Impertinent Thoughts About Religion
By Steve Gillman
Why impertinent thoughts about religion? Because sometimes
we need to shake things up a bit to get people looking things
in new ways. First, though, a definition of impertinent is necessary.
I found this one in an online dictionary: "Exceeding the
limits of propriety or good manners; improperly forward or bold."
Of course, propriety, good manners and what is "improper,"
are all matters of opinion - usually the opinions of the people
who think we've gone too far with our thoughts.
For example, in 1850 would have exceeded the limits of good
manners and even been very rude to openly suggest that respected
slave holders should be arrested for the crime of enslaving men.
Many would have called such a thought impertinent, especially
if it was expressed to important people who owned slaves and
went to church every Sunday. But such thoughts need to be expressed
at times, don't they?
When are these times? That can only be determined by the thinker
and expresser of the thoughts. With that in mind, here are three
impertinent thoughts of my own about religion, and more specifically
the Christian faith.
Most Religious People Are Deeply Hypocritical
Most Christians will say that they believe in the ten commandments
of the Old Testament and the words of Jesus in the New Testament.
They will claim that the Bible is a valid guide to live by. In
fact, many still say that it is actually the word of God. But
they will not follow that word.
If one believes the Bible to be the literal word of God, the
commandment, "Thou shalt not kill," should be clear
enough. Such people should be against all war and the death penalty
and killing of any sort. Most are not, of course. Now, if a person
believes that the correct translation is "Thou shalt not
murder," or that the bible is "inspired" by God
but written by man, there is some leeway here. Of course acknowledgement
of translation problems contradicts the possibility of an infallible
"literal word of God."
In any case, Jesus was pretty clear about this, wasn't he?
He did say "turn the other cheek," and he refused to
use violence in his own defense. In fact, where in the entire
New Testament is there anything hinting that he ever thought
it was okay to kill a person? He was a complete pacifist when
it came to violence against humans (though he did destroy property).
Yet do his "followers" who claim he was infallible
take their cues from him? Not at all. Very few Christians are
pacifists, and almost all believe in killing for country, for
retribution, and certainly in self defense.
Now, taking an action contrary to one's beliefs does not necessarily
make one a hypocrite. We all make mistakes, after all. Being
unfair when in a state of anger does not mean one doesn't believe
in justice, nor does such an incident indicate deep hypocrisy.
On the other hand, consciously planning, engaging in and advocating
actions contrary to ones stated beliefs is certainly hypocrisy.
This, unfortunately, is what most Christians do, as any honest
observer can see.
Not "loving ones neighbor as one's self," is a whole
other area of common Christian hypocrisy. There are more of course,
but on to the next thought.
Religion Gets in the Way of Morality
Contrary to the common claim that religion is necessary for
morality, it may be more likely to get in the way. Research shows
that regardless of stated beliefs, most people share common sentiments
about what is right or wrong. In fact, it may only be people's
adopted beliefs that allow for some of the horrible crimes of
history. After all, there need to be a justification for most
people to feel comfortable doing terrible things.
The brutal history of the Catholic Church is well documented,
and Catholics made up most of the Christian population for much
of history. The kinds of torture they perpetuated on woman labeled
"witches" is too obscene to detail here. But they had
their "reasons," their religious justifications (in
that case perhaps the passage from the old testament in which
God says, "do not suffer a witch to live." The many
other immoral things they did were all justified by some bible-based
Apart from specific religious ideas that support immoral acts,
there is another more subtle problem with most religious belief.
It holds up an absolute and unreasonable standard as a moral
obligation, which makes followers less inclined to be honest
about a situation. Let's look at a quick example.
Why is the average Christian more likely to help a wounded
bird found in the yard than a wounded human who is homeless?
The latter seems a perfect opportunity to follow the example
of the "good Samaritan" from the bible. Yet how many
people in this country and others drive by the homeless on their
way to church, without taking a second look?
What's happening (in my view) is that it feels almost necessary
to ignore the person, to think "he's just a drunk,"
or otherwise lie to oneself, because the responsibility is too
great. Acknowledge the true situation - even if many are just
drunks some are in real need - and the Christian has to take
on a great responsibility according to his or her moral tenets.
On the other hand, someone who has no such beliefs about his
moral obligation, can simply offer a sandwich and leave it at
that, or do as much as she feels like doing and feel no guilt
for not doing more.
In other words, the impossible standards of religious faiths
encourage people to consciously blind themselves to situations
which, if acknowledged, would require their participation. I
happen to believe that a desire to help a person in need is natural.
But religion often blunts any normal response, and perverts normal
moral sentiments, by placing a rigid and unrealistic burden upon
God is a Monster
Suppose the stories in the Old Testament were in another book,
and in that book God was called "Gorgon." This character
"Gorgon" would clearly be seen as a monster, based
on the things he does and orders his followers to do. Need examples?
In Numbers Chapter 15, verse 35, God commands his followers
to stone a man to death for the crime of collecting sticks on
the sabbath day. In Chapter 31 of Numbers, it isn't enough that
God sends his people to war against the Midianites. Through Moses
he instructs them to burn the towns, kill all the men, kill the
children and babies who are male, and all non-virgin women, and
then keep the little girls for their own use. (Chapter 31-18:
"But all the women children, that have not known a man by
lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.")
Anyone who spends an hour actually browsing through the bible
can find worse atrocities than these. The God of the Old Testament
is a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser among other things.
He calls for death to "witches," and to gays. Thankfully,
Christians who think the bible is the word of God largely ignore
the parts they don't like, or refuse to follow their god's commands.
For the sake of peace on Earth we can only hope that they never
take their religious beliefs seriously.