religion is dangerous

August 24, 2012 | 57 Comments

two girls sitting in a malfunctioned swing hanging in the sky

My lovely, smart, articulate friend, Angela, commented on my last post, wrestling with smug. Her response helped me focus my lens a bit.

i think sentences like, ” I wonder if you know or care what you believe is damaging?” definitely sound like participation in the “i’m right, you’re wrong” discussion. i don’t know. i think there is a time to just full on, respectfully argue with each other, and i’m alright with that. especially when people are being hurt by powerful groups, but it is the oversimplification of a complicated faith journey in phrases like “christians believe they are living the way the truth the life” that are maybe not very helpful to this discussion.

i don’t believe that, and i am a christian, so it’s frustrating to be reduced like that – especially when i know we share some friends with complicated, crazy faith journeys that are waaaaay beyond that definition. but language is weird and it fails us in all sorts of stupid ways – if there is anything i learned in doing an MFA it’s that most people don’t get what i’m trying to say. and i know you’re awesome and i like that you’re trying to work through these things that i’m working through too.

so. there. i guess that’s a start to talking about it with this faith friend, right?

She won my heart by not using caps. I was a no-capper until people kept bugging me. I’m so weak. STAY STRONG, ANGELA.

She said some hard stuff without making me feel like a lousy human being.

This smug feeling I wrestle with, it’s ugly and I’m not proud of it. But it’s in me and I want to talk about it. Work through it openly. It’s not a constant; I don’t cloak myself in smug. It periodically lands on my shoulder, without permission, at the likes of  Mitt Romney and Kirk Cameron. Blogs full of Christians high-fiving one another in the comments because they know better. Smug perches when a loved one survives something horrible and Facebook friends gather to say “God is good,” forgetting the ones who didn’t survive. What can the forgotten families say about God?

Maybe what I feel isn’t smug. Maybe it’s hurt. Maybe it’s anger.

My faith friends are not small-minded thinkers. They believe in gay rights. They question the existence of hell. They’re not weird about relationships, kids, and sex outside of marriage. They ooze love and generosity. They don’t make me feel like an outsider (I do that all on my own) and they don’t do a million other things that made me mental as a Christian and continue to push my buttons from this side.

So when I wonder if you know or care what you believe is damaging and when I talk about feeling evolved, I’m talking about the harmful thinking of the narrow-minded. I’m talking about how embracing religion provides a podium for those people. Romney, Cameron, Bush… those dudes make me feel evolved. Anti-gay marriage campaigns and pro-life rallies make me feel evolved.

Making kids sign documents saying they’ll save themselves for marriage with a “purity ring” as a reminder of their covenant with god makes me feel evolved. Facebook conversations about the power of Jesus in light of that one survivor of the million car pile-up make me feel evolved. Parents who ex-communicate their children over sexual-orientation and religion make me feel evolved. Pats on the head followed by “trust Jesus,” make me feel evolved. Impatient. Sad. Dumbfounded. How can this be happening in 2012? At all? Ever?

“The president of the United States has claimed, on more than one occasion, to be in dialogue with God. If he said that he was talking to God through his hairdryer, this would precipitate a national emergency. I fail to see how the addition of a hairdryer makes the claim more ridiculous or offensive.” Letters to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris

The actions of Romney and Cameron make me feel evolved, but I believe religion provides a context for hate, violence, and intolerance that we don’t acknowledge. I believe religion is harmful and I believe god is a lie. It’s nervy to make up your own version of god. Dangerous. Deadly.

 “It is terrible that we all die and lose everything we love; it is doubly terrible that so many human beings suffer needlessly while alive. That so much of this suffering can be directly attributed to religion—to religious hatreds, religious wars, religious delusions and religious diversions of scarce resources—is what makes atheism a moral and intellectual necessity.” Letters to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris

The part where I reduce Christians to arrogantly believing they are living “the way the truth and the life,” seems hostile, I get that. I said it because, as a Christian, it’s what I was taught, it’s what I believed, and it was how I lived. At least up until my last couple of years as a believer. I agree this is likely not the truth for the friends Angela and I share, but it’s a tough one for me to shake as one of the main tenants of Christianity.

I had to ask myself at the end, “If I don’t believe Christ is THE answer, am I a Christian?” I discovered I didn’t, and so what business did I have calling myself a Christian? If you believe Buddha or Allah or Joseph Smith or whomever is also a way to whatever higher power exists: dude–how are you a Christian? One of the ten commandments is “Never have any other god.” (Ex. 20:3 God’s Word Translation)

If you believe there are other ways and still identify as a Christian, then you’re just making shit up — and this is where we get into dangerous territory, because you’re cherry-picking based on your comfort level with different parts of the bible. It makes no sense to me. I mean, in a way it makes TOTAL sense to me because I participated in it for the last six years of my own faith journey, but looking back, it’s CRAZYMAKING.

Faith journeys are absolutely complicated. Part of the reason they are so complicated is because we’re busy clinging to something with a little mix of this, a pinch less of that, and a twist of something tastier so we can sleep at night. So we can tell ourselves that what we believe isn’t what they believe and therefore not harmful. And what you’re left with is something made up. A customized faith that makes you feel good.

I left because I stopped understanding. I stopped trying to understand, because I don’t think I ever really did. I’m working hard to be thoughtful in my attempt to share what leaving is like. It’s fucking terrifying to talk about, but I feel it’s important. Thanks, Angela, for being one of my faith friends brave enough to engage with me.

I’m not interested in getting in your face about what you believe, but if you ask me to talk about it, I’m going to tell you I believe religion is dangerous and provides a cocoon for people like Romney and Cameron to spread hate.

If you’re reading this, I love you. If you’re not reading this, I love you. I’m so full of love for people and their stories, sometimes I fight the urge to hug strangers and shout affirmations in crowded places. I care how you live and I care about your story and I care that you know you’re loved and belong. Because that’s all I want for my little heart, too.

“Religious moderation is the direct result of taking scripture less and less seriously. So why not take it less seriously still? Why not admit the the Bible is merely a collection of imperfect books written by highly fallible human beings.” Letters to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris

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  • Nicole

    I’ve been struggling with a lot of feminist issues. Not struggling with the issues themselves, but how they can be foreign to everyone else. I was wondering, have things gotten worse than they used to be, or am I just more aware of all of the garbage out there, making things SEEM worse.

    My point (and I swear I have one): I get the feeling evolved thing. And it seems we feel evolved about many of the same things. TWENTY FRICKING TWELVE (I’m not strong enough to abstain from caps either) and these are still THINGS we have to fight for? WAKE UP, WORLD.

    • Steve Fisher

      Wake up indeed. I often feel the same way and don’t know if it is because I’m more aware, things are worse, or my thoughts on what is worse have changed more than I’ve been aware of.

      • Nicole

        I KNOW. No wonder ignorance is bliss!

        • Shannon

          I hope things aren’t worse. I don’t think they are. I’m going to believe they’re not. I’m going to believe we’re just more awake.

  • Mariesy

    My perception of religion (in a nutshell) is this:
    Thousands of years ago, before humans understood science and how the world worked, they needed an explanation for why things happened. If they couldn’t see these things, then there must be divine powers making it all happen. So religion (of all faiths- pagan, christian, muslim, jewish, buddhist) came to be a way to explain the things in the world that humans didn’t understand. Humans being humans, were horrible to each other. Some guys named Jesus/ Muhammad/ Buddha decided to teach people about being kind to each other and how to treat everyone with equal respect. They just a guys, not miracle workers. They were guys like Ghandi, Steve Biko, Jack Layton… But over time, they became glorified and the stories about them turned into something quite different. They became idols and people worshiped them. Other people wrote stories about them and they were put into books. Some people today take those books word for word while others view them strictly like any other advise book- sure there might be some good information, but never trust just one source.
    So many horrific things have been done in the name of religion and faith. Things that make you wonder how we can call ourselves the most evolved animal. And it amazes me, like it amazes you, that in 2012 there are still people out there who so deeply “believe.” (The Romneys, Putins, Bin Ladens of the world.) Counter to that, however, some miraculous human accomplishments have also been done in the name of religion- music, painting, architecture. Even as a spiritual atheist, I was brought to tears at the Vatican when I looked on Michelangelo’s La Pieta- the power and love that emanated from that statue caught me unawares and brought me to a bawling mess. But to all the other plunder and crap housed in the Vatican, I gave a contemptuous sneer.
    Shan, I understand your smugness and I don’t think that you need to defend it. I was raised a “Christian” but I wouldn’t call myself religious. I would call myself spriritual. Because at the end of the day, what matters to me is if I have been a good person to others and myself and if I have respected the earth and the world around me. And I know that I am not always good at that.

    • Steve Fisher

      @Mariesy I agree that many things that are truly amazing have happened in the name of religion. No questioning that. What I do question is if they needed religion to happen. Is it worth all the plunder, hate, discrimination to achieve Michelangelo’s La Pieta or could that have happened without all the crazy that is Catholicism? A big part of what Shannon is saying is that religion offers a cocoon of protection for the hatred and hurt.

      • Mariesy

        I totally agree. And no, I don’t think that they needed religion to happen, but they did happen through religion. Now that we live in a more secular society, we are seeing amazing things being done without any faith attached. My first response to religion is one of disdain for the hate and discrimination. But we also don’t need religion for humans to be humans and to be hateful and discriminatory. I think that many people hide behind religion and use it an an excuse for their behaviour. If we could all own up to our behaviour and take responsibility for our actions and know that they came from us and that we are not acting on behalf of a divine power, there would be a lot less apathy and much more understanding in the world.

        • Steve Fisher

          If we could all own up to our behaviour and take responsibility for our actions and know that they came from us and that we are not acting on behalf of a divine power, there would be a lot less apathy and much more understanding in the world.

          Love this.

          • Shannon

            Ya, me too. And this: “But we also don’t need religion for humans to be humans and to be hateful and discriminatory.”

  • Lori

    As a lapsed Catholic, I don’t really have much to argue with here. I’d probably call myself a gnostic, except that would imply a level of belief that I just can’t make myself profess.

    However… the first commandment has been “re-interpreted” so many times, people forget that the most common translation is:

    “Thou shalt have no other gods BEFORE me.”

    Emphasis is mine. Although many Christian denominations seem to enjoy messing with this, it simply says God wants to be first, not only. Sort of a big difference.

    But when it comes to commandments, I prefer the Ten Commandments of Solon:

    At least they make sense.

    • Shannon

      “If you think that it would be impossible to improve upon the Ten Commandments as a statement of morality, you really owe it to yourself to read some other scriptures. Once again, we need look no further than the Jains: Mahavira, the Jain patriarch, surpassed the morality of the Bible with a single sentence: “Do not injure, abuse, oppress, enslave, insult, torment, torture, or kill any creature or living being.” Imagine how different our world might be if the Bible contained this as its central precept. Christians have abused, oppressed, enslaved, insulted, tormented, tortured, and killed people in the name of God for centuries, on the basis of a theologically defensible reading of the Bible. (23)”
      ― Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation

      In case you can’t tell, I have a crush on Mr. Harris.

      That’s the thing about the bible though, it’s so open to interpretation. You’d think the book god wanted to be The Thing would have a little more clarity. COME ON MAN. :)

    • Steve

      Most common doesn’t mean most accurate. ;)

  • Steve Fisher

    Here’s a decent article the demonstrates dangerous religion.

    Todd Akin Blames Bill Nye for Hurricane

    Even though it isn’t real it is kinda believable. :P

  • Dave Kennedy

    Thank you for writing this. I read over the blog several times. For the most part as I read through this blog I found myself agreeing with what you have written. Though I might not be “evolved enough” and do not know if I am intellectual enough to enter into what has been said, I do have several things that popped into my head as I read what you have written.
    First off is that one of the basics that I understood Christianity to teach is not to judge those who do not claim to follow the Bible. I mean how can I judge anyone who does even say that they follow what the Bible says; their morality will have a different stance than where I am coming from. It is apparent that some Christians do this, and that is unfortunate. Its sad that Christians get smug, but sadly Christians are not the only one who are smug. The world is full of smugness.
    Second is I wondered if what you were saying is that “religion” is dangerous, or is it just Christianity that is dangerous?
    My third thought was I know you are well read. You mentioned that you have a crush on Sam Harris. He has some strong thoughts. I am sure you have read more than just Harris. I wonder if you read both sides of the argument? I don’t mean those light and fluffy Christian living book, but I mean authors who actually think…. such as Ravi Zacharias.
    I am not trying to say I am right and you are wrong, or anything like that. I just wanted to share my thoughts. I appreciate your honesty, and the fact that you make me think!

  • pearl

    I saw a post on the Athiest Mom website. Followed the link. I am always sad to hear when people leave faith. Is it because I think I as “at risk” and it threatens me? I don’t think so, on it’s face I am very happy with the mix of my faith, my intellect and my intentions towards my fellow man. I would like to chronicle many people like you, if you have any interest in sharing your “journey of faith” let me know. I have to wonder if it’s religion or God that you think is dangerous..or is it those who mis-represent?

    I often say don’t blame God for what I do, I will drop the ball, make mistakes and get selfish at times… I am at peace with that reality…but don’t blame God for that:)

    • Shannon

      An interest in sharing my journey of faith with whom? I think I have been doing that via this blog. :)

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