An Existential Crisis – Part II: Religion

I struggle with matters of faith. Faith, by its definition, requires a component beyond verification and my mind simply does not work that way.

One of my biggest questions with respect to religious faith has always been the gateway – how does one become religious? The question is quasi-facetious and rhetorical. The answer often is that one is born into a religion; they acquire from one or both parents. It’s no surprise that religions concentrate in geographic areas given how the ideology spreads.

Consider Christianity. Moses speaks with a burning bush, parts a sea, an omnipotent God is telling people to kill their children, one guy swallowed by a giant fish, seas turn to blood, and animals line up two by two – it’s quite a story. If not for Churches and parents saying, “No, this all actually happened,” who would arrive at such a conclusion about history?

Put another way – if all of society were destroyed tomorrow (all written record, all our collective knowledge), would we arrive back at the same stories? I doubt it. Less doubtful is that humans would arrive at some stories attempting to explain things we cannot explain. After all, people are likely to turn to other supernatural phenomena in a heartbeat if they cannot find an acceptable explanation. Many religions carry similar beats along the way, so I have little doubt that humans would re-discover a spiritual side. I do not think they would arrive at the exact conclusions of the Bible again.

It seems even wilder yet considering the historical context of some religious texts (like the Bible) – cobbled together from various sources of varying literacy, written down years later based on oral traditions and then translated many times? Everything about the development of the Bible is rife with opportunity for error. I’m not going so far here as to say that it’s objectively wrong, just that there is no way for someone to claim it’s objectively true. It’s a question of faith.

The last distinction there may ruffle feathers on both sides of a theological debate. Atheists may hate me for pulling my punches while the religious may hate me questioning their faith. I consider the distinction a secular hallmark of a functioning democracy: religious freedom. Theoretically, it does not both me one bit that you might choose to believe in a particular religion and live accordingly.

Theoretically.

I say theoretically because in practice far too many people want to impose their religious belief on others (including atheists who would like to intellectually beat the religion out of people). Most (all?) religions have an extremist faction that does not represent the religion, because faiths are no more a monolith than any other category of people.

It matters to say this because any time a question of religion arises, some may be quick to point to others like Islamic terrorism. The whataboutism with religion is, I believe, a particular problem because it has all the earmarks of avoiding accountability that we see in other areas paired with the question of faith. No one on any side can really verify much, but they will cling to it with passionate, unparalleled conviction.

The one that bothers me most is what we’ve come to know as Christofascism, a mostly Evangelical element of Christianity (although other sects, like Catholicism, are rife with problems, too). This is the group that tends to preach the United States exists on a foundation of Judeo-Christian values and is at heart a Christian nation (despite the explicit statement of religious freedom in the Bill of Rights).

I feel compelled to mention the Judeo-Christian part because it tends to lump Judaism and Christianity together, with many of the people in this camp expressing loud support for Israel. It’s an odd sort of camaraderie whose most jarring feature is the often-present anti-Semitism of its members. Israel, it seems from what they’ve said, is less about seeing brotherhood with the Jewish faith and more about what the Holy Land means to Christianity. And if there’s anyone Christian extremists tolerate worse than Jews, it’s Muslims.

Despite me writing this in the year 2022 A.D. in “one nation under God,” they would also argue that Christians are under attack in all ways of life. Secular teaching and a general atheism threaten their Judeo-Christian values and aim to unravel the very fabric of society.

I agree that no one should infringe their Judeo-Christian values. I also see little evidence of that happening. What I have observed, especially over the last twenty years, is a picture of heavily Christian nations where the existence of non-Christian people is itself the threat to their Judeo-Christian values. It’s not that they cannot practice their faith; it’s that the other people refuse to practice their faith.

Elements of this were present in my Catholic experience as a child – a belief that part of the Christian journey is to save other souls, and if one is not doing everything possible to save souls then one is failing as a Christian. It puts a lot of pressure on Christians to make non-Christians Christian.

Consider the prayer in school argument. The United States is seeing another push for prayer in school and a specific dissolution of the church-state boundary. To them it is unacceptable that teachers cannot lead children in Christian prayer. It’s also a problem that school is secular and offers no spiritual teaching. That teaching must be Christian though, and that is where many people, myself included, have a problem. If this is a question of expanding education to include spiritual elements, then why not expose children to Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Confucian, and other spiritual teachings? Again, the question is rhetorical as the answer is, “Because then they might pick something other than Christianity to believe.”

They often accuse other groups of grooming and attempting to indoctrinate children while attempting to do exactly that. Christian allegations that trans people are attempting to indoctrinate youth in school with lessons about gender is as ridiculous as alleging that I am trying to recruit people to be white. Gender and sexuality are part of one’s identity, not something one can adjust like a thermostat. Because Christianity is so deeply heteronormative, these alternatives are terrifying and rejected outright.

Another major example facing us right now is the matter of reproductive rights. This is a heavily anti-abortion crowd with sentiments that also extend to contraception, sex education, non-heterosexual relationships, and often even interracial relationships. The notion of a pro-choice policy governing the nation is abhorrent to them even though under such a policy they are free as Christians to abstain from abortion and contraception, and just as free as everyone to choose their romantic partners. Again, they misconstrue the freedom of people to do “non-Christian” things as persecution of their religious freedom, even when they are quite free to practice.

And that is the biggest point of the religion problem. It’s not that people are religious; it’s that certain religion has run amok and seeks to oppress and persecute people who do not believe the same unverifiable stories they do.

If a policy designed to govern the people in a society does not compel a person to do something they do not want to do, and it does not compel a person against doing something they do wish to do, then the policy is fine. The individual has the liberty to make a personal choice on the matter. The line occurs where policy does compel someone against their personal liberty, with the point being some social purpose served above the individual liberty.

Example – one cannot murder. We safeguard our individual right to life by making it illegal for one person to take the life of another except in certain circumstances (such as self-defence), and we endow certain members of society with the right to enforce those laws. The argument with Roe, for example, was that pregnant people have a right to privacy from their government with respect to their pregnancy. It’s a medical decision to be left between the individual and the medical provider

Some citizens are against all forms of abortion, as is their right. Under Roe, those people had the same rights. They could decide in the case of a pregnancy not to pursue any medical care whatsoever in many cases. The push, led by Christians, to overturn Roe imposed their values on everyone, including other religions who have no problem with abortion.

The most salient counterargument here is that anti-abortion law safeguards the individual right to life by making it illegal for one person to take the life of another. The problem with that counterargument is the collective finding of the medical and scientific community, whose overwhelming consensus is that it does not constitute a viable human life, jeopardises the life of the mother, and that no one has an obligation to subject their body to the preservation of another. That’s not a personal opinion on the matter – that is the scientific and medical consensus on the matter, as expressed by people who have done countless hours of research and understand the matter thoroughly.

Why we as a society are expected to disregard all of that because some people have a particular religious belief is beyond my understanding of how anything works. Least of all democracy or society.

Marc Maron’s special End Times Fun goes into a speech that covers the specific anxiety I have well:

Marc Maron, End Times Fun

It speaks back to Part I:

There’s a dovetailing of late-stage capitalism and Christian end times prophecy that’s a little fucked up, and I’m sorry, I don’t mean to put this on you, but I’m assuming that the horrendous greed monsters that don’t give a fuck about anything are just hedging their bets.

I am not suggesting a massive global conspiracy like the Q crowd. This does not all have to point to a single group pulling the strings. What seems more likely is, as Maron describes it, a dovetailing of things and the most extreme among us being opportunistic about it.

The anxieties I have about capitalism (expressed in part I) really seemed to grease the wheels for the fundamentalist religious crowd. In their fervour to tear down the secular foundations of our institutions, they have created even larger openings for the capitalists.

It’s not that religion itself is the enemy here. I’m not even singling out Christians. In fact, I’m quite happy to say that we have many Christians around the world just as alarmed as the rest of us and quick to criticise Church involvement in these things. I made specific mention to abortion – I know plenty of devout Christians, opposed to abortion, but committed to Roe and the right for other people to make that decision for themselves.

But the absolute worst of us have grabbed the wheel and managed to facilitate one another in a mad dash that has generational consequences, and my anxiety continues to spike as more and more of them reach existential levels.

One of their greatest accomplishments is the disenfranchisement of the average person; people are disconnected and fed up with governance, with the failures and inadequacies of our institutions. Gerrymandering and highly suspect voting legislation only serves to enhance the ability of our most powerful to insulate themselves from accountability. The oligarchy nature of our economy insulates enterprises by making it difficult for people even to organise boycotts against them without completely disrupting the economy and jeopardising everyone’s lives. But we have to find a way to come together and push back against those forces to provide stability in our democracy and allow people the freedom to live their lives.

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