Due to the vast number of people streaming to our shores seeking refuge from religious persecution during our nation's early history, United States citizens are guaranteed the freedom to practice any religion of their choosing under the First Amendment to our Constitution. This tenet has been taken very seriously, as evidenced by the breadth of case law dealing with this particular topic. (Don't look it up unless you have to; take it from me, reading a case is a pretty dry task.) With few exceptions, the right to practice a chosen religion free from state intervention has held fast, especially when compared to the whittling away of other rights guaranteed under the Constitution.
Freedom of Speech has been restricted by laws prohibiting some protestors from demonstrating without first obtaining a permit, and various decency laws have allowed the state to levy fines against those using profanity in public. Zealous government officials have repeatedly sidestepped the Freedom of the Press by detaining reporters until their sources are revealed. The Right to Bear Arms has been limited to those who first obtain proper permits, and wholly excludes the right to own certain high powered or multi-shot weapons. Yet despite these changes in other allegedly guaranteed rights, citizens of the United States may freely practice almost any facet of religion, short of those involving human or animal sacrifice.
This is a right I have never taken advantage of. I have never belonged to any places of worship. I've never even been baptized. And, apparently, that last step was a prerequisite to the taking of communion that I engaged in once when visiting a church with a friend of mine. (Sorry, God. I didn't know.)
But let's face it: All of these guys can't possibly be right. Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, etc. And even the subsections can't agree amongst themselves half of the time. Christians, for example, have divided themselves into Baptists, Lutherans, Catholics, Episcopalians, Methodists, Mormons, Southern Baptists... for Christ's sake!
Oops, I took the "Lord's" name in vain, (assuming that the Christians have it right anyway.)
Oh, I almost left out my favorite. Scientology. You guys, you REALLY have to be kidding me. I mean, at least the other guys are relying on stories passed down for generations. You're relying on text passed down by L. Ron Hubbard, a science fiction novelist. These guys hook your mind up to a machine called an “E-Meter” that passes electrical energy through your mind in order to locate the “area of spiritual distress.” Didn’t psychiatric wards stop this practice in the 1940’s?
While the freedom of religion is guaranteed, I have absolutely no desire to engage in any form of organized religion whatsoever. I mean, if I have the right to practice any religion I want, then I certainly have the right to engage in none at all.
Now, I don't say this simply because I'm not really the joiner. Those of you who know me know that I can be standoffish from time-to-time; however, I have been the member of many organizations. I was a phenomenal Cub Scout, and an honorary member of the KISS army. But there's a few things associated with belonging to a formal religion that I just can't get behind:
1. Accepting one religion means you can't be part of another.
Most people never even consider this one. Usually you're born into your religion. If your parents are practicing Mormons, typically you go to church as a child and become one also. Your parents may have been dragged to church their whole childhood, too. I mean, for all you know, you may be practicing a particular religion due to something as arbitrary as your great-great grandfather deciding to follow the cute girl at the end of the block wherever she went one Sunday morning.
But if you look at it objectively, there are a lot of religions out there. They're based on various texts, and each has different rules, reasons and answers. Some even restrict what you can eat.
On a side note, I could never be Jewish due to my love of pork products. Ham, bacon, sausage, pepperoni, proscuitto... (drops of saliva falling on my keyboard).
But the thing is, by choosing one, you're effectively renouncing all others. If I were Jewish, I'd pretty much be saying that Christianity's views on Jesus are inaccurate (putting it mildly). Jehovah's Witnesses don't celebrate most holidays, including birthdays. Mormons, apparently, have to dress really uptight, and periodically come to my door to bother me. (Note to Mormons: I'm not opening the door again unless you bring a pizza).
All in all, it's practically non-politically-correct to opt for one religion over another. Basically, you're telling the other religions, "I think you're wrong." Not only am I respectful enough as to not want to alienate myself from those with differing viewpoints, but I don't want to take the chance I'm wrong. I could confess all my really juicy sins to some priest and do all sorts of atonement, only to have Allah laugh and beat me up like the playground bully. No thanks.
2. No receipt for the afterlife.
When I invest time and/or money into something, I like to get something in return. When I go to work, I get paid for it even if I hate my job. When I mow the lawn, I get the satisfaction of looking out over a well-manicured yard that I personally beautified. And when I hand over my hard-earned money, I usually get some type of commodity in addition to a receipt. At some fast food restaurants, I even get free fries if the counterperson fails to offer me a receipt.
But if I were to go to church, I get no guarantee on my afterlife. No receipt. No bill of sale. No warrantee. Not even a firm handshake that says, "Don't worry. We'll make sure you're taken care of."
I'm not implying that church offers nothing for the time and financial donation that you put into it. You may gain a few coping mechanisms to use in your times of turmoil. Perhaps you'll acquire some feeling of unity, or peace of mind. For those of you who aren't sure how to treat other people, you may get a few tips. But big deal! Isn't the whole religion thing designed to save your soul? I want some type of assurance.
In my best ministerial voice, "It's a leap of faith, my son."
Tell you what. I'll take a leap of faith that I'm benevolent enough of an individual that my soul is already in good hands without getting up early to see you on Sunday morning, and keep my money in my pocket rather than putting it in the collection plate. How's that for belief?
3. The way they look at you.
I'm not accusing everyone of being this way, but it's happened often enough to not only really tick me off, but also to warrant being the note that I end on.
I've been involved in a casual, wholly secular conversation, only to have it somehow turn to my religious affiliation. So I inform that person that I subscribe to no formal religion. And there it is: that look that a mother gives their child when they say something simply because they don't know any better. That look like they feel sorry for you because you're some sort of lost soul. A look, simply of pity.
I especially hate that!
Not only for all of the above reasons do I not believe that any of these people have any justification to feel that they are in any better position spiritually than I am, but I hate that look so much that I could never be a part of an association in which I could possibly ever attain a mindset that would cause me look at another person that way.
None of this is to say that I think less of anyone for being religious. If I looked at you differently, I would be a hypocrite based on point 3. But bear this in mind: next time I tell you I don't want to have a discussion about religion, that is not your cue to try to save me. Are you that sure yourself?
A practicing attorney and semi-professional musician, Walker writes for his own amusement, for the sake of opinion, to garner a couple of laughs, and to perhaps provoke a question or two, but otherwise, he doesn't think it'll amount to much.
ABOUT JEFFREY D. WALKER
more about jeffrey d. walker
IF YOU LIKED THIS COLUMN...
10.17.01 @ 9:37a
Oh. My. God. (
yes, mine,not yours.)
This is so funny.
10.17.01 @ 9:41a
You don't think less of anyone for being religious? The rest of the column implies the opposite. Strongly.
Certainly you won't catch me trying to "save" anyone. It's impolite at best.
But the fact that scads of sects exist within Christianity doesn't seem like evidence to me that Christians are divided or divisive. It's not like we're taking on the Lutherans with pistols at dawn.
10.17.01 @ 9:52a
One could say there is definitely a judgemental attitude of more formalized sects over those less rigid, however. Therein lies the trouble with labeling individual faith as "this" or "that" - many feel there is a gauge by which each belief should be measured. If, say, yours doesn't "measure up" by someone else's standards, then to them, it's wrong.
10.17.01 @ 9:54a
I'm thinkin' this column will be hell-bent-for-leather outta control by the end of the day.
Just a feeling.
10.17.01 @ 9:55a
No. Sorry. Not the column, the discussion. But then, y'all knew that.
10.17.01 @ 10:32a
I knew that.
I'd also just like to mention as the IntrepidMedia token Jew (prove me wrong, I dare you) that not all Jews keep kosher. I, for one, don't find a pizza complete without pepperoni, a hoagie complete without mortadella, procuitto, and salami, or Mu Shu Pork complete without...well, that last one's a bit easy.
I also love lobster. And I routinely boil calves in their mother's milk.
Well, that last one's an inside joke, but don't go around not being Jewish solely because of the dietary laws. There's plenty of other reasons (the rest of the world wanting to kill you, for example).
10.17.01 @ 11:55a
I don't understand why you must bash Scientology. If we can't take Tom Cruise's and John Travolta's enlightened word for it, who can we trust these days?
Besides, I am pretty sure you do get some kind of receipt from them.
10.17.01 @ 1:38p
jael - The distinction is between those who have belief in religion, and those who hold too fast to the nuances associated with a particular sect, particularly when they are so convinced that no other way is proper. It’s that false sense that once sect is “better” than another, and that even more annoying sense that they are certainly better than someone who chooses to be associated with none. This, I do take great exception with.
michael – Cruise and Travolta may entertain me on screen (although, not that often), but the only life decision I support for either of them was Travolta’s decision to marry that hot wife of his. Other than that, I can’t say much for them.
tracey – admitted – this story (and subsequent discussion) was intended to create some controversy, but is in no way written to exaggerate my true sentiments.
10.17.01 @ 2:13p
Jeff - Kelly Preston is a beard.
And on a self-promotion note, my piece about faith makes a nice companion column to this one! Or not.
10.17.01 @ 2:24p
I believe it possible to maintain a quite well regimented faith, servitude, and belief in a single deity or universal force. I link this to viewing a leap of faith as a worldly invocation of self-regulating morality and a product of an introspectiveness and (hopefuly) a piety which grows within each of us and which displaces input from parents, clergy and like vestiges as we grow older. Of course, this isn't the case for everyone; we have to slice the agnostics and crusaders (of any ilk) off of the ends, and with them, those who are consumed by their own morality (Woody Allen referred to it as "one's own moral universe")--and ONLY morality to the exclusion of religious/theistic beliefs, and those who have none. But most people live with at least a modicum of belief in a higher power, whether they acknowledge it or not. I do not believe that Marx was actually atheistic; as Jeff mentions, the trappings of one's childhood are exactly that: they formulate our views on
10.17.01 @ 3:00p
we have to slice the agnostics and crusaders (of any ilk) off of the ends, and with them, those who are consumed by their own morality (Woody Allen referred to it as "one's own moral universe")
What? The ends of what? Why is agnosticism viewed as comparable to atheism? What's wrong with secular humanism?
I'm Jewish and I do believe in God, but I don't try to impose either my views or my sense of morality on anyone else, whether they believe in a higher being or not.
10.17.01 @ 3:31p
I love this column, and I love the discussion even more.
This is a perfect example of how religious ideals easily breed hot debate.
In my particular social group- which might be defined as a mix of white, well-educated, creative types - devout religeous belief seems often equated with mild insanity. I know it sounds terrible-we live in a judgemental society that forms cliques and subcultures.
Of course I have many friends who are religious in one way or another, and many spiritually enlightened people have wandered in and out of my camp - it's just that it SEEMS like a lot of people of my social disposition feel that devout religion is an exclusive, territorial, outdated, often self-serving, often alienating, and occassionally creepy thing.
I know some people will hate me for saying something like that, but I think it's an interesting point of view, and I know it represents how a great many people feel, right or wrong.
I believe everyone should have t
10.17.01 @ 3:33p
...right to practice and believe what they choose, but whether you're in a modern, well-educated world or in a third world country, other people will make their own judgements. No single religion will change that.
I got nothin but love for y'all...
let the arrows fly...
10.17.01 @ 3:37p
By having a group of friends looking down on devout religion, aren't you, in turn, being exclusive, territorial, often self-serving, and occasionally creepy? I like the irony. Is it okay to hate the hater?
10.17.01 @ 3:51p
I agree with Miller. Nothing is easier to mock than wide-eyed religious fanaticism. The ignorance that having such strict viewpoints requires is dumbfounding. People need to stop worrying about how best to please their God and start worrying about not hurting each other. Let's face it, God, Yahweh, Allah, Satan, L. Ron Hubbard, David Koresh...none of them is going to come down from on high and announce that they are the winner in the neverending race for religious legitimacy. It's time to take a chill pill and live by the golden rule.
10.17.01 @ 3:52p
adam - I didn't say that I have a group of friends that looks DOWN on anything - though I can understand your reaction. I'm just trying to represent a general attitude that I see all around me - not just in my friends. Like I said, it sounds terrible, maybe because it is.
I really don't look down on people based on religion - but I am aware of the emotional responses going on inside me and a lot of other opionated, white middle-class people.
They're emotional responses - but that doesn't mean that I can't enjoy a theological discussion or learn something important from a religious friend.
I knew I was asking for trouble %%@#^@
10.17.01 @ 3:56p
PS - I've never met anyone who wasn't in some way, at one time or another, exlcusive, territorial, self-serving and creepy. I am often all of these things at the same time - but I don't THINK it's because I or any of my friends look down on anybody. I think it's because we're human.
10.17.01 @ 4:51p
Oh, so now you're calling me sub-human and looking down on me? How dare you?
No, I'm kidding. I also don't want to give the impression that I'm either arguing for or even playing Devil's advocate for the ultra-religious. In fact, some of them give me the screaming heebie-jeebies. But regarding Mike's comment, I'm fairly certain that if there is an afterlife, we're likely to find out that, being human and fallble, that no one got it right. I hope so; otherwise, what's the point of dying?
10.17.01 @ 6:28p
Religions, like all other institutions, will necessarily be comprised of both good and bad, hopefully more good than bad if you have any faith (excuse the pun) in humanity. That we splinter ourselves off into groups, be it as moslems, jews, or christians (and all those little splinters of splinters in between) is no reason to freak out and think that any, or all, of those groups thinks that it's better than any person who isn't. For the most part - the powers that be aside - that just doesn't seem to be the case. Religion, like culture, politics, etc., is a means to interpreting the world. One interpretation need not trump any other, especially considering that religion is based purely on faith and belief rather than on logic or reason. Bottom line? You can join a faith without thinking that you've got it right. I, for one, am a feminist catholic (oxymoronic? perhaps) but don't think that everyone else should be. In fact, I could suggest to you a bunch
10.17.01 @ 6:29p
of faiths - or even none at all - that far outshine mine.
10.17.01 @ 6:37p
Everyone knows that one: the point to dying is to avoid taxes. BTW, I'm all for secular humanism. I absolutely FOR science. I don't quite understand how to resolve in my own mind how one can profess to be Jewish and atheistic at the same time, but I respect one's right to do so. Oh--also, I, personally, don't equate atheism with agnosticism (or any other "ism" for that matter), although they share a common characteristic: they both characterize an outlook or belief that one might hold concerning the existence of a supreme power; they are hardly equivalents.
The afterlife is a different story; what I want to know is whether there are taxes here...there certainly cannot be death (unless, of course, there's an "afterlife-to-the-afterlife" which, I suppose, some might call reincarnation). It is good to
10.18.01 @ 9:08a
The most popular religions among my friends seem to be Lapsed Catholic and Atheist Jew, so that one didn't strike me as odd.
What ticks me off is that people tar "organized religion" with a big fat brush, because of the fringe elements. Religion, like anything else, has good and bad in it, like Allegra says.
One of the most brilliant things in The Onion's first post-9/11 issue was "God Clarifies 'Don't Kill' Rule."
And I have another Neil Gaiman book to recommend. Good Omens. It rocks. And it's on topic, kinda.
10.18.01 @ 9:43a
Not to push yet another discussion into the realm of film, but I believe I read somewhere that Terry Gilliam is making Good Omens into a movie, perhaps with Robin Williams and Johnny Depp? Sounds good, except for the Robin Williams part.
10.18.01 @ 9:55a
I believe I read that the same somewhere. I'll have to cast it in my head, but I can't see Williams fitting in anywhere, not even as the effete English angel. Now John Cleese, he'd be a good Aziraphale.
10.18.01 @ 10:08a
I guess I need to read that. But I'm in the middle of other stuff...is Good Omens a good starting point for Gaiman? I'm not sure I'll like it/him...
10.18.01 @ 11:16a
I'm part of an organized religion we like to call the Career Repellent. It's a society of musicians with no hope of ever producing anything with any commercial potential.
10.18.01 @ 11:37a
The one thing I really like about this column is the statement about "inheriting" your religion. Although posed in a very humorous way, how many wars have been based on the fight between the fathers and their fathers before them? Who has the bravery to believe that regardless of "what's been done before", the fighting isn't always right and really has nothing to do with religion?
10.18.01 @ 11:44a
Why don't all you fine people critique this column?
As for the topic itself. I'm currently reading the bible to get a handle on this whole religion thing. I've always believed strongly in what I believe, and I don't care what other people believe until those beliefs start hurting people.
Although I have to say this. I truly believe, regardless of my inherited religion, that your afterlife is based how you lived your life - the balance between right and wrong, which I believe most of us have a handle on - and not rules or traditions which are bascially scripted by man.
People twist religion to defend unjustifiable acts all the time. And they know it when they do it. Flying a plane into a building is wrong, no matter what Bin Laden told you Mohammed told him, and it's up to the individual to realize that and the rest of us to go to war when they don't.
10.18.01 @ 11:48a
I've been trying, as author, to stay away from the discussion as much as possible. However, I do believe that many people accept religion from thier families without really getting a chance to think about it. Not to say that their minds couldn't change, but I do believe it is harder to "undo" a mindset than to form one from scratch.
And, michael, not debating whether the allegation is true or not, I wanted to note that I had to ask what calling Kelly Preston a "beard" meant exactly. Thanks for adding a new term to my name-calling vocabulary!
10.18.01 @ 11:52a
Jeff - no problem. I first heard that term years ago on a Seinfeld episode I think. A very good episode...
And Joe, based on your last paragraph above, I think I'm falling in love with you.
10.18.01 @ 12:34p
I've come to the conclusion that I'm going to start my own religion. It's going to be called Frisbeetarianism, and it will be based on the the belief that when you die your soul gets stuck on the roof.
10.18.01 @ 12:48p
10.18.01 @ 4:20p
I could swear I've heard that Frisbee joke before...
10.19.01 @ 2:05a
Wow, this is almost too much to jump into...actually focus on work (i.e., the job) for a day or two and man, you're behind in the discussion. Even from back here in the dust, I have to say...
1) Religions tend to be centered around matters of faith - this almost immediately puts them at odds with science. I think a lot of our society has formed a generic knee-jerk reaction against things that are separated at all from the concrete and provable, so devout religious beliefs are easy targets of our cynicism.
2) Like it or not, a primary purpose of many religions is to spread that religion itself (and the corresponding moral code). As a result, you're going to get religions marketing themselves as the answer, or the truth - implying that they're better, and that you're wrong. I don't agree with it, but in many cases it's the nature of the beast.
3) Neil Gaiman, and specifically, Good Omens rocks. I've been saying that
10.19.01 @ 2:06a
for weeks, and I stand by it...maybe Jael's endorsement will help. I'm not sure if it's the best introduction to Gaiman (since it's a collaboration with Terry Pratchett), but it's well worth the read.
10.19.01 @ 9:03a
I don't know if it's the best introduction to Gaiman, but it's the best Gaiman: American Gods. Of the three I've read, I'd put Neverwhere third, after Good Omens, but third out of these three is still a good, good book.
On topic, I find science and religion highly compatible. The more I learn about science, the human body, and creation in all its complexity, the more clear it seems to me that a guiding intelligence must have put the whole show together.
10.19.01 @ 9:06a
And Joe, based on your last paragraph above, I think I'm falling in love with you
It's about time.
10.19.01 @ 12:14p
10.22.01 @ 4:02p
I have this theory that L. Ron Hubbard is not actually dead, but is in hiding, watching the whole Scientology thing, and using it as the groundwork for his next Sci-Fi novel about this group of people duped into believing this made up religion....
Come on, it could happen...