Sunday, February 22, 2009

And on the seventh day..

It's Sunday today, a day of rest so instead of going to church, my Wife and I decided to watch a documentary over breakfast.

Ok, so we're not really religious and don't go to church but the documentary was about religion. It was a documentary by Bill Maher called 'Religulous'. The basic premise is that the host travels the world to meet people of various religions to discuss their beliefs and, admittedly, to mock them ever so slightly.

It was evident from the people he interviewed that all had taken the preachings of their chosen religion and interpreted it their own way. Yet all claimed that their way was the true word of God.

I must admit I struggle to understand how people who are seemingly rational in other aspects of their lives can be so irrational in their beliefs. I find it hard to take an adult seriously when they explain the illogical as purely 'faith', or by 'miracle'.

People who excuse everything they do as 'God's will' trouble me. If something good happens, it is because of God. If something bad happens, then it is because God is trying to test their faith, and they're happy that he will never give them more than they can handle.

Sometimes, bad things happen. Sometimes good things happen. That is the nature of life but people should be able to think for themselves. We can still do good deeds and live a healthy happy life by making our own choices and living with the consequences.

I think a lot of people are afraid to admit that we are on our own. That this is all there is. It scares them to think that there isn't some controlling being telling them how to behave.

If more people thought that this is all there is, that life is as good as it gets I believe that the world would be a much better place. I think that someone who believes that after they die they will go to a better place is giving themselves a ready made excuse not to live as good a life as they possibly can. Basically, if they do what they think they're supposed to do, they will be rewarded in the next life.

Think about it. When I die, I have no idea what will happen. I don't think I'll float up to the sky and be reunited with all of my family members on a big fluffy cloud. If I do, it'll be pretty boring after a while. Will I be able to look down on the people I knew who are still alive? If so, I'll basically be going back in time to when I was a kid, sat around with my Grandparents watching Coronation Street on TV. Is that your idea of heaven? If yes, do it while you're still alive. If no, what is your interpretation of the after life?

The word interpretation comes up a lot when discussing religion. This leads me to believe that there's something not quite right here. Surely if this was the true word of God, there would be just one true religion? There would certainly be no room for 'interpretation'. And this is where the trouble starts. Different people interpret religion different ways. Some believe it exists to give you guidance throughout your life. Others believe that it is pure fact that should be taken literally.

I think belief in doing good and helping others is a good thing. Believing that the Creator of the universe (via his autobiography) wants you to behead someone because they doubt his existence is not.

Maybe it's harder to not believe. Sometimes I wish I had something I could believe in where nothing, not even hard scientific evidence to the contrary could make me change my mind. I've always questioned what I've been told. At school this got me in trouble with the teachers but in order for me to believe something, I had to understand it. It would be naive to take everything you hear as fact.

In Religulous, Bill Maher makes the point that if you were told that the story of Jack and the beanstalk was true according to the Bible and the story of Jonah and the whale was a fairytale people would defend the existence of magic beans. The point is, neither story is particularly logical and could not happen in real life, but because we are told, in a book, that one happened thousands of years ago people believe it to be true, where as the other happened 'once upon a time' in a different book and is accepted as fiction.

Think for yourself. Ask questions. By all means believe what you believe but listen to both sides and make up your own mind. Think logically. Sometimes you can't just excuse things by faith.

I was raised a Catholic. I went to Catholic school. We went to church. I was even an Altar boy. I listened to their side. I asked the questions. I got in trouble for questioning the teachers and the Priest but as soon as I was old enough to think for myself, I decided that life wasn't for me. I don't begrudge my upbringing. I'm grateful I had the opportunity to hear their side and come to my own conclusion.

One of the most vivid memories of my time at a Catholic Primary school is when the entire class sang a song that said you will go to hell if you tell a lie. Obviously, I was terrified by this. Kids tell lies, and it is not a healthy way to stop them from telling lies by telling them, at 6 years old, that they will burn in hell for all eternity if they do.

By all means give them alternate views and let them make up their own mind, but to me, a lot of religion seems to be about instilling fear in people in order to keep them in line. Do as we say or suffer the consequences when you die. This is very clever as there is no way of proving that heaven doesn't exist. If you live your life that way and you're wrong, so what, there will be no consequences. But if you don't live your life that way and you're wrong you have a lot to lose!

I'm not going to go into the whole war and religion thing but I think the people who created these religions basically had good intentions. I doubt they ever conceived of the idea that someone thousands of years later would take their words and twist them to justify killing another human being.

It is this bastardisation of religion that I find offensive. There are so many people using religion to excuse their prejudice and ignorance. The teachings of religion are basically good but they should not be used to excuse all things.

Tonight, it's the Oscars and I will bet you now that a number of recipients will thank God for their win. Surely, with all the troubles in the world today, God would have more important things to do than use his powers to make sure that some pretentious luvvie gets recognition from their peers for pretending to be someone else in a film. Unless he truly is a vain and jealous God who gets off on hearing people thank him on live TV in front of millions of people.

At the Olympics, it is not unheard of for a sprinter to thank God for their gold medal win. I can imagine God in his workshop, devising a new plan to end world hunger and famine when he suddenly realises the men's 400 metres is about to start so he stops what he is doing to shift his thoughts to that tall fella running around in a circle who prayed slightly harder than the other 7 racing with him. This doesn't make sense. You won the race. Maybe you trained harder than the others. Maybe not, but why not take the credit yourself and let everyone see how well you did?

Anyway, going back to Religulous. It's not going to change anyones mind if they follow a religion. It is a humourous look at faith aimed at non-believers. I haven't seen any more of Bill Maher's work so I don't know if the style is typical of him and maybe it runs about 20 minutes too long but if you're open minded, it's definitely worth a look.

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