It’s “Black Friday” and the faithful and non are out in droves throwing down on the biggest shopping day before Christmas… Oops… Can I write “Christmas” without offending someone? Sorry. And if I simply refer to the phenomena as “holiday shopping,” won’t I offend the right-wing defenders like Hannity and O’Rielly who insist there’s a dark “War on Christmas” that must be vigorously fought against? Um, sorry. How about I go with “the excessive orgy of consumerism occurring between Thanksgiving Day and December 25th?” That will probably offend people who really appreciate a good orgy, but isn’t that what many have become? A group of sects scanning the landscape for those who offend us?

An NPR headline today reads, “Sectarian Violence in Baghdad Kills at Least 130.” One definition of Sectarian is “Adhering or confined to the dogmatic limits of a sect or denomination; partisan.” Hmmm… That sounds like how some wish to suppress stem-cell research or gay marriage: Dogma.

The plot of Dogma is silly, but it allows for interesting socio-religious commentary in the conversations of its characters. In one exchange, Rufus, the 13th apostle played by Chris Rock explains his frustration at what man did to the good ideas of his “brotha:”

Rufus: He still digs humanity, but it bothers Him to see the shit that gets carried out in His name – wars, bigotry, but especially the factioning of all the religions. He said humanity took a good idea and, like always, built a belief structure on it.
Bethany (Linda Fiorentino): Having beliefs isn’t good?
Rufus: I think it’s better to have ideas. You can change an idea. Changing a belief is trickier. Life should malleable and progressive; working from idea to idea permits that. Beliefs anchor you to certain points and limit growth; new ideas can’t generate. Life becomes stagnant.

In case you missed it, here’s much of Dogma set to Bad Religion’s American Jesus:

This post began after reading “A Free-for-All on Science and Religion” in the New York Times Online. The article discussed a recent conference, “Beyond Belief: Science, Religion, Reason and Survival,” that took up where Rufus left off in the ideas versus beliefs debate. The NY Times George Johnson wrote the gathering “rapidly escalated into an invigorating intellectual free-for-all.” It did bash the concept of religion quite thoroughly, but some in attendance were pragmatic about it. Francisco J. Ayala is a former Roman Catholic priest, and currently a evolutionary biologist at UC, Irvine. He acknowledged, “People need to find meaning and purpose in life,” he said. “I don’t think we want to take that away from them.”

I agree. Many wonderful people I know believe in God. Some of them have a personal relationship with the big guy and absolutely “know” He exists. What bothers me is when the position is intolerant of others because they are “right” and anyone not in line is “wrong.” That’s no different than “death to the infidels,” an extreme position of some Muslim sects. I do believe the world would be better off without the intolerance often born of the sectarianism of belief, but religion is not going away any time soon.

“lronically, the thing people are most hungry for; meaning, is the one thing science hasn’t been able to give them.” – Palmer Joss in the Carl Sagan novel, Contact.

Happy Orgy of Consumerism.