My Evolution of Religious Thought
By Betty J. Brogaard
During the last several years since I denounced organized religion as a viable direction for me personally, I have met people who declare that because they have a personal relationship with Jesus, it makes absolutely no difference that scripture contains many contradictions. Most Christians, however, don’t even realize that their “holy” bible is filled with inaccuracies and contradictions.
In the medical clinic where I work, there is a pleasant woman in her late 40s who says she occasionally goes to Catholic mass because it gives her a good feeling and reminds her of her late mother who loved the church. (About 20 years ago, she married a nominal Lutheran, her second husband, from Finland. Together they have two un-baptized teenage sons.)
My coworker basks in the atmosphere--the stained glass windows, the music, the ritual, the memories--but going to church doesn‘t change her life or cause her to think deeply about it. It just gives her “warm fuzzies” for a brief time. If I were to ask her if she believes that God, Jesus, Holy Mother Mary and the Holy Spirit exist or that the Bible is the Word of God, she would respond with a resounding, “Yes, of course, I do”--but she wouldn’t be able to tell me why she does outside of her own, personal "tradition."
It seems to me that all such declarations and feelings are totally subjective--especially since there is no real historical evidence that I have found outside the Bible that the god-man called Jesus ever really existed--or the twelve apostles, for that matter. Some few Christians who have studied history will say this is not true since Polycarp, a “provable” historical figure, was a friend and disciple of the Apostle John. From my study, however, Polycarp was, apparently, only said by OTHERS--most notably in the writings of Irenaeus--to have been a friend of the Apostle John. As I recall, Irenaeus was the one who makes Polycarp the link between the apostolic age and the age of very early Catholicism.
Religion stems from, or so it seems to me, two basic fears: (1) of nonexistence beyond physical life and (2) of being “all alone” in this universe during this life. I admit that when I first began to think deeply about the possibility that there is no god--or at least the possibility that there is no “personal” god who cares intimately about me--I went through a time of “grief,” as if a very important person had died. I missed “Jesus” in my life! It was very similar to how I felt as a child--only much more profoundly--when I discovered that Santa Claus doesn’t exist. I felt foolish, even when I was only ten years old, that I had been fed a lie and that I had believed it!
Most of my life I thought I had depended completely on the Triune God for direction in all my activities. (In the Worldwide Church of God, of course, we actually believed god was a “binary.” We only honored god the father and Jesus the son as the current family of god which would be expanded to include all the faithful worldwiders in the future.) I rarely did anything without praying for guidance. When things turned out right, I knew it was god’s doing. When they didn’t, I knew it was my fault as somehow I must have misunderstood, misinterpreted, ignored or disobeyed “his” directives.
Now, as my thoughts and reasoning powers continually “evolve,” I find that life moves along just as smoothly as it ever did; and I confess that I am no longer a praying person in a “religious” sense. I do, however, think deeply (more at times than at others) about what I do, say or accept as truth. “The Golden Rule” still is the yardstick of my life. I try to weigh how my actions, my speech and even my attitude will affect others. I don’t, however, worry and fret over the consequences of these things if results backfire (and sometimes they do). I have learned that Jesus, by the way, was not the original author of the “Do unto others….” maxim. This “truth” is expounded in all major religions in one form or another and often predates Christianity.
When a person decides to believe something in spite of the lack of supportable proof or evidence, that is what I call “faith.” In fact, that, in essence, is what one dictionary definition of faith is: “A firm belief, especially without logical proof.” My continual study of religion is teaching me at least two things: (1) Avoid approaches that haven’t worked well in the past, i.e. use reason; and (2) build on those that have, i.e. live confidently but open-mindedly with conclusions to which reason has brought me. When circumstances or tangible evidence indicate that another direction is better, I willingly alter my position. I’ve been wrong many times and, no doubt, will be wrong many more.
This philosophical approach may be considered by some as being “tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming” (Eph. 4:14 NIV). On the contrary, my constant search and investigation is a process of growth --of thought evolution--which thrills me to no end.
This, then, brings me to the subject of evolution of life. I find this study mind-boggling for I always come back to the fundamental question of “how” life got started in the first place. Often I throw up my hands in frustration trying to sort out not so much whether evolution occurred/occurs, but, how it occurred/occurs.
This being said, however, the creationists/creation scientists seem to have somewhat the same dilemma; but they, when thoughts reach back to the ultimate, must rely on "faith," i.e. their religious beliefs about the origin of life, the world and the universe. This, then, boils down to a literal biblical interpretation and their Christian belief in a deity. They, of necessity, fall back on faith that their god has existed eternally. It seems to me that one could say just as logically (or illogically depending on your point of view), that the universe has existed eternally. An honest, critical analysis of both sides results in the same unanswered questions of how, when and where it all started and, most importantly, why. The age-old question, which I remember asking adults when I was a child, remains unanswered: If everything has to have a maker, then who made god?
Most of us have been taught that life begets life. This brings up another thought with respect to even the word "life" and especially "eternal life" which seems to me is an oxymoron. Life, according, again, to a dictionary definition is "the condition that distinguishes active animals and plants from inorganic matter, including the capacity for growth, functional activity and continual change preceding death" (italics mine).
Since god, then, we are told, is incapable of dying or "changing," can he/she/it have or be "life" or even give life as we know it? This gets us into the area of philosophical "quiddity," i.e. the essence of a person or thing. In other words, that which makes a thing what it is--a subject far too deep for me to discuss intelligently with my current understanding.
I’ve read some material on “the” human genome, which, apparently, is a misnomer since there are many more than one. This is a subject which continues to make headlines in the news and over which even secular scientists disagree. If my very limited knowledge is correct, the human genome is the full complement of genetic material in a human cell and is distributed among 23 sets of chromosomes. Since conception, these chromosomes in each of us have been reproduced again and again until our personal uniqueness (our full genome?) is preserved in each of our body’s several TRILLION cells. This all has to do with not only chromosomes, but genes, DNA and four chemical bases.
I don’t expect ever to fully “grasp” this the way I would like to, but I find it fascinating that, apparently, ALL organisms--human or not--are somehow related through similarities in DNA sequences. This brings to mind the central component of evolutionary thought/theory that ALL organisms from microscopic bacteria to plants, insects, birds and mammals share a common ancestral background.
Christian believers will say, however, that this could equally point to a Master Designer who used the same set of building blocks arranged differently for different forms of life. That may sound good on the surface; but I have a question for any omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent god with whatever other “omni” adjectives Christians attach to their deity. Why didn’t this "he/she/it" come up with a better design that would eliminate disease, birth deformities, criminal tendencies, aberrant behavior, etc. some of which seem to be determined in utero and others through social and/or geographic environment?
I don’t know that I’ll be around if and when all these questions I have are answered indisputably as I have probably lived well over half my life already--unless I am, by some quirk of evolution, still alive at age 132.
© 2003, Betty J. Brogaard
NOTE: Portions of this article are from Betty’s Dare To Think For Yourself: A Journey From Faith to Reason manuscript which can be read in its entirety at the website:
Information in this piece, also, seems to overlap some of the material in Bill Fairchild’s recent and excellent article I’m Tired of Hearing About What Jesus Wants Me to Do.
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