Search Bunsnip.com

bunsnip (at) gmail (dot com)

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Commentary on Religulous and Religion

Last night Ian and I met up with Sov at the Broadway Theater to see Bill Maher's documentary Religulous. I thoroughly enjoyed it, but that's probably because I'm a non-believer; I can't imagine the faithful seeing this as anything other than a bash on their beliefs. And really that's exactly what it is. This is not a documentary about religion, but about the madness of religion.

I don't think Religulous is intended to sway believers, but rather to rally non-believers. The message is that religion causes greedy and destructive behavior, and if we non-believers don't start asserting ourselves, the religious may end up self-fulfilling their Armageddon prophecies.

So did the rallying work on me? No, not really. I mean, I do think organized religion causes an awful lot of harm in the world. But I also don't think there's much that can be done about that. It's not like religious belief is ever going to go away, and the dangerous mindsets that ofttimes accompany religious belief are not easily alleviated.

Besides, deep down I really do think everyone has a right to believe whatever they want, just as I have a right to disbelieve whatever I want. Though I still find myself baffled when otherwise intelligent people buy into what I perceive to be utter nonsense. Here I'm talking about specific peculiarities of religious belief, and not belief in god in general. As to a belief in god, I don't fault anyone for that. Although I am atheist, I recognize that there is no solid proof one way or another regarding the existence of god, so it requires just as much of a leap of faith to disbelieve in god as it does to believe in god. Fence-riding agnostics are the true realists in this picture.

When someone's religious belief begins to impinge upon the rights of others, that's where I have a problem. It's a fine line to walk, because when dogma says your belief is the only correct belief, you can't very well be tolerant of the beliefs or non-beliefs of others. I suppose it's anyone's right to not be tolerant. But when intolerance lends way to injury, that's where I become intolerant of intolerance.

I don't know. I guess there's one side of me that wants to say religious people are a bunch of crazy dangerous motherfuckers*, and another side that wants to say it's ok to be a crazy motherfucker as long as the dangerous stuff is left out of the picture.

Mostly, like politics, I just try not to think about it.


*Edited to add: When I say "religious people are a bunch of crazy dangerous motherfuckers", I'm not talking about you personally. In fact, I shouldn't even say "people" but "institutions" or "ideals". Religion does provide its followers with a sense of community, hope, and belonging -- and these are some very positive things about religion -- but it also tends to do the opposite for non-followers, by ostracizing, condemning, and dividing. Personally, I think the bad outweighs the good. But what else would you expect to hear from an atheist?

Subscribe to Bunsnip

21 comments:

Karen said...

Can't say that I've ever been labeled a "crazy dangerous motherfucker" before, but I guess everyone's entitled to their opinion.

That said...here's mine:

Regarding your comment "organized religion causes an awful lot of harm in the world". I'm not sure what you mean specifically, but in any organized religion, when fallible HUMAN beings are leading, mistakes are often made and people are often hurt.

But whether you believe in God or not, that is always the case where people are involved.

Sra said...

Well specifically re religion causing harm, I mean killing each other because we don't believe the same things (many many wars have been waged in the name of god throughout history and in various cultures), or simply hating each other because we are different.

It is true that people are imperfect and make mistakes with or without the presence of god in their lives, but god does seem to be a motivating factor frequently.

I don't mean the motherfucker thing personally. I'm called things like heathen, apostate, and sinner by various religious people, but I don't take it personally. Still, my word choice was perhaps a bit too strong.

sovknight said...

I could write a book about this. In fact, I might. In the meantime, I'll just say a few words.

Religion is dangerous. It is a hindrance to modern society and a blight on the earth. You think good can come of it? Wrong. Religion is nothing more than the willfully ignorant blindly following those who are more willfully ignorant. People who want to believe in magical and mystical things so they don't have to find the truth. Religion holds us back as a people and a species. Instead of searching for the answers, they believe magical beings will just "make everything ok."

Humans do things in the name of their religion, and these things are harmful. Don't believe me? Look around. You can't but not see it. Murder and hatred and bigotry and racism done every minute of every day, all in the name of religion. It may be the fallible humans doing the deeds, but it's the religion that drives them to do it.

Sra said...

Thanks for saying it better than I could, Sov. This post was a bit of a struggle for me, and not everything came out the way it should have. Damn writer's block!

Trovan said...

Unfortunately, I think that ignorance breeds ignorance, and intolerance breeds intolerance.

Religions, all of them (including Atheism) have a long track record of bigotry and intolerance towards anyone different than they are.

Religion has a bloody history only because throughout history everyone has belonged to one religion or another.

Until definitive proof appears and ends the debate, 'understanding' should be the idea, not just 'tolerance'.

I do not agree with your views on deity or religion, but that is no reason we couldn't be friends.

B.R. said...

This is definitely a subject that begs for attention as most people tend to have a reaction re: religion (or a total lack thereof). Most of us do think in terms of familiar narratives and religion does, indeed, provide that. I'm reminded of Bertolt Brecht's famous answer when asked which book had influenced him the most. The self-proclaimed atheist said: 'Sie werden lachen, die Bibel.' [for your non-German-savvy readers, it says: 'You will laugh, the Bible.']
Private beliefs aside, religious texts are the blueprint of much of our literature and active thought/belief systems/mores/texts et al., and we can't help but have attachments/reactions to them.
I have not seen Religulous yet. I would say I know Bill Maher's rhetoric reasonably well as I watch his Real Time on HBO every week and he refers to his film quite often. However, I will make it a point to watch his film and will subsequently review it.
I do get a tad uncomfortable when I hear Maher refer to actively believing folk as unintelligent. That sentiment does not ooze tolerance and in a democratic setting tolerance is the very glue we need to communicate reasonably and, above all, respectfully with one another.

Sra said...

Trovan: Well said. I certainly don't mean to come across as being unfriendly toward religious people (in this case "motherfucker" is really more of a term of endearment ;) At least half of my friends are religious, and my boyfriend Ian is a deist. I absolutely don't look down on any of them for that. I was trying to communicate that but did kind of a shitty job of it.

I think it is human nature to fear what is different, and fear breeds hatred. This all is irrespective of religion. But I think the differences in people that cause the greatest turmoil are religion and politics. So they are very relevant to intolerance and ignorance.

You're right that atheists are just as prone to intolerance as believers. I sat in on an atheist group in Salt Lake once, and was somewhat appalled by the better-than-believers attitude prevalent in the group.

Anyway, I think it's important to be able to have an open dialog about religion between believers and non-believers alike.

B.R.: You know, one of my favorite pieces of literature is the Book of Job. It reads like a play, complete with prologue, acts, and epilogue. I can't say I enjoy the King James translation, but the Bible does have worth, once you get past all the begetting and begatting.

I had never seen much of Maher until this film. You do get the impression that he feels superior to believers, particularly at the end when his message becomes all "Stop the religious, or the world will end!", which is really the only part of the movie that I didn't like. But he tries at least on the surface to be respectful.

sovknight said...

I like the way Trovan phrases things. It's apparent that he's given consideration and thought out his views very well. He has a calm way of rationalizing things. I wish I could be more like that.

I especially like this sentence though: "Religion has a bloody history only because throughout history everyone has belonged to one religion or another."

This proves my point better than anything I said myself. Religion is the problem.

Ben Sloan said...

Trovan is a cool and reasonable person, just as many other Christians are, including my entire family. But atheism is not a religion any more than not collecting stamps is a hobby.* Any attempt at defining it as such is just a more advanced version of, "Takes one to know one!"

*I forget who originally said this, but I didn't make it up.

sovknight said...

I believe it was Wondernerd.

Ben Sloan said...

I think he was quoting someone as well...but could be wrong.

Karen said...

I happen to hate the word "religion" in general, as my beliefs are not solely based on ritual observance of my faith. For me, it is an actual relationship with my Creator.

So is it the act of religion and organized ritual that you do not agree with or the belief of God in general?

Trovan said...

"a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith"

Using this definition, atheism can be classified as a religion.

I don't mean to offend by classifying atheism as a religion. To me, it is merely belief system.

Also, I wouldn't really say that too many atrocities have really been done in name of religion. Usually, its done for personal, selfish reasons, and then religion is used as justification.

But, in anything, extreme views are always a problem. Extreme Atheism, extreme Christianity, extreme Muslims, these are the world's troublemakers.

Scottrbarnes said...

I'm glad you called agnostics realists. It seems like we get the "not enough balls to decide" label from atheists and theists too often.

amyeliz said...

Well said, Sra. I saw Religulous yesterday, and absolutely loved it. Of course, when the Mormon footage came on, my Jewish and Catholic friends all turned to look at me. Oy.

Claire said...

I'm planning to see this movie. I like Bill Maher, smugness aside, and I'm looking forward to seeing what he's made.

My stance has always been "Keep the faith, lose the religion." There's certainly an argument to be made that the latter helps to develop and reinforce the former, but in my experience, without the former, the latter is so much empty posturing. I'm not anti-religion per se, but I certainly see it as a means to an end (information and personal decisions about faith and the role it will play in one's life) rather than something that must be renewed and devoured each day like the liver of Prometheus.

Plus, who wants to be a liver-eating vulture?

Faith, on the other hand, is (by my lights) self-sustaining, building and renewing through contemplation/meditation/intellectual examination of the eternal). Faith has everything to do with one's personal relationship with the Almighty (whomever that may be to a given individual), while religion is the general way in which the tenets of that faith are conveyed to the masses, usually thanks to a system designed with humanity's reliance on least-effort execution of its higher concepts in mind.

Look - just because you get delicious chocolate (truth/illumination/wisdom) in a Hershey's plastic wrapper (whatever religion/belief system you follow) doesn't mean the wrapper is inherently valuable or that you can't get equally delicious chocolate wrapped in a leaf (some other religion) or a muslin bag (atheism/agnosticism/Oprah). Even if your family has been buying their chocolate in Hershey's wrappers since time immemorial, that doesn't mean you can't find chocolate in one of those other places, or that the chocolate those leaf-loving neighbors of yours eat is somehow tainted.

What matters is the chocolate.

Sra said...

Wow lots of really excellent comments on this. I've been out of town and haven't had a chance to jump in again until now.

I would say that atheism is not a religion simply because there is no definite system of beliefs that unites all atheists. (It's a negatively defined commonality instead of a positive one, as Ben's Wondernerd quote expresses.) I mean, an atheist doesn't believe in god (or if you take my slant, you actively believe there is no god), but that doesn't say anything else about who you are and what you believe. I think this is different from "religion". But it's a matter of semantics and frankly I don't care if you want to call atheism a religion or not.

Moreover, I think there are differences between the meaning of religion, spirituality, morality, belief, and faith. A lot of you are using the word "faith" in this discussion to signify what I would call "belief". To me, faith is any leap you are willing to make in the absence of evidence (and as I've discussed on Bunsnip before, as an atheist I consider myself to have faith that there is no god, since I obviously can't prove it, but I do think it's true). On the other hand I see belief as being the paradigm of your worldview. It may include faith or not. Those are my definitions, and I think many people define those terms opposite from how I do, but in any case they are closely related. Semantics, again.

To Karen, I tried to express that I don't fault anyone for believing in god. As there is no evidence proving or disproving god's existence definitively, I am employing just as much faith in declaring there is no god as anyone else is when they say there is a god. Neither of us can know that, but we believe it. We are more alike in that regard than we might think. It's the agnostics who say "I don't claim to know, because there is no evidence", they are the sane ones, and all the rest of us are just a bunch of faithful believers and anti-believers. So, in short, no I have no problems with people believing in god. I have problems with people who are so adamant in that belief that it ceases to be belief and becomes "knowledge". That includes atheists who are militant about their belief in the non-existence of god.

Hear-hear to Trovan pointing out that any type of extremism is where the real danger lies. Amen, brother.

To Scott, when I once considered myself agnostic, I too was bothered by the opinion that agnostics don't have balls to decide. I think calling agnostics realists is the only fair description.

Amy, as I was in a Utah audience, there was a slight round of applause when the Mormon temple popped into view in the theater. I kind of wish they would have expanded the Mormon section more, as they only talked to ExMos and no MoMos, so it wasn't a very balanced view of the peculiar religion.

Claire, I like your slant (especially since it's chocolate-flavored). I have a problem with religions that package themselves as the be-all end-all solution to life, like everyone outside that religion is damned to hell. If that were the case, then the god of that religion isn't much worth worshiping, imo. But there are nuggets of wisdom to be gleaned from most belief systems (particularly non-extreme ones). My course in World Religions in university was one of my favorites for this reason. I particularly enjoyed Buddhism, but again this was a study of the religions in theory and not in practice, and often they get perverted in practice even if they are sound in theory (as I think happens a lot in Islam, which is in theory not a destructive religion, but which often creates extreme followers).

jess said...

so i fell off the blogging planet - i know, and i'm sorry. i have read from my phone, but my phone doesn't let me post comments on your site for some reason.

i digress.

i want to see religulous because i love bill maher. people take him too seriously at times. his show on hbo is great. i seriously doubt the movie will even play up here in logan, though. movies like that rarely do - they just don't do well.

i'm one of those realist fence-sitting agnostics. :)

jess said...

so i fell off the blogging planet - i know, and i'm sorry. i have read from my phone, but my phone doesn't let me post comments on your site for some reason.

i digress.

i want to see religulous because i love bill maher. people take him too seriously at times. his show on hbo is great. i seriously doubt the movie will even play up here in logan, though. movies like that rarely do - they just don't do well.

i'm one of those realist fence-sitting agnostics. :)

Claire said...

I'm planning to see this movie. I like Bill Maher, smugness aside, and I'm looking forward to seeing what he's made.

My stance has always been "Keep the faith, lose the religion." There's certainly an argument to be made that the latter helps to develop and reinforce the former, but in my experience, without the former, the latter is so much empty posturing. I'm not anti-religion per se, but I certainly see it as a means to an end (information and personal decisions about faith and the role it will play in one's life) rather than something that must be renewed and devoured each day like the liver of Prometheus.

Plus, who wants to be a liver-eating vulture?

Faith, on the other hand, is (by my lights) self-sustaining, building and renewing through contemplation/meditation/intellectual examination of the eternal). Faith has everything to do with one's personal relationship with the Almighty (whomever that may be to a given individual), while religion is the general way in which the tenets of that faith are conveyed to the masses, usually thanks to a system designed with humanity's reliance on least-effort execution of its higher concepts in mind.

Look - just because you get delicious chocolate (truth/illumination/wisdom) in a Hershey's plastic wrapper (whatever religion/belief system you follow) doesn't mean the wrapper is inherently valuable or that you can't get equally delicious chocolate wrapped in a leaf (some other religion) or a muslin bag (atheism/agnosticism/Oprah). Even if your family has been buying their chocolate in Hershey's wrappers since time immemorial, that doesn't mean you can't find chocolate in one of those other places, or that the chocolate those leaf-loving neighbors of yours eat is somehow tainted.

What matters is the chocolate.

Karen said...

Can't say that I've ever been labeled a "crazy dangerous motherfucker" before, but I guess everyone's entitled to their opinion.

That said...here's mine:

Regarding your comment "organized religion causes an awful lot of harm in the world". I'm not sure what you mean specifically, but in any organized religion, when fallible HUMAN beings are leading, mistakes are often made and people are often hurt.

But whether you believe in God or not, that is always the case where people are involved.

Post a Comment