on religion

First, let me offer a half-hearted apology to Katherine Coble, who I appear to have offended in a comment made here in which I mocked a comment made by Katherine here. I say “half-hearted” because I don’t want to apologize for the motivation driving my mockery (which I’ll get to), but I do want to make it clear that my mockery was not a casual “jocks’ table” dismissal of Katherine entirely – at least that wasn’t my intent. It does give me occasion to talk about something I’ve been wanting to discuss for a while now.

My mockery was driven by two things: my distaste for religion and my distaste for the idea of obscenity.

The idea of obscenity is a much simpler topic for me, since it’s a silly one. Pretending to be aghast at someone saying “fuck” or “cunt” or, as in this case, “Jesus Christ” strikes me as the height of disingenuousness. Ideas should be offensive, not diction. So I tend to regard raising objection to the choice of a particular word as just being a pain in the ass. Brittney obligingly edited out the offending “Jesus Christ”, though presumably through clenched teeth, so my mockery was partially merely an extension of sympathy.

Religion itself is trickier. When it comes to religion, I find it .. distasteful, to say the least. My views on religion fall somewhere between Marx, Christopher Hitchens, and Bill Hicks. So, yeah, I am not too fond of it. I mean, don’t get me wrong. I acknowledge religion as a useful social institution that serves many important functions. Just not at the expense of its harmful side effects, for example believing that the universe is 12,000 years old, holy trinities, immaculate conceptions, or the Crowned emperor of Ethiopia being a reincarnation of Jesus. I find religion to be a stupid and harmful social artifact.

I do however have plenty of friends that are religious. How do I balance my disdain for religion with their beliefs in the course of everyday interaction? I don’t mean that in a “how do I tolerate their very existence” way, but rather “how do I handle the occasional conversational disconnect between us as a result of this belief system I don’t share or really even understand.” For a while I thought that maybe I could get away with being open in my disdain for their religion, but treating it as a bad habit of theirs. You know, like smoking . “It’s a dirty, nasty habit that is probably gonna kill you eventually,” I’d say, “but it’s not a dealbreaker for our friendship, unless you do it in my living room.”

This prevents religion from being the elephant in the room that kills a conversation quicker than three nails and a cross. And it does, believe me, because when you’re dealing with a belief system that, for example, relies on the Bible as a holy canon, you’ll eventually reach a dead-end in some discussions. But at least when this happens, you just screw up your face and go “ew, that’s right, I forgot that you smoke/believe in god.”

I think this approach is desirable, because it makes it clear that I have no desire to impugn on one’s right to practice religion, while still also making it clear that I find it stupid and bad for society – offering my clucking disapproval. The danger and perhaps fatal flaw to this approach is that, well, most religious people don’t consider their religion a dirty habit – hence the tendency perhaps to get offended.

So, I do offer my apology to Katherine if my mockery came off as a personal attack and dismissal.

I don’t offer any apology, however, for my clucking disapproval, because I really think religion is a gross habit, and that you (the hypothetical believer) should try to quit.