Friday, January 29, 2010

Religion is Language

I have a penchant for quoting scripture, and it has been called into question by Christians, especially when I use scripture in what appears to be an attempt to convince people to agree with me.

Before I continue, please know this: I am not trying to change anyone’s mind. I wish to entertain, I wish to annoy, I wish to make you snort when you laugh so the person in the next room asks you what’s so funny. I write for the reaction (the emotional response of the reader, not the comments… but those are nice sometimes). Only you can change your mind, and frankly most people change too slowly for me to appreciate it. I’ve usually gone on to bitch about new, more interesting things.

I quote scripture quite often, and for a very important reason: if one wishes to discuss a particular discipline, one must use the language of that discipline if one ever hopes to be taken seriously. I don’t focus on celebrity opinion. I don’t write about Richard Dawkins or what the Pope is up to… unless he’s being tackled on Christmas. I’m not sure if I would even deign post about such an incident were Dawkins to be the victim (why give him the press?).

By having never read anything by Dawkins, Hitchens or any other prominent atheist they decide to throw up on the stage of stupidity from which everyone is so studiously taking notes and glorifying as the epitome of intellectual discourse, I hope to have an untainted canvas on which to work with as I paint my picture of why Christianity is full of shit.

I pick Christianity because it is the faith of my upbringing. I also have a particular beef with the exclusionary theology of monotheism in general, and Christianity is the safest of the three targets. Judaism has had its turn (besides, it’s really my wife’s thing), and Islam is just a parody of religion (and I don’t want my apartment to be broken into). Christianity also has the most influence in the nation in which I live.

In order to criticize something, one must understand it. I have read the Bible several times, sometimes literally Genesis through Revelation. I can honestly say it is not even the best mythology I have read that existed at that time (not even the best parts of it). It had one thing going for it: intolerance. Those who do not tolerate diversity spread homogeny.

Christianity is not some scourge that swept over Europe like a dark wraith. It is imperfect, to be sure, but it is debatable whether it is better or worse than what it replaced. The greatest travesty in it all was the destruction of non-Christian tablets, scrolls, and books. We are left with an incomplete history and incomplete knowledge.

Imagine if tomorrow atheism suddenly became popular, and the works of theists like Newton, Einstein, Kepler, etc. were all torched. We would be plunged into an age of ignorance… one might almost call it a Dark Age. It should not be our fate to repeat history. If knowledge serves humankind any purpose, it is to prevent us from repeating the mistakes of the past.

Luckily, Christianity has made a lot of mistakes. That’s not great news for Christians, but it is splendid news for atheists who hope to learn from them. Christianity has much to teach, it’s just that many of those lessons are not consciously preached. Even the Bible has several unintentional lessons. It is a glorious repository of human psychology: obsession with death, the male desire for a virgin bride, the urge to imagine your mother never having had sex…

However, as Woody Allen pointed out, “Even a clock that’s broken is right twice a day.” Christianity is no clock that’s stopped dead, either. It usually runs just fine (except between gay o’clock and woman-thirty). Not killing, not stealing, treating your neighbor well… no one’s arguing with that stuff. Of course, there are people who think taking a pill and having a heavy period is murder, or that it’s okay to kill a man as long as 12 people agree it’s right, or that strapping a flag on your chest or arm and shooting at someone with a different flag on their chest or arm is acceptable. Murder/abortion/execution/war… semantics.

When I see that guy who shot the abortion doctor, I have to wonder what he’s really angry about. What horrible emotion was he channeling when he decided to end the life of another person in front of the man’s own church. I don’t look at him and see religious nut. He’s religious, and he’s a nut, but the two are unlinked. Most of the atheist blogs I read have posted almost gleefully about the fact that religion made him do it. I assert it did not, religion just failed to prevent him from doing it (it’s just not magical). Personally, I wish the conditions of Roeder’s imprisonment were better. Does that make me more like Jesus than conservatives who want Gitmo detainees tortured and held indefinitely? Yes.

I immerse myself in Christian mythology every day. Jesus is one of the literary characters I’m most familiar with. He is one of many ascetics in our past who advocate a simpler way of life, promising it elevate one to the peak of human potential, and I think there is something to that aspect of religion. Most of us can do better, and it usually requires takes self-control. Christianity just got some of the details wrong.

So imagine my shock when I leave the solitude of my studies to peruse the opinions of believers… and I find them to be an untidy brothel of materialistic whores. My initial reaction is amusement, no doubt about that. However, there is a point when the humor turns into horror. Imagine you are watching a drunk stumble down the sidewalk in a most hilarious fashion, and you laugh yourself silly until he pukes into your convertible, right on the driver’s seat. At this point, it ceases to be funny, and the cheer turns to rage.

I try my best to write when I am in that jovial mood, when I can’t help but double over guffawing at the bizarre behavior of other people. Usually the frustration and anger creeps up, especially when I consider the impact these buffoons have on society. I can search for the words all night, into the wee morning hours, struggling to whet my argument to a razor’s edge, but I know it is futile. The fools… they will not even listen to good advice when it is coming directly from their God. If Christians ignore the Bible, they will most certainly ignore me.

I can’t hope to correct anyone, I can only hope to speak their own language more fluently they than they can. Then, I can enjoy making them look like the fools I have seen them to be for so long. Others can see it to, all I have to do is shine the light upon them for all to view, so we can all share in their obnoxious celebration of ignorance.

When all else fails, laugh.


  1. Yes... All religion has fanatics that have terrorists, Christianity is no exception. They are the same when they kill abortion doctors as the Islamic extremists that they are so fond of deflecting with.

    History shows that mixing religion with untreated mental illness does not make for a good day.

  2. Are you suggesting terrorists are mentally ill?

  3. Some people would... Depends on how psychotic they are at the time of arrest.

    I have worked with many, many, many mentally ill people who are delusional about religion. If you do not know better, they would just sound like someone on the 700 Club. Many people in psychotic states claim to hear the voice of God. I have often thought that if some of them had a little more initiative, they would be terrorists. Hear it enough, and you start getting suspicious of anyone talking the crazy Jesus talk. Trust me on that.

  4. I remember hearing stories of the Taleban actually strapping bombs to mentally challenged people and telling them to walk into crowded markets. I suppose there might be a higher than average occurance of various illnesses among religious extremists...

    I don't like to medicalize things, which I think the Western World does too frequently these days. I also don't want to stigmatize the mentally ill as being dangerous people capable of extreme violence. Plenty of healthy people are capable of extreme violence, and I don't think terrorists are acting illogically, just immorally. If anything, I think most terrorist groups understand how to achieve their goals better than the US Army.

  5. I agree about the stigma thing, but, dude..... Fact is, mentally ill people can be dangerous. Trust me, here is a recent example in Canada;

    Everyday, I work with mentally ill people, criminals, addicts, and marginalized populations. Most of the time, medicated, they are okay. But, every minute of the day, you have to be aware of how dangerous they can be, both to others and themselves. Honestly, I really love working with them, and I could not picture myself doing anything else.... Sometimes, you get the weirdest type of rewards from them. But, I am under no illusion about what they are capable of. I have not been hit yet, but it will come.

    And, a high number of them are religious, especially in the delusion side of things.

  6. Most people who are mentally ill will never hurt anyone, nor are the majority of criminals mentally ill. I'm not saying leave your kids with convicted schizophrenic murderers, but we often sensationalize incidents and allow these exceptions to overshadow the rule.

    As for the religiosity: religion reaches out to all people. Maybe if science had more to offer than pills and impersonal therapy, or if atheists organized outreach programs, there might be competition. As it stands, it tends to be religion who embraces the disenfranchised. You may call it opportunism, but the cold hard truth is they are sometimes the only organization of people offering to do anything (as flawed as their methods are).

  7. All due respect... I beg to differ. I see many mentally ill people hurt themselves and others. All of the time.

    Secondly, the majority of criminals are mentally ill, at least they are in Canada. I would be willing to bet that if you pulled 10 files on criminals, at least 8 of them would have some type of psychiatric history. The spectrum of the severity of illness is diverse, and some people just decompensate much quicker than others. While their illness may not be the direct result of their crime, it is all part of the cycle of marginalization that impacts their lives and helps to create a criminal entering the penal system.

    That article, well that guy was very ill. He was refusing all treatment and had deteriorated quite rapidly. He had also been abusing his wife prior to that incident, and skipped town to avert authorities. Following the court case, he was sentenced to a psychiatric facility. Apparently, after he had stabilized on meds, he become quite distressed by what he had done. The whole thing is very, very, very sad. An extreme example, perhaps, but really does reinforce the needs for meds, treatment, and outpatient services.

    I agree about the organization part, no doubt about it. They fall prey to them, I think, because religion has been the accepted method of outreach work for so long that the resources are just there. That may change. Many of the people that I have encountered really do not want much to do with it, and they are missing the mark with them.

    In Canada, we have different services for our mentally ill. Our approach is a little more holistic. We house them, take them to court, medicate them, take them to farms, etc. But, many fall through the cracks of the system, unfortunately.

  8. I found these stats. I tried to get the link for you so that you could see yourself, but it would not allow me. Not sure why. Here they are;

    -lifetime prevalence of mental illness in federal prisons (in 2004) for males is 84.2 percent, and females is 40.7. This number does not include remand centres and provincial prisons.

    It should be noted that federal prisons in Canada is the real hardcore stuff. And, I would have thought that it would have been higher for women. That is interesting.

  9. I don't know whether those are numbers for people who had been diagnosed with mental illness prior, but I am not surprised that most offenders would be diagnosed after the fact. We've invented names for all manner of personality disorders that really have little to do with illness.

    In fact, I think over half the population would be diagnosed with a mental health disease if they were all under the scrutiny of those who perform violent acts. We watch those who we catch acting strange more closely. There may be correlation between mental illness and crime, but there is no causality.

  10. I agree that there is no causality.

    We have alot of literature about marginalization and poverty in Canada. Mental illness, low income, chronic illness, communicable disease, criminality, addictions- they are all interrelated and a vicious cycle. It is pretty interesting stuff, and it has taught me alot about how to see a person as a complex being.

    That being said, I tend to work with that group- where the symptoms are outwardly visible and they are clearly part of the "cycle" I am describing. But, as you said above, there are those who seem normal and who "function" normally who have alot of issues. I fear them too.

    Here is an article that talks about how the whole thing is packaged together as part of a social complexity. Give it a read if you are interested.

  11. I'm aware of this horrible cycle thanks to what little sociology I know, and also another fine Canadian documentary: Trailer Park Boys.

  12. OMG- you just warmed my heart. Trailer Park Boys is awesome.....Source of national pride. It really lowered the bar on our television, I think we are worse than the Europeans now. That was the first time I saw hash hockey, hot knives, and bottle tokes on tv- all part of our unique marijuana culture. I met them once, really nice guys. And, its no joke, in some parts of Canada, people carry drinks like that.

  13. America's problem: the guys are all like Ricky or J-Roc.


If your comment is too long, break it into multiple comments and post them all.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...