*Disclaimer* Some, if not all of these posts, which will be entitled "The Forest, On..." will be on topics that are very polarizing. Please understand that it is not my intention to offend. These are purely for your benefit, (and mine).
I chose to start with religion because it is the single most important element of what makes me, me. I was lucky enough to be raised into a strong Christian family. Both sides of my family are Methodist, and I have been attending Methodist churches since I was baptized in one 26 years ago.
While Methodism and protestantism is all I've really come to know, I've studied and familiarized myself with most, if not all Western religions. To me, Methodism is the kind of religious practice I wish everyone, no matter their current faith could experience for six months.
While I consider myself an Armenian Methodist, who enjoys the rich traditions of Methodism, many current Methodists, like my parents have grown accustomed to, and enjoy a more contemporary approach to Methodism. It is in my own nature however, to be a traditionalist in all ways of life.
I firmly believe that God is available to everyone, whether you call him Allah, Yaweh, or something else, the understanding that there has to be an answer to the vast question, "why?" is what drives me to believe that all those who follow in the customs and traditions of monotheistic Western religions will one day meet their maker and will be judged.
With that said, I firmly believe in the power of Protestantism, and therefore find myself at odds with the tenets of other forms of Christianity, parts of Judaism, and some tenets of Islam, more specifically the Holy Koran. I believe that each person's relationship with God should be inherently personal, and unaffected by the winds of popular belief, the dogma of another individual or group of people, and instead the relationship should only be parted with by you alone.
I believe that religion, in whatever form it takes should be scrutinized and thoroughly criticized. While there are swaths of people trying to bring down religion as a practice, religion should only get stronger as a result from being sharply criticized.
As much of the criticism it receives is valid, religion and religious people need to listen to all criticism and take it upon themselves and their relationship with God to determine what criticism has merit and should be addressed and what criticism is not worthy of making such drastic changes as to assault the tenets of a given religion.
Obviously, I write this as an American citizen in the United States of America, and therefore must note that I would not be able to write something like this in other countries. When discussing religion in this country, no matter in what light the discussion my turn to, it's important to remember to value the person you are having the discussion with.
Too often conversations about religion, faith, belief or disbelief reach a boiling point so vitriolic, that all common ground is lost on a whim. It is my opinion that those who don't believe in the existence of a God should show some respect for those who do believe in the existence of a God. Just like I believe that those who claim to be Holy, or Christian should treat atheists as people who know that God forgives, and will not be shunning them into eternal damnation on the spot.
Atheism, or a lack of belief has become a bit more mainstream as time has moved on, especially in the United Kingdom and Northern Europe. As atheism has evolved however, it's my belief that it has become a religion all on its own.
Atheism has now become evangelical, with the likes of Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins making their cases for the non-existence of God. Those minds who have been influenced by their works, or any other factor for that matter have become a bit of a peaceful, crusading brigade.
Many of my best friends are atheists, but I have lost touch with some of those I once considered friends because they simply cannot separate religious beliefs and the person.
I've also observed that there seems to be a great need for reassurance among my atheist friends, that is to say, I don't see my Christian friends posting links to articles to each others Facebook profiles, or Twitter feeds confirming how great Christianity is, or how stupid those who don't believe in God are, yet I constantly see atheists on Facebook (whether they are my actual friends or not) sharing links that, appear to just be saying "remember, you're an atheist, and here's why..."
With several of my friends losing their belief in God, it's important to me that Christian people
actually act like Christians when they interact with atheists (and everyone else, while we're at it). Personally shunning them as an outsider, or telling them they are going to hell is counterproductive and a complete waste of breath. Atheists don't believe in hell, so passing judgement on them that is the responsibility of One, is just insanely un-Christian.
Religious leaders of all stripes, especially those in the areas of Protestantism that have a natural penchant for xenophobia and just general vitriol need to start taking long looks in the mirrors. Christianity, especially Protestantism is, and always should be about Evangelism. However, Evangelism only works when the "good word" is being spread, both in and out of religious settings.
Evangelical Christians would do themselves, and their religion a service by opening up those who have yet to believe, or those who firmly don't believe to Christianity, its teachings and ideals, without casting judgement.
To me, my responsibilities as an Evangelical Christian are clear. Make sure I'm as right as I can be with God, and only then can I start letting people know of what Christianity has allowed me to do. Evangelism isn't just, "you need to believe that Jesus Christ died for you, in five seconds or less, otherwise you're going to Hell." Evangelism can simply be a, "Hey, the pastor at my church is going to be preaching on how ridiculous our lives can get, it should be interesting, I'd love for you to come with me."
I don't remember who the quote is tied to, but it goes something like this. "I don't have any problem with you church or your Christianity, I just have a hard time standing your 'Christians.'" Christianity can't thrive unless those who practice it, are Christians when they are professing their faith to others.
Regardless of the religion, if all religious people could take a deep breath and a step back, and reflect upon themselves before casting a religious judgement on others, the world would be a better place.
Likewise for atheists. Please, if you need to be evangelical about your own beliefs (disbelief) then do so respectfully. You're not going to convince those like me who are deeply Christian, so when you try to engage one of us in an argument, just know that it's counterproductive and unnecessarily harsh.
Science is something that both believers and the non-believers need to find some common ground on. While some atheists (most, really) believe that everything that's ever happened in time (measured and unmeasured) can be explained scientifically, believers need to take a realistic seat at the table.
Those Christians and religious people who believe the earth was created 10,000 years ago or less need to have a sharp Dinosaur bone thrown just over their heads.
Those atheists who end up with a final answer of "we're still working on it-or-we're getting there" need to realize that there will be so many things for science to explain long after homo-sapiens are incapable of sustaining life on this earth.
I've completely evolved my beliefs about what science can factually explain. I used to believe the creation story in a literal sense. After doing a ton of reading on the cosmos and just astronomy in general, it's scientifically impossible for everything to be created in seven days.
Sticking with the word evolved, my beliefs have also evolved on the theory of evolution, so much so that I don't view it as much of a theory any longer. Evolution can be seen in fossils, it can be seen in species that are alive today, the jury is no longer out on evolution in my mind. It's happened.
Unlike those who can't marry science and religion at all, (on both sides of the argument) I just simply can't see how evolution can't be a tool of the Divine. All we really have to do is ask the question, "why?, or its inverse, "why not?"
Science is a tool used by human beings that have evolved over nearly a million years. We would be doing a disservice to religion if we completely ignored science or brushed off its findings as pure coincidence or not explanatory.
There you have it. When it comes to religion, we all need to start acting like compassionate human beings, and this means actually treating your neighbor as he is deserved to be treated. When it comes to science, we need to realize that its in our nature to find out when and how things happened and over what period of time. It's in our DNA to be inquisitive about these things. We shouldn't shun science in favor of religion just as we shouldn't shun religion in favor of science.
Why? That's the question I hope to ask God the day I part this earth for (God-willing) this better place I've learned about. Why now, why there, why do you have us exist.
As a religious man, I just can't marry the idea that our infinitely unique position is all a matter of happenstance.
God Bless, or Good Luck,