Monday, April 9, 2012

Outgrowing Religion

Read this article this morning.  It's an Op-Ed piece entitled "Learning to Respect Religion" by New York Times journalist, Nicholas Kristof.  I subscribe to his public updates on Facebook, as I find a lot of the topics he writes on interest me.  I was surprised to read this particular article, though, as I could not disagree with him more on the subject matter.  

The main point of the commentary is to illustrate a perceived movement of late among the Atheist community to have "...grudging admiration for religion as an ethical and cohesive force."  Obviously, I can't speak for any other atheist, and certainly not for an entire community, but the idea strikes me as laugh out loud absurd.  Stating facts as they are is not a "grudging admiration"; any more than stating that the sky is blue means that blue is your favorite color.  Reality is that inside an incredibly large pile of fear, evil and hate, religion does have a few sociological nuggets of positive service to humanity.  Plain and simple.  Kristof goes on to point these out: "...the ways in which religions deliver sermons, promote morality, engender a spirit of community, make use of art and architecture, inspire travels, train minds and encourage gratitude at the beauty of spring." (From "Religion For Atheists", by Alain de Botton)  And to explain that "scientists often misunderstand religion because they home in on individuals rather than on the way faith can bind a community." 

Essentially saying that to completely dismiss religion as an organization, is to also dismiss a large amount of good that lends to a strong society.  And that because of this, religious organization deserves, at the very minimum, universal respect.  The last line kills me because I all I can imagine is him following it up with, "Don't hate the playa'; Hate the game."

Geoff Berg’s response at Partisan Gridlock yesterday:

Atheism is the rejection of theism. It isn’t an organizing principle, it isn’t a political philosophy and it certainly isn't a religion. It is the rejection of a proposition. That’s it.  Nobody disputes that religion, which is an organizing principle and a political philosophy, can unify people, and occasionally to the greater good.  Every major religion can point to a charitable arm that passes out food, builds hospitals, and clothes the poor.

Religion also unifies the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran in the belief that burying adulterers to their necks and stoning them to death will spare the rest of society god’s wrath. It unifies members of al-Qaeda in the belief that flying planes into buildings is the execution of god’s will. It unifies leaders of the "Lord's Resistance Army" in the belief that forcing children to mutilate and murder members of their own families is a divinely ordained mission. Religious belief unifies Jewish fundamentalists in the belief that evicting families from their homes in the West Bank and taking their land is justified because the territory was deeded to them in perpetuity by the almighty.

Hezbollah, the Iranian-sponsored Lebanese terrorist group, is unified by violent, fundamentalist Shia Islam. It is responsible for killing thousands — including 241 US marines, soldiers and sailors. It is also one ofLebanon’s largest providers of health care.

Kristof is inexplicably impressed with Haidt’s research showing that fear of god makes for a more orderly society. Is it really a scientific revelation that fear forces people to act in accordance with what they believe to be the wishes of an omnipotent, jealous, and vengeful being who condemns the non-compliant to everlasting torment if they refuse (as described by his helpful earthly proxies, of course)?

Sounds a lot like a dictatorship, which as Kim Jong Un and his late father and grandfather can attest, is a great way to keep people in line."

BRAV-O.  Could not have been put any better than that myself.  That which brings small amounts of good... or if you want to be generous, even a good for every evil... deserves no respect in the face of it's degree of human devastation.  John Wayne Gacy murdered at least 33 men in the course his life time.  We don't condone or forget this because he also brought so much joy to the children when he would dress like a clown and entertain them.  That would be insanity.  Why, then, is organized religion any different or given any more of a free pass?

Every problem facing the world at large right now has it's root in a religious conflict.  The elimination of religion would do more to heal the world than all other solutions that circumvent the root combined.  This is because no matter what a religious organization does to "help" ease what ails the world... the problems wouldn't be there in the first place if religion didn't exist.  Knowing this means that, NO... no I don't have to pay credit to any belief system based wholly on intangibles, lies and deceit if they should feed the poor that years of religious struggles have kept poor in the first place. And NO... no I don't have to give any credit to a bastardized, disorganized, poorly kept historical record system, still prevalent for the purpose of controlling people under the guise of "hope".  Not when it has been a tool of war and the excuse to brutalize, torture and murder billions for centuries.

Nor do I have to give any of them credit for reinforcing "morals" that have NATURALLY evolved with modern civilization.  It is not because of our belief in a deity that we've come to the realization that we ought to treat everyone as equals.  We've done that IN THE FACE OF and IN SPITE OF religion, if we're to be honest.  Everything in our history that involves the systematic and genocidal killing of human beings has been directly because of religious beliefs, and it was upon our own horror at our reflection that we choose to evolve.  The more scientific knowledge we gain, the more intelligent we become, the less we fear and the more unified we become.    

If only we could let go of the need for an "afterlife" and something beyond simple mortality.  We will die and it's ok.  Unless we have achieved something of greatness, our memory will fade and that's ok, too.  "Life", "Mankind", "Humanity"...  we don't need an infinite number of people we have to remember... nor do future generations need to infinitely remember us.  What lives on, and what should be a stride as one for all of humanity, is to teach the future that education, open minds, information, and healthy skepticism paired with a desire to never stop on the quest for truth IN ALL THINGS is the only way to purge ourselves of weakness and corruption.  No religion teaches this!  

We need to start recognizing we have outgrown, as a specie, the need for our "fate" to be in the hands of anyone else, including a "God".  We've outgrown the need to congregate to keep us unified in our beliefs... and to keep us from "straying" TO reality.  Worship does not need to be the reason that we come together for human interaction.  Science has proven to us that there are consequences for our poor lifestyle choices and we need only educate ourselves.  Democratic government in a free society is there to enforce human rights and prevent infringement;  Morality does not need to be legislated beyond that.  Enough proof exists that we can free this world from the bondage of "pre-ordainment" and prejudice against biological differences.  Credit only where credit is due, Mr. Kristof, is just the first step.


  1. obviously, I disagree with much that you say, here. I don't ascribe to my Christianity because I love religion, but because I love Jesus. Religion and religious practice helps me connect with my faith in a meaningful way. I find comfort in the book of common prayer. I find joy in the banner draped across the empty cross on Easter morning. I find hope in watching my fellow Christians lead hymns with people in formerly oppressed parts of the world.
    Instead of grudgingly acknowledging what it has done for the community, maybe it would be enough to know that it's made me, a friend, who I am. I do what I do in my religion because I have faith in its diety, but without the religion, I wouldn't be fulfilling the commandments I seek to fulfill, those about meeting together, taking care of one another, worshiping corporately. Lutheran isn't just my religion, it's my mode of worship. It is closest to my personal beliefs - homosexual affirming, powerful force for charity, prayerful, about relationships with people more than relationships with systems and less concerned with pointing out others' sin than in coming closer to the God I love.

  2. K... I obviously don't mean to offend you on a personal level, but I am finding that as I gain more knowledge on the subject of Christianity, which flavor one prefers is irrelevant. Martin Luther taking it upon himself to separate from the corruption and filth of the Catholic church, though noble and brave for the time... is still just a man sharing his beliefs based on nothing more than his notion of faith.

    Do I believe you would be exactly who you are today with the same working knowledge where it not for your involvement in your church? No. No I don't. Not possible. But do I believe you would be any less moral and kind of a person... any less you... without it? No. Every day you make a choice to be the best you, you can be. You may give the credit for your choices to an incredible story about a man tortured for you place in an after life. Reality is that YOU make the choice to be moral and just because the mentally sound human prefers peace to contention. There is no mystery in that.

    Make no mistake: I am not grudgingly acknowledging anything. I give no acknowledgement whatsoever, as a stated, to any good that comes from the source of all problems in the first place. I'm glad that you, personally, harbor no prejudice and that in 21st century America, The Lutheran church has a tendency towards acceptance. I am sure that 100 years ago such was not the case to the degree it is today. Is it a "god" that has decide to become more and more liberal as time has gone on... or is it merely humans trying to fit the notion of god into their evolving intelligence?


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