Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Case For God

Gallup reported this month that 9 out of every 10 Americans believe in God, but I was surprised that Independent voters like me seem to be pulling the average down. Maybe we’re afraid to commit?

I can in turn highly recommend a book that was recommended to me a few months ago by a friend who noted my deep spirituality that exists outside of organized religion and written by a historian and author who was a nun for seven years and a professor. Anyone who is a fan of TED - Ideas worth spreading, as I am, may have heard her speak there or viewed her Charter for Compassion website.

The book, published in 2009 and entitled The Case For God, was written by Karen Armstrong. It is a fascinating history of God from Paleolithic times to the present and also explores those who identify God as Brahman, Nirvana, Allah, or Dao and common threads that run through Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and various Chinese spiritualities.

The book came to mind again, several weeks ago, while reading about a fascinating discovery in this month’s National Geographic Magazine in an article entitled The Birth of Religion.

It has always been thought that humans evolved from hunters and gatherers to agriculture and then gravitated to religion, in part, as a means to build social cooperation. But the archeological discovery on a hilltop in Turkey that is the subject of the article by Charles. C. Mann, the author of 1491 and other books and articles, suggests that temples built to serve disparate settlements may have preceded farming. The article is also a fascinating read.

The article features a humorous quote about finding the site being “like finding that someone had built a 747 in a basement with an X-ACTO knife.”

For me, the intense social elements of organized religion actually made it impossible for me to stay in touch with and deepen my personal spirituality, so in my mid-20s I bundled up the articles of my faith and rediscovered my spirituality in very quiet, personal and isolated places where I can hear myself think and feel and I haven’t been back since then.

I have remained proud of the religious heritage in which I was raised and grateful for its values. Lets just say I’m more like Jon Huntsman, who also has roots in Eastern Idaho but 80 miles south and Harry Reid, also a westerner than I am the Mitt Romney who has seemed to move more and more conservative. As an Independent voter I guess that’s expected.

I’m not very fond of musicals nor have I been able to watch South Park very often, which is by the same creators as The Book of Mormon, winner of 9 Tony Awards last Sunday night. But I got a kick out of one song from the musical, Turn It Off, when it was forwarded by one of my sisters via my niece, which respectfully pokes great fun at a behavior common to many organized religions.

From Pew Research surveys it appears that at the time back when I took a more independent course to spirituality, the mid 1970s, 13% of today’s Baby Boomers had no religious affiliation at all. For today’s Millennial Generation that proportion has grown to 1 in 4.

Regardless of whether they find an institutional affiliation, I wish them well in the search for or retention of their personal spirituality. Useful to anyone would be reading A Case For God, which while not at all evangelistic, may give anyone the historical context in which to understand their personal beliefs and spirituality.

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