In my family, we couldn’t discuss religion because as far as my parents were concerned, you took what the preacher said on blind faith and you never, ever, questioned it. That’s what happened in the better families, we thought, and we desperately wanted to be thought of as one of the better families. So for us, the biblical stories of creation, the burning bush, the parting of the Red Sea, and the virgin birth of Jesus Christ – all the stories I had trouble swallowing even at a young age – were not fables or metaphors, they were factual history. So no matter how preposterous the story, anything they told us in Sunday school was taken as fact. We were pressured to accept the word of God (interpreted by our preacher) rather than think for ourselves.
The reason why such outlandish things were possible 2,000+ years ago but not now was, I was told, that at some point – I think it was after the great flood – God decided to stop meddling in the affairs of mankind and let us sink or swim as we would, all the time keeping strict account of who was naughty and who was nice (yes, the God myth and Santa Claus myth are almost identical, yet you’re considered a moron if you believe in Santa Claus after the age of 5 or 6.)
I somehow knew from a very early age that something was very wrong, that the biblical stories were not factual. What I didn’t understand was why so many seemingly intelligent people smiled gratefully, and humbly nodded their heads as they claimed to believe, and then fell on their knees to proclaim their praise of the Almighty.
Many years passed before I came to realize that the majority of these “believers”, including my own parents, no more believe in those regions stories than I did. It was clear to me that anybody who truly believed in what the Bible put forth wouldn’t dare act in the way that almost everyone did. When trillions of years of the agony of hell-fire was at stake, no sane person would dare tell even the smallest of lies, cheat on their taxes (let alone their spouse), horde their wealth while others starved, etc, etc, etc. There’s an old saying: judge people not by what they say, but how they act, and when you do that, you quickly realize that hardly anybody truly believes those biblical stories.
The hypocrisy became obvious to me, but what could motivate so many people to be so two-faced, I wondered. I struggled for years to understand.
I, of course, can’t speak for the majority of people who fall into this category, but I think I can speak truthfully about my family, whom I’ve known and studied for several decades. So I will discuss them in the hope they shed light on the actions of others like them.
At first I thought this hypocrisy stemmed from a deep seeded fear of death, that they were so terrified of non-existence, they clutched at any straw of hope, no matter how preposterous, that offered ongoing, eternal existence – even if that existence guaranteed the ragging fires of hell and that seemed to be better than nothing at all. And I know that that is the foundation upon which my parents, if not all “believers”, built their faith. But with my parents and siblings, the structure that sat on that foundation had a much different look and feel.
For my family, belief was the price you paid to be welcomed into the fold of the church, and church, they believed, gave them certain benefits: respectability, a sense of community, an occasional helping hand, enriched their social life, and allowed them to mingle with people they thought were of a higher class.
You see, both my parents came from poor ranch people, and neither was well educated (my father could only read at a 3rd grade level and needed an adding machine to perform simple addition.) So being accepted into the church gave them a social status that they couldn’t otherwise have archived without hard work and extensive learning. It was so much easier to say: we believe, tell us how to behave, help us to be good people.
So I finally came to understand that though my parents didn’t really believe all those stories, or the existence of Heaven or Hell, they wholeheartedly believed in the benefits of the church. The church was good, and that automatically made them good. The church was filled with educated and virtuous people, and that made them seem more educated and virtuous. And best of all, they believed that the church members were a better class of people from where they had come from, which meant that they were lifted a few rungs up the social ladder and could look down on the non-believers.
So this is what I’ve come to believe about many worshippers of organized religions, who claim to believe these outlandish stories of a little old man who sits on a throne far far away and keeps tabs 24/7 on who is naughty and who is nice – that the benefits that these worshippers are after is not a place in Heaven, but social advantages here on earth. And I am certain that the churches are wholly aware of those motives as well, and uses them to attract and retain members (paying customers).
I’m not saying the church doesn’t do fine works for the needy, or that there are no compassionate and pious people in the church, or that the church’s members don’t get value for their donations. I’m saying quiet the opposite, but the issue that sticks in my craw is that the church hides behind a cloak of lies in order to attack their followers.
As a man in search of truth, I generally turn and run from most organized religions.
I think everyone should be as skeptical as possible regarding religion. That they should experience life (the whole of existence) directly, and then discover for themselves what is truth. Many people have done this for themselves, including myself, through mediation, prayer, fasting, mind altering drugs, chanting, yoga. The point is to find out for yourself, rather than take some preacher’s word for what lay beyond death. The answers are there to find, if only you bother to look. For me, that meant becoming a lover of truth, rather than a lover of the idea of God.