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Religion, used, abused and underrated… 16, June 2007

Posted by babychaos in Heavy Flow.
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Religion is not something I talk about much. I have one, it works for me and that’s it. I don’t talk about it to others but for some reason I seem to spend my life banging on about it on the internet. I don’t know why – perhaps because I’ve been thinking about lots of grown up serious stuff recently and religion tends to come into that, if you have one and – as stated – I do.

I just thought though, that I would nail my ethical colours to the mast. I don’t know why I feel I have to do this, my faith, such as it is, is contradictory and highly personal so much of what I say will make no sense. I expect it will also sound a bit pompous at best, at worst, arrogant.

Maybe it’s because I studied the Crusades so I know who really started the Jihad. Maybe it’s because I know the Crusades were not about religion but were merely a ruse to remove younger sons from the picture in a society where the older son inherited everything leaving his younger siblings as disgruntled troublemakers – or they went into the church. Go west young man (or in this case east) to seek your fortune and find some land of your own, rather than casting covetous eyes on your brother’s.

I think, though, that I am writing this because I feel the word “religion” is losing its true meaning and becoming synonymous with the word “cult”. The two are not one and the same thing and for the people of faith out there I want to claim the word back.

Religion gets a lot of bad press these days and frankly, I’m not surprised. I don’t quite get how you can promote killing thousands of innocent people who have done nothing to you in the name of a supposedly loving god and call that act “religious”. On the other side, I don’t quite get how you can encourage people to view every member of one particular faith with suspicion because an uneducated section of them seem to have confused tribal tradition with religion.

I have recently read a book by a holocaust victim… there is a strong parallel between the way Jews in Europe were viewed in the first half of the last century (ie “they’re taking ‘our’ jobs, earning more money than us in ‘our’ country, they are undermining ‘our’ ideals by refusing to abandon their own and they are not loyal to our nation but to their religion which we don’t know anything about and therefore implicitly distrust”) and the way Muslims in the States, Britain et all are viewed now… I can see where that might lead… not a good place.

Not all Muslims are loonies just as Christianity – especially Christianity in the States – is not usually the intractable, reactionary cult most often depicted by the press.

I don’t get how anyone can sanction or, the way some people see it, encourage the destruction of this planet’s natural resources, for example, and say they are religious. I’d have thought life is a gift from god and to that end, it would be sacred. I’d have thought honouring god’s gifts, looking after them, managing them responsibly and preserving them sympathetically was a more demonstrative way of being grateful to the almighty for his bounty – I think it may even be mentioned in Genesis somewhere. Then again, I’m not George Bush.

However, there’s a lot of talk about what “religious” people say and the more I read the less it seems to have to do with my religion or anyone else’s as I understand them to be. Most religions as I see it, are about treating others with respect and love. They are about surrendering your material desires in pursuit of something more important, wisdom, enlightenment, understanding. The trouble starts, not with the words of the prophet, the messiah, or a religion’s ideals, it’s where humans come in. It’s what politically-minded or greedy humans use religion to do that bugs me. So here are a few thoughts about what religion actually IS…

There will probably be a contact out on me by the time I’ve finished this. I have given God a small g most of the time because I baulk at speaking for him, I’m talking from a Christian point of view but I some of these points can be applied to other religions…

1. Religion is not an exclusive club.
Ok, so if you read the bible, Jesus hung out with all sorts right? He told them they were wrong when they did stuff he didn’t approve of and that they should stop but he didn’t shun them. So, if your religious leaders tell you you can only mix with people who believe in god the exact same way you do, their concern is to ensure your unthinking obedience to them, or the person they say god is (them again) rather than your redemption. That’s not a religion, that’s a cult.

If you are encouraged to marry people of the same faith then ok, fine, that’s looking for somebody you’ll have common ground with. I’m talking about suddenly not talking to your neighbours any more because they go to a different church to you, not mixing with people outside your church (not even those of your own religion in some cases) “for fear of being tainted” yes, somebody has actually said that to me. That’s not instruction in a faith, that’s brainwashing.

2. Nobody knows the will of God.
Yep, that’s right, god is omnipotent. We don’t know everything god wants. We do know he wants us to love one another and live in harmony. We have our beliefs to guide us and we mostly have a good idea of how we should behave if we live by our religious principles. We’re not omnipotent, though, so we don’t know the mind of God. Anyone arrogant enough to believe that they do has a long way to go in their religion. I’d also bet they are unlikely to be as close to god as they might think.

3. Religion is not black and white.
There is right and wrong but there is also grey, there are times when an action which is right in one situation is wrong in another. There is a middle way, yes, I’m neither hot nor cold, I expect I will be spewed out at the end…

If you are looking for somebody else to be responsible for your actions and tell you what to do the whole time, religion is not for you.

The idea of a religion is that you use your brain, that you submit willingly, not with brainwashing, to God’s will. Your religion gives you principles, you live by them and if you manage to do that – especially when you’ve been sorely tempted not to – you may be a happier person for it. You may find you like who you are. That will make you a nicer person to be around and THAT’S what religion can do for you. If you want to obey orders blindly or want somebody to think for you, join a cult.

4. God is a forgiving god…
Yep, it says it all over the bible, he forgives stuff, if you’re truly sorry. If you are, and you know you are, forget what anyone else says, you’re human and if you were perfect and never stuffed up you’d be god, wouldn’t you. Trust that he’ll forgive you – you don’t know if he will or not but that’s the point of faith and if you put your faith in a loving god, the chances are you’ll be a nicer person to hang around with.

Accept you’ve made a mistake, do what you can to repair the damage and move on. Then, keep trying to be a kinder, better person and hope…

5. There is doubt.
It is not wrong to doubt. There are no easy answers to any of the questions. I don’t know how much of my faith I believe – some days I’m not sure whether god is God or just a way of expressing and getting in touch with a part of my inner self – but then that’s why it’s called a “faith” because there has to be some doubt. Without doubt, how can there be any faith?

Once again, if you want black and white answers to all the difficult questions about why we’re here and what we’re for then religion is not going to help. It may give you an general idea, it may help you to appreciate that there are answers somewhere and give you the strength to face life knowing that you will never really find out what they are. That is what faith is. If you want real concrete answers, it’s another tick in the cult box, I’m afraid… religion is not for you.

6. God likes everyone, even the people we don’t.
Accept it. People are flawed. I’m flawed. I can live with that, I’ll just try not to let the flaws come out too often and try to concentrate on being a good person. There are people who don’t like me and people I don’t like. That’s life. I don’t know what I’m for, only god knows that so I’ll just carry on doing the do. Good people do bad things and bad people do good things. People who are perceived as “bad” may well have a great deal more generosity of spirit than those who are supposedly “good”. Perhaps it’s only if a person does something very bad that they understand what it means to be forgiven.

7. God doesn’t want your money.
Trust me on this one. If religion is all it’s supposed to be god wants you. He wants something inside you to fundamentally change so you live a principled good life, right across the board. Not as an unthinking clone but as somebody with free will and reason who has made a conscious decision to do this.

If that means you might want to give some of your cash to good causes or to help other people less fortunate than you, all well and good. However, religion is not about keeping some orange bloke with big hair and the morals of the dodgiest photocopier salesman in Aston Martins, luxury homes and shiny suits. It’s not about making your church really big or raising more money than another church or another evangelical radio station. It’s not about stuff or fiscal results or massaging the orange bloke’s enormous ego, it’s about love, compassion and what’s in your heart.

A “seed” is not going to buy you a place in heaven, whatever the orange bloke says. A friend told me recently about hearing a religious broadcast on the radio. The pastor was saying that a lady had given £500 to her church and the following week she got £1000 back that a friend owed her and which she thought she would never see again.

The pastor explained that this woman was a good woman because she had given more than she could afford to her church. Except that, the way he put it, the act of giving the money is what made her good, whereas actually, I should imagine it was because she was a good person already that she gave the £500. I doubt she thought giving £500 blindly would make her a more holy individual or bring her closer to god, even though this is what the preacher implied. Subsequently he went on to imply that the way to gain riches, fiscal riches not spiritual ones, was to give more money to his church. I thought the teachings of his particular religion, which happens to be mine, too, was that wealth is irrelevant and that a person should be looking for an altogether different set of “spiritual” riches from life. So the subtext went something like this…

“If you want to prove to god that you love him, give him your cash, if you are poor and you need money give god what cash you have and you’ll get more back.” Although of course when he said “god” what he actually meant was “us” or, by association, him.

I’m not sure that casting your bread on the waters is about giving the rich an easy option to “get in with god” and exploiting the vulnerability of those who don’t have much. It’s about giving things that cost more than money and being given back to. Doubtless there’s a place for media evangelism in the grand scheme of things but surely preaching on TV should be about trying to instil people with Christian virtues and leaving the matter of donations up to them. So often the broadcasts seems to be about getting cash to make more broadcasts and well… not much else. I particularly hate it when I see them using every dodgy sales technique in the book to rail-road people into parting with their money.

To me this is just as amoral, in its own way as brainwashing randy young men into believing that they’ll be shagged senseless for ever in the next life if they kill themselves – and a bunch of innocent people alongside them – in this one.

If God is all he’s cracked up to be he wants you to give yourself to his work, if somebody is preaching that god wants your money then – putting aside the fact that by “god” they will invariably mean “I”- the implication is that your cash is worth more than you are and that you are a bad person if you don’t give. That is not a Christian attitude.

If you want to use your money to do god’s work, fine but it’s yours so it’s your call whether you decide to give it to a TV or radio evangelist so they can make more programmes or a Christian charity who will actually use it to help people in need.

Come with me on a historical tangent for a moment…

The Reformation is, pretty much, where Protestantism comes from and that, in turn, is where many of today’s popular forms of Christianity come from, Lutheran, Baptist, Methodist etc. I’m an Anglican so my religion comes from somebody who said “no” to the Pope a bit earlier (and for all the wrong reasons, too). The whole reformation was based around people’s disillusion with corruption in the Catholic church at the time. One particular bugbear was a medieval practise known as indulgences.

Ok, here’s how indulgences work. Somebody who likes to impale the local peasant farmers and watch them die, let’s call him Vlad is in a fix. He wants to impale but clearly, it’s evil and unchristian. Never mind, he can impale as much as he likes if he’s rich enough. If he gives enough money to the church or say, funds the building of a monastery to ensure that enough monks (or nuns) will say mass for him, then the weight of their prayers will get him to heaven anyway. So he contacts his nearest Bishop to find out how much it will cost in alms to the church to be able to carry on impaling. This is called an indulgence, ie Vlad can indulge his urge to impale because he’s given the church cash.

So, from where I’m standing, the implication that giving your church a “seed” is all you need to do to get a big cash windfall in this life and the heavenly equivalent in the next one is not so different. I don’t take issue with asking people for donations to do god’s work, I don’t take issue with people giving money. I DO take issue with the idea, so often implied, that it’s giving the money which makes you good.

God does NOT want your money.

8. Religion and hate are mutually incompatible.
Religion is about the value and sanctity of human life. It’s about compassion, empathy and love. It’s about acknowledging the differences between races, cultures and the sexes, it’s not about deciding which religion is best, which race or gender is supreme or hating any one in particular. Nobody is supreme or to be hated we’re just different.

Nobody religious will expect you to hate others or ask you to kill people in the name of god, especially if they want you to kill randomly without warning. That’s not religion, that’s a cult.

Likewise, anybody who guarantees you anything about the afterlife is talking bollocks. Whatever you are told, if you just fly this plane into this big building here and kill yourself and a bunch of random people you will not have a shagathon for all eternity. On the contrary, if there is a hell, I’d say the chances of you going there are quite high. Don’t take what other people say about your holy books as read. Education is power. Read them yourself and make your own judgement.

9. Religion is not about petty rules.
If you set out to treat others with dignity and respect the small things will fall into place. Getting hung up on trivialities just makes things more difficult. Hair is not a big deal. Likewise swearing.

I know people who don’t swear on religious grounds who are splendid, kind, principled people. I also know people who don’t swear or drink alcohol on religious grounds who are mean, petty, small minded and unkind. Swearing, alcohol, dancing, working on the sabbath… this stuff is just pebbles on ground… If you spend your time on the road of life looking at the pebbles, you are unlikely to stub your toe but you’ll miss the best of the view and if you don’t look up you’ve only yourself to blame if you end up walking into a tree.

If all you can think about are the mini-don’ts there is no room for anything positive. Religion is not about god saying no to everything and pissing on everyone’s firework! It’s about faith; believing good things can happen and that good things can be done… and then using that belief to achieve them.

10. Religion is not about crowd control.
Or at least, it shouldn’t be, but a lot of it is. As Terry Pratchett says, if you want people to do things you have to tell them stories. If you have a simple, uneducated population and you want them to stop leaving pork lying around in the middle eastern sun and then eating it after it’s gone off and making themselves ill telling them not to because it’s bad for them won’t work. They may be hungry, it may be all they have to eat and they may want to eke it out for as long as possible. Telling them God told them not to will get their undivided attention and stop them dead in their tracks.

Likewise, though people have been homosexual since the year dot – look at the ancient Greeks – if you have a high infant and adult mortality rate and you are surrounded by enemies you want to make sure there are always plenty of fit and healthy young men to fight them off. You can’t let people go around having same sex relationships because it is absolutely essential that everyone who can make children does so… I don’t pretend to know what god thinks about this but I find it impossible to believe that my two best friends will go to hell over a little thing like what sex of person they are attracted to. Especially since they I know so many supposedly religious people who are thoroughly unpleasant. I can’t believe those miserable bastards will go to heaven and my excellent, kind, supportive friends will not. To me that’s just more crowd control.

11. Religion is allowed to be fun.
I believe Cromwell said that religion is a serious business and there is no room for levity, to this end, he closed all the theatres and discouraged people from playing music in public. I think the Ayatollah Komeni may have said and done something similar, too.

Actually, with humour you can say so much more, you can mention the unmentionable, push the boundaries so much further, break down so many more barriers than if you are serious. There is nothing wrong with humour in the right place, used with sensitivity it is a powerful tool to do good, it can help people to learn and it can diffuse difficult situations.

In British Politics, the party which has had the highest number of mandates made policy is actually the Monster Raving Loony Party. They adopt serious ideas, like women having the vote, at times when they are laughable…

Speaking for my own religion, Jesus made jokes which are recorded in the New Testament – sarcastic ones at that – think of the plank in the eye story. If he did it probably means I can.

12. Religion is not about converting people.
It’s not my job to convert people to my religion, it’s god’s. If something I do or say helps, great but I am not going to walk up to people I don’t know at parties and say “have you found god” because it’s just about guaranteed to make them shy away from religion for life. I reckon that kind of behaviour turned more of my friends at University off religion than any other single factor. As for now, well, god knows where they are and when – or if – the time is right, he will find them.

There’s an internet guru called Seth Godin who talks about viral sales, that is the idea that, instead of spending millions on advertising or going and pestering people when they are in the middle of something else, the way to sell something is to come up with a product that is so cool your customers will seek you out. A product so excellent that everyone who buys one will tell their friends “you must have one of these it’s brilliant” and word will spread that way (this is how monsters like Google and YooTube grew).

Selling religion should be like that. If you have a faith it should make such a difference to you, make you stand out so much that others will be intrigued to know what makes you like you are. When you have said it’s down to your belief system they might go away thinking.

“Hmm… Thingwhat is such a splendid person, I wonder if there is something in this religion business after all.”

But that’s just my view…

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Comments»

1. Kat - 17, June 2007

Great list. Totally agree. It’s sad that a lot of otherwise decent, likeable people become frustratingly intractable when it comes to religion. The problem with believing that your religion is the only way, and that any other path will lead to damnation, is that it automatically precludes 1, 2, 3 and 12.

Selling religion should be like that. If you have a faith it should make such a difference to you, make you stand out so much that others will be intrigued to know what makes you like you are.
That’s absolutely my opinion on evangelisation: don’t tell me, show me.

I also have a problem with literal interpretations of ancient texts and the selective use of those texts. For example, people quote the Bible to assert that homosexuality is immoral, but they conveniently ignore other morally dubious incidents that are par for the course in the Old Testament: incest, fratricide, and Solomon’s 500 wives, to name a few. I’m sure there are equivalent examples in other religions, too.

2. babychaos - 18, June 2007

Hi Kat, delighted to find a like-minded individual out there! Thank you for the little tit bit about Solomon, too. 😉

Cheers

BC

3. JoeDrinker - 18, June 2007

Hi BC,

I too, fall into the viral marketing camp, and not just when it comes to religious beliefs, although that is certainly one of the more obvious manifestations. When I was young, our youth groups were sent out doing door-to-door invitations to events or witnessing, and I hated it. I just couldn’t imagine, even with a junior high mindset, what kind of return on investment that was going to bring? Same applies to the guy standing on the street corner holding a sign, screaming at traffic. You want to sign people up for your team? Make sure they know there’s a chance they’ll end up wearing a sandwich board and shouting at cars about repentance – where do I sign?!? If I’m living like I should be, the “customers” would be there – ala Field of Dreams – “If you build it, they will come.”

Even though I’m not the most tolerant person, I do try to give people the benefit of the doubt. Since we all look at life through the filter of our own experiences, are any of us in a position to pass judgement on how others live their lives? One of my roommates in college used to say “no” to homeless people when they would ask for change, his argument being that he didn’t know what they were going to do with the money – he wasn’t going to give them money to buy them alcohol. We got into a huge debate over what we were actually called to do. My opinion was that we were to help them, because they asked. What they decided to do with what I give them was between them and God. My roommate was under the opinion that he was some sort of pseudo-gatekeeper, and was helping by, um, not helping.

And to the comment about Solomon’s wives and other morally dubious concepts, the general thinking is that they were in the Old Testament, and the rules changed in the New Testament. Some of them did, anyway. 😉

Cheers from a fellow Anglican,

JD

4. babychaos - 18, June 2007

Cracking comment, I’m right with you. I remember buying a homeless guy some beer, he’d been playing a guitar and just as I was walking past him he broke a string and started to cry. I asked what was up and he told me he wouldn’t be able to busk now and he hadn’t enough money so he’d go into cold turkey and get the DTs… He was crying because it was going to f**ing smart and he was afraid.
I guess the Christian thing would have been to sit with him and hold his hand while he went through the DTs but I didn’t have the three or four days I’d have needed. Instead I bought him a 4 pack and some sandwiches and made him promise me he’d go to see them at St Martin in the Fields and ask to be put in touch with a counsellor. At the very least, I should have taken him. Instead, I sat and chatted to him while he drank his beer. Never mind, it seemed the best thing to do at the time, it’s only looking back on it now that I think. “Ah…” Hey ho. Hindsight is a great gift.
I’m with you on the Old Testament and the rules changing, perhaps that’s the Anglican in us…
Cheers
BC

5. Joe Drinker - 18, June 2007

The gentleman you sat with may not have had the slightest human interaction for a long time – just someone to treat him with dignity and compassion. Sometimes the best thing we can do is to simply be there for a fellow man.

When she was very young, my wife and her mother were at the park and there was a homeless man playing guitar. He serenaded them for a while, and as they started talking, he asked them for some money. While they had given him a little something in his cup, somehow they conversation came around that he was willing to sell his guitar for $50, and my mother in law took him up on it.

My wife now has the instrument, and while it makes a great story, I can’t help but feel that they had so easily deprived him of the only livelihood he had, but they don’t see it that way. Maybe what he really needed was the $50 and he bought some work clothes, landed an interview and a job, thereby getting himself off the street. In that case, the guitar was the crutch, holding him down. And I wasn’t there, so who knows.

But sadly, I have a feeling that’s just the optimist in me.

JD

6. babychaos - 19, June 2007

Thank you, that’s a nice thing to say. It’s what the optimist in me hopes. As for the story about your wife and her mum.
Hmm… I think I’d have ended up giving him the $50 and letting him keep the guitar, although let’s face it, if it was all he had to earn a living, I doubt he’d have sold it. He may have had access to another guitar and I bet the fact he, who owned so little, had something a child could want and enjoy gave his self esteem a little fillip. Especially when it was something which he could sell for ready cash. It probably felt good to be needed.
Cheers
BC

7. Joe Drinker - 19, June 2007

You know, that’s the first time I’d ever thought about it that way – that he felt needed, even for a small slice of time. You may be right.

We’ve talked about trying to go back and see if we could find him, as his name is scratched on the back of the guitar’s neck. Wouldn’t that be something?

Thanks for the fresh perspective.

JD

8. babychaos - 20, June 2007

Any time, tracing him would be so cool… I am sure if you did enough digging you could find him or at least, whoever’s name is scratched into that guitar’s neck! Step one, Google I’d say!

Cheers

BC

9. mrs metaphor - 22, June 2007

Good post!! Well said BC…personally the idea of “religion” tends to rub me the wrong way but talk to me of “faith” and I’m all aflutter. Religion is about “salvation” but faith is about humanity and the Divine and I dig that. Religion is man made but Faith is instilled in us, what we choose to do with that is always our choice, yes?

Maybe in the end what we’ll be graded on is not how religious we were but how well we loved one another. That’s my take on it anyway.

10. babychaos - 22, June 2007

That’s pretty much the way I see it Mrs M.

I think faith is a bit like wisdom you can’t get it from a book, you can only learn it by listening and living. Take Political Correctness… the whole idea comes from excellent intentions but makes what is already a social minefield, even harder to navigate! You can’t legislate consideration for others, it’s something which should be part of a person’s basic humanity, anyway. The more laws you make the more loopholes there are.

I think faith is similar, the more instruction you give people about “how to be good” the more questions it throws up and the less clear it becomes. If you just concentrate on being a decent human being and treating those about you with respect and care it seems to work. Formalise it and you get things like the Inquisition, Friday 13th and the complete anihilation of the Cathars…

I think sometimes, people get too caught up in the rules, ticking the boxes et all, so they forget that it’s actually about something more than that! Then again, maybe it’s just that they’re too aware of their shortcomings and bury themselves in all this crap because they daren’t face their humanity.

Perhaps these people are naturally unforgiving, themselves, and assume God is the same… a lot of whata I call the “scarily” religious people I know seem to put a great deal of store on Old Testament texts and give me the impression they hardly ever look to the New Testament. I’ve had a couple of friends get involved with the Toronto Gift and though I lost one, the other, after thinking long and hard about it, turned to a different type of Christianity. The conversations I used to have with these people would usually go something like this.

Brainwashed Friend. “The book of Hosea says x, y and z.” So you shouldn’t be doing what you are doing.

Me, “Yes but in the Gospels, Jesus says a, b and c.” So I reckon it’s probably ok.

Brainwashed friend after long pause…. “Did he?”

Me. “Yes.”

Brainwashed Friend. “Oh, I will have to go and ask the elders about that one and come back to you.”

Me, “You can’t think for yourself then?”

Brainwashed Friend. “It’s not a case of me thinking for myself, the Elders know so much more than me…” And then, of course, cults and brainwashing would be mentioned and things would get strained and the subject of the conversation would move swiftly on to something else.

Sorry, I’m going off on one…! 😉 But like Joe Drinker, I get the impression that while god may have been – and may still be – the angry, jealous, vengeful guy in the Old Testament, the whole point of Jesus turning up was to knock a few of the sharper corners off the whole thing, give us somebody a little more forgiving to talk to and to stand between us and god. To me, that means that the New Testament is where we should be getting most of it from… That’s basically what Jesus said when he told us there was no greater commandment than love your neighbour as yourself. It came out of a conversation about the law – which had got detailed to the point of lunacy… Hey ho…

Thanks for wading through this enormous post and I’m delighted to find another person who agrees with me, I thought I would get nothing but threats of eternal damnation for posting this…

Cheers

BC

11. wellspringfellowship - 22, June 2007

Ack….the brainwashed friend….we have them in spades here in the “bible belt. I live, in fact in what is called the “belt of the bible belt.” Yeah, just imagine that! oy.

12. babychaos - 22, June 2007

Yeek, it must drive you crazy!

Cheers

BC

13. Rachel - 3, July 2007

Just leaving a note to let you know I’m about to quote you.

14. babychaos - 3, July 2007

Hey, thanks, I’m very flattered and I love your tee! I could almost see myself wearing one of those… kind of tempted! 😉

Cheers

BC


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