Friday, March 30, 2007

A Letter to the Pastor

Category: Issue 9

Dear Pastor Tom,

I cannot choose what I believe.  I think it is impossible for anyone to do so.  For example, can you choose to believe that when I die, I will have $100,000,000 to bequeath to the Grove?  Perhaps you are able to believe that, but I suspect that you see it is not possible.  Rather, you can pretend that it is true and behave accordingly.  In fact, all of those in control of the Grove can do this, but if they do, they are putting our church at risk.  The risk is equal to the possibility that I won’t leave such money to the Grove.  What it comes down to is the credibility of my claim.  I don’t think belief is a choice.  I think it comes out of a reasoning process that automatically takes into account all the evidence that a person is willing to consider.  I generally look for evidence that suggests I am wrong.  When that evidence provides a stronger case than the evidence on the other side, it changes my mind.  I may stick with old behaviors because of habit or laziness, but my mind is changed and when I come to terms with it, I have to accept that I didn’t have a choice in the matter.

This is the problem I have with Christianity and all other institutionalized religions.  It is a problem for me because I like the people who make up religious congregations.  I would like to join them in the things they do that are fun, rewarding, and beneficial.  I come to church with my family every Sunday.  I’m interested in teaching.  For some background, I’ll tell you this:  I have three daughters, two of whom are in school and generally get straight A’s.  Our oldest daughter skipped third grade.  I’m a software engineer working as director of IT for a company in Anaheim.  I’d like to help other children do well in school and in life, and the Grove provides an excellent opportunity for me to do that.  Clearly, my inability to believe in the spiritual foundations of our church can present a big problem.

I have reasons to be good - to avoid lying and stealing and using violence to get my way.  They are based on human behavior and the joy of being together and working together and a simple fact that I recognize about myself:  If I had only a few days to live, but I could spend some time and effort setting things up in a way that would make other people happy after I’m gone, I would definitely spend that time and effort.  I identify with all those in the future who are affected by my actions - their happiness then is my own now, to whatever degree I *believe* my actions will benefit them.  For me, this is a solid foundation on which to build good behavior, cooperation, friendliness, the loving of neighbors and all that.

I imagine getting myself into a position where I am teaching (and learning) at the Grove.  Others will be interested in praising God with me, and I can either join them, quietly imagining, as I do in church, that we sing these songs and say these prayers to each other rather than some all-powerful omniscient Being.  I can deal with the mental discordance, because the difference between “each other” and “God” can be easily blurred in my mind.  But people will ask my opinion on spiritual matters and my secular humanism will become obvious.  Will my efforts to help teach then become useless and fruitless?

Posted by Dave Scotese on 03/30 at 12:26 PM | Permalink
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