Thinking "Man's" God

>> Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Been a while since I talked religious philosophy.

If Jesus came back and saw what's going on in his name, he'd never stop throwing up.
-Woody Allen

I know, most of you haven't missed it, but my daughter wanted me to watch "Religulous" with her and it got me to thinking. Now, though I can appreciate seeing the craziest extremists of religion discussing their view  as a basis to consider religion a bad idea altogether, I'm not going to take that stance.  Though that did happen in the movie. I don't even want to take the stance. I don't think religion, per se, is evil.

Even though I won't argue the religious fanatics have done plenty of harm to innocent people in the past and today (pretty much all religions, don't think yours is innocent), or that you don't have to be a fringe creepy nut to do considerable harm, I absolutely won't tell anyone they aren't entitled to believe as they want (or not believe). I want religious freedom, want to believe as I choose, damn it, and I can't have that if I try to take it away from someone else. Them's the rules. There's been plenty of secular harm going on, too, and I won't shoulder the blame for it; why should reasonable religious folks pay the price for the crazies?

This isn't the dark ages and we, as the human race, are overdue for some growing up.

If you're hoping I'll tell you the answers, no luck. I don't got 'em. Don't even want 'em. I'm fine not knowing everything.

But, I do think it behooves anyone to take out their beliefs and examine them, look 'em over, check 'em for soundness. Many of us get our religious beliefs from scriptures or people interpreting some form of scripture, which means that there might be aspects that, as decent human beings, we might not be entirely be comfortable with. I think understanding that, accepting that everything we're fed isn't to be taken at face value is a good thing to know because - and I might get some flack for this - our religion should never get in the way of our consciences or lead us to apathy when something wrong is happening. That's right, I don't think religion should lead our way - I think most of us have a better sense of what is right and wrong than the most religious fanatics out there. We just have to listen to our inner selves and not squash our natural decency.

Why do I think that? Well, partially because religious belief, of some form or another, is so widespread. People want to do the right thing and are humble enough to be concerned that they might need guidance. If religious leaders were as interested in doing the right thing as followers in general, religion wouldn't have done nearly as much harm as it has. A dash of critical thinking on the part of followers might have been helpful as well to keep those tending toward megalomania from causing so much destruction.

And that is what I want to talk about, taking out the tenets of your faith and separating the wheat from the chaff.

Here are some basic tenets and practices:

  • We are all God's children he loves us all
  • Except certain people of certain races/colors/geographical areas/intelligence levels/social levels/etc.
  • People who don't have the right faith will spend eternity in torment no matter how kind they are to others.
  • People who have the right faith (specific faith, mind you, not Christianity/Muslim/etc) can be forgiven most everything no matter how horrible the crime
  • To be a good [your religion here] you must convert others for their own good
  • I am justified in treating people who violate tenets of my religion differently, poorly, even with violence. 
  • I am justified in deciding who of my neighbors is going to hell.
  • If I feel something is sinful, I am obligated to try to make it illegal and punish others for it. 
  • No one has the right to infringe on my beliefs. 
  • My particular "messiah" was divine and proved it with miracles and/or resurrection.
  • Any other "messiah" was patently false, even if they did exactly the same things as mine did.
  • Treating people decently (particularly sinners/infidels) is not as important as piety
  • Certain acts are only right or wrong, with no gray area. 
  • Except killing, which is okay if you're doing it for the right reason and have God's backing but a dire sin if you don't.
  • And sex, which is okay if you're doing it for procreation ONLY and with one's spouse of the opposite gender, but not under any other circumstance.
  • And stealing which is okay if you're only tricking the ignorant out of their money instead of hacking into their bank accounts without their permission
  • and, well, you get the idea. 
  • Obeying God's law is absolute. 
Now, some of you might have found the tone of that list caustic. There's a reason for it. Like the math problem previously, assumptions are part and parcel of a number of gentler sounding tenets that are part and parcel of most religions. One can't have the one true religion without everyone else being false. One can't embrace the notion of hell without being comfortable with the notion that some of the friends and neighbors you have are headed that way.

The problem I have with this kind of thinking, and why I don't believe there is one true religion or that whatever God(s) exist cares what name is on the church you go to is that, to believe that this is his/her/their priority, he/she/they'd have to be intolerant and more interested in hearing one's praises than in one's "children" treating each other kindly, that control of one's children is more important than watching them think independently or entertain a different notion.

 And I don't.

No. Scratch that.  I won't.

Almost every tenet that claims exclusivity or fosters animosity between people can be readily explained by human beings wanting to use religion to control other people, to give them a way to punish, horror stories to frighten them to piety (if not sinlessness), to increase the size of one's flock. I'd much rather believe such contradictory and divisive notions come from unscrupulous humans than think God is a petty vindictive tyrant who prefers sycophantic fawning by the worst possible villains over people who treat others with compassion and acceptance. I'd much rather believe that than believe in a God who is comfortable dooming everyone who didn't figure out which of the eighty-five jillion religions was the one and only to everlasting torment. I'd much rather believe that God is as helpless in some ways to stop terrible things from happening than that he does them to teach some group of people a lesson. (And it's so ironic that religions are so divisive because the original teachings frequently boil down to the Golden Rule).

I don't believe in a higher power who is intolerant, petty, unkind, self-absorbed and vicious or at least more so than I am myself. Oh, I won't tell you you're wrong if you think he is. You can believe whatever you want, but I won't do it. And using hell to scare me won't work because I don't believe in that either. I don't think there's only torment or blissful harmony. I think the struggles we go through are to make us stronger, to teach us to be better people, which would be wasted if we died only to retire in challenge-less luxury or if we were given no chance to try again if we didn't quite come up to scratch (let alone the torments).

I mean, why in the world would I feel good about worshiping someone who hated the bulk of the human race, who was going to make them suffer an eternity of unhappiness? Bad enough to think God feels that way - why would you want to worship such an individual?

And, here's the kicker, my answer is the same even if I'm wrong, because I won't worship someone nasty like that just because he's powerful. Power doesn't impress me; merit does. I wouldn't give such a god the satisfaction of my worship and would prefer to go to hell than kiss up to a bastard like that. I'd prefer to spend an eternity in damnation with all the people I most admire than spend eternity basking in comfort and the company of the most sanctimonious cretins I've ever known.

If I let someone else's sense of right and wrong, my belief in some petty higher power cause me to do harm to someone else, or even allow me to look the other way while it happened, I still have to answer for that. Perhaps to God, but, just as important, definitely to myself. Not saying I haven't made mistakes (with more to come), but I'm willing to answer for each and every one. I made the choices. I'll live with the consequences. And I would still be responsible even if someone else convinced me to do them.

So, I toss away everything that seems contrived for aggrandizement of a particular "god" or institutions and focus on doing the most good and not harming anyone if I can avoid it. That's it. And I'm very happy with it. Heck, I'd go to hell for my way of thinking, which is as faithful as it gets.

I don't think it will come to that, though.

I didn't say all that to convert anyone, by the way, only to explain how I got to where I am and why I believe what I believe. By all means, keep your own faith - I'm only asking you to take a good look at it. Have you ever done something, argued for something, you didn't really think was right because your religion told you to? Have you ever kept silent when something you felt was wrong was happening because others of your faith were doing it or supporting it? If so, perhaps you need to rethink it, make sure your faith is in keeping what what you really believe.

And act accordingly.

Oh, and if  you'd like to debate the topic with me, that's just fine, too.


  • Roy

    Hear, hear! But then again, you and I have been agreeing on this subject for years.

  • Relax Max

    I noticed you had put up a new post and came to see what you were up to. Now you've tricked me into reading your entire new novel dissing religion. :)

    Too many numerous goodies to talk about right now but I'll choose one and come back. Btw, have you ever actually been to church? For any length of time? How did you "learn" about all this stuff? Cuzz I was taken for a long time, but that was good because when I grew up I was able to make an informed decision without sarcastic closed-minded prejudicial mud slinging. Admittedly, at that later age, I still opted out, but at least my decision was based on experience and logical thinking.

    If you are going to start posting about religion again, then I get to post on politics again. Watch out. :)

  • Relax Max

    I don't want to debate you, though. Who could possibly win a debate about religion? But I'd like to argue your silly notion that you are neutral and don't think your readers are stupid if they believe in some sort of religion. You think such people are stupid and you know it.

  • Stephanie Barr

    Grew up Mormon until I was old enough to decide for myself, been at friends' requests, to several different churches, and have bothered to do some research into some non-Christian religions.

    And I love mythology.

    But I made people uncomfortable in church even as a kid because the critical thinking/asking difficult question thing apparently is inborn. When I'm invited to a church and the make me fill out a card asking my religion, I usually say, "shinto-buddhist with Christian tendencies" - I'm not joking. I try to learn from everything, every religion and philosophy, every culture and take away the things that feel right to me, that when I look at them critically, still make sense.

    I find it interesting that you think I'm dissing religion. I don't think I'm doing that at all. I am dissing some of the crap that are frequently trotted out as "religion" because I think that's where the damage comes from.

    I'm concerned that the way religion is used so often leads to divisiveness. So I'm saying something.

    Lighting a candle, as it were, rather than cursing the darkness.

  • Stephanie Barr

    RM, we've had this discussion before. You're not qualified to tell me what I'm thinking.

    Since *I* believe in some sort of religion, why would I think people would be automatically stupid if they had some sort of religion?

    There are tenets and practices in many different religions that I do think are stupid. I don't think someone's necessarily stupid for buying them; I suspect, in many cases, they just haven't thought it through. But I also think many people don't believe in the stupid parts of their own religion, even if they keep quiet about it.

    But, I'll admit, that's speculation. I'm an optimist.

  • Relax Max

    No, of course I am not qualified to tell you what you are thinking. However, I am VERY qualified to read and comprehend what you've written. No mind-reading is necessary. Perhaps you don't think you are disparaging religion in your above remarks. That doesn't change your actual words or your tone.

    Be that as it may.

    I personally see religion as an invention of man. Spirituality, on the other hand, is something very different to me. Just because I may not happen to believe this or that system of rules invented by various churches doesn't mean I don't believe in some sort of Greater Intelligence existing in our universe which is available for me to commune with in my way and receive inspiration from, if I will open my heart and shut my mouth.

    Much of what you say above comes off to me as sarcastic and bitter, or at least sarcastic and derisive. This is not to put words in your mouth or tell you what you were thinking when you wrote it, only how I received it and perceived it. It also comes across to me as rather smug and superior in places, and that is why I "felt" you were implying believers of certain magical Biblical doctrine were being stupid compared to logical people with scientific and analytical minds.

    If you TRULY feel that it is none of your business what people believe about religion, and TRULY don't think your own conclusions about religion are superior to theirs, then we are of one mind on this subject and there is no need for conflict. I am willing to accept it if you say your choice of words didn't imply any value judgments on your part.

    I would love, however, for you to reconcile that with the words in the last two paragraphs of your comment above this one, beginning with, "There are tenets..."

  • Stephanie Barr

    "However, I am VERY qualified to read and comprehend what you've written." I find that ironic because this paragraph, in my opinion, is a fair rendition of my OWN personal belief:

    "I personally see religion as an invention of man. Spirituality, on the other hand, is something very different to me. Just because I may not happen to believe this or that system of rules invented by various churches doesn't mean I don't believe in some sort of Greater Intelligence existing in our universe which is available for me to commune with in my way and receive inspiration from, if I will open my heart and shut my mouth."

    I wonder, sometimes, if you are intent on reading things into my writing I did not intend for, often, I discover we are actually of like minds.

    I TRULY do no care what one believes and feel, truly, it is none of my business, if the want to worship Jesus, Allah, Shiva, Hecate or in pixies. The only time it concerns me is when they want to inflict beliefs on the unwilling, including myself, or use those beliefs to justify the marginalization, misuse or even harm to others. I personally believe that doing so can't be part of any true religion, but no one has to agree with me. By the way, that objection also applies to the militarily atheist who might want to force feed their views on the unwilling.

    However, I will fight against that marginalization/mistreatment/misuse because I believe it to be wrong. And the mistreatment of others takes one's personal opinion - which everyone is entitled to - a societal problem, which we all are responsible for.

    At least, that's my opinion. And you don't have to point out many a religious group I find oppressive would say the same thing. But, in my opinion, there's a difference between telling someone how he has to live his own life and stopping someone for inflicting harm on others.

    By the way, you mentioned reconciling what I said about tenets and practices in my last paragraph in my last comment - See the paragraph in the blog post right after "I won't."

  • Anonymous

    "Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
    Then he is not omnipotent.
    If he is able but not willing?
    Then he is malevolent.
    If he is both able and willing?
    Then whence cometh evil?
    If he is neither able nor willing?
    The why call him God?"

    Traditionally (but perhaps incorrectly) attributed to:
    Epicurus, Greek philosopher (BC 341-270)

  • Stephanie Barr

    If one were to ask my opinion, I'd probably favor the first explanation, though with the caveat that he might be able to prevent some of it, but not all of it. It seems desperately impractical to think God is personally involved with every aspect of everyone's life - doesn't he have other duties - so that everything from a painful hangnail to lung cancer to earthquakes that kill thousands is hung is his personal responsibility. I think some things are outside his capability (why would he be immune from the laws of physics?) and others he might choose not to correct because there's a price when you allow your children autonomy - and that's that you have to see them learn things the hard way. If you don't let them have autonomy, they never grow.

    I most of us are muddling through day to day on our own, living with the consequences of our actions and, if we're smart, learning from that. I think this is all a big room and we're the teenagers throwing our trash on the floor and wasting our time in front of the TV playing video games. In the end, we'll have to clean it up and make something of ourselves.

    Just my view on it, though. I see our higher power as someone who expects me to be responsible, so having him (or her) come clean up my mess doesn't make much sense to me.

    Bet it hurts, though, seeing what we do to each other.

  • GumbyTheCat

    Excellent post Steph. You've summed up a lot of my attitudes toward Christianity (and as usual you write much more eloquently than myself). But I am different than you in that I am neither religious nor spiritual at this point in my life. I don't think I stand a chance of ever being spiritual about anything, but that's fine by me. However, I like your comment stating that any higher power worth respecting is one who expects us to be responsible and clean up our own messes.

    That resonates with me, because I see so many hyper-religious people have the attitude that absolutely everything should be handed over to God for him to handle. Lost car keys? Give it to God. Not enough milk for the cereal? God will provide, just pray. Does God really want a bunch of helpless whimpering idiots clinging desperately to his robe, mewling about every little thing that occurs, no matter how mundane or trivial? I would hope not. But some Christians take the admonition to be like a child to extremes - to the point where some of them type in baby-talk on Christian discussion threads. It's unbelievable.

    Quote for the day:

    Religions comparing validity of their gods is like girls comparing the size of their penises.

  • Stephanie Barr

    Gumby, I do have my own beliefs and have as long as I can remember, but I had the advantage of NEVER feeling sucked in by any organized religion. I knew how I believed and was fairly impervious to anything to change it other than logic and facts. Most organized religions are fairly thin on those.

    So, it's changed over the years but, at the core, it stays the same.

    Having said that, I can understand perfectly well being so disgusted by religion that you'd rather believe there is no higher power else he/she/they'd never stand for what's going on in his/her/their name.

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