Right from the start, I must state that I have difficulty tolerating religion of any kind. While I’ve found the majority of the religious people I have known to be kind and decent in general, I doubt that I’ll ever really trust anyone who’s choices are guided by belief in the supernatural. This mistrust is a big part of the ’hate’ half of my relationship with my fellow man. The ’love’ half, on the other hand, derives from the potential for greatness that we all so clearly possess. It’s that potential that gives me hope for a better tomorrow and the faith that we can learn to deserve it.
To the point then. This article is intended to discuss religious intolerance. This is a peculiar issue indeed, as it seems to me that the only ones showing a lack of tolerance for religious belief are the religious people themselves. Only a rare few atheists even speak out against religion, let alone commit the kind of cruel and horrible acts associated with this issue. And yet, history shows that supernatural mythology - Mysticism - has been used to justify the most heinous atrocities ever committed by men.
Even when men like Stalin and Mao sought to eradicate religion’s influence in the horrible manner that they did, it was only because they wanted to replace that influence with one equally as irrational and dangerous: Statism. And while I don’t say that they’re actions were in any way defensible, what they did was entirely to be expected in the anything goes atmosphere created when we believe that our lives our best managed by ’other’ hands. I’ll talk more about the other ’isms’ in another article.
Now I’d like to be able to present all the pros and cons applicable to this discussion, so that I’ll not be thought of as ’heartless’ or ’unfeeling.’ But the ugly truth is that there are no ’pros’ to shine a favorable light on irrational thoughts and actions. And as much as I hate to be the one to burst the bubble of hope that some supernatural force will step in to save us in the eleventh hour, I must instead remind you that the hell we live in is of our own making and we are the only ’power’ available to chill things out.
At it’s base, all religions stand on the belief that Man will behave badly if left to his own devices. They were created as a means of regulating Mankind’s base nature in order to provide for a more civilized world. And Man’s history of behaving badly when he isn’t controlled seems to back that up. I’m sure that those who founded the religions of the world saw great merit in teaching that there was a power greater then Man that would impose justice on even the very powerful.
But manipulating the ignorant inevitably leads to great numbers of ignorant people who are vulnerable to manipulation, and there will always be those who would take advantage of that vulnerability to further their own less than enlightened ends. And that is precisely what has resulted from a history filled with attempts to control people by leveraging their superstitions against them. Despite some very good things that have been done in the name of God, the balance of history falls far more heavily on the side of tragedy.
Obviously, Mankind does need to know that there’s a price to be paid for behaving badly. But that knowledge cannot be gained by those who choose to be ignorant. That knowledge can only come through rigorous dedication to learning how the universe actually works, so that we can better foresee the results of our actions. Only by having the courage to seek out and live by the truth, can we ever hope to achieve a truly civilized world. Our influence on one another should be limited to leadership by example and genuinely constructive criticism.
Okay, today is Christmas, so I’ll try to show some charity. To lighten the mood a little, I offer this: I don’t recall if it was on The Outer Limits or The Twilight Zone, but thoughts of religion always remind of the episode where the helpful aliens arrived on Earth bearing a big book with the title To Serve Man. Call me a sentimental old fool, but I hope that the prayers of my religious friends aren’t dashed the way those poor Earthling’s were when they found out that To Serve Man was a cookbook! Well, maybe ’hope’ isn’t the exact word to describe my feelings.
Now I know that there will be those who say that the idea of aliens coming to Earth is just as irrational as the belief in God. Not true! Alien visitors would at least be actual physical beings that used technology derived from science to get here. God, on the other hand, is an all-knowing and all-powerful ’spirit’ who just happens to be so bored that he has nothing better to do than peek and poke into the ant farm he created just for us. Big difference! But maybe we’re both wrong. Maybe all those UFOs people report seeing are crammed full of God’s friends come to check out the nice zoo in the back yard of His crib.
If it’s any solace to my religious friends, I believe that however we came to exist, we’ve been ’given’ all that we need and then left alone and free to sort things out for ourselves. Of course, it doesn’t help that Christmas has become another justification for filling our kid’s heads with the belief that all their wishes can be granted by supernatural beings, not to mention the ’duty’ we feel to ’save’ our economy by spending our last dime on presents. If there’s a lesson to be learned from the current state of our economy, it’s that you can’t get something for nothing.
We must always count the costs of our aspirations, and have the guts to cut our losses when they’re not worth it. While it may be laudable to encourage feelings of love and giving, it’s downright inexcusable to deny credit to the very human beings doing all the giving. And ’humble’ is not the word I’d use to describe how, even when the huge bills arrive after this orgy of self-sacrifice and greed, people will still somehow consider it ’godly’ to have behaved in such a manner.
Please don’t misinterpret my statements to mean that I advocate denying anyone the right to be religious. What I’m trying to advocate is true freedom of thought and speech for everyone, and the evaluation of points of view based on the respect they earn through free and open-minded deliberation. Just as our children must grow beyond the myths we use to protect and inspire them during their early years, so Mankind must grow beyond the mythologies that, while helpful in more primitive times, now threaten not only our prosperity but our very survival as a species. We must grow up before we can rightfully call ourselves ’advanced’ beings.
I can’t resist a parting shot at the three religions I’m most familiar with. For the Christians, Jethro Tull said that "If Jesus saves, well he’d better save himself, from the gory glory seekers who use his name in death." For the Muslims, I can only misquote the monster from Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein: "Islam-a-BAD!" And finally, do I really have to do any more than remind everyone that the Jews think that they are God’s ’chosen’ people?
To close, I’ll just include a bit more from that wise old minstrel Jethro Tull:
"How do you dare to tell me, that I’m my father’s son?
When that was just an accident of birth.
I’d rather look around me. Compose a better song.
’Cause that’s the honest measure of my worth.
In your pomp and all of your glory, you’re a poorer man than me.
As you lick the boot of death worn out of fear...
When I was young, and they packed me off to school.
And they taught me how not to play the game.
I didn’t mind if they groomed me for success
Or if they said that I was just a fool.
So to my old headmaster, and to anyone who cares,
Before I’m through I’d like to say my prayers.
Well you can excommunicate me on my way to Sunday school.
And have all the Bishops harmonize these lines:
I don’t believe you. You had the whole damned thing all wrong.
He’s not the kind you have to wind up on Sunday."
Sorry. The ’devil’ made me do it!
I want ice water.