23 May, 2008

An Atheist's Long Ramble About Religion

As I'm about to dive into the night's fiction work, I'm reminded of one of the bajillion reasons I left church behind.

The attitude of the church I went to so briefly could be summed up thusly: "I don't know much about God, but I'd say we've built a pretty good cage for him." (Oh, how I wish I'd actually seen that Simpson's episode rather than merely hearing it described!) Not that the people I went to church with would've admitted the first bit. They were absolutely convinced they, and exclusively they, knew everything there was to know about God.

One of the things they knew was that every other religion not only had it wrong, but was pure evil to boot.

I wish I'd had Rowan Atkinson's delightful A Warm Welcome to quote back then: "And finally, Christians. Ah, yes, I'm sorry - I'm afraid the Jews were right."

I never could get the niggling sense that nobody had the exclusive claim to the truth out of my head. The life of a bleating sheep was never the life for me. You see, I had this terrible penchant for reading history and thinking subversive thoughts like, "Wow. The flood myth shows up in Ancient Sumeria - somebody's been plagarizing." And, "Kung Fu Tzu came up with the Golden Rule before the Jews. Interesting, that." And, "What's wrong with Allah? He's God, too - says so right in the Qu'ran. Look - Abraham and Jesus are even in there!"

Point being, I enjoyed other religions immensely, and it irritated the bugshit out of me when some self-righteous little fucker would tell me that all of those other religions were just myths, or worse, lies told by Satan.

"I've read Job," I'd say. "Satan and God seemed pretty tight. Oh, and did you know that in the Old Testament, Satan means 'adversary'? That's all Satan is - not the ultimate evil, just a speedbump."

They never liked that much. Can't fathom why.

Even as a child, I'd think unChristian thoughts, such as, "Why is the Bible supposedly true, but all the Greek and Roman religion's just myth?" No one could ever prove to me the "truth" of one over the other. (Evangelizing Christians in the audience, open your Bibles and find the "shake the dust from your sandals" verse. You're gonna need it if you start trying to prove the truth of God over all the other gods 'round here. I'll sic Woozle on you, see if I don't.)

Religion, as far as I could tell, made smart people stupid. They got so obsessed with proving God literally true and the Bible infallible that they tied themselves into complicated knots trying to explain away the innumerable contradictions in the Bible. It's amusing, to be sure, but pathetic. Their God, it seems, was incapable of using allegory as a teaching tool. I once saw a thirteen-year old annihilate a Bible literalist. Twasn't pretty. Someday, I shall tell you that story.

Christians who see the Bible as allegory fare a lot better, and their God looks a lot smarter. Come to think of it, that's true for just about everybody's gods and holy stories, isn't it?

So. The claims to exclusive truth, the pathological fear of other religions and ideas, and the penchant of calling anything that didn't fit a terribly restricted worldview "evil," all of those things cemented my determination to never ever again make the mistake of joining a congregation. I felt I was missing out on a lot of interesting shit by letting these silly buggers dictate what I could and could not know, and I was right.

I mean, imagine what the next few days' research would look like if I were restricted to the fundamentalist Christian view of things? Actually, come to think of it, there wouldn't be a next few days' research. I wouldn't have the Ahc'ton as heroes, now, would I, because reincarnation ain't part of the bargain.

I wouldn't be slogging my way through Aristotle's De Anima right now, and wouldn't be making a beeline for research on the Tulku next.

I wouldn't have Shiva Nataraja dancing on ignorance on my shelf. I wouldn't be wondering just where the bloody hell Green Tara ran off to... shit. Oh, there she is, right beside Shiva. And there's Ganesha. Hello, you.

Had I stayed with that very restrictive brand of Christianity that I flirted with for a few months way back when, I would still be writing insipid, theologically safe tripe if I was writing at all. Sure as fuck wouldn't be writing a series of books that draw very heavily on Buddhist, Hindu, Taoist, and Norse themes. Would've never experienced the pleasure of "Thou art that," and a thousand other truly breathtaking mythological themes. Good and evil would have been in black and white rather than the fascinating shades of gray I get to wrestle with.

Yes, I have a lot of religious symbols and themes for an atheist. Being an atheist allows me to filch from whomever I like, guilt-free. These ideas are powerful. They're interesting. They're frequently fun.

Some religious folks accuse atheists of wanting to do away with all religion, and some atheists certainly lean that way. I'm not one. What I'd like to see vanish from the world is the pig-headedness of religious folks who think their religion is the one-and-only, and want to make sure everybody else thinks exactly the same. That's a tragedy, to me. That's an impoverishment and an offence against God. I'd be pretty pissed if I were the omniscient, omnipotent Divinity that kept getting stuffed into little cages, my power and variety denied. After all, if God is all, God really is all: every single human religion, past, present and future, has a little snippet of the Truth.

That's the conclusion I came to as an agnostic, anyway, before I woke up one day and realized I'd become an atheist somewhere along the way. But I'm an atheist who loves what religious ideas say about life, the Universe and everything, about being human, about the power of ideas. And I'd like to see a world where those ideas have perfect freedom to coexist. Some religious folks seem to feel the same way. They're just as fascinated by other ways of belief as I am. They appreciate them, welcome them, threaten nobody with hell for preferring one path over the other, and those are the religious folks I'd like to see come into power.

Would certainly be a world filled with a lot less fanatics playing silly buggers, now, wouldn't it?

No Ray Comfort and his bananas. No DIsco. No Expelled.


.....Come to think of it, I'd lose a major source of my daily entertainment.....

Thankee gods I'd still have politicians to bash.

Click on the Ray Comfort link, my darlings. Seriously. Just swallow any liquids before you do so. Trust me, your computer will thank you for it.


Woozle said...

*rubs hands together and eagerly awaits the fresh meat*

Efrique said...

A version of the Golden Rule is also found in ancient Egyptian writings (dating to nearly 4000 years ago), and in some traditional African and native American cultures, and in Hinduism. There are versions of it in at least 19 religions.

It's probably far older than 4000 years.

Efrique said...

Oh, and then there's this:


Dana Hunter said...

Enfrique, you're genius! That link was fucking awesome! I'll have to keep it in reserve for when idiot humans come over all superior. Thankee kindly!

Woozle, darling, it looks like there's no fresh meat for thee today. I do apologize. I guess I'll have to go trolling over at the DI and lure some helpless victims back for ye. ;-)