The Folly of Religion

T

When a thousand people believe some made-up story for a month,
it’s called “fake news”, but when a billion people believe it for a thousand years, it’s called “religion”.  

                             – Yuval Noah Harari

On one side there’s the major religions that believe too narrowly, and on the other there’s the atheists who believe nothing substantial at all. In the middle we have the occultists and New Agers who believe anything, provided it’s emotional and esoteric. So things are bad all around.

                            – The Arkon


 

 

 

Niels Bohr was a Nobel Prize-winning physicist and a leading figure in the Manhattan Project. One day, a visiting colleague was surprised to see a horse-shoe hanging above his desk, and asked “Surely you don’t believe the horse-shoe will bring you luck, Professor Bohr? After all, as a scientist…” Bohr laughed. “Of course not. I’m not likely to believe such nonsense. However, I’m told that a horse-shoe brings luck whether you believe it or not “. It’s been suggested that Bohr was joking, but his response captured an important truth: to explain the complexity of life, people find themselves looking for patterns that transcend the logical. No matter how much they view themselves as rational, they still act as if life is subject to some kind of non-human oversight. The randomness said to lie at the heart of our existence is often rejected in favor of a narrative that bestows life with higher meaning. But for whatever reason, mediums like literature and visual art have fallen short in conveying this kind of meaning. Only religion, the supreme storytelling vehicle of the ages, seems able to fulfill this role. Its ability to link exalted truths to the daily lives of countless people still isn’t fully understood, even after millennia. This power is made even more confounding by the overzealous faith it’s known to inspire in its adherents, making fanatics out of otherwise mild-mannered and reasonable people.

 

 

Though many people are religious, there’s hardly any agreement on what religion means or what its purpose is. In the West, it’s been conceived as a system of beliefs and rituals that center on a supernatural “God”, and is said to be distinct from secular activities.
But with the surge in popularity of New Age and Eastern philosophies, this conception has become questionable in recent decades. Some now claim that core religious values no longer center on “God”, but rather on moral awareness. Others insist that religion requires a community of believers, while some say it works fine as a personal belief. For certain people, religion is a political theory that informs how to structure the state, and for others it’s just a way of life. These ideas diverge considerably, yet seem able to co-exist within the same religious systems, no doubt a testament to their robust nature. But regardless of their core values, what many religions have in common is a touching certainty that they’re right, even though such conviction is unconducive to skeptical inquiry. In fact, it rarely occurs to the religious to ask whether their values were ever valid in the first place.
But perhaps this is unsurprising when most religions promise divine rewards only for achievements of the will or heart, and none for achievements of the head or understanding.

 

 

Religious freedom has become an emblematic value in the West. Embedded in constitutions and championed by politicians and intellectuals alike, it represents an absolute truth, something beyond question. But what nobody fully anticipated was how religion would adopt the attributes of the modern marketplace, taking the form of a product meant chiefly to satisfy its consumers. The explosion of Evangelical Christianity is a prominent example. Here, megachurch pastors can be seen selling limitless positivity in the name of a prosperity gospel. Though easily debunked by their own theology, these maestros present their affluence as proof of the wisdom they offer. Apparently, their god has directed them to preach from million-dollar stadiums, wearing tailored suits and Rolex watches. One day, if you work hard enough, maybe you too can wear a Rolex watch. Such performances are shameless, much like those of a shrewd salesman: a well-dressed male selling make-believe to the desperate, to people half on their phones, half paying attention, yet all looking for the same easy fix. This is a market-deformed religion, serving the needs of everyone from gullible churchgoers to politicians who benefit from their votes come election time.

On the subject of politicians, religion seems for them more a question of prudence than faith. Like signing up for an insurance policy, professing religious allegiance seldom does harm, and acts as a show of voter solidarity. Yet when asked about his religion, many a politician will simply refer to himself as a “person of faith”, as though being a believer is more important than what one actually believes. Such a person lacks the courage to call himself “religious” because that would lead to the question of, “Which religion? “.
And why choose one religion over dozens of others? Why even any at all?
Such questions generate actual thought, something many politicians try to avoid.
And why not? “Person of faith” is a dishonest term for a dishonest time –  a phrase beloved by people too cowardly to debate something as important as religion, much less the truth behind it. One would think religious followers would demand such answers from not only their politicians, but their pastors, imams and rabbis, yet somehow, they hardly do. The risk of their own hypocrisy seems forever invisible to the religious, for whom sufficient proof of faith consists of loud and ambiguous declarations on the part of their leaders.

 

 

The dismal job done by religious leaders to uphold their own orthodoxy, combined with the apathy of their followers to demand answers, has led to a quiet yet noticeable cynicism towards religious teachings. It’s not uncommon for religious people to show reluctance when asked to affirm if they really believe in their faith’s doctrines.
The Christian belief in hell, the Jewish writings on the apocalypse and the Islamic perspective on martyrdom are examples of teachings that often raise discomfort when broached. Upon even the lightest scrutiny, it becomes apparent that many religious people aren’t so sure about their beliefs. Were a thorough investigation launched, one might conclude that none of the major religions even adhere to the core teachings of their own scriptures. Tradition and festivities are the length and breadth of such people’s faith, not doctrine. As an example, one could cite Humanistic Judaism, which rejects their god Yahweh while still embracing Jewish history and culture. Among Christians we see the embrace of Xmas, which turns even the most secular Western nations into the equivalent of a one-party state each December. The national propaganda of shopping and Santa Claus become inescapable during this time, yet neither Biblical nor extra-Biblical texts lend credence to the veneration of fir trees, mistletoes and candy cane as proper Christian artifacts.

What religious people are really doing, rather than follow their doctrines, is maintaining a corpus of stories on which the Western ethos is based. They consider these to be culturally valuable, and dislike being confronted about their inaccuracy.
Christians will stare at you in blank disbelief if you suggest that their holidays are expressly unbiblical or pagan. “But it doesn’t matter”, they splutter, “Everyone does it,
so what’s the harm? 
”. Such a response illustrates a kind of cultural dogmatism where
long-held traditions overshadow the religions they claim to stem from. Anyone who opposes these customs is met by a look of incredulity that leaves them feeling foolish for even trying to protest. Hence, the greatest danger to religion turns out not to be heresies, atheists, or secularism, but the kind of flimsy orthodoxy and blind tradition that is cordial drivel. The kind that even its own adherents would not accept without first cloaking it in cheerful festivities, as seen in the West, or enforcing it by threat of punishment, as seen in parts of the Middle East.

 

 

Perhaps due to the growing disparity between what religions preach and what their followers actually do, “not religious” has now become a specific identity.
This non-affiliation is a trend of the last three decades, but strangely enough, even such people cannot avoid some kind of quasi-religious devotion. When asked about their spiritual life, they deny being religious, yet still say they “believe in something”, as if belief were the main criteria for an enlightened life. But historically, religion’s connection with belief is more tenuous than one would think. It has very few counterparts in ancient times, and is most prominent in Christianity, where it developed from the influence of Greek philosophy. Historically, the core of most religions were about subscribing to a way of life, rather than a list of doctrines or beliefs. In some cultures, belief is even considered an impediment to spiritual life. Hinduism and Buddhism have traditions denying that spiritual realities can be expressed in terms of beliefs, whilst Vedanta and Taoism caution against mistaking human concepts for ultimate realities. In fact, until the British started classifying the people of India by religious affiliations, there wasn’t even such a thing as “Hinduism”. Instead, there was a diversity of cultural practices that were inseparable from the rest of life, which were never defined in terms of belief. The same was true in pre-Christian Europe – neither the Greeks nor the Romans would have understood our modern conceptions of religion, as separating it from mainstream culture would have been considered anomalous.

The centrality of belief only makes sense when religion implies having a creed, which is why most religions demand faith on the basis of believing a doctrine, rather than conviction on the basis of reasons. Without this faith to assure people that suffering and evil have some redemptive meaning, and that their future afterlife is secure, history would be no more than a succession of unexplainable changes, oftentimes painful, and all going nowhere. But when the faithful are blatantly ignoring their doctrines in favor of tradition, then it raises the question of what religious loyalty is really grounded on.
For even when long-held doctrines are disproven and belief has been eroded, there still remains a sturdy bedrock of tradition and ritual that extends the shelf-life of religious systems, pointing to something other than just storytelling that keeps the enterprise alive.

 

 

Once widely enforced by threat of violence, religion is now tolerated as an expression of liberal humanist values. But “toleration”, whilst it may sound noble, also means accepting that though a belief may be unwarranted and absurd, it should nonetheless be endured for the sake of civility and social harmony. This is why toleration is so fashionable in a time when humans are anxious to believe themselves more rational than ever – it’s an effective means to accommodate our absurdities. So if religion deserves a special kind of toleration, then it’s only because there was nothing special about it after all, other than being a specially protected category of absurdities. And for as long as people behave respectfully towards religion, even respectfully disagreeing with it, it will always carry an aura of invincibility. But if some non-religious person can post a silly comic where Jesus gets into a fight with Mohammed over a beer, then it proves the existence of a whole other world where religion holds no power. Where the events of life are unaffected by what is preached in a pulpit or taught in a synagogue, and where humans take their directives from a completely different source.

In a world where many are desperate to escape the perplexity of their own lives, there’s no shortage of stories being told about human existence. We live to stand in awe of something with the power to make sense of ourselves, yet many of us want this solace for no money down and with no critical inquiry. For this, religion is a great option because it sells the impossible by touting its own impossibility. Much like the lottery and five-minute abs, religion represents the fantasy of something stupendous materializing from nothing. Salvation, forgiveness, social harmony, and even Heaven – it could all happen to you.

Religion provides meaning for many, yet it eludes apprehension; it seems like the ultimate ideal, but is also the hopeless quest. Above all, religion is a symbol of what exceeds us.
It expresses nothing so much as man’s desire to be put in his place by something greater than himself, as a relief from the insanely hopeful ambitions of his life. But this refuge reveals itself to be a pipe-dream –  a proof of the vain subjectivity of people who relate everything to themselves, mapping the intentions of the Supreme Being to their own personal lives. Only a form of social control would plant such images and ambitions into people’s mind, rendering them compliant even as they devote untold efforts to a house of cards. It brings to mind a version of a quote by Arthur Schopenhauer: “At the end of their lives, most religious men will look back and find that the very thing they allowed to slip by unappreciated was their own lives. And so a man, having been duped by hope, dances into the arms of death “.

 

 

 

godspeek for thought

 

All religions contain some aspect of truth, but they push so hard into fallacies that their truths aren’t enough to keep them afloat.


Nowadays, religious people are quick to deny their own doctrines because they know their religion is crumbling. They don’t want to be caught in the wreckage, so the knee-jerk reaction is to say things like “I don’t need the Bible to believe in God! Who wrote that anyway? “.


People follow religions like they follow sports. They find a guy who’s saying something that sounds unique and recruit people to follow him. It’s the same for football: people choose an arbitrary team to follow, then form a fan club around it.


Organized religions are all just large-scale deceptions.

That’s why they have to be “organized”. Duh.


Religious leaders have no interest in the truth.

Have you ever tried talking to them about it?

It’s quite underwhelming..


When pastors spend millions on megachurches, you should ask why they’re doing it. Sure, they’ll claim to be, “doing it for Jesus“,

but if you keep pressing them, they’ll eventually reveal that it’s a business move. So they’re building churches because they want it,

not because their “god” told them to do it.

In contrast, ancient cultures built their temples for the gods, not themselves. There’s a big difference there.


Why do you think ancient temples were built? For fun? Superstition? Ancient cultures didn’t build temples on the basis of myths and whims, like we do. Just look at Disneyland – it’s centered on fictions of Mickey Mouse, which is why it’s all made of fiber glass, aluminium and plastic. Compare that to three-meter wide stones,

stacked five stories high for an ancient temple. Modern temples are jokes when compared to ancient ones that were built for real gods.


When someone from a cult comes up to you, claiming to have important information, should you expect a rational exposition or something bizarre? It’s the same with religious talk.


The New Agers and Hollywood celebrities keep saying, “It’s all about love. Just love man“. But the root of that talk is evil because they can’t define any of it. They don’t even know what “love” is, so saying,

Just love everyone“, is the same as saying the opposite.

That’s what happens when you don’t define what things mean.


 

Religion, New Age theology and entertainment have collectively created an information gap that fosters the conditions of mass ignorance.


It’s the way you act and the emotions you create in people that makes them your friend or enemy. So you can uncover who the real enemy is by observing how they try to manipulate your emotions. The churches, mosques, synagogues and their religions are the enemy, which you can tell from how emotionally invested people are in them. Just look at their megachurches, promises of heaven, conferences and appearance of communal solidarity.

What they’re doing is obvious.

About the author

The Arkon

Just a guy trying to make his conception and perception of reality as sophisticated as possible.

Add comment

Archives