The Myth of Religion

I  just read a review of the book The Myth of Religious Violence by William Cavanaugh. The book eloquently puts into words the reason I have decided to delete the word ‘religion’ from my vocabulary. To be explicit, the use of the word is arbitrary, deceptive and offensive. It is ambiguous in its definition. The word isn’t something with a definition to which you can then put examples. It is something to which examples are put without definition because defining it is problematic. Try to produce a definition of religion that works without problems and you’ll meet with little success. Merriam Webster defines it as “an organized system of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules used to worship a god or a group of gods”. This definition is fine as long as you have a working definition of ‘god’, but it means that Buddhism, which is non-theistic, is not a religion. This is certainly not the way ‘religion’ is used in public. A cursory study of Buddhism would reveal that it is definitely a religion as the word is commonly used. This is also a problem with the Oxford Dictionary’s definition of religion as “the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods”. Defining a religions using practices rather than beliefs results in a definition that makes Capitalism, Communism, and Patriotism religions.

Given the arbitrary nature of religious classification then, making statements about the nature of religion smacks of dishonesty and encourages deception. What does it mean to say that religion causes violence when ‘nonreligious’ ideologies like Communism and Imperialism are equally guilty? Why should Christianity be banned from the public sphere when Capitalism is not? Why should ‘religious’ people be forced to keep their beliefs to themselves when every other ideology enjoys expression in public life and government? It is unjustified marginalization masquerading as reasoned demands. A word so badly defined it useful mostly for oppressing those on its wrong side. So, to hell with the notion of “separation of church and state”.

You can see that I’m quite passionate about this topic. I never respond well to being hurt or unjustly marginalized whether it’s by being forbidden from building churches or being told not express my beliefs in public. If other people can promote policies based on their philosophical views, I should be able to.

Mommy, he called me ‘Ploopy’ (Or freedom of expression in the US)

Caution: The post below is a fairly restrained attempt at anger management. I won’t rub your back if it upsets you.

Sign of the Freedom from Religion Foundation, ...
Sign of the Freedom from Religion Foundation, in Denver, Colorado. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;

Once I was a child, and I thought that people should be reasonable. Now that I’m older, I no longer expect them to be. I expect them to read reality in accordance with their wishes and beliefs. One interesting instance of such is in reading – The Torah, The Quran, the United States constitution. Some people have wants so strong that the only comprehension ability they possess is the ability to make whatever they read mean what they want it to.

Observe:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion. This obviously means:

1. High school cheerleaders should not be able display banners with Bible verses on them at school sporting events. This obviously doesn’t consist of congress making a law respecting a religion, but the little girls’ banners violate the separation of church and state – which if you peer closely at the constitution, is absolutely prohibited. The supreme court also said in 2000 that there shouldn’t be prayer at the start of high

Forbidding the girls from putting up their banners, however does not violate the free exercise clause because bla dida doodoo la la boo. Oh, and the Supreme court said so.

“I’ve never heard of this kind of school problem, this kind of a violation at a public school where students would be expected to run through Bible verses to play football,” said the foundation’s president, Annie Laurie Gaylor. “It’s a new and creative way to work religion into our public schools.”

Gosh. Those cheerleaders, bringing their religion into school grounds when the all knowing Supreme court has forbidden it. Why can’t they just say their prayers at home?

The Newseum's Five (5) freedoms guaranteed by ...
The Newseum’s Five (5) freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment to the US Constitution. 1. Freedom of Religion 2. Freedom of Speech …

2. Teachers shouldn’t be allowed to talk to other teachers about religion while on school grounds. This doesn’t consist of congress making a law respecting a religion, but it might make the kids feel bad if they don’t like the religion being discussed. And we can’t say anything that kids don’t like. They might cry.

And forbidding teachers from talking about their religion at their work place does not violate the free exercise clause. ‘Cause the supreme court said so. And the supreme court is always right, even if our tiny brains say that the constitution says otherwise.

3. High school graduates should not be allowed to lead their fellow graduates in prayer at the ceremony. Although no one is being forced to participate in it, being in the presence of people who are praying is just  complete cruelty. It’s ‘bullying’. What if some of the kids take ill with malaria because of it? What if they die? Yes, this prohibits the free exercise of religion, but it’s for an important cause.

One of the protesting students, Bradley Chester, reportedly told WKYT that his atheist beliefs ought to prevent the rest of the community from praying at the public-school graduation.

“This is a place for school, not a church,” Chester told the local CBS-affiliate. “I feel like I’m graduating from Lincoln County High, not Lincoln County church.”

Translation: “I don’t want to hear it. Please make them not say it. Boo hoo. I have the right to not have people say stuff I don’t like. I want my mommy!”

Freedom From Religion Foundation Logo
The people who have a big problem with your freedom to express your beliefs.

I don’t really care about the US constitution. Shocking, I know, but I also don’t care about the Omani constitution’s prohibition of proselytizing. My philosophy on rules has always been straightforward. They exist to protect us and maintain order. Some of them are stupid, but they are to be obeyed anyway for a long list of reasons. But if I think a rule is full of crap (and I don’t mean pointless like stopping at a traffic light when no one else is there), I mentally tell it and all its supporters to go cry in a towel.

Because in the end, the fact that the government or the courts or the constitution declare that slavery is great and Judaism is evil and having cereal for breakfast is an obligation, doesn’t make it so. It just makes them wrong. In the end, atheists who cry their eyes out because the people around them are praying and the sound upsets them should be given bottles and diapers. People who can’t stand to hear the person beside them talking about their religion because it offends them should go cry in a corner (or maybe jump off a bridge – whatever helps). And people who want the law to tell other people to shut up because they don’t like what they say are intolerant bigots and should wear a sign that says ‘Your freedom upsets me. Punch me’.

The Beginning

This is a story about beautiful things. It’s about love, loyalty and goodness. It’s about a girl too, but she’s not the important thing. I don’t mean that she’s unremarkable, mind you. She has the most beautiful face you will ever see and the most gorgeous hair – soft and as brown as freshly  turned soil. And more importantly, she has a beautiful heart. Or none of this would ever have happened to her.

Every story must have a handsome prince, so this one does too. I’ve never seen his face, but those who have tell me it’s as brilliant as the sun and just as warm and kind. He is the important one. He chose her, you see.

The story began on a day like any other. The first leaves of the mother tree had fallen that

Tree front
Tree front (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

morning. They’d all woken up to see them. The joyful celebration was that evening so, a lot of work needed to be done.

They were fetching firewood when Cora looked up and saw the mountains.
“What do you think is up there, Diva?”, she asked her sister.
“Wolves, bears, rocks, more trees. Who cares?”
They kept working but Cora couldn’t stop thinking about it. She felt strongly that something beautiful must be up there.

Soon, they had gathered as much wood as would fit into their cart and they hurried back home. Mother had just put a pot on the fire and Cora’s eyes were drawn to a small cloth package lying by the fire.

“Did Goma come by?” She asked hopefully. Mother didn’t look up.
“Yes, the package is for you.”
She took it into the privacy of her hut before carefully unwrapping it. A smile spread on her face. It was a necklace with smalk green beads and a snake pendant – the symbol of the goddess. She put it on.
“More jewelry?” Diva asked from the doorway “Don’t look so pleased. Once you’re married he will stop. Men are like that.”
“Goma is different.”
“That’s what I said about Manon.”
Her sister’s disastrous marriage to a chief’s son was still the talk of town. When she had failed to conceive after three years, he had declared her cursed and thrown her out. Since she had been discovered pregnant a month after the event, she had refused to return home.

“I don’t mean to scare you”, Diva said, sitting beside her sister. “I doubt Goma would hurt you. He is the prince. It would disgrace his father. I just don’t want you to have any illusions.”

A sudden quiet fell over the compound. Even the birds had gone silent. Both girls listened intently and they heard, unmistakably, the sound of bells.

“No!” Cora’s eyes widened in horror. Tears sprang to her eyes. “No! Papa!”

She ran outside and right into her father’s arms. “Papa, you can’t let them! Please!”

“Go inside, Cora”, he ordered.

She kept crying until her grabbed her by the arm and shoved her inside. Her two sisters, mother and grandmothers were close behind. With the doors shut, Sara, 6, fell into Cora’s arms weeping.

Denine, their maternal grandmother pulled Sara away sharply and slapped Cora.

“Foolish girl!” she fumed “What is wrong with you? Has your mother taught you no sense?” She pulled Sara into her arms and gently comforted her. “It’s okay. It is a great honor to serve the goddess. You will love it. She has chosen you of all the girls your age. It is a privilege. The goddess only picks the most beautiful girls with the purest hearts. You’ll love it. You’ll see.”

Sara kept sobbing. Denine turned to Cora “You once wanted to serve the goddess. What has now possessed you that you have filled this young girl’s mind with foolish thoughts?”

“I grew up.”

With her heart sorrowful Cora went early to bed. It was a custom for the goddess to pick one 6-year old every year to serve at her temple, separated from her family and the hope of a normal life – of marriage, children and love. She had wanted it once – before she was betrothed to Goma. She had hoped her sister would be spared.