On the Duty of Religion

I read a blog post today written by someone I admire greatly. In a response to the question of what religious institutions should teach to followers and believers she states:

“The main things is that I believe religious institutions should rigorously teach those truths they are sure of.  What those truths are or should be is another discussion all together.  But I do think some truths can be known, and that perhaps is where our difference of opinion lies.  Mainly I take issue with the idea of rigorous theology as a commodity pedaled by institutions to their credulous followers.”

It is true that a large part of me believes, in a very Platonic sense, that Truth exists. There is some form of Goodness, Beauty, Righteousness, and Love. Yet, much like Plato, I believe it is impossibile to perfectly manifest such ideals in this material world. How can we teach pure love? Are religions duty bound to only teach what truths they know? If so, how do they know what they know? Instead, are they simply teaching the Idea of Truth, without any actual manifestation of Truth in this realm?

But is this the heart of the critique on religion? Yes and no. The problem is not the belief in a truth and the attempt to disseminate it. Or at least, that is not the only problem. The problem is the way in which truth is conceptualized. As if, one thing is true so that necessarily negates the other. Truth can be absolute, but it can be gray at the same time as it is absolute. It is the belief that a religion owns a truth, or has an exclusive glimpse. Maybe the esoteric manifestations of religions and religious peoples do not believe that their faith is an exclusive owner. However, most believers are not esoteric believers, and religions often do not even educate followers to be this way. For this reason, their duty is to teach truth without notions of exclusivity or ownership with the full knowledge that faith of the believers is not just placed in the religion but in the institution and authority behind the religion.

It is not that “rigorous theology” is inherently wrong. Rigorous is not bad, in and of itself. Exclusivity of truth, or the belief that one owns the exclusive rights to truth, is the wrong here. This is the violation of an institution’s duty to its followers.

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Intimacy

The word intimacy is a loaded term in our society. It is used as a good word and a bad word. For example, persons who condemn sex before marriage condemn the premature intimacy of young couples. Yet the hippy liberal types loudly proclaim that intimacy sets us free and allows individuals to understand themselves and others in a deeper way. Regardless of your own views on intimacy, one aspect of it is often neglected, which is the fact that intimacy implies far more than sex. Intimacy is the making vulnerable of one person to another in a setting of trust and care. Intimacy is the moment when we are weakest, and we ask an individual if they will accept us regardless of our faults. Intimacy is the moment of truth. It is the moment when our flawed and broken humanity is displayed with the possibility of rejection. Intimacy is brave.

I often make claims about moral rightness and wrongness of actions without thoroughly considering what I am saying. I have a moral code that dictates my actions, and yet I cannot actually make a reasonable case for moral rules. Intellectually, I am a moral relativist. Intuitively, I am an absolutist in my moral maxims.

The reason I bring up my own moral maxims in accordance with this discussion on intimacy is that I have discovered a moral maxim with which my reason agrees. The violation of an individual’s trust in regards to their intimacy is a heinous moral crime. I do not use the word crime lightly. It is a crime, because it attacks humans at their weakest. It is a betrayal, and I would even use the word treason. I see these violations everyday. Husbands beating wives, breaking chairs over their backs, stabbing their arms. And the wife still refuses to violate the intimacy of her husband. People lie to law enforcement to protect the very criminal who rejected their humanity as revealed through sessions of intimacy. A man or woman bears his or her humanity, and the domestic violence which follows is an absolute disregard for the dignity of that human.

Receiving the intimacy of another person is a precious and life-giving gift. It is are absolute moral duty to humanity and to that person to engage and protect their humanity. Violence is wrong, not simply for the pain it causes, but because it violates the moral maxim to value intimacy with others as sacred. This is nothing to be morally relative about.

America

I recently read a blog post condemning the performance by Josh Groban of “America,” originally by Simon & Garfunkel, on the Fourth of July.

“Let us be lovers we’ll marry our fortunes together”
“I’ve got some real estate here in my bag”
So we bought a pack of cigarettes and Mrs. Wagner pies
And we walked off to look for America

“Kathy,” I said as we boarded a Greyhound in Pittsburgh
“Michigan seems like a dream to me now”
It took me four days to hitchhike from Saginaw
I’ve gone to look for America

Laughing on the bus
Playing games with the faces
She said the man in the gabardine suit was a spy
I said “Be careful his bowtie is really a camera”

“Toss me a cigarette, I think there’s one in my raincoat”
“We smoked the last one an hour ago”
So I looked at the scenery, she read her magazine
And the moon rose over an open field

“Kathy, I’m lost,” I said, though I knew she was sleeping
I’m empty and aching and I don’t know why
Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike
They’ve all gone to look for America
All gone to look for America
All gone to look for America

Is this tale of two young travelers anti-patriotic? It is filled with melancholy and forces us to consider the angst filled within America. I have always assumed that the melancholy I experience and that my peers complain about belongs solely to my generation. But clearly, it is a characteristic of America. Is that something to be ashamed of? Should we claim that this feeling is un-American? Maybe, claiming our melancholy, celebrating our melancholy, is what it means to an American? I am not ashamed that this song was proclaimed on the Fourth. I am proud of this country, because we own our melancholy. It is better than the blind patriotism that fails to see our own self-defeating contradictions. The American dream is flawed. Suburbia is a modern purgatory. And performing a song such as this on Independence Day is a humbling reminder: we are not perfect. This type of self-awareness can only encourage us to be even better Americans, as we possess the ability to critically analyze and creatively critique our country, forcing it to evolve into a new place.

The Importance of Wikipedia

If you have heard it once, it is beaten into your skull. Wikipedia is a bad source. Don’t trust what is written on it. Any fool can contribute to that website. The statistics about who contributes are shocking. My response to all of this: blah blah blah.

Let’s face it: wikipedia is awesome. It is a social experiment just as telling as facebook, and its repercussions are far more positive. It is a free, unique collection of knowledge. And the best part about that knowledge? We get to decide what matters. We. You and me, and anyone else who can type in any language in the world. That’s right. No longer is someone who we don’t know (Mr. Webster or the well-respected Oxford crew) defining and educating us. Wikipedia is the first time in which a community writes, edits, evaluates, rewrites, and assigns worth to … well everything. Wikipedia is knowledge of everything, and we all get to share.

What about intellectual property? How do we know it is true? Yes, these are apparent problems. But are any of us really that comfortable with notions of intellectual property? I am not willing to say that one person owns a particular idea, and I am willing to bet most other individuals do not sit comfortably with that notion either. As for truth? Hasn’t modernity and post-modernity forced us to realize that objective truth is a falsity? Are we still accepting that as an argument?

For a culture that values blogs, facebook, and twitter, what is wikipedia but the encyclopedic collection of all of us who are participating? Wikipedia is a communal blog, and YOU get to write today. So crack your knuckles, adjust yourself in your seat, and share with all of us what you know. Post it on wikipedia, so what you know, I can know too.

The Academic’s Dilemma

As a member of an elite class of highly educated young people, I am often confronted with the condemning reality that I simply do not live in a reality with consequence and dignity. I discuss metaphysics and theories analyzing this world “out there,” but I never venture into that world. Even as I interact with the outside world, I make sure that there is a distinction within my head. I am a student. I am a philosopher. I understand things that others do not. But if my world lacks consequence and dignity, why do I continue? Is it worth anything?

Every human being I have encountered possesses an uncanny understanding of justice. What is justice? That has yet to be determined. Through the millenia, countless attempts have been made to determine that intrinsic quality of what justice is made of. Despite all these efforts, there exists no definition which sits comfortably with all individuals. Yet, even those with no experience analyzing and deconstructing these notions know, within themselves, when an act is just or not. The particulars, we may argue. But the essence, it exists.

If going to college fails to provide me with a definition but only reinforces that justice is a feeling, why go to college at all? What have I learned? How do I ground all this lofty knowledge in the world, when I already knew it due to my inherent essence as a human? And this is the academic’s dilemma. As post-modernity pushes us forward into the abyss, are we forced to conclude that academia is simply not worth it? Is it time to admit that academia has gone so far as to contradict itself? All knowledge is equal knowledge, so no knowledge is necessary. Is our logic self-defeating? And if not, do the various realities in this world fall into a hierarchy? Is one superior to the other?

I do not want to accept that this is the way we are going. I do not want to know that it was all for nothing. However, more than that, I am forced to believe that I cannot universalize the belief that academia holds the answers. It turns out, we always had the answers anyway.