Sunday, July 22, 2007

Recently I’ve heard it said a lot that religion is to blame for this problem or that war or that religion is the worst thing to ever happen to humanity. While I do agree certain people have used religion to achieve ends that are far from holy. I can’t blame religion for the world’s ills. I can’t blame religion any more than I can blame xenophobia or greed or prejudice or any of a thousand other reasons people have sought to hate and destroy one another.

I know there seems to be a growing resentment towards religion. Christopher Hitchens has made a tidy sum of money banging the drum against religion. But really you can’t blame religion.

Here’s the real problem. Religion has never really started a war or a crusade or an inquisition. Religion has never tortured anyone. Religion has never blown up an abortion clinic. The sad truth is it’s us who does that. It’s a basic fault of the human race. We have this nasty streak in us and I’m pretty sure it’s as much nature as it is nurture, if not far more.

We like the cold comfort of being led. We look for leaders. We like it when someone seems strong and confident and seemingly has all the answers. Even if we forget to ask the really important questions like “Why am I listening to this person?” or “Is this going where I really want to go?”

Humans are territorial. We like our land and our house and our possessions and our money. We sure as Hell aren’t going to share it either. It’s mine and keep your filthy hands off of it. Of course being territorial on a 4.5 billion year old planet that we get 100 years on, if we’re lucky is pretty silly actually. We exist for but a bat of an eyelash of Mother Earth we really don’t own this planet. It owns us.

We seem hardwired with this behavior. Other primates, our animal cousins, have been shown to declare wars and murder and to defend their corner of the jungle or forest. Fortunately they haven’t figured out how to make sub-machine guns and H-bombs yet.

I think we have it hardwired into our DNA to defend our stuff and gather into groups. It’s our nature no matter how inhumanely it makes us act.

So I don’t buy that religion really causes wars or hate or jihads or any other unspeakable evil unleashed on humanity. It’s us. Only us.

God has never waged a war. Jesus has never tortured a prisoner. Allah has never ignited a car bomb. Moses has never ordered genocide. The Holy Spirit has never dropped an atomic weapon. It’s us. Only us. Just because some self-important megalomaniac does something in the name of this god or that god doesn’t mean anymore than if he did it in the name of money or country or race or his favorite football team. The actions are what are evil. The evil little bastard simply chooses the path that allows him to manipulate the most people. Sadly this often is religion because too often the necessity of having faith and reason isn’t emphasized. Having faith without reason is like handing a blind man a gun. You just know someone is going to get hurt.

If you’re going to get all excited about getting rid of religion to end all the world’s ills. You jolly well better be ready to get rid of nationalism and greed and property ownership and everything else that has ever sparked a conflict. But because nationalism and greed don’t try and dictate people’s sex lives or chemical intake it seems to me that those who are so zealous to eliminate religion aren’t quite so hot to eliminate that other stuff.

Also people like Christopher Hitchens are always so excited to tell you all the bad things religion has done, but why do they never mention the good? Why do they never bring up the schools and hospitals built by religions? Or why don’t they talk about the humanitarian aid done by religions? Why don’t they talk about the people who have gotten through severe hardships because of religion? The late Kurt Vonnegut postulated that what Karl Marx really meant by “Religion is the opiate of the people” is not some dictum against religion. Rather Marx was simply comparing religion to opium, the primary painkiller of Marx’s time, which Marx had used. He was simply stating that people took comfort from religion. Selective observation is an intellectual fallacy. You’d think there people who claim to be so skeptical would know that.

So getting rid of religion will solve absolutely nothing. Wars would still go on and people would still commit atrocity upon atrocity. The reasons might change but the blood would still be red and the deaths would still be just as painful.

The real solution is for everyone to realize they have a very powerful tool. They have the power of the question. They have the power to ask why. The power to demand answers. People need to realize that they have to ask questions of those who would tell them what to do. People need to take this responsibility seriously. Even when the asking these questions makes them uneasy as they already deep sown inside know the answer and that answer makes them very uneasy. It sometimes requires that you stand alone and go against the grain and that might just not be in everyone’s nature.

I know this idea of mine won’t suit a lot of people. As they already have made up their minds and religion is evil and has caused this war and that problem or whatever. But I can’t see how religion is to blame. It’s always human behavior that starts all these problems. The National Rifle Association has a slogan that goes, “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.” And so it goes that, religions don’t start wars. People start wars. Religions don’t protect child molesters. People protect child molesters. Religions don’t teach people to hate. People teach people to hate.

It’s all our fault. God help us all.


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