[religion] In which we discover that I may be a Wheatonist

Yesterday, Lisa Costello and I were talking about religion, as we are sometimes wont to do. I am somewhat infamously an atheist, from a Calvinist background. She is a serious Shambhala Buddhist, also from a Protestant background.

What prompted the conversation was this comment on my blog, from Stevo Darkly, partially excerpted here:

I suspect Jay is as “saved” as he needs to be. The Catholic theologian Karl Rahner posits the concept of the “anonymous” Christian. Horrible label, but basically it means if a person lives as Christ would like, they are effectively a Christian. […] Certainly Jay lives a life as loving and tolerant and kind as any sort if Christ or God could want. Better than most self-claimed Christians.

I felt both complimented and amused by Stevo’s remarks, and took them in what I am fairly confident was the spirit intended. As it happens, Lisa and I have an ongoing dispute about whether I’m a good Buddhist or a bad Buddhist. Which is also pretty amusing, given my active commitment to atheism. The serious underpinnings of that dispute parallel the comment above, to the effect that Lisa claims I live my life much the way I would if I were trying to be a good Buddhist.

I observed that in simplistic terms, most constructive religious commandments boil down to Wheaton’s Law: “Don’t be a dick.” I’m not talking about the religious commandments about not eating shrimp, or avoiding cheeseburgers, or hating on gay people, or wearing magic underwear, or whatever. Those are tribal in-group signifiers, not moral guidance. I’m talking about the whole not bearing false witness thing, not coveting your neighbor’s ass in a non-consensual fashion, do as you would be done by, an it harm none, and so forth. Those are affirmative statements of social principle. (Some of which may of course also be tribal in-group signifiers.)

So I suppose if I were to subscribe to a religion, I’d be a Wheatonist. My religion would have one commandment: “Don’t be a dick.” That’s about it. Seems to cover almost everything what needs covering. Living as a Wheatonist, I could be mistaken for an anonymous Christian or a good Buddhist either one.

I think Wil is on to something bigger than he realizes.

Or maybe he already knows it…

49 thoughts on “[religion] In which we discover that I may be a Wheatonist

  1. Laurie Mann says:

    One of my favorite quotes about religion:

    “Morality is doing what is right, regardless of what you are told. Religion is doing what you are told, regardless of what is right.”

    WIsh I knew who said it first.

  2. “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.”

    Of course that quote doesn’t mean what most people think it means. Read this: http://www.dailybuddhism.com/archives/670

  3. Ruthanne Reid says:

    Given that one of the tenants of Christianity is that we are in fact bad, not good, and cannot save ourselves, I’d say that statement is well meant but contradictory. Calvinist background? Then you definitely know that. 😀 Though, granted, a little more Wheaton would help everybody.

  4. Stevo Darkly says:

    I’m very flattered that the comment was noticed, taken in the spirit intended, and even sparked a conversation.

    I’m afraid the mention of Rahner’s “anonymous Christian” concept could be taken as presumptuous and arrogant. I didn’t mean it that way, though. And rationally, why would anyone care if someone tries to “colonize” their soul if the colonizee doesn’t believe they have such a thing?

    In that regard, I’m reminded of a fragment of a poem by J. Neil Schulman (culturally Jewish, former atheist, and now a theist of a highly idiosyncratic sort):

    Then I think about the Mormons.
    They want so much
    to make sure everybody gets into Heaven
    that they get genealogies on everybody
    then baptize them
    even if they’re already dead.
    Maybe some people are offended by this
    but not me.
    I think it’s sweet.
    Looking out for the other guy
    particularly the ones who are ready to dump on you.
    Now that’s Christian charity.
    You have to love the Mormons
    for making maximum effort.


  5. Stevo Darkly says:

    Regarding the Wheaton commandment, I’m also reminded of the book _God’s Mechanics: How Scientists and Engineers Make Sense of Religion_ by Brother Guy Consolmagno, S.J., the curator of meteors at the Vatican observatory. (Yes, the Vatican has an observatory. And a curator of meteors.)

    Consolmagno says many techie-minded theists seem to take an approach to religious strictures that is similar to the way copier machine repairpersons regard their official copier machine repair manuals: Full of many detailed rules that may or may not be practical in the field. However, overarching all those rules are these meta-rules:

    1) Get the broken machine fixed.

    2) Make the customer happy.

    It is more important to follow these meta-rules than it is to follow any particular detailed, possibly impractical, actual rule in the manual.

    It would appear this approach is not restricted to scientists, engineers or technicians. Or even to religionists.

    As discussed here, the chief meta-rule seems to be “Don’t be a dick.”

    I kind of like it.

  6. Danny Adams says:

    I might also suggest the Googleist “Don’t be evil”, except Google doesn’t seem to be a good Googleist.

  7. Jim Crider says:

    Oh, this is outstanding, Jay. 🙂

  8. Kate Macdonald says:

    A bazillion years ago, I became a minister of the Universal Life Church. http://www.ulc.net The only rule I ever found on all their website was, “Do that which is right.”

  9. Eva Whitley says:

    I’m a Tyson-ist, myself: “For me, I am driven by two main philosophies, know more today about the world than I knew yesterday. And along the way, lessen the suffering of others. You’d be surprised how far that gets you.”
    — Neil deGrasse Tyson

  10. Stevo Darkly says:

    Sometimes I am a Dowist. The main tenets are: Honor thy mother and thy father. Thou art thou brother’s keeper, and shalt not let Eddie Haskell give him the business. And geez, don’t be a creep.

    However, the Tony Dow that can be named Wally is not the eternal Dow.

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