When confronted with facts and caustic humor, a religion’s reaction tends to be a most pretentious one: ‘I’m offended.’
This post is a response to Religion Is Essential To Human Survival by Tony McGinley
Someone wrote the other day that religion was necessary for human survival because it offers a perspective that is historically and practically useful to society.
Someone else responded with skepticism, challenging the notion of absolutism inherent in religion, arguing for different ways to establish moral behavior.
Someone else reacted more harshly, noting that in the case of the Abrahamic religions the scriptures are filled with genocide, war, persecution, famine, punishment and other unsavory treatments of the human element. What merit could there be in creeds that stem from such literature?
The writer responded with an analogy on gold:
‘Just as with gold… you will have little hope of finding it – if you are not looking for it. If you do not believe that gold exists – you will not be seeking it. If however you do believe that gold exists – but you place no value whatsoever in it, then even if you fall into a gold mine, you will simply throw it all away!’
Someone else jumped in and rightly pointed out that for the gold analogy to work, one needs to know what gold looks like before setting out to find it. One also needs to explain to others what gold is — what it feels like, what it’s good for — before convincing them to look for it, or selling it to them (wink wink!).
Good point, the last one. It contained just the right amount of cheek, reminding the writer that the value of gold depends on how one handles it, starting with the person who speaks so highly of it.
There was also another point to make, but no one did. Here it is: gold is scarce. It takes great effort to mine it. A prospector has to dig holes in the ground and make a mess of the surrounding environment. Eat up the earth to dig up the precious metal, use corrosive chemicals to extract it from the elements.Where he/she stakes a claim, life dies.
Good news for the writer as well the scriptures’ authors. The gold analogy conveys what they’ve been saying all along: reward comes with pain. The world hinges on an interplay of creation and damage, construction and destruction, without which nothing works.
Why, then, do religions overstep their purpose and pretend they’re all about morality? Why do they supersede their ancient texts, eager to popularize over-moral messages, coming across as the saviors of mankind? They do us an injustice, leading people astray, offering false hope and pretending to know the way down a path they don’t command, steering people’s attention away from what’s important, what they were originally designed to communicate: the intricate, mysterious, complex, overwhelming nature of the world, which we can negotiate better when in touch with the principles, insights and affirmations our parables communicate.
I didn’t write all that. I thought about it in silence.
Back to the thread, which was busy with disagreement. The commentator who’d reacted harshly wrote back, asking how any belief system could be taken seriously when its tenets amounted to a zombie God who rose from the dead to ask others to eat the flesh of His father, to drink His blood, to communicate telepathically with Him and do His bidding at all times so they, too, would one day rise up from the dead.
The writer took offence at the remark. Instead of addressing the issue, focusing on the points raised, he expressed his disappointment at the manner with which he was confronted, demanding that his views be treated with respect.
This is where I intervened, two cents and all. I wrote that therein lies the bane of religion: when confronted with fact, the religious deem it a mockery of their beliefs. They expect their irrational points of view to be treated with the same respect as all facts, neglecting the FACT that their claims have been shown unable to stand up to rational, realistic, or critical scrutiny. [On second thought, they demand that their points of view be treated better than facts, because you can make fun of facts, but apparently you can’t make fun of theological assertions.]
I went on to note that religion is an ‘application of faith’ and nothing more, much like a person’s noble but partial faith in abstract and irrational processes, constructs and concepts is an application of faith, an opinion, a way of life no better or worse than the next person’s. It’s in the same boat as one’s belief in a specific nation, a football team, the notion of love (Disney anyone?) the free economy (Disney again? maybe Scorsese?), socialism (Lenin on the rocks with a measure of Stalin and a dash of Marxsky?) etc.
But religion detests being put in the same boat as other belief systems. It deems itself special, if not the only true way to view the world.
Where does that lead most religious people? To the inability to respond with solid arguments when their faith is cast in — humorous, albeit caustic — light, citing the I’ve-been-insulted-amendment instead of addressing the criticisms waged against it. Deflection, always and forever, an unwillingness to debate, letting the points slide.
The Resurrection, for example: last time I heard, it wasn’t possible, though it does make for an apt rebirth analogy, much like the Phoenix did, which is fine – a great analogy! But fact? Please!
How about eating the flesh of one’s father? Symbolic of cannibalism? Or is it belonging? I’m not sure which (maybe a bit of both?) and would love to hear a sound argument from those who practice it.
How about drinking father’s blood? You go to jail for this in most countries – unless we’re talking symbolically again.
How about the fact that the Quran is deemed the literal word of God (really? you mean it’s a sacred text, right? no? the ACTUAL word of God? yeah, sure!),
or the fact that the animal-resembling deities in Hinduism are abstractions that embody nature’s diversity (surely these are not actual, are they?) . . . the list goes on.
The confusion that arises from these divergent premises (valid questions) and the fact that they’re SYMBOLIC, despite the pious pretending they’re literal, is indicative of gross insecurity, plus a number of complexes.
The truth of the matter is that people who live in this day and age, and who have truly caught up with the data, understand that each religious creed is an emblematic fable that encapsulates a number of insights about the human condition, to each their own and all together, when not busy fighting each other. Their merit runs as deep as literature’s great sagas (Lord Of The Rings is an apt example, with its amazing story of genesis, a war between the forces of light and darkness, etc).
Yet the religions of the world demand more respect than literature, as if their historicity makes them more valid.
They’re not. They’re partial, inspiring, imaginative fables, symbols that help people through life when used in a constructive manner. When they pretend to be something more, they invite upon themselves the criticism they deserve. They shouldn’t scream bloody murder when confronted, especially if they want to be respected. They may be able to fool their followers but there are people watching, individuals who know a little better than to swallow fables hook, line and sinker. It would serve religions well to keep that in mind, lest they assign themselves to the dais of the ancient religions — Ancient Egyptian, Ancient Roman, Mayan and the rest of the relics — even faster than expected.
Needless to say I wrote all this because the writer had failed to address it. The irrationality of religion had to be identified. He didn’t have it in him to publicly admit that his faith, like all other faiths, is a literary saga gone popular, which people started following back in the day, and which somehow remained popular, spreading its narrative to the point where it became widely accepted as a way of life; that the dogma he subscribes to possesses no more merit than LOTR or Star Wars, other than the accomplishment of having been turned into a culture over the centuries; that his faith’s historicity is only a claim to how long it’s been around, how inspiring some of its elements are, not how close it is to ‘divine truth.’ He didn’t dare broach any of this because it would negate the absolute divinity in which he believes.
Too bad. Had he done so, I would have respected his views more. I would have regarded him as a man who dares believe in something, whatever it may be, even after admitting to its symbolic nature, to its purely ideological premise, which somehow serves him in practical terms. Like the athlete who somehow thinks he or she is able to connect to a force that makes one the best in the world through a combination of practice and superstition, creating imaginative narratives that help one reach deep inside oneself to exceed one’s limits, I would have found merit in this writer’s irrational faith had he chosen to admit to the symbolic, yet exquisitely practical banality of his approach.
But he didn’t have it in him to step out of the shadow and admit that. He hid inside the convenience of privilege, citing how offended he was by those who had identified the fantastical elements of his doctrine. He became just another believer whose faith hinged on him having failed to rise above the symbolism to meet reality; on refusing to march alongside the rest of us with the assurance of a true believer, a believer who dares look the data in the eye while still holding on to his beliefs, staying true to his creed on account of his faith being so strong, so unshakeable, that it accommodates BOTH the data of the world AND the total irrationality of his beliefs, like our aforementioned athlete.
Using delusion to shatter the limits, now that’s the way to go — using one’s irrational beliefs to shape reality, bending it to one’s will rather than denying it prima facie. That’s what I call faith.
It’s a pity we don’t use the term properly, where it’s deserved. It’s a damn shame the religions of the world have claimed the term for themselves, tainting it with the effects of what is nothing more than beautiful literature infected by wishful thinking, all the while the truly faithful, the wholly committed to something greater than themselves, like the athletes and the explorers and the pioneers of our world, whose faith in whatever they subscribe to drives them to excel, are noised out by the jumpy, self-righteous, doctrinaire approach so typical of religious wannabe-ism.
From your no-nonsense Spin Doctor,
Eyes open, mind sharp.