Yesterday, after work, I did something awesome. I volunteered at a kitchen that feeds the homeless. On the first Thursday of every month, Hillside Church volunteers at the Union Gospel Mission, which is just down the block from the church. Some friends from church were there, and I met some new people, saw some adorable kids, and helped feed people who needed that meal.
This was especially poignant to me because I’ve been there. After my youngest son was born, my wife was unable to find work, and we were forced to get boxes of food from a local charity to get by. One year, for Christmas, my family was chosen by one of those holiday charities that give presents to a family in need. It was the only reason my kids had presents that year. While I have never been homeless, I have been pretty damn close to it, once or twice. While some people might say, “If it weren’t for God, I would be in line getting one of these meals,” I can say, “Yeah, I remember when we had to get that box of non-perishable canned items in order to feed the kids.”
So yeah, I felt pretty good about helping out.
Then this morning, I read some articles on CNN’s faith blog, which I check out on occasion. The “blog” is really just a place for any articles written by CNN contributors about faith in any way, so it has articles about atheism, theism, and all the religions you can think of. It’s kind of a melting pot, and coming from a background where I was exposed to lots of different religions, I appreciate that about CNN. But as I was reading these articles, I made the mistake of reading the comments section.
Without actually copying and pasting these comments, let me sum up the three ideas I saw most often in those comments.
1) “Can you believe people still believe in this stuff? What are we, cavemen?”
2) “Religion is the worst thing to happen to the human race! All the good things that religion has done are dwarfed by the evils carried out in its name!”
3) “Spirituality is awesome, but religion is for superstitious mouth-breathers!”
You might be asking, “Well, Dan, what were the articles that these comments appeared on about? Are these people just anti-Christian?”
No. These comments were on all articles. They were on all articles regardless of the article’s content. Seriously. These commenters literally just saw the article talked about faith in one way or another, and then went to town.
Disclaimer: Yes, I know that trolls exist – that’s why I didn’t comment on the articles themselves.
Now, because this is my blog, and nobody can tell me what to do with it, I’d like to take this opportunity to address those people, none of whom will read my blog because “faith” is in the title.
I will also do so sarcastically.
“Can you believe people still believe in this stuff? What are we, cavemen?”
Well, holy shit. Wow, dude. You got me. You’re so right – the only reason I believe in God is because I’m an ignorant savage. That is also why I believe the earth is flat, AIDS is a curse from Yahweh because of homosexual feminist commies, and that thunder is just God’s farts. Thank you so much for pointing that out to me. I thought I’d based my faith on years of intense introspection, an honest, fearless attempt to communicate with any creator that might exist, and a comparable amount of time spent exploring the possibility that the universe was the result of cosmic accidents. Thank God – I mean, Not God – that a 20-year-old sociology 101 student like yourself was around to point out my knuckle-dragging stupidity.
“Religion is the worst thing to happen to the human race! All the good things that religion has done are dwarfed by the evils carried out in its name!”
Tell me about it. You know what I hate most about religion? The way it was solely responsible for the way that any literacy, arts, medicine, or social consciousness survived the fall of the Roman Empire. Or charity! Promoting that idea that we should take care of the poor, the sick, or the old just gets my dander up every time I think about it.
Oh, and let me anticipate your response to what I just said. . .
“What do you mean? The ‘Dark Ages’ was the most backward period in western history! Every illness was blamed on evil spirits, and how many Jews were persecuted by Christians? Oh, and the Crusades – are you saying those were a good thing?”
Those things happened. Yes, the Dark Ages sucked. But that’s not the fault of religion, or Christianity (feel free to blame Christendom, though), or Jesus. That’s the fault of the people who weren’t living up the ideals that Christianity put forward. Don’t blame religion for those things – blame the assholes who did that stuff. I’m pretty sure Jesus facepalmed his fingerprints into his forehead for about a thousand years there, but damn it all, he tried.
Ever seen the HBO show Rome? Aside from being awesome, it’s also a pretty accurate portrayal of what society was like before the ideas Jesus put forward entered the zeitgeist. There’s one part in the first season where a main character finds out that his wife had an affair while he was in the military. He’s in a rage, and when his wife finds out, she kills herself – but first urges him to leave the son of that adultery alive, because he’d done nothing wrong. Why did she do this? Because the main character otherwise would have killed her and her son, and it was perfectly frakkin’ legal – and ethical – in that society. Not only would the law have let the guy go, his neighbors would have said, “Well, yeah. Obviously.”
But no, man, you’re spot-on. Jesus had no right to introduce – introduce – the idea of the value of every human life. What a tool.
“Spirituality is awesome, but religion is for superstitious mouth-breathers!”
You. Shut. Right. The hell. Up. You ignorant turd.
I’ve done both, buddy. I’ve been spiritual for decades. I’ve done the New Age thing, I’ve done the Neo-pagan thing, I’ve done the humanist philosophy thing, I’ve done the agnostic thing. I’ve also done the Buddhist thing.
Do you know how many times my New Age Book Club said, “Hey guys, instead of talking about our auras, let’s go feed the poor!” None times. Do you know how many times my Wiccan coven said, “Let’s pray for the needy”? That never happened. When I’ve spoken with groups of like-minded agnostics, nobody ever said, “Oh, and by the way, I’m collecting clothes, formula, and diapers for an orphanage in Africa, could you please contribute?”
Now all of these groups were full of people who would agree that everything I mentioned above were good things – all pagans recognize that we need to help the poor. But none of those groups ever took the idea of charity and turned into actual charity.
The exception to that was the Buddhists I met, who were actually very charitable. But ohhhhh right, Buddhism is a religion, so. . . they must be mouth-breathers, right?
The real difference between “spirituality” and “religion” is that “spirituality” is for people who want to justify what they already believe and who they already are. Spirituality encourages things like self-awareness and personal growth. Cool. I’m all for that stuff. But the difference is that religion also endorses self-control, moral action, submitting to higher authority, and charity. Religion challenges you (if it doesn’t, you’re doing it wrong) and supports you, while spirituality just supports you – “You’re doing just great, buddy! Enlightenment is just around the corner!”
Just About Ready to Shut Up Now
The reason I volunteered yesterday evening is because I got a church that mentions the Union Gospel Mission every Sunday. Our pastors not only realize that helping people is a good idea, but they a) do it themselves, and b) encourage us to do it all the time. Now I’m aware that there are non-churches that do charitable giving. Of course there are. My point isn’t that charity is a trait that is exclusive to religion. But religion does make a point of always encouraging people to be charitable, to the point of taking action. None of the book clubs or covens I’ve frequented over the years has ever done that.
One Last Thing
Speaking of religion, tradition holds that today is the anniversary of the day that a little dude named Yeshua was crucified. Traditional also holds that he did that for every person who has ever lived. As it happens, I believe this to be the truth.
Happy Good Friday, folks.