The most common thread I see through all religion and religious practices is the ability of participants to act as judge and in extreme cases, as shown in Paris with yesterday’s Charlie Hebdo murders, jury and executioner.
As an adult, I find it hard to find value in any religion, for anyone. Save for maybe the ones (Hezbollah/Mormonism) that provide such a comprehensive, unified and comfortable social network that one can’t help but accept the lunacy of it all and just go along because guaranteed health care and Jell-o.
The world’s predominant religious outlets, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, each provide a single, unifying rule to live by. They all go something like this: Be nice to people out of the goodness of your heart but don’t expect niceness back in return. But keep being nice anyway because someday you’ll die and you want to go to where other nice people who also like the smell of incense or don’t eat pork or cover up women’s faces go.
Religious or no, people inherently aren’t very good. We’re not. The sooner you accept that, the easier life becomes.
Even people I consider to be nice have the tendency to be mostly shitheads: Good workers, good family people, good neighbors—yes. But these same folks are pretty much dicks in other, less-noticeable ways. Maybe they fuck up the Earth with plastic diapers (guilty). Maybe they ignore their animals. Maybe they look down at the homeless or secretly worship money or don’t care about how many people die per day in West Africa as long as starvation or disease doesn’t land on their doorstep. Maybe they aren’t empathetic to the kid in the classroom who’s a little slow and “bringing everyone else down” at the perceived expense of their own child. Maybe they watch porn (no comment). Maybe they still drive a giant SUV two blocks each day to the elementary school instead of walking. Maybe they have a few too many after-work drinks and flirt with the wrong person. Or maybe they just secretly wish it would never rain even during a drought.
Isolated, these tendencies are the accoutrements of a privileged life, a life I happen to enjoy. What they are not are signposts that someone is inherently evil. You can be a schmuck and still not be evil, it’s called being a person.
But you eliminate civility and hope and convenience, and things can get bad, fast. If half my family was blown up by a drone at my niece’s wedding, you better believe I’d be pissed and rudderless beyond revenge. Take away joy, replace it with desperation and keep religion on the front burner and the flaws most folks I know paint over with the nice things they say on Facebook would be exposed. Evil after all, especially in the name of one specific belief system over another, eventually always bubbles to the surface.
The most common form? Wars. Yes, ALL WARS are started because of religion. Think about that for a minute. What if something else started every single war? What if, for example, Coca-Cola started every war? What if for multi-millennia, a caramelized caffeinated carbonated beverage was the source of millions of pointless deaths around the world? If Coke were the Higgs particle of all human conflict, eradicating it—though tough to do because it’s so refreshing and delicious—would be universally recognized as a necessity for the human race to continue. At the very least, by now we could admit this brown bubbly syrup causes friction where there should be none and makes people who have nothing in common go from ignoring one another to hating to killing one another.
So, maybe get rid of Coke.
And yet, religion, all religion—in spite of technology, in spite of overwhelming evidence that god or God or GOD does not exist…or if it does, it’s something well beyond the comprehension of the tiniest to biggest, most complex minds of ours or any time—is now more popular than ever. Consequently, the notion that we’re the opposite of invincible and here for a very short time, only an erased typo’s worth, and then we’re gone—gone for good—is not very popular.
Where do we go? Nobody fucking knows. And that’s probably a good thing. Imagine if we did know. Imagine if you walked out to your car after work today and had a note stuck to your windshield that said, “Guess what? Nothing happens, so fuck and murder and rob everything and play Use Your Illusion II as loud as you can as you peel out. NOW —God”. That wouldn’t go over too good. How bout if said, “Yep, the 72 virgins thing IS true so here’s a bomb and some keys to an airplane. Clock’s ticking because these hos be horny—God”. That’d probably not be so hot for humanity either.
There’s only one way to get to the big reveal and most of us, barring some bad days here and there, won’t ever be ready to jump off the diving board into the dark of the deep end. So we cope. We place faith in ourselves, our friends and families and, with whatever we’ve got leftover, hope and pray for some fairydust magic from the skies above that will bring us to ultimate salvation or at least a really really cool cloudy field where we can play with tigers like Siegfried & Roy and get baked with Seth Rogan and James Franco for eternity.
The sad part is, it’s not going to happen. Not that way. Not any way you can think of. It’s just not. Nobody with ten fingers and ten toes was born with the answers and those who claim to have them are the biggest liars of all. Or maybe they’re just the most insecure. I don’t know.
If you like to be looked upon as a good and worthy person within a certain community-based construct and if you’re into wars, than religion may be the thing for you. And that’s fine. The freedom to practice or to criticize religion should be enjoyed by all of humanity. Just don’t treat religion as a guarantee of some great reward and try not to use it as an excuse to hate something or someone you don’t know.
That’s not going to get you very far in this life, or the next one.