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Sunday, June 24, 2012

An Uncomfortable Dozen

Here is a list of the 12 things that some monotheisms (usually including but not limited to Christianity) teach and/or do that really annoys me (listed roughly in order of decreasing annoyance). Unlike with my other posts, none of these are really arguments as to why any religious claims are wrong. This is instead more of an emotional response to religious teachings and/or actions that rub me the wrong way. Some of them are rare and rather fundamentalist, but others are overwhelmingly common. And all of them are just plain apalling.

1. The Fear Factor: A high school teacher of mine once asked the class, Which is scarier: Going to detention, going to jail, or going to hell? I was the only person in the class to answer Jail (because I don't believe in hell). I find it quite appalling that theists often present the most ludicrous, over-the-top threat they can find; the promise of eternal torture. Forget any attempts to justify such extreme punishment for any finite, worldly action. The idea of hell isn't about just rewards to sinners. It's all about fear. The whole idea exists simply for the purpose of fearmongering. And as that class showed me, 19 out of 20 children (9th grade, so age 14 or so) were affected by this fear. Fearmongering is bad enough, but doing it to kids is just sickening.

2. Thoughtcrime: This is the idea that thinking about sinning is itself a sin. It's a terrible idea. For starters, in mainstream Christianity all sins have the same punishment (and, incidentally, the same requirements for forgiveness), so there's really no reason not to commit a sinful act once you've already thought of it. Furthermore, how the heck am I supposed to teach my kids that stealing is wrong without having them think about stealing? Simply understanding that an act is wrong requires thinking about that act, so if the thinking itself is wrong, then it's impossible to learn right and wrong without first committing a wrongful thought. Add to this the threat of punishment, and you have a god who demands that people apologize for learning what they're not supposed to do. How does this make any sense?

3. Original Sin: Threatening eternal damnation to those who don't follow the rules is bad enough. Original Sin takes this one step further by threatening eternal damnation to everyone because of something their ancestors did long before they were born. It blames every human being for an event that they couldn't possibly have affected, seeing as they weren't around at the time. I suppose it could be seen as some extended punishment for the original sinners: Not only am I going to punish you, but I'll also threaten each and every one of your ancestors and make you watch from the afterlife. But this is just psychotic. I don't know about you, but if I have a problem with someone, there's no way I'm taking it out on their kids.

4. Sin is an Affront to God: This is the idea that when you commit a sin, it is God who you have wronged and to whom you must apologize. Forget the grieving family of that guy you just killed. Forget offering to pay for the window you just broke. No, the real important thing is that you apologize to the big guy in the sky. This concept leads directly away from trying to repair any damage you've done. It leads directly away from being good to others in order to help them. In fact, it completely removes the real victims from the picture.

5. Devaluing Life: When you have the idea of an infinite afterlife, suddenly the finite "mortal" life seems so meaningless. With most afterlife (or even reincarnation) ideas, it seems like the biggest goal in this life is to prepare for the next. Who cares that your life sucks? Who cares that the world's a mess? The important thing is what happens after you die, when you leave this world. With this idea, suddenly it's okay to make life a living hell. After all, it's much better to endure a finite hell then to face eternal damnation.

6. Belittling Intelligence: I haven't had a ton of exposure to religious teaching, but I have attended several different churches. Yet I have only ever heard one preacher/rabbi/whatever espouse the virtues of intelligence, curiosity, and/or inquiry, and that guy was an atheist preaching at a Unitarian Universalist church, so he hardly counts. The point is that many religions expect you to just believe what you're taught and obey the commands and rules of their divine whoever without giving it any critical thought. An Appeal to Obscurity is often used to discourage honest inquiry, as is the terrible social taboo against critiquing religious beliefs. I'm a real thinker,so whole idea that you're supposed to not use your brain to understand things is quite ridiculous. If I'm not supposed to use it, then why do I even have it?

7. Appeal to Obscurity: This is the whole "God works in mysterious ways" concept. The idea is that you, as a finite human being, could never hope to understand the ways of an infinite god. This is then used to stop, rather than answer, questions like the problem of evil or the apparent inconsistencies of the god's purported actions with his teachings. The appeal to obscurity is simply an intellectual copout, a refusal to even try to answer the questions.

8. Overabundant Arrogance: Despite the Appeal to Obscurity, many monotheists claim to know exactly what this obscure, infinite being wants them and others to do. Most mainstream religions claim that a particular way of life is so much better than any possible alternative that following the path merits an infinite reward while straying demands an infinite punishment. Moreover, the religion's divine leader is argued to be completely infallible and utterly perfect in every conceivable way (and, through Appeal to Obscurity, in unconceivable ways). The teachings themselves are also expected to be beyond the criticism we reasonably apply to everything else in the world. Also, the silly capticalization of all pronouns refering to one's god falls under this heading.

9. Overabundant Humility: Calling one's deity a lord always bugged me. Kneeling for prayer bugs me even more. Worse is the general concept that your primary purpose in life is essentially servitude to some bigger guy's divine plan. Included in this is the idea that whatever God commands is far more important than what any puny human being has to say on the matter. Stealing my Cred also falls under this. I've even heard the idea that people are like God's property used to justify Sin is an Affront to God, including a very recent claim that since God created you, he has the right to torure you in hell.  Talk about putting yourself down.

10. Blatant Hypocrisy: See both the previous two points and the next two points as examples. The number of blatant contradictions in most monotheistic systems is simply appalling. Another common example is theists' tendency to jump on any evidence or argument that may indicate the existence of a god, and yet deny the importance of evidence and reasoning when it points to the non-existence of gods. Just as annoying is the theists' tendency to combine unfalsifiability with extreme importance.

11. Stealing My Cred: People will often pray for God to give them strength or courage or capability or wealth or what have you. They will then thank this god when they succeed in their upcoming task. This always bugged me. If I succeed at something, then it's my merits I used to succeed. I'm not giving that credit to some dude I've never even met.

12. Shunting the Blame: People will often pray for God to give them strength or courage or capability or wealth or what have you. However, when they fail in their upcoming task, they are not supposed to blame God for failing to answer their prayers. If there is any fault to be had, it's their fault for trying to go against God's infallible plan. This always bugged me. If God is going to steal the credit for my achievements, then he'd better be willing to take the blame for my failures along with it. After all, if it is only through him that I could succeed, then it is only through his lack of effort that I could fail, and thus he is the only one to blame.


  1. Obviously my experience doesn't speak to everyone's, and there are greater negatives about many aspects of the religion, but one of the reasons why I really like Judaism (and consider myself a cultural Jew) is because of some of its (at least my sect's) teachings. Part of my religious teachings was that one should live the best life they could because it's the only one we get. I can't ever remember really talking about heaven or hell in Hebrew school. In fact, one of the few classes that stuck with me was when our rabbi was teaching us about the more "scandalous" sections of the bible, and he flat out told us that the stories may not actually be true, but it was about the message. (Of course a lot of the messages are problematic, but I still thought it awesome that we weren't taught the bible was the absolute truth.)

    (Though note that my sect of Judaism, Reconstructionist, though not tiny, is considered heretical by more conservative Jews.)

  2. My recommendation: Ditch the Bible entirely as a reference. Just don't use it at all.