Religion Has, At Best, A Dysfunctional Relationship With Reason

I’ll own the broad brush right up top. Not all religions struggle with reason. Some really do want to understand what makes us and the world tick (Buddhism focuses on human suffering and misery rather than getting its followers to behave themselves). How did the universe get here and what is the point of it all? That’s all we ask a religion to answer. Before we understood that science was a “thing” (more accurately, a way to think based on as much reality as we could discern), we thought religion was the only path to truth. Where did we come from? In 6th century BCE Persia, the Zoroastrian priest Zarathustra suggested it had something to do with the primeval clash between gods Ahura Mazdā and Angra Mainyu, the Destructive Spirit. Hinduism has multiple creation myths; in fact, it anticipates string theory — it believes our universe is one of many — except Hinduism theorizes that without math, a luxury string theory never gets. The Abrahamic faiths give all the credit to Yahweh, that angry Canaanite leftover (Yahweh’s origins as El are memorialized in Middle Eastern place names like Beth EL and IsraEL). Yahweh, for all his monotheistic confidence, still behaves like a bi-polar depressive who hasn’t the courage of his own convictions. The last word a reasonable person would use to describe the Yahweh character is “reasonable”.

In religion’s defense, it’s trying to answer those big questions armed only with the piss poor information on hand at the religion’s founding. I bet that if the men who wrote the Pentateuch had had access to microscopes and telescopes and the internet, they wouldn’t have written their origin stories the way they did. They would have known as they sat down to articulate the religious ideas in their head that whoever or whatever this Yahweh character was, he fit into a vast physical cosmos that adhered to reliably predictable physical properties. Their religious text would have reflected that real world knowledge — and, perhaps, their approach to spirituality would have been entirely different. Or, more likely, it would not ever have existed at all.

Religion and spirituality are not the same thing. Spirituality is the awe one feels while gazing up at the stars. It’s the awareness of existence itself and of the specific universe we live in. There are things far, far larger than us. They were here before we came, they’ll be here long after we’re gone. Spirituality is a nod to permanence by impermanent creatures. Religion, by contrast, is pure dogma. It’s an institutional attempt to codify spirituality. “To achieve this spiritual goal — beat death, for instance (Christianity’s sales pitch) — you have to follow these steps “religiously”. Fail to follow even one step — become a heretic — and the deal’s off.” That’s how Christianity got from “Do unto others” to “Do what we say or else”.

Of the three Abrahamic religions, Judaism is by far the least dogmatic. I’d even say that Judaism is relatively dogma free. That’s because Judaism is more a culture than a religion. That wasn’t by choice. For almost two thousand years, Jews were ostracized from white, Christian Europe. It wasn’t reason that motivated Jew hate, it was un-reason.

Jesus didn’t invent Christianity, Paul did. And, for that, Paul deserves our eternal respect. The majority of the NT is written by Paul or reflects the mythology Paul was creating out of whole cloth as he took HIS version of Jesus out to the Gentiles. Paul failed to sell his version of Jesus to people who actually knew Jesus (Jesus’ family, for example) or heard Jesus preach. So, Paul turned to the non-Jewish world. Aside from Jews and Zoroastrians, most of the world at that time was polytheistic. Polytheistic gods weren’t materially different from humans; we were all made of the same “stuff”. Polytheistic gods didn’t really care much about humans. Yahweh, on the other hand, cared deeply about humans. He even has a son whose purpose is to help cleanse humans of their most terrible sins (committed by Eve) that keep humans from happiness). Ah, but Yahweh promises even more than that!

If you believe in Jesus in the exact way the institution tell you to, the institution insists that, like Jesus did, you too will defeat death and get to live in a forever happy place with everyone you love.

Can I assure you of something? That’s not really going to happen. It’s never happened — ever. It’s a swell story — we can’t argue with its success, can we? But it’s a story, not reality. Wishful thinking instead of just “thinking”. It recognizes that reason tells a different story than it wants to tell. Good luck trying to apply reason (or basic story logic) to the Jesus-Judas-Crucifixion story. For starters — stone cold truth — whoever Jesus was, he was born, lived his entire life and died a Jew. He had only Jewish thoughts in his head which he preached and taught exclusively to Jews since only Jews would have gotten the context he was preaching — monotheism in a polytheistic world. Paul needed Jesus to BE an actual messiah, not just a maybe messiah.

Keep in mind: the “how to be a messiah” rules are a thousand years old before Jesus or Paul ever hear them. They’re part of a long oral tradition finally written down around the 6th century BCE. 600 years before Jesus shows up. The point: it’s not reality talking here, it’s mythology refracted through Paul’s imagination as he takes his version of Jesus — the son of God, defeater of death — to people with no knowledge or concern for Jewish mythology. Paul and the early church fathers invent censuses that did not happen in order to get Jesus born in Bethlehem — which has to happen if Jesus is to share a bloodline with King David (who’s dead a thousand years at least before Jesus). The whole point of Jesus being a messiah is that by following Jesus, his followers can overcome the weight of Eve’s original sin and live forever in the process. But, that means Jesus HAS TO DIE for the whole mythology machine to work correctly.

Thank about it: if Judas doesn’t betray Jesus (per the story) and Jesus never gets crucified — what does that do to the whole construct? Does it all still work the same if Jesus lives a long, happy life and dies an old man — surrounded by loved ones — in his bed? Doubt it. The Christian mythology Paul invented relied on Jesus dying — and dying by crucifixion was paramount! How else do we get a cross to symbolize the entire faith? Just wondering — if the Romans had imagined the guillotine before the French and used it instead of crucifixion to dispatch people they didn’t like, would Christians now walk around with little guillotines around their necks?

The world’s religions would all tell you that by following them, you’ll find peace. Maybe. The history of religion says not. The history of religion is not a history of peace. It’s not a history of “reason” either.

It’s not a coincidence.

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