On Religion

There are not many things I can think of that upset me more than religion. And here, I draw a distinction between a person’s spirituality, which doesn’t bother me at all, and the institutionalization of faith. The former is something everyone is entitled to, the latter is, historically, the greatest force of control, division, and the subversion of free thinking in the world. I don’t know much about other religions than Christianity, so I won’t speak to practices of Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, etc.

Second big distinction here, I consider Catholicism and Protestantism to be denominations of Christianity, not separate religions. Lets think about it a bit. The Protestant Bible has 66 books, whereas the Catholic Bible has these 66 plus 7 additional. The Catholic Church recognizes the Pope as its leading authority, and views the forgiveness of sins as within the purview of priests through the Sacrament of Penance (confession). Furthermore, Mary, mother of Jesus, is viewed as without sin and worshipped accordingly (as are many of the Saints, though not sinless). There ya go, those are the major differences. Both Catholics and Protestants believe in Jesus as the immaculately conceived Son of God, who was crucified and resurrected to pay for the sins of humanity. Both celebrate Communion (though for whatever reason in my experience Catholic parishes always use wine whereas Protestant churches always use grape juice – not sure if that’s actually a thing or just what I’ve seen). There are some minor theological differences, ie baptism, transubstantiation, Purgatory, etc., but when you look at the salvation of your soul, (which is supposed to be the main goal anyways), the beliefs of both Catholics and Protestants are identical. And yet, that hasn’t stopped both Christian factions from killing each other since the Protestant Reformation. It hasn’t stopped the political turmoil and warfare that has dominated Ireland’s relationship with the UK. It hasn’t stopped Catholics from telling me that Protestants are going to Hell, or Protestants from telling me that Catholics are going to Hell. The root of institutionalized religion is, in fact, hypocrisy of the highest order.

I always thought it was interesting that the Protestant denomination of Christianity, (tracing its origins to the publishing of the 95 Theses in 1517), has split so many times we now have Anglicans and Baptists and Calvinists and Episcopalians and Lutherans and Mormons and Presbyterians and probably hundreds of other sub-denominations depending how you define Protestantism, while the Catholic Church (recognizing its origins to its first Pope, Peter) has been around for approx. three times longer with only two major schisms, Greek Orthodoxy and Protestantism. But that is indeed Catholicism’s greatest flaw: control. You could go back in the history books and talk about indulgences and Crusades and political maneuvers like coronations and excommunications. You could examine the Catholic Church’s primary role in the Dark Ages, exploiting the old maxim that knowledge is power, (particularly when most non-clergy couldn’t read) and the suppression of scientists who dared disprove the Church’s teachings. But you don’t have to, because the ongoing tragedy of sexual abuse within the Church, and the indefensibly heinous cover-ups perpetrated to protect its reputation, tell you all you need to know.

There are many problems with the Protestant side of things too. Two words: Prosperity Theology. If you dislike the constant cycle of stand up, sit down, kneel repeat and saying the same prayers so many times you don’t even think about the meanings of the words in a Catholic Mass, try sitting down for an hour listening to people ask you for money. “Ask” isn’t the right word. Spiritually manipulate? Is there anything that could be lower than that? Basically, your health and welfare are influenced by how much money you give your church. Wanna hear some traveling pastor tell you about planning a mission trip without having the money to be able to do so, then miraculously (after soliciting donations in service for weeks) a stranger walked into his office last minute and wrote him a check for $5,000, and a month later that stranger’s wife’s cancer went into remission? Imagine if the stranger had given $10,000 instead? Would he have won the Powerball too? The real danger in this is that it preys on the most vulnerable, people who don’t have the money to be giving it away but now feel that their lives will improve if they give to their church anyways. By no means am I saying that you shouldn’t give money to your church (or any charity, for that matter) if you want to, many churches (and charities) do a lot of good things in their communities and around the world. But you should never, ever feel pressured to do so. And you shouldn’t be doing so to get something in return at any rate either. The sight of multi-millionaire preachers (running profitable organizations that don’t pay taxes) with private jets makes me sick. Here’s a thought: do you think God, omniscient and omnipotent, really cares about the opulence of the houses of worship his people gather in or the personal luxury of the pastors who preside over those gatherings? Or, like the Beatitudes and Indiana Jones’ Holy Grail, would He prefer humility and earnestness? Wasn’t it Jesus Himself who said “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.”? I think the speaking of the tongues stuff is super weird too, probably a mechanism to exert spiritual superiority in the speaker over his/her audience for the most part, and feel like pastors would be better served preaching words everyone listening could understand, but I feel like this is more of a fringe thing within Protestantism.

Across all corners of institutionalized Christianity, there are other issues of course. Hard to reconcile stuff like the Golden Rule with stuff like commanding the deaths of gays and lesbians. I’m sure the whole ‘wives should submit to their husbands’ line of theology has been internalized and used as justification for the suppression of women by every Western patriarchal society. I wonder how many books of the Bible were written by women? Zero? Even the ones named after and chronicling the lives of women? Same Book that puts literally the creation of sin at womankind’s doorstep? Then there’s God’s apparent propensity for vengeance repeated throughout the Old Testament and Pulp Fiction but nowhere better illustrated than the slaughter of all Egyptian first-born sons to allow the Jews to escape slavery. Would there still be Christianity in America if God had done that to the sons of American slave owners so black people could escape slavery? How can anyone, without any compromise, believe in every single word of every line of the Bible and not commit themselves to some element of irreconcilable hypocrisy? In my opinion, that’s the foundation of how you get to incompatible contradictions like: “I’m a God-fearing man/woman and thus proudly support President Trump.” Lastly (that I’ll mention here), is the air of superiority Christianity espouses, where it is each Christian’s duty to convert others to their faith and in the process save their souls. This might be a hallmark of other major religions, wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest. But its astounding, just the arrogance of assuming all of your beliefs are correct and all the beliefs of someone of a different religion are wrong, when there’s not really any discernible evidence pointing in any religion’s correctness. The whole idea is faith, right? And as ridiculous as some other religion sounds to you, that’s how ridiculous your religion probably seems to them. What’s a lot more important, imo, is that no matter what you believe in, or even if you don’t believe in anything at all, that you do your best to be a good person.

So is Christianity a bad thing? I don’t think so. Believing in something more than yourself, being grateful for what you have been given and seizing on core tenets like peace and understanding, loving your family, and treating others with respect regardless of any way in which they might be different to you, these are ideas that should be universally accepted (and from my understanding are largely supported by most major religions). My biggest issue is that something as personal as one’s own spirituality and connection to God should be exactly that, personal. Your relationship to God is yours and yours alone.