Friday, February 18, 2011

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Sharia?

(…or Christianity, or Judaism, or Hinduism, or Sikhism, or Shinto, or…)

The Role of Religion in an Age of Science - My One-Way Non-Refundable Ticket to Dante’s Inferno

“Think for yourself
'Cause I won't be there with you”
- George Harrison

“Imagine there's no Heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people Living for today…”

Don’t get angry with me.

Once in awhile, when blessed with the ability to reason and to question, one must tackle a topic of some actual weight and import. I both love and respect many a folk who hold deep and sincere religious convictions. This is in no way meant to either belittle or disrespect those beliefs. What follows is just an attempt to logically, and with a clear mind, probe and deliberate the role of religion in life and society (and really, how often am I of a clear mind?). The intent is not to offend and this will not be a Bill Maher-esque, anti-religion rant, which prove time and again that he is at least as intolerant as he claims people of faith to be. I’m merely expressing my opinion. Nothing big going on here – just attempting to dramatically alter the state of the world and the destiny of all future generations – that’s all. If you find this offensive, if you find this distasteful, if it’s so lengthy that by the time you reach the conclusion Windows 7 has been supplanted by Windows 8, please enjoy past postings where you can access a large number of entertaining and non-controversial songs and bits of fun from the archives of, “…and several butcher’s aprons.”

Through millennia human-kind has been engaged in a war over whose deity is well, basically, the most well-endowed. We’ve experienced years of a “my god is better than your god, my god is better than yours,” competition. Unfortunately, history has proven that in this contest there are no winners - only losers. And the ultimate consequence of losing a faith-based battle is far too often an early grave. Remember, just as the faithful are assuredly certain that their god, their savior, their prophet is the one and only true deity, that’s exactly how sure believers of every other religion feel as well. Clearly, one and all cannot be correct, but what if, in actuality, no one is? When you are dealing with something that is solely based on a dogma, that is utterly improvable, in which there can be no definitive conclusion there, intrinsically, can be no winners. So, thousands of years and millions of lost lives later, perhaps we can finally progress from such pointless exercises. Has any single establishment done more to deter and discourage societal progress, equality amongst people and free-thought than organized religion? What has this joyful noise contributed to our history? Or to quote Samuel Morse on the occasion of his premiere telegraph message, “what hath God wrought?” A partial list - the Crusades, the Inquisition, witch trials, slavery supported by scripture ("Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, just as you would obey Christ."), the mass suicides of religious cult-members, genocide of followers of a particular faith (the Holocaust, ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia), the practice of "female circumcision" (more accurately termed genital mutilation), the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies due to churches’ prohibitions on the use of condoms, suicide bombings with the motivation of reaching heaven (September 11th), persecution of homosexuals, inequality of women, censorship, the wide-spread institutional protection of child molesters, and of course, Glenn Beck and Sarah (I love God so much I slaughter his innocent wild creatures at every possible opportunity) Palin. Obviously, a single person injured or killed because they believe in a different religion than someone else’s is a single person injured or killed too many.

Church-attendees aren’t necessarily morally superior to those who like to sleep late on Sunday or Saturday or Friday. Much of the populace doesn’t appreciate being told what to do nor being told that they are heinous and bound for eternal hell-fire because of whom they are or whom they love. Some people don‘t value a once weekly judgment informing them that their natural behavior is evil. As far as I can ascertain Ellen DeGeneres is not malevolent, and if she is, it’s probably not because she has married Portia de Rossi - it's probably all that dancing more than anything else. Should not we encourage people to love each other no matter their sexual preference?

If, for some reason, you can’t make your own decisions, you can’t trust your own judgment and intellect, your own sensibilities - if you need someone to tell you how to live - what to eat, what to drink, what to read, who to love, how to behave, what to wear, how to think - someone to determine your own sense of right and wrong, your own moral compass – well, that’s Oprah’s job, just ask her. (Uh, oh, here’s where I finally stepped over the line – say what you want about the world‘s great religions, but doubt Oprah? Never!) I just happen to think that free-will, open-mindedness and non-judgmental, progressive thinking is preferable to blind obedience to no longer relevant and millenniums-old rules, regulations, restrictions and prejudices. What if people were actually forced to take responsibility for their own actions, for their own decisions, for their own choices? I so long for a day when we embrace individual choice rather than blame or credit some vague notion of divine intervention. Wouldn’t the world be immeasurably better off if people abandoned superstitions and embraced personal accountability? Without the divisiveness inherent in a culture driven by religion maybe citizens, who now despise one another without really knowing why, might actually start co-existing peacefully. Kumbaya.

Mankind’s invention of religion is quite simple to grasp and goes back to our earliest civilizations. Why it still exists now in an era of scientific understanding is quite easy to explain as well. Religion was invented because, as a thinking being, early man had copious questions, and often the simplest way to resolve those queries was just to credit a god – a sun god, a water god, a god of thunder, a god of love, and so on. But now we have science, we now understand how most things work. Admittedly, nycityman was not born with a technically proficient mind, so I really know very little about how things function. I couldn’t begin to explain, for example, the genius behind my flat screen LCD/LED HDTV, but as a consequence of that lack of knowledge I do not attribute that mystery to, Samsung, the god of flat screen LCD/LED HDTVs. And with the amazing picture on that marvel of technology, there really should be a god of flat screen LCD/LED HDTVs - although, the inferior sound quality would surely be more the handiwork of Beelzebub. So then, why do we still believe in gods? We can’t accept our own mortality, we are so afraid to die and so fearful of the unknown that surrounds our demise - one of the few unanswered questions left – that for the sake of our own sanity, we’ve invented an entire mythology that we still desperately cling to. Weak creatures that we are, we can not face the fact that we are indeed destined to perish. And as egotistical as we are, we couldn’t possibly fathom the thought that life could continue without us in it. So, like gods ourselves, we have conjured this tale in which we all exist forever. Forever! Do we really know what forever is? Is “forever” a concept we can truly wrap our heads around? Can an actual “forever,” a time without end exist? And if so, is it in fact all that desirable? We know that Irene Cara wants to live forever (and learn how to fly) but do you honestly aspire to that? The universe is finite, everything is finite. How can one possibly conceive of something that does not end (this diatribe and East Enders aside)?

It’s the 21st century (not that I need to inform you of that) and perhaps time to start phasing out religion. It has provided much usefulness but very likely has outlived its intended function. We invented faiths, we even egotistically created a god in our own image – but can we now move forward? We know it’s the gravitational pull of the sun and moon, rather than the Roman god Neptune that is responsible for the tides. Is it time to start looking toward science for answers and therefore proceed in attempting to repair the mess that we’ve made of this planet and not credit developments, good or bad, as being “God’s will?”

So, is this me in the spotlight, losing my religion? Well, all this being said, and possibly much to your surprise, nycityman still sometimes finds himself, hands-folded and head-bowed, searching for assistance in certain situations - but is the motivation pure? Is it for the right reasons? Is it for faith or more likely fear or just habit and indoctrination? Is it just that minute possibility that Heaven and Hell might actually exist despite any lack of proof whatsoever? Does it all come down to the fact that in reality we still know very little about some things, and so no sane person (a category in which I place myself, for now anyway) would want to chance the possibility of spending eternity barbequing alongside Idi Amin Dada, George W. Bush, Walt Disney and Brett Favre? If you find something in religion, if you find comfort or peace, you’ve no doubt dismissed my verbosity numerous sentences ago, and so you should have. But wouldn’t it be a positive advance if people could find that very same comfort and peace with others and, most importantly, from within themselves, and no longer feel the need for external validation?

“… and no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace

You may say that I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will be as one” - John Lennon

And now, just to lighten things up and as a reward for making it this far, “… and several butcher’s aprons,“ proudly presents - “Dramatic Cat.”


  1. Well said Jon. I commend you for exposing your thoughts about a subject that I find difficult to express myself. I agreed with most of the blog until you disavowed the Roman God Neptune. For this you will suffer a fate beyond the cold pit of hell... er...sorry, got carried away with my own religious convictions.

  2. I also agree wholeheartedly, and hope I haven't been a corrupting influence on you! (yes - it's Shar) As a lifelong atheist (and one of the nicest, most moral and honest people you'll ever meet - therefore I have no need of forgiveness of sin), I have never previously considered proseletizing - if people find comfort in religion, all the better for them. But any idea - albeit taken to extreme - that produces such worldwide catastrophe and intolerance should come under attack, from many voices and often.
    We should consider religion past it's 'use by date'.