You’re not obliged to swallow anything you despise. – The Shins “Sleeping Lessons”
I don’t think I ever believed in God. I had friends who did. I have relatives who still do, believe in a living, eternal Lord who controls all of the universe. And I’ve had my phases, agnostic, atheist, spiritual, searching, but never found any compelling evidence for it. And for most of my life it was live and let live. You go to your box on Sunday and hear readings from the same book over and over – I’ll stay here and read a new book each week. You close your eyes and pray that your disease gets better, I’ll take an aspirin and the advice of a doctor. But over time, as my other angular-featured thoughts have mellowed, this stubborn block refuses to change. The belief in a being so powerful but so invisible is ridiculous, and despite my aspirations of empathy, I lose much respect for someone when they express a belief in a living, world creating God, and disregard science, appropriate civil behavior, or even common sense in It’s name.
Listen, don’t get me wrong. There are lots of great ideas in religious doctrine. Don’t kill anybody – I like that one. Don’t steal your neighbor’s stuff – I’m on board! Don’t eat pork – I don’t follow it now, but I GET THE IDEA. Pork is highly parasite prone, and if it isn’t stored right or eaten fresh you can get super sick. I mean, it’s a pretty good idea to tell desert dwellers not to eat any shellfish too, because wow. If it’s 500BC and you’re eating a clam in the middle of Jerusalem… that sucker has been out of the water for a _while_. That’s not safe. Don’t fuck your kids – OK, I am right there with you. It’s when you get into the eliminationist bits that I start getting bothered. I don’t remember Jesus saying to kill everybody who doesn’t think like you do, but apparently everybody else got that pamphlet in their version. The Koran and the Old Testament both kind of run that ragged line between subtle anger and raw murder porn, and it’s not really a surprise when people want to get really indignant and unpleasant with others, those are the books they turn to for potent quotables.
But recently, I had a realization about why religion persists in the face of logic. Dave Williams (whose page is so amazingly archaic it boggles the mind – look for the 6/18 entry) pointed out a great reason for the success of religion – Simplicity. The book is very short, and there’s a man you can ask to explain it to you. You forfeit your own judgment in support of their own. You offer up your will to someone else, you become their instrument.
And from this, you are freed from conscience. The nice part about following a religion is that just about anything you do can be justified by it, excused by it, or said to be an act in support of it. The murder of your neighbor, the burning of a house, the torment of a grieving family. For a psychopath, you must lose your sanity to justify these things. For a believer, you must simply have faith that the act is good, and you pass responsibility up the line, from believer to priest and up the line to God.
I have to say, I thought I had mellowed on this, until the saga of the cracker. It has stoked the furnace of my inner hard line atheist. I’m angry now, and all of the little chipping away of my freedom in the name of some Johnny-come-lately God makes my stomach churn.