Perhaps the most common reaction I receive when people find out that I have a love/hate relationship with religion is bewilderment, and I can understand this point. To a lot of people I meet, religion is something that either they are a part of (some grudgingly) or that they avoid all costs. For me to read books about religion is analogous to a person who hates spiders doing research about them every now and then. That may not be the best analogy ever devised, but comparing a spider to religion is about as charitable as I can get.
Of course, growing up, my view of God and such was a lot different than it was now. I have no doubts that my upbringing had a lot to do with my distaste for the cloth, but I suffered nothing so melodramatic as abuse or an exorcism growing up. In fact, I always had a kind of weird fascination with it, because of three basic reasons.
First, as a child the answers you get to your questions are circular in logic at best ("Because it says so in the Bible.") and mysterious at all other times ("God works in mysterious ways."). When you're young, it's not very proper to question the authority of parents, teachers, or adults when they give you the run-around(hell, try doing it as an adult). Of course, these non-answer answers (the gifted go on to be politicians) only spurred me to look elsewhere for the 'answers' (such that they are). Of my gifts, I have an inquisitive nature, and an innate need to understand WHY things work if I'm going to have anything to do with them.
A counter-example would be cars. I don't work on cars, I am not fascinated by cars, so I have no care about the difference between a carburetor and a radiator. To many an average American, this is nothing short of incomprehensible. Luckily, I, again, don't care. What I care about is spirituality, the existence of an afterlife, "God's will", etc. Many of these same people who can't understand why I am not changing my own oil will blithely believe whatever they were taught in Sunday school, or accept whatever religion their parents had. For as important question as "do you have a soul", to shrug and tow the line is near blasphemy. And I love to blaspheme.
Second would be the movies. Two of my favorite films of all-time come from the 80's. In fact, from the same year (1981). The first is the rollicking serial-adventure story, Raiders of the Lost Ark, the second, Chariots of Fire. 'Raiders' has more obvious and more action-packed religious themes, with Mr. Jones searching for a relic of Christian myth. (You'd think the Nazi's would have guessed from the thrashing they get from the Hebrew God at the end that killing Jews wouldn't be a good idea, but then I guess no one ever found out about it. Here's a lesson from westerns, Jehovah: always leave one baddie to tell the tale.) 'Chariots' is the true story of two English runners, one Jewish and one Christian, who run for different reasons and different Gods. It is a fascinating and enthralling study of both men and the impact they had on the Olympic games of 1924.
Both films have intense moments of religious awe, some melodramatic, some beyond belief, some that make you wonder. As a 10-year-old filmgoer, already beginning to seriously question what belief or God is, my fires got stoked by some great filmmakers. And really, is it any coincidence that George Lucas had a hand in one? I've always had a fascination with religious-themed movies, and if done reasonably right (e.g., The Prophecy, Constantine come to mind, films that don't just tow the line and are genuinely entertaining), gets me thinking, even if the film's premise is considered to be ridiculous.
Aside, when I finally saw the movie 'The Exorcism', I thought it was pretty good, but I didn't find it remotely scary. Granted I did watch it for the first time when I was 30 (I watched it on my birthday, alone, in a dark house, and it still didn't freak me out.), but I'm notoriously skittish about horror films to this day, so I don't think age has anything to do with it.
For instance, I had nightmares for two nights after seeing 'Scream'. That kind of admission alone might cause some of you to spew green pea soup in digust. And I kind of hope it does, because I have quite a malicious streak. 'Scream' is the type of film that gets under my skin the most easily, because it is based on reality. A crazy guy with a knife is a lot more threatening to me than Christian myth.
Third would be the mystery of nature itself. The feeling one gets (or I get for the purposes of this little treatise) from laying with your back on the grass and staring up at the clouds or the starry sky. Standing on the edge of the ocean on the beach at midnight, looking out at the murky blackness, the water vast and the horizon infinite. Or, it can be as simple as thinking about a person you haven't seen in years, and then suddenly running into them the next day. The feeling of powerlessness before nature, the vastness, the intimate unknown experiences, the unexplainable connection one feels. If I am convinced of anything, it is that there is more out there, and in here, much more, that we have yet to discover. Religion and the history thereof is a roadmap to many peoples' attempts to either find out more, explain, or manipulate people who are scared into doing horrors.
It is because of the last remark that I write this piece today. There was an incident this week at the West Bank, in which Arabs burned Jewish houses following an 'honor killing' (via Wretchard). I had figured from the term 'honor killing' that there was some kind of duel between Jew and Muslim in which someone had to take their own life out of shame, or something like that. The facts are much more shocking:
- A security sources said the rampage was triggered by an incident last week in which a 30-year-old woman was made to drink poison by her relatives because they suspected her of carrying on a romance with a Christian man from the village - thought by scholars to be the city of Ephraim to which Jesus and his disciples went in John chapter 11.
The woman was quickly buried, but last Tuesday, the Palestinian Authority police exhumed the body for an autopsy angering relatives. So-called Muslim 'honor killings' are common throughout the Middle East but attract only minimal sentences due to their widespread cultural acceptance as an integral part of Islamic 'Sharia' law.