Okay. I know I am going to get people riled up with this one, but it is something that has been on my mind lately. Please remember as you read this that this is representative of my personal views and opinions. I am happy to engage in conversation – but I am simply not going to respond to anyone who tells me I am going to hell, or that by not believing what you believe I am some sort of bad person. That being said – religion is dangerous.
This post is going to be a long one so bear with me.
I have yet to see a religion that actually does any good in our world. Yes, for some individuals it offers peace and higher purpose. Religion can indeed change lives – some of them for the better, but many of them do more to alienate than heal. I said in one of my first posts that I would write about my religious experiences at some point. So today that is what you are going to get. Let me also clarify that religion in the context of this post is very different from spirituality and faith. I firmly believe that you can have spirituality and faith without an indoctrination into a specific religion. It is the man made construct of religion that corrupts us, not our desire or need to identify with something higher than us or that stands as some greater purpose for us that drives us to be better people.
Now there are hundreds of religions out there. Whether they are mainstream and accepted like Christianity, Islam, or Judaism there are tons more that people give their lives to without ever thinking past doctrine or some holy book or writing that validates a certain belief system. For a long time I was a Christian – Baptist to be specific. I will say that being a part of the church at the time I was involved did some very positive things in my life, but it was the people (a small minority of people in a pretty large church) who made the difference and not their God. I had my own view of God during that time (and still do) that does not match up with the doctrine and dogma of the Christian faith. I got in a lot of ‘trouble’ for that in my church and after looking back over twenty years ago to remember the pain the church caused me – well I am just going to say that with few exceptions the people of the church did not care about me – they cared about changing me to conform to their worldview – which in my opinion was completely screwed up. Here is a little story to illustrate my point:
I was a very bad kid when one of my teachers invited me to a youth group at his church. I went, people were nice to me, and I had fun. I immersed myself in being a good (sort of) Christian. Part of my problem at this particular church was that is was not reflective of the community that I came from, so I was kind of the ‘black sheep’ of the youth group. I still smoked cigarettes and I still had my non-Christian friends. I came from a poor single parent home on the wrong side of town, and my youth group consisted of a lot of kids with money and resources. Out of all the kids in that group – no matter how many times I professed my dedication to Jesus – no one believed me. Even though I was there – I wasn’t perfect and therefore, I was not a ‘good Christian’. They told me I should witness to my non-Christian friends and so I did – to the point that they probably wanted to punch me square in the face. However – they were my friends (my true friends) and to make me happy they came to an event the youth group was having. They were completely alienated. What good does it do to witness to friends and drag them to church when all they would experience there was hate and ignorance? That was the beginning of the end for my faith in religion.
One of my friends even came to church with me (not just a youth group activity). The head pastor of the church came up to her and recommended she sit in the back of the church because of her hair (it was the 80’s and we all had silly punk haircuts and spiked hair). We were kids. I was a kid who was told, “Bring your friends” and when I did – they were treated horribly. I never brought another friend to church ever again. You see, this church had an image to maintain – they were not concerned at all with preaching the “good news” welcoming those who lacked faith, nor did they have any desire to help the downtrodden looking for hope and answers – unless they dressed right, came from the right family, and had the appropriate wardrobe for Sunday services. Since when did Jesus ever say that to be a good Christian you have to dress in a specific way or wear your hair right (other than the old testament that everyone ignores anyway unless it suits some agenda to condemn people)? I never once met a “Christ like” person. They said they were – but I think Jesus would have been tickled that I invited my hoodlum friends to hear his message. Too bad his people completely screwed that up. While they were all busy judging me, our youth pastor was having sexual relations with certain members (underage members) of the youth group while he was married . This same man judged me relentlessly for struggling with my sexuality – even to the point of recommending I leave the youth group. So one pastor regulated my friends to the “back of the bus” so to speak – while another pastor screwed all the pretty girls and passed judgement on me for questioning and trying to reconcile my faith with my sexuality. Him screwing underage girls was okay – but me thinking I was gay wasn’t. Last I heard, he was leading a youth group in another state (I don’t know if that’s true or not) but the fact remains that he wasn’t punished. He lost his job and his wife was smart enough to leave him – but I bet he is still telling people that he is righteous and they are not. The story of his indiscretion didn’t even make the local news. The Catholics aren’t the only ones molesting children and covering it up.
Now I still really like Jesus. He is one of my most favorite people in history. I have a ton of respect for what he did while he lived. While I no longer agree that he is the son of God – I place him in the category of people who lived that was truly motivated to make the world a better place by preaching about love and responsibility for self. I no longer believe the ‘myth’ of Jesus, but I do believe his history and the legacy that I think he hoped to achieve during his life. To me Jesus was a radical. He was a liberal in the truest sense of the word. His concern was for social welfare and personal responsibility – and to try and make people aware of the the decline of the world around him. Jesus and I think a lot alike. So while I no longer feel that Jesus is the key to my soul and everlasting life – I do think he had some great ideas that over the centuries people have twisted into something even Christ wouldn’t recognize were he to really come back today. I think he would be pissed.
As for the Bible, I think it’s a bunch of bullshit. Well written bullshit and worth reading (kind of like Harry Potter is worth reading). It has great stories. It has good lessons (Like the Golden Books I read as a child), however, I think just like Harry Potter and Golden books it is fiction. Fiction with a little history in there to make it believable. What bothers me about the Bible is the fact that Christians will say it is the word of God and that it should be followed – however, even the most adherent of Christians do not follow the majority of what’s in there or we would still be sacrificing animals and children to a vengeful and angry God, and we would take to heart the words of Christ when he says to spread the good news to everyone without judging them. Christians seem to forget that part and if God forbid you point that out the them they respond with hatefulness and scorn and write you off as a heretic.
Every war in history has been fought for religion (sometimes we mask religion with politics) but it all really boils down to the need to change peoples views of what the more powerful think people should believe. The Shiites and Sunnis will fight forever over religion. Israel and the Palestinians will fight forever over religion. Islamic religions and their various factions (like the different factions of Christianity) have no problem killing those who disagree.
I think all religions have the same basic foundation – the golden rule – treat others as you want to be treated – and no religion in the world promotes that message. At least not in today’s world. If they do actually still preach it – they follow it up with “but people who don’t believe like us should be wiped off the planet.” I am not even talking about religious extremists the Westboro Baptist Church or the people who blow themselves (and others) up for a religious cause or ideology. Those people have no faith at all and hide behind religion to wreak havoc and spread terror – but how is that any different than the inquisition? Or the millions of people killed in the name of Christ or another prophet or religious text? There is no difference. For religions to just ignore their bloody pasts is yet another omission to suit the needs of the current faithful.
Religions – whether you like it or not change significantly over time. The Bible we read today is so different from the Bible of hundreds of years ago. Translations change with the times we live in. We edit it with modern language. We left out important bits of information (like the time between when Jesus was 12 and when he entered into ‘public office’ at 33. We have the documents that were written about him and his life – however to include them negates a lot of the information that made him such an effective and charismatic leader so they were intentionally left out of the Bible as we know it today.
I just can’t believe in a religion anymore that dictates what God is. I don’t think any human is capable of determining the thoughts and motivations of a God we can’t see and really haven’t heard from in a meaningful way since Moses and the burning bush (and really that could have just been a forest fire that Moses saw as something more than it was). How do we know? We surely weren’t there and we know that the historical accounts are filled with perspectives of people who believe that the burning bush was a sign from God. Even though science has proven that there are trees over in the middle east that will burn without being destroyed. Science has proved that the 10 plagues could have happened in the order they happened in – not because of God’s vengeance but because of a changing climate in Egypt at the time (this included the parting of the Red Sea). Of course it is all theory. None of this – the Bible, or some of the science behind the ‘miracles’ in the Bible are proven fact. They are stories – embellished over time to give us something to believe in.
Personally, I am ready to believe not the books of religion, but of the modern day miracles I see everyday. I don’t need water into wine – I need peace. I need to see humanity practice what they preach – and until that happens no faith is going to convince me to ‘sign up’ and adhere to arbitrary rules, and judgement of others because they don’t believe the way I do.
Belief is personal. God is personal. Sure it helps to gather with like minded people – but to take that and extend it as a judgement to those who don’t believe like you is simply wrong and negates your entire message. If you want to convince people that your religion has the answers, you better make sure that your life reflects those truths as a testament to your faith – otherwise it is just another Harry Potter story and we are left to use our imaginations to fill in the blanks. I can believe that Hermione, Harry and Ron were good friends – but I don’t have to believe that they have magic wands and flying cars. It is a story filled with unbelievable things, and even if we REALLY REALLY want to believe they are true – doesn’t make them so. Honestly – I believe Harry Potter more than I believe the Bible. At least it doesn’t claim to be something that it isn’t.
I don’t know what response I am looking for with this post. I know it will be filled with the faithful trying to say what their faith means to them and I am excited to hear it. However – write your story please without trying to convert me or convince me. I am interested in learning why people believe what they believe and how they practice their faith. I am not however interested in conversion. I have my faith in God and that belongs to me, and God is a concept that can take on whatever meaning we as humans assign to it. I see God in everything, but I will not pretend to explain that to others because unless I start my own religion to force people to believe as I do then I have lost faith in my own belief system and become no better than the other religions out there that force God into a definition that serves a human purpose and I don’t believe for one second that is what God wants from me or anyone else.
If you comment – as always be respectful of others. Explain your faith and why you believe it, but practice keeping it personal and not preaching or with the intent to convert.