Have I mentioned that one of my New Year’s resolutions was to write blog entries more often? No? Well, there is a good reason for that. I like to see how things work out before committing to them publicly. Here we are at the end of February already, so I am going to not only take back that resolution, but deny that I ever made it.
On the other hand, I resolved to get more exercise, and that is working out pretty good. My cholesterol is down nearly 100 points (but still too high). It says something about my life that I find getting my cholesterol down pretty exciting.
Even more exciting, perhaps, I have joined a new church. Those who know me will find that very hard to believe, so let me hasten to explain. It is called the “Church of Reality.” It may be a bit of a stretch to call it a church, so far anyway. And to join all one has to do is sign up on the email list. But it is a church, and I have joined. When asked about my religion, now I can say I am a Realist.
The Church of Reality was started by a California software engineer who came up with the idea while smoking a joint. To me that is an epiphany and a miracle all in one. Epiphanies are not that rare under those circumstances, but the miracle is that they usually are about something like inventing a new kind of sandwich, not starting a new religion.
According to the founder, or “First One” as he refers to himself in the context, the church is “doubt based” rather than “faith based.” The belief system is summed up, “If it is real, we believe it.” I find that a compelling credo.
The First One explains that even though Realism borrows from philosophies such as Humanism and Objectivism, and even Atheism (which is more about what one doesn’t believe in) Realism, as practiced by members of the Church of Reality, is a religion because it embraces reality-based moral values, a belief system and promotes choices that make this world, and our lives in it, better. And to the degree that other religions believe in reality, the Church of Reality shares those beliefs.
Is the First One serious? It is hard to tell, but I think he is. (I am reminded of Robert Anton Wilson’s description of Discordianism: Either a joke disguised as a religion, or a religion disguised as a joke. Now there’s an interesting religion.)
I grew up in a fundamentalist Christian sect, one that would be referred to nowadays as “faith based.” Even then I had quite a few doubts. To me faith always seemed like it should be a last resort, something you use when the evidence leaves you short of where you want to be, belief-wise. Still, it was a leap of logic that I was reluctant to take. These days a lot of people seem to think the more faith they have the better, and intentionally ignore evidence just to make their leap of logic even greater.
I don’t remember hearing the description “faith-based” as a child. As I recall, when I first heard it used, just a few years ago, it basically meant “church-sponsored,” as in church-sponsored welfare, previously known as charity. It was a way of distinguishing such services from government-based programs. In fact, I think it was the government promoting the idea that the church community should take care of the needy rather than the government welfare system. The idea was an early element of George Bush’s you’re-on-your-own society, before his attempts to privatize Social Security and Medicare prescriptions. But even then it was more about promoting an ideology rather than cutting back on government spending.
With a professed fundamentalist Christian in the White House, faith and beliefs seem to have overtaken evidence and knowledge. Faith-based parochial schools are getting government assistance. Faith-based “science,” called Intelligent Design, is pushing its way even into public classrooms. And it doesn’t end there. Drastic cuts in taxes for the wealthy while spending skyrockets are evidence of a faith-based economic policy. And our invasion of Iraq must have been based on faith and little else.
So, it is increasingly clear that faith these days means little more than wishful thinking and faulty reasoning. Sad, really. I think there is still a core of quiet religionists for whom faith is a personal thing that enables them to embrace a belief system that enriches their lives. I have no problem with that until such beliefs are imposed on others who may believe in something else—such as reality.
Robert Anton Wilson tells of a Sufi sage that patiently listened to a philosopher insist that nothing was real; everything is a figment of our imagination. The Sufi hauled off and punched the philosopher in the nose and innocently asked “What hurts?” I guess that is one way to get someone thinking about what is real and what isn’t.
I don’t think the Church of Reality is big on proselytizing—it isn’t likely a Realist missionary will show up at your door. But if one does, protect your nose.