Thursday, May 19, 2011


____|    |____
|    JESUS    |
       | A |
       | V |
       | E |
       | S |

I made that cute little picture above.  Why?  I see it carved into a pasture beside I-580 when I'm driving east to work every business-day morning.  I made it on Feb 10th, but I haven't had a single deep, provocative thought about religion to blog about and start alienating some of my favorite readers.  However, in my head, I'm continuously trying to form perfect phrases to describe my feelings about religion without people immediately attacking my opinions.  So here goes a bunch of things that have been said before, but that I totally agree with.
The Google Earth representation of my picture.

First of all, in general, I'm happy that religion exists.  I certainly don't agree with any deaths that it has caused throughout the centuries.  However, I have many friends and family members that have been motivated and truly comforted in hard times by their beliefs.  I appreciate that they have somewhere to direct their prayers.  I don't actually believe in luck or karma or any of those things (at least no more than I believe in magic), even though I say I do.  Also, my skills in empathy/sympathy are sub-par, so when those I care for have ways of self-healing (whatever way that is), my life is less stressful.

Secondly, I wish I believed in a god.  It would make life simpler and easier to accept.  It would immediately settle some of those cosmic questions, and it would give me an instant community of open arms wherever in the world I was.  It would get me out of the apartment earlier on the weekends, invites to more pot lucks, and a better relationship with some of my friends and family.  Even with all of these things working to convince me, I absolutely cannot accept that there is any sort of higher power.

When I was younger, and less prepared for ignoring friends who were thoroughly devoted to their religion (and instead challenged them), I regularly asked about Greek/Roman mythology.  Even the fact that it is called mythology now (as opposed to religion then) starts to lend to the question, 'Why is your god more real than those gods?'  I just find it mind-blowing when people can easily blow off what other people believe, when their beliefs sound no less ridiculous to me.

Another thing that always bothered me in arguments was how altered our accounts of history are because of religion.  If you say something like, "see this thing happened 1500 years ago, and it's right here in the Bible," I actually have two problems.  1) If I don't believe in religion, why would I believe anything your Bible says?  (The number one thing that religious people use in their defense are quotes from whatever religious text they study.)  2) Do you believe that it is impossible for that text to have changed over thousands of years?  There's so many strange hypocrisies highlighted in that statement.  Language itself has changed throughout time, so how can you be sure that the verses you read are those of a god, even if they were written through him all those years ago?  There are different editions of the Bible, and it would be easy to smear a sentence or two in 300 AD to make it fit without people knowing today.  It was also far too easy for a strong church to erase all accounts of history that were contradictory to religious texts.

Stephen Hawking was quoted this week saying that heaven is "a fairy story" for people who fear death.  I totally agree with that, but I don't think that is the only service it provides.  I feel like religion was also a brilliantly-developed tool for controlling the masses.  Being good because it's the right thing to do isn't particularly inspiring for most people.  Being told that somebody is always watching and judging, and your punishment for being a douche nozzle is eternal damnation, well that starts to get people who need answers to follow instructions.  Maybe the loosening grip that religion has is why our prisons are filling up these days.

I was surprised to find out that Annie hadn't even heard anything about the apocalypse that's coming.  You know it's this weekend, right?  Trust me, I understand that this is another nut job using religion to make a name for himself (which is better than using it to brainwash/molest/profit/destroy, I guess).  However, would all of the ridiculousness we associate with religious fanatics exist if there wasn't religion?  September 11th?  bin Laden?  Waco?  Mormons?  Crusades?  U.S.A. (think about why it was settled)?

Yes, I know you can't describe the feelings you have that confirm that there is some sort of higher power.  Faith is such a huge factor, that those without it will never know.  I guess I am completely accepting that your feelings are just your brain's response to neurotransmitters (it's just biology), that miracles don't happen (science does), and that when we die, we just die.  I'd rather live now than worry about later, especially if living for later might all be for nothing.

I love Xmas music (but you'll rarely find my referring to it as Christmas music), and I'm trying to convince Annie to start touring good gospel choirs in the bay area with me.  So don't be surprised if things I do look hypocritical.  I could go on and on for days about religion, to try and get you to understand every facet of my thinking, but I guess it's best to leave it at this and just to say that I'm open to discuss, calmly, any thoughts you have, as long as you're as open-minded as I am.  If nothing else, I find religion to be super fascinating.

Oh, jeezus... here comes the hate mail,


  1. Rob,

    One of the best observations about religion and science (and how a scientist might view religion) that I have read is by the late physicist Richard Feynman. I think there is a video of the discussion he had, but I do know it's in the book "The Pleasure of Finding Things Out" (which I highly recommend anyways).

  2. I always thought I have an interesting perspective...because I grew up whole-heartedly believing in God (it wasn't even a question) then was agnostic in college and then a bit atheist. When someone says they believe, I understand. When someone says they don't, I also understand. My problem became when wanted to get my faith back, well it turns out you cannot "will" yourself to believe.

    I "went agnostic" when I was a freshman and my mom said "the devil made me say [that]" when I suggested that the religious leaders who assembled the bible could have selected the books based on their own bias (we were watching "Books Banned from the Bible" on the History Channel). I just did not think that rational thought is devilish. (Plus when I was younger she would pray to God to have the devil leave my body...)

    My Church growing up taught about Evolution. They said that people who believe in evolution believe that space aliens came down to planet Earth and had a baloney sandwich, where part of the baloney sandwich fell on the ground and the space aliens flew away never to return. The remnants of the baloney sandwich then evolved to all life on Earth. You can imagine my anger at my church when I actually learned the mechanics of evolution...its slightly different.

    What always bothered me though, even as I can no longer have Faith, is that everything just turned out so...awesome. I can rationally explain how the world evolved over billions of years but how can you explain the warm and fuzzies you get when you see a perfect sunset, the Grand Canyon, pretty mountains. Or the overwhelming feeling of love for family (well, not my family...this is hypothetical), friends, significant cat (I don't think I have loved anything else as much as I love my stupid cat). And if you ignore all these gay feelings, you still have homo sapiens a trillion times more advanced than and other species. It just seems...too perfect to happen randomly.

    I guess you can call me "spiritual", which coupled with my vibrams makes my liberal hippie transformation complete (thank you Ann Arbor). I believe its possible for there to be a God, and maybe baby Jesus was his son? But I do have Faith that there is some force of good out there, and when I believe everything will work does.

    And btw, I absolutely love your blunt honesty. And I don't think your love of xmas music or gospel choirs makes you hypocritical. And maybe that is your spirituality, you're touched by the music and crap.

  3. E.J.- Feynman's book has been on my 'to read' list. I had no clue that he explores religion, too. I'll try to bump it up to 'this year's' reading list. Thanks.

    Aimee D- I love your perspective. I still feel like the reason everything has turned out so perfectly is still scientific (Grand Canyon formed from water, etc.) or because it had to (survival of the fittest), and doesn't need the influence of some higher power. However, sometimes I definitely have the same feelings of wonderment regarding how everything works out. I just never find myself giving credit to a higher power.

    Thank you for your comments!