Harry Potter, Adam, and the Speghetti Monster

Harry Potter, Adam, and the Speghetti Monster
"Sorry guys...you haven't seen a small metal ball with wings flapping around by chance, have you?""

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Religion: They all made it up...but you can still practice it.

There is something that believers in religion, be it monotheistic or polytheistic, Abrahamic or not, ancient or new need to simply admit and become comfortable with to make their lives and everyone else's lives easier.

They just made it up. Get over it and get on with your practice.

I'll focus on the two religions that I have direct experience with, namely Christianity and Wicca. One is one of the oldest and biggest religions in the world and the other is one of the smallest and most recent. But they share a fundamental characteristic, namely, that they were made up.
Wicca is the current name of a religious movement that is largely thought to be founded by Gerald Gardner (13 June 1884 – 12 February 1964). In both of his books Witchcraft Today (1954) and The Meaning of Witchcraft (1959), he makes great references to (and even has the preface to the first book written by) Margaret Murray. Margaret Murray was a British anthropologist who defended the hypothesis for the existence of a pan-European witch cult which venerated a horned God and was eventually driven underground by Christian oppression (i.e. witch trials). For a long time, this has been known to be historically inaccurate. An awkward fact, given that many of Gardnerian practices, statements and beliefs would come to be based on this hypothesis. Beyond this, it is suspected that Gardener copied his religion's rituals from any and all sources available, including tenants from Eastern religious and philosophical traditions that he was exposed to in Asia. So smart money says that rather than being an initiate of an “ancient” religion (as he claimed at the time), he probably just made it up, by copying from various sources.

By this point, if you're a Christian, you might be saying, "It's funny how amateurish those attempts at new age religion are, right?" Not so fast. If you're an an Abrahamic monotheist in a long-standing religion, you should consider your religion's history before getting on your high horse.

Christianity's current doctrine, in theory, comes from a “holy book” put together by bureaucrats in the first-ever working group of a European Integration Project (i.e. the Nicaea Council under the auspices of Emperor Constantine). What they eventually put together was the Bible-- an odd hodgepodge of three contradictory parts: Jewish texts and folk tales + falsely-attributed texts written to convince Jews that Jesus was their Messiah by people who supposedly walked with Jesus and yet were somehow clueless about Jewish culture + writings by a tenacious man who by his own admission never met Jesus, but just went delusional one day and ran with it. Then all of this was filtered through centuries of transcribing, translation and political manipulations before the age of Microsoft Word, government oversight initiatives or college years abroad. Not convinced that Christianity is made up? Well, there is also the niggling little matter that it is quite likely that Jesus Christ never existed as a man who walked the earth. There are no texts written by him, no contemporary historical records on him, and even the Catholic Church admits that some of the most noteworthy historical texts submitted to prove his existence (i.e. Josephus) are forged. (Although the official euphemism is “suffered from repeated interpolations”.) (see here) Furthermore, many of the motifs in the Jesus story were not in any way original (i.e. turning water into wine—Dionysus, the slayed and resurrected God in many religions, etc.)), so again, it's not a stretch to believe that it was all just made up.
Here the typical reaction of a believer is to feel the need to defend, search for non-existent or contradicting evidence and/or as a last resort, simply retort that God (or the Goddess) works in mysterious ways. But I would say something else to them...who cares?

Historical accuracy is not why you practice religion. You practice religion because of the benefits and characteristics of spirituality. You practice in order to feel connected to the wider universe in a meaningful way. You practice in order to have a framework in which to celebrate important life events. You practice in order to make death seem less scary. You practice to have a sense of community. You practice to be able to find the strength make necessary changes in your life. You practice for the good wine if your denomination hasn't done away with it. So why stop all that?
You can still do all of those things. You've just got to do some minor tweaking.

1.) Since they all made it up, you can't think that your made-up shtick is obligatory or better than anyone else's. Other people have their made-up shtick and they like their shtick as much as you like yours. For everyone to have to accept something, it would have to not be made-up. Your shtick does not meet that requirement. So just let it be good for you, but don't act like other people have to chose it for themselves.

2.) Your made-up shtick is not allowed to override scientific proof, nor can it be the sole basis for secular policy.
Evolution is a fact of life, period. Homosexuality exists as a natural human and animal behavior, period. Dinosaurs and humans never lived together, period. No man sat in the sky and created the universe. It's just a story. None of the benefits you draw from spirituality or religion will be harmed by admitting it or keeping it out of politics.

3.) You have to stop living for "the next life". You don't know if there's a next life. You've never been dead, and even if you stopped breathing, you obviously eventually came back. So focus on this life. Treat it like it's your last. I'm not saying go out and buy 3 kilos of crack and sleep with a bunch of hookers. I'm saying, don't treat someone well because you think you'll get into your Space Dad's VIP club. Treat them well because it's a worthwhile way to live your life, because you don't know if you'll get another one.
4.) You have to actually pick what parts of your tradition's books or dogma you follow and which ones you don't based on the power of that grey stuff between your ears. The key to keeping your religious traditions without losing your grip on reality is that you have to think. Just because some ancient knuckle-dragger thought it was possible to put all of the animals in the world on a big boat to survive a flood, doesn't mean you have to keep thinking it. On the other hand, that "love thy neighbor" stuff might have some merit. So after analysis, ditch the former, and take the later. If you start thinking in those practical terms, you'll think about why solidarity makes sense, what are its limits, and how it can be applied. In other words, you'll live it in a deeper and more honest way. In short, you'll be a better Christian by ignoring parts of the Bible. Besides, you pick and chose anyway. If you're a good person, you ignore the parts of the Bible that defend, promote and sanction slavery. Why? Because it's good for you and good for others. So just apply the same practice to the whole damn book. No more, "I think this because Rabbi, High Priestess, Father, etc. told me so."