Saturday, April 25, 2009

In Defense of the Gods

Anyone who spends even a brief amount of time here at TRT realizes that, while I cover a wide swath of topics from a general left radical perspective, one topic that I return to again and again is my distaste for the foundations of religion. In the long run, I believe that religion does far more harm than good and is at the root of many of today's most vexing problems.

Yet, for all the invective I hurl at religion and religious institutions, I genuinely understand its appeal to so many. We live in a realm of incomparable beauty and the most grotesque ugliness. It's a world both of complex reason and logic, but also of apparent randomness. The reality we have come to know seems always beyond our ability to comprehend it and so many of us feel like a piece of driftwood being buffeted about a swollen stream -- out of control and unsure of where we're going.

Amidst this whirlpool of life, we desperately want a rock to grab onto, something that we can use to steady our vision and catch our breath. Religion fills the bill for many a person.

The problem though, from my perspective, is that the rock is nothing more than a mirage. We reach out to grab a hold of it, but it doesn't bring us the steadying foundation we crave. Instead of seeing things more clearly, a veil is dropped over our eyes and so we simply try to ignore the whirlwind about us as if pretending that it's not there will protect us from its force.

Modern theistic religion is built upon the backs of the ancient Hebrew people. Three religions sprang forth from this wellspring: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The Hebrews developed their religious ideas over many generations as they survived captivity and enslavement at the hands of strong nation-states and their own religions.

When a person's life is defined by slavery, brutality and oppression, people need a glimmer of hope to survive. It was out of this oppressive existence that the idea of an afterlife of peace and contentment arose. Yes, our lives may be total misery now, but, if we persevere in our suffering, a grand reward awaits us on the other side.

If faced with a similar bleak existence, who among us would not want to reach out to claim this dream for our own? It may well have been the only thing that kept the average Hebrew slave sane.

There have certainly been other societies who have come along since the Hebrews who have suffered the same kinds of abuse and deprivations. Is it any wonder that most of them have utilized religious ideas and symbols to provide their people with the sustenance to persevere against horrific odds?

So, from this vantage point, I can certainly understand and accept the primal utility of religion and the belief in a creator who loves and cares for each of us. However, the reason this perspective does not hold sway with me for long is that the institution of religion plays a major role in the subjugation that such people are trying to escape in the first place.

If we look back through the annals of history, religion and religious perspectives are one of the chief causes of war, nationalism, imperialism, enslavement and national thievery. People tend to oppress others who hold differing religious beliefs.

Look at our world today. Were it not for religion, the conflicts in the Middle East and Afghanistan (to identify but two examples) would most likely not be occurring. Were it not for the specter of religion, I dare say there would be no suicide bombers or fanatics flying commercial aircraft into tall buildings. There also wouldn't be a rabid response to bomb them all back into the Stone Age.

So, in my estimation, the benefits religion confers -- comfort for today's suffering and a future reward in the afterlife -- is canceled out by the ruthless and murderous machinations that religion instills in its adherents. In the end, the bad trumps the good and everyone -- even those of us who eschew religion altogether -- get to suffer the bloody consequences.


  1. I approve, nor disapprove of Religion. Just like I don't pit Religion vs. Science, or vice versa. This, for me, helps me avoid becoming another "-ism", "-istic", and such. Or, as a pal of mine said once, "No fight, no blame."

    But if you want to play poker, I'll play to win.

  2. It looks like your main complaint is not about religion per se, but about Abrahamic religions.

    Hence the importance of Nietzsche.

  3. Yes & No. I concentrate on the Abrahamic religions because I know them the best. That said, religion as an institution still serves as an impetus for atrocities in the name of the deity. Look at the histories of India, China or the many countries in Africa and you'll find that religion plays a major role in the oppression of various peoples.


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