"Everything is right until it's wrong," says one character in the film "Hemingway's Garden of Eden." He then adds "You'll know when it's wrong." The lines were lifted from Ernest Hemingway's allegedly autobiographical novel published a quarter century after his death.
It made me think of my history with religion.
When I was very young, everything seemed right with religion. "Jesus loves me. This I know, for the Bible tells me so..." are the lyrics we sang almost every week in Sunday school, assuring us that Jesus loved us and that he would protect us. My parents were so certain that this was true, that their love for Jesus was somewhat overwhelming.
For me, religion was right until it was wrong and I knew when it started to go wrong and continued to go wrong for me.
I usually say my religious skepticism began when I was 12, but I can't remember exactly when it started. I may have been younger. I remember asking questions in Sunday school that no one could answer, such as, "Why are there no dinosaurs in the Bible?" And when my parents decided our family would read a chapter of the Bible every day before dinner, starting with chapter 1 of Genesis, I was horrified by much of what I read. The God of the Bible certainly didn't seem like he was worthy of praise and worship, only of fear. And when we arrived at the end of Revelation, we started over so I had to read those horrendous and violent stories again.
After hearing the Hemingway quote, I decided to make a list of what seemed/was/is right with religion and then what I learned is wrong with it. The list will not be immediately complete, as I will think of new things to add to it over time.
I would be glad to hear your two-cents worth of right and wrong things about religion (religion in general or any specific religion) in the comment section ---and if I agree, I will add them to my lists.
WHAT SEEMED/WAS/IS RIGHT ABOUT RELIGION?
For some people, religion is a comfort.
For some, religion provides a sense of belonging.
Some religious institutions do selfless charitable work, without requiring that recipients listen to sermons or accept their religious philosophies before receiving help.
Many members of religious congregations help each other in times of need. When my sister was dying of cancer, members of her church drove her to appointments, made meals for her family, shopped and ran other errands when her family was unable to do everything. I'm sure church members prayed with her, too. I personally think that prayer does no good but, most likely, my sister was comforted by their efforts.
Religion seems to help some people stay out of prison, overcome drug or alcohol abuse, etc. An equally intense secular program might do as well, but the added incentive of heaven or fear of hell, probably helps. The life of an addict and the effects addiction has on family members and other victims, are probably worse than the negative effects of religion.
Religions teach right and wrong. In general they teach good values, unless they go overboard and expect perfection or use extreme views in hateful ways (such as Fred Phelps.)
Many religious people volunteer time/money for good works ---but so do many non-religious people. (If one disregards money donated directly to religious institutions, atheists actually donate more to charity than religious people.)
WHAT SEEMED/WAS/IS WRONG ABOUT RELIGION?
For some people, religion is a crutch which allows them to remain dependent, emotionally disabled, or childlike.
Some religious charitable institutions require recipients to listen to sermons or accept its religious philosophy before receiving help, thus the services provided are self-serving, not selfless acts of kindness.
Some religions instill debilitating shame and guilt on its members.
Some religions set moral standards almost no one can achieve and if one is so caught up in preaching against sin, some sins become almost irresistible. (Ted Haggard, Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker, are you listening?)
Almost everyone believes his/her religion is the one true religion. They cannot all be right, but they can all be wrong.
Many religious leaders claim and want their congregations to believe that they are in possession of the whole truth ---yet no one is in possession of the whole truth about anything, especially religious concepts that cannot be proven.
Religion divides us ---pits one religion or one sect against another. A perfect example is the frequent fights that erupt in the Church of the Nativity and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher between factions of monks fighting over territory within the churches.
Religious people tend to dislike, hate and/or have animosity toward those who disagree with them. Just read the crank mail received by the Freedom From Religion Foundation ---most of it from so-called "good Christians" ---you know, those people who are supposed to love their neighbors and enemies. Many non-believers or people of minority religions have reason to fear all those "good Christians." Students (and their family members) have been threatened and/or attacked physically or verbally after blowing the whistle on proselytising teachers, for example.
Religion can turn people into snobs. They truly believe they are superior to others who have different beliefs or no religious beliefs at all. On the other hand, I know some atheists who look down their noses at religious people, too. It's the tribe instinct for mankind to do this, whether it be by supporting a sports team or a core belief.
Religion makes some people downright mean. Example: Fred Phelps.
Religion makes some people dangerous. Examples: Muslim terrorists, those who blow up abortion clinics, crusaders, Jim Jones.
Religious leaders have hidden the bad acts of some of its religion's leaders/members in order to keep up the appearance or reputation of the church and/or to hold onto its power. (The Catholic Church's many sins include corruption in the Papacy, suppression of pedophile priests and abuse in Magdalene homes for women.) This shows that the religion's reputation and power are more important than the welfare of its members.
The Catholic church has threatened to excommunicate members who take a pro-choice stance on abortion. Apparently pedophile sex is not enough for priests to be excommunicated. In Brazil an entire medical team was excommunicated after performing an abortion on an 80-lb. nine-year-old who was pregnant with her stepfather's twins. Because of her age and size she was not expected to survive the pregnancy. Apparently rape of a nine-year-old stepdaughter is not worthy of excommunication.
Religion has been an underlying cause in countless wars. I can name very few wars that have not had religion as, at least in part, one of its causes. There is a theory that wars fought over land eventually end when one side takes definitive control over the property in question. But religious wars (or any war based on a difference in ideology) never end.
Religion makes people do good in hopes of gaining a ticket to heaven, instead of doing good for goodness sake.
Religions teach myth and superstition as truth, thus blurring the lines between truth and fiction, between belief and rational thought. This results in poor reasoning abilities.
Religion causes wishful thinking which gives false hopes and results in unhappiness when those hopes are dashed. Our dreams need to be based on reasonable expectations and the knowledge that dreams are usually fulfilled after much hard work and not the result of prayer.
Religious zealots think they can put their religious beliefs above all else, above the laws of their country or community and even above compassion.
Many reconstructionist Christians want to return to Biblical laws ---laws that would permit executions for homosexuality, abortion, or adultery. Some even advocate public stoning as the preferred method of execution. This sounds so much like radical Islam ---a religion that Christian zealots hate. (Is it true that we become what we hate?)
Religion seems to be obsessed with other people's sex lives. Sex is sinful before, after, or outside of marriage. It is sinful with a same-sex partner. It is sinful if it is used as recreation rather than procreation. It is sinful to lust, even if only in one's heart, not in actual acts.
Karen Armstrong argues that in their terror of sex and hatred of women, theologians developed and propagated "the Christian sexual neurosis," an unholy trinity of women, sex, and sin that became identified with Christianity. Christian women have been forced to accept certain prescribed traditional stereotypical roles, as virgins, martyrs, witches, wives and mothers. Even though the women's movement of the 1970s and thereafter has overcome some of this, the Pat Robertson's of the world continue to rant against feminists.
Re: the above statements on sex ---it seems that many highly-religious people are simply jealous of anyone having more or better sex than they are.
In some religions, women are required to cover their hair, bodies and/or faces. I can't help but believe it is not to protect them from lustful men but to punish them for being perceived temptresses. Islam considers that rape is not a sin on the part of a male, only on the part of the "temptress" female and is actually her just punishment for whatever sins she is perceived to have committed.
Many of the most outspoken of religious people are the worst hypocrites. Examples: Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker, Ted Haggard, George Rekers to name only a few.
Some religious zealots blame all disasters on groups they dislike. Pat Robertson is a master at this. According to him, almost every disaster (earthquake, tsunami, 9/11) has been caused by God's retribution against homosexuals, abortionists, feminists, liberals, the ACLU, atheists, Hindus, and/or Muslims. I wonder why God killed so many "innocent Christians" in natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina instead of warning them (as he allegedly did Noah) to get the hell out of New Orleans.
Most of the highly-religious people I know personally have little sense of humor. What a shame that they can't have much fun.
This will be an ongoing project. I will be adding more to this post as time permits.
I repeat: I would love to hear your input about right and wrong things about religion (religion in general or any specific religion) in the comment section ---and if I agree, I will add them to my lists.