Saturday, April 21, 2012

Kendrick Macdowell

Hello and Happy Saturday!

First up, I wish to thank Thom for his wonderful interview of last week. I enjoyed reading your answers and I thank you for sharing with us Thom!

Today we have a new interview so please welcome Kendrick Macdowell. Kendrick is an Agnostic and I know you'll enjoy his interview as well!

Here Is Kendrick Macdowell's Introduction:

For most of my adult life, I've been not so much religious as a student of religion, rarely observant but always respectful of faith embraced with good will. My professional life has been steeped in law and politics in Washington DC. I was raised as a non-denominational evangelical Christian, but moved into a different space in my 20s. I've traveled extensively. I danced with the Hasidim in Jerusalem, attended lively Christian services, and a funeral with hints of witchcraft, in Kenya, participated in a consecration ceremony at a Buddhist monestary in South Korea, did Siddha yoga at Baba Muktananda's ashram in India, did Buddhist Vipassana meditation at an ashram in India, did a Native American sweat lodge in northern New Mexico, and wrote my master's thesis on the phenomenon of Eastern mysticism in America during the Sixties. I'll never know the truth, but I do believe religion, at its best, is the profoundest and most beautifully textured expression of the human urge to connect with what is ultimately beyond our comprehension.


1) What religion do you practice?
I do not practice any religion. I was raised an evangelical Christian, but do not practice that religion. Later I converted to Judaism, but do not actively practice that religion. I am a student of all religions and deeply respectful of the religious impulse.

2) Are you a convert/revert or were you raised within this religion? If you converted, what did you need to do to convert? And what did you practice prior to converting?
A bit complicated. I was raised an evangelical Christian. During my travels, I met and fell in love with an Israeli woman. Ultimately I married her, and converted to Judaism before doing so. Apart from some seasonal observances and Shabbat meals, I did not actively practice Judaism. My wife and I did agree that our son would be raised Jewish, and I remained committed to that agreement after we divorced. I attended his Bar-Mitzvah in Israel five years ago, spoke my Hebrew lines, and was very proud of him.

The conversion process to Judaism was fairly rigorous. Judaism is not evangelical and does not actively promote conversion. The most common reaction to indicating intent to convert is "why?" I like that. I did not convert for conventionally sound reasons. I converted because I was in love with a Jewish Israeli woman. To be sure, I saw much to love and admire about Judaism. But to be honest, I could have found much to love and admire about several other religions, had my beloved been of that faith. The choice of Judaism was about love. I spent a year in study of Jewish texts and participation in the cycle of Jewish holidays and festivals. I was already circumcised, thankfully, so I needed only a rabbi to prick my penis and draw a drop of blood to validate the conversion. This was bizarre to me, but unobjectionable, because I was in love. I converted through a Reform Rabbi (because Reform Judaism made more sense to me than Orthodox Judaism), but, somewhat ironically, the Reform conversion process was actually more rigorous than the Orthodox conversion process. It would have been a bit easier to convert through an Orthodox rabbi, had I been willing to say certain things I wasn't willing to say. One consequence of converting through a Reform rabbi is that most Orthodox congregations do not recognize the conversion as valid. So while I had undergone a fairly rigorous conversion process, I was not recognized as "Jewish" by many Orthodox Jews. The ways this mattered, at times, are another story.

3) Within your religion are there degrees of observance (i.e., orthodox, conservative, moderate, liberal)? What are the defining differences between the degrees of observance?
As I am not an active practitioner of any religion, I take this question as an inquiry about "degrees of observance" for, I suppose, agnostics. I think there are "degrees of observance" for agnostics. I'll call them respectful, neutral, and hostile. I am in the respectful camp.

Respectful agnostics acknowledge the impossibility of knowing whether any of the many religious narratives are true, but respect the yearning for truth in every religion. Respectful agnostics defend religions and religious people against bad-faith attacks. Respectful agnostics support religious liberty and the free exercise of religion. Respectful agnostics forcefully challenge the condescension of secular commentators who suggest that religion is unintelligent or backward or benighted.

Neutral agnostics do not subscribe to any religious narrative, and do not have any interest in these narratives. Neutral agnostics go about their life without any particular interest in religion.

Hostile agnostics actively challenge religious narratives. Hostile agnostics consider religion a net negative in human affairs, a delusion at best, and an excuse for oppression at worst. Hostile agnostics challenge apparent contradictions in religious narratives, and view such contradictions as evidence of religion's intellectual bankruptcy.

4) Within your religion what degree of observance are you (i.e., orthodox, conservative, moderate, liberal)? Why did you choose this degree of observance?
I am a respectful agnostic. I choose it because any religious narrative, sufficiently studied and understood, might be true, and more importantly, might save a human being from despair. I choose it because religious people are generally respectful and tolerant, and deserve respect in turn. I choose it because I think religion gets a bad rap in our secular culture, and because it has become too easy to whack religion and religious people without a particle of understanding about them. I choose it because I believe a religious upbringing is more likely (though not guaranteed) to give you a basic understanding of right and wrong, and a better grasp of moral issues in both daily and public life. I choose it because hostility to religion offends me, because looking for contradictions in religious narratives is like looking for mis-written phone numbers in a phone book. It's "gotcha" religious politics, and fails to appreciate the depth and breadth of religious narratives.

5) What is the Afterlife within your religion? For example: what happens when a person dies? Are there places for reward/punishment? (such as a Heaven/Hell concept)
I do not know.

6) In your opinion, does everyone make it into heaven/paradise? If they do not, why?

7) What makes your religion a good fit for you?
I'm not sure there is such a thing as a "good fit" with religion, except in the sense of a "fitful" relationship with God. I am what I am because I cannot be otherwise.

8) What are your holy days and what do you do to celebrate them?
I am ashamed to say I do not have holy days and do not celebrate them. I wish I did.

9) Do you consider people of other faiths to be your friends?

10) Would you ever join people of another faith to celebrate one of their holy days? Please explain why?
Absolutely. Why not?

11) What are your thoughts on the burka, and Shariah Law?
The burka is a dress chosen by Muslim women to signify modesty. When it is freely chosen, it is to be respected. When it is imposed and not freely chosen, it is a symbol of oppression of women.

"Shariah law" is not a single, monolithic code. Only the jihadists wish us to believe "Shariah law" means one thing and one thing only. "Shariah law" is a collection of commentaries. People are freaked out about "Shariah law" because they're buying into the jihadists' poisonous nonsense. Shariah law isn't any scarier than English common law, and typically yields the same result. Moreover, there is NO danger -- let me say it again, NO danger -- of "Shariah law" taking hold in America or any American community. The effort to make "Shariah law" a scare tactic in electoral politics is a disreputable bigotry. Now let's be plain: if some benighted and brutal Muslim community abroad interprets "Shariah law" to support some stupid abomination, like stoning a woman, then here is what they are: benighted, brutal and stupid. They do not speak for Islam. No one who speaks in good faith calls for the imposition of Shariah law in any non-Muslim country. All who speak in good faith recognize that Shariah law might be referenced in a court case without sparking ridiculous fears of jihad conquest of the American judiciary.

12) Are women allowed to hold religious office (priest, minister, rabbi, iman, etc.) in your religion and how do you feel about it?
I do not believe there can be a modern justification for excluding women from religious office. It is the trajectory of every religion to treat men and women equally regarding religious leadership. It may not happen in my lifetime, but eventually, all religions will acknowledge the equal status of men and women.

13) Does your place of worship segregate? If yes, how does this make you feel?
If I had a place of worship, it certainly wouldn't segregate.

14) How much does your religion affect your daily life and how much thought do you give it when making a decision? Does it affect in any way your decision on abortion, gay marriage, etc?
My positions on abortion and gay marriage come from political, rather than religious, thinking. I support the right to abortion and the right to gay marriage based upon a certain view of the limited role of government. Religion does not come into play. If I were more actively religious, I believe my positions on abortion and gay marriage would be the same. I would view efforts at citing scriptures to support one claim, or its contrary, as competing interpretations on matters, ultimately, of individual conscience. In other words, this or that scriptural passage would be relevant, but not dispositive.

15) How would you react/feel if your child wished to marry outside your religion?
In the abstract, I'd have no problem with it. But in a particular circumstance, I'd wish to know the capacities and tolerances of the two people and their families. In other words, there is nothing wrong, per se, about marrying outside one's religion, and it can be an enriching experience. But it's not for everyone, and it creates complications and challenges that some people, and/or their families, are simply not well-suited to handle.

16) In your opinion, if someone is not of your faith, will they go to hell?
"Hell" is a concept that drove me away from religious practice. As much as I love religion, I cannot subscribe to a view that condemns innocents to eternal torment -- and don't even get me started about how you define "innocents." Any religious doctrine that sends some people to eternal delight and some people to eternal torment, based upon their willy-nilly, culturally-dictated decision to do this or that religious gesture, is unacceptable. The concept of Hell, for all the beauty of religion, is perhaps the ugliest invention of the human imagination. But I get the narrative impulse. If you're trying to corral a mass of people, induce good behavior, and consolidate ecclesiastical control, heaven is a great carrot and hell is a great stick.

17) Who do you think is not a practicing ----- in your religion and why? ie who in the public domain claims to speak for your religion? Do you agree with them or not?
I don't understand this question.

18) Have you ever been the target of a hate crime? Please explain.

19) Do you ever feel like your religion devalues you?

20) Does your religion give you peace of mind?
In an odd way, yes. My thoughts about religion give me a certain solace. I am not proud of my lack of religious observance and I wish I had the capacity for faith, but my contemplations of religion and matters of the spirit always bring me comfort. In fact, there is no other subject that gives me greater comfort.

21) Do you believe in reincarnation? Why or why not?
I have no evidence for reincarnation one way or the other, but the concept solves many knotty problems -- especially if there is such a thing as a soul. The evolution of that soul makes most sense within a reincarnation rubric. But the concept may be, like the concept of hell, a convenient heuristic. The human imagination is awe-inspiring. Our constructions in the world of the spirit put the grandeur of brick-and-mortar architecture to shame. Whether or not reincarnation is real, it was bound to be invented.

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