Post 5.5 - Evangelical Arrogance

I believe there are forces at work in the universe that we cannot see or understand. I believe there are forces for good and evil, whether originating from living beings or otherwise, but they are there. I believe you get back what you put out there, one way or another. You can call this karma, God, whatever - but my beliefs and feelings are pretty simple, so I can see goodness in people who call themselves religious or spiritual, no matter how they might choose to express that, provided they are living their lives in ways that do not harm other people directly or indirectly. For me, it's about justice, compassion, empathy, and a generous amount of common sense. I don't need a mythology or a book to let me do this - I am a thinking, feeling, educated human being.

As such, I believe in the American separation of church and state. We do not live in a theocracy. I feel you should believe what you want and worship whatever deity you feel you need to, or not. This is at the core of the mythos of what it means to be American - the freedom to practice any religion you want. It's why the Pilgrims came here; they didn't come here because the rest of Europe didn't believe in God, they came here because they wanted to freely practice their interpretation of God.

The writers of our founding documents had seen what happens when a church has too much power - you have situations like the Inquisition and figures like Henry VIII and (Bloody) Mary of England. Yet election cycle after election cycle, some faction tries to enshrine Judeo-Christian dogma into law; court case after court case, some zealot wants religious imagery in a state building. And let's not forget the visits from the Jehovah's Witnesses to tell me I'm going to Hell if I don't believe what they do.

Why do people not get the hint? Who decides which religions are okay to co-exist and which aren't? And what gives them the right?

But see, this is where religion reveals its major flaw. The arrogance is built in, because everyone thinks they have the right answer. Belief in a deity is a deeply personal thing - it is a leap of faith, so no one wants to think they've leaped to the wrong place. Humans want to be on the winning team, after all. And for so many religions to believe in peace, they seem completely incapable of practicing what they preach.

So to enforce this personal arrogance, organized religion has to become about societal and institutional arrogance - power. We can't allow other people to believe something else and be happy with that because then they can question or want something else. We have to co-opt existing mythology about when figures were born, the events of their lives, maybe even make up a few people just to round out the story. And we should also limit education to very specific topics, if allow education of the masses at all, so we can cut down on those pesky questions about inconsistency, hypocrisy, or how some stories seem to come from pagan religions.

And those pagan festivals - they're pesky, aren't they? Damned pagans always have so much fun. It's a good thing that Jesus thought ahead to be born during Saturnalia and to schedule his death for the Fertility Festival. It would have been so much harder to get people to stop worshiping those other things, right?

And I mean, let's face it. Starting a new religion now would be really difficult. Bronze Age people would pretty much believe anything you told them because they didn't have any meaningful science, so some supernatural force controlling the weather and making earthquakes made perfect sense. Apparently, they couldn't even figure out on their own that it was a bad idea to kill each other or to steal or to covet their neighbor's ass. I mean, if you wanted to start a new religion now, you'd have to base it on extra-terrestrials or something to get the same effect! I mean, who'd believe that? Oh, wait a minute...

So why do we hold on to this nonsense? I have a pretty easy time believing that Moses and even Jesus existed. I also believe Mohammed existed, along with several other historical luminaries. Can I not revere their words and philosophies without making them deities or whatever? Can I not live my life by many of the same rules and still be a "good" person? Can I not feel a sense of community and belonging by just being myself?

Because there are good people in the world, and have been for millennia. But you know, Gandhi's in hell. Yep. Despite all the good he did, he was just the wrong religion. We're sorry, Mahatma, but thanks for playing.

It's too bad, really, because my world is a pretty cool place. I have people who love me no matter what mistakes I make, what my beliefs may be, or whether I agree with them, who hug me so hard when they see me they take my breath away. People who can make me smile just when I think of them. People who save lives and defend others - humans and animals - not because of any religion, but because it is the right thing to do. I live in a world where people love unconditionally - truly unconditionally - and with their whole hearts; they can do this despite their chosen religions or the religions forced upon them, because they are able to think and feel for themselves. The people of my world have managed to live without arrogance, without having to be told what is right or wrong, and without hate. In my world, I can see the forces of love, altruism, compassion, empathy, and community.

Of course, I've had to carve my world out of the rest of it, where I am up against real forces of corruption - the world full of judgment, hypocrisy, and arrogance. The world of door-to-door missionaries who see nothing wrong with coming in to my home uninvited to tell me I'm wrong. The world of "friends" who feel they have a right to tell me how to live my life because their belief system makes them somehow "better" and able to make such judgments. The world of civic law that tells me which consensual adult relationships are right and wrong - for no other reason than someone else's religion. The world where people feel as though being human means they have no responsibility to care for the rest of the environment and those that inhabit it. The world of hatred of anything that is different because it is misunderstood and can't be controlled or predicted. The world where people abuse and discard their children but still self-identify as "good" because they carry around a particular book and say a prayer at the right time. The world where people use a book written by significantly less knowledgeable individuals, some of them claiming to speak for a deity, to justify any behavior they wish - from killing to maiming to raping to slavery to waging war to oppressing people of a particular gender, skin color, or sexuality - and then still cherry-pick selected directives to beat people over the head with.

So I like my world better - don't you?

P.S. Take a look at this graphic representation of biblical contradictions. Each line represents two mutually exclusive statements. Of course, the only ones that need to be interpreted literally are those that take rights and/or happiness away from someone else and make you a superior person. Thanks to Tom Gehring for sharing this link on Facebook yesterday. You can also browse information on the Bible, the Book of Mormon, and the Qu'ran at Project Reason's Scripture Project.

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