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Religion Takes Offence Too Easily

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 both 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 such 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 goldyou 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 go look for it, or selling it to them (wink wink!).

Good point, the last one. It contained just the right amount of cheek necessary to remind the writer that the value of gold depends on how one handles it, starting with the one speaking so highly of it.

There was also another point to make, which no one did. Gold takes a great deal of effort to find and mine. A prospector has to dig holes in the ground, making a mess of where he stakes his claim. He has to blow up the earth to make his way toward the precious metal. He has to use corrosive chemicals to extract it from the elements. Lots of collateral damage must be done to obtain it.

Good news for the writer as well the scriptures’ authors. The gold analogy conveys what they have 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.

[Religions are] taking people’s attention away from what is really important, what they were originally designed to communicate: the intricate, mysterious, complex, overwhelming nature of the world…

Why, then, do religions overstep their purpose and pretend they’re all about morality?

Why do they supersede their ancient texts, trying to popularize over-moral messages, coming across as the saviors of mankind? They do themselves and their legacy injustice, leading people astray, offering false hope and pretending to know the way down a path they don’t command, taking people’s attention away from what is really important, what they were originally designed to communicate: the intricate, mysterious, complex, overwhelming nature of the world, which people can negotiate better when in touch with the principles, insights and affirmations their parables communicate.

I didn’t write all that. I just thought silently about it.

Back to the thread, which was busy with disagreement. The commentator who had 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 being confronted, demanding that his views be treated with respect.

They expect their irrational points of view to be treated with the same respect as all fact is, neglecting the FACT that their claims have been shown unable to stand up to rational, realistic, or critical scrutiny.

This is where I intervened, offering my two cents. 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 proven 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 you apparently can’t make fun of theological assertions.]

I then went on to note that religion detests the notion that it’s an application of faith, nothing more, much like a person’s noble but partial faith in abstract or irrational processes, constructs or concepts is an application of faith, an opinion, a way of life, such 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.

Where does that lead most religious people? To the inability to respond with solid arguments when their faith is presented in — humorous, albeit caustic — light, citing the I’ve-been-insulted-amendment instead of addressing the points that identify the haziness of their religious premises, such as resurrection (last time I heard, it wasn’t possible, though it does make for an apt rebirth analogy, much like the Phoenix did), eating the flesh of one’s father (cannibalism? belonging? not sure which — maybe a bit of both?), drinking his blood (you go to jail for this in most countries, unless we’re talking symbolically again), the fact that the Quran is deemed to be the literal word of God (really? you mean it’s a sacred text, right? No? It’s the ACTUAL word of God? Get outta here!), the fact that the animal-resembling deities in Hinduism are abstractions that embody nature’s diversity (surely these are not actual, are they?) the confusion created by all these divergent premises (valid questions) and the fact that all this IS SYMBOLIC, despite the pious pretending it’s not.

Yet religions somehow demand more respect than literature, as if their historicity makes them more valid somehow.

The truth of the matter is that people who live in this day and age, who have truly caught up with the data, understand that each religious creed is an emblematic fable that encapsulates certain insights about the human condition, to each their own and all together (when they’re not busy fighting each other), whose 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 religions somehow demand more respect than literature, as if their historicity makes them more valid somehow.

They’re not. They’re partial, inspiring, imaginative fables — symbols that help people through life when used in a constructive way. When they pretend to be something more, they invite upon themselves the criticism they deserve. They shouldn’t scream bloody murder when confronted with it, that is at least if they want to retain the last vestiges of respect they command in this day and age. 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, in light of our accumulated knowledge. 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.

He didn’t dare say all that, because it would instantly negate the absolute divinity in which he has chosen to place his faith.

Needless to say I wrote all this because the writer had failed to address the points which identified the irrationality of religion. 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 its 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 say all that, because it would instantly negate the absolute divinity in which he has chosen to place his faith.

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 practically. Like the athlete who somehow thinks he is able to connect to a force that makes him the best in the world through a combination of practise and superstition, creating imaginative narratives that help him reach deep inside himself to exceed his 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.

It’s a damn shame the religions of the world have claimed the term [faith] for themselves, tainting it with the effects of what is clearly nothing more than beautiful literature infected by wish-thinking, all the while the truly faithful… are noised out by the jumpy, self-righteous, doctrinaire approach so typical of religious wannabe-ism

But he didn’t have it in him to step out of the shadow and admit that. He preferred to stay hidden inside the convenience of privilege, citing how o ended 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 believer who dares look the data in the eye while still believing what he believes in, 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 does when using delusion to shatter the limits.

Now that’s what I call faith. It’s a pity we don’t use the term properly, where it is truly 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 clearly nothing more than beautiful literature infected by wish-thinking, all the while the truly faithful, the truly committed to something greater than themselves, like the athletes and the explorers and the pioneers of our world, whose faith in whatever it is 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.