Friday, February 18, 2005

Religion, Shmeligion

In my religion class last week we were asked to think about what our definition of religion is. I gave it a lot of thought and here’s what I came up with: religion is a social construct that uses natural human tendencies toward wonder and worship to control populations of people for better or worse. The following is what Lovisa would probably call a “firebelly” post. It might piss you off, but since my readership has shrunk dramatically since my hiatus, I’m not expecting the kind shitstorm we used to get around here when I talked about God. (They were kinda fun, though, eh?) Have a great weekend everyone! *** I went to a Catholic high school. I wore a plaid skirt and a white button-down shirt and sometimes I even put my hair in pigtails. I listened to the prayers before each class and sometimes I even mouthed the words that became so ingrained in me over those four years. I did my homework every day, colored in the circles on the SAT’s and sometimes I even had fun. I’m not Catholic. I’m not even baptized. I was sent to that school because I had been kicked out of two schools before that. I needed discipline. I needed nuns. I loved the nuns who taught at my high school. They were mostly old and crotchety but that didn’t put me off. They knew I was non-religious and, contrary to my expectations, they respected my choice. They never made me pray or go to mass. During the big prayer meetings I would hang out in the computer lab with Sister Grace and goof off. All of the sisters knew my name and treated me with respect even though I adorned my binder with a fluorescent orange sticker that declared “Abortion On Demand and Without Apology.” They were all about educating the next generation of women and a little thing like me being an alternative, liberal nontheist wasn’t about to stop them. I graduated from that school a much different, much better person than I had been on my first day, but I still don’t believe in God. I don’t believe in anything for which there is no proof. Not fate, not ghosts, not reincarnation, not auras, not ESP, not alien abductions and most certainly not God. The whole concept of God just seems silly to me. There is a giant force that created the universe and everything in it, that is supreme and perfect and omniscient and if you think really hard at it, it might give you a boat? Or a winning lottery ticket? Or your boyfriend back? What? The thing that amazes me is that so many people are so desperate for a little solace, a little unconditional love and the sense of mattering to someone that they are willing to invent a make-believe “invisible friend” to provide that and then use the make-believe wishes of their make-believe God to tell other people how to live. Again, what? Not since I graduated high school have I seen a manifestation of faith that seemed like a good thing to me. Ok, I’m exaggerating. Jon Stewart interviewed Archbishop Desmond Tutu on the Daily Show and the profound love and kindness that the Archbishop exuded from every pore was so astounding that I cried. I know a woman (yeah, Regan, I’m talkin’ boutchoo) who believes that God is feminine and goes to church because she loves the people there and gets a kick out of belting out hymns in the choir. That’s not a bad thing by any stretch. What I mostly see, though, is thinly disguised bigotry, hatred, and downright stupidity masquerading as faith. Masquerading as the moral high road. As God’s will. As an escort for Planned Parenthood, I see the ugliness in faith. I see the violence and the entitlement and the anger. As a liberal democrat, I see the fallacy in faith – the cruelty of using God as an excuse to manipulate social policy in ways that hurt the people we should be helping. Faith usually looks like a bad, scary thing from where I’m standing and I am almost blind to the humanity inside “believers.” I believe religion is a social mechanism by which the powerful few control the powerless many. Make them afraid, make them ashamed, give them a place to go and be penitent, provide the shame alongside the promise of a release from that shame, and you have a populace under your thumb. It is also a salve. A way to feel better about living a finite life by simply denying that life is finite. A way to have a friend when one has no friends. A way to be loved when one is unloved. A way to be right. A way to be chosen. I would probably be happier if I believed, but I could never let myself be such a sucker. I would rather face my fear of death and loneliness and inconsequence than live my life a fool. Perhaps that makes me a fool. Is it better to be skeptical and discerning or is it better to be happy? Are they really mutually exclusive? Somehow I think not and I hope that I'm right.