Let’s Talk About Religion

I hate religion.

Okay, that’s not true.  And I should probably rephrase that before an angry mob of Christians armed with torches and pitchforks shows up at my door.  I don’t hate religion.  I hate organized religion.  And hate is probably too strong a word for how I feel about it.

But hey, it got your attention didn’t it?  Ruffled a few feathers?  Sparked some fires?  I’ll admit to being inflammatory, but that was kind of the point.  In a country that’s supposedly about freedom of speech and freedom of religion, saying something like that is generally considered taboo.  Which is funny, because some of the same people who would consider that off-limits to say are also the ones who flocked to the defense of a Minnesota restaurant owner after he posted a “Muslims get out” sign.

 

“But guys, it’s not directed at ALL Muslims. Just the extremist ones.”
“Yeah sure…whatever man.”

 

A little over two years ago, I wrote a post about growing up as a non-religious person.  In it, I talked a little about how frustrating it was to always run into that “you have to believe in God” sentiment from kids my age.  I also mentioned how atheists are almost always seen as antagonistic and angry people, which in a self-fulfilling way made me a little antagonistic and angry toward religion during my high school years.  And the stigma against atheists is no joke.  Eight states in our country have laws on the books which state that non-believers can’t hold public office, although the laws are thankfully unenforceable now due to a 1960’s Supreme Court decision.

But regardless, the stigma persists.  I remember seeing a video a long time ago about a billboard espousing atheist views that said something similar to “take the myth out of Christmas” with a picture of Jesus on it.  I couldn’t find that video again, but I remember it had the format of someone walking up and asking people what they thought of it.  One woman stuck out to me in particular, because she said something to the effect of “they shouldn’t be allowed to post stuff like that”.  And I remember wondering why.  Why shouldn’t they be allowed to post things like that?  Isn’t that what freedom of speech is about?

That restaurant owner who posted the “Muslims get out” sign?  Totally tactless.  Totally idiotic.  And even if his excuse of “well I couldn’t fit the word ‘extremists’ on the sign” is true…he apparently never considered not posting the sign.  Because somehow it never popped into his head that maybe…just maybe…people might construe it to mean all Muslims.  In the end though, it was totally his right to post it.  That I do not deny.

But I digress.  I make the drive from Duluth to my parent’s home around once every month or two.  And every time I see the same anti-abortion billboards, over half a dozen in all.  And almost every single one has some kind of Christian theme to it.

“God knew my soul before I was even born,” one proudly reads with a picture of a smiling baby.  Yeah…he knew you were going to be a peeing, pooping, screaming nightmare for the first few years of your life.  Anyways, I see these kind of signs all the time.

But when the group known as American Atheists puts up a billboard?  Suddenly it’s a war on Christmas.

Now, I will admit, their tactic isn’t exactly the nicest thing in the world.  That is kind of their point, to ruffle a few feathers.  But it does speak to a certain stigma against atheist viewpoints.  A shocking amount of people in the world think that a belief in God is necessary to be moral.  It’s ridiculous, really.  A decent number of those very same, “moral” Christians also want to keep Muslims out of this country.  A decent number of those very same Christians won’t lift a finger to help refugees.  A decent number of those people also have an almost fetishistic love of firearms.

And that’s the thing that bothers me about organized religion.  It’s full of people constantly complaining about their religious freedom, yet those same people never stop to think about the religious freedoms of others.  For all their haughty outrage about Christianity being called a “myth”, they never stop to think about the face that to them, every other religious system that exists, has existed, or will exist is basically a myth to them.

The Greeks?  The Egyptians?  The Romans?  All myths.  Even Hinduism could be called a myth from the Christian perspective.

But somehow, that doesn’t track with a lot of people.  Because for them, of course other belief systems are a myth because theirs is the only right one.  Their god is the only real god.  And very few of them ever stop to think that “hey…maybe that other guy from that other religion thinks the same way.”  Because, to them, it doesn’t matter.  They’ve been told from the very beginning that they’re right and everyone else is wrong.

See, I’ve always felt that religion is a personal thing.  It’s why I don’t shout “I’m an atheist” in someone’s face immediately upon meeting them.  Because it shouldn’t matter.  But a lot of people out there seem to think that they have the right to run roughshod over other people’s beliefs while not allowing their own to be questioned.  Whenever I have a debate with a religious person over the origin of the universe, the conversation usually goes like this:

“The Big Bang theory is so stupid!  Something can’t come from nothing!”

“Well then where did God come from?”

“God always was.  He was always there.”

“What?  But you just said that something can’t come from noth-”

“I don’t want to talk about this anymore.”

It’s frustrating, because it just doesn’t make sense to me.  They believe in an omnipotent god who was always there and can do anything he wants at any time.  And yet, something coming from nothing is just “impossible”.

I’ll stop here, because I could go on forever about this.  For all the pandering and complaining about Christians being “victimized”, most of them truly don’t understand the meaning of the word.  I don’t either.  I’ve never lived under a totalitarian religious state, so I can’t even conceive of what that must be like.  But if you’re a Christian, next time you start complaining out loud or to yourself about how underrepresented or oppressed you are, take a step back for a second and reevaluate the situation.  You’re in the majority.  Not just in the United States, but in the world at large.

Remember that next time you want to whine about being “so oppressed”.  There are plenty of people who can hardly get a word in edgewise.

 

Thanks for reading!  Check back next Wednesday for a new post, and as always, have a wonderful week.

You can like the Rumination on the Lake Facebook page here or follow me on Twitter here.

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Disbelief: Common Things to Hear as a Non-Religious Person

I’d like to preface this entire thing by saying that I have no intention of making this a “woe is me, my life is so hard” kind of post.  This is more a way to express my own perspective on something that I have had to deal with many times in my life.

Almost a year ago now, I wrote a post about the fact that I am not a religious person.  It’s not really something I keep a secret, but nor is it something I bring up all the time.  But it has definitely had an impact on my interactions with other people.

I wanted to frame this post in a way similar to my post on common reactions to a Muslim terrorist attack, in that I’m going to address some common things I’ve heard in reaction to my non-religiosity.  So here we go.

 

“You just don’t understand.”

This usually crops up after a debate over religion, in which the religious person will attempt to brush off the entire thing by saying “oh you just don’t understand religion.  That’s why you don’t believe in it.”

The intention of this statement may not be malicious in nature, but the implication is rather condescending.  Basically what this is saying is that the only reason someone wouldn’t be religious is because they haven’t taken the time to examine it, that they haven’t truly given religion a chance.

But I don’t think that’s an accurate assessment of the situation.

It’s well-known that there are a great number of Christians out there who openly profess their belief in God, but haven’t actually read the Bible on their own.  In fact, more often than not, the people I know who have read the Bible are actually atheists who grew up Christian.  At some point in their lives they encounter a “crisis of faith” for lack of a better phrase, and so they spend their time researching, examining, and generally absorbing knowledge on the subject to help make up their minds.  If they find what they encounter irreconcilable with the tenets of their faith, it usually results in a loss of it.

One could argue that the people who used to believe are more “in the know” than most of the people who do believe.

 

“Why do you hate something that you don’t believe exists?”

Once upon a time I ran into an image shared on Facebook that went like this: a child sitting in the grass was holding a notebook in front of him.  The image was shot over his shoulder and there was text photoshopped onto the paper (poorly I might add) which said something akin to the following:

“Dear atheists, why do you hate God if you don’t believe he exists?”

And this was, of course, followed by a smug little smiley face drawn in the bottom corner.

Now, there are multiple things wrong with this, the first of course being that not all atheists hate God.  This is an over-generalization that is sadly used more often than I’d like.  There is this preconception among some religious people that atheists or non-believers are all angry and bitter because they, of course, believe in nothing (which is also a misconception…people who believe in nothing or that nothing matters are more often referred to as Nihilists.  Atheists are people who don’t believe in the existence of a god or deity).

The second thing wrong with this is that of course you can hate fictional characters.  We do it all the time.  We hate Villain X in Movie Y.  We hate Character A in Book B.  Whether or not something or someone is real isn’t the sole criteria for being allowed to hate that particular thing or person.  If that were the case, “liking” something that was fictional wouldn’t make any sense either.

But the final thing about this image is how outright condescending and pretentious it is.  By placing the child in the image, the author implies that the voice of the person writing the message is a child’s voice.  And the implication of that is of course that the argument being made is so obvious that a child could make it, which then brings forth the assertion that all atheists are just childish and stupid.  This would understandably make a non-religious person rather angry.

I think that was the point.

These kinds of images are generally shared as something called “flame-bait” on the internet.  What this means is that the intention is to start an argument for the sake of starting an argument.  It isn’t meant to create any kind of meaningful discussion.  It’s just meant to piss people off and that’s it.

 

“It’s just my personal beliefs.”

I’ve heard many a religious person argue that “something can’t come from nothing” when referring to the Big Bang theory.  The common counter-argument is to say “well you believe in God…so where did he come from?”  The reply to such a question is usually “God just is…he always was.”  I’ve pointed out to people before that such a response is at the very least slightly hypocritical.  They’ve just claimed that “something can’t come from nothing” but then they espouse belief in a being that literally came from nothing, who “always was”.

That’s usually when people start getting defensive.

They usually say something like “it’s just my personal beliefs man…no need to get so angry about it.”  And the more you push back against it, the more you look like the aggressor even if they’re the ones who started the whole thing in the first place.

I have no problem with people believing what they want to believe.  However, I’ve always thought that if you’re truly secure in what you believe, then it should stand up to scrutiny.  But too often I see people falling back on the victim card, claiming that they’re being personally attacked.  And when that card is played, it’s all over.  There’s no way to win against it.  The more you fight, the more you lose.

 

“There is faith in science just like there’s faith in religion.”

Oh boy…this is the big one.  People of religious faith sometimes suggest that science requires faith in much the same way as religion.  But is that really a true statement?

First of all, let’s take a look at the Google definition of faith.  It lists two of them:

  1. Complete trust or confidence in someone or something.
  2. Strong belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof.

The first one is simple enough.  You can have faith in pretty much anything in the world: humanity, nature, society, and so on.  But it is the second one I really want to focus on, specifically the part that says “based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof”.

You see, the difference between science and religion comes down to their method of application.  Religion, as many often say, is a spiritual and personal thing.  Science however, is more impersonal.  It relies on experimentation and observation rather than scripture.  It all boils down to the scientific method, which begins with a question.  This question generates a hypothesis, or possible answer to that question.  Then, an experiment is designed and carried out as a way to see if that hypothesis is correct.  After the experiment is done, conclusions are drawn from its results.  If the results confirm the original hypothesis, then all is well.  If the hypothesis is proven wrong, then it’s back to the drawing board to come up with a new hypothesis.

Religion, however, has no such method.  To put it simply, there’s a reason they call it a “leap of faith”.

The thing that irks me and gets under my skin is that the same people who assert that science and religion both require faith also gleefully try to poke holes in science every chance they get.  These are the people who claim that the second law of thermodynamics disproves evolution, even though that’s totally false and based on a flawed understanding of the law.  These are the people who claim that “something can’t come from nothing” when talking about the Big Bang theory.

This would all be fine if these people were open to discussion, but they’re usually not.  I’ve already talked about how sometimes people get defensive (“it’s just my beliefs man”), but that’s only the tip of it.  Often, people will get outright furious if you dare to disagree with them (and this isn’t confined to the religious either…there are non-religious people out there who can be just as arrogant and close-minded).

Science isn’t perfect.  It is constantly changing, constantly evolving.  Albert Einstein hated the idea of quantum physics when it was first proposed, saying quote “God does not play dice with the universe” (a quote commonly misinterpreted as meaning he was a religious man…Einstein was using God as a metaphor).  And now, quantum physics is a widely accepted realm of science.  Evidence is always being gathered and interpreted, whether it falls in line with an already established theory or not.  The scientific view of the world is not absolute, and those that practice within its various fields generally understand that.

In the end, I think we all have to find our own ways of interpreting and understanding the world.

 

Well that’s all I have for this time.  Again, I would like to reinforce the idea that I am totally fine with whatever you decide you want to believe.  The world is an incredibly complex place, and part of being human is coming to grips with that.  I hope I didn’t come across as angry or bitter.  I try my best not to, especially since I know I was a little angry with religion in my younger years.  In any case, thanks for reading my rambling thoughts.

Check back next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week.

Stoking the Flames: Common Reactions to a Muslim Terrorist Attack

Some years ago I took a college class on world religions.  My teacher, when we came to the section on Islam, said that she enjoyed teaching this religion because she wanted to help dispel the idea that Islam was a violent and evil belief system.  And I agreed with that idea, because far too often we find ourselves in a spiral of denouncing something most of us don’t truly understand.

In the wake of the terrorist attack in Brussels last week, we are still in mourning and counting the dead.  And, as with every terrorist attack revealed to be the fault of Muslim extremists, there are a certain set of reactions that make themselves known.  I want to take a look at a few of them today and why I think they are misguided.

 

“Why aren’t Muslims out in the streets denouncing the attack?”

This is probably the most common one I hear.  In the aftermath of every terror attack, this is a question that pops up.  And despite the fact that plenty of Muslims do denounce the violent extremists, for some people it’s all or none.  If you’re not publicly speaking out against it, then you must be secretly supporting it.

So why is this faulty logic?  For much the same reason it would be to force all Christians to denounce the actions of someone who bombed Planned Parenthood.  For much the same reason it would be to force the state of Kansas to constantly denounce the hate spewed by the Westboro Baptist Church.  The actions of the few do not represent the perspectives of the many.  Just because a few people somewhere are hateful or violent does not mean that all people who belong to a large, generalized group are the same.

Put simply, you cannot judge a book based on the cover someone else puts over it.

 

“Muslims are dangerous and I don’t want them in my country”

The Syrian refugee situation is probably the largest humanitarian crisis of our time.  And yet, despite the fact that these are people in need, people who just want to get away from all the violence, they are often refused admission to other countries or are even placed into camps to keep them separated from the general public.

The reason for this is as simple as any: fear.

For countries over in Europe, the fear is two-fold.  The first part of it is the common fear that terrorists will be hiding among the refugees.  The second (and arguably more reasonable part) is that harboring the refugees will somehow make those countries a target for more terrorist attacks.  Here in the United States, almost all the fear comes from that first part, the idea that terrorists will be hiding among the refugees and will carry out attacks on our so-called great nation.

Here’s the thing: a terrorist would have to be an idiot to try and get in through the same way as refugees.  They have to go through an extensive screening process that can take eighteen to twenty-four months to complete, and that’s only after they get selected.  I talked about this back in the beginning of December, and I linked to a John Oliver video that I felt explained the refugee application process well.  I refer you to that video once again simply for the sake of brevity and not repeating myself.

But all that is even besides the point.  Not all Muslims are terrorists.  And that’s not some political correctness agenda I’m putting forth.  It’s the simple truth.  There are approximately 1.6 billion Muslims all over the world.  If they were all terrorists, we would be dead, plain and simple.  A conservative talk show host once made the audacious claim that ten percent of the world’s Muslims were terrorists.  This is an insane accusation because, as Cracked.com pointed out in 2010, that would equal about 150 million terrorists.  And if they each pulled off an attack killing just forty people, they could wipe out all the non-Muslims on Earth.

Besides, statistics show that since 9/11 here in the United States, more people have been killed by white supremacists and anti-government radicals than Muslim extremists.  Food for thought.

 

“Islam is a barbaric and violent religion”

I do wonder how certain types of people would react if they found my blog post.  I’m willing to bet some would just shake their heads in anger and click off the page without even giving it a chance.  So if you’ve made it this far, congratulations!  And thank you for giving me a chance.

But I digress.  Often, when the crusades come up in a discussion about religion, people among the Christian faith have one of two reactions.  They either brush it off, asserting that the crusades are part of the past and can’t be used as a fair judgement of modern Christianity (which is a fair point).  Or, they fire back, saying that the crusades were simply a defense maneuver against the onslaught of Islam in the Middle East.

There seems to be this perception in the western world that Islam must be a violent religion that spread by the sword.  This probably stems from how fast Islam was suddenly a worldwide system of belief.  Christianity took hundreds of years to go from being a persecuted cult to the state religion of the Romans.  By contrast, Islam went from being one person’s epiphany to a dominant religious force in the Middle East and northern Africa in roughly a century alone.  So the assumption was that for Islam to have spread so far and so fast, it must have been through violent conquest (and this was a conception that existed before 9/11, which honestly only exacerbated it).

But, as with a lot of things, the true history doesn’t really back up that idea.

If you compare Muslims and Christians during the time of the crusades, you’ll find out that Christians were far more brutal.  They beheaded people…a lot.  And by contrast?  Muslims gave their defeated foes food.  They fed their enemies.

Oh, it was a thing.

The prophet Muhammad actually put forth a lot of progressive rules for conducting warfare.  Among them was the idea that armies will not kill women, children, or innocents.  Muhammad also barred them from burning trees or orchards or destroying wells.  His successor even made these ideas the standard for Muslim armies.  It was so much so that according to the Cracked.com article I linked you to earlier, one expert said that the Muslims “exhibited a degree of toleration which puts many Christian nations to shame”.

 

To finish this off, I will say that I have not read either the Bible or the Quran in their entirety, so my knowledge of both religions is incomplete.  However, I will say this: all religions have misconceptions.  They are all perceived one way or another, unjustly or otherwise.  And when you consider that Muslims make up only around one percent of the population here in the United States, the overwhelming dislike of them starts looking ridiculous.  The hatred has been allowed to breed because the voice of the minority group is drowned out by a larger and louder crowd.  These people are never forced to confront their misconceptions because their chance of actually meeting or running into a Muslim in this country is so slim.  By contrast, harboring a belief that all Christians are violent is nearly impossible because you can barely step outside the door of your house without running into one.

Humanity does not exist as sides of a coin.  Humanity is a spectrum, filled with people who believe and feel in all different ways.

 

Well that’s all I have for you this time.  Check back next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week.

 

Picking up the Pieces: The Aftermath of the Paris Attacks

Friday November 13th, 2015.

What should have been an evening to enjoy the majesty of the city of lights swiftly descended into a surreal nightmare for hundreds of people.  Radical terrorists carried out several successive attacks on various places in Paris, killing over a hundred people.  And in the aftermath, we struggle to cope with the reality that such an event happened.

Many people have updated their Facebook profile picture to feature an overlay of blue, white, and red, the colors of the French flag, in an effort to show solidarity with the victims of the Paris attacks.  Some have criticized these people, accusing them of engaging in what is known as “slacktivism”, or appearing socially conscious without having to make an actual effort. Others have called attention to other attacks that happened just days before Paris, expressing their frustration that the attacks on the French city have dominated the headlines.  And still others have expressed anger at people who critique anyone who expresses sorrow over Paris, arguing that people can care about multiple tragedies at once.

But this is not what I want to talk about today.  The reaction I most want to talk about has to do with the response and attitude toward Muslims and refugees, specifically those from Syria.

As you may have heard, many state governors (mainly Republican ones by the way) have stated their intended refusal to allow Syrian refugees to settle in their respective states.  Now, legally there is very little they can actually do to further this agenda, but it is indicative of a trend that I find rather alarming.  Instead of showing solidarity with these people, who are fleeing their country because of the terrorists who are making their lives a living hell, many of us seem to want to lump them all into one group.

I saw a comment on Facebook a few days ago that quite literally said (and I regret having to even write this word out) “sandnigger hunting” with a question mark.

There are a lot of conservative, pro-military minded folk who have their hearts set on revenge.  They want retribution for all those who suffered and died at the hands of the terrorists who attacked Paris.  It’s fine to be angry.  It’s a natural reaction to the events that took place on that fateful Friday.  The problem comes with the fact that many of these same people have a tendency to lump all Muslims together.  They’re the same types of people who want to kick anyone with ties to Islam out of the country.  “We can’t let the terrorists win,” they often say.

But see, here’s the thing.  By turning against anyone who looks and thinks differently from us, we are giving the terrorists the victory they seek.

Google defines terrorism as “the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims”.  It’s vague, but that’s because there is no real concrete definition for the word.  Many governmental agencies across the world have shied away from defining it for one reason or another, and thus this is what we’re stuck with.  But the one thing I can say for sure is that one of the chief aims of terrorism is to spread fear, to destroy confidence and security.

And every time we mutter under our breath and cast a leery eye toward anyone on the street who even looks like they might be Muslim, we only confirm that they are succeeding in that aim.  And by pushing them away from us, we may only be pushing them into the arms of those we abhor.

Let’s break down some numbers real quick.  According to the Pew Research Center the percentage of Muslims in the United States as of 2014 is only roughly about 0.9 percent, which is slightly less than a hundredth of the population in this country.  Not only that, but the percentage of Muslims worldwide who are actually part of the ISIS terror group is roughly around the same number, about one percent or less.  In short, not all Muslims are terrorists.  In fact, very few Muslims are terrorists.  We’re letting the actions of an extreme few dictate our perspective on the whole.

And that’s what really bothers me.  Christians aren’t defined by the actions of the Westboro Baptist Church.  Cops aren’t defined by the actions of a trigger-happy, racist few.  And yet, whenever a radical Muslim commits a violent atrocity, people are all too willing to slap the label of “terrorist” on the entire group.  They stamp their feet and angrily demand that all Muslims be deported out of the country.

Why is this?  The reality is blunt, but simple: we don’t have to look them in the eyes while we do it.

Due to the small percentage of Muslims in the country, your chances of running into someone who is one is very slim.  Because of that, it becomes all too easy to distance yourself from them, to reduce them to something that isn’t quite human.  We don’t have to deal with it, so why should we care?  They’re all over there in that other country that we’ve never been to.  We’re all too comfortable sitting back and judging this entire group of people because we don’t have to deal with the repercussions of it.  Any backlash comes from such a minority group that we can largely just ignore it, using these cases of extremist violence to bolster our xenophobic views.

And it fucking pisses me off.  Yeah, I just dropped an f-bomb.  Deal with it.

These refugees are people, people with families, children, lives and dreams.  They live, think, and breathe just like we do.  They desire similar things.  And yet, we are content to think of them as less than human, because it makes our worldview seem more righteous.  Never mind the fact that the Ku Klux Klan considered itself a Christian group and swore to uphold Christian morality through whatever means necessary.  That doesn’t matter anymore, because it’s in the past right?  That kind of hatred doesn’t exist anymore right?

If you actually believe that while also calling for the deportation of Muslims, then you are an absolute damn fool and an utter hypocrite.

We talk so much about protecting ourselves, about our security…but what about their security?  Where is their right to peace of mind and safety?  Oh but that doesn’t matter right?  Why bother actually caring about a group of human beings when we can just close ourselves off and pretend their plight doesn’t exist.  We can just sit here and debate whether a bunch of coffee cups are offensive or not.  Because coffee cups are serious business.

And to think, just last week I made this big deal about how I think empathy is an innate process that all humans have.  And now I have to sit here lamenting how, in the aftermath of these vicious attacks, we seem to lack it, or at the very least refuse to acknowledge it.  These days, it’s all about us.  What about our problems?  What about our people?  Never mind the fact that despite the problems this country has, we are still far better off than most countries in the world.  How about a little humility?  How about a little sympathy for our fellow human beings for crying out loud?  We are all bound by the same DNA, the same genetic history.  We are all of the same species.  We all live on the same planet.  How about remembering that for a change?

Keep your fellow human beings in your hearts, thoughts, prayers, and so on.  Remember that they are simply that: human beings.  To forget that simple fact is to allow fear and doubt to consume our lives.

And I can’t believe I’m actually about to quote Star Wars in a time like this, but here we go: “fear leads to anger.  Anger leads to hate.  Hate leads to suffering”.

It’s far more true than I think we like to admit…

 

Well that’s all I have for this week.  If you or a loved one were directly affected by the events that happened in Paris this Friday, just remember that you are not alone.  In a tragedy like this, the best thing we can do is come together and overcome it.  We have to forget about the differences in country, culture, religion, and so on because in the end they don’t matter.  We are all human, and therefore flawed.  Accepting our flaws is the way to bettering ourselves.  Denying them will only lead to more violence and hatred.  And I feel like the world has enough of that already.

Tune in next Wednesday for another post.  Have a great week and stay safe out there, wherever you are.