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Thoughts on Religion April 3, 2009

Posted by shaunphilly in religion, atheism, polyamory, culture.
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Religion. This strange behavior of humans was always a bit of a fascination for me. It’s not that I was raised in a society bereft of such things; it’s just that, even from the inside, it felt like a rather strange bird.

I had no clear conception of god as a child. I have a distinct memory of one Easter at a gathering of family when there was a thunderstorm rolling towards us. I, being quite young, did not have any understanding of what the nature of a storm was, and so I asked my aunt what the rumbling sound was. She said, with a wry smile, that it was god bowling. This struck me as odd, and so I asked what the lightning was, and she replied that it was the angels taking pictures.

Now, being quite young I have a vague recollection of quasi-acceptance of this claim. I remember imagining a large bowling alley in the sky and some large, bearded man, wearing some sort of white toga, rolling massive bowling balls at, well, giant pins with angels looking on with their cameras flashing. This is one of the earliest memories I have of what religion is. And while I don’t think I ever literally believed this claim, in some child-like innocence that allows the blending of truth with fantasy, I accepted this as at least an acceptable idea.

Much later on in my life, I began to understand that as children we accept rather strange things that adults tell us. This is, perhaps, necessary because children have a need to become acculturated, socialized, and otherwise trained as to how to navigate the world. We accept what we are told, and so long as what we are told does not obviously conflict with the possible, it will be accepted.

God bowling in the clouds is obviously absurd to me. But as I began to investigate the genuine claims of religion, they became absurd to me as well. Virgin births, Jesus being god, resurrection, heaven, hell, and papal infallibility all, eventually, became as laughable and silly as lightning being the flashes of angelic cameras. How, I wondered, could intelligent people accept these things?

The problem exacerbated as I began to learn about other religions. So many strange beliefs, so much conflict, so little reason to accept any of them. They could not all be true, and yet at least one might be right.

The concept of god was at least understandable. And while I never actually believed in god—I had no idea what it was supposed to be, after all—I was at least able to understand that despite the silliness of specific theologies, I could not find it so obviously ridiculous the idea of a supernatural being responsible for the existence of the universe. And this seemed to be the prevailing opinion of many that I talked to. It still seems to be a common point of view today.

Imagine my surprise when, in more recent years, I find a sort of beauty and sublimity to religious traditions, but found that the idea of a god to be absurd. I eventually found that I was an atheist who understood why people are religious. I became, in effect, non-spiritual but understanding of the religious.

I do not think that religions are true in any sense, but I see that it is an expression of human desires and hopes and a reflection of human creativity and our ability to abstract the best of ourselves onto the universe. Through our creativity, one powerful aspect of humanity, we are able to transcend mere existence and generate stories about ourselves, but told them about the world. Religion, for me, is when we take the brute fact of our existence and project the beauty we find onto the world and say that it is there, and not within us, that creativity exists.

And in this sense religion is a travesty of our humanity. It takes the wonder out of ourselves and thrusts it, unnaturally, onto the universe. Because we see meaning, intention, and consciousness within ourselves, we feel the impulse to project it onto the world, creating intelligences and intentions in the world and calling them gods or spirits. And when, upon finding that these forces of nature appear blind, we push god back to the farthest depths of reality, to the point beyond our understandings, and the gods become God (the one and only God, of course) and we place the attributes of humanity, all of the best that we may be capable of abstracted into an impossible superlative being which is ultimately a reflection of ourselves seen through lenses made out of omni—omniscience, omnipotence, omni benevolence, omnipresence, and on and on….

And this is how religion can exist without deities, because it is an expression of our humanity that, in our ignorance, we thrust gods into unnecessarily. And now we find these ‘spiritual but not religious’ people who have reversed reality. This belief in some god or gods, but rejection of religion, is ultimately a rejection of our natural humanity. God is the pinnacle of anti-natural (we usually call it super-natural, but they are really the same thing). ‘God’ is the ultimate abstraction of our projection of our humanity in a universe that is unconscious, blind, and without intelligence. It is the ultimate reversal of the value of humanity.

I cannot imagine that the world really needs gods for any explanation, source of hope, or morality. And while religions are not necessary either, they at least have given us a canvass for our expression as creators. We are creators. There is a great and complex universe to spread this creativity upon, and this is the best aspect of what religion has been for us.

And yet, despite this, I still feel no need for religion. It is because I recognize that most of the expressions of humanity are purely fantastic, even while often beautiful, that religion must be outgrown. Myths, legends, and other stories have a central part to play in our existence, but they have a limitation that many of us have reached. I am content to appreciate the beauty of our creations, but would rather find awe and beauty in the mysteries of nature—of reality. There is enough in the world without imaginary beings, rituals, and theologies littering our creativity.

For me, religion has had its day, and while it was a beautiful day in some respects, the day is over. Let us express ourselves without the need for such things. Let’s enjoy this wonderful stupid little meaningless existence together, and stop projecting ourselves onto the universe.

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Comments»

1. Tomkinson - April 4, 2009

Very awkward use of the words “exacerbated” and “travesty”. Why is it so hard to understand what “God” is supposed to be? The notion that you are so alien that you couldn’t understand such a simple concept is ridiculous. But yet at the same you feel confident enough to expound on what “God” is at the end of your essay.

You should really try to maintain some kind of consistency and logic in your thinking if you wish to be persuasive.

2. Mary - April 7, 2009

I can’t even begin to express how many of these same thoughts I have had myself. I have probably run the gamut of the various religions that exist. Within the last three or four years I have questioned the existence of god more and more finally coming to the conclusions within the last year and a half that god simply does not exist. I have come to see him as a crutch that society uses to help allay their fears of their own immortality.

I understand people’s needs for a belief in god, something bigger than themselves. I also see religion as a tool those in power use to control the masses. So, for me I feel it’s important to rid society of religion so that people will learn to think for themselves and choose to be ethical people because it’s the right thing to do and not to save their immortal souls (which aren’t real) and to further limit the way those in power can corrupt society.

God died a long time ago. There are just still a bunch of people stuck in the denial phase of the grieving process.

3. Tomkinson - April 7, 2009

“I also see religion as a tool those in power use to control the masses.”

In what modern country does this occur? Unless of course you lump communism in religion which is justifiable.

4. Mary - April 7, 2009

Silly, communism isn’t a religion and not really sure how it would be justifiable as there is no make believe character in whom people put their faith.

To answer your question, the modern country which comes to mind is this country. Religious leaders don’t like something, like sex outside of marriage, so they make it a religious statue. The followers of said religion blindly buy into what they are being told by these aforementioned religious leaders. They don’t think for themselves and/or question the motives behind these silly rules and statues set forth by those in power.

5. Tomkinson - April 9, 2009

Communism has all the trappings of religion, prophets, an unfalsifiable economic theory, a provably false evolutionary theory, censorship, an eschatology, evangelism and so on. Religions do not require make-believe characters to be religions. Look at Buddhism for an example.

You did not answer my question. Where in this country is it illegal to have sex outside of marriage? Nowhere. What percentage of Americans have or have had sex outside of marriage? At least 95%.

If anything sexual statutes are used AGAINST the religious in this country. Think of the polygamous cults that are frequently prosecuted. If they were merely cohabiting like Hugh Hefner and NOT married they would be fine.

You have an undeveloped sense of religion and what it means to people and society. Your views are unconsidered and based on caricatures. People like you & Shaun are exactly why nobody takes us atheists seriously.

6. shaunphilly - April 9, 2009

Unconsidered? Really? Do you have a degree in religious anthropology? It is precisely because I have considered religion and its importance that I came to understand why it should be outgrown.

People don’t take atheists seriously because they have not done the same considering. Further, haters like you, Jon, simply perpetuate their lack of serious-taking. And even further is that ultimately there is nothing to take seriously about atheism. All I want is a world where people actually think about what they believe.

7. Tomkinson - April 9, 2009

I said Mary’s views are unconsidered (they are; even you Shaun should agree the notion of religion as conspiracy is untenable), I think yours are incomplete, erroneous, and a lot less rational than you would like to believe.

No I don’t have a degree in religious anthropology, and you’re better than that line of argument. However it might be the case that in treating religion as an object constrained by the methodology of the insanely liberal discipline of anthropology that you’re transmogrifying it into something its not.

I’m not a hater. On the empirical validity of religion we are in complete
agreement. That life would be better for most of us without it I’m not so sure but its possible. Making it a bete noir is silly, unwarranted and wrong-headed. Unfortunately you folks that do latter represent us in the media most often and usually make fools of yourselves at that. Ironic you calling me hater just because I’m pointing out you’re behaving irrationally eh?

8. Mary - April 11, 2009

Dear Angry Atheist aka Tomkinson,

Instead of (seemingly) angrily attacking me on what you perceive as my lack of knowledge regarding religion, why don’t you calmly and rationally help me learn your point of the view?

Going back to the questions you insist I didn’t answer, let’s look at Catholicism. You are unworthy of talking to god. You have to rely on a third party, called a priest, to talk to god for you. If you’ve done something god said is bad, then you have to tell the priest and the priest communes with god and gives you your punishment. Only through this way can you make atonement for your sins. You have to be baptized to be recognized by god. You have to be confirmed to become a true Catholic. You have to have a proper wedding to be married. You have to get last rites to even possibly be able to go to heaven when you die (which still isn’t a guarantee because you spend years in purgatory while your still living family prays for your soul and pays the church even more money to have even more masses for you). So, how is this not controlling people? How is playing on the fears of people’s mortality moral or right? Only religion can do this.

I’ll admit that Communism is not my strong suit I have read what Marx wanted Communism to be and maybe need to learn more about what those in power corrupted it to be. Please don’t call my ideas on religion undeveloped or unconsidered until you have spoken with me more in depth and actually have the evidence to support your theory. Further more when you attack someone and then they attack you back, that doesn’t make their behavior irrational, merely defensive.

Why not make religion a bete noir? That’s the only way to get rid of something that is bad for society.

9. Tomkinson - April 13, 2009

I’m not angry, I just treat the smug and arrogant with the derision they deserve (which is why I’m self-loathing)

My problem with your point of view is that it IS a caricature of religious faith and practice. It exaggerates the most unflattering aspects of it and invents others when that’s not enough.

Your claim was that religion is used as a tool by the powerful to control the masses. When I asked for a modern example you said “this country”. Now, as a more specific example, you cite Catholicism.

This is exactly why you are wrong. If by “the powerful” you mean the government, they are decidedly not using Catholicism to control the masses. Many laws stand in direct contradiction to the core tenets of Catholic teaching, like legal abortion.

You don’t have to have a Catholic wedding to be married, in fact you can have a secular wedding with no religious component and be legally married but the converse is not true. To reply “well you must have a wedding recognized by the Catholic Church to have your wedding be recognized by the Catholic Church”, is an empty tautology.

If by the powerful you mean the moneyed elites again you are wrong. They only way they intersect with the consciousness of the masses is through the media. Take a look at ANY contemporary film or TV show featuring a priest. Invariably they are drunkards, pederasts, or, in the case of Sin City, cannibals! All the while the morality conveyed by Hollywood is again typically in opposition to conventional religious teaching, and often highly praised when explicitly so (e.g. Million Dollar Baby- the token priest being reduced here to a mere blockhead).

If by the powerful you mean the clergy you are wrong on at least two counts. First I disagree with the premise that in this country or any (save the Vatican) they are in any relevant sense “powerful”. Second the most ascetic dictates of the Faith, e.g. celibacy, are to be adhered to only by the clergy themselves.

Its one thing to look at Catholic rituals and say they are stupid (THEY ARE!), its quite another to suggest that somehow those that choose to engage in them would have a richer life if they did not. And its a very very different thing to somehow feel threatened by them. If you do I submit you have been brainwashed by the “new atheists” or whomever and/or have not really considered your views.

If you did you would realize what Karl Popper did, namely that the “Conspiracy Theory of Society” is even more primitive than theism. The “Conspiracy Theory of Ignorance” is a little younger but no amount of religious caricaturing can create an image more grotesque than the “atheists” that maintains these two notions and who would supplant tradition with nothingness because “they know better”


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