Thursday, July 27, 2006
Gott Mit Uns

I'm so tired of religion. I'm tired of the lot: Christian, Muslim, Jew; zealot, fundamentalist, moderate. I don't care anymore -- to hell with all of you. Wipe god clean off the face of the earth and from the memory of humanity. If he's not dead, it's only because he's undead -- a shambling, groaning, perverted and degraded thing that feasts on the brains of the living. Jesus isn't risen, he's just a zombie; kill the brain, kill the ghoul.

I didn't always feel this way. I myself have defended the honor of peaceable, moderate, progressive religious folk from hardline atheists and scriptural nitpickers. I have argued over and over that some -- albeit seemingly relatively few -- religious people have done great service to humanity. I understand religious feeling, if not religious behavior. I have felt what Anne Lamott describes as "saying hello to the universe and feeling someone say hello back." I get it. I've been there. Honestly.

And I realize that at various points in human history, religion (or what we now refer to as religion) played a role and served a purpose. I have always said that religion was the precursor of science, and I still think that's true. I understand that there is some cultural and perhaps personal value in texts like the Bible and Quran. I seem to have gotten by in life okay without reading either one -- to the point that at least I'm honest enough to admit that I haven't read them -- but I'd never want to get rid of any old, musty books, no matter how irrelevant they become.

But I wouldn't half mind getting rid of the believers.

I don't call myself an atheist -- the word "atheist" brings to mind people like Madalyn Murray O'Hair, and that bitch was as crazy as Pat Robertson. As much as I admire Richard Dawkins, I also don't call myself a "Bright" -- that's too pretentious even for me. Instead, I have come to call myself an unbeliever. Whatever you're selling, I don't believe in it. (I'm also okay with "godless heathen," but it doesn't come up very often.) My shift to this line of thinking from a more religiously-sypmathetic one has been gradual but inexorable. It began when I started to study science -- which isn't to say that science and religion can't co-exist in the same mind, but once you realize that the scientific version of the world is enormously more awesome (in the original sense of the word) than the religious version, god's prospects begin to dim considerably. Who needs that outmoded bullshit when I can have life, the universe, and everything?

And then I realized that I have never experienced what I consider genuine "religious" feeling in a religious setting. I've had such feelings while walking through London, while driving through New Mexico, and while listening to a particularly good piece of music (music is the one thing that occasionally makes me think there might be something like "god" after all -- and yet the musicians I've known have also been some of the most aggressively atheistic people I've ever met. I continue to think that a big part of The Answer lies here.) I've never felt it in a church or temple. Ever. I have frequently felt a revulsion, however, at what can pass for religious feeling in other people. And no, it's not for me to judge which experiences are genuine or counterfeit -- but I just can't believe that any of the uninspired "Christian rock" they play at the megachurches these days is actually convincing any of those people to put their hands in the air and sway. I mean, that has to be a put-on. That stuff is shit, manipulative and over-sentimental tripe. I can't imagine that the same god that inspired Bach could also be the god that "inspired" Jars of Clay. (Conversely, the existence of Christian rock is the one thing that occasionally makes me think there might really be someone like "Satan.")

But these are minor points. The single most convincing bit of evidence against the existence of god, in my mind, are the people who claim to follow him/it. If that's the way god plays, then I want no part. If mankind ever succeeds in destroying the world, they'll do it in the name of god. They'll all be fighting each other, and to hear them all tell it, god will be on each of their sides exclusively. and in the process, they'll kill themselves, their enemies, and all the rest of god's children. The battlefields of the earth are swarming with people who call themselves "holy," who claim to be doing god's work on behalf of god's people, in order to please god and fulfill god's divine plan. They'll slaughter each other to make god smile.

And if they don't actively slaughter, they'll passively slaughter. They'll kill by preventing science from doing what god apparently can't or won't. They'll kill by ignoring all of those for whom god has not provided. They'll kill by bending over when the holy men want to raise a holy army to set off on a holy war. They'll kill by giving birth to too many of god's little miracles and using too many of the resources god purportedly left here for us to use. They'll stay at home and pray for the children of god's enemies to be blown to pieces. Or they'll at least pretend that god's glory doesn't implicitly demand it.

Yeah, yeah, I know: Gandhi, MLK, Mother Teresa. Been there, argued that; I don't buy it anymore. Religion is value-neutral: being religious in itself doesn't make a person good. A good person will do good things regardless of whether they believe in any god or none. I think this is a point that needs to be made much more firmly than it has been in this country: religiosity is no measure of a person's good character. If anything, I'd argue, the opposite is true: a religious person has a hell of a lot better chance of being a complete bastard. And the more they talk about it, they more I assume they're desperately pointing out their godliness in order to distract my attention from something ugly that they don't want me to see. Telling me about your relationship with god is the fastest way to convince me that you're not to be trusted. For every Mother Teresa, there are a million bible-belt soccer moms driving Escalades with fish symbols and "WWJD?" bumper stickers on the back, voting for Bush (because he's "pro-life"), and pretending that brown kids aren't really human the way their own white kids are, so it's okay if they die.

Intolerance is always couched in religious talk. Evolution is derided in both Kansas and Iran. Women are implicitly treated as chattel by orthodox Jews, fundamentalist Muslims, and conservative Christians alike. Every band of murderers goes around wearing the equivalent of a badge inscribed, "gott mit uns." If Pat Robertson is "holy" and Pope Benedict is "holy" and the various imams and ayatollahs are "holy" and all the people who lead Hamas and Hezbollah are "holy," and all the rabbis who support bombing Lebanon until it's just a pile of gore-encrusted rubble are "holy" -- then why the fuck would I ever listen to any "holy" person ever again? And why would I ever assume that "holy" should be taken as a good thing?

What I do believe is that humanity is ready to grow out of its religious phase. We don't need this security blanket anymore; we can't keep living in our collective fairy tales. Religion as we have always known it is now irrelevant, which is why it causes more problems than it solves. We are beginning to learn the real answers to our questions, and "god" doesn't figure into any of them. The feelings behind our religions will always be part of the human experience, but we must recognize that those feelings in and of themselves have nothing to do with "god," and that our definition of them as "religious" or "spiritual" is more about hardened habit than revealed truth. There is no great father who made us in his image, no person or group of people given special dispensation, nobody here but us, clever little fuckers that we are. And we'd be a lot happier if we got together and killed all our gods. It's us or them.
11:35 AM ::
Amy :: permalink