10 March 2010

Sometimes I am bitter about religion

I actually told a (religious) friend of mine the other day that religion doesn't make me bitter. And some days I do feel that way, mostly when religion isn't touching my day to day life, and I feel like the anger and resentment are rather wasted on something I don't even see that often. But when I read Michelle's explanation of why she's done with religion at the Gaytheists yesterday, I remembered that, yes, religion has absolutely made me bitter.
I long ago made the decision that I was done with religion. It didn’t offer me anything I couldn’t get elsewhere, and just seemed to have a lot of rules that I had reasoned away with secular ethics. I sort of thought religion and I could co-exist where we met only occasionally. I have since discovered this is not possible.
I feel similarly. It's actually very hard for me to have religious friends without pointing out that they're part of an enormous institution that has a whole lot of blood on its hands. But I try not to do that, because it's not going to change their minds or anything, it just makes me look like an asshole. But the argument for "coexisting" rings rather hollow for me. From Michelle:
When you speak of the joy and wonderful and fulfillment that you receive from religion, this is what I see. I see women unable to protect themselves from unfaithful husbands through the use of a condom because the Catholic church has campaigned against their use and distribution. I see families torn apart by unjust marriage laws that the churches prop up. I see abuse and terrorism within families, and women told to go back to husbands because divorce is not an option.

I see gay teens who commit suicide because they’re told they are abominations. I see the millions more who suffer in silence, shamed by their sexuality, their bodies, their desires. I see well-intentioned people give religious bigotry and hatred a pass because, well… it’s religious so it must be good. I see children beaten within an inch of their life with plumbing supply line, because obedience is godly. I see children raped and molested and abused by religious leaders. I see the families of those children having to choose between protecting their salvation and protecting their children, and not always making the right choice.
Michelle specifies her disdain with religious institutions to the Catholic Church in particular. And, indeed, the Catholic Church is fucking evil. And I have debated with Christians before who are Protestant, and thus want to foist off the historical evils of Christianity--the persecution of scientists like Galileo, the Crusades, witch hunts, etc.--onto the Catholic Church. Catholics are not True Christians (TM), and thus True Christians (i.e. whatever sect the particular Christian individual belongs to) don't have that blood on their hands. That is a fundamentally unhistorical and ridiculous argument; the Catholic Church is the root of all Christian sects, not some deviant fringe branch of the faith. And even if it were, Protestant churches practice evil all the time. Witness: Christian Domestic Discipline (trigger warning: domestic discipline is extremely upsetting), gay "conversion," Christian books advising parents to beat their children, and this asshole.

And my (indirect) experience of religious evil is through my mother. She grew up in a deeply religious family, via an Assembly of God church, and when she went to college, she got pregnant. And you know what her family did? They disowned her; not one parent or sibling was allowed to go to her wedding, her family ceased communication, and (perhaps most heinous) they pulled her from their health insurance coverage. You read that right, they withheld health insurance from a pregnant 19-year-old, one without any financial resources. When she went and talked to a religious advisor at her church, they basically told her that she had to give the baby up for adoption, which she didn't want to do, or she wouldn't be right with God. They advised her parents to disown her the way they did. She was forced to drop out of college and marry my father. She stayed married to him for a series of reasons, including the religious aversions to divorce and single parenting, aversions she inherited from her parents and church. Sixteen years after a miserable marriage, she finally divorced him and started her life over. Now, thankfully, she's happy with her life, and married to someone who doesn't treat her like shit. But that doesn't make up for the fact that her church officials (people who knew her well, since she was active in church all her life) and religious parents took away sixteen years of her life. So, when you speak of the joy and wonderful and fulfillment that you receive from religion, this is what I see. My mother, her opportunities stolen and her life spent wracked with religious guilt.

How does one argue for coexistence with religion? By arguing against coexistence, I don't mean making Christianity legal or genocide or anything crazy like that. I mean to contradict the attitude that all religious sects, including the nonreligious, should hold hands and live in harmony, a harmony that celebrates religious plurality instead of focusing on the domination and destruction of "other" sects. Which sounds like a nice idea, except that some religious sects have blood on their hands. And as Michelle points out, even the most apathetic participant in religion is complicit in the violence and evil perpetrated by churches and religious individuals in the name of God. Tolerance is wonderful unless preaching tolerance is used to deny or gloss over oppression and violence, which is exactly what the "coexistence" movement does.

UPDATE: A friend of mine wrote on my facebook about this post:
This reminds me of a Malea quote: "I believe that the academy does not see the foundation of blood and bodies upon which it constitutes itself...some of us, after all, can't help but see the bodies, the blood, as we stand in that room...listening...hearing."
Which reminded me again of Michelle's original post, when she says that she knows she is already oppressing others all the time without knowing it, and that's why she can't co-exist with religion. Except that I do know I'm mired in institutions, like the academy, that are steeped in blood. Even my department of study, English literature, is founded in, and continues to perpetuate, violence. Every time I give money to this university, I am complicit. So I didn't intend this post to be judgmental and placing blame, but raising a consciousness of the blood that is the foundation of religion/Christianity. And explaining why I can't coexist with it, can't be friendly or neutral or non-bitter.


Brittany Kalaj Margulieux said...

I'm so glad this blog exists. I had the same cataclysmic experience when I arrived here from Dallas, having left my established friend-base of mostly athiest, multi-racial hippies and arriving in CS with no friends, living in sin, and never having used the N word.

Let's just say it was a tough transition.

Michelle Bell said...

Well written! It's been quite interesting to wander through your blog -- I thought Michigan was conservative!

While I specifically target the Catholic Church, I'm not giving a pass to any other Christian institution or any other religious institution -- it's just what I know best.

Hope you stay sane in A&M.

Courtney said...

Thanks guys!

And, Michelle, I figured that your specificity was the result of familiarity, not blindness. It's just that lots of Protestant Christians I've known have tried to act like they bear no responsibility for the evils of the Catholic Church, and also tend to think that only the Catholic Church does evil things anymore. Which is, of course, nonsense.

Jason said...

Personally, I feel more uncomfortable with my ongoing support of the U.S. government than with any church I've ever considered myself a member of. The church doesn't actually get any money from me to fund the stuff I disagree with, but I just keep paying taxes, year after year...