>> 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.
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.