Friday, December 28, 2007

Respect for Religion. An Unedited Version.

Representative Steve (St. Eve?) King recently demanded that the U.S. Congress kiss the feet (or the ass?) of Christians all over the world, and the Congress hastened to oblige. I wrote about that earlier, from the usual angles of the poor oppressed mega-majority of Christians in this country and the odd right-wing fetish of desiring to see the Christians as still in the arena being attacked by the lions and the donkeys. (Well, not the donkeys. I put that in there to create a subtle link to the current U.S. politics. Is it not wonderful that no editor will strike out my smart asides on this blog?)

Anyway, to return to the topic: When I was a tiny goddess I really did respect the religious people. They were the ones I saw walking the hard walk, feeding the poor and keeping the churches running. They knitted blankets and collected money for the starving children in Africa and they arranged all those Christmas bazaars where you could buy really ugly stuff as Christmas presents. They tried not to have feuds with their neighbors over the fence location, and they usually did not pass on the juiciest gossip. Of course this meant that conversation froze when they entered the room, but that is just a part of the crown of thorns I assumed one wears when going religious.

Yes, I did respect the Christians in those days, and probably would have respected all the other religious folk, too. All that has changed now. Mostly I fear the super-religious, because I identify them with the fundamentalists, and I identify the fundamentalists with those who would like to put women into little boxes, with a lid that cannot be opened from the inside. (Though I probably should be grateful for all the rabid clerics. It was this wave of religious fanaticism that made me really study the large monotheistic religions and to bring to my conscious thought the extreme misogyny which truly is one of their main pillars. That, in turn, let my own spirituality be freed.)

So I no longer have that reflex-reaction of respect for religiosity. Neither do I especially respect religions themselves. They have truly beautiful parts and beautiful ethical and moral rules, but they also contain much that is not commendable, and the history of the main religions does not make pretty reading. Human beings reach for the gods and end up grabbing the brass rings of power more often than not. Then those rings are used to crush the skulls of the heretics and nonbelievers. At the same time, many religious people have done much good in the world, the desire to touch the toes of gods is real, and no amount of nasty blogging about religion will make a difference, especially when done from the outside. The yearning is there and religions will always be with us.

But should we respect religions and religious people? What does "respect" mean in this context? The answer depends heavily on that interpretation. If by "respect" we mean to treat with consideration and the general rules of politeness, the answer is clearly affirmative. If by "respect" we mean to treat as something above and beyond our rights to criticize, as something good and wholesome, as something from the immaculate lips of the unerring god, then the answer must be a very feisty NO.

Because to call something "religion" does not mean that it is thereby immediately good and right, and to call something "religion" does not mean that it is from a god or a goddess, and to call something "religion" might mean that a person is just using it as a weapon for getting other things: power, money, sexual partners. (Did you notice the threefold repetition there? Trinity and manual of style all bundled up together, dosed with too much Christmas chocolate?)

This post is the child born from an unholy marriage between my pagan thoughts and this little item of news about the priests in Bethlehem fighting each other with brooms while cleaning the church. I can't respect priests who end up hitting each other hard enough to shed blood, and all over their territories within a church. True, the story is also funny, but if this is the purifying effect of religiosity, what would these priests have been in their original state?

That is not a flippant question, actually. I suspect that many fundamentalists believe that people in their raw state are unadulterated evil and that to come from that stage to the broom-fighting stage shows the glorious hand of god in work. The original sin and the nastiness of the human flesh (as opposed to the spirit which is supposedly willing) are important building blocks in that world view. Religions are needed to control the masses and the meanness of the masses. How are we going to keep people good if there are no fires of hell to fear after death, I hear fundamentalists mutter, and they mutter that because they see no other obstacle to some sort of a dream of pillaging and rampaging across the world than the divine stop-signs (with the international symbol for the fires of hell on it).

Well, I don't think people are sweet little angels, either, but I'm not going to curtsy to a priest who has just come from a broom fight, because I think I wouldn't have participated in that fight myself. (I'm trained in martial arts, after all, and part of that training was how to restrain upset priests without really hurting them.)

That is a subjective judgment about what to respect, true. But I also don't respect that branch of Christianity which argues that Jesus wants his followers to be really rich here on earth and that the way to accomplish that is by sending money to television preachers. Those preachers are engaging in something very much like fraud and a careful perusal of the Bible suggests that Jesus didn't think riches were that great a thing to focus on, rather the opposite. It's perfectly acceptable to start a religion about wealth being a signifier of divine approval, but that religion should not be called Christianity. That's just wrong. Or at least false advertising.

I have rambled all over the divine landscape here and probably angered all good believers. My apologies for that. I'm not throwing darts at you (so you are just collateral damage, I guess). I just think that if religion is supposed to be awarded special respect over and above the usual respect one should award human beings and their ideas, then religion should demonstrate special worthiness. And "respect" is not the same thing as the power to tell others what to believe or the power to make them shut up.