Monday, March 28, 2011

Christian milieu and why people believe?

As the L-rd would have it, I received an offer to study in Canada from the University of Western Ontario. The whole news received on March 4, 2011, but confirmed officially March 25, 2011, has got me wondering about how I will cope in the country, spiritually, economically and socially.

I was born a Christian and have lived Christianity for most of my life. Having gone to Christian (albeit Anglican) education at the primary and secondary level, my entire world view has been shaped by Christian beliefs. I have seen that those who excel in Jamaican society are affiliated with either Jewish or Christian background and have come from Christian milieu.

I myself have benefited from an experience of G-d and how church and spiritual disciplines have contributed to my own successes. The discipline of reading came from exposure to reading in the communal and family setting of reading spiritual literature, including Bible. My discipline in studying comes from learning to study the Bible. Opportunities for public speaking and developing confidence in addressing a group of persons came from opportunities as a child to speak and minister before church congregation. Values, virtues and courtesy instilled in me came from the benefit of either Christian education or being taught about loving my neighbour as myself, and respecting the rights of others from either my church community and my own family.Furthermore, I benefited opportunities to sit down in structured programmes of church, learn to be quiet for 2 or more hours of the programme, listen and take notes. This has indeed been transferable to so many areas in my social world, from listening to an educational lecture or  talk, or deriving meaning in cultural and other social programmes/ceremonies.

In terms of my experience of G-d, I have benefited from moments of revelation from him that helped shape what I believe today and even decisions that I have taken. His revelation has helped me develop meaning and a particular interpretation of life events and situations that I have encountered. I remember many situations when I prayed and poured my heart out to G-d and received answers the same day. I have seen a difference and improved results in my life that resulted after praying, that helped to strengthen my faith and confidence that there is a G-d, who answers prayers, though I cannot predict when he will answer. I have felt burdens and emotions lift from me after praying. I have experienced the L-rd using me to bless others as well as being blessed by others who ministered to me. All these sum of experiences have settled in me the confidence that there is a G-d that I have access to through Jesus, the Bible and the spirit within me, that sometimes lead me in prayer.

Having all the sum of experiences that I have had, visiting Canada, I perceive a difference in the social milieu. For one, I see that atheists and non-religious persons excel and do well in their society, (seemingly) without the benefits of Christian education or background in the church (can't say the same for the Jew - who would have benefited from his G-d given culture as well as G-d's perpetual spiritual blessings upon Jews, even if he does not believe in it). Further, these non-religious persons and atheists seem moral, having an interest and respect in the rights and freedoms of others. 

I find though in the following excerpts from an article by Asma some interesting thoughts on why people have faith and believe:
In that world, where life is particularly ca­pri­cious and more out of individuals' con­trol than it is in the developed world, an­i­mism seems quite rea­son­a­ble. It makes more sense to say that a spite­ful spir­it is bring­ing one mis­ery, or that a be­nev­o­lent ghost is grant­ing fa­vor, than to say that seam­less neu­tral and pre­dict­a­ble laws of na­ture are un­fold­ing ac­cord­ing to some in­visi­ble log­ic. Un­less you could dem­on­strate the real ad­van­tages of an im­per­son­al, law­ful view of na­ture (e.g., by hav­ing a long-term, well-financ­ed med­i­cal fa­cil­i­ty in the vil­lage), you will nev­er have the ex­pe­ri­en­tial data to over­come an­i­mism. Our first-world claim a­bout neu­tral, pre­dict­a­ble laws will be an in­fe­ri­or caus­al the­o­ry for ex­plain­ing the cha­os of ev­ery­day third-world life. In the de­vel­op­ing world, an­i­mism lit­er­al­ly makes more sense. The new atheists, like Hitch­ens, Har­ris, Daw­kins, and Dennett have failed to no­tice that their me­chan­istic view of nature is in part a prod­uct (as well as a cause) of pros­per­i­ty and sta­bil­ity.
 Religion, even the wacky, su­per­sti­tious stuff, is an an­al­ge­sic sur­viv­al mech­a­nism and sanc­tuary in the de­vel­op­ing world. Religion pro­vides some or­der, co­her­ence, re­spite, peace, and trac­tion against the fates. Per­haps most im­por­tant­, it quells the emo­tion­al dis­tress of hu­man vulnerabil­i­ty. I'm an ag­nos­tic and a cit­i­zen of a wealthy na­tion, but when my own son was in the emer­gen­cy room with an ill­ness, I prayed spon­ta­ne­ous­ly. I'm not na├»ve—I don't think it did a damn thing to heal him. But when peo­ple have their backs against the wall, when they are tru­ly help­less and hope­less, then grov­el­ing and ne­go­ti­at­ing with any­thing more pow­er­ful than themselves is a very hu­man re­sponse. It is a re­sponse that will not go away, and that should not go away if it pro­vides some gen­u­ine re­lief for anx­i­ety and ag­o­ny. As Rog­er Scruton says, "The consolation of imag­i­nary things is not imag­i­nary con­so­la­tion."


Religion is not real­ly a path to mo­ral­ity, nor can it sub­sti­tute for a sci­en­tif­ic un­der­stand­ing of na­ture. Its chief vir­tue is as a "cop­ing mech­a­nism" for our trou­bles. Pow­er­less peo­ple turn to religion and find a sense of re­lief, which helps them psy­cho­log­i­cal­ly to stay afloat. Those who wish to a­bol­ish religion seek to pull away the life pre­serv­er, mis­tak­en­ly blam­ing the de­vice for the drown­ing.

Like Sam Har­ris, I know a fair share of neu­ro­sci­ence, but that didn't al­le­vi­ate my an­guish and des­per­a­tion in the emer­gen­cy room with my son. The old saw "there are no athe­ists in fox­holes" ob­vi­ous­ly doesn't prove that there is a God. It just proves that high­ly emo­tion­al be­ings (i.e., hu­mans) are also high­ly vul­ner­a­ble be­ings. Our emotional limbic system seeks homeostasis—it tries to reset to calmer functional defaults when it's been riled up. I suspect there are aspects of religion (and art) that go straight into the limbic system and quell the adrenalin-based metabolic overdrive of stress.

Asma, Stephen T. "The New Atheists' Narrow Worldview" The Chronicle Review (The Chronicle of Higher Education) January 21, 2011 http://chronicle.com/article/The-New-Atheists-Narrow/126027/

Faith, Story-telling and Folk proverbs

When I go to church there is story-telling: Biblical and personal story-telling. I like the idea of going to church on Saturdays or Sundays to hear stories. Stories help to give me inspiration and the mindset and mechanisms with which to cope with and adjust to my world with all its chaos, disorder, oppression and injustice.

I like seeing the Bible as a collection of stories from the past as well as stories about the future. As a collection of stories from the past it details the lives, struggles and challenges of real people in different times, with different resources and opportunities available to them but with struggles and challenges that are common to all human beings. I love to use their own histories and stories for interpretations of the challenges and struggles in my own life.

I love to use the scriptures as a looking glass and viewing lens through which to observe my present reality and get new perspective. I love to use the scriptures to interpret what's happening around me. I do not believe figuratively in the Bible, but I genuinely believe that people experienced G-d and miracles in the way that is reported. Thus the scriptures and the stories in them give me comfort in that there is order in the chaos and that things are not out of control, but that G-d is in control and directing all events to the final destination and end of history.

On March 27, 2011, I recorded a saying, a Jamaican proverb from the preacher at Mona Baptist Church at the 7AM service. The preacher, who happened to be Courtney Stewart, stated "when trouble tek yuh, pickney shut fit yuh" (Translation: 'when you are in trouble, a child's clothing will fit'). There is wisdom in this proverb for the agnostic and even for the atheist. In my interpretation of the proverb, when calamities strike, what may be considered foolish or childish may become your only hope. The same Bible and G-d that people may consider to be a figment of humanity's imagination may become the only source of comfort, encouragement and hope in a difficult time.

On another matter, I am just awakening to the fact that folklore interacts with religious faiths, even in the church. Preachers in order to bring across their message to their audience sometimes draw on proverbial sayings that they know their audience understands and perhaps also agree or even believe in. These proverbs perhaps serve as a codifying system for storing collective wisdom in a nugget for people to organise, classify, assimilate and even retrieve for practical application.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

G-d's Office hours

Someone made a comment on Facebook that got me really reflecting and meditating about the times and hours in which G-d actually works. The person said:
"Between 12midnight and 3am is the worse time to be up. Its the time of day when the buzz of daily activity is silenced and all your feelings and fears subtly creep in."
On reflection and meditation, I realise that between evening and morning are G-d's actual working hours. Hence those are the best times for tapping into G-d's office hours. G-d works when most of us are sleeping. While Adam was asleep, G-d was busy making Eve. Jesus got up a great while before day to have communion with the Father (Mark 1:35). Jesus thereby shows us that such times are good for getting time to talk to G-d. Throughout the Torah itself, the pattern is evident. It is at midnight that G-d freed the Israelites from Egyptian rule (Exodus 12:29). 
As one version of the Bible puts it, G-d kept vigil to deliver the Israelites from Egyptian oppression (Exodus 12:42 NIV).

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Work and the Sabbath Part I

The Sabbath debate continues in Jamaica, and in particular in the media, where a recent letter to the editor was published in the Gleaner. However, while I am not going to join the debate and say Sabbath must be kept, I do want to explore the issue of work and the Sabbath.

There are many and varied perceptions about work and the Sabbath. The Sabbath commandment calls for the cessation of labour (Exodus 20:8). However, the Sabbath day does not mean the cessation of all activities. It should not be confused as a day of inactivity. It speaks to a day of cessation from particular activities. Those particular activities relate to the idea or work - which I define as paid employment (or self-employment). When defined this way, the question arises, does the Sabbath call for a cessation of voluntary activity? In other words, what activities are permitted on the Sabbath?

Clearly, the example of Jesus shows that the L-RD did not mean for the Sabbath to become a day of inactivity, but a day for relationship and working on relationships. This can be seen in the fact that the L-RD commanded that the Sabbath be a day of assembly (Leviticus 23:3).

G-d is concern that we as human beings have the tendency to spend much of our time working to earn a living that we forget to spend time with the people who we are providing for/attempting to ear a living for. We also have a tendency as human beings, because of work commitments and being "busy", to have little time set aside to meet with other people outside of business arrangements (or so it used to be in the past). As a result, we get locked into our little positions and a narrow view of life, without seeing the broader picture. We do not get to purposely meet other people outside of professional commitments or business relations to reflect on a values, community and morality. We have little time for community building and development, because we are more consumed in giving time to our work, own business and other parochial concerns.

The Sabbath is therefore given from the example of G-d to man (Mark 2:27). In it, G-d demonstrates that even the Supreme Provider takes time out to enjoy a relationship with those whom he provides for as well as give humanity an opportunity to better know and become acquainted with their Creator and Provider (Genesis 2:2-3).

As such the guiding spiritual principle behind the Sabbath is the pursuit of volunteer work that will lead to better or healthier relationships and to healthier and betterment of other people apart from ourselves (Matthew 12:11-12).


Reference:


Campbell, S. Peter. "Continuing The Sabbath Debate" (Letter to the Editor) Jamaica Gleaner
Published: Saturday | March 12, 2011
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20110312/cleisure/cleisure3.html