Religion has been on my mind a lot lately for a lot of reasons. First, its hard to be in society and not see some signs of it, whether it is a religious group on a university campus or more notably the mentioning of the impact of religion on society in several of my courses. I have never really been religious, not even when I was younger and people like my aunt tried to indoctrinate me into it. As a topic of conversation, religion makes me nervous. I do not have any particular belief system. I have tried to find one, but after evaluating numerous religions, I can find no truth in any of them.
This topic comes up after a conversion that Chris and I had today on the way to the UNC-Charlotte campus. He mentioned a rather large church that several people who knew had attended. The mentioning of the size of the church caused me to visualize a lot of helpless children being fed church doctrine and being told what to believe. I’m not sure what caused it, but at some point in my history I began seeing religion as a hateful creation designed to control people in a society. By the sociological definition, religion is one of the institutions which holds society together (functionalist theory). I suppose in general I reject a lot of aspects of society, which may be part of why my feelings are the way they are, but I don’t have the same anger toward other social institutions as I do for religion. I embrace education and I embrace the idea of family (even though I just tolerate my own). I find the mentioning of “God” in a college course to be offensive. I’m especially bothered when people that I consider to be nice or intelligent speak of religion as though it were truth. I know I’m definitely in the minority on this one. I am not bothered by the 3rd party mentioning of religion, treating it as a form of mythology. Religion is very much a social construct, and therefore, it is valid for study.
One of the “functions” of the religious institution in society is to serve as a moral guide. I question this function as it provides one group too much power to control what people think and how people act. Why is it not possible for people to simply be good and moral because its the right thing to do? Maybe this is another area where I have a somewhat skewed perspective. I interact with the world in ways that I believe to be at least mostly moral. I know that I have flaws, but I do try to be a good person and treat everyone respectfully who treats me respectfully (flaw #1 – my short temper quickly loses respect for people who do not respect me). In a lot of ways I feel that a general study of philosophy and perhaps the various approaches to ethics, would be beneficial to the development of society in ways that religion can not be. Religion is biased and instructs people in what to believe, philosophy encourages people to think for themselves. It is that thinking that allows people to become moral. I feel that religion gives people a license to do whatever they want and as long as they can rationalize it to being something that is within the spirit of the word of God. Religion is a vehicle to use an invisible all-powerful creature to justify any action that is taken by a person who is “a believer” and who has sufficient social power. Maybe I associate too much with Marx on this, but I believe that religion is a tool of powerful or wealthy individuals to control society, perhaps a way of taming society enough to be controllable by other forces.
Christian religions are certainly a scary thing to me. When I think of Christians I think of the KKK. It seems as though I never see just one or two Christians at a time (when I do, they aren’t viewed as Christians, but instead as other roles). My encounters with religion have always been in relatively large groups, such as on a college campus, or when visiting family events, or just passing a church as it is concluding. I would have a better opinion of these groups of people if they were holding flaming pitch forks, at least then I would know their intentions. Indoctrination is a dangerous thing, and I fear the possibility of what these large groups of people who believe the same thing (because its what they have been told to believe) are capable of doing. It always seems as though the Christians are persecuting someone. If it isn’t dabbling in the marital relations of their own kind, its telling some other unsuspecting individual that something they are doing is sinful and wrong.
This brings me to another aspect of religion that is bothersome, its changing, but yet unchanging nature. Most established religions have used the same basic religious text since their creation, and hold that they have always held the same beliefs. The problem with the perception that a religion is old and is completely unchanging is that most churches have a somewhat colorful past. Some religions used to look for witches and burn innocent girls who they suspected were witches or were conspiring with them, other religions have in their past decided that blacks were born evil and should be “cleansed”. One of the movies that I enjoy, but that others seem to despise, is Dogma. It is a rather blasphemous film involving the Catholic church. One of my favorite lines in the movie is said by George Carlin, as the Cardinal: “one can hardly hold the current incarnation of Holy Mother Church responsible for oversights of old”. The line is delivered when the Cardinal is questioned about the Catholic church’s involvement in the slave trade. I found it funny because that is exactly the way that churches act, like their history does not matter, no matter what they do. The biggest way to see this is to look at the interpretations of religious texts and how they change over time. The text and its intending meaning likely stays the same, but religion adapts to changing times and quietly ignores parts of the text that is considers to be out of date and emphasizes parts that represent present church policy. A church may have at one time only allowed for the eating of meat on certain days of the week, but now it is acceptable all days of the week, but yet if a man kisses another man, he will still be hell-bound, because it is the opinion of the church.
I find it hard to believe in the existence of any divine entity. I believe in the existence of the universe and that is all, and some days that is a stretch. I do not feel inspired to believe that there is some sentient creator, or other being that has any universal influence. My great belief is simply that the universe is. The universe operates as it was designed, with all principles of physics intact (physics, as in the natural laws of how mater and energy exist, not the collection of theories that are Earth-centric).
The one aspect of existence that puzzles me, that I can not seem to resolve, and the existence of a creator would not help to resolve, is my perception of everything is contained by something. I am presently contained in a chair, which is in a library, which is on a planet that is contained within a solar system that is in a galaxy that is part of the universe. What exactly holds the universe? The universe is ever-expanding, but what is it expanding into? What space does it take up? For the “big-bang” or any creationist theory to work, there has to be something to start with. I get that there once was a ball of mater and energy, and then a rapid decompression resulting in the ever-expanding universe. What was the nature of that ball of mater and energy? Where did it exist? It could not have been in space, because the space we know is the universe itself, so… what explains this? I have considered that universe may be a dream, but then that just places us another step removed for containment, the dreamer must exist and for the dreamer to exist we must be able to prove that the dreamer CAN exist (have a universe in which to exist).