A few months ago, I kicked around the idea of starting up a weekly limited feature focused on topics that some people might consider controversial, unpopular, or otherwise not appropriate for polite company. Nothing much came of the idea then, but it has stewed in my head ever since. This is the next of what I like to think will be a recurring series of Friday evening contemplations. If you’re easily offended, or for some reason have gotten the impression that your friends or family members have to agree with you on every conceivable topic, this might be a good time to look away. While it’s not my intention to be blatantly offensive, I only control the words I use, not how they’re received or interpreted.
I was raised Methodist, but as an adult the only interest I’ve really had in religion is an academic one. It’s hard, after all, to study any aspect of European (and by extension, American) history since the Romans pulled out without at least tangentially touching on the premise of Christianity and how it has been practiced and applied during the centuries.
My take is pretty consistently that religion, in spite of whatever uplifting and comforting elements it may have, has mostly been used as a cudgel against anyone who refused to live and die by its tenants. The Crusades, the European wars of religion, witch hunts, orthodoxy tests, and more laws based on “church teachings” than you could shake a forest of sticks at are just the most obvious examples. And that’s only including the violence-in-the-name-of-God delivered up under the auspices of Christianity. The rest of the pantheon is hardly less bloodthirsty.
Despite what the Moral Majority or whatever the religious right wants to call themselves these days says, the United States was not founded as a Christian country. I’m sorry. It just wasn’t. Saying that it was is simply presenting facts not in evidence. Actually, it’s flat out lying. The Founding Fathers went out of their way to codify the prohibition against establishing a state religion right there in the Bill of Rights. It follows directly from that prohibition that “because it’s what Jesus would want” is a singularly problematic reason to pass a law – it’s every bit as invalid as justifying your laws in the name of Allah, Vishnu, Zeus, or Ra.
I know it’s a hard pill for the seriously religious to swallow, but it’s entirely possible to be an upright and honorable man without the threat of eternal punishment hanging over your head. In fact, if the only reason you’re “doing the right thing” is because you fear eternal hellfire, one might say you’re responding only to fear rather than any actual personal commitment to being morally upright. Being a decent person only because you’re under duress means you’re not, by definition, a decent person to begin with.
I’m sure organized religion has many virtues for its practitioners. That’s fine. I don’t want to take any of those virtues away from them. They can rule their homes by the precepts of whatever God or gods they see fit. If they’re really feeling froggy, they can probably even gaggle up some like-minded folks and live their theocratic dream in a community setting. I am, however, going to insist that they don’t expect me to subscribe to and live quietly under some evangelical theocratic nightmare government they want to inflict on everyone else. I presume only the same liberty of conscience I extend to them. In fact, I insist on it… because otherwise, I’ll raise up and army myself and strike their tract-quoting, puritanical asses down.
As the poet said, “Religion is like a penis. It’s nice to have one and fine to be proud of, but don’t whip it out in public or shove it down someone else’s throat.” When you choose to ignore such wisdom, it makes it awfully difficult to see any significant difference between Christian extremists and the goddamned Taliban. The lesson, probably, is maybe try not to be some kind of asshole extremist and try some of that peace and tolerance that your God was so fond of talking about.