(INTRODUCTION: This is the initial post for this blog, “naturereligionconnection.org”. This post has a long and personally significant history. It initially appeared as a letter to the editor in the Columbus Dispatch in late 2007. I was gratified by the response. That Sunday morning the phone rang several times, early, and I ignored them, cursing “those damn telemarketers.” After several more calls I finally answered to find a lady asking it I was the author of this morning’s letter. She went on to explain how moved she was, literally, saying she shouted, “Yes!” at one point while reading, and leaped up from the couch. The following week I received a half dozen letters expressing appreciation for my effort. A Sunday School teacher wrote that he intended to use it with his teen-age group to provoke discussion. One scrawled and rambling letter explained how I was going to Hell. This current post is a slightly revised version of that original, letter.)
Sometimes in presidential races, religion becomes a topic. That was the case in 2008 and especially in the Iowa caucus. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney spoke passionately about his religious beliefs because they were apparently adversely affecting some Iowans. The editor of our local Columbus newspaper interviewed E. Gordon Gee, President of The Ohio State University (Columbus Dispatch 12/2/2007) who hopes we can “restore civility and thoughtfulness to politics.”
The first obstacle cited, by Gee, to this “more civilized political discourse” was religious prejudice and ignorance. Gee is a Mormon, as is his friend Romney. He said it was “hogwash” to think that Romney would govern differently, or that he, Gee, would administer a university differently because of their religious belief.
Here at NatureReligionConnection, we believe that, but also that there is more to say. We think it is ‘hogwash’ that there is so little civil and thoughtful discourse about religion. Politics aside, the Christmas season was then in full swing and that, too, made it an excellent time to ask: how is it that so many of us hold so many different, so many contradictory, so many fanciful religious opinions? If Gee and Romney want thoughtful political discourse then let us start a thoughtful discourse about religion to accompany it.
For example, Mormons believe that in the year 1823 in Palmyra, New York, (not exactly a ‘mecca’ of religious activity!) an angel named Moroni helped Joseph Smith obtain buried golden tablets that were written in an ancient language about an ancient people that once lived there. Mormon, the author of the plates, was a prophet and historian for these people, the Nephites, who had come from Jerusalem to the New World in 600 B.C. by boat.
In the New World, the Nephites created a great civilization, eventually destroyed but not before Jesus Christ came to them soon after his resurrection and personally ministered to them. Joseph Smith used special stones (the Urim and Thummim) that came with the plates and allowed him to translate them into the Book of Mormon, the sole source of this ‘history.’ After the translation, the angel Moroni took the tablets back for safekeeping, but not before they were shown to 11 witnesses (see the front of the Book of Mormon for their testimony). Mormons believe that the Nephites are the ancestors of Native American Indians.
That’s a unique twist on Christianity, and—for good reasons—most of us don’t believe it, unless you were born in Utah.
Another belief that most Americans don’t hold: In the year 610 A.D. Muhammad was fasting and praying in a cave outside of Mecca, now Saudi Arabia. He wished his people to possess a book like the Jews and Christians and finally on this occasion, after days of prayer and abstinence, the Angel Gabriel appeared and ordered him to “recite.” He could not, so the angel took him in something like a bear hug and held Muhammad till breathless and again ordered him to “recite.” But nothing came forth.
Finally, after releasing him from a third embrace, Muhammad, gasping for breath, found the opening words of the Quran tumbling from his mouth. Muslims don’t believe that Christianity is wrong but simply that it is incomplete, that the Quran completes the teachings about God.
We don’t believe that story either, certainly not in any literal sense, but one billion people from North Africa through the Middle East and deep into Asia do, and many of them now live in the United States and Europe.
In the name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful: All Praise is due to Allah, Lord of the Universe.
“The Opening” of the Quran, Surah Al-Fatih
Finally, a story that many Americans subscribe to. It’s a familiar story and one that profoundly moves us especially during the holiday season. We won’t repeat it in detail; it too involves angels, ancient events, a special book, ascension into heaven, a pregnancy without sex, and a god who was also a man. Of course, this story is just as hard to believe.
Many Americans do believe, it’s our story, but of course intimate familiarity is the primary criterion for belief in any religion. If you were born and raised into it, you believe it.
But it is more than intimate familiarity that is at work, it is also the feelings of connection, metaphysical insight and deeper purposes engendered by religious beliefs that is cited by believers as evidence of truthfulness. All serious Mormons, Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus, etc. feel the validity of their faith; and since this feeling is had by all it is no proof to any for their specific stories.
It’s time to say what we believe. Here at The Connection, we believe that ethics and morality are real things but are degraded by supernatural explanations. We believe that the “faith” of religious believers is really their intuition of their actual involvement in something that is larger than themselves, that is the source of meaning, and that is of immense value.
A small but significant discourse is underway centered around courageous biologists and other theorists, who seek to gain our assent through reason and evidence that is accessible to all regardless of place of birth and socialization. Traditional religion can be replaced, and interestingly it is the science of biology that is leading the way. The design of the natural world, always the best argument for the existence of God, is being understood by evolutionary theory to be “That Large Thing” mentioned above.
It is the Tree of Life, and we humans are incorporated in the inner relations of this Biosphere. As physician and medical researcher, Lewis Thomas wrote, “the earth is a loosely formed, spherical organism.” So, it is with scientific justification that we can, with affection, admiration and even awe, look to our planet and gain inspiration. It is Mother Earth, of which we are a part: Our planet is a massive and irreplaceable piece of living art.
If this scientific discourse can continue and expand, and if each of us have the courage to examine our own basic beliefs, we, here at the naturereligionconnection, believe that traditional religion can be replaced by more rational and uniform ideals. Mother Nature’s human creatures will then have a sounder basis for civility and thoughtfulness in our political relations.