(In which yet another Fairfield County blogger posts on religion.)
I had this dream last night: I was with a friend sitting near the back of a large auditorium and we were both in a pretty good mood. All of sudden a cheer went up from the front of the hall and worked its way to where we were sitting. It became apparent that the cheer was for a group of priests (maybe they were monks) who were walking up the aisles and handing out diamond studded crosses and crucifixes. I was handed mine, and my good mood vanished. I flagged down the next priest to pass and tried to hand the cross back, but his neck went stiff as he said a curt “no” and kept walking. I turned around and threw the cross at him.
That dream should give you some idea of my feelings toward organized religion. This was brought home to me again last week when we took the FTS to the emergency room.
The doctors had just told us that they wanted to order an MRI, an EEG, and a Spinal Tap, all meant to explore the possibility that the boy had had a seizure. One of my first thoughts was “God, please don’t let this happen.” I’m an agnostic who prides himself on not buying into this sort of pandering, and it pissed me off. My father, a man who grows more spiritual each year he grows older, always tells me that I’ll be a deathbed convert to religion. I always dismiss the notion out of hand, but there I was seeking divine intervention at the first sign of trouble. I dismissed the urge to cry for spiritual help and brought myself back to reality.
A little later we were sitting just outside the triage room listening to our son wail in total agony as the ER pediatrician tried to administer the Spinal Tap. Through those tortured screams I heard a voice inside my head. It’s a voice I hear from time to time, and it seems hell bent on trying to find ways to draw me back into the flock. This time it must have known it had me over a barrel, because it said “if you worship me, I’ll save him.”
Before I get to how I answered that voice, let me describe my own views on religion in a bit more detail: Religion sucks.
Okay, more detail than that.
I’m not an atheist. The belief that there is nothing that science, given enough time and enough resources, can’t ultimately explain (my own ham-fisted definition of atheism) seems almost as arrogant as organized religion itself. No, I’m what you might call a militant agnostic—I don’t know and goddamit neither do you.
But even acknowledging that I don’t have any answers, the Judeo-Christian-Islamic explanation of theology has never felt right to me. First you have this omniscient, omnipotent, anthropomorphic god who plays mind games with the Chosen People for a few thousand years, always making it impossibly hard for them, but always demanding fealty. Then this same god sends his son to Earth and gives him the power to perform miracles and dispense good advice, but lets a bunch of fanatics nail him to a couple of wooden boards, leaving him to starve and bleed to death. Then Mohammed comes along, talks to this very same god, and finds out that what he (God) really wants is for his followers to wage war (jihad) on the non-believers.
Is it me, or does this God fellow seem like a bit of a wanker?
And that’s just what I was thinking in the hospital room when I answered the voice in my head. “You mean the only way I can be sure my son won’t have brain damage and/or a seizure disorder is to genuflect before you…whoever or whatever you are?”
“F*** you,” I told the voice. I mean honestly, who the hell would allow a one-month old baby to feel that kind of pain, let alone inflict it, in exchange for forced adulation?
“You know that voice in your head is just superstition,” the FTM said to me when I told her the story later. And of course, she’s right. (More on my frighteningly large collection of irrational superstitions in a future post.) Because the god described in all the literature isn’t a god at all. He’s a tyrant. Milton said something about it being better to rule in Hell than to serve in Heaven, and I think there’s something to that. (No, I’m not actually smart. I know that quote from "Space Seed," the Kahn episode of the original Star Trek.)
In fact, religious literature is a big part of the problem. Sam Harris, in his two excellent books – End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation – makes the point that every field of study or thought in human history shares the common characteristic of progress. We challenge our own assumptions in physics, biology, economics, art, or you name it; we’re always moving forward. Except for religion. Question the Torah, the Bible, or the Koran, and you’re a heretic. For thousands of years those sacred texts have remained unchanged. It’s the one area of human thought where using our most precious asset, our intellect, isn’t really allowed. (Ironic, no?) We have to accept what we’re told, blindly, and without faltering. (And don’t talk to me about Bible classes, where the parables told in the Bible are discussed. Let’s talk about how what’s written in the Bible is actually wrong. I won’t belabor this point...I’ll simply refer you to Mr. Harris’s books.)
The religious among you probably think you can trip me up by asking this question:
“So, FTF, what will you tell your son when he’s three years old and one of your pets dies?”
Good question and I have a good answer: I’ll tell him the dog or cat went to heaven. That’s right, I’ll tell the FTS all about heaven.
“Aha!” you exclaim. “You’re a hypocrite!”
Uh, no. I will tell him about doggie heaven and people heaven, but I’ll also tell him all about Santa Claus; and maybe I’ll let him think there really are magicians and wizards and honest politicians, at least for a little while. You can’t put too high a premium on bedtime stories. Eventually I’ll come clean about all those myths and encourage him to do something no religion would ever encourage (or even allow) him to do: to ask his own questions, to do his own research, and to make his own choices.