The Opiate of the Asses

I get the sense that this may be one of my more ire-inspiring posts to date, so please, allow me to preface it with some backstory. I was raised in a religious family, going to church every Sunday — as well as other events, classes, and goings-on throughout the week — and with consistent religious tones throughout the breadth of my youth. My family were (and are) kind, relatively open-minded, and loving. I feel that the foundation laid in this religious upbringing was to my benefit, and I think that I can see a lot of potential for good in the structure and moral-compass alignment that such a rearing offers to children. I think that there’s a lot of ways that this can be used to help nurture a strong sense of justice, of good, and of representing oneself to the world in a way that is righteous and beneficial. I believe that this basis of morality can set an excellent precedent, not only for how to behave in society, but why. All told, there’s a ton of good things that I can say about it, and I think that, properly used, having a religious backbone present can help lay the foundation for a good life that is well lived.

Now.

All that said, I will seem to contradict myself: I hate religion. I abhor it. I believe that the institutions of religion are a plague upon our land. For all the potential for good that exists, there exists an equal (if not greater) opportunity for evil, and I believe that this evil is the more prominently practiced. I believe that, within the same scope as imbuing a good morality in the next generation, there’s also an obvious and exploited means of controlling that generation — and that, I think, is what happens more often than not. Now, I’m not going to decry any particular religion here. In fact, I’m not even going to assault any religion. I don’t have any problems, on the surface, with the purported beliefs of Christianity, of Islam, of Hinduism. Maybe some moralistic leanings against certain Shamanistic practices which include human sacrifice, but hey, if they’re sacrificing other members of their religion, then maybe even that could fall into the realm of the acceptable. That’s not the point, however.

Faith, in and of itself, is one of the greatest tools that man has ever devised. The ability to stare into the bleak void of space and still feel important, to feel as if something/one out there is watching over our planet, our people, our existence. Biblical scripture states, “Faith the size of a mustard seed can move mountains,” and I absolutely agree. Humans, as a whole, seem to be capable of nearly anything that they set their mind to. I’ve never been a man of strong faith, even when I considered myself religious; there’s too much doubt in my mind for me to accept such things at face value. Logic dictates that I examine the evidence, while faith relies on the absence of evidence. None of my attempts to reconcile this within myself have netted any success; I envy the convictions of the atheist.

The fact of the matter is, any man is capable of acting in a way that is corrupted by their own needs and desires. Any group of men, then, is capable of manipulating events to their own ends, similarly corrupted by the needs and desires of the group. No organization of man exists without this potential for corruption, and no organization of a great number of men can be expected to exist without some of that corruption occurring — it’s statistically unlikely to the point of being nearly guaranteed. So, rather than organizations which, bound by faith, come together in celebration of that which we share as humans, we seem to produce organizations that wield faith like a weapon — used not to bolster the faithful, but to admonish the faithless, the questioning, those with different beliefs. Through this demonization of “the others,” a society that is afraid of that which it does not know is born, and fostered across generations, until we end up with entities like the Westboro Baptist Church decrying the evils of all manner of things.

From this, we spawn a whole new class of societal norms. Those so affected by the xenophobic leanings of their religious leaders are certain to pass those traits to their children, so as to protect them from the evil of the world; after all, anything less would be bad parenting! So it grows into an entity where families turn into neighborhoods turn into cities turn into countries of people all holding fast to the belief that their way of life is the only One True Path; in this, we begin to see an obscuring of basic tenets. Thou shalt not kill, except for the heathens, because they don’t count — a prevalent, yet clearly deviant, viewpoint. Otherwise intelligent, rational Christian men who would never condone murder regard religious war as a “necessary evil” — that we must cleanse, with fire, the stain of these others from the history books, so that all humans have the opportunity to grow up in a world filled with only the righteous believers of the one true faith.

And there’s the real rub. See, I may disagree on a point with some aspects of many faiths, I may think that some of the things that people believe are downright silly. However, I fully believe in the freedom to believe whatever we want — so long as we do not interfere with the ability of others to believe whatever they want. And that’s all that religion does, I think; it brings like-minded people together under a single banner by which they begin to identify themselves as separate from all the other religions, and this breeds an innate sense of superiority — a superiority, I might add, that is specifically cautioned against in most of the religions I’ve studied. Hubris breeds contempt, and contempt breeds a fissure between otherwise entirely agreeable sects of humanity; that, however, all gets pushed to the back when it comes up against cries for unity, for strength of conviction, for all those things upon which mass faith relies.

So I guess, all told, my problem isn’t with faith, or even with religion. It’s with religious institutions who use their position of power — because, let’s face it, religious leaders carry an incredible amount of power, real or implied — to prey on other people who are only honestly seeking out ways to better themselves. It’s with the priests who hit headlines for their dealings with the altar-boys, the cult of money built around so many televangelists’ call to arms, the snake-oil faith healers who’s fast-talking and planted “victims” bring out the faithful in droves to donate. It’s with the extremist sectarians who use their God as a justification for murder, for rape, for genocide. But, most of all, I think it is with the prominent leaders of each religion, who refuse to come to terms with one another, who refuse to allow the unification of humanity under the banner of simply being human.

After all, no matter what your religion, we’re all humans stuck on the vessel Earth together, aren’t we?

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3 Comments

  1. Boy
    Posted 4 November, 2009 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

    Though I do enjoy arguing with you (and many, many others), even to the point of arguing for things I don’t believe in, this is pretty much the only time i will sit back, and shut up. Because I actually agree, and feel stupid arguing the other side of this argument. Not just stupid, but pants on head retarded. In fact, one of my core… I don’t know, tenants, is that everybody bleeds the same color.

    So, damnit man, choose something I can argue for or against next time 😛

  2. ragemonkeytalon
    Posted 5 November, 2009 at 2:23 am | Permalink

    Remember this one great irony when making such an argument…

    “People kill each other over what one believes happens after they die…”

    Enough said?

    Maybe not, I maintain that religion is the UMF (Ultimate Mind Fuck) of all generations. It is the great exploitation of a few basic human needs.

    The first is a sense of purpose; as in, where do we come from?

    The second is the need to know that something happens to you after death; I mean, the though of us being one with oblivion is just too much to bear for the average person now isn’t it?

    The third is the largely overblown sense of self importance we as the “masses” have. The thought that we are the center of the universe, as in, the only planet that sustains life. Weren’t we just so “sure” not too long ago that we were the “center” of the uiverse and everything revoled around us? And… weren’t we just so “sure” that the world was flat? And… didn’t people fight/die/get imprisoned for disputes over these beliefs?

    It has been argued that the US government has covered up evidence of alien visits due to the fear of mass hysteria it would create. I mean, what would happen if a huge portion of everything many people were led to believe as truth was suddenly proven to be a lie?

    Is it remotely possible for people to believe and/or accept that life is like a trip to Disney Land? None of us are anything special, just a mere grain of sand on an enormous beach? And our only real purpose is to have as much fun as you can while you are here because once it’s over, it’s over?

    For most, I do not think so. People by and large are ignorant, and is not ignorance bliss for these people?

  3. drewflicker
    Posted 11 November, 2009 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

    “…and is not ignorance bliss for these people?”

    I’ll go with “Nope”.

    Increased education is correlated to greater civic involvement, greater health, longer lives, and even higher scores on “general wellbeing / happiness” surveys. So is decreasing religiosity, for that matter.

    We have strong puritanical roots in the US. Fearing an all-powerful god that lurks over you, ready to smite you for disobedience and likely to punish you in the afterlife regardless does not make for a satisfied life. Accepting a salvation-diety like some modern depictions of Jesus instead tends to lead the opposite way towards fatalism and materialism. (Nothing you do matters, just believe.)

    In general, I think, religion serves as a proxy more than a root cause. Why else would religious scripture and beliefs be so utterly twisted and tortured to express what the given believers wants it to mean? It’s a lot easier to support your hate for the “others” if you can construe it as a moral hatred instead of just greed, anger, ignorant fear, etc. It’s a lot easier to demonize gays because God says they’re bad than it is to demonize them because you admit that their existence in public makes you uncomfortable.

    I could go on, but I think you get my point. Religiosity is a symptom, not a cause.