Monday, August 5, 2013

The Arrogance of Religious Humility

Portland, Oregon LDS Temple
While leaving Mormonism one thing that I had been told often was that I was not humble.  Sometimes I was called arrogant or proud, and that I needed to humble myself and see all the blessings that god had given me.  These blessings included my wife, my job, my car, even the very air that I breathe.

One of the teachings of nearly every religion is the virtue of humility, we are told to be humble, to not accept praise, or to defer that praise to god; that somehow to recognize one's own achievement was an unwelcomed vice and attributing this to a deity somehow makes someone humble.

I counter that to arrogate anything that you do, or have happen to you to the will of some omnipotent deity is actually one of the most arrogant and proud statements that could be uttered by man.  When someone ascribes an act to god they are not just saying that they are unable to complete the task without divine intervention or supernatural prowess; they say that god somehow cares enough for them that he has suspended the laws of nature in their favor.  They imply, perhaps without meaning to, that god has placed at a greater importance a feat that they desired well above that of the starving child, or the grieving widow, those who are described as the recipients of pure religion.  They are putting themselves at the center of an omnipotent beings attention, instead of choosing to save any of the millions of starving children in Africa, or to keep the female journalist from being raped in Egypt, or any of the nearly 17,000 car accidents which happen in the US every day, that he chose to help you find your keys, or land that new job.  What about it is not arrogant or proud?  That he chose you, he cares about you over all other things, that somehow you are special.  Is this not exactly the meaning of solipsism?  It is human nature to desire a higher purpose to our own existence, and that we should be circumscribed in the middle of it all.

Not only is this manner of thanking god for everything arrogant and diminishing, it is the utmost conceited act of self centeredness, which religion tries to color as being humble.  Forget the partners on school projects, or the guidance of your teacher; forget the coworkers who helped alongside you; forget the surgeon who trained for a decade or longer to perform your surgery that resulted from a negligent, incompetent god in the first place.

Just the other day I saw someone post on facebook, "Thank God for a mothers love."  In reply I posted, "I'll just thank my mother."  How often do we hear this kind of assertion that we should thank god for a deed done by someone else?  When we come unscaved from an auto accident and your parents say, "Thank God you're alright."  Isn't that quite presumptive of ourselves?   Assuming it wasn't the drivers fault, perhaps we should thank the driver for their quick reaction.  Does anyone ever think to maybe thank the engineers who designed the crumple zones in the engine compartments to absorb the energy instead of transferring it into our relatively frail bodies; or thank the assembly line worker for correctly installing the airbag that further softened the blow?  By thanking god we undervalue the contributions our fellow man has made and pump up our own arrogance of being the center of divine attention.

At the conclusion of Super Bowl 47 one of the Ravens said "Thank God that we won."  This is presumptuous that god, first of all, even cares about football, and secondly he was somehow rooting for his team rather than the opposing team. If not that is not enough it also completely ignores the contributions that the other players on the team made, as well as the coaches who helped train throughout the year, and the sacrifice their wives and families may have made.

Sometimes we see that god is tacked on at the end of a list of thanks.  We may see this after a tough achievement in academics when graduating high school with top honors.  They may thank some of their teachers, and their parents, and sometimes as almost an afterthought, "Oh yeah, and most of all, God."  In this case it is not attributing everything that happened to god, but still putting oneself at the center of the universe, under the divine attention of an everlasting father whose approval one seeks to prove through blessings bestowed by his benevolent hand.

More than once have I heard from those at my previous church of the blessings which they received due to their humility.  My own bishop used this tactic when trying to convince me that I should continue to believe in god.  He described how his job, his wealth, even his children are all due to a god that would watch out for him and make him wealthy.  He said that it couldn't have been the doctor who told him they wouldn't be able to have children was just wrong, he had gotten a second opinion from another doctor who couldn't have been equally wrong.

What I find to be the most humbling is the universe itself.  To realize how we came to being, of the giants which we stand upon that gives us our current view.  Ninety-nine percent of all species which have every been on this planet are extinct, and in the complex circle of life which exists here means that we owe our own existence to them.  Not only that, but the below quote captures the true enormity of who we are.
The amazing thing is that every atom in your body came from a star that exploded. And, the atoms in your left hand probably came from a different star than your right hand. It really is the most poetic thing I know about physics: You are all stardust. You couldn't be here if stars hadn't exploded, because the elements - the carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, iron, all the things that matter for evolution - weren't created at the beginning of time. They were created in the nuclear furnaces of stars, and the only way they could get into your body is if those stars were kind enough to explode. So, forget Jesus. The stars died so that you could be here today. "A Universe From Nothing" by Lawrence Krauss, AAI 2009

Though this may itself appeal to our solipsism, we should know that the universe doesn't even appear to know that we are here, and in the long term of the universe everything is doomed to a cold death as the universe continues its expansion and the last stars explode, and the last galaxy fades away, there will be nothing that we will have done which will be remembered.

* All photos used in this blogpost were taken by myself, and I reserve all rights to their use and reproduction.