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  03:26:52 am, by Nimble   , 2268 words  
Categories: Thoughts, Religion


Okay, this is going to be controversial.

I don't know what sort of disclaimer I can offer other than to say this is about me. They're my views, and even if you disagree vehemently with them, you may be able to see, at least, where they come from.

Diving in...

I wish I could remember my early encounters with religion. The earliest memories I have are of being in a Sunday school of some sort, squirming a little in my desk and listening patiently.

My mother tells me that on Sundays, because it was nearby, I was dropped off at a Baptist Sunday school (when I was 7? 8? 9?). She tells me that I came home rattling off about how this or that didn't make sense and that I was indignant about it all.

We continued going to Sunday school when we moved out to Edmonton. Despite the post-Sunday school money for candy we got, it was always half-hearted. Thankfully, my parents let me stop going. I couldn't even manage services at Christmas without feeling like an utter fraud. I was an atheist before puberty set in.

If only I could remember what set me off.

Now, it could be an element of my personality. I'm a stickler for self-consistency of ideas. I've read the Bible. Not all of it, but significant chunks. It doesn't hang together very well. There are "explanations" for the parts that do not, but they ring hollow.

The older I got, the more history, other cultures, science and mythology I read, the more sure I was that religion did not make personal sense to me.

Take older cultures, like the ancient Greeks and the Egyptians. They each had a pantheon of gods. With their civilizations, could they actually be totally, utterly wrong about their gods?

Those aren't the only other civilizations that believe in other things. There are still many civilizations today that believe in other gods. Do we really think that East Indians are "joking" about Shiva and Vishnu?

Being born in the UK, Christianity would have been an imported religion, displacing that of the native people. I'm reminded of this every time I see such almost unfathomable things like Korean Jehovah's Witnesses, or the sometimes-successful attempts of Europeans to stamp out native North Americans' mythology and replace it with their own.

The very fact that religions have a history was enough to make me doubt them. People still to this very day start sects, cults, break off from another sect, what have you. We do not seem to accord any of these "modern" faiths par with the mainstream, but how about in a hundred years? The Unification Church (a.k.a. "Moonies") is a possibility. Sun Myung Moon's organization owns the Washington Times.

What is more likely? That the religion we subscribe to really has got it right this time? Or that this is one more relatively predictable side effect of human nature?

One of the more disturbing aspects of religion, for me, that I've seen in person, is shifting the frame of logic so that it's "logically" consistent, but does not square with nature. Tautologies like "if something good happens to me, it's God's doing, if something bad happens to me, it was because of something I did," can be used to explain everything. You can't argue against it inside the framework. You need not have done anything bad recently, or indeed ever, if you subscribe to original sin, and this rule "explains" it.

As well, personally, for me, there has always been the sense of "well, where is this deity, anyhow?". I've never experience a deity in person, to my knowledge, and I honestly don't think a change in emotional state would signal it - the same thrill from having an insight or listening to a good song is pretty easy to work up when contemplating the unknown. When challenged on my disbelief, I am unfailingly polite, but often just want to scream when exasperated, "well, bring him here and let's have a conversation then, shall we?"

It's not that I'm unconvinceable. I just need proof, at this stage of the game, for such an incredible claim as the existance of a deity or deities. Hearsay and character witnesses will not do.

Perhaps the right miracles would?

The world of miracles has been spectacularly disappointing. Wherever there are those open to miracles, it just seems to bring out the charlatans in others. The faith healers, the "mediums", the conjurers. When someone is caught transmitting peoples' names and health conditions to the preacher in front of the audience, it's hardly news any more.

For me, what's important is what people do with their religion.

Churches often let people meet one another who otherwise wouldn't. Especially valuable when you move into another town. I've witnessed it as a guest - it can be like you're at the center of show and tell.

Me, I don't belong to a church, so I'm mostly limited to friends, workmates and a tiny handful of online people. Perhaps there's a gathering for secular humanists in town? I'm not interested enough in going, which is sad. I like whatever free time I have, and perhaps I'm afraid I'll be the most moderate person in the room :)

I've heard of some pretty terrible pastors, but I've met and heard of some pretty darned good pastors. The ones who deal with others with kindness, humour and avoid heavy judging are worth their weight in gold.

Churches worth their salt offer support to their members. Personal problems, friends coming to town, organizing dinners, helping others come to terms with grief. It can be the best aspects of a "tribe" in the modern-day world.

These are some issues that are specific to particular religious approaches or sects that I find disdainful.

I have a serious bone to pick with the particular young-earth creationists and others who, through various means, attempt to redefine science and otherwise weaken it to crack the door open to rewrite science in their own image. Once you take "nature" out of science, you've destroyed it - whatever you put in its place is a sham, mere philosophy at best. I am a great fan of science (done properly - some of you may have heard my rants against the "math is better than nature" mindset in some subjects), and to see such a pronounced, dishonest, slithering attack on our best means to understand the world around us fills me with rage.

When texts or teachings are bent to support prejudices, be it against women (often), other races, gays, or other sects, it curdles my blood.

(If a religious sect does not want gay ministers, on the other hand, I fully respect their right to do so.)

When religious practices are so severely applied to children that they end up "snapping" or "uncoiling", it reminds me that ignorance of this sort is not bliss, it is undirected agitation. I cannot imagine what these home lives must be like, but I've seen the after-effects.

It saddens me to no end when the assumption is made that you cannot be moral without religion. I would say that you cannot be moral without empathy.

I have run across those who would accuse or imply that I have no religion because I have "not thought about it". On the contrary, I would say I have thought about it a great deal more than most.

I have laid bare a mere snippet here of what I wanted to say. I would go on at length about how I love mythology anyways and enjoy mythological movies, books and novels that aren't saccharin (so: Touched By An Angel, no, Constantine, yes). I could go on about interesting Biblical snippets, like the souls of the New and Old Testament being different, or the two different Genesis creation stories. My mind bubbles over with things I want to share.

However, I have tormented you enough for now with my incessant babbling :)

I may not have said it all well, but I said it. Remember, too, if you are religious, my respect for you comes from you the person, regardless of who you may pray to and why.

Comment by Adam:

Having been raised in a bunch of different cultures, I've been exposed to different religions from an early age, particularly with them being the majority. For example in the Middle East, it was obviously Muslim; in south east asia also predominantly Muslim, but also with a fair distribution of Buddhist, Animist and Hindu. Christianity, although present in both places, was not predominant as it is in Europe or North America. It also meant I got to see how it could be -- in Oman the Sultan took the attitude that it was better to be religious than atheistic, so promoted Christianity amongst the nominally Christian European expats by permitting them to build churches; if you're familiar with standard Islamic dogma, this is a very generous move as only existing churches were permitted (as of the foundation of Islam or the conquering of a territory), but not new ones. There was also an American missionary, Don Bosch, who'd come over in the early 60's to help out the poor and destitute in the country and while he'd probably not made a single convert, had been recognised for his good works and granted Omani citizenship. Again, this is almost unheard of.

So, right from the start, I didn't grow up in a world where there was one true religion to follow and no reason to question it. However, I did attend Sunday School in both places (mostly to socialize with other kids as per parents' preferences) and when I returned to boarding school in the UK attended places associated with the Church Of England. The Christianity I became familiar there with was a very socially concious group; it was what I've come to see as progressive, believed in helping the poor and unfortunate and not interested in converting through hellfire and damnation but through example and good works. I didn't spend a lot of time thinking about it, but this seemed like a decent group to be associated with. It wasn't until I moved to North America and started seeing the shennanigans coming out of the the United States (predominantly the Southern Baptists) that I started questioning what it was that I'd tacitly accepted before. It wasn't a Christianity I recognised or wanted to be associated with. That then started an evaluation of what it was that I did believe in, and despite my warm feelings for the CoE and by extension the Anglican Church, I could no longer accept it. I couldn't reconcile the incongruities, the "true" believers all contradicting each other, the inconsistencies and the history of contempt and warfare between sects. Morally I still hold with many of the teachings and approaches that I learned but I don't believe that they come from a supernatural source so much as a communal benefit. Then there are attitudes I just can't fathom which you've addressed above. I remember one (good natured) argument I had with a dedicated Catholic recently who was convinced that religious people were more moral than those in the secular domain; I, clearly, disagreed and we went back and forwards for a while. I'm not sure I convinced him and he didn't convince me, but perhaps that's as much to do with the definition of "moral" as much as anything else.

Anyway, I've known too many good and decent religious people to be obnoxious about their beliefs but I just can no longer accept them for myself and most definitely will not accept arbitrary religious rulings dominating my life.

And, yeah, I don't mind this statement becoming part of my permanent record on the blog. :)

Comment by Ritchie:

Adam - thank you for sharing! You've led a life of growing up in interesting places that you can't totally have been "a part of" in a way. I've been interested in your views, but hadn't worked my way up to asking :)

I appreciate the progressive churches. I could imagine it taking something pretty stark to even need to question things. The United Church, which I've got to consider one of the more progressive churches around, had a somewhat ugly episode when the furor over gay ministers came up, and some people started pressing very strongly for a change to the minister selection process. Some people left the church because of the unwillingness to specifically exclude gays. It's a shock to find out who's willing to lay it on the line over something like that.

One odd thing about religions is that they can have a set of good "core" moral ideas, such as not stealing, murdering, etc., and then add on odd things on top of it. The add-ons are selectively accepted or ignored... in the Bible, for example, you have women not being allowed to speak in church (Paul), not being able to eat pork, slaves being obedient to their masters, as well as the more popularly-held bits.

It's the ones who need to control everyone else, to get their religion or their religious tenets forced down everyone else's throats, that are the most aggravating. What's worse is that these are usually the literalists and the cannot-understand-indirect-causes (with thoughts like "abstinence education causes abstinence" and "videos games have violence so they cause violence")... and sadly, the ones who go out and vote. The sorts that truly give religion a bad name, and that overshadow those of benevolent thought and action.

Glad you're willing to go on record. Your thoughts are most excellent :)

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