Immortal Kombat

I’m getting pretty tired of religion. It’s been an increasingly difficult issue for me and there seems to be no shortage of complicating factors to be revealed.

The recent military action on Gaza by Israel is no small example. People endlessly argue over which party is more justified, effectively diminishing the deaths of real people to nothing more than topics of debate. Religious hokum is bandied about, worn on sleeves, thrown in faces, shoved down throats, left under windshield wipers, hung from doorknobs, placed in mailboxes, and shouted from some rather filthy soapboxes. Throughout all of it, the words used are contrastive and idiosyncratic, and simple logic is perverted in seemingly limitless ways, but the underlying message is always the same:

MY GOD CAN BEAT UP YOUR GOD!

In other words, when fundamentalist religious loudmouths start their lips a-flappin’, the rest of us are treated to what equates to the chattering of doomed laboratory monkeys. Or the baying of slaughterhouse cows, or the cries of the carrots on Harvest Day; however you like it. The point is they all seem to believe the world is coming to an end, and that their god is going to be the one to finally come down here and give us lowly humans the what-for.

Poppycock.

Fact is, the argument of whether there is one god or many, or even whether an omnipotent being exists at all, is silly and insignificant next to the destruction and despair the very debate is responsible for creating (and actively perpetuating throughout history). Think about it: belief in a god doesn’t kill people; arguing about what god calls himself kills people.

Were this a musical, I’d abruptly break into song at this point…

Dear God,
Sorry to disturb you, but I feel that I should be heard loud and clear.
We all need a big reduction in amount of tears!
But all the people that you made in your image,
Well, they’re fighting in the street,
Because they can’t make opinions meet,
About God.
– XTC, Dear God*

The lyrics to XTC’s song seem unfairly cynical, but they are actually presented with honest consideration and conviction. The delivery is trenchant – perhaps even harshly so – but it doesn’t cut unnecessarily or carelessly. To the contrary, if the words injure in any way, then they have done their job in exposing the duplicity they were determined to uncover.

So what happened? How is it that religions claiming to be based on love and compassion invariably end up promoting the exact opposite? Why does religion turn so many people hateful and mean? How does a clear calling for peace and fellowship become distorted into a fervent cry for war?

I have my own lengthy answer, but I’m leery about trying to compartmentalize it here. I’d invariably word things poorly and suddenly find my inbox overflowing with scathing e-mails from perfectly kind religious people because I carelessly insinuated they might be ignorant, selfish jerks.

For the record, I don’t think religion makes people ignorant, selfish jerks.

I do, however, see ignorance and selfishness as the primary factors undermining the fabric of religious sanctity worldwide. I’ll have to leave that where it is for now, though, and get back in the direction of my original point: this troublesome notion of rival gods.

I was raised in a Christian household and was properly taught all the fundamental tenets of that faith: love, compassion, kindness, generosity, respect, community, fellowship, honesty, mercy…

…except that, much like what happened to the Seven Commandments in Orwell’s classic novel Animal Farm, those tenets eventually came to be burdened with amendments:

Love thy neighbor …unless it’s dangerous or embarrassing to do so.
Help the poor …except for those you deem lazy.
Give freely …as long as you have plenty for yourself.
Do not steal …when there’s a chance you’ll get caught.
Be truthful and trustworthy …if you feel like it.
Do not judge others …unless you’re sure you’re right.
Do not kill another person …without finding a way to justify it.

When I started to notice these unspoken revisions everywhere I turned, exploited even by people I considered supremely devout and above reproach, I began to wonder just how it was I had come to be so convinced my God was the right God. The Muslim kid a block over (who, incidentally, had the same birthday as I) sure seemed convinced his was the correct eternal deity, as did the Punjabi boy in my gym class. Of course, that kid’s god was more “eternal” than “deity”, but I digress. Again.

My eventual conclusion was that the God vs. God quandary is a complete fallacy, because it means if one of the factions is right, then all the rest are wrong and, therefore, the devil’s eternal pitchfork fodder. That’s rather hard-core considering there isn’t a lot of empirical data upon which to make an intelligent selection, and you’re usually relegated to the religion you were born into (provided you believe in God at all, I mean).

So when I find myself talking to people who say they love God, and are therefore adamant we support Israel over Palestine, I can’t help but question their reasoning. I become confused when they tell me nothing happens that isn’t God’s will, and then express grave concern that their presidential candidate lost the election. And when they declare they’re confident God will crush his enemies and destroy the unfaithful, I’m left wondering what makes them so unquestionably certain he’s the genuine article.

I’ve been waiting for a reasonable explanation for nearly three decades now. I suspect I’ll have to die before I get it.

Might be in the next tract I find on my car, but I sort of doubt it.

*”Dear God” is from XTC’s 1985 LP Skylarking and is property of Geffen Records.

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Last 5 posts by Kirk Starr

Last 5 posts by Kirk Starr