Religion a la carte

I would think after thousands of years this might not be a radical idea. But it’s time to say that a lot of religious theology is bogus, wrong and hurtful. Oh yes, I know, it’s in your Bible, or other significant holy text. Therefore it is true. Besides, your faith informs you that the nonsensical and unworkable is somehow correct and true.

Bullshit. As the late Ann Landers would say, “It’s time to wake up and smell the coffee”.

If you are unwise enough to think that the Bible is the complete and consistent word of God then, my friend, you are in for a dysfunctional life if you take the time to actually read the Bible. I’m not stupid enough to say there is not a lot of wisdom in the Bible. There is. But there is also a lot of trash. There are also a lot of ideas that made sense two or three thousand years ago but make no sense today. It seems we try to read too much into the Bible and our other holy books. We project our needs and inadequacies into them and hope they will provide solution and solace to all life’s persistent questions. We would probably be a lot better off and happier if we were reading pop psychology books like Getting The Love You Want by Harville Hendrix. Oh, and we’re doing that too. That’s one reason that pop psychology books are flying off the shelves of bookstores. Because apparently our holy books and ministers can’t give the answers to all of life’s persistent and complex questions.

Just suppose we chose restaurants the way we choose religions. What would it mean if we would only dine at a McDonalds or a Wendy’s? Even if we upscaled our dining choice to say, Applebees, would it be good for us to eat off the same menu all the time? But that’s what many of us do with our spiritual life. We find (or more typically we are born into) a religion. Often it finds a way to grab us for life as children: through parental reinforcement, through Sunday school, and through the favorite method of many mainstream religions: reinforced communal guilt allegedly sanctioned by God. The result? Many of us enter adulthood with wacky and skewed ways of looking at the world. It’s hard to see things clearly because we have not walked far out of our communal tribe on religious matters. Because we eat only McDonalds of course their French fries are the best, and only a moron or apostate would consume a Whopper when a Big Mac or a Quarter Pounder with Cheese completely satisfies the appetite. And besides God, through our clergy and holy books, tell us it’s true.

Oh I know, how abhorrent and secular of me to compare lofty religions with fast food chains. If this alone doesn’t condemn me to Hell then I can at least count on a few eons in purgatory for such Voltarian thoughts. But I’m not saying that religions are necessarily bad or evil. I’m saying large parts of it are often BS. It’s time to say so out loud, and noisily, particularly to our religious leaders. And it’s time for us to stop shopping inside our insular religious communities and to check out other faiths to see if they ring truer. But why stop there? It is likely that no one faith can really speak to us. So I propose we build our religions piecemeal.

Yes, I know. We in the laity are spiritual morons. We need our so-called religious leaders to discern God’s truth for us. They after all went to seminary and we didn’t. And so we get shining examples like Pope John Paul II who, while he clearly has some excellent ideas about living in brotherly love, is also busy peddling shop worn and dangerous ideas that, if practiced conscientiously would doom our race to extinction. A couple examples: contraception in any form is sinful. It is better to transmit HIV by not using a condom than to sin by using a condom and likely prevent its transmission. This is not to pick on the Catholics since pretty much every religion has some of these dangerous ideas. But with John Paul’s health very much in the news and with my roots in Catholicism these jumped to mind.

Perhaps those of us who claim to be Christian could start with the Jefferson Bible. It’s a heavily pruned Bible consisting of just the words and story of Jesus and leaving out the rest. Of course it still takes a leap of faith to assume these “words” were actually spoken by Jesus. Men who had never personally met Jesus wrote the gospels. But at least this way the Christian doesn’t have to get messed up trying to integrate the Old and New Testaments. Because many preachers do not we get a lot of cognitive dissonance: we must love all our neighbors and turn the other cheek, but it’s okay to persecute and condemn homosexuals for their alleged sinfulness.

I took my pruning sheers to the Bible long ago. Out went Leviticus and Deuteronomy. I kept in the Psalms. They are good stuff. Much of what was written by the Apostle Paul: snipped. He never met Jesus. Paul seemed all about establishing rules. Jesus was much more a big picture sort of prophet. And of course Revelations had to go. It reads more like some lunatic’s ravings than something inspired.

Oh the apostasy, but the same thing could be done with the Quran, the Book of Mormon and pretty much any holy book out there. Whenever an idea is raised that clearly has been proven not to work let’s take it out, or at least footnote it that practicing this idea has been proven not to work. When it is a value that has demonstrated relevance and helped mankind as a whole, leave it in. So by all means, highlight the Sermon on the Mount.

We do ourselves and the rest of the religious world a disfavor by not speaking out against those aspects of modern faith that are hurtful and destructive. Where possible members should try to change the course of the denomination. We see these today in efforts by the Episcopalian Church to be more inclusive of homosexuals in its ministries and congregations. (Too bad the Anglican Community has effectively sent the Episcopalians to the woodshed, basically telling them, “Don’t show up at our decision making meetings for the next three years.”) Where not possible, and the Catholic Church definitely comes to mind, members need to be brave and walk out. For example many Catholics find the idea of requiring priests to be only men, single and celibate ridiculous, unworkable and outdated. They would be much more at home with the Episcopalians. Aside from the gender of their priests I couldn’t tell the difference between Catholic and Episcopal services anyhow.

It may take generations but eventually we might get the religions that are viable, workable and effective. But it also requires nerve from many of us. If we hold a value in our heart to be true then we must not be afraid to express it and to live our lives consistent with those values. When we manifest them in actions they will take on meaning.

Here is a heartwarming story of values in action.

6 responses to “Religion a la carte”

  1. Hi,
    I like your approach. However, I’d like to point out that the basis of your argument is flawed:
    “…[The Pope] is also busy peddling shop worn and dangerous ideas that, if practiced conscientiously would doom our race to extinction.”
    Example: “…contraception in any form is sinful”
    You support this claim with the following statement: “It is better to transmit HIV by not using a condom than to sin by using a condom and likely prevent its transmission”.
    The context of these statements suggests (at least, to me) that not using condoms will result in the extinction of the entire human race due to every human contracting and dying of HIV/AIDS. Not only is this theory completely untestable and unqualifiable, I seriously doubt this will ever happen, notwithstanding the pope’s voiced non-support for condom use.

    Second point: You state that “men who had never personally met Jesus wrote the gospels.” If this is true (and that’s a big IF — How do you know this to be true? By your own logic, you cannot know this, because you never personally met any of the people who wrote the gospels.), then how can you honestly believe that you know enough about Jesus to make the following claim? “Jesus was much more a big picture sort of prophet.” Either the gospels paint a picture of “BS”, due to their being written by people who never met the main character; or they contain accurate depictions, accurate enough, that is, to support a claim such as yours.
    One final thought: Must a person personally meet someone in order to qualify as a biographer of that someone?
    Just a thought!
    Thanks for your willingness to question traditional thought.
    Question: What suggestions would you offer to seekers of truth, who wish to avoid mind-numbing, brain-washing, fear- and guilt-ridden BS that many churches peddle?
    While it is interesting to question and critique tradition and point out problems within institutions, problem-solving is more valuable to society.
    Respectfully your fellow questioner,
    PS Please do not share my e-mail address or place it on any ad services’ lists.


  2. Hi, I came across your site by accident and have spent ages reading your stuff. You’re an intelligent guy and have provoked some interesting thoughts. As an atheist who was raised Roman Catholic and also managed to spend a while as an occultist, Jehovah’s Witness and finally Born Again christian along the way (I know – long story) I think I may have some thoughts to convey regarding ‘pick-and-mix’ faith.
    I am comfortable with the teachings (as we have them) of Jesus – if anything it seems to me he was a revolutionary. However rather that rail against the Roman state, it was the corrupt system of his own people he revolted against – which led to his ultimate demise. Using the principle suggested by the title of your site – Occam’s Razor – it makes little sense to attempt to read much into his life beyond this.
    Most of what we might term ‘good’ or ‘useful’ from such books as the bible is easily identified as common sense – Dont kill, Dont steal stuff, leave your mates wife alone etc all go toward making a functional society in which we can all live and get along. Being greedy deprives others of their share – so have your heaven now if you must but fear the reaper when you will have nothing.
    Post enlightenment it amazes me that humanity has still not evolved beyond the futile quest for meaning and order in a meaningless and random universe. That rather than respect the wisdom of the ancients and build on them we seem intent on elevating them to metaphysical absolute truth, and try (with no end of frustration) to apply everything they left us to every vestige of our complex lives with legalistic enforcement. I know from experience how futile this is: religions like Jehovah’s Witnesses which take a very literalist stance on the bible boast suicide, depression, alcoholism and divorce rates well above societal norms. As adherents try and fail to resolve the cognitive disonnance experienced when your world view tells you what you should do but you find it really doesn’t work that well after all. Sadly the result of this mental short-circuit is often self blame: if an immutable truth isn’t working it must be the adherent thats at fault; with predictable consequences for their mental well-being.
    So we don’t need to look to religion, ancient or modern, to give us the answers – all we need to do is to learn to think, to reason, to test and to test again. Sadly, despite 300 years of the age of reason, we seem to be heading in the opposite direction. Your site is an excellent part of our struggle against that slide into ignorance, I congratulate you for it and thank you for taking the time to provide what for some may be a helping hand from ignorance to reason.
    Kind Regards,
    PS – an excellent book “How Mumbo Jumbo Conquered the World” by Francis Wheen is invaluable for anyone considering Religious Movements (as well as other social constructs and political shenanigans in the modern world) and I warmly commend it to everyone.


  3. If you start taking out pieces of a text where do you stop, where do you end, and how do you know if it was true? You cannot mix faiths in a way as to have a whole religion. Christianity is about a relationship with a living God. The bible must be complete or else it is not of any use to us; except that, it may have some good rules that will make the person live a moral life. that can be done with other religions too. There are good Muslim people out there, I have met homosexual people that are good people too. I don’t hate Gay people I just don’t agree with that lifestyle choice. I am living a christian life that is not dysfunctional; the only reason it isn’t is because the Grace of God. You will find that if you look and research into the text that all of it is “God breathed” 2nd Timothy 3:16. If we believe That Jesus is alive which is foundational for christian faith then it is possible that Paul did meet Jesus on the road to Damascus (I may have spelled it wrong). Anyway you will find that all scripture is in line, everything confirms itself. there are no contradictions in scripture.


  4. Well, as a diarist on pointed out, if we were to take the Bible literally on, say, the topic of marriage, our marriage laws would be:

    A. Marriage in the United States shall consist of a union between one man and one or more women. (Gen 29:17-28; II Sam 3:2-5)
    B. Marriage shall not impede a man's right to take concubines in  addition to his wife or wives. (II Sam 5:13; I Kings 11:3; II Chron 11:21)
    C. A marriage shall be considered valid only if the wife is a  virgin. If the wife is not a virgin, she shall be executed. (Deut 22:13-21)
    D. Marriage of a believer and a non-believer shall be forbidden.  (Gen 24:3; Num 25:1-9; Ezra 9:12; Neh 10:30)
    E. Since marriage is for life, neither this Constitution nor the constitution of any State, nor any state or federal law, shall be construed to permit divorce. (Deut 22:19; Mark 10:9)
    F. If a married man dies without children, his brother shall marry the widow. If he refuses to marry his brother's widow or deliberately does not give her children, he shall pay a fine of one shoe and be otherwise punished in a manner to be determined by law. (Gen 38:6-10; Deut 25:5-10)
    G. In lieu of marriage, if there are no acceptable men in your town, it is required that you get your dad drunk and have sex with him (even if he had previously offered you up as a sex toy to men young and old), tag-teaming with any sisters you may have. Of course, this rule applies only if you are female. (Gen 19:31-36)

    Pardon my skepticism but I hardly think the Bible is complete, rather a history of the Jews and Christians over time and a selective and biased one at that.


  5. Enjoyed your article. You NEARLY reached the logical conclusion at the end, had you added but one more sentence.
    “If we hold a value in our heart to be true then we must not be afraid to express it and to live our lives consistent with those values. When we manifest them in actions they will take on meaning.”
    Ipso facto, no religion and no cognitive dissonance required.
    As for James and his comment #3: Anyone who says “there are no contradictions in scripture” is either seriously deluded or has read no appreciable amount if it.


  6. It’s not about religion but it’s all about faith in God. What religion you are as long as you have faith in God.


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