People who believe that I am an Atheist sometimes seem nonplussed that I’m tolerant of religion in general. There appears to be an idea amongst some non-believers that they must either be completely disinterested in religious ideas, or vehemently opposed and outspoken about it. In either case, it seems, they must be prepared to pooh-pooh “superstition” and point out at the drop of a hat all the evils perpetrated in the names of various gods throughout history, and all of the ways that the shamans take advantage of the folks they’ve hoodwinked. While I find the former positions distastefully closed-minded, I am indeed inclined to agree with the latter — at least when it involves the religious hierarchy.
My feeling is that those who are obtrusively dogmatic, pro or con, are just as bound up by the chains of their beliefs as any fanatic building bombs in the mountains of Pakistan. To paraphrase John Bradshaw, a 180 degree turn leaves us in the same rut, only now we’re moving against the flow and annoying the other travelers. If we want to change things, we need to get off the treadmill for a different perspective.
For the record, I am neither an Atheist nor an Agnostic. The latter claim that they are not convinced of the existence of a god or gods, the former that they are convinced that there are no such entities. I am Ignostic, one who believes that no discussion about the question of gods’ existence can even be held, because it is not possible to come up with a coherent definition of a god. To put it another way, I believe that when it comes to gods, no one really knows what they’re talking about, and no one ever will.
But I am not anti-religious. I try to practice Buddhism which is, by most definitions, a religion. While I accept that definition, I do not practice for religious reasons, but because Buddhist teachings give me a structure, based on pure logic, around which I can try to live my life and discipline my thinking.
That gets around to my position on religion in general. I believe it is inevitable, for most people in most circumstances, and that generally-speaking it does far more good than harm. It provides structure, guidance, community, hope — in short, a framework for living. It matters not a whit to me whether the underlying beliefs are pure superstition or divine revelation, except when religious teachings are used for ill rather than good; to separate, rather than to draw people together.
The folks who administer religion are usually the problem in that regard. They are the ones who teach, by their example, inflexibility, lack of compassion (although many of them give great lip service), and who perpetuate the tribal concepts of “us” and “other,” with their implied conclusions that “we are right” and “they are wrong.” They are the ones who foster self-serving and self-congratulatory, complacent followers who seem unwilling or unable to think for themselves.
This tribal thinking is, perhaps, hard-wired into some people’s brains. We are beginning to learn that the brains of liberals literally function somewhat differently than those of conservatives. There is every reason to believe that such dichotomies are necessary in primitive societies. They are not, however, appropriate to situations such as those that exist on the Earth at present, with many people in need, and many who are unwilling to share. This seems often to involve use of force on both sides, and in many circles it seems that two wrongs are presumed to make a right…or, at least, a lot of money for the people who profit from wars and strife in general.
Those are character defects that are engendered and supported by some shamans in the guise of the “will of God/Allah,” and in that respect religion is not a good thing at all.
The troubles in the world today cannot, it seems to me, be resolved by black and white thinking. The True Believer in the hut is evidence of that, and those who attempt to hunt him down, without regard to the number of innocents killed in the process, are yet another. People who seem to feel that they must contradict the beliefs of others, and put down the intelligence of those who believe other than they, are a third. That ain’t how you build togetherness, folks.
Ben Franklin wrote at another critical point in history, “If we do not hang together, we shall certainly hang separately.” As long as we continue to blame our problems on the other guy, we continue our trek to the gallows. To the extent that religion (or non-religion) supports that journey, it is most certainly at fault.