This was originally posted on February 22, 2012, and was published in The BlogHer Voices of The Year book this summer. I thought it was fitting for the first day of Lent, so I’ve edited it and repost it here for your displeasure:
The ritualized acts, arbitrary restrictions, and symbolic gestures that make up organized religion are nothing more than fear-mongering and ignorance-spreading techniques to keep people unquestioning and subservient while truly preventing any real belief in a higher power.
There is nothing wrong with faith or the unwavering knowledge that there is a power or force or being who is greater than us out in the ether. Having a conviction that we are not alone can be inspiring, motivating, even exhilarating. It’s when people misplace their faith in a human institution that is steeped in tradition and ritual with no basis in truth or reality that religion takes an ugly turn.
You are either a good christian person (christian meaning moral, upright citizen) or you’re not. If you are a decent human being with good intentions and strong ethics, you will be closer to your higher power. Period. If you leave this world knowing that you did what you could to make it a better place, and that your actions were generally more honorable than shameful, you will end up in the place that you deserve to be. No church, no institution, no human can or should dictate actions that you have to take in order to get into heaven, become reincarnated, become one with God, talk to God, or wherever your faith leads you.
Here’s all you have to do to fulfill the needs of your particular faith:
- Be a generally good person
- Take the actions that genuinely make you feel closer to your God
Here are the things that you do NOT have to do:
- Avoid birth control
- Confess your sins to any earthly person
- Wear a special garment
- Rest on specific days
- Sacrifice a pleasure for forty days
- Get ash drawn on your forehead
- Go to church
- Pray five times a day
- Avoid pork products or unclean foods
- Abstain from alcohol or caffeine or dancing or swearing
- Go on missions
- Get baptized
- Eat the Eucharist
- Convert others
- Any other of a thousand other restrictions
These rules confuse the issue, segregate people based on their adherence, promote intolerance and self-righteousness, and take away from the entire point of faith in the first place. If you feel closer to God because you sit quietly on your bed and think about your faith for a little while, do that. Going through ridiculous rituals that were created as a result of a mandate from a bunch of old uneducated men more interested in fear-mongering, maintaining order, and oppressing free thought is not necessary.
A friend was telling me that she recently had a pregnancy scare. She and her boyfriend are using the poorly conceived pull-out method, and apparently there was one time when he got too excited to pull out in time.
I asked her, “Did you go get Plan B?”
“No, because I’m Catholic and I don’t feel right using any type of birth control. That’s why we don’t use condoms either.”
“So you didn’t use Plan B or condoms and decided to try the pull-out method because of the Pope and the rulings of the Catholic Church?”
“And what do you think the Pope and the Church have to say about premarital sex?”
That is a perfect example of the idiocy of the doctrine of any church or religious institution. A mob of fallible humans interpreting a book that was written by another mob of fallible (also: stupid and intolerant) humans, just so they can fabricate a carefully set framework of rules and restrictions that you must follow in order to get into heaven.
Next time you consider getting ashes on your forehead, going to Easter Mass, praying at a set time of day, not working on Saturday, or anything else that your religion demands of you, ask yourself why you’re doing it.
Are you doing it because it truly makes you, personally, feel closer with your faith? If so, then I think you’re the one person doing it for the right reasons.
Are you doing it because it’s tradition? Because it’s how it’s always been done?
Because you feel like you’re otherwise not a good Muslim/Christian/Jew/Mormon/etc.?
Because you think you have to?
Because you think that it’s the only way for you to achieve the ultimate goal of your faith, and if you don’t, you’ll go to hell (or whatever the equivalent is) along with the billions of other people from other religions who must clearly be wrong because they’re not following your exact set of arbitrarily designed rules and regulations?
Then I don’t want to call you an idiot, but I will call you a follower who is not thinking for yourself, a person with no conviction in his or herself, and someone with no innate ability to tell right from wrong, good from bad, moral from amoral who needs to be told what makes them a good person.