Off Topic Writings: The Religion Problem

  1. CapitalistZombie
    Disclaimer:This is an opinion piece. If you would like to voice a different one, please do.

    Us Against Them: How Religion Brings People Apart

    Despite existing for about as long as humans could read, write, or

    converse, religion has established itself as somewhat of a taboo topic for conversation.

    Informal discussions on religion can quickly lead to defensive or even hostile reactions from

    those engaging in the discussion, which is quite unfortunate. Religion remains an extremely

    influential (and therefore relevant) force in today’s society, and I believe that any force of

    such influence should be freely discussed, debated, critiqued, and evaluated regularly in order

    to establish just how far its reach extends, how strong of an influence it wields, its continued

    relevancy, and perhaps most importantly, the effects this force has in the modern world. The

    issue with informal (or even formal for that matter) discussion of religion is that it is a topic

    that is deeply entrenched in personal thoughts and feelings. Not only has it been handed down

    from father to son and mother to daughter through countless generations of family members,

    but this leaves the person defending it with the unfathomable burden to continue to maintain

    and defend their religion, as it was taught to them and as it was taught to their ancestors.

    When someone approaches this person with words that undermine and attack a person’s

    religious heritage it seems only natural that they may get defensive and hostile. Regardless, it

    must be confronted. Because although religion may have its unremitting defenders, all religion

    is inherently dangerous.

    It begins with a child. A child unaware of the questions that a pastor at a

    church is telling them the answers to. Still learning to walk, talk, and discovering how to

    maneuver through the environment around them, the child learns that they are sick. They are

    imperfect and flawed and sick. This sickness goes beyond a physical illness: Indeed, this child

    is taught that their sickness lies at the very core of their existence before the concept of

    existence has ever occurred to them. This information is force-fed into the child’s mind

    through the only authorities they are aware of, the adults who surround them and provide for

    their needs. The adults who the child is learning (or has learned by now) that they are to obey

    without question. This child has the necessity for obedience reinforced continuously and

    indeed they are learning obedience is for the best. If food is too hot to touch, the adult will

    warn the child, and if the child does not heed this warning, they are burned. The burn came

    from disobedience and curiosity on the part of the child, and they become aware that the

    adults must have greater knowledge of the world and its dangers than they do and so will

    follow the teachings given to them more closely. It is during this time of innocence and

    vulnerability that religion is introduced. Warnings of sin and dangers of hell are implanted

    deep into the mind of the child, who is told that by their very nature they are flawed and

    doomed and there is but one chance for hope. The child is told that they must believe in the

    god the adults are worshipping and they must worship as well; just as the child has learned to

    instinctively beware of food that is still steaming hot, they now have an imprinted concept in

    their mind of the dangers that lurk outside of the religion of their parents and will more than

    likely never free themselves of the fear they now have. More children than I can stomach to

    count went through this experience en masse in the documentary film Jesus Camp, which

    followed children as they attended an aggressive fear-mongering Bible camp. The

    documentary sheds light on one example of this indoctrination, but it happens across the

    world in every religious denomination.

    In a video (uploaded to YouTube by a user who goes byBrain3zzzz) of a

    debate on the topic of religion between former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and

    Christopher Hitchens, who is one of the pre-eminent voices that speaks out against religion,

    Hitchens summarizes the issue of indoctrination very eloquently: “We are born sick and

    commanded to be well.” Religions are organizations that indoctrinate the innocent and the

    vulnerable across the world in order to ensure continued obedience from the masses. The

    masses will then voluntarily indoctrinate their own children into this fear machine in order to

    maintain the status quo. The vulnerable are not limited to children by any means though; any

    person who happens to feel lonely, weak, insecure, lost or just unsure can find themselves

    trapped in the cycle of false sickness and redemption that religion offers. Then after whichever

    religion the vulnerable have found solace in has them truly trapped they will be taught one of

    the core philosophies of the three great monotheisms (Christianity, Islam, and Judaism), that

    all other religious beliefs are wrong. Indeed, they teach that not only are they wrong, but they

    are blasphemous, wicked, and dangerous. This is the “us against them” mindset, which the

    mother of one of the children in Jesus Camp puts very succinctly: “There are two kinds of

    people in the world, people who love Jesus and people who don’t.”

    Religious apologists will vehemently refute the idea of religion being

    dangerous. In the debate with Hitchens, Blair addresses the issue of horrible things done in

    the name of religion by saying that those actions were not done “in the true face of faith”

    (Brain3zzzz) Blair argues that there is a basic principle to all faiths, which is to do good things

    in the name of a good god. This idea is echoed throughout most of the other religious

    apologists as well. In an article published by Philosophy Now, Father Jeffery Kirby outlines the

    potential good that can come with religion while acknowledging the harm that can come from

    “bad religion,” and he concludes with the line, “It is not always a perfect contribution because

    we are not perfect, but it is a contribution more good than not.” Of course many of the ideas

    he presents as the good that can come from religion will seem insignificant compared to the

    harm from an objective point of view (I could not imagine that an exchange of “spiritual

    goods,” a desire to edify both people and society, and an opportunity for transcendence would

    matter very much to someone being beheaded with what is essentially a steak knife for being

    born into the “wrong” religion). Lee Strobel (a former atheist journalist who turned to

    Christianity after his wife’s conversion) interviewed the Evangelical Historian Dr. John D.

    Woodbridge on the topic of the damage that Christianity has caused, and their discussion led

    to Woodbridge making a distinction between “cultural Christianity” and “authentic

    Christianity,” in which he claims people who had done horrific acts in the name of Jesus were

    not truly acting on the principles that he preached. The final proponent of this idea from

    apologists of there being a “real” or “right” religion which you cannot cast any blame upon

    comes from Peter Hitchens (younger brother of the aforementioned Christopher). Hitchens is

    another converted former atheist who addresses this issue when he says, “Christianity is

    without doubt difficult and taxing, and all of us fail to emulate the perfection of Christ himself.

    But we are far better for trying than for not trying, and we know that there is forgiveness

    available for honest failure” (127).

    What then do we define as honest failure? Surely, the horrific story of how

    a Rabbi (while practicing a traditional method of circumcision called peri’ah metsitsah in which

    the foreskin is removed from the penis with the Rabbi’s mouth) spread herpes to several

    infants in New York City leading to a minimum of two deaths is an example of honest failure

    (Hitchens God 49-50). The Rabbi cannot have meant to spread a venereal disease to infants

    that caused their death. Do we fail to condemn the acts of those who killed the women of

    Salem because of their obedience to Exodus 22:18, which says, “Thou shalt not suffer a witch

    to live”? They believed those innocent women to be witches so is that an honest failure? Do

    we fail to condemn the violence committed during the Inquisition? They were simply being

    obedient to Leviticus 24:14, which says, “Take the blasphemer outside the camp. All those

    who heard him are to lay their hands on his head, and the entire assembly is to stone him.”

    Some contemporary interpretations of Christianity have attempted to address the issue of

    excessive violence that is promoted in the Old Testament by saying that the laws of the Old

    Testament in the Bible do not apply anymore. This interpretation asserts that the teaching of

    Jesus should be the basis of Christian emulation. But there is no reference to the obsoleteness

    of those laws in the Bible except through interpretations of certain scripture, and it certainly

    isn’t spelled out so vividly and succinctly as the laws that do plainly exist in Christian (and

    Jewish) holy text. And what about the continued use of the Ten Commandments that are

    commonly found wherever you see Christian propaganda? I don’t believe you would find many

    Christians who would support an idea that would nullify one of the most important biblical

    messages, and as long as the words reside in what Christians call the Holy Bible those words

    remain “holy”. Regardless, the question would still remain: What do we define as honest

    failure to be a good Christian? Sara El-Yafi, a writer for The Huffington Post, discredits this line

    of thinking entirely:


    Although perhaps more commendable, your version of what “real religion”

    should be is just another opinion, not more nor less correct than anyone

    else's interpretation. Just because you think it to be right, it does not

    make it right, not for you, nor for them; your opinion just adds another

    shade to religion, yours just happens to be less savage. Judging yours to

    be “right” or “wrong” is simply arrogant to disclaim. There is no such thing

    as a “real” interpretation of a pre-medieval indoctrination, the only “real”

    thing about indoctrination is how beastly it is, no matter how soft is your


    End quote

    Indeed, how can we differentiate “cultural” from “authentic” Christianity, actions done “in the

    true face of faith” from those that aren’t, and “honest failure” to follow the Christian doctrine

    from people who would use the violence permitted in the Bible for their own benefit? The

    violent acts of Christians, Muslims, and Jews can easily be pointed to as simple obedience to

    the letter of the law of their respective religions. The closest thing to retribution offered to the

    potential victims of those who knowingly commit evil behind a veil of religion is everlasting

    torment in hell for their persecutors. Even that basic justice can’t be guaranteed according to

    some sects of Christianity which claim that all sins will be absolved if only forgiveness is asked

    and Christ is accepted. Not to mention that is doubtful that this promise of post-mortem

    justice would provide much comfort for those non-believers who fall victim to violent religious


    “Us against them” has been well documented throughout the annals of

    religion. Most people should be familiar with the Crusades of the Christians and, if not, surely

    are aware of the “war on terrorism” that is being waged in today’s society, which essentially

    amounts to war against Muslim extremists by predominantly Christian and Jewish countries.

    These are examples of fighting between different religions, which would be enough in and of

    itself to make an argument for the dangers of religion, but “us against them” does not stop

    with different religions but it seeps into different sects of the same religion. In fact, after the

    fall of Saddam Hussein and the rise of Al-Qaeda, the most vicious forms of Islamic terrorism

    were directed at the (much less violent) Shiite Muslims as their mosques and funerals were

    attacked (Hitchens God 27). This violence, considered atrocious to a very high percentage of

    society, is permitted by the Sunni interpretation of the Koran as Al-Qaeda was able to claim

    the Shiites were heretics due to their desire to trace the bloodline of the prophet Mohammed,

    rather than allow succession to fall to the highest remaining religious leader. By following the

    bloodline, rather than the hierarchy of the church, Shiite Muslims were said to be putting men

    on a pedestal higher than other men; only Allah should be placed above any man (including

    Mohammed), according to the Sunni Muslims which Al-Qaeda originated from. The Shiite

    Muslim mosques have shrines to those who were related to their greatest prophet and revere

    them much like the Catholic Church reveres their saints. This difference in the way these two

    sects of the same religion who follow the same words from the same holy book has resulted in

    innumerable deaths in the Middle East, with the killing starting (essentially) immediately after

    Mohammed died.

    “Us against them” does not remain in confines of religion versus religion

    or religious sect versus religious sect; it creeps out into the areas of society that are intended

    to remain secular. There was a movement earlier this year where some Christian leaders

    began to call for Christian parents to incite a mass exodus from public schools (Bremmer). The

    reasoning behind this was that they claimed the environment of public education was toxic to

    the Christian values that were to be instilled into the youth. These toxic ideals were things

    such as being accepting of homosexuals. They believed that the schools were indoctrinating

    their youth with these leftist ideals and wanted to remove them from that environment,

    preventing them from hearing any possible arguments against their beliefs. Essentially, they

    didn’t approve of the public schools’ indoctrination and had their own form of indoctrination

    that they wanted to impose. One of the heads of this movement, retired Chaplain E. Ray

    Moore, even seemed disappointed in the results of sending their children to these public

    schools to fight the “us against them” fight: “So many Christians are still locked into this

    faulty, absurd salt-and-light theology that their children are in the public schools to be a

    witness for Christ, and actually what’s happening is they’re being converted by the Left” (qtd.

    in Bremmer) Children are being sent to schools as an ambassador for their religion, being told

    they are up against the world to “fight the good fight”. What a mental, social, and emotional

    burden this must place on them.

    “Us against them” is the key factor in the wonderful actions taken by the

    Westboro Baptist Church, such as protesting at the funerals of U.S. soldiers with signs

    containing loving statements such as, “God Hates Fags,” “Thank God for AIDS,” “Thank God

    for Dead Soldiers,” “Thank God for 9/11,” and “Love Thy Neighbor Equals Rebuke,” to name a

    few. Photos of these Christians and their pre-pubescent children holding these signs and many

    more can be found at the official Westboro Baptist Church website: Of

    course these people only wave these messages in the face of people mourning their dead

    loved ones because they want you (and the nation) to be aware that by permitting “fags” to

    remain in our country and commit sodomy we are going to bring the wrath of God down on

    us. The Westboro Baptist Church may be an extreme example and an outlier from what the

    majority of Christians in the United States stand for, but the extreme groups have existed

    alongside religion from its inception. The violent and descriptive methods of punishment that

    are detailed in the scriptures allows for these violent groups to exist and gives them a vehicle

    through which to justify their ugly opinions.

    Most religious people don’t fall into these extremist sects but the fact

    remains that the ability to easily interpret religious scripture as a call for violent acts exists.

    With this in mind there is no justification for the naïve idea that simply because someone may

    choose to only focus on the areas of scripture that do not advocate (and hypocritically

    condemn) violence, religion is not a dangerous thing. I hope that the discussion of these

    fallacies loses its status as taboo because religious texts cannot be changed or removed

    without a large call of blasphemy from the religious. There is also the fact that no one has the

    right to claim that their interpretation of religious texts has any greater claim to “authenticity”

    than any other potential interpretation. No one can prove that Westboro Baptist Church

    doesn’t, in fact, have the “correct” interpretation of what a fictitious god wants from his

    worshippers. Therefore, the only solution is to open people’s eyes to the potential for violent

    and hateful actions caused directly from following the letter of religious law and reinforce the

    fact that religion, at its core, is inherently dangerous.

    Works Cited

    Brain3zzzz. “Christopher Hitchens VS Tony Blair Debate.” Online Video. YouTube. YouTube, 1

    June 2013. Web. 13 Nov. 2015

    Bremmer, Paul. "Christians Warned to Pull Kids from Public School." WND, 7

    Sept. 2015. Web. 7 Oct. 2015.

    El-Yafi, Sara. "There Is No Place for God in Religious Indoctrination." The Huffington Post., 8 Jan. 2015. Web. 23 Oct. 2015.

    Hitchens, Christopher. God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. New York: Twelve,

    2007. Print.

    Hitchens, Peter. The Rage against God: How Atheism Led Me to Faith. Grand Rapids, Mich.:

    Zondervan, 2010. Print.

    Jesus Camp. Dir. Heidi Ewing, Rachel Grady. Magnolia Pictures, 2006. Film.

    Kirby, Jeffery. "Good Religion, and the Good It Can Do." Philosophy Now. Philosophy Now,

    2010. Web. 4 Nov. 2015.

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  1. Beenthere2Hippie
    You have a nice writing style, though i cannot say I share your views on relgion or Christianity. But, as you said, we don't always get to share our own brand of spiritual fervor with others - eye to -eye, heart-to-heart - as w'd like to.

    Either way, an interesting read. Thank you!
  2. CapitalistZombie
    I really appreciate you reading it and, even in disagreement, happening to like it.

    It's a testament to the fact that there can be a real civil discussion about sensitive topics such as religion.

    Again, thank you for reading!
  3. detoxin momma
    I enjoyed your blog to, straight from the heart, i like that:cool:
    However, its not religion thats dangerous, its people.
  4. CapitalistZombie
    But if you segregate the masses into categories you're going to see some social conflict; religion is an unnecessary segregation
  5. Budgetadvisoryservice
    Four words: Put Down The Pipe.
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