Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Religion

Tackling this complicated emotive, personal and private subject may cause a few divisions in my relationships with friends, family and subscribers. I hope not but we are a diverse culture with many valid opinions. I do not intend to cause deliberate rifts with my particular opinions but I intend having my say anyway. If you tend to get very excited about your beliefs and generally want everyone to be excited with you, please be aware I’m not inclined to be overwhelmed by your enthusiasm myself.

So why can’t some people go about their business and keep their spiritual ideas to themselves? Why do they feel the need to push their chosen way of life onto others? Why do otherwise reasonable people spend so much effort enforcing the propagation of one religion over another?

As an agnostic I have analysed the prevailing religious systems currently popular in today’s society, confirming to myself several interesting facts that aren’t under any doubt. Religions rely on positive and negative reinforcement and, for some, a balanced combination to maintain their congregations. Essentially this reinforcement is applied to retain a member’s continuance in their beliefs. A religions’ longevity relies on a member’s natural desire for acceptance and belonging. They must utterly reject all others religions as false even if that rejection contradicts some of their beliefs. There are several religions that are less rigidly structured but I haven’t had any firsthand experience with them so I’ll stick to what I know.

Christians commonly subject their members to periodic communal meetings to ensure group connections are maintained. Beliefs are enforced at these times and individuals in danger of diverging from the proclaimed viewpoints can be monitored and reassured. A boot camp for God worshippers if you like. If members aren’t given the correct attention to prevent their disillusionment and resignation the group will weaken and disintegrate.

Without followers a religion will die so, by necessity, each group’s leaders must vigorously defend their beliefs and convince their congregations to remain in thrall by any means available. Fear is the weapon most often employed to prevent recidivism. The use of fear as a requirement to cement a members belief is a concept I have the most difficulty with. In particular fear-induced religious mania forced on children from a very young age is a poor substitute for allowing free thought and open discussion.

At least the repercussions for doubting or speaking out against the church at the Christian School I went to only resulted in minor physical punishments. I should count myself lucky I wasn’t born into a culture where the church is deeply rooted in the everyday life of the parents and are far more heavy-handed to the blasphemer. I had the bible thrown at me in class for talking on one occasion but preferred punishments usually focused on mental manipulation and brainwashing. These tools are deemed acceptable in our progressive society. Frowning on physical violence then utilising guilt, fear and shame to keep children in line should not allow a sect to consider themselves enlightened in my opinion. For years I endured the soft approach, incorporating a belief system that taught extreme punishment or rapturous splendour awaited us depending on our actions on earth. This confusing dichotomy was instilled into us daily.

Being taught by rather rabid Christians in an environment insulated from conflicting viewpoints I grew up confused and afraid of this God that watched me at all times. We were not allowed the blasphemy to explore any other religion even if their viewpoint might be more reasonable than the one we were being taught. Preventing us from asking destabilising questions seemed to be a big part of our religious instruction classes. The danger of schools like mine was their ability to shape a child from Transition to Year 12 with their brand of faith. I remember their keenness to infuse us with a sense of superiority simply because we were Christians. I see this is a method commonly used by the military to empower their soldiers.

Objectivity tends to be the first casualty after religious indoctrination. My teachers were mentally unable to consider any other religion’s merits. Possibly fearing the result of such contemplation might lead to undesirable, distracting and confusing thoughts arising. And why wouldn’t it? There are hundreds of sects to choose from, with multiple breakaway groups of varying intensities to suit their leaders’ whims. How can they explain their own faith’s superiority when in reality we’re all just victims of chance, geographical location, and upbringing?

Our science teachers did a convincing if somewhat painful job of showing how their indomitable faith could overcome all adversaries. They were required to teach us the governmental approved Charles Darwin theory that we were descended from apes then had to immediately insist that God really made everything to comply with the schools beliefs. No wonder I was confused from 12 years old to about 16. After that age I could no longer maintain the fa├žade of belief merely to fit within expectations anymore.

I’d would like to put forward the logical supposition that if each known religion were the One True Religion, wouldn’t they cancel each other out, leaving nothing? We don’t live in a logical world though, and perhaps that is for the best. I’d hate for everyone to think like me. There’d be no one to make fun of.

Removing religion from my life in my middle teens solved many problems and alleviated a huge sense of fear and guilt. It didn’t leave the gaping hole as predicted. People in similar circumstance have felt a sense of great loss and have attempted to fill the void with even more extreme beliefs. I think I was able to free myself by trusting in my convictions and a belief in myself. It’s important to acknowledge that the removal of a crutch is only beneficial after the object that is being supported has healed. I felt I no longer needed that crutch. For some reason certain people are susceptible to faith based beliefs that cause more heartache and problems than they need to when merely looking after their friends and families and living an honest life would suffice.

Personally I would prefer to be known for my strength of mind and an undertaking to be responsible for my actions. My mind is as open as my personal circumstances allow and I strive to limit the judgements I make on others. I am tolerant to others’ viewpoints so long as they do not adversely affect me. I care about myself and the people around me. I believe I am a good person.

If my tolerance allows me to believe a practicing Satanist can be a productive member of society, should I be condemned for it? The Satanist tenets, although heavily biased towards hedonism, and strength of will and body, won’t necessarily be harmful to others.

I might agree with Buddhism’s acceptance of man’s failings and its non-confrontational posture. Delving into the mystical, and a belief in reincarnation, while not universally accepted, serves to enrich the lives of many.

With the correct argument, the Catholic Church, that multi-billion dollar enterprise, may actually be shown to need all those trappings of wealth to support their infrastructure.

Religion adds another facet to our already messy, complicated lives. Open your minds and make an informed choice if possible. Give your children that same choice. The more people who are willing to reconcile religion with intelligence, the better this world can be.

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3 comments:

Girl of LA said...

Hmm, I'd have to say that I was not at all raised with any religion. At 16, I made my own conscious decision to attend church, and choose my faith.

However while I still have strong convictions and very much still hold strong beliefs of Christianity and the Bible, I do not go around pushing it on others. I live as I chose (which probably doesn't make the best example), but still maintain my faith.

I wouldn't necessarily view someone having faith or following a religion as being uninformed; I mean, it does bring people a lot of comfort (so long as they do remain intelligent and tolerant to others).

Coops said...

People having beliefs don't annoy me. It's the 'shoving in my face' bit I object to. We all have beliefs, even the Agnostic/Atheist/undecided/unaffected portion of the population.

You sound pretty balanced, Girl of LA, and I respect your right to any belief you see fit.

Life would be pretty boring without differences of opinion.

Girl of LA said...

Well thank you. And I respect yours, as well!

And indeed, it would be very boring. :)