Wednesday, March 05, 2014

God is love, right? So, what harm does it do to follow him?

I'm going to deal with a subject tonight that might disturb a few folks.  If it does, I apologize ahead of time.

But I think that my reasoning on this subject needs airing.  I've written tons about the harm that comes from religion.  Much of that is regarding the obvious - pedophiles, sexual predators, extremists pushing intolerance and hatred, bronze age punishments for trivial offenses (or none at all), misogyny, patriarchy, and a dozen other things that most reasonable people can understand why I would label them "harmful".

But my overall position is and has always been that ALL religion is harmful, and a lot of folks find it hard to understand why the more genteel and liberal sects would be similarly labeled.

Allow me to try to explain.

Much of liberal Christianity takes the New Testament (and lots of them use only the New Testament) and tosses out the nasty stuff in the old.  Their bible classes only reflect the verses that talk about how Jesus brought love and caring to the world and emphasize the sacrifice of Jesus, without seeming to demand any sacrifice of his followers.  All of them believe Jesus is the son of God and that he resides beside his Father in heaven, and will return someday to bring that love back to us and banish all evil.

Nicely, of course, with little actual bloodshed.

Their belief in the Crucifixion and Resurrection is not all the same, either - some are pretty ok with the story and others kind of skirt around the actual bloody stuff and get right to the Ascension into heaven.  Believe it or not, a significant but small percentage of Christians do not actually believe in the Resurrection!  I'd bet those are most probably in this group.

I tread carefully here.  I do not want to denigrate the beliefs of those who are often allies in the fight for women's rights, gay rights or the Separation of Church and State in such a way as to burn any bridges.

But I want to explain why I think that even the most benign religious beliefs can be harmful.

Again, a disclaimer - I do not believe that the harm that is caused by this end of the Christian spectrum is intentional.  In fact, most of the harm caused by religion isn't intentional at all for most people.  It is difficult to see the forest when your view is blocked by all the pretty trees!

But there IS harm.  For instance, take one example.  Right now, in this country, there is a huge "culture war" going on, between the more extreme elements of Christianity and more liberal elements of the American population.  Every day, the social media explodes with the news of another extremist Republican/Tea Party politician making another profoundly stupid/ignorant/clueless statement.

I hear tons of my liberal friends, many of them Christian, howling in either laughter or derision over these statements.  Good for them!

But rarely do I see a story in the media about a liberal Christian leader standing up and denouncing these people.  I do not see angry Christians lining up in the streets outside of the churches or offices of these ignorant people demanding retractions.

To repeat a photo meme from Facebook, if you do not denounce and oppose oppression when you see it, you are taking the side of the oppressor.  Or, paraphrasing, if you do not denounce the ignorant, intolerant and hateful speech of the extremists, you are silently taking their side!  Even if your sect's teachings directly contravene the statements you hear, if you do not take action against them, your silence is consent and/or agreement, or will be taken as such.

By not fighting against these extremists, you allow them to count you, as a Christian, as a supporter!

That's one.

Looking at the subject as an atheist, I see even liberal Christians as believing in and worshipping in, an imaginary deity.  I know that's hard for Christians to wrap their minds around, but that's how I see it.  I see the Christian god as being as imaginary as say, Thor, or Athena, or any of eight thousand other gods mankind has ever worshipped since history has been getting written down.

That's a lot of gods to not believe in.

But your religion teaches that your god holds you in the palm of his hand, loves you, protects you, guides you, and is an all around great guy.

So you live in a world where you believe that is true.  To me, you wear rose tinted glasses, and you look at things that way.  You live, to me, dangerously.  You live as if this god is going to protect you against all things, especially things you can't see.

But in the real world, or at least the one I live in, there is no protector.  Your life is in YOUR hands, and it is guided only by what you do.  Unless you can attract the protection of a powerful human patron, you are at the mercy of chance and all of the other social and financial forces the rest of us are subject to.

Yes, you may be a miracle baby - the survivor of a plane crash.  But then how many others died that He didn't protect?

You may have survived an automobile crash - but how many Americans died in auto crashes that day who were not saved?  Statistics tell us that a majority of those in those other crashes must have been Christians too.  Why weren't they saved?

I could go on with other examples, but you get my drift.  Sheer chance saves a lot of people, and humans have a great propensity for seeing patterns that aren't there, such as the saving hand of a miracle when sheer chance is all that happened.  We all do it, and we have sayings that tell us we do - "Man, that was lucky!" or "It must have been the hand of fate!"

When things go wrong, we don't blame God, we blame fate - or maybe Murphy... it is called selective bias.  You see what you want to see.  Because you expect God to be watching, he gets the credit for the successes - yet oddly, nobody ever blames him for the failures...

But when you are convinced that your deity is going to watch out for you, you are less wary, less observant.

If you ever watch the Ed Show, or Rachael Maddow, you are familiar with their examples of how the rich have multiplied their income over the last 40 years, mostly at the expanse of the middle or working classes.  I'd bet that if this country wasn't so convinced, on an individual level, that God was watching out for us, more of us might have noticed!  But, God wouldn't let that happen, would he?

We also tend to put our clergy on a pedestal.  We expect great things of them.  We expect a high standard of behavior.  We also tend to ignore behavior that seems to violate those standards, for some reason, and some clergy takes advantage of that.

Most don't, but those high standards don't always treat the clergy kindly, either.  Many of them have issues with either failing to meet those standards, or even thinking they won't.  Many clergy leave the ministry due to these imagined failures, some after long careers and some after short ones.

Many people use the clergy as counsellors.  Most clergy are not trained as such, and often substitute religious stories or anecdotes in lieu of actual therapy.  A lot of people are often harmed by this failure.  Again, probably not intended, but the hurt is real.

I know a lot of this seems kind of picky, I know.  But again, look at this from my standpoint - if someone told you that Thor was watching out for him wouldn't you take the same position?  Shake you head?  Try to get him to see his error?

I am an atheist, yes.  That means that I believe that I am responsible for my own life - for the failures, the successes, for setting my own goals and for doing what it takes to meet those goals.  Because my experience tells me that the better I treat others, the better they will treat me, and if I am honest and act with good will, I will be protected against petty injury, I know that by conducting my life honorably and with integrity, I will have a better chance of success, because others will know that and  tend to be more honorable with me.

These things increase my chances of success.  These things are more likely to assist me in success than if I depend on someone else, whether that someone else is a deity or a mortal.

To me, self reliance is the best standard.  To allow your life to be taken over by another, even just in your mind, is to stop being yourself.  It is to betray all that you CAN be, because you can just let go.

Don't let go, stand on your own two feet.

Be human!

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