My Religion, Right or Wrong
My wife and I were reading the Sunday paper a few months ago when she came across an article indirectly concerning Hitler's genocidal pogrom against the Jews during World War II. Because she has only the vaguest comprehension of, not to mention interest in the events of that era, indeed of history altogether, she asked me, merely as a matter of conversational engagement I would think, how Hitler could be allowed, especially by his own people, to so successfully perpetrate this inhumanity.
I replied that it has been my understanding, actually seems now to be common knowledge, that for the past thousand years or so, Europe has been traditionally anti-Semitic, such anti-Semitism being actively encouraged by the prevailing religion of the region, Christianity. This encouragement, I went on to explain is, of course, essentially denied, or if not denied, at least rationalized more or less fervently by apologists for Christianity, such variance of fervor seemingly dependant on the devotion of the critic to his or her particular denomination. I also mentioned that most of the German Catholic dioceses along with many Lutheran parishes, as well as unreasonable numbers of others with the customary Christian sensibilities, actually promoted anti-Semitism long before the arrival of Hitler; that Hitler merely utilized a tradition of several century’s duration in pursuing his ultimate goal of world domination.
My wife, a not-really-practicing Catholic but a true believer in the Judeo-Christian notions of "God" nonetheless, thought a moment then mentioned that she could remember when she was young, hearing and believing the usual Catholic dogma regarding the "evil and sinfulness" apparently inherent in Judaism. I merely grunted an assent, not wishing at the time to return yet again to the battles over our variant positions regarding the relevance and veracity of theistic dogma.
I have always, even before my active rejection of all notions of gods and theism, looked upon deistic organized religion as a frivolous undertaking unworthy of coming between a marriage. I have also found over the course of our thirty years of wedded bliss that if one is subtly persistent, the irrationality of gods, "saviors", demons and "holy ghosts" can at least be made apparent to all but the most fanatical of spouses. It is unfortunate that even in the case of a less than devout individual such as my wife, the irrationality of deistic belief will only rarely be acknowledged by traditionalists, since they will always fall back on their notions of "faith". This acknowledgement might, however, manifest itself in other, less obvious ways. In the case of my wife and I, the secular rationality I’ve often promoted is apparent through the disinterest of both our sons in the notions of deities and their accoutrements as well as the maturation of our daughter into the not-really-practiced-Catholicism of her mother (why so very many women, so insensibly embrace, even casually, the sexist dogma of all organized religion has always puzzled me). My wife has often mentioned over the course of our marriage and usually at a point of some domestic strife, that we are much too emotionally and intellectually dissimilar, too different in temperament and ideological outlook to ever remain compatible. I usually reply that we're not so different; we each want what's best for our family, our world and ourselves; we each want to cope with our personal chaos. I simply go about coping and seeking what's best more rationally than she does. Alas, this often infuriates her to the point where she uses words such as rebellious, cynical and pessimistic far too frequently. Perhaps one day I'll define "nihilistic" for her in an effort toward diversification of her vocabulary.
Anyhow, as I proceeded through this particular Sunday I began to consider what she'd said. I also began to wonder how deeply I myself had been affected, prior to my escape from the clutches of theism and Christianity, by the same vituperation doggedly heaped on the Jews as a part of Christian doctrine. I soon came to the conclusion that doctrinal Christian anti-Semitism had indeed once affected me; had once seduced me into considering numbers of my fellow men and women as inferior and "wicked", as "unworthy of God’s love". Almost unconsciously, as a part of my awakened rationality, I began to recognize my dictated intolerance to be a part of the dedicated ignorance inherent in dogmatic adherence to religious faith and I must confess a certain shame that this recognition has come so late in life. I also began to wonder that day how my wife, like all too many others, could be so appalled by her dawning comprehension of the enormity of the Holocaust and its cost in terms of mankind's moral viability yet continue to believe unconsciously and unconscionably in her theistic doctrine. Furthermore, I wondered how she or any of the other billions of people inhabiting our speck of universe could continue to have such blind, if admittedly casual, devotion to any sort of irrational religious faith; could continue to accept and realize the doctrines inherent in what is essentially a culturally and parentally mandated piety.
She had, it seems, finally come to a certain understanding that morning concerning the immense blame that can be attributed to all the various religions for the commonly unacknowledged intolerance historically mandated in the name of one deity or another. Yet, in spite of this dawning comprehension she will always, when asked, declare herself "a Catholic", justifying this declaration by saying that Catholicism is all she knows. She will also remind me occasionally that she expects, among other things, the typically ritualistic and ostentatious Catholic mass when she dies. This request clearly ignores the fact that the grief of family and friends is always subservient to the issuance of the call for insensible belief; that the Vatican has only its own best interests at heart in asking you for more devotion and piety…and money. Her peculiarly morbid request apparently also ignores my personal view that she’ll outlive me by twenty years.
It seems that my wife and those billions like her continually although only subconsciously recognize the hatefulness of deistic religion, the intolerant history and nature of it; have recognized the results of this traditional and culturally acceptable bigotry; have seen it so often exposed for what it is, yet still consider themselves willing adherents of these covens of ignorance.
And herein lies much of the answer to the question: how can Catholicism, Christianity, the whole system of organized religion perpetuate itself? Individuals such as my wife and countless others are so deluded and subjugated, so brainwashed by their familial faiths, so deeply under the often evil spell cast by these racist, misogynistic, homophobic, ill-reasoned and totalitarian corporate conglomerates, so subjugated to the intransigence of these doctrines that they will recognize in these conglomerates both the evil and the coping mechanism, both the intolerance and the pseudo-comfort, both the irrationality and the emotional balm exuded by the diverse religious dogma, all the while ignoring the incongruity. Thus theistic religion perpetuates itself not through any sort of moral logic, but through a fundamental deception and perversion of truth. I must ask: how can these allegedly sensible and sensitive billions not recognize that Hitler for one, heeded well the lessons of his Christian faith in holding his own people hostage to propaganda? These deluded individuals, who I don't blame individually but whom I do blame collectively will not, seemingly cannot endanger the false feelings of comfort, peace, contentment and purpose they've been inculcated with no matter the untruthful, immoral, unethical and irrational duplicity of the self-actuating source of these ill-considered emotions.
I would venture to say that even such a sensitive, sensible, kind, moral and compassionate person as my wife (who I love deeply despite her plebian religious foible) has, as have most people, become so enmeshed from such an early age in one or another hypocritical "faith" that for one iota of a second before a modicum of reason emerges, they will consider individuals and congregations of their own religious faith to be at least marginally superior to those of other faiths, and far superior to heretics such as myself.
I have come to realize over the course of several years that all the dogmatic forms of theism, atheism, agnosticism, spirituality, etc., are labels, mere mythological conceptions and cultural contraptions which embrace but a single reason for being: to direct us piteous mortals in how to cope emotionally if not intellectually with the incongruity of existence, with the inevitable and unfocused moral chaos of the universe. Unfortunately, this direction has been historically a matter of such diverse doctrinal distinction that the mortal propensity toward rebellion and often plain orneriness places an inherent restriction on the universal acceptability of any sort of distinct cultural philosophy leading therefore, to the inevitable and in many cases, deadly conflict of ideals so common to mankind’s legacy.
I always think to myself that some day (maybe the same day I introduce her to "nihilism") I might, as a precursor to matrimonial suicide, confront my wife with one of the more flighty interpretations that I have imagined regarding the early history of Christianity.
In this fantasy, I imagine those dullards gathered at Constantinople for the infamous final Council in 381 C.E. I envision a scenario where the agenda eventually approaches the problem of Christ's mythical crucifixion. As the cross has allegedly been designated the official icon of the religion some fifty-five years prior, there is a serious divergence of views whereby some of the members of the Council, perhaps in direct contravention of scriptural assertion, proclaim the Jews as near-angels for encouraging the presumed killing of Christ since this martyrdom and subsequent "resurrection" proved to be the supposed catalyst for the conception of Christianity, for the inception of the Church.
"But how," other members complain, "are we to justify our condemnation of the crucifixion of poor Jesus, of ‘God’, of the methodology of crucifixion altogether if we allow that this particular execution was heaven-sent in the form of Jewish complicity?"
The debate rages on to the point that a decision must be made. Should the Jewish race and religion be lauded for instigating the events leading to the glorified guild presently providing these good men of the Council with employment, not to mention the trappings of some not inconsiderable power and influence? Or should the Jews be condemned and despised for deluding the unfortunate Romans into allegedly killing "God"?
I would imagine that after a certain amount of uncomfortable silence and fidgeting, the more charismatic, the more forceful, the more leader-like man among them (St. Ambrose, perhaps?), who happened to be in the "perfidious Jews killed God" camp (possibly as the simple result of some perceived wrong at the hands of a Jewish merchant) ultimately forced his own views on the others present, all of whom were, by now, I'd wager, bored and uncomfortable and desirous of home and hearth, wife and mistress. Thus, the final vote went to persecution as opposed to veneration.
Some sixteen hundred years and countless instances of death and destruction later, the lamentable results of this fantastic vote seem to have altered and misguided the sensibilities of otherwise intelligent and compassionate individuals like my wife who now proclaim to all and sundry: "My religion, right or wrong".
I can't help but ponder: had there ever actually been a Creator of some sort, an occasionally wrathful "God" prepared to wreak vengeance on sinners unto the fourth and fifth generations, how would this Creator judge those who proclaim themselves adherents of the "true faith"? In case these folks haven't figured it out for themselves, it's a damned lucky thing for them that there is no "God"…and no "hell". As with their intransigence, acknowledged or not, concerning their faith, I believe that deep down they, like my wife, have figured out the immorality of, among other things, Christian anti-Semitism and simply have no idea of redress without a complete disavowal of faith. They’re damned if they do and damned if they don’t confront the hypocrisy of Christianity’s messianic grandeur.