I am always amused when people voice an opinion that they are absolutely certain about but have no factual basis for their belief. This usually comes up in religion, but is also so prevalent in politics. Of course, there is little distinction in my mind between the methodologies that the political and religious arenas employ. They both want you to "trust" or "believe" that their way is the best and proper and only way.
This morning while reading my newspapers and blogs, I read several articles and posts regarding President Elect Obama's decision to have Pastor Rick Warren lead his inaugural day invocation. Of course, this has upset many people who view Pastor Warren as a bigot towards gays. While Mr. Obama has remained fairly silent on the matter, Pastor Warren has not. He is not, as one of his defender's mentions in this post http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-leo/rick-warren-and-gays_b_152166.html , a "hater" of gays and believes they shouldn't have equal rights. Mr. Warren is parsing his words and is according to the article referenced above, in favor of equal rights (e.g. domestic partnership or civil unions, take your pick), for gays. He is not in favor of "forcing" a re-definition of marriage to include same-sex unions.
OK, take that for what ever you think it is worth. Is Warren homophobic? I think probably not. Is he holding to a deeply held view by religious people that homosexuality is a choice, and is therefore something that can be controlled? Yes. Like many other ministers, Pastor Warren believes in the notion that being gay is sinful. His entire ethos is constructed around dogma found in the Christian Bible that describes what is sinful and what isn't. So, it is fairly obvious which side he'll come down on. Does this make him an odious person that should be ridiculed, castigated, condemned as a bigot? Well, you be the judge. I personally don't think so.
Perhaps Mr. Obama has made a mistake. Perhaps he hasn't. Perhaps this was an intentional choice designed to portray the President Elect as a "big-tent" guy, someone open to all Americans, and yes, even to bigoted ones. The pastor leading the benediction for the inaugural is Reverend Joseph Lowery, a well known progressive and civil rights advocate. The following post describes the Obama team's talking points on the matter: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2008/12/18/obamas-talking-points-on_n_152056.html.
Regardless of what you think if the inaugural invocation dust-up, the point of this post is certainty without proof. I wanted to make the point above as an illustration that one person's certainty that the "gay" is a choice and a sin is without factual basis.
The meat of the discussion topic centers around religion. Last night my daughter and I attended a Christmas Pageant at my mother's church. The title of the pageant was "An Old Fashioned Christmas", and the theme was taken from Laura Ingall's "Little House on the Prairie" stories. The setting was the late 1880's, and the point of the story was that we have somehow lost the true meaning of Christmas. The pageant was good, the music, fine, the costumes great (made by hand by my 82 year old mom (shout out). However, as usual, after the carols were sung, the pastor had to get up and exhort everyone to come to Christ. I know, I know, this is the price of admission to most any evangelical church. But while I was sitting there listening to the good reverend do his dead-level best to save our heathen souls, I started thinking about how certain he was in his message. No doubt there buddy. Without any hesitation, the good reverend quoted scripture indicating that if we just believed in the lord and committed to him, we'd gain internal life.
How does the good reverend know this? Well, the Bible tells him so. Just like the old children's tune "Jesus Loves Me", this minister is dead certain that because he is "saved", the instant he dies he'll be in heaven with Jesus.
Now, no one has ever experienced heaven and knows what it is like. We have the story from the Bible that Jesus told his flock that "in my father's house there are many mansions...". Other sections describe streets paved with gold, no suffering or sadness, a place full of rejoicing. Of course, the good pastor was also certainly of the yang to Heaven's yin: Hell. He was sorrowful for those of us who hadn't found salvation yet, because just as certain as Heaven for those who have accepted Jesus, so was eternal sorrow and misery guaranteed for those of us who had not become disciples of the Carpenter from Nazareth.
Certainty. Absolute, rock-solid, doubt free knowledge. This is what the pastor had coursing through his veins. All of it based on a collection of books, allegories, fables, wisdom, law, history, and opinion known as the Bible. None of it factually proven.
Of course, right now in Tel Aviv there is a rabbi in Hebrew School teaching the Torah to his students with absolute certainty that the law, the history, the actions and the declaration that the messiah has not yet arrived is absolute certainty.
At the same time, there is an imam in Tehran or in Jeddah teaching his students that the prophet Mohammad is the true messenger from God and that Jesus, while a great prophet was not God's son. He will say this with absolute certainty because the Koran teaches his this.
There are approximately 4200 discrete "religions" in the world today according to this site: http://www.theologicalstudies.org/classicalreligionlist.html. While some of them are organized around a similar god-head or deity (e.g. The Abrahammic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam), many others are totally different, and in most ever case, they are certain of their dogma and belief systems.
John Adams once said: "Facts are stubborn things". His point was that while someone may hold an opinion, a belief or a point-of-view, facts usually refuse to conform to those things and remain what they are. So, it is interesting that there can be such certainty with so little fact.
I wonder, in this season we are spending celebrating the birth of the a messiah to some, a prophet to others and a myth to others, if we can't just all take a breath, step back and think about the notion that the things we are some times so certain about are those that we should always take with a grain of salt. Especially if those beliefs can harm others.
The idea that a child was born to show humanity a way to peace and love has always been attractive to me. Did it really happen? I hope so. I'm not certain though. You won't convince me that it was a fact.
What I do know (Without a Doubt) is that I wish all of you peace, happiness and good health for this season and the coming new year.