07
Oct
11

Religion by Any Other Name

With fair regularity, I’ll see an atheist post something online, whether as a tweet, a comment to a blog post, or whatever, basically saying how much better a world it would be if we just eliminated religion altogether.

How much less hatred there would be. How much less unkindness. How much less discrimination and abuse. How much less divisiveness. How much less hypocrisy. How much less war. How much less violence. How much less shame. How much less…

…and sometimes, as I read this, my sense of “What damn world do you live in” surges up like a food-poisoned dinner, and I respond, online, to explain to them patiently that it wouldn’t make a damn bit of difference.

They almost never agree.

You see, I bring up very valid points. In fact, my points are virtually unassailable, though the atheists insist on stubbornly assailing them anyway, showing that they can be just as pigheaded as fundamentalist Christians or uber-Orthodox Jews or extremist Muslims.

You see, they will point to things like the Crusades, or the Spanish Inquisition, or a host of other well-known historical events, and say, “See, that’s what religion does!” In addition to ignoring every good thing that flowed from religion, they fail, more importantly, to take heed of the fact that in all those cases, the impetus behind the evils was rarely anything religious. Oh, it may have been billed as such, but it’s always about power, wealth, land, etc. And usually, there is a ruler (king, empress, pharaoh, dictator, etc.) or a ruling class behind it all, using religion as the rallying point or prodding the religious institutions and using them as tools for the dirty work.

When I point out that capitalism (a flawed institution that I both love and loathe) and communism (great idea, but impossible to execute humanely in large populations) have been responsible for more suffering and persecution than religion in modern times, I’m ignored, and told about how much influence Christians have on the political process.

When I point out that non-theistic liberals have stomped on as many freedoms at times as right-wingers, I’m met with a blank stare (of the virtual/electronic variety).

When I note that so much of the violence in Africa is caused by warlords and ethnic conflicts…and add that so many Eastern European and Asian conflicts are also ethnically/culturally based, I’m told that really, it was religion that started those divisions originally, and thus religion is to blame.

This is why I have, at times, compared atheism to being a religion unto itself, because its most firm adherents aren’t content to practice their beliefs. No, they seek converts. They enact doctrine. They begin to exclude people and judge people. I’ve known some great atheists and count many of them among my friends. But just like church-folk, I find many of them abrasive and pompous. They have dogma, too, and they can be guilty of evil. Some of the most evil bastards in modern history were functionally agnostic, truly agnostic or atheist.

What irks me is that even if you can make the claim that religion is responsible for most of the world’s woes, past and present (which you can’t because at best it’s an one-fourth partner along with economic, social and political/ideological doctrines), eliminating it won’t help.

If you outlaw religion, or zap everyone with a mind-ray that makes them reject the notion of any kinds of spiritual higher powers (God, Goddess, loa, Vishnu, etc.), they will make their own faiths all over again.

I see this so clearly these days in online communities.

Mrs. Blue still reads many parenting/mommy blogs and visits parenting forums at times, and I see all the time how many “non-religious” women have essentially defined motherhood as a sort of goddess role. It is sacred. It is for women alone. The children belong to the mother. The father is there to serve. The role of motherhood should be honored as a special calling and duty. Now, I think the world of women, mothers or not. But the level of importance that many women in these online venues attach to their roles goes beyond the reasonable and laudable. It goes into worship. It goes into judgment and exclusion and excommunication of those who don’t agree 100% with the official doctrine. If you dare to raise your voice at your child or spank them even once, you are shunned. If you are a father who dares to look at porn or want sex occasionally outside of making a new baby,  you are sick.

But hey, it’s not just the extreme moms.

Let’s take sexuality. Yoga, while spiritual, tends to be pretty much clear of deism for most people (at least here in the United States). It’s a way to connect in non-physical as well as physical ways, but it’s more about calming, centering and clearing out the detritus. And yet I’ve seen tales enough of Tantric Yoga people who damn near form cults of sexuality. Or, as long as we’re on the topic of sexuality, how about BDSM (bondage, discipline, sadism, masochism)? I’ve made no secret that I probably know more about kink than most of you dear readers. I don’t practice BDSM myself, but I’m well-acquainted with many folks who are, and I keep tabs on things, and you know what I see? Lots of worship. People who reject the notion of God now give themselves over to another human. Not simply as a submissive who gets whipped occasionally or tied up or insulted, but who gives over all the choices to some dominant man or woman and literally worships that person. I’ve seen folks so devoted to the BDSM lifestyle that actual sexual activity in a BDSM context is rare or non-existent. They are fulfilled by the surrender or the control (depending on whether they are the sub or dom) and they find it spiritually fulfilling.

Humans seek the divine, and they will find it almost anywhere. There are fundie Christians who can twist the Gospel to make it look like Jesus taught the value of free-market Capitalism. I kid you not. Jesus noted that money/greed was a kind of god, and humans have proved him right, as they set themselves up as gods based on money, and demand their “tithes” of the more lowly. I see people get quite riled up over food and what is the “right” way to eat and to grow/raise food for us to be good humans and to be right with the Earth.

Spirituality is part and parcel of being human, and that is why the majority of the population believes in a higher power. Even if we’re wrong about that and the atheists are right, it’s clearly hardwired into us on some level that we seek an ethereal connection to something beyond the temporal lives we are locked into. We seek enlightenment. We seek to get outside ourselves. We seek validation from unseen forces.

Whether gods exist and we acknowledge them, or whether we create them and invest them with pseudo-reality…it doesn’t matter in the end. You cannot eliminate religion. If you strike it down in one form, it will rise up in another. If you’re an atheist and you’ve managed to shed all that, cool for you. You’re a rarity. Just like geniuses are. Or savants. Or true artists. Or serial killers, for that matter. You are not the norm if you have completely severed yourself from spiritual notions. That doesn’t make you bad or flawed, but it means you don’t see the world like most people do. You are an aberration. Perhaps a beautiful and wonderful one, but an aberration all the same. And, most likely, the majority of atheists who think they reject all divine/spiritual notions would find they worship at some kind of altar in life, if they were only to truly and honestly look at themselves.

Stop blaming the institutions or philosophies for how messed up the world is and how much evil there is in it. The blame for the world’s ills is much more pervasive.

It’s not God, real or imagined. It’s not religions. It’s not faith.

It’s all of us.

All. Of. Us.

All.

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2 Responses to “Religion by Any Other Name”


  1. October 7, 2011 at 8:06 pm

    I enjoyed reading this post as it gave me something to think me about. Let me return the favor. Let’s turn this phrase of yours around: “In addition to ignoring every good thing that flowed from religion”. Allow me to postulate that if, as you say, all the evils attributed to religion have nothing to do with religion, but instead are derived from other sources (i.e., wealth, land, power), should it also be true that all the good that supposedly comes out of religion (i.e., acts of charity, feeling of community) do not come from organized religion but come from some other source within a person. If we are all to blame for the world’es evils, can we also not take credit for the good that does arise?

  2. October 8, 2011 at 2:30 am

    Yes, indeed you can make that argument, and you won’t get a bit of protest from me.

    Just as with so many flawed institutions, and flawed people, good and evil come from choices of individuals.

    I love a good secular philosophical system as much as a good spiritual faith as a means to help guide our decisions.

    The way I see it…religion and spirituality (which I figure only differ in terms of how organized or group-oriented or faith-centered you treat the process) are for developing the spirit or soul. I see spiritual journeys as a means of reaching beyond the temporal world. I see us as having two sides to ourselves that we need to exercise.

    I know plenty of people figure we just “wink out” when our lives end. Hell, they may be right. But my take is that this life is just one step in a larger kind of evolution. A chain of development. It may be a bit “Defending Your Life” in orientation (one of my favorite films, incidentally), but even though I believe in life beyond this one, I don’t assume that whatever “higher power” (or powers) that guide us simply assign us living quarters above streets of gold and hand us a harp to play for eternity. Jeez that would be boring. How many different times can you play “My Guitar Gently Weeps” on an angelic sitar or something? Even with some jazz improv, that would get old after a few decades.

    I figure there is work for us to do that is larger and broader. I believe that the spiritual journey is one in which we strive toward ever further growth and enlightenment. What makes that eternal evolution (or billions of years evolution…maybe there is no real “eternity”) something that won’t get old is that there are limitless things to learn and to become, and perhaps our goal is to continue striving toward being a kind of “God” ourselves. Whether we ever reach that or not, I don’t know. But it’s a journey I look forward to.

    Assuming I’m right.

    If not, I suppose I can simply embrace oblivion at the end, or deal with the fact I really effed up and have to do some time in a cosmic gulag for my hubris.

    So, my very long-winded, somewhat tangential way of saying good works, strong ethics and enduring morality do not come from religion, but that religion has an important role in life nonetheless (or, again, spirituality, as I must admit to a healthy distrust of institutions and rigid dogma)


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Deacon Blue is the blogging persona of editor and writer Jeffrey Bouley. The opinions of Jeff himself on this blog, and those expressed as Deacon Blue, in NO WAY should be construed as the opinions of anyone with whom he has worked, currently works, or will work with in the future. They are personal opinions and views, and are sometimes, frankly, expressed in more outrageous terms than I truly feel most days.

Jeff Bouley

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