Sunday, April 22, 2012

Salvation, too little too late

I think it was Easter last year, a cousin of mine commented that she was thankful that even though we lowly humans are unworthy or undeserving, we can be made clean by Jesus' sacrifice.  It's bad enough that christians generally believe this supernatural legend but they misunderstand what they're supposed to believe.

**Are christians made clean by the sacrifice of Jesus?
 Blood magic. Many christians erroneously believe the blood of the lamb (the crucifixion of the Jesus character) makes us clean. Ancient Israelites sprinkled the blood of sacrificial lambs on the top of the ark of the covenant to create a barrier between the judgment of YHWH (or more directly the ornamental angels) and the contents of the ark. The contents (either the stone tablets/remnants of the ten commandments OR Aaron’s staff, mana and the broken tablets, depending on which part of the bible you’re reading) represent the sins of man. But the ritual was to intervene and shield the Israelites from judgment. As Judaism doesn’t hold an afterlife component, this covenant was to prevent YHWH’s immediate wrath rather than his eternal wrath.

In christian mythology, Jesus is the new covenant. He does not make you clean. He makes you forgiven/un-judged. Or rather, his life/sacrifice is an offer of forgiveness.  But without acceptance that forgiveness is powerless. He does not make us so that we are sinless but he accepts the burden of our sin so that we are excused from judgment. He shields us from judgment just as the lamb’s blood on the ark shielded the Israelites from judgment.

As mortal, physical, subjective beings we cannot be perfect in the eyes of a perfect being. Even if we allow that YHWH is not a perfect being, we have to question the whole architecture of sinners striving to join the company of a being that cannot abide sin. Even the nature of sin must be questioned. Is it merely anything which separates us from YHWH, or YHWH’s will? Like most nonsense, it is so vaguely defined and unverifiable that it suits the whim of the user. Anyway, Grace does not make people perfect. It does not directly spiritually cleanse. It allows absolution and in so doing reduces the immediate burden of sin and consequently allows the sinner loosen the mutual embrace they have with sin. Absolution gives us hope. And the idea that a perfect being is trying to help us allows us to reach beyond the expectations we have made for ourselves. For some reason, it is almost universally easier for people to trust an unseen force than to trust themselves.

**Are humans worthy of salvation?
What about worth? Or worthiness? At least 1200 years after the amalgamation of the Israelites, YHWH instituted a policy change. I'm not against change, growth, improvement or correction.  I just expect there wouldn't be room for them from the timeless author of the universe.  Anyway, YHWH added an afterlife, or revealed that there is one. Why the change? The old plan wasn’t working, or wouldn’t work, with the afterlife component. And Judaism was for Israelites. Christianity was supposed to extend to gentiles as well. So before there was a messiah… those folks… well we are left guessing. Some interpret scripture in a way that everyone, including those who have never been exposed to the Jesus story, will be given the opportunity to recognize and accept the messiah on judgment day. Yeah, maybe. But it’s still pretty strange that YHWH would let things go on the way they did, as long as he did, and only cared about the Israelites before Rome captured Judea. Why is it that since that time it is important for people know about Jesus but before that time it was not? Were they less worthy? Looking at the Old Testament even the heroes were generally repugnant. Or maybe they didn’t need the good news as much as later humans. (I don’t think that’s it.) And oddly enough, it is YHWH’s chosen people that reject the supposed messiah. Shouldn’t they be most worthy?

YHWH has a history of being disappointed in humans. He had (even though he kinda makes the rules) to expel Adam and Eve from Eden. He killed everyone on Earth except the one good man and his family. But then that one good man, Noah, turned out to be a shameful sod. The one man worth saving from Sodom also turned out to be a drunk as well as incestuous. YHWH has a bad record of judging good character. Perhaps that explains televangelists. If we are worthy, from a divine perspective, the standard is very low, or very odd. But this all points to YHWH realizing late in the game that people are not good enough to serve the purpose for which they were created. Whose fault is that? Who made us the way we are, the way we’ve always been? Who made the world the way it is? The only way to hold YHWH innocent is to allow the deity to be omniscient about physics but a bit dim regarding psychology and sociology.

Defenders of the obviously fallible deity invoke the notion of freewill as the reason for everything that’s wrong with humans and humanity. But this falls apart for any of several reasons. Will we have free will in the afterlife? If so, then why is YHWH such an absentee deity now? If not, then why on Earth is it important now? We should also consider if we actually even have free will now? Sure we make choices but our choices are dependent on what we want and our understanding of circumstances. How much choice do we have over what we want? We may be able to prioritize but what do we base those priorities on? Calling this subjective feedback loop and algorithm “free will” may be a bit misleading.

So if we assume the Judeo-Christian creation myth and general Christian salvation belief is at all true, we find ourselves inadequate by design yet completely accountable for our shortcomings. If I design and make an airplane that won’t fly is it the airplane’s fault? That’s just ridiculous. Even if I give the plane intelligence and “free will” similar to our own: ridiculous. Even if I hold direct, verifiable correspondence with my creation it is still egregiously unjust for me to hold it accountable for the design flaws I conceived and implemented. Should I then decide that I have to destroy the failed airplane unless it believes I am my son and my son is the plane’s salvation? How does that make anything better? If I hadn’t screwed up (perhaps intentionally) the plane wouldn’t be in this predicament. If I hadn’t done such a bad job the plane wouldn’t need… forgiveness/un-judgment. Does it deserve salvation? I would say that more than salvation it unconditionally doesn’t deserve to be judged for its lack of flight. 

Friday, April 20, 2012

Is acceptance of scientific knowledge a faith position?

Equivocation never sleeps. "Faith" covers a whole spectrum belief and acceptance.

When the roulette gambler places a chip on 24 Black, they know the odds are against the ball landing on their number, but they are putting their faith on 24. In this sense their thinking may be, "It's probably not going to be 24 but I'm going to trust 24 anyway." This trust in the face of obvious uncertainty may be called faith without straining the commonly accepted definition(s) of faith.

Or the gambler may genuinely believe they have some insight or revelation that 24 will be the winning number. In this case we have unfounded certainty, a trust/belief that ignores reason and evidence (perhaps selectively). Far along the opposite end of the spectrum, this too falls well within the commonly accepted definition(s) of faith.

For those who are more familiar with the way scientific inquiry works, "faith in science" challenges the definition(s) of faith. If our gambler believes that "if they play long enough they will lose their stake," is that faith? So too "faith in science" is the understanding that if we maintain discipline and objectivity eventually we will be less wrong in our understanding of reality. We will make blunders along the way. But when we play by the rules the house always wins in the end. We can call that "faith" but it is misguided or disingenuous to do so.

Scientific knowledge (as opposed to inquiry) is merely our best, most current understanding of reality. What we accepted as reality fifty or one hundred years ago was riddled with inaccuracies. What we accept as reality today will likely be found wanting in the next fifty or one hundred years. Knowing this, is it not faith to accept the current body of scientific knowledge as true? Given the breadth of scope of the definition(s) of faith we could certainly make such an argument. But there are some distinctions here to be made. (1) We know and accept that scientific knowledge is provisional. (2) The conditions that support the corrigible body of scientific knowledge are generally very concrete, consistent and offer testable predictions. (3) The breadth of scope of the definition(s) of faith is so unbound that any non-tautological, non-axiomatic belief or understanding may be described as faith. This infinite definition basically renders the word "faith" meaningless in regards to belief or trust. (4) "Faith" is also used to describe "devotion." While proponents of science are devoted to scientific inquiry, any devotion they have for the body of scientific knowledge (or parts thereof) is contingent on the quality of the inquiry supporting that knowledge.

The biggest detractors of Science (as they understand it) tend to have an alternate agenda. (1) Such detractors suggest their anti-scientific agenda is superior because it is immutable or timeless. (2) They rely on subjective interpretation (inescapably influenced by wishful thinking and/or fear) , ancient stories or modern prophets. They have texts of dubious divinity and questionable sources. And despite alleged supernatural authorship these texts are no better informed on the mechanics of nature than any other bronze age source. (3) They portray faith in science as bad but faith in religious doctrine as virtuous, noble and reliable. Actually, and suspiciously, faith in religious doctrine is less virtuous, noble and reliable if it's not their particular flavor of religious doctrine. (4) They want you to be devoted as well as trusting in regards to (their particular flavor of) religious doctrine. 

Any thing that may be doubted may be considered a faith position.  And we may doubt the nose on our face.   If we may call belief in science a faith position it is only because "faith" is so indefinite and vague as to be meaningless.