I usually don’t delve into such a controversial subject on this blog, however my psoriasis is pretty good for this stage before my next remicade infusion, and my arthritis is not painful either, so I’ve gotta talk about somethin’! As regular readers will know, I love science fiction and research into anti-aging etc. I certainly have an eye on the future and since I have a couple of young kids I often wonder what kind of world they will find themselves in, in 20 years time. One aspect that does make me worry is how evil religion is. Now, if you believe in a particular religion and are not confident in yourself and thus are feeling some revulsion at that last sentence, you probably should not read on.
When I was a teenager I joined the church and became a Christian. This was a fundamentalist church so I got to experience lots of things such as noisy singing sessions, hell fire & brimstone preaching, casting out ‘the devil’, speaking in tongues, healing the sick etc. etc. I was also part of a youth organization that arranged interdenominational (that means Christians from different churches, e.g. Baptist, Anglican, Brethren) concerts and so I got a good look at how more traditional Churches held meetings too. I stayed a Christian for about 5 years, and did a lot of study over those years in order to answer the questions that came up as well as become proficient at ‘defending the faith’. As a teenager of course I had many of my classmates questioning every aspect of Christianity, so I needed to be able to defend it in order to avoid embarrassment (which as most people know is probably at its worst in teenage years).
I became very proficient at arguing Christianity’s case. However the problem was that as I gained more knowledge, although I was able to easily fend off questions from ‘non-believers’ as they hadn’t done the level of study I had, I found that I was developing more and more questions to the ‘evidence’ I had, and no suitable answers were forthcoming.
I consider myself a fairly logical person, and most people who know me would probably nod their heads and say ‘yup’. I am also fairly confident in myself, so am not afraid to ask searching questions about why I believe a particular thing or act in a particular way. When I brought my questions to senior people in the Church whom I respected, I found that they had no answers. Actually, most of the time they would just reply with canned responses which were drilled into all of us at meetings, e.g. “you must trust god”, “he loved you so much that he died for your sins”, or the classic “he is testing your faith”. Later I came to realize that this kind of control is not confined to Christianity. Practically all the major religions will make you the ‘bad guy’ if you ask a question which gets close to exposing the truth. “You don’t have enough faith”, or “god will give you more wisdom in time”.
After many years I came to the point where I had to make a choice. Throw away my brain and reasoning, accepting that Christianity is not logical, or accept that Christianity is a man-made fairy tale. Fortunately I held onto my brain, as in the following years I discovered so much evidence that Christianity (and many major religions) follow a familiar pattern. That is, they are extremely old, were originally founded by someone with good principles at heart, and were consequently ‘commercialized’ by a corrupt group of ‘leaders’ who realized that they had a great tool to control people and make a huge amount of money. These people ‘crafted’ the religious story to make it much more palatable to ordinary people, and thus cement their grip on power and money.
Now don’t get me wrong, there are great things within religion. Foremost is probably their ability to create a caring community. Loneliness, lack of friends, lack of companionship, and a lack of a sense of belonging are incredibly strong emotions which can in turn make a person incredibly unhappy. Loneliness is so prevalent in today’s society – especially in the West where independence pushes young adults out of the family home early. There are many people within the church primarily because they have found a surrogate family.
Although the church provides this “sense of community” or “family” benefit, from my point of view it comes at an unacceptable price. That price is prejudice and intolerance. Add to that a generous dose of guilt and low self esteem. See how well a gay is accepted as normal as a person’s skin color is accepted, in a church. Or how about being told that you are unacceptable as a person and you will never ever meet the grade, without accepting the blood of this person who lived 2000 years ago (and by the way, never claimed that they were god). Absolutely bizarre.
After I left the church I found that I also had to make a new set of friends. You see unfortunately my “Christian friends” could not accept me as I was. They would fall back into old “taped” routines and think I had “slid back” rather than actually moved forward – which is what had happened. Instead of trying to understand with an open mind I guess they felt threatened and tried to bring me back to their level. Ridiculous phrases such as “you’re going to burn in hell” comes to mind. People for centuries sincerely believed that the earth was flat, and also that the Earth was the center of the universe. In time people will come to accept the truth, however I do wonder at how much this crazy belief system is holding back humanity’s progress. Ugh, don’t get started on how much war and violence is instigated due to religious prejudice and intolerance.
I recently read a book (The Heathen’s Guide to World Religions by William Hopper) that really does a great job at exploring the facts behind the major religions, looking at the evidence that exists on how they originated and how they have evolved over time. With my fondness for logic and scientific evidence, I found the book covered the facts well in a light-hearted manner. Very easy reading. Having spent time previously in a Christian church I was particularly interested in the section on Christianity, and the explanation of the history of the bible was something new for me. The majority of Christians have no idea where the bible came from. “From God” they will say. But how did it actually get put together? Who wrote the parts and put them together? I was amazed to read that the bible as we know it today wasn’t actually put together until over 300 years after the death of Christ. There existed a whole lot of religious writings and a group of a couple of hundred religious leaders got together to debate and vote on which should be included in the bible. There was a lot of arguing and certainly no unified agreement on what should be in and what should be out. So much for divine direction!
The purpose of this blog isn’t to debate whether a religion is correct or not. If someone wants some “truth” (which I define as scientific facts) then I encourage you to read William’s book about religions. If there are any Christians still reading at this point they may be playing an old tape in their head such as “Christianity is not a religion, it is a way of life”. Ha.
One of the guys I follow on twitter is friendly atheist Hemant Mehta. He also writes a really entertaining blog and I’d like to link to a couple of brilliant articles he has written recently. Hemant lives in the US where there is a huge religious base of people blindly following Christianity as this is what they were brought up with. Even though I’m living in a culture with a huge religious base (in my case it is Buddhism) I don’t envy Hemant as in my experience Buddhists are far more tolerant than Christians. The first article is where he so nicely replies to an email sent to him by a 14 year old girl regarding religion, and gets a response from her mother. You can read that here.
The next article is about pastors from Christian churches ‘coming out’ and admitting that god doesn’t exist. As one can imagine this would be an incredibly difficult thing to make public. It is a really interesting read – and you can find that here.
I dream of the day when we will look back on religion in the same light as how we now look on the generations who believed that the world was flat. A day when we will have wonderful caring communities, based on our common aspects, i.e. our humanity, our joy of spending time together with friends and family, health, excitement and enjoyment of new discoveries.