On Twitter, amid the hundreds and hundreds of posts flying around on my feed last night, one stuck in my mind, and it still galls me. It said something to the effect of, “Even if you aren’t religious, you can still offer prayers in support of Paris.”
I didn’t want to get in a war of words (or 140 characters or less) with a stranger, especially when there are bigger, badder things to be worried about. However, it’s enough of an issue with me that I would like to point some things out.
First of all, prayer is an integral part of religion. Any religion. If I’m not religious, that means that I don’t believe in religion, and therefore I don’t believe in prayer.
Second, religion is based on arrogance. Let me qualify that statement by explaining that every person thinks the religion they follow is the “right” religion, and believes that every other religion is the “wrong” religion. The monotheistic religions we hear about the most – Christianity, Judaism and Islam – are only a portion of what peoples’ belief systems are based upon. There are something in the neighborhood of 4,200 religions being practiced today. Which one is right?
Third, religions are created by humans. I’m sure you’ve heard of people saying they are going to “create their own religion” or “start their own church.” This is how all belief systems are born. Each faction comes up with its own rules and rituals. Think about Scientology: It was created by a former Navy guy who wrote science fiction. I mean, c’mon – what the hell is a “space opera” anyway??
Fourth, religions rely on mystery and lack of education. Leaders are always touted as knowing more than the rest of the followers. They are always revered for being more “blessed” than everyone else too. This is how religions continue to thrive. Think about the infamous Warren Jeffs and his “flock” – they all believe that he is some sort of prophet, and they hang on his every word. None of the kids growing up in the group know how to read or write properly and have memorized church elders as their only education. Obviously this is a famous group often singled out for its cult-ish behaviors. Pull back a little and look at all of the religions with the same eyes, and realize that leaders and organizers rely on the followers not questioning anything, or if they do, always circling back to the idea that the leaders know best. With all of the scientific discoveries we have made in the past century, how can anyone still believe in a virgin birth?
Fifth, believers tend to assign human characteristics to the objects they worship. For example, all of us have heard, “God will be angry” or “God will be sad” if we do certain things. Says who? We do. That’s right, humans.
Sixth, non-believers are not amoral. I don’t steal, I don’t cheat, I don’t kill other people or intentionally harm other creatures. I live a pretty upstanding life, and that is without following one or two particular religions and relying on them to be my conscience. Here’s something interesting: In some areas of South America, before Christianity was introduced, there was less crime because everyone lived under the same code and worked together to make a harmonious community. It was truly shameful to steal or kill. After Christianity, crime became more prevalent – because they started believing that “God would forgive them.”
Seventh and last, what has prayer done for me? People offer to pray for me all of the time, and I thank them because it makes them feel better. I’ve been signed up for continuous prayer circles, many times, with or without my knowledge or consent. But this is what it boils down to: If I get better, then it was “God’s will.” If I don’t get better, I either didn’t believe hard enough, didn’t pray enough, or it was “God’s will.” With either outcome I have no hand in whether I get better or not. Honestly, I think that the idea of praying has allowed people to become lazy. They can post on Facebook or Twitter that they’re praying for the people in France, or for praying for starving children in third world countries, or for gun violence to end, but then they don’t actually do anything. They think it’s enough to say that they’re praying and it magically elevates them to being better people.
Do I believe in God? That topic is best saved for another time.