136. caparison

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Dunno about anyone else, but I’m always relieved whenever a religious holiday finally passes. Christmas and Easter are probably the toughest to get through, mainly because they’re the two holidays that have entered our national consciousness. Even non-Christians observe them, though for them it’s more about the family gatherings, the food and the gift giving at Christmastime than it is about the birth and death of Jesus Christ, who doubles as a swear word for those of us who don’t accept his deityhood.

I’m often asked, “If it isn’t true, if we’re just deluding ourselves why does it bother you so much?” And it’s a fair question. We don’t begrudge the people who think that they’re Napoleon, or that nefarious government agencies are secretly plotting against them. To be safe, of course, we give them a wide berth, but thankfully we’re past the days when we persecuted people for their delusions. Today we acknowledge that these are symptoms of a malfunctioning mind, and hope for recovery and that the affected individual will someday be a fully-functioning and productive member of society again.

That’s mental illness. In most cases it’s a matter of genetics that comes down to a chemical imbalance in the brain, or even some kind of damage to the brain itself (in the case of something like post-traumatic stress disorder), and people can’t be faulted for that. You’re not going to blame someone for hearing voices or experiencing severe depression. There are drugs and treatment programs to help.

In the case of religion, though, we accept behavior that would normally get a person locked up. We think it’s acceptable to mutilate the genitalia of male infants because a 2,000-year-old book commands it. We tolerate street preachers standing on sidewalks and telling people that they’re wicked and awful and going to hell unless they say a magic prayer to an imaginary god and stop drinking, swearing, and having sex. We allow children to be taught that the earth is 6,000 years old, that dinosaurs and humans co-existed, and that some deity in the sky is watching their every move and can read their thoughts (especially when they reach adolescence). We permit parents to deny their children medical attention because of the belief that to intervene is to interfere in the will of their god, dooming the child to a life of otherwise preventable but excruciating suffering and even death.

Of course, not everyone holds such extreme beliefs. Not every religious person goes around openly judging everyone who doesn’t believe what they do. Not every religious person rejects scientific evidence or proof. Not every religious parent circumcises their male children because of their beliefs (and if they do, it’s often in the interest of hygiene). Nor does every religious parent believe that god would send them and their children to hell for going to the doctor. It’s wrong to generalize, no matter how tempting it is to do so.

My problem with Easter is that it stands for two appalling lies. The first is that Easter itself is really a pagan fertility festival. The name can be traced to several ancient gods and goddesses, including Ēostre, the Saxon-Germanic goddess of the dawn, whose festival fell around the end of March and early April, and her observances involved both hares and eggs. Other possible candidates include the Greek goddess Demeter and the Assyrian fertility goddess Ishtar.

The second lie is that Christ’s death was a noble sacrifice. Noble sacrifice? As if having yourself butchered up for an imaginary sin that you invented in the first place is noble! It’s a bit like creating an imaginary virus, telling everybody that they were in terrible danger and then waving your hands over them in order to cure them of said virus. But this is something that people truly, sincerely, deeply believe! They think that, as John 3:16 states, “god so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son; that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (I can still quote it in the King James Version.)

What I object to is the fundamental belief that many Christians have of the certainty of the existence of god. Sure, some atheists may be certain that there is no god—but how can you be sure of something for which there is no evidence? Atheists can’t disprove god any more than theists can prove it, so what does it really matter?

I don’t have much of a problem with religious people who shrug and admit that they don’t know, that they want to believe, and refuse to force that belief on others. That I can at least respect. Sometimes you can’t help who you love, as I should well know, and that probably extends to belief as well.

What I object to the kind of mindless bible thumping that’s been going on lately in conservative circles, especially where women’s and gay rights are concerned. I object to the kind of magical thinking that allows religious people to retreat into their places of worship and leave the fate of the world and their fellow human beings to their imaginary god. I object to the kind of extremist, political, dominionist ideology that leads them to think that this world is theirs to take back; that we all ought to strap ourselves into their subjective straight jackets; and that, by virtue of their birth, all children ought to be likewise fettered as well before they have a chance to learn to think for themselves. I object to the kind of theist who looks at evidence and rejects it based on the fact that it contradicts something in their holy book written thousands of years ago by pre-scientific people.

I object to living an unexamined life, to never questioning what you’re taught or what you believe, and to not being true to the essence of who you are as a person. At best, we live a hundred years, and a life is a terrible thing to waste.

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