Ea spoke to Enlil saying “It was you, the Sage of the Gods. How could you bring about a flood without consideration?”
– the epic of Gilgamesh
I have a longstanding argument with a friend. The root cause of this is my attitude towards modern religion: I see religion as a delusion, and he, needless to say, is perfectly happy with his religion and the understanding that that faith gives him. All is fine until I post something completely anti-religious on Facebook and then proceed to insult any number of people who use the old flawed arguments to “prove” that God exists or that the Bible or the Qu’ran nailed everything, or that people’s beliefs should be respected. At which point my friend, with all politeness, calls me a religious troll.
Is it being a troll to declare your beliefs? Apparently, in this new, politically correct world, it is. Christians post about God. Muslims post about Allah. Buddhists post about the Tooth Relic. All is fine and dandy, can ya give me hallelujah – and as long as you don’t call out bullshit, everyone’s happy. Most people are even willing to clap along and nod their heads – nevermind the fact that often these religions have completely conflicting views (such as who really gets the VIP pass to Heaven, and so on).
Is belief sacred?
I think not.
People should have their beliefs tested – but, in the interests of society, only insofar as it does not violate their human rights; they must be able to continue about their religion regardless of what you think of their religion. The best way to do this is conversation: in-person, spoken, written, typed on a web page – have at it. People should (and are) free to test, debate and argue about ideas and themselves, and as long as you don’t cross the line into outright hate speech – that’s a very blurred, hazy line, mind you – have at it.
Why? Because this is how we, as society, move forward: by constantly questioning our morals and ideals, by testing, evaluating and inching forward. One of the fundamental things about having both a mind and free speech means that you can refuse to believe that these beliefs should be held sacred and politely deferred to by all.
“I don’t agree with what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
– Evelyn Beatrice Hall, summing up Voltaire’s view of free speech
But of course, in modern society it’s not “right” to talk about religion, or “impose” your views onto someone else – never mind the fact that at this very moment there are thousands of preachers out there doing the exact same thing. Modern society doesn’t like you talking smack about the Bible’s political origins. Modern society doesn’t like you asking how exactly the Buddha managed to walk on seven lotus flowers directly after birth. And don’t even get started on the Muslims – that’s racism. Fie, racist!
Modern society wants to believe everyone is happy and politically correct. Modern society wants nothing better than to wallow in ignorance and keep hearting all those Instagrammed selfies.
We aren’t cattle. We question. You can question back, of course – debate, criticize, the whole nine yards: that’s what freedom of speech means. Pick on beliefs you think are bull. Pick on this blog post. Question everything. If you manage to convince someone to actually embrace your worldview, why, job well done. I tip my hat to you, sir. Consider joining a local debate team.
Mind you, I believe that if you are going to insult one religion, you should be prepared to insult them all. Picking on Islam while being a Christian (or vice versa) is hypocritical. Talking crap about Christianity while mindlessly hiking around a fig tree (the Bodhi tree, to be precise) every full moon is equally bull. Again, you can do this – but that way lies bigotry.
With all of this, do you believe that that religious text is the one unchanged truth? Good for you, then: I, however, refuse to believe that the truth, the one truth, and the only truth, is encoded in a collection of short stories put together by a canny politician a few thousand years ago.
It’s wonderful to twist around science and point to the Big Bang as evidence of a Creator, but remember: until someone came along and questioned the Origin Stories taught in churches, we didn’t have that science. It all starts with questioning. Progress is not made by standing still and accepting the status quo. Progress is made by disbelief, by questioning, by looking for proof and scientific methods.
Take the question of a Creator. Were we created by a higher power? Was this higher power the psychotic, almost schizophrenic God of the Abrahamic Old Testament – an omnipotent creature that acts like a petulant child at times? Was this higher power part of the Greek pantheon – that bunch of drunk, fornicating caricatures? The cruel and enigmatic Celtic pantheon? The Hindu gods? Who’s probably right? What’s least wrong? Where’s the proof?
Why are you <insert religious community here> acting like you’re the only ones with the answers?
These questions should be asked. Political correctness can go hang.
The interesting thing is that whether you believe in evolution or not, religion evolves as well. The story of Noah and the Ark is not unique to Abrahamic religions: it’s been part and parcel of religions far older and more diverse – look up Gilgamesh’s flood myth, the grandfather of Noah’s story. Karma? That’s not a Buddhist concept: it pops up earlier in Hindu and Jain schools of thought.
Let me leave you with a quote the Nazi’s infamous propaganda chief (and possibly one of the best marketers in the history of marketing) once said:
“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”
– Joseph Goebbels
What’s the greatest example of this? Organized religion.
Of course, in discussing this, there is always the specter of hate speech looming on the horizon. How do you deal with that one, Mister Troll? Remember that what is considered a normal discussion by, a friend who knows you well might very well be considered hate speech by someone outside your world. I’d stick to this rough demarcation, put forth by a rabbi on Quora:
Hate speech targets people, not ideas.
If you intimidate, or call for discrimination or violence against atheists, then that’s hate speech. Same is true if you target that speech against Christians, or recent immigrants, or any other group of people.
But you can certainly criticize, or even mock, atheism, Christian doctrine, immigration policy, or any other set of ideas, and be on safe free speech ground.
In short – hate the ideas, not the people.
Like Peter Pan said – do you believe? If you do, clap your hands.
If not, go tell everyone you don’t. Sometimes it’s better to be a troll.