I am not convinced on the existence or not of a God/ess and am hedging my bets at this stage. I'm not entirely convinced that Christianity has it right, or any religion on this planet actually... I'm a middle class, white, feminist... who is poly, kinky and bisexual... so that should give you enough background to understand where I'm coming from in this rant.
I will focus mainly on Christianity, because I feel more qualified to comment on that having grown up with and studied Christianity, but there will be bits when I take broad brush strokes at religion and faith in general - regardless of the actual make up of that faith.
This is going to get a little long, and has many links that back up my argument, so I want you to click on those and read them or view them in conjunction with this essay.
Faith and the state of mind
Those who believe in a god, who are religious and devoutly so, seem to suffer less stress and anxiety according to Science Daily. Unfortunately, this can mean that they don't stress or angst over errors they have made, including driving errors, political errors or other errors which may place peoples' lives at risk. Sure its positive that religion can make you less stressed, but when you're a political leader suggesting war or questionable interrogation methods against foreign combatants, I'd personally prefer you to stress about making an error and be 100% sure that you have made the right decision. If you believe that a god will look after you when you are behind the wheel of a car, surely actually driving well and according to road rules will make the road a safer place for you and your family and everyone else. Trust that you know how to drive, not that a deity will look after you.
As Inzlicht (from the above study) states:
"Obviously, anxiety can be negative because if you have too much, you're paralyzed with fear," he says. "However, it also serves a very useful function in that it alerts us when we're making mistakes. If you don't experience anxiety when you make an error, what impetus do you have to change or improve your behaviour so you don't make the same mistakes again and again?"
Studies have found that prayer actually physically changes your brain... well prayer/meditation.... so not just a quick prayer before bed, but deep involved prayer or meditation... seeking the divine. NPR reported on the changes that fixating on something can cause and a new field of neurology of "neurotheology".
Andrew Newberg, as reported in the NPR report, states:
"The more you focus on something — whether that's math or auto racing or football or God — the more that becomes your reality, the more it becomes written into the neural connections of your brain."
Newberg scanned several devout religious people, Buddhists, Franciscan Nuns and Sikhs, and looked at how their brains reacted when they meditated/prayed/chanted. He found that in relation to brain reaction, "There is no Christian, there is no Jewish, there is no Muslim, it's just all one."
Basically, religion, or any other focused activity, can sculpt your brain, and doing so can be a conscious choice, just as choosing to trust entirely in a deity and not questioning whether you have made mistakes or not is a semi-conscious choice. Personally I think that actually thinking about your actions would be lovely and if you want to sculpt your brain, please do it under guidance from a trained professional.
Blind faith annoys me. Blindly accepting what someone tells you without critically examining it, without thinking about whether or not what you are told is true, whether it matches with the reality that you are living within or even investigating it simply is lazy and sadly, all too frequent.
Many religions are accused of enforcing blind faith amongst their flock, with charismatic leaders not encouraging questioning, outside influence and basically inducing fear that the "other" is evil and Satan influenced.
Thanks to blind face we have "churches" like the Westboro Baptist Church and so called "Christian" pastors like Tom Estes. Neither which, if you look at what they preach and practice seem very Christian from what I was taught be a Christian.
The Friendly Atheist website has an interesting blog post commenting on a post from the naked pastor about those who return to church after a long absence/s. Stuff like:
One discovers almost immediately what the belief system to be embraced is. Critical and inquisitive thinking is generally not welcomed.
The lack of critical and inquisitive thinking causes problems in all sorts of areas, it can lead to suicide bombers (and did you know that the Tamil Tigers (a political organisation) were the first organisation to implement suicide bombing?), it can lead to violence and/or distrust of others who do not share your beliefs, it can lead to groups like the Westboro Baptist Church (for an interesting read on the Westboro Baptist Church, here is a blog written by someone who left) and basically isn't good for you or society in the long run.
Blind faith can lead to you accepting that shit happens in the world and not questioning why. In March 2009, a gunman wandered into an Illinois church and killed the pastor before stabbing himself and two others. Comment was made as follows:
"Our great God is not surprised by this, or anything," Nate Adams, executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association, said in a statement. "That he allows evil and free will to have their way in tragedies like this is a mystery in many ways. But we know we can trust him no matter what, and draw close to him in any circumstances." (The Age)
I have a big problem with this. This entire statement suggests pre-determinism and an omniscient deity. It also suggests that again putting all your faith in a god, will allow you to shrug off trauma and keep on moving. To suggest that perhaps god planned for a horribly traumatic thing to happen, is rather horrible.
I know that the question of, "if god exists, why is there suffering/evil in the world" troubles a lot of people, but to suggest that your god might have been aware of such evil and suffering about to happen and let it happen anyway, that kind of blind faith is unpalatable. It suggests to me that there is an element of "oh well, they deserved it/they must have done something wrong" which I think sucks. The world is indeed unfair, but the misfortunes of others are not deserved.
One thing many religions are very good at is hypocrisy. We can start with evangelical Christian pastors in the US condemning homosexuality and yet practising it, or being caught practising it. Because nothing spells condemning something you think is wrong like practising it. Here are some amusing blog posts about such things:
- Amen Brother, by Paul Rudnick (after Ted Haggard was caught)
- Defenders of Marriage, by Roy Zimmerman (lyrics here)
- Ted Haggard is completely heterosexual, by Roy Zimmerman
Unfortunately I can't find the amazing post I read a few years ago on a Unitarian Universalist website, or affiliated with the Unitarian Universalist church somehow... anyway. The author of this paper (and if someone has a link to it, that'd be lovely) states that the bible talks a whole lot more about looking after the poor than it does condemning homosexuals and that to focus on one act in the bible that is condemned when there are a multitude more passages about caring for the poor than there has been about condemning homosexuality.
Surely the Christian churches should be far more willing to care for poor people and deal with those less fortunate than themselves than to crusade on who has sex with who. Seriously, why is religion even in my bedroom?
People may remember the Leviticus challenge, as reported here, as a good suggestion as to why Leviticus is no longer relevant, and that quoting it to justify any form of homophobia is just silly.
Though apparently there are some churches suggesting that Jesus was actually pro-gay. Given the time in which Jesus lived (the Roman occupation of Israel), it is entirely possible that the Roman authorities he dealt with were homosexual or bisexual. As far as I am aware, Jesus made no comments on homosexuality at all (and yes I have read all the gospels).
A survey conducted by the "Pew Research Centre" and commented on in a CNN report in April 2009, suggested that the more often "Americans go to church, the more likely they are to support the torture of suspected terrorists", this applied mostly to evangelical protestants. Doesn't that seem wrong to you, the sentiment, not the religious affiliation? Far too often I find that those who claim to be good Christians forget Matthew 7:1-5:
1"Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
3"Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye."
Penn and Teller recently focussed on the Catholic Church as part of their Bullshit series. Regardless of what religious affiliation you are, especially if you are Catholic, I suggest you watch this and look at the problems therein. If you aren't Catholic, and are Christian I suggest you watch this and see if any of it applies to your church/faith.
Many Christian denominations and many world religious are incredibly patriarchal and often abuse their power over women. Most religions are undemocratic and those who are governed get no say in how their faith is run, and instead are expected to follow the leader/s. Many religions abuse their power over their flocks.
The Catholic Church in Brazil, in March 2009, excommunicated a 9 year old's mother, and the doctors and nurses that performed the necessary abortion of the twins she was carrying, after she was raped by her father... for performing that abortion, regardless of the fact that the doctors advised that as she was so young, she would not survive the pregnancy. The 9 year old girl was judged too young to be excommunicated and the father was not excommunicated for his abuse of his daughter... but abortion is a grave sin and the result is immediate excommunication. This was widely condemned by Brazilian Catholics, the Brazilian Government and many liberals in the rest of the world. Story here.
This story is evidence of not only a massive abuse of power over who can and cannot be members of a certain club, but a massive failure to understand the impact of abuse on individuals, the fact that the world is not black and white (instead MANY shades of grey) and that abusing a child is a far graver sin than aborting two foetuses that would have died with the 9 year old if she had been forced to carry them to term (lets not talk about the bad genetics of incest either). This is a failure to understand that women should be in charge of what happens to their bodies and that to threaten anyone with excommunication if they decide, for whatever reason, that they need an abortion is wrong, especially (as in the case of the Catholic Church) when that organisation is run by a bunch of men who allegedly have never had sex.
I haven't got a lot to say on the topic of the bible. I know that biblical scholarship suggests that the Old Testament was re-written several times by the Jews as it was relevant to them in their struggle for survival - see Spong's book: The Sins of Scripture for more information.
You do have to admit though, to take the bible literally, for everything, would be a huge task. One guy tried it, and worked really hard. I don't know if I would bother to do such a thing, especially as to live like that involves more effort than I think anyone should put into being faithful.
The bible is full of horrible, horrible things, shipoffools.com conducted a survey on the bad bits of the bible recently that was reported in The Times Online. Lovely versus such as those ordering genocide (1 Samuel 15:3), suggesting that women are beneath men (1 Timothy 2:12) and that rape of your female concubine is ok (Judges 14:20-25). The bible is not a "good" book. The bible is a book of interesting historical stories of a group of ancient people who had to fight to stay alive and retain their identity and of an inspirational man who was misquoted (or written about only by men and their point of view) and another man who was deeply troubled and wrote conflicting letters to different Christian groups around the known world.
Ok, rant over for now. I'm sure I'll think of other things I should write, but since I've been meaning to write this post for 6 months now, its time it was published and my links folder emptied for the next big project.
All comments and thoughts welcomed.