What I believe: On Religion

14 Jul

I will not pull any punches with this post nor will I apologise if it causes offence. I often find myself amused by how angry religious people get about their religion being criticised and how little such people actually understand the concept of faith.

What do I mean?

If you believe in something , have faith that it exists and someone tells you that you’re wrong, you won’t get angry, right? Because you know they’re wrong. If any part of this post angers you, perhaps you should question the strength of your faith and if your anger stems from that little voice in your head that is hidden beneath all the dogma, that whispers doubt. I would never seek to take away a person’s right to believe whatever they want to believe and if your faith is strong enough then not a single word I write should be able to take that away.

I was raised Church of England by my parents and used to attend Church. From quite an early age, I remember worship left me cold, I felt nothing but a guilt that I was doing something wrong. I’d look round our old, beautiful village Church to see the faces of people enthralled with faith and I was envious. I’m not envious any more and I’m certainly not Church of England.

Then What am I? Muslim? Hindu? Atheist? Agnostic? The truth is: I just don’t know. I think it’s okay not to know. I do know that I believe in science and I believe in people, their capacity to make links with others in ways that we are only just coming to understand and I believe in a connectedness with the natural world around us. I’m not an atheist I don’t think, at least not by most definitions, I guess if forced at gunpoint to pick something to believe in (should you ever find yourself in this situation, here’s a handy flowchart to Pick a Religion), it would be an adapted form of Paganism.

But organised religion has long fascinated me.

Religion is insane

There’s no getting away from it.

Religion is insane.

If ever there was a task with zero return on the amount of time invested in it, it’s religious observance. But not only that, in order to fully utilise this zero return on investment, you have to accept things, that you know are categorically not true, are actually truths. Oh and you can’t pretend, you truly have to believe the lot, because otherwise the unseen bearded sky fairy will judge you harshly…it’s called faith, it allows you to do and say stupid things and treat other people with a heady mix of condescension, contempt and, often, just good old fashioned violence. Here are some crazy things you have to believe (and do) to have a faith:

  • God(s) exist (Religions mostly rely on some form of bearded sky fairy…In my honest opinion, of those religions widely practiced, Hinduism has the best Gods.)
  • Homophobia is not only acceptable it’s to be encouraged (Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism etc)
  • Women should be subservient to men (largely all Western Religions)
  • The earth is only a fraction (14 000 years old based on the Bible) of it’s actual age (Most creator myths have flawed timescales, none more so than the Bible).
  • There are minor God’s who reign over things like household chores (Hinduism).
  • The souls of vaporised Thetans, who once inhabited our planet, are bound to the souls of all humans living (Church of Scientology)
  • Joseph Smith is a prophet (Mormons – Seriously, watch the South Park episode on the Mormons, it’s a work of genius. Jo Smith gives us all hope that anyone can end up getting revered as a prophet.)

Irony car haz ironyz

Religious people do not get irony. I recently witnessed people with strong Catholic beliefs criticising the beliefs of Scientology because they were ‘crazy and far-fetched’ and, best yet, that ‘Scientology causes more harm than it does good’…I’m not sure another better definition of irony exists than either of those statements. Simply because your particular brand of crazy has a longer history than  another, doesn’t make it any the less batshit crazy. Let’s not even get started on the numerous vile abuses by the Catholic Church over centuries that make most of the quite-frankly sinister goings on in the church of Scientology seem like high-jinx.

Religions biggest crime

I’m not going to claim that religion starts all wars, it contributes to many, sure, but we’ve never needed much help. Take away religion and war will remain, the study of history is the study of a species constantly evolving new and varied ways of bashing the shit out of itself and every thing else around.  No, for me religion’s biggest crime is keeping people stupid. Though it claims to provide answers religion offers nothing in the way of truth. Richard Dawkins refers to a reliance upon a ‘God of Gaps.’ For the religious mind, God, their great deity, exists in the gaps in our current understanding of the universe, but those gaps are closing.

It’s totally impossible to write this post without mentioning Richard Dawkins’ most controversial work, The God Delusion. It;s heavy-handed and patronising in parts, but remains a work of brilliance in explaining, in eye-searingly exhaustive length, why religion is dumb and God almost certainly does not exist. Richard Dawkins is almost definitely right, I find him an objectionable little man,  but he is right. His writing style has always struck me as being much like the Big Labowski’s Walter:

“Am I wrong, am I wrong?”

“No Walter, you’re not wrong, you’re just an asshole!”

So, I highly recommend reading The God Delusion and many of Dawkins’ other works, being a bit of a dick doesn’t necessarily make you wrong. I find commonality with him in the belief that the natural world, evolution and biology are wondrous enough to not require bearded sky fairy God to add extra wonder to my life. Go outside and look at the intricacies of a flower; think about the complex social interactions that make up our daily life; the way a squirrel walks across a razor thin fence; the giant cock of a Sperm Whale; the hive minds of ants and bees…Wonders and there’s no need for God.

In slight defence of religion

I’ll never allow myself to be fully critical of religion, I’ve seen it’s power at work, first hand I’ve seen a benefit. My Mum faced death and was empowered by her religion, was not afraid. My Mum truly believed her God had designs for her and her illness and passing were part of his plan. Now, I might have my opinions about that, in fact I entirely disagree, but I could not have taken that belief away from her, it goes back to that point I made at the beginning: if your faith is strong enough, then it is armour to protect you from my words. But if I could have taken her faith away, I truly believe she would not have faced her death with such humour and grace.

We probably need religion

It’s always been with us since the earliest Hunter Gatherers started forming complex societies, Göbekli Tepe, built in Northern Turkey, some 11, 000 years ago was largely built for ritual and religious use and on to the present day. So often throughout history,  the temples come before the city; religion, worship and bearded sky fairies of one brand or another have been here a long, it’s unlikely they’re going anywhere soon. Perhaps it is true as some have argued, we have a need for religion, as a species, not because it gives us senses of ethics or morality, but because it does something else. Logic dictates it must have a benefit to us as a species otherwise it would be unlikely so many would have devoted so much of their time to it, whilst ignoring a lot of serious flaws in the dogma.

Many writers on futurism don’t see a future without religion or belief, in fact many see a return to more Paganistic or even Shamanistic belief as a response to the increased reliance on technology, including the widespread genetic and technological augmentations that is predicted. So while belief in, broadly-defined, greater powers may not go away, most futurists seem to agree the future for oppressive bearded sky fairies is unlikely the last, in anything more than small pockets, for more than the next 100 years.

I’m going to write two more posts similar to this On Science and On Magic.

If nothing else take away this final thought from my post:

You know the drill, if you don’t like these Thoughts, stick around, I’ve got plenty of others. x

Further Reading

Richard Dawkins – The God Delusion

Richard Dawkins – The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution.

Alaine De Botton – Religion for Atheists

Christian Post – Atheist Alain de Botton Insists Society Needs Guidance From Religion

Scott Adams – God’s Debris (Free PDF copy)

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8 Responses to “What I believe: On Religion”

  1. simon gray July 15, 2012 at 11:29 am #

    As Quaker (and a liberal one at that), i’m not in the least bit offended by your post.

    But the principle problem I have with it is you’re making exactly the same mistakes that most adherents to evangelical forms of religion make when writing their own apologetics – namely, detailing a specially selected list of the characteristics of your opponents that your supporters find particularly silly in order to build up a straw man for your argument to blow down.

    If truth be told, few people of *any*mainstream form of religion have the picture of god as being the bearded sky fairy which most opponents project; when most religionists talk about a personal god it is usually by way of convenient metaphor rather than in literal terms; and whilst a lot of religion can indeed be blamed for encouraging homophobia and the subservience of women – well, I do think you’ll find that those obnoxious attitudes have always existed in just as equal a measure outside religious communities as within them (and i don’t particularly want to promote quaker views on both subjects here…)

    And again, few religious people really believe in a literal seven day creation or a young earth, few religious people reject science or its findings, and the overwhelming majority of them are just as outraged at abuses committed by church leaders as, well, teachers are outraged at abuses committed by teachers, and social care workers are at abuses committed by social care workers.

    When it comes to patronising condescension, you need look no further than that dished out on the bottom half of the internet by the evangelical opponents of religion on any ‘comment is free’ post on the guardian website by anybody talking about their own religion, and when it comes to a sense of irony about the ridiculous things people of certain religions are expected to believe, the opposition to those which comes from more mainstream religions is less about competition in the marketplace, and more about the real harm caused by them being orders of magnitude greater than that caused by the vicar of dibley.

    So in a nutshell, the considered response most religionists would give to this post is ‘that god you don’t believe in – well I don’t believe in it either’.

    Like

    • paulcoxon81 July 15, 2012 at 9:53 pm #

      Hi Simon, thanks so much for the comment and for educating me on the Quaker faith, I found it truly fascinating,

      Firstly, yes I am guilty of presenting the more ridiculous aspects of religion, simply because I genuinely know people who subscribe to those actual beliefs (or at least claim to).

      Have to say I disagree with your comments in relation to other organised religions. I think what you say is probably true for your faith, from what I have read on the link you have sent me, the Quaker faith is much more free from dogma and far less prescriptive than other forms of organised religion. You’re probably right that few religious people actually believe in 7 day creation or a young earth but, and this is important, it is entirely what is expected of them from their religion as a whole and I have personally encountered more than a few people who suffered actual guilt due to not believing it.

      More than this, this morning, hundreds if not thousands of children and young people would have heard stories from the Bible in Sunday School. These stories are unlikely to have been taught as cautionary or moral tales, but as actual truths.

      Perhaps the rest of the canon of organised religion could learn a trick or two from the Quakers.

      Like

  2. thecustodyrecord July 17, 2012 at 2:44 am #

    I am a follow of Jesus Christ. It’s my life and my choice. I draw on my faith every day to give me strength and to find peace.

    I won’t debate the issues you raise. You are entitled to your opinion and as a result I’m not offended by your writing.

    I’m called to remember a joke as a child.

    Man was crawling across the desert dying of thirst. On the Horizon he saw a man on a camel. He crawled slowly towards the man and on reaching him he asked for water. The man refused to give him water as he only had supplies for himself but he did offer to sell him a tie. He had quite a range.

    The man continued to crawl across the desert getting closer to death with every step. Again another man on a camel appeared on the horizon. He requested water. The man refused but again offered to sell him a tie.

    The man staggered further across the desert becoming delirious. A third man on a camel appeared and the same exchange occurred again.

    Close to death the man collapsed in the sand and gave up. He was dying of thirst. Suddenly his attention was drawn to a sound. Using the last of his strength he looked up and in the heat haze on the horizon he saw a hotel. He believed it to be a mirage but faced with no alternative crawled towards it. It was only when his hands hit the wooden steps that he realised it was a real place.

    He dragged himself to his feet and stood looking at this wondrous building. His life was saved he could get water, he would live. He took the first step into the building and was stopped by a well dressed man at the door.

    “Water, water. Please I’m dying of thirst” said the man. The doorman looked upon him and said,”I’m sorry sir but we can only serve you here if you’re wearing a tie”

    It’s the best I can do at 3 in the morning. There was a tweet today that said “everyone is entitled to an opinion. Everyone else is entitled to tell you it’s bollocks” I’m not about to tell you that your position is wrong and mine is right. All I will say is that I’m going to buy a tie just on the off chance when I get to the door I may need it.

    Like

  3. Neferet July 19, 2012 at 11:15 am #

    I really like your “Raptor Jesus” picture. It made me chuckle. 😉

    Like

    • paulcoxon81 July 19, 2012 at 12:10 pm #

      Thanks for the comments guys.

      Raptor Jesus is a long time favourite of mine, surreal brilliance.

      Like

  4. Enola Camper November 5, 2012 at 2:57 am #

    Hinduism is a great religion just like Islam and Christianity.,

    Stop by our web portal as well
    http://www.prettygoddess.com

    Like

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. What I believe: On Religion | weeklyblogclub - July 17, 2012

    […] What I believe: On Religion by Paul Coxon Share this:TwitterFacebookLinkedInPinterestMoreEmailRedditPrintDiggStumbleUponTumblrLike this:LikeBe the first to like this. This entry was posted in Religion and tagged beliefs, faith, religion by Kate Bentham. Bookmark the permalink. […]

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  2. A kite, content, Creation and camps | weeklyblogclub - July 23, 2012

    […] very different sides of faith. Paul Coxon wrote as much about what he does not as does believe in What I believe: On Religion, whilst Benjamin Welby wrote Frothing at the mouth, this time its […]

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