I was raised Catholic and made it all the way through Confirmation. I’ve attended services in churches ranging from Pentecostal to Lutheran. In college I minored in Asian Philosophy, which covered the major religions of India, China and Japan. I’ve read most of the Old and New Testaments, the Quran and the Bhagavad Gita. Having grown up in California, I’m familiar with several New Age philosophies and I even attended a lecture given by a guy from Church of Satan.
Outside of a couple of nuggets of wisdom, I didn’t buy any of it. Religion has no place in my life.
Beyond the endless contradictions you find in the religious texts and the stunning hypocrisy that characterizes most creeds and institutions, my primary reasons for my avoidance of religion is that most religions are based on the concept of an afterlife. Whether that afterlife involves heaven, hell or reincarnation doesn’t matter.
There is absolutely no proof whatsoever of the existence of an afterlife.
Most of us fear death and want to live forever. I certainly do. Religions exploit that natural desire by threatening you with terrifying consequences if you fail to live up to the moral code presented in their teachings. They offer no evidence of the afterlife or specific examples of anyone who has suffered those consequences, but insist that you must have faith that such an afterlife exists. Billions of people have bought into that narrative.
I’ve never understood that. The people encouraging you to have faith are obviously motivated to do so because it keeps them employed, gives them power and/or allows them to get rich. Those people are not divine beings; they are human beings with all the flaws of the species. A priest, vicar, minister or pope is no different than the salesperson trying to get you to buy something by exploiting your weaknesses.
I wouldn’t buy a used car on faith. I’d do research, have it inspected, look at its repair history. Why on earth would I buy a whole new way of life based on someone telling me to have faith in an afterlife without offering a shred of evidence to support that faith?
Quoting from corrupted texts written centuries ago by flawed, ignorant human beings doesn’t impress me either. Religious texts are not proof but a form of propaganda designed to shape societies by exploiting the fear of death.
Now, here’s the important thing: these beliefs are mine—my personal truths. I do not demand or expect that anyone accept my beliefs as “gospel truth.” I have many friends who do have faith and perform the various rituals prescribed by their faiths with sincerity and good intentions. I have no problem with people gaining comfort from a belief in an afterlife and I have no problem with most people who consider themselves religious. I don’t think they’re idiots for believing in a higher power and embracing whatever scripture they hold dear.
I do have have a problem with people who try to convert me or force their beliefs on me. I find the arrogant certainty of “true believers” deeply offensive, whether you’re talking about the cultural arrogance of Christian missionaries trying to “save” the heathens or conversion-by-force method of the Muslim conquerors. Anyone who believes they are in possession of the absolute truth—be it religious truth, political truth or cultural truth—presents a serious danger to society. You’d think that the long history of religious wars would have alerted the populace to the danger of absolute-truth-thinking, but here we are in the 21st century and fundamentalist Christians and Muslims are still at it.
Along with the world’s pathetic response to climate change, fundamentalist interpretations of ancient religious texts represent one of the greatest threats to humanity. Fundamentalists believe that the literal interpretation of religious texts represents “the truth,” ignoring both the cultural contexts in play at the time and the mountains of evidence that prove that “the truth” contained in those texts is anything but. “Be fruitful and multiply” was sound advice during a period when population growth was necessary for survival and infant mortality was rampant; it’s fundamentally dumb now that we have eight billion people on the planet. The people who wrote the texts thought the earth was flat and a few thousand years old. They had no knowledge of another hemisphere, couldn’t explain gravity and some even thought that human sacrifice was a proven method to make the crops grow. I used the word “ignorant” to describe the scribes of religious texts because—well, because they were!
Fundamentalists would have you ignore the simple truth that human beings are perpetually in a state of discovery. We look back at the people who lived 2500 years ago and say, “Man, these people didn’t know dick about anything.” 2500 years from now (assuming we survive), the people living in the 46th century will say, “Damn, those people were frigging idiots.” Truth about the world is not necessarily a thing of permanence. We learn something new and act on that knowledge until new knowledge shows us a better way. Fundamentalists can’t stand that because they’re obsessed with certainty and have unusually hyperactive control needs. They are terrified of change, and because the essence of life is change, they are terrified of life itself.
This is as true of most Evangelical Christian sects as it is of the Taliban—hence the death wish of the suicide bomber, hence the collective death wish of the apocalyptic cults.
Why on earth would I want to hang out with people who yearn for death who embrace their ignorance? No, thank you.
Though I have a less-than positive opinion of fundamentalist views, I recognize that they have the right to practice their religion. I’ve always believed that one of the fatal flaws of communism was its anti-religion stance. Human beings will forever engage in speculation about the afterlife, and whether I like it or not, a belief in an afterlife is a common feature of most religions. John Lennon may have dreamed of abolishing religion, but that ain’t ever gonna happen.
If the fundamentalists would just stop killing people and trying to force their choices on everyone, I’d be cool with that.