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My beef with religion

In a world of Absolute Thruths, Mickey D's fries are the best.

In a world of Absolute Thruths, Mickey D's fries are the best.

One Sunday, we were enjoying lunch and I got into a minor argument with my brother in law about Venezuelan politics. My father in law quickly got into it by saying that “at the table, no politics and no religion discussions are allowed.”

Wisely, he pointed out that “there was no shorter way to sour the sweetest moments in life than getting involved in a discussion that won’t yield any satisfactory outcome, unless one of the parties involved is willing to abandon its beliefs.” He is one of the smartest people I know.

I woke up today thinking about politics, religion and tolerance, and I remembered the anecdote above. And I kept on thinking…

In the case of politics, divergences of opinions have a greater chance to be surpassed by reaching a compromise and, more often than not, it delivers a better solution to the issue at hand. After all, political stances evolve continuously, and what held to be valid 2 or 3 years ago, might not be so today.

Religion is a whole different game; everything is black or white, although we live in a grey world. Truths are absolutes, and have been so for centuries. There is no space for common ground.

I have no problem with faith; faith is as necessary for men’s soul as water is for men’s body. Without faith, we’re hopeless.

But I do have a beef with religion.

Everything that is man-made has flaws. Mankind is flawed in nature, and these flaws have been the engine that propels men’s ingenuity and progress. We felt cold in winter as we weren’t prepared to endure it –a natural shortcoming, a flaw- so we managed to use fire, then stoves, then heating systems. We constantly improve on previous inventions, as we find flaws in them. Everything can be improved. Everything MUST be improved in order to ensure our survival. The same applies to pretty much everything in life.

Religion is, ultimately, a human invention, an attempt to structure and rationalize our faith in something bigger than us. But somehow we have failed miserably to make improvements on it, and “Religion Beta” hasn’t been updated throughout all this time. An update is long overdue. We would need at least Religion 5.0 to slightly catch up.

I don’t know who said that “the greatest crimes in human history have been perpetrated in the name of religion” but he or she gave us an absolute truth; religion will play a role in humankind’s demise, not in its salvation, if things keep on going this way. The crusades, the inquisition, jihad-driven slaughters, genocides, bombings, 9/11 and resulting wars, the recent murder of an abortion doctor, the spread of HIV in Africa, you name it, examples abound.

When the religious institutions tell their followers that the truths they hold to be true are absolutes, the automatically discard other religions’ beliefs. In their eyes, other religion followers are heretics, as only the former hold the absolute true faith. And this is where the system is so vicious; when you “program” faith for one religion, tolerance and understanding for other religions are doomed. This applies to Christianity, Islam, Judaism, the three major ones, through all the spectrum of different religions and their churches, even the most complex ones in terms of dogmas like the church of Scientology. There are more than 5 billion of religious followers. The way I see it, there are more than 5 billion of opportunities where fecal matter can hit the fan, and it will. Granted, there are moderates, and although they will not commit crimes on the name of religion, many scoff on other’s religious views.

All in all, intolerance is a common thread in practical religion.

Choose a hot-button topic, any topic, in today’s world; gay marriage, abortion, human rights, politics, society. You will find that the topic has an on-going issue that divides and creates unrest, and that divide and unrest has its starting point on a religious dogma. Pretty evolved stuff, huh? We watch CNN and we see an Islamist extremist threatening to bomb in the heart of an “infidel city.” We see a mega church indoctrinating young kids and recruiting them into “Jesus Christ’s Army,” one that will “fight and get rid of the world’s sinners and non-believers, preparing us for the rapture.” We see Scientologists lacking psychiatric care because “with its own techniques [Scientology’s], psychiatry is unnecessary.” I have to say, I find it extremely difficult to not associate these views with those of charlatans during the middle age. We see everyday how religion screws around with an already screwed up, disease-ridden, over-heated, over-populated, drought and famine stricken world.

When religion is used as a blueprint for society, all hell breaks loose –we’re back to absolutes and holding that truth instead of the other. Instead, religion should focus on re-structuring faith towards tolerance and the notion that everyone has the natural right for its own set of beliefs. Whether one believes in God, Yahweh, Mohammad, Tetans, Jedis, Mickey Mouse or Maradona, faith should be used as a conduit to better oneself and not as a tool to differentiate good and evil; common sense is enough for that. It sounds very Buddhist-like, but many Buddhists will quickly point out that Buddhism is not a religion but a way of life, and you can be a Christian-Buddhist or a Jewish-Buddhist… Wow, speaking of tolerance!

Unless religion is updated to address today’s realities and dire needs, a world without religion would be a better world and, perhaps, a world where we can have faith in each other again.

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