“Losing my Religion” A Personal Reflection on Why God Simply Doesn’t Cut it.

For almost every Sunday for the first 18 years of my life, I went to church.

It was just what was done, I didn’t question it and we just went. I, like many children I would imagine, didn’t like it. I didn’t like getting up early when I didn’t have to, I didn’t understand what they were talking about half the time, It hurt my knees to kneel. As I got towards and then reached my early teens, church provided an opportunity to catch a glimpse of whatever girl it was that I had a boyish crush on at the time, glancing through the congregation at the object of my unrequited longings. There was still the constant standing, sitting, kneeling and listening to a priest ramble on of course, but at least there was a distraction.

As I got older, more rebellious, I started to articulate that I didn’t want to go to church anymore and I didn’t understand why I had to. There wasn’t a whole lot of principled intellectual rebellion in this, I just didn’t want to go, the irritation of it had reached the threshold of teenage rebellion and enough was enough. Or so I said, I wasn’t given the choice, until I was 18 years of age, at which time I promptly stopped going.

So, some context here. My family is Roman Catholic and as such this is the faith I was brought up in. By far the most religious and faith filled person in my immediate family was my Mother. Her religion was extremely important to her, she was very active within the Church community, she played the Organ on Sundays, sang in the Choir, was involved in lay-groups and church committees. She taught “scripture” to kids in Public Schools and took Communion to the sick and the Elderly, in many dark times in her life, my Mother’s faith sustained her and gave her a strength that was undeniable.

I have no doubt that in imposing this church going on her children my mother firmly believed she was doing the right thing and doing what was best for us. And as I have said, for a long time, I didn’t really question religion or church going with any kind of intellectual backing.

That is until my late teens and I started reading and actually thinking.

Reading caused me to ask questions, and questions are always the bane of faith.  The answers to these questions were always inadequate and could always be nipped in the bud with the “Faith” answer, questions such as:

A: “You need to accept the grace of god and Jesus within your life, this is how God speaks to you, he speaks to everyone, by accepting Jesus into your heart, you can be saved, Jesus and God love you.”

Me: “What about everyone who lived before Jesus? Were none of them saved? If I lived in Ancient Greece, or Celtic Britain, or Ancient China, and I’d not heard of Jesus or his “father”, nor could I have, does that mean I couldn’t be saved or have god’s grace”?

B: “The Bible is god’s word; it is his message to us!”

Me: “Right, but, all of it? What about the parts no one talks about, what about the parts that have been changed or altered over translations and time?”

And so on, this is where it started.  At one point in my late teens, I was guilted into attending a weekend for young men who might be considering the priesthood.  Make no mistake, I had no interest in being a priest, but I nodded and said yes and went. What I did see that weekend however was a fascinating insight into young men who are considering catholic priesthood:

They want to marry. Many many men there that weekend (I was the youngest) were in serious committed relationships and wanted to keep them. When it came to the choice of a life of celibacy in service of god, or a life with the woman they loved, god lost out. Here something began to hit me:

The Catholic Church did used to permit its priests to marry, although this practice was stopped for various reasons about 1000 years ago when Church land started being left to family members who were not clergy, however clearly at one point , marriage was OK. Now was this God’s rule? Or man’s? If it was God’s rule, did god change his mind? And if he changed his mind, how could he be omnipotent and all knowing? Wouldn’t an all knowing being have already anticipated what might happen?

If this was man’s ruling however and not God’s, then why not just change it again? It had been changed once. –  but wait, if this was a rule made up by men, then what the hell does God have to do with it?

Sometime later, I went to a Catholic Youth group weekend. These things were actually fun, the singing and religion were there but mostly it was about friendship and a sense of community –  much the same feeling as you would get going to a Radiohead concert with a bunch of like minded friends who are Radiohead fans –  and of course, there were girls there I liked. Sitting in a group the attending priest asked everyone “How do you feel knowing that God has a plan for your life?”

From the assembled came answers of “safe, humbled, happy, glad, and reassured”. Until my turn: “I don’t like it, it means god has determined what my life will be and so it doesn’t matter what choices I make.” Later, the priest said he liked my answer; he described me as a “Thomas” who needed his faith to be tangible like Thomas the Apostle did by “placing his hands into the wounds.” It was a nice answer; it reassured me that I wasn’t a bad person for questioning “God’s plan.” However later I realised that the initial premise of my answer hadn’t been answered at all. If God has a plan for me, then why not just sit at home on a video game console all day: “the Lord will provide” as he does for the Birds, but then again “God helps those who help themselves.”

Would the real God please stand up! How could a universal omnipotent being and a faith that claims to speak for him be so riddled with contradictions!?

As time went on more and more idiosyncrasies began to come to light:

The Bible as a source of universal truth – Yet it can be changed, and parts of it ignored and it contradicts itself

The “Myths” of the bible being stories, lessons or truth. Can religion make up its mind? Did the Exodus happen or is it a story? And if it happened, why is there no archeological evidence for it? Which parts of the bible are truth, which aren’t? How do you know? Archeology and Science can actually answer some of these questions, however…

The cherry picking of beliefs: Pre Marital sex is bad, homosexuality is evil! Yet, the Bible also says that usury is a sin, shellfish are an abomination, rape is ok as long as you compensate the girl’s father financially and divorce is one of the worst sins you can do.  “A Girl can’t fall in love with a girl or a boy with a boy, that is evil, but hey, you paying interest on your bank loan? Great! You’re helping society there, and what about dinner tomorrow night, we’re having oysters!”

The more I actually considered what religion taught, the more it started to make less sense. “God made us in his image” and yet we shouldn’t try to “play god”. The invisible Sky-man has a plan for our lives, but what about the children who are killed in infancy by whatever means? What about kids who die from cot death…What kind of a plan was that?

God loves his children, then what about death, disease, war and injustice?   Blah! That’s a tired argument used by non-believers over and over again, god gave us freewill – So what’s this “plan” I keep hearing about?

God works in mysterious ways – He sure does!  It seems he changes his mind a lot too, maybe he confuses himself.  He certainly confuses the heirs to St Peter, to whom he supposedly speaks through the Holy Spirit, how were the Crusades a good idea? And what about that whole Galileo thing and the earth being the center of the universe?

God’s mercy is endless and he loves everyone unconditionally – Great, so… why is there a “hell” again? And what about all the followers of other religions, does he love them too?

Theologians have been doing intellectual acrobatics for centuries answering far more complicated theological problems than these and there is another point – If God is so omnipotent, why is he so ambiguous? Why has so much “interpretation” by his fallible creations been needed? Why does our “sin” list need to be updated? If god was omnipotent couldn’t he have seen future issues? “IT IS A SIN TO TAMPER WITH YOUR DNA & DON’T MESS WITH STEM CELLS!” –  Sure, that wouldn’t have made any sense to the prophets he was inspiring with his word however many thousands of years ago, but geez, it would have been useful for us in 2010 where we know what DNA and Stem Cells are.

In the end, for the faithful it boils down to an argument that is something along the lines of “well, I just believe, I’ve been touched by god and have faith.”  And that’s where the discussion ends.

Humankind is on the cusp of greatness, but it is a creature with great imperfections.  Still, for so many the religious blanket that keeps them warm is a tattered, flawed thing full of inconsistencies, ambiguities and convenient  or inconvenient truths that can be harnessed as needed, discarded when not.  Religions are a set of rules and stories drafted by men, for men for whatever reasons, for control, for enlightenment, from inspiration, for hope or to explain the unexplainable. But it is the 21st century; personally I think it’s time we as a species grew up, time that we all lost our religions and started believing that whatever Human actions have happened on this planet, good or bad, have happened because of us, because of our flaws or our strengths. We don’t need some invisible sky-god to blame or beg or thank as needed.

We need to look within ourselves to save ourselves, because I’m pretty sure “God” is never going to save us.

Don’t believe me, ask your own questions:

http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=newsarchive&sid=aizloDFbRPRM

http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/jim_meritt/bible-contradictions.html

http://www.godhatesshrimp.com/

http://www.bringyou.to/apologetics/bible.htm

http://skepticsannotatedbible.com/contra/by_name.html

http://www.borndigital.com/tcont.htm

http://www.the-atheist.com/which-part-of-the-bible-should-be-ignored-next/

http://www.evilbible.com/Rape.htm

http://www.seekgod.org/bible/godsplan.html

Just a few to read.

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~ by benephobia on October 9, 2010.

One Response to ““Losing my Religion” A Personal Reflection on Why God Simply Doesn’t Cut it.”

  1. Having gone through a similar experience at boarding school, being forced to go to church a minimum of 3 days a week for a decade, the “choice” of religion was never really there.

    On an individual and small scale, I see religion as being a useful educational tool. Not educational in a scentific sense, but in instilling morals and a community spirit. (I mean, if we’re happy with tooth fairies and easter bunnies dropping cash and chocolate eggs, what’s the harm of a big bearded man that watches everything you do? Other than the obvious…) It offers a framework of common rules and expectations for a population, and a centre for meetings and community.

    However, human nature is involved. Groups require leaders, leaders acquire power, power can (cynic: will) be corrupted. The further removed from the base the leader gets, the greater the power and the less the accountability, the more extreme and easier the corruption. This is where organised religion falls apart.

    Inconsistencies of religion arise from the attempt at maintaining power. The definition of “faith” is the belief in something without proof. However, when facts (modern science) clashes with the “infallibility” of the church, faith has come to mean the belief in something despite proof; Belief that the world is a few millenia old (otherwise the timeline in the Bible doesn’t work); Belief that God created man (in face of the data supporting evolution); Belief, even, in the superiority of Man over Woman (even though with modern technology, women could reproduce without men, but not vice versa). Blind adherence is required by organised religion because once questions are asked about any of the fundamentals, questions can be asked about all of the fundamentals. Dissent then causes fragmentation, which leads to a split of the powerbase.

    “Exclusivity” is also a necessity for keeping the power base. What’s the point in having “believers” that could then jump ship to someone else’s religion without repercussions? You jump, you’re a heretic, you burn. For ever.

    My problem with the concept of a deity in general boils down to this: Why would (s)he care?

    Why would something that had the power to change anything, do anything, make anything, destroy anything care if little ol’ me helps a granny across the road or not, steals a million bucks or not, bombs a plane or not, shoots myself or not? What makes this planet, mammals, humans, *insert your religion here*, me so special? And if (s)he is omniscient, and omnipotent, is my life really my own then?
    On the one hand, it’s a lot of responsibility.
    On the other hand, everything’s set in stone already!

    Then comes perspective.
    Someone horrible dies a horrible death, “It was God’s Judgement.”
    Some nice dies a horrible death, “It’s a test.” or “God needed another angel.”
    Something nice happens to a nice person, “It’s a blessing from God!”
    Something nice happens to a horrible person, “God will judge him after…”
    Everything is simply twisted to suit the perspective of the religion/person. Why can’t shit simply happen?!?

    Personally, I’m trying to decide on one of three scenarios:

    There is no god. The universe is as it is, rules have been set, things roll as they do. My life is my life, do as I will. (The nilhist view.)

    There is a god-equivalent, and we’re in a petri-dish equivalent. It’s all a big experiment, the “god” is *effectively* all knowing and all powerful, but is purely a spectator waiting for the outcome of the experiment. (The “42” view)

    There is a god, in its infancy. When we die, our souls/experiences gather in this godness, and depending on whether we have been “good” or “bad”, the god learns about good and evil, and the universe in general tilts one way or the other depending on the actions of those that make up the god. (Baby-ism)

    The third option is a little silly, but at least it gives a reason, however obscure, for trying to be good. It makes more sense than an omnipotent, omniscient, all-loving god sending himself down to die to save a minute portion of people…

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