Homer Simpson once said that alcohol was the cause and solution to all of life’s problems, but I disagree. There is something which has done far more to both help and harm humanity throughout history: Religion.
At times, religion has been a boon to mankind. Belief in a higher power has brought comfort to many people and caused them to partake in activities which have benefited society. Unfortunately, many atrocities have also been committed due to religion and differences over religious beliefs. It’s possible that conflicts over religion have probably resulted in more death and suffering than any other cause in history.
Since a pretty significant religious holiday is coming up in a couple of days, I figured this was a good time to discuss religion, and how we can help make it a force for good.
Stop taking everything literally
Earlier this year, I discussed evolution and how when taken literally, the Bible’s account of creation cannot be reconciled with what science tells us. Perhaps then, we shouldn’t take the Bible literally.When I was six years old, I was really into dinosaurs, and as a result, I owned several dinosaur books. Thanks to those books, I learned a lot of things about dinosaurs. One thing I learned was that dinosaurs lived a long time ago; long before there were any human beings. This seemed to directly conflict with something I had been taught in Sunday school: The world was created in seven days.
I was thoroughly confused, so I asked my mother what the deal was. She told me that a “day” in the Bible it isn’t really what we think of as a day. “Day” is probably used to symbolize a certain period of time, perhaps even millions of years.
That answer made a lot of sense to me back then, and it still does today. Once you stop taking everything in the Bible at face value, and accept that much of the writing may be metaphorical or symbolic, it fits in much better with what we know of the real world.
This might not sound right to some of you. After all, this is the Bible we’re talking about – the word of God himself! Isn’t that something that we SHOULD be taking literally?
Consider the source and think for yourself
The United States Constitution was written 227 years ago, and many people feel it is horribly outdated. Many of the ideas in the document reflect the time in which it was written, and don’t really reflect the realities of the world in which we currently reside. In addition, there has been much debate over the proper interpretation of some of the passages. If the Constitution is considered outdated, then where does that leave the Bible which was written thousands of years ago?Some people might protest that the Bible will never become “outdated” since it is the word of God. It’s important to remember that even if the Bible is the word of God, it still had to be interpreted and transcribed by humans. It’s quite possible that during that process, something might have gotten lost in translation.
Isn’t it an insult to God to think that mankind can flawlessly understand his message? When mortals attempt to decipher the word of an omnipotent being, it’s perfectly reasonable to think that there might be some misunderstandings.
The prophets of Biblical times lived in a very different world than we do today, and their understanding of God’s word would be colored by their environment and societal norms. If humanity was to receive the Bible today, chances are, the message would be interpreted differently.
That’s why it is important for us to consider what the Bible and other religious texts are really trying to say. Instead of just listening to our religious leaders’ interpretation, it’s important for us to think for ourselves and question what we’ve been told.
The first time I really questioned my religious teachings was in ninth grade. My social studies teacher was discussing the story of King Saul. I was familiar with the story from Sunday school, but my teacher provided a slightly different spin.
My teacher said that the prophet Samuel chose Saul to serve as the king of Israel. But Saul eventually stopped listening to Samuel, so the prophet sought to have him replaced. My first reaction was that my teacher was wrong. Saul wasn’t replaced because he didn’t listen to Samuel, Saul was replaced because he disobeyed God!
Then I realized that what my teacher was saying actually made a lot more sense. Especially considering that the story of Samuel and Saul was likely written by one of the prophet’s disciples.
Unfortunately, as I’ll discuss later, having people interpret the Bible in their own way can sometimes turn out poorly as well.
Stop forcing your beliefs upon others
You may consider yourself to be a devout person. You have studied your religion with great devotion, and in doing so, you have become convinced that it is the one true way. You believe you have lived your life the way God intended, and now, you feel it is your responsibility to ensure that others do the same.
However, there are many other people in the world who are just as convinced that their religious beliefs are the correct ones. When two groups with different beliefs – both of which are completely convinced that they are correct AND that their beliefs are backed by a higher power – come into contact, things tend to get messy.
Back in the day, they called conflicts like that “Crusades.” While global-level religious warfare has thankfully been limited in recent years, there are still plenty of smaller scale conflicts throughout the world. Even when the conflicts aren’t violent or far-reaching, they tend to be unpleasant.For example, there’s the whole “we need to put God back in schools” crowd. It seems like what they mean to say is, “We need to put OUR God back in schools.” My guess is that they’d be the first ones to complain if a teacher tried to teach his class about say, the Sikh religion.
Speaking of that, I believe there’s also a big difference between teaching about other religions and forcing someone to practice them. The former is telling children that yes, these things exist in the world; the latter is infringing on their freedoms. In other words, telling children that many Muslims bow to Mecca several times a day is okay; Forcing them to do so is not.
For some people, even that level of education crosses the line. They do not want their children learning anything that doesn’t sync up with what their religion says. (Or at least what they THINK their religion says). They do not want schools teaching their children about evolution because they don’t want them questioning what their religion says about Creation.
I feel that if you can only get your children to share your beliefs by shielding them from all others, then there might be some major problems with your beliefs. As a parent, I plan to share my beliefs and values, but I’m not going to completely isolate them and not give them a chance to think for themselves.
Stop using religion as a justification for hate
As mentioned earlier, history is filled with atrocities performed in the name of religion. While some of these have indeed been spurred because of religious differences, I suspect that in many cases, religion is merely a convenient excuse.
Terrorism is often associated with religious fanatics, but I don’t believe religion is the real motivation behind most terrorist acts. Terrorists are generally people who have been conditioned to hate for most of their lives. Religion is often used as a conditioning, but it is the real cause of the hatred, or have other religious groups been used as a scapegoat for suffering? (“We would be better off if not for the Jews!”)
Unfortunately, this phenomenon isn’t limited to foreign terrorists. There are plenty of people here in the United States who carry out evil deeds supposedly in the name of religion.
Here’s a “fun” little story from the news: Students at McGuffey High in Pennsylvania recently held a Day of Silence which would would raise awareness of gay bullying. Apparently, this didn’t sit well with all of the students.
To show that they were not down with any sort of tolerance, a group of students countered with an “anti-gay day” in which they all wore flannel (Anyone know the significance of flannel?), and actively bullied some of their LGBT classmates. One of the ways they bullied their classmates was to pin Bible verses to their lockers.Apparently, many of these bullies felt justified in their actions because the Bible clearly says that homosexuality is a sin. (Of course the Bible also condemns wearing polyester, so I certainly hope that their flannel shirts were pure cotton.)
In the past, I’ve trolled people on Twitter when they use religion as a justification for anti-homosexual comments. I ask them if they participate in other activities forbidden in the Bible, like eating pork or shellfish. I was told by some of these people that Jesus invalidated a lot of the Old Testament, so it’s now okay to do things like that.
As a Jew, I may not be 100% knowledgable about what Jesus did and didn’t do, but I’m pretty sure he didn’t parse through the Old Testament and arbitrarily decide what was and wasn’t acceptable.
“Let’s see, let’s see…Eating shellfish? Sure, that’s okay now…Wearing synthetic blends? Yeah, I guess it’s fine if you do that…Homosexual relations? Oh hell no!
“Ewwww…gay people? Nobody wants that! We’ve got to make sure that never happens! So remember: From now on, all that other stuff is cool, but if you see any gays, you’d better convert the heck out of them. Or even better, beat them up!”The Bible says many things about a lot of subjects, and as it turns out, some of it is kind of contradictory. But for some reason, people are really hung up on the whole “lying with another man” stuff. You might think that Moses was only able to free the slaves from Egypt after he eliminated all of the homosexuals, or the reason that Jesus died was because there were too many gay people around.
Here’s my theory. If you are bullying homosexuals, you aren’t doing it because the Bible told you to. You’re doing it because you want to bully someone, and the Bible provided you with both an easy target and a way to rationalize your actions.
If Jesus did invalidate anything in the Old Testament, it was probably the parts where it was okay to treat each other poorly. Didn’t Jesus want everyone to be nice to one another?
If you use the Bible or religion to justify bullying, then you are not being “religious.” You are not doing “God’s work.” You are not making the world a better place in any way, shape, or form. All you’re doing is finding a way to justify your sociopathic behavior.
If you really want to actively “save” people, stop worrying about homosexual people. They’re doing just fine. They’re not hurting you, they’re not ruining the “sanctity of marriage,” and they’re not destroying society.
Instead, why not put your time, money, and energy into stopping some of these things which are actively hurting people?
Instead of passing out Bible verses, how about you pass out pamphlets promoting a charity? Or go to a soup kitchen and pass out food to the homeless? Or doing something that God or Jesus, or whoever you’re supposedly acting in the name of, would actually approve of?
I realize that this has been long and somewhat preachy, so I’m going to close with a quick summary: Use your common sense, think for yourself, respect that not everyone will agree with you, and don’t use religion as an excuse for being a jerk. If we could all do that, then I believe religion would truly be the benefit to mankind that it has the potential to be.