"It's funny how the colors of the real world only seem really real when you viddy them on the screen."

Friday, December 23, 2011

Hate the Religion, Not the Religious

I have strong opinions on religion but rarely write about them because it’s all too clear to me. I often write to clarify my own ideas for myself, particularly issues in which I can easily understand all sides, issue like abortion and pornography. Because I understand the other points of view, it’s more important to me to delineate my own stance which is never entirely black or white, never on one side of the artificial split made between agreeing or disagreeing with a position. But with religion it is entirely one-sided for me.

I struggle to understand why people in this day and age still believe in God. I’m not saying that believers aren’t intelligent. I have very good friends, knowledgeable and wise, who have a strong faith. I’m just baffled by it all.

I’m also not saying there’s a problem with believing. As far as I can see, it’s beneficial to many to feel the love of God surrounding them. We all like the idea of being loved unconditionally (although God's love seems pretty conditional to me). It’s comforting to think we’ll all meet up with our loved ones in some glorious afterlife. But it’s just so fantastical.

I’m a recovering Catholic who couldn’t continue to believe tenets of a religion that are so dismissive (at best) to half the world. This site does a great job of listing many of the issues feminists have with the Bible. But it doesn’t begin to address problems with institutionalised religious organizations: the hierarchy, the abuses, the money grabs, not to mention the crusades and wars fought in God’s name. Why would anyone want to join this club of such dubious merit?

I understand maintaining a belief in God as an adult’s way of having an imaginary friend who is a composite of the ideal mother and father. It gives them unconditional love and support whenever they need it. It keeps them good under the threat of impending punishment if they misbehave (or at least threat of a loss of eternal rewards for some Christian denominations). In a nutshell, belief in God seems like a maladjustment to an emotional separation from the parents born from a fear of living a totally independent life with full responsibility for all one’s own thoughts and deeds.  But that's just me.

I have no issue with people who find it easier to cope with life through faith, who are soothed by the thought of God’s arms around them, but I do have issues with Christians who don’t behave anything like Jesus suggested they should. I have no patience with judgmental types who bark at me about my sinful life focusing on the letter of the law instead of the spirit. One film that really captures the perverted hold religion can have on a person is My Summer of Love. A man's relationship with his sister is destroyed through his new-found fundamental beliefs. I know people who are at risk of losing any real connection they might have had with much of their family because of strict views that don't allow for true compassion or warmth. I live a very loving, caring life, but much of what I do and say is not church sanctioned.

The idea that our existence is born out of a series of random chance events is terrifying for many people. We must have a purpose, right? Maybe we’re just here for the time being, and we can make what we want of it. But, some would argue that if we have no purpose, there's no point to it all. Why not just kill for fun and then off ourselves while we’re at it? Why bother being nice to others unless it’s a means to get to heavenly bliss? Can we be good without God? Does a lack of faith cause a lack of conscience?

I actually think that rejecting God can allow for a more sincere morality. We can be good without threat of punishment or loss of rewards. In fact, can we really call someone “good” who only acts kindly in hopes of eternal salvation? I’m much more inspired by those who do right for the sake of what’s right without expectation of fame, fortune, or spiritual longevity.

We can choose to be kind and loving simply because it’s the most intelligent way to live with a bunch of other people. I won’t steal from you or stab you in the back if you promise to treat me likewise. Hell, even if you steal from me, I’ll still refrain from stealing because harming others makes me feel bad. It’s my conscience, a bunch of neurons firing in a sea of hormones, not God, that dictates right and wrong for me. I’ll even go the extra mile to give you food or shelter or help if you need it. Sharing resources builds communities. Good acts are rewarding in their own right. Even the most selfish person will see the benefit of creating allies to help protect the fort against potential thieves or murderers. Don’t harm others, keep out of harm’s way, and try to help out when you can. Imagine if religiously zealous political leaders followed that moral code.

But in rejecting religion, I’m not about to throw the baby out with the bathwater. There’s lots of good stuff in many biblical passages. To be Christian necessitates a belief in the big guy in the sky, and I can't go there; however I do strongly agree with most of what Jesus was saying. Jesus had a very egalitarian mindset. While his moral code isn’t specifically focused on feminism, it certainly goes hand in hand with the hope for equity between genders and the cessation of exploitation of human beings everywhere. I can still use the ideas that I like, the ones about loving forgiveness and such, and leave behind the homophobic sexist and racist crap. I appreciate much of the philosophy in the Gospels without buying that Jesus has any family ties to some self-absorbed micro-managing creator of the universe.

And without religion to guide me, I’m forced to become more introspective and to really think about my actions. I have to make my own guidebook and help my children do the same. The rituals of a church strengthen community ties. But my neighbourhood has on-going e-mail discussions and gatherings to develop a lovely supportive group for everyone within a few blocks. I have no intention of leaving the benefits of church participation behind.

I could posit several arguments against God’s existence, but faith is about belief not proof. However, one idea I’ve never seen addressed, I thought of while watching the film, Metropolis: If God is perfect, why did he change his tune so much between the old and new testaments? A perfect being can’t develop into something better over time or it wouldn’t have been perfect to begin with. Generally speaking, God made a dramatic shift from “an eye for an eye” to “turn the other cheek.” He got all soft and gooey: no more floods or using cruel means to test people’s faith, or sending back armies to kill all the women and children (except virginal girls to be taken as wives), or sanctioning ethnic cleansing, or prescribing a good stoning if you come across a sinner. He has a kid and suddenly he’s all about forgiveness and loving your neighbour; now you just get condemned to eternal damnation if you even think an unkind thought. Then in "Revelation" he starts really kicking ass again. Human beings evolve dramatically individually and historically, but can a perfect being flip-flop?

We can make this world a better place for all of humanity. We waste time waiting for God to help us, to give us a sign or send us another saviour. Since there is no afterlife, it’s more crucial to make heaven out of this mess of a planet we live on. We get one chance. One. This is it. Get busy.

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