Why both atheists and the ‘spiritual’ shouldn’t despise religion

Today we should consider it the decisive sign of great culture if someone possesses the strength and flexibility to pursue knowledge purely and rigorously and, at other times, to give poetry, religion, and metaphysics a handicap, as it were, and appreciate their power and beauty.

-Nietzsche, Human All too Human, aphorism 278

So, religion is real. No, really, it is, I swear. There really are religious people out there, and they believe religious things. I know, it seems odd that such a things as religions would exist, but think about it for a moment; our minds are structured such that we tend to have blind spots, we find patterns in chaos, we see meaning where there is none. We are creators, inventors, and composers of incantations both sublime and ordinary.

I don’t mean to be snarky. OK, yes I do. But I don’t mean to be obnoxious. That’s just a natural talent I have. I only mean to be honest. Religion, as I understand it, is a natural outgrowth of our various mental strengths, weaknesses, and our extraordinary normality. Thus, within it is contained all aspects of which we are capable, whether good, bad, or neutral.

There are many atheists I know who dismiss religion. There are many ‘spiritual people’ who despise (organized) religion (the parenthetical qualifier ‘organized’ is necessary), and their are religious people who don’t agree with most of their religion. Yeah, that last one makes no sense to me either.

I applaud the skeptical mind that genuinely seeks the truth through the discipline of the scientific method. I appreciate the effort to put aside our conceits in order to look at ourselves in a mirror, and not a mirror darkly, in order to attempt to pursue the truth. I also appreciate those that attempt to pursue their own growth with deep conviction of things I may find absurd. At least they are trying. As for those religious people who don’t even agree with their own proclaimed tradition…. I’ll let that issue untouched, for now.

But there are beauties, subtleties, and profundities within religious traditions. There are expressions of ourselves, inscribed in the languages of theology, philosophy, and metaphysics that, despite not ‘true’, contain import that are worth exploring.

They are worth exploring because they teach us about ourselves, both as individuals and as social groups. They give us glimpses of what it means to be human in different ways. So we need to allow ourselves to throw off the yoke of skepticism every once in a while and delve into the parts of ourselves that speak absurdities in order to understand the subtleties of their allure.

Religions survive for a reason. That reason is not because they teach us the Truth, but perhaps they can teach us something. Maybe it is a perspective of the truth from a side angle, rather than the straight on face-to-face angle that we aspire to with more meticulous disciplines. Perhaps there are angles of the truth, shades of gray, that can better be seen from the point of view of absurdities.

So, let’s proceed with science and other honest and disciplined attempts to understand our world better. But we should allow ourselves to understand those things that pull the heart, the ‘spirit’, in order to not leave behind the creators and artists within us, even if what we create in such states are not true.

For perhaps it is the untrue that can lead to new perspectives on the true. And if not, at least we can better understand those that still live within those worldviews we may have transcended. And that, at very least, will keep the ports of dialogue open, which will engender increased understanding of our brothers and sisters on this crazy ride of life.

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