On religion.

I do not believe in God.

Unlike many, I have never bothered to self-apply any label to my lack of faith. Mostly because it has never been important to me to precisely communicate which flavor of non-faith I would sort under. If you like, you can call me an "atheist".

It is not like I had any choice in the matter.

At no time did I make a conscious decision not to believe in any deity or religion. When I was a kid I can remember reading historic accounts of the crusades, of the middle ages, and of wars being fought, apparently over beliefs, but even as a 12 year old child I assumed that these were just ulterior motives. That they were excuses for everything from xenophobia to the acquisition and retention of political power.

As a kid I did have an above average intelligence, but I did not, and I still do not, consider myself all that smart. I just have an appetite for knowledge, and then, as now, I spend a lot of time on my own just thinking.

By the time I was 15 I had read the bible cover to cover twice. I felt that since the bible plays such a central role in our culture, whether you believe in what it says or not, I ought to at least have read it.

The first time I read it must have been the summer I turned 14. It was not an enjoyable read, but I toughed it out and finished the whole thing.

The second time I read the entire bible was the year after. This time I took notes and it took me a few weeks longer to get through the whole text. I also borrowed a stack of books at the library. Mostly history books, books on middle eastern culture and some books on certain theological subjects (not all of which made much sense to me at the time).
I also spent some time reading criticisms of the bible as well as rebuttals of criticisms, though they were not as easy to come by in the 80s when all I had access to was the town library. (However the librarian (a devout christian) was indeed very helpful. Not only in getting books, but in discussing and explaining matters of theology and suggesting subjects for further study)

By the time I was done reading the bible the second time I felt a great sadness. A great sadness that one would consider a text largely shaped by centuries of politically motivated editing and shoddy translations, cultural and historical ignorance a holy text.

It made me sad that all those people would turn up for mass every sunday -- neither understanding the religion they believed in nor the circumstances that shaped it. The majority of them had most likely not read the whole bible or even significant parts of it. Much less tried to understand the historical contexts (plural) that shaped it. I can't say I felt very sorry for those who had not even bothered to read it: if you are willing to believe in the bible without having read it, well, then you are truly a moron -- I am sorry, but there really isn't any nice way to put it.

The people I felt truly sorry for were the people who having read it still were unable to see it for what it is. Or the people who didn't feel the need to understand the times and the cultures that created and shaped it and ask themselves important questions about how we should deal with the many problems with the text.

It may seem strange to christians that, at least intellectually, I saw the bible and christian faiths as two very separate things.

At the time I did not believe in God, but I was open to the possibility that there might be a higher power -- some form of consciousness outside ourselves. I, ironically enough, considered it unscientific to rule it out absolutely without proof one way or another.

For the most part I saw christian faith as just a manifestation of a belief in some consciousness outside our own. I must admit that I saw concrete religions as being a synthetic construct -- nice (and many not so nice) fairy tales to give abstract concepts some shape.

Concrete analogies for the unsophisticated mind, if you will.

The fact that the christian myths are so elaborate to the point where they have time and again sparked theological controversy I mostly put down to the fact that along the way the church got a bit carried away in the storytelling and ended up inventing too many conflicting and internally inconsistent narratives. I felt that whatever meaning might have been there at the beginning has been perverted by excessive elaboration, cultural and historical ignorance and misinterpretation.

And we need not go far back in our own recorded history to observe this. The mormons believe in a whole new set of fairy tales spun by known con-man Joseph Smith.

From I was 16 until George W. Bush came to power, I didn't really think much about religion. There were other, more important subjects to think about. It was only when Bush came to power it dawned on me what a terrible shadow religion was once again casting on our society. The 80s was an optimistic time. As a teenager I, rather naïvely assumed that we were progressing -- that we were shedding superstitions and striving for enlightenment. I remember watching "Cosmos" by Carl Sagan on TV and feeling a sense of optimism for the future.

When I see Carl Sagan's "Cosmos" today I am greatly saddened. We have regressed. We have allowed our society to be bullied by religion.

I generally have great respect for people's personal beliefs. People do not choose what they believe -- they just do. Anyone thinking that there is such a thing as a willful act of believing cannot possibly be sincere or take their own beliefs seriously. I don't argue with friends of mine who believe; not unless their beliefs lead to irreparable damage to themselves or society around them.

What people believe is their personal matter and the same idea or notion manifests itself differently in different people. Some people meditate, some pray, some go to a psychiatrist. How people keep their balance and maintain mental well-being is a matter of their personal preference.

But what frightens me is the tendency in later decades of once again coupling religion with politics and using it as a weapon to enlist the feeble of mind. I must say that I am particularly appalled by the way the conservatives have used religion to incite conflict and enlist hordes of feckless idiots to further their political agendas in the US. It saddens me greatly that what the founding fathers did to separate state and religion, knowing full well how easily religion can be abused, has been defiled by irresponsible, dishonest and, as recent history has shown, morally corrupt, and incompetent leaders.

I think it is about time we addressed religion again in the west before things are allowed to regress to a point where the mess will be too costly to mop up.


Patricia said...

Loved your blog. Agree 100% with your views. If Carl Sagan were alive today, he would be devastated at how religion has taken hostage our inteligence, our drive, our thirst to improve and invent. Furthermore, it feels as if religion has twisted itself more and more aligned with mystisicm. The warnings that Carl Sagan stated on his book "Science as a candle in the dark" are, to my dismay, absolutely coming true. Thank you for having the courage to make this blog.
Patricia LaRaia

caboose said...

Well written. I think the majority of folks believe in God for comfort from whatever anxiety that ails them. Nothing wrong with it unless that anxiety is blamed on others. Sadly, all too often, it is blamed on others.