sort, of course.

UU is a wonderful thing, and as I said in my article, if I had to be something, I'd be Unitarian. The UU probably influenced my outlook quite a lot, since they were my "sunday school" while I was growing up.

I do not, however, consider the fact that someone has already invented macaroni to be a good reason not to invent macaroni and cheese.

Maxwell Evans said...

Additionally, I envision several microphones scattered around the room, so everyone can talk back or ask questions of the speaker, even if they can't shout loud enough to be heard.

kirlynz said...

My foundation of faith and knowledge has mostly been built upon the beautiful teachings of my pastor on God's grace and love. So now when I read passages like that, I interpret them much differently than I used to (in the way that you are understanding them).

Basically, the key to the new testament (that which is repeated over and over) is "grace." Grace is defined as God's unearned ability, living in and through us. We cannot do anything in our own ability, it is only through God's grace (ability) that we can be transformed from the inside out, giving us the strength and changing our hearts that we may overcome the world.

I guess because I personally have experienced the power and presence of God inside of me, I just absolutely without a doubt believe that my God is the one true God. However, I can respect that other people don't necessarily feel the same way. So I could sit here and spout scripture and personal testaments to you, but if your heart is not open to receive it, it would probably just frustrate us both. My job as a Christian is not to convince people that God is real. Jesus said the two most important commandments are to love my God, and to love everyone else. And thats basically all I need to do. One of my favorite verses is 2 Corinthians 12:9. God's grace is sufficient!

So yes, maybe for you God is further away. But for me, He is closer than ever. And we will have to agree to disagree while remaining open-minded to eachother's beliefs. :)

Maxwell Evans said...

Exactly!

See, we've just managed to have a discussion about religion between religions and no one got angry, started a crusade, made unreasonable demands or declared Jihad. I knew it was possible!

What has been sorely lacking from our approach to religion the last few hundred years has been open discussion between faiths. It has been discouraged for so long (I suppose each faith fears losing members) that we no longer speak each others' language.

Tiro, you might remember the day we invited the Mormon proselytizers into our home and arranged for representatives of several faiths to be in the room at the same time. Remember how much fun that conversation was? How when they left, we had actually arrived at an understanding of their faith, and some degree of respect for what they were trying to do?

We need more of that on Sunday morning, and we need a place to do it.

Marcus Tullius Tiro said...

Maxwell,

That was fun -- though I think we may have scared them at first.

Its too bad that you didn't grow up in the same church I did: my church, and, even more so, my youth group, was exactly what you describe. Especially since we didn't have an actual minister in the youth group, although a rather large number of us *were* ministers...

-Tiro

Maxwell Evans said...

Huzzah for the "Church of Life" - did you know that the CoL started up as a tax dodge? :) A friend of mine in law (the unemployed "I tried to get a law job in St. Louis" kind of law) has a great story about it... I should email him and get him to write it out for the blog for kicks.