How Do You Choose A Religion?

scarlet_aI was recently informed that Jesus loves me, and wants to save me from an eternity in Hell. This was from an acquaintance of mine I have known for a number of years, but until now I had no idea she had any religious affiliations. More to the point, I was told, I should submit myself to God and renounce my life of sin, thereby ensuring for myself an eternity of bliss. Couldn’t I just feel the presence of the Lord? Right at that minute?

Well, no; at that minute I was feeling a creeping sense of irritation. It’s always the same with these bible bashers. They feel entitled to start droning on and on about their religion, but they can’t seem to understand that not everyone else shares their enthusiasm – or even believes a word they say.

I’ve suffered this sort of scenario many times, but once a believer starts going on about it, the ending is never a happy one. I’m never rude when I find myself being accosted by the religious, but getting out of such a situation without upsetting anyone is well nigh impossible. I usually explain gently that I am not religious and that there wouldn’t be any point in pursuing the matter. Unfortunately, however tactful I try to be, the response I get is usually one of indignation, followed quickly by growing anger and then outright condemnation: it turns out that I am, in fact, going to roast in Hell, and this religious person is going to enjoy the rest of eternity by watching me burn and scream as I undergo never ending torment. This lady tells me she is going to laugh endlessly at me from her safe, Heavenly vantage point. (Oh, and she, along with many others, hates me now that she has found out I am an atheist)

One thing got me thinking, though. As is often the case, I was told that the day will come when I will need God’s help and I will call out to him.

Really?

This claim always seem to imply that I might find myself in a life or death situation some day, and with no way out, I will pray to God to save me. But that idea raises a few problems; which god? There are thousands to choose from, after all. No doubt the lady in question is referring to her own personal deity, but for me it raises some intriguing questions.

Suppose, for some reason, I did decide that I needed religion – not necessarily because of some impending calamity – the first problem is going to be how to decide which religion it is going to be. How does one do that?

One thing that comes to mind is that I would have to shop around, as it were; see what’s on offer, and what’s in it for me. That might seem a little selfish, but so what? If everyone else claims their religion makes them happy, then I think I should be happy. The problem there, however, is finding a religion that will actually give happiness; what makes one person happy will not necessarily make someone else happy.

First thing to consider is the fact that I do not actually hate anyone – and hate seems to be a necessary condition for the faithful. The main religions hate each other, and in some parts of the world they are currently trying to wipe each other out. Even within a single religion, various sects are trying to destroy other sects deemed not to have their theology straight. I couldn’t go along with that.

Personally, I think everyone has the right to live their lives as they see fit, the only caveat being that no one is allowed to do harm to others. But if I join a religion, it seems that I will suddenly have to hate whole sections of society. I don’t hate people who have a religion, I don’t hate gays, I don’t hate women; in fact I don’t hate anyone just because their lifestyle is different from mine. And hating – or trying to hurt – anyone because some minister claims that God wants it that way is just out of the question. I prefer to be able to think for myself.

It seems to me that if any religion has a claim to being the “true religion” then it should be self evident. Instead, there are thousands of religions, and even those religions are divided into various factions. Christianity, for instance, has Catholic and Anglican divisions, which in turn have innumerable sub divisions – Presbyterians, Baptists, Lutherans, etc., etc., etc. All of them claim to be right and everyone else is wrong.

How do they know that? Really, it comes down to faith – and a particular interpretation of a particular set of holy scriptures. But faith means believing without evidence, which really is bad thinking. It seems incredible to me that religions – at least in a (mostly) secular country like the UK – can (sort of) tolerate each other just so long as other adherents can be described as “people of faith” (even if it’s the “wrong” faith). And the rest of us – atheists – are still demonised by all of them for being without faith in a deity.

Hmm. The more I think about this, the less likely I am to ever turn to any religion. I was brought up as a Christian, but as I got older I started to realise that the things I was taught did not match what I actually observed in the real world. There are no miracles, just faith in a god (or gods) that do not deliver what is promised. No evidence is needed, whatever happens. Someone prayed-for recovers from an illness, halleluiah; someone else dies despite prayer, halleluiah, the lord decided to take him to heaven (never Hell). It doesn’t matter what happens, praise the lord either way. God takes all the credit, but never any blame. It almost beggars belief, but I have even come across people who have died despite prayers being offered on their behalf who themselves have been blamed for “not having enough faith.” Right.

In a system where nothing can be questioned, but everything is deemed to be the will of a deity, people have to give up their ability to think for themselves, and instead surrender to ignorance. Then again, religion allows people to commit the worst atrocities and still claim the moral high ground. Whether it is flying aeroplanes into buildings, bombing abortion clinics or generally destroying the human rights of individuals or whole sections of society, religion allows people to commit horrors and feel good about it because they do all that in the name of their particular god.

It’s strange, though, isn’t it? People’s gods seem, in fact, to be very powerless. The horrors that some people inflict on others are done by people, not gods. Whether it is an appalling act of terrorism, or just a promise to laugh at an individual burning for eternity, all of it is done by people in their deity’s name and therefore individual religious “activists” are somehow absolved from any personal responsibility. That must be handy for a person’s conscience: commit the worst atrocities imaginable, and just say it is the will of God. (God, clearly, does not do his own dirty work nowadays.)

No, I’m going to have to give this a bit more thought before I consider the possibility of me ever turning to some invisible guy in the sky who cannot do anything himself. Thousands of gods; billions of believers; lots of hatred; no miracles; death and destruction to the infidels; smug self righteousness from ignorant followers: but atheists like me being vilified because we don’t believe without evidence.

Even better (or worse, depending on y0ur point of view), I have found myself being accused of being a “militant” or even an “extremist” atheist.

With thanks to The Oatmeal here is what real extremists are:

Just in case you think the above cartoon is just displaying stereotypes, you are right. Some atheists do not necessarily drink microbrews, and they might not all agree that Tesla > Edison. But they won’t be killing each other to decide the matter.

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