Wednesday, July 31, 2013

What do I mean by "Religious Harm"?

I have written a lot about how harmful I feel religions can be.  I have published examples of what forms that can take here, about any number of religions, including Christianity, Islam and Buddhism.  I intend to do a bit of reading up on other religions, too, as time permits.

But I figured I'd lay a bit of groundwork so you know what I am doing here, and what my goal is.

Above all, my goal on this blog is to illustrate my viewpoints on religion and things that are impacted by it.  I am NOT here specifically to convert anyone, as I know that the chances that anyone would read one of my posts, see that proverbial lightbulb turn on over their head and suddenly understand it all and just drop their faith like a worn pair of socks is slim to none.   That's not how people lose their faith.

People lose their faith over a million things, and usually it isn't a single thing that is the cause.  They usually go through a process of education which sometimes culminates in a realization of faith being lost.  That realization may be a long time coming and a gradual thing, or it may be a sudden "ding!" of eye-opening comprehension.  Some people may undergo a traumatic incident which causes them to leave their church, which then opens the way to a period of education and study which then, in the end, validates that decision after the fact.

Either way, it is a process, not a sudden event.

My purpose is to be part of that process, part of that education.

A part of my technique is publishing the harm that religion can do, both to individuals and society.  This isn't easy.  Oh, finding incidents that illustrate my points is easy, yes.  But then tying those incidents to an underlying reason for why religion is the harmful cause of that incident is what is hard.  Not because it's a stretch, or because the tie isn't there, but using the right words to show you, my readers, WHY the religious attitudes or rules or traditions are harmful, and in ways that outweigh any possible good.

That last is important.  Religion is, on the surface, all about "love", or at least that's what we are told today.  Modern Christianity, Buddhism and liberal parts of Islam emphasize the getting along with people parts of their rules and gloss over the less salubrious parts of either doctrine or traditional practice.

But all of them have the dark side.  With some, the dark side is part of the doctrine, some, like Buddhism, have developed harmful traditions and cultural practices that (like India's caste system, some Muslims countries' female genital mutilation practice and Christianity's patriarchalism) are very harmful, both at the individual level and at the cultural level.

It is very difficult to point these things out to people invested in those religions, because those things are excused by traditions that they "protect" sacred things, like the family or one's practice of morality.

These dark practices and traditions ARE harmful.  Yes, they are often said to protect good things, like morality.  But when examined closely, one can see that the things they protect are often carefully crafted facades hiding often harmful control measures.

Often, the harm is direct and openly on display, but the adherents often ignore the implications, because they are so indoctrinated in the excuses, they never see the real harm.  Of course, they do when it's ANOTHER religion on display...

The problem with these excuses is that they are tacked on, added onto the fabric of the religious doctrine, because the naked purpose of the harmful act used to be pure protection of the religion and its power, and nobody needed to clean it up for public consumption.  In the remote past when the religions were young and in total power, everything was out in the open.  No excuses were offered, unless the one being "punished" was wealthy or influential, when they then needed some thin veneer of civility.  If the victim was poor, nobody cared.

Take "honor killings", for instance.  Supposedly, this was because the women violated the "honor" of the family or more correctly, the man of the house.  In truth, she was his property, and had, by having illicit sex, made him look a fool for not being able to control her.  The fix was for her to die, as an example to others of what would happen if THEY did the same thing.

"Honor" was the thin veneer, and it is even thinner today.

On a less remote issue, Christianity can have harmful consequences too.  Many people believe the bible, if not literally, then fairly well as a guide to god's word.  An obvious example is regarding homosexuality.  Two passages in the Old Testament denigrate it, and one calls for death to practitioners of it.

Now, many students of theology have spent probably millions of words debating this and its significance and its meaning.  There are many nuances of homosexuality, including the fact that females can be homosexual too, but the bible doesn't mention that.  It's only about men.  Cultural norms over the centuries have changed how people see it and how it is defined.  In biblical times, for men to have love affairs in the pastoral sense (without sex) was often the norm, and Greeks even took it to a sexual level, even while they were married and had sex with their wives too.

But today, we see homosexuality as a sexual orientation.  A lifestyle.  And those two verses have been generalized to mean that any man on man or woman on woman attraction is homosexual, thus wrong and in the eyes of some extremists, worth killing over, even if they can't prove sexual union has occurred.

I can't pretend to understand what the original cultural reasons were for the writers of the old testament to put those verses into the law they were writing, but the implications today are sometimes deadly.  And what purpose do those passages serve today?  Mankind is rapidly moving back to a time when homosexuality is no longer seen as a bad thing.  Unusual in the US, perhaps, but less and less a bad thing.  To cling to this "traditional" reading and meaning (when numerous passages in the same books of the Old Testament outline laws we studiously ignore) is harmful to the extreme.

The tendency of the extremist Christian fundamentalists to cling to this is harming even them selves, as it illustrates an attitude about others many Americans see as not just harmful, but distasteful as well.  This is resulting in many christians leaving their churches.  Many of them join the masses of unchurched apathetics, some actively become atheist.

My purpose is to show you what harm it does.  to lay it bare and illustrate that harm, and where it comes from.

A lot of you dismiss these illustrations with expressions of horror, but giving the excuse that, well, MY church doesn't believe that way, so it's not so bad.


But you believe in and support the same scriptures.  You believe in and deify the same god, the same son of that god.  Your bible has the same verses in it theirs does, its just that you ignore the parts he doesn't.  Your belief that the book you both worship is sacred supports his belief that the parts HE uses to excuse his harmful acts are as sacred as the ones YOU follow.  Even as you deny that HIS acts can possibly be Christian HE is telling the world that YOU aren't Christian enough, because you don't believe the way he does.

And so it goes, round and round, in the meantime, he can still excuse his acts, and because it is HIS version of YOUR religion, somehow, nobody ever gets around to doing anything to stop it.  Nobody questions it, because it is a RELIGIOUS belief, thus unquestionable.

Somehow, I hope that sooner or later, some of this will seep into the brains of my readers, and perhaps you will see that it is the very unquestionable status of religion that makes it more harmful than other ideologies.  Because it has no reality check, it cannot be compared to reality, so it is not verifiable.  One has to take it on "faith".

No matter how much good it may do otherwise, the very fact that it cannot be held to a standard of verifiable truth makes it so harmful that it not worth keeping around.  It just hurts too many people and often does it by hurting entire cultures at a time.

Like Smokey the Bear says about forest fires, "Only You" can prevent religions from harming mankind!  One person at a time.

1 comment:

43papadoc said...

If you're looking for Biblical scripture relating to women and homosexuality, look ar Romans 1: 24-27....." Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones."