Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Got Faith?

It's been a while since I invoked the wrath of the morally righteous, but I've been reading a discussion on religion, prompted by a review of Bill Maher's "Religulous" on http://www.pajiba.com/ and I just can't help myself. Damn my many opinions! The well-written review calls Maher out on the same douchey behaviour religious fundamentalists often display, only Maher is scream-preaching from an agnostic perspective. This opened an enormous can of worms in the Pajiba comments, because even deliciously snarky smart people tend to get a little passionate about their beliefs (or lack thereof).

It got me thinking about my own stance on this topic and how it has subtly changed over the years, or maybe I'm just better able to explain it as I get older.

I don't believe in god. I can't prove that he/she/it doesn't exist, but I agree with Richard Dawkins that there seems to be more scientific evidence for the absence of a supreme being, than for a presence. I don't really care if you call me an agnostic, atheist or nontheist. Infadel is also fine, because it's true.

One could argue that the absence of a higher power makes life more difficult. There is no one to pray to when life gets hard, nor is there the promise of an afterlife. So when the shit hits the fan, you better start mopping, because you haven't much time before you up and die and it will all be over. When you make up your mind about right and wrong, there is no handy ancient manual that has all the answers. There is only your conscience, the things you have learned in your short life, and many, many shades of grey. Where do your rights end and those of others you disagree with begin? And when do you speak, and when do you shut up?

When I was a kid I went to a Catholic school for a few years (because we lived in a rural area and it was the only school there) where I had to pray every morning and prepare for my first communion even though I wasn't raised Christian. I still know the songs. It wasn't a very strict school with nuns and corporal punishment and such, so my parents didn't see the harm, and in hindsight neither do I. When I was in high school we learned about all the different religions and world views (as is compulsory in the Netherlands) and it wasn't really untill after 9/11 when the issues with fundamentalism exploded in all our faces that I was forced to voice my objections with organised religion in any other than a humorous fashion for the first time. All of a sudden it was us against them, and I was feeling very uncomfortable being painted with the same brush as people whose objection to what happened on 9/11 was based on faith, not moral outrage.

Richard Dawkins wants atheists to stand up, unite and rise against the religious oppression that has snuck into many aspects of our daily lives. I must admit when I first read his book "The god delusion" I agreed completely, but as I'm thinking further about the implications such a rise would have, I'm taking a step back. As he has said it is vital that the division between church and state is protected, but I do not think atheism has any more of a place in government and politics than religion does. I fear those who hate me for my lack of belief, but I fear more what will happen if we make the right not to believe a political battle ground.

People should be able to believe whatever they want to. I think there is much beauty and wisdom in the ancient scriptures of the Thora, Koran and Testaments. Personally I've always liked Matthew 7:12 "Do unto others what you would have them do to you". A message a lot of religions share. In principle they have a lot in common, however, the Christians think they are right in identifying Jesus Christ as their saviour, whilst the Muslims disagree and even though they also dig Jesus, they see Mohammed as their one true prophet. The Jews think both the Christians ànd the Muslims are full of it, because their savior is yet to come and they've obviously been had. (Yes this is a gross oversimplification of what the three religions stand for but I'm trying to make a point here.)

So whilst I respect that there are many thruths in these scriptures I also think there is a lot of outdated and scary gibberish in there that is not meant to be taken literally, especially in the year 2008. If people find solace and hope in believing in a higher power, then who am I to say that is a bad thing? But I feel that with all the different religions and spin-offs and cults, all the different groups that claim their truth is the only one, that maybe it's best not to grant any one of those groups too much power. Because they can't all be right, and what kind of god would play such a sorted game anyway? The greek gods definitely would. Theirs was a religion I could understand and found fitting for the unfair world we live in. Just a bunch of drunken megalomaniacs sitting on mount Olympus, playing mean spirited games with the people of earth for their own amusement. It's not a very nice picture of divinity, but one that sure as shit matches what I read in the papers every day.

But I digress. Faith comes in many shapes and sizes and religious fundamentalism is (though incredibly relevant and dangerous) not a fair measuring stick. A lot of people believe in something, a thruth they are comfortable with, based on what they have read, scripture as well as history and science, what they have experienced and what they know to be right. Faith does not equal ignorance. You can read the exact same things I do and come to a different conclusion, and that is just fine. I don't have any say about what anyone else believes and that is how it should be. I make my choices based on my perception of right and wrong and so should everyone else, provided they respect the laws of the land (and provided they live some place where the laws are reasonable). You can hate gays, infadels, abortion doctors and stem cell researchers all you want in the privacy of your own head, but luckily if you try to act on that, we can throw your ass in the slammer. We might be going to hell for it, but that's a risk I for one am willing to take.


Sofìa Vicuña said...

Excellent "rant", as you put it. I'll make sure to keep reading your blog when I'm at the office.

meaux said...

Agreed. Nicely put, Pants!

Anonymous said...

This is a beautifully written post and I wish everyone were free to just believe what they believe, live and let live etc but that is not the case.

You said that the religious people that disagree with gays, stem cell research and abortions would be jailed if they acted on it. Gay marriage and abortion are ILLEGAL in some states, causing the exact opposite to happen.

Religious people can believe all they want that they are ridiculed and persecuted for their beliefs but we are all forced to live by them.

Maybe its "fundamentalist" of me to say so, but I absolutely think atheism as a default is about a trillion times safer and more humane than the way society is based now.

Sorry to hijack your blog, damn my wordiness! Soraya S.

Pants said...

Soraya, thank you for your eloquent criticism. You are absolutely right that gay marriage and abortion are not universal rights and that it is religious motivation that prevents these laws from being passed.

I agree with you that this is not how it should be. It may be naive of me but I feel that religion and atheism alike, have no place in government and law making. I see how you may perceive an atheist instition as less dangerous, but if it were to tred on the rights of others to practice their faith (like some communist goverments have in the past) that would be equally wrong.

I realise this is a far cry from the current political climate in the U.S. but my viewpoint was largely theoretical and not written specifically with the U.S. in mind. Again, I feel you need to respect the laws of the land, provided those laws are reasonable, and if gays have no rights and abortion is criminal than the laws in my opinion are not reasonable!

Pants said...

I meant to say institution, apologies...