When I was 25 I came home from work one day and saw these two guys riding by on bicycles. I thought nothing of them until they rolled up on my car when I parked. I was in my military uniform and they were both in black khakis and white, short sleeve button up shirts with backpacks. Honestly, I was gearing up for a fight until the lanky guy asked me from a safe distance if I had a moment to talk about Jesus. I was thinking to myself, “nah not really” but what came out was “man, it’s hot out here”. The other guy said “we can walk you to your place and talk”. In addition to the “hell nah” look I gave, I declined and said I’ll give them 5 minutes. They gave me the run-down of them being Mormons and talked about Joseph Smith. At that time, my only information about Mormons came from South Park, which they didn’t seem to appreciate, yet agreed with the accuracy. I think they ultimately burned through 10 minutes of my time before I politely said I wasn’t interested. They respected that, thanked me for my time and we parted ways, no harm no foul.
In similar fashion, years later, I was in my home on a Saturday about to walk out the door to check the mail. As soon as I opened the door there was this guy in front of me in a suit and there was a young lady and girl down at the landing of my porch. Unlike the Mormon encounter, I knew these people were Jehovah’s Witnesses immediately. The conversation began and I cut it shorter than the Mormon conversation. I don’t recall the exact question the guy asked me, but my response was that I don’t follow or find value in organized religion. He seemed shocked and somehow invigorated, but I simply told him, no thanks I’m not interested when he began to press the issue. He asked if I would take this pamphlet about a watch tower or something, I did and immediately recycled it when I got back from the mailbox. Not because I am dismissive of Jehovah’s Witnesses, more so because I was honest with him in expressing that I wasn’t interested in the first place and he apparently needed to offload these pamphlets.
I often wondered why these were the only people I ever saw out hunting for new members in this way. Every other Christian based group that I knew of put the pressure on once the service was close to ending. Not lost on me is the hubris of that method. Every preacher believes they’ve done an amazing enough job giving their animated opinions to warrant new members. Unfortunately, very few of them have ever moved me to consider joining. That aside, I never felt inclined to ask the Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormons I’ve met why they do this. Primarily because I would rather not know than give them the impression I’m even remotely interested in joining their ranks. Again, not because I hate these organizations, I can’t align with any of them in good conscience. Early in my life, everyone I knew identified as Christian or Nation of Islam. It was so common that I barely considered that there are countless other religious groups and cults out there hustling for your attention and a percentage of your wages. Over the years I’ve met Buddhists, Hindus, Sikh’s, Jews, Atheists, Deists, and Agnostics. I may have met more, but those are the only ones that I’ve had the religious conversations with.
On Whose Authority
The primary question floating in my little mind is, who authored any of this stuff? Why did they write it? How did those original authors use this information? What is the current impact? Seeing as most of these belief systems go back millennia, there’s no way to answer the first 3 of those questions without pure speculation, but the last is in our face daily and it ain’t flattering. People get upset when you advise them or insist on doing it your way when cooking Mac & Cheese; needless to say, views on the entirety of how one lives his/her life AND afterlife won’t be well received. In addition to that, the stance is always possessive of God, not duty to God. These religions claim to be the sole path to God, they claim it is a God given requirement to give a portion of your money away yet no one knows who transcribed this information on behalf of God. Could just be me, but if we’re to assume God is omnipotent, it’s harder to assume that God is somehow bad with money and in constant need of a man made creation with subjective value on Earth. Just saying.
My opinion is that the information is not reasonable, and since it is not even reasonable, it can’t be THE word of God. We’re told sins are equal across the board in the eye of God…but how many of us truly believe wanting to have sex with your attractive neighbor is just as bad as murdering someone? Are we also to believe that God, being singularly God, would be so jealous of something that doesn’t exist to make rule #1 “you shall have no other God’s before me”? If there is only one (the Abrahamic religions are all monotheistic), then God would have to be foolish to make that rule. That is a concept purely to manipulate the person hearing it that dares follow another religion. I digress.
Nah, I Don’t Digress Yet
One more thing was bothering me…blessings. If we are to believe God is the creator of all of us, and the divine plan is of a far higher order of thinking than what we can conceive, why then, do we believe in blessings in the sense of preferred treatment? Why is it that two people in a parking lot can both pray for a spot up front and only one gets it? Is it because God is catering to one over the other, or perhaps, there was only one spot available and the one that got it was simply in a better position to get it? I find it to be ridiculous to treat God in action, as a bored genie granting frivolous wishes for parking spaces, while simultaneously ignoring the wishes to cure children or loved ones with cancer. One of my least favorite sayings that I hear from people is “blessed and highly favored”. I don’t believe any of us are any better than the next person in the eyes of God. Therefore I find it ridiculous to be “highly favored” when those same folks will say God loves us all when the church doors are open, or the collection plate is being passed. Suddenly when my money is up for grabs we’re all equal in the eyes of the Lord, but after the service individuals are blessed and highly favored. The old ladies that say this the most mean no harm, but they’re also not truly applying critical thought to the statement either. Now I digress.
Cult Like Following
I find it odd to identify with a religion now that I’m older, when I was younger it was the norm to all the people I knew. A few years ago, I read Age of Reason by Thomas Paine and I was thoroughly impressed by the way in which he broke down religion. Most of it was stuff that I already thought myself, the difference was in how plain, yet eloquent the explanation was. When I finished this book, I shared it with a friend of mine who is Christian. She read a little but was immediately dismissive after a few pages. She said something about Deism sounding cultish. We talked about it, debated a bit, and then proceeded on with our lives. It has always stuck in the back of my mind though.
What is the difference between respected religions and cults? Respected. Truth in jest aside, the only difference I can see is time of origin. Most of the well established religions date back a millennia or more, long before fact checkers or the ability to question authority. Long before widespread literacy or even vast amounts of free time to ponder if these things make sense or not. When safety and survival depended on assimilating to a set of beliefs. That said, I fully understand why people were all in and in some cases became zealots. I don’t understand how modern day religions or cults grow. The stories and ideas are no more, or less outrageous than those found in the Bible, but we do have options, literacy, free time, and the ability to fact check. Yet people are still manipulated into believing certain stories that can only be perceived as nonsense to those with good sense. It’s easier to dismiss the new hits like Scientology or Heavens Gate, but as an outsider of all religions, it’s easy to dismiss all of them because the universal component that I recognize is manipulation.
Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the richNapoleon Bonaparte
Religion, it’s given people hope in a world torn apart by religion.Jon Stewart
I personally have an issue with “paying for salvation” or even the idea that some man or woman on Earth is the go between for people and God. These “messengers”, priests, preachers, shaman or whatever, take advantage of people seeking spiritual enlightenment and they do everything under the sun that their religious texts would deem improper. They place themselves above the people around them, so much so, that even parents fail to believe their own children when they are being molested. People won’t believe their own sister if she was raped by the head of the church. Billions of dollars in payouts and thousands of victims haven’t stopped the Catholic Church from raking in billions more and simply reassigning the offenders. I’ll remind folks, R. Kelly has far fewer victims than the Catholic Church, and that man is looking at 30 years of hard time.
Religion becomes part of our identity and many people get defensive when their identity is questioned in any way. Be that as it may, we need to ask more questions. Are we so attached to tradition and the fear of the unknown that we will ignore common sense? Identifying with any religion became problematic for me, because much like being in a gang, I can’t account for the origins, and I refuse to prop a person up above me just because others tell me to, plus, I don’t need religion to be a good person. This is in no way me telling other people to disown their religion, because there are good aspects of human association with religion. However, I would encourage anyone that hasn’t done so yet in regard to their religious beliefs, put aside blind faith for a moment and apply reason and rational thought. Ask some basic questions about the religion. When you get past that, ask yourself if you really need to identify with it to be a good person. Do you forego killing and raping because the Bible said, or because you have good enough sense to know that violating someone is wrong? If it is the former, I would suggest getting some help…respectfully.