Silly Religious Beliefs Past and Present

OdinPick a religion — any religion! I mean it: a serious person can gain great insights from any one of them if they are so inclined. My experiences are mostly with Christians, and so that is what I will stick with. I’ve known a lot of serious thinkers who considered themselves Christians. There is nothing about following a particular religion that precludes depth. It’s kind of like being well read. I would have no problem with someone who appreciates Adam Bede, but chooses to read Pride and Prejudice each new year. But if she told me that Pride and Prejudice was the only true literature and that I should only read it, we would have words.

The specifics of any religion are, in general, rubbish. So I really do have a problem with religious literalists. I’ve been told by many Christians over the years that they know their religion is true because the Bible says right there in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life.” Who’d have thought it would be so easy? I ought to have this printed up:

For Frank so loved the world, that he posted five articles every day, so that whosoever clicketh to his website should not be bored, but have eternal entertainment. And a 10% tithe to Frank for doing all this for you would be most appreciated!

What bothers me is just how silly it all is. By focusing on the literal truth of the Bible, people seem to lose sight of any of its spiritual teachings. It isn’t so important what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, but that it is literally true that he said it. Like in Life of Brian: “Judea AD 33. Saturday Afternoon. About Tea Time.” I just don’t see many Christians living as though they actually believed, “Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.” In fact, some of them have threatened me with violence for suggesting that the Bible wasn’t literally true.

It makes me think of the Norse mythology. I don’t know much about it — basically just what I picked up from reading The Mighty Thor when I was a kid. But I do know this: it isn’t all that different from Christian mythology. As John Constantine says in the movie, “Impossible rules, endless regulations — who goes up, who goes down, and why.” But I’m sure that all those old stories were helpful to those Scandinavians. But it was just silly for any of them to really think they won the Battle of Lena because Odin was happy with the Swedes and unhappy with the Danes.

Assuming that humans manage to continue their cultural progress and not destroy themselves, in a couple of hundred years, I expect someone to be writing this same sentiment about the Christians of today. And that, I think, is where the theological rubber meets the road. These Christian literalists (the vast majority of American Christians) seem to harbor a fear that I’m right — that their religion is just the modern version of the Norse or Greek or whatever mythology past or present you want to point to.

I think this is why the beliefs of people like Denys Turner or Reginald Foster or Tenzin Gyatso seem so relaxed. They all get something deep from their faiths — something that pointing out obvious contradictions in holy texts can’t disturb. Compare this to a man like William Lane Craig who has wasted his whole life trying to prove the the Bible is literally true and defining anything God does — like the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that killed roughly a quarter million people — as good.

But Craig and the hundreds of millions like him have not only wasted their lives, they’ve wasted their faith. The purpose of religion has always been to find insight. And the literalists use all their abilities to avoid insights. Because the truth is right there in English, which is after all, a pretty good translation of Greek and Hebrew and Aramaic. And those original sources were after all direct copies of direct copies of direct copies that were only mere hundreds of years after the original ones were written. And those copies only contain some 100,000 errors. But the truth is right there! And if it seems a little unclear, don’t worry, someone will tell you what it means — most likely that homosexuality is wrong and zygotes have souls.

But those Ravens really stomped on the Steelers today. I hear Odin is a big Ravens fan.

9 thoughts on “Silly Religious Beliefs Past and Present

  1. I suspect that the less democratic the society, the more totalitarian the religion. Right-wing Christianity was on the downswing in America and Europe during our respective semi-democratic periods, now on the upswing in both.

    If there is human civilization in a few hundred years, the modern anti-democratic governments will be gone. I would think. It’s theoretically possible for a corporate super-state to reduce carbon emissions through force, but the business world has shown no signs of being concerned with more than a few years into the future. Maybe our societies will find a way to make that happen and save capitalism from itself (again.)

    If future societies are more democratic, I would guess we go back to more spiritual/mystical forms of religion. Those could conceivably include Christianity in a more Gnostic sense, Islam in a more Sufi sense.

    It’s easy to point to fundamentalist traits in anti-democratic countries and say religion is causing the political shift. In some specific cases (local elections) that’s true. However I doubt people would be drawn to fundamentalism if they had more direct means of shaping their societies. Fundamentalism is like the gambler who believes she “has a system”; occasionally it works and reinforces the belief.

    And, duh, Odin’s a Vikings fan! Or just hates football, because he’s a God and doesn’t approve of traumatic brain injuries. Maybe he likes brain injuries.

    • I think you are on to something at the end there. I don’t think it is the democracy per se but rather if people are allowed to live fulfilling lives. If not, they latch on to something that gives their lives — and suffering — meaning. My understanding is that the Soviet people were mostly okay with with the sorry state of their lives in the early days when they thought they were building a better society. It was only after Stalin stepped in that they gave up hope. And after the Soviet Union crumbled, religion sprang up in a big way — indicating it had simply been hidden before.

      Well, if Odin is a Vikings fan, why do they suck so much?! He always had ravens. In fact, he had a chamber door build special for him.

  2. I have little doubt that Óðinn is a Ravens supporter. The raven is, after all, his totem animal, and I’m sure that Huginn and Muninn were hovering over the field of battle. He is, however, probably disappointed at the lack of actual carnage to supply fresh recruits for Valhöll.

    As for the Vikings (the ones in Minnesota, not the historical ones), I suspect they are more likely to be adherents of Týr. The reason they suck is because they are depicted in their logo as having horns on their helmets. A moment’s reflection should tell you that something like that is a massive mistake for anyone going into an actual battle.

    • I’m glad someone got my Raven joke! I did supply a link making it clear, but there is a raven in the image at the top of the article anyway. I was thrilled that the Ravens had just won a game.

      I am aware horned helmets have never been found — I’m not sure how they became iconic. However, I don’t accept the argument against them that they are inefficient in battle. There have been many inefficient instruments of war that were used for effect. But I will allow that the down side of horns is so massive as to offset any psychological advantage. But perhaps the Vikings’ fans should push for a change. Couldn’t hurt.

      • They were named Thought and Memory if I have it right.
        Take the horns away and you usually have a Norman helmet. The tapered shape makes a good sword hit difficult. For the best bite, the edge should hit perpendicular to the target surface. Lots of strength and control needed in the wrist and forearm muscles for that, as well as the rest of the body that goes into swinging the weight of the blade.

        • The extent of my knowledge of such fighting is limited to playing RuneQuest as a kid. But it seems to me that in hand-to-hand combat, the head is not the most vulnerable part of the body because it would hard to land a blow that high. That would be especially true following your comment about an orthogonal blow, given the angle of the helmet. The blow would have to be coming down above the head.

          This is a very strange digression from the original article!

  3. Reference to “The Mighty Thor” brought me back nearly 60 years to the belly-laugh joke of junior high school (middle school hadn’t been invented yet):

    There’s a big orgy at Valhalla, been going on for days. A god approaches one of the valkyries and says, “I’m mighty Thor.” She replies, “You’re thore? I’m tho thore I can’t pith thraight!”

    With deepest apologies to all the people whose brains have matured beyond their adolescence.

    • I am pleased the article brought back fond memories! I know what you mean about the whole middle school thing. I actually think it is a better description, but when I was that that age, it was all junior high school — and no 6th grade!

      I suspect my favorite joke of that period was: “Would eye?!” “Hair lip!”

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