Two news stories caught my eye earlier this month. The first was about England recognizing Druidry as an official religion. The second was about a study of religious belief in the United States.
The English really are going to hell in a handbasket. They have this death cult that practices ritual cannibalism and ritual vampirism1. (Some subcults of this religion have even discarded the notion that the cannibalism and vampirism are ritualistic, and posit they are actually eating human flesh and drinking human blood!2) They venerate an instrument of torture and death as their holy symbol, which in their temples often has a corpse hanging on it3. This religion's entire belief system is predicated on human sacrifice; the belief is that one person must be killed in order to grant another eternal life4. This cult became the official state religion in England about a thousand years ago. They call it "Christianity."
When I first read an article on the local paper's website about England recognizing Druidry -- a nature-worshiping religion that existed long before Christianity and perhaps even its predecessor, Judaism -- there were reader comments about how terrible England was for recognizing a pagan religion that practiced cannibalism, human sacrifice and worshiped Satan (Druids don't believe in Satan, who is a Judeo-Christian godling). Which struck me as ironic given Christianity's roots.
So when the study on US religious knowledge appeared I was curious to what light it shed on this question. It found that atheists, Jews and Mormons exhibit the greatest knowledge about religion in general. Hispanic Catholics and black Protestants are the least knowledgeable. Mormons and Evangelicals know the most about Christianity, while atheists and Jews know more about world religions. Finally, the most important factor in religious knowledge is education level.
So all the study tells us is that educated people know more stuff. Which we already knew.
That begs the question: why do people believe their religions are the one true path, when they actually don't know very much about their religions, they would be repelled by them if they did, and their core beliefs and practices hold so many contradictions and borrowings from other religions?
Christianity is just as creepy and crazy as any pagan religion, in large part because it has incorporated many of those practices -- pagan symbolism (Christmas trees), the idolatry of graven images (the cross), polytheism (Christianity -- the religion where 1 God + 1 Christ + 1 Holy Spirit = 1 God!, and then there are all those troublesome saints), fertility celebrations (the word Easter comes from Eostre, the Anglo-Saxon goddess of fertility, hence the bunny rabbits).
And then there's the whole genesis of Christian dogma. It was finalized at the Council of Nicaea, which was organized by the Emperor Constantine, who likely died a pagan but had chosen Christianity for the Roman Empire for political reasons. The Council picked and chose from hundreds of different competing versions of Christian writings, finally hammering out a final committee-approved bible. Pretty much the same process used to produce an annual corporate report.
But no one sees their own religion as creepy. They have conveniently forgotten or ignored the parts they don't like, and interpret it the way they want to. Many Christian practitioners insist they know the absolute will of God, though when bad things happen to good people everything suddenly becomes mysterious. Furthermore, Christianity is not a monolithic religion. Practically every tenet of every Christian sect's doctrine is considered heresy by at least one other Christian sect. It's hard to believe any of these things are true when Christians have been murdering each other for centuries over fine points of theological interpretation.
And this mindset doesn't stop at religion. Some Americans insist they know the absolute will of the Founding Fathers, that the Constitution is an inviolable holy writ that means only what exactly what it says. But the disagreements among the Founding Fathers are well documented; they did not all believe the same thing. They argued and comprised and came up with one of the greatest documents ever written. Even so, within 10 years of its writing there were huge disagreements among those same Founding Fathers about what it meant -- like whether the Constitution should allow the establishment of a federal banking system.
Which really gets to the heart of the problem: people don't actually understand or know what the literal text of the Bible or the Constitution is. Instead they take the easy way out and adhere to one prophet or another who claims to know what the ultimate truth is, and then do that prophet's bidding.
This the first mistake we all make: trusting that the judgment of the pope, or Muhammed, or Rush Limbaugh is superior to our own. The second mistake we make is going along with them for the whole ride. The pope, Muhammed and Rush are right about some things. They're not right about everything, and they're dead wrong about a lot of things. Our willingness to go along with them, right or wrong, is perhaps mankind's greatest tragedy.
Religionists keep telling us we can't pick and choose what points of doctrine we accept: as Catholics we have to believe everything the pope tells us to believe. As Mormons we have to accept everything in the Book of Mormon. But picking and choosing points of doctrine is what every religious leader has been doing since Day One.
So, for a better world, don't be a Dittohead.
1) During communion Christians partake of wine and bread, which are symbols of Christ's blood and flesh. These are ritual acts of vampirism and cannibalism.
2) The Catholic doctrine of Transubstantiation posits that the priest is performing an actual miracle and is literally converting the wine to blood and the wheat in bread to flesh. Which means either that priests should in a pinch be able to use communion wine for blood transfusions, or that the Pillsbury Doughboy is the Second Coming of Christ.
3) Christ was tortured and killed on the cross, which is the symbol of most Christian churches. Not all, mind you: the Jehovah's Witnesses think it's disgusting to venerate the instrument of Christ's death, and believe Christ was crucified on a pole and not a cross in any case. The cross in many churches also has a statue of Christ on it. This graven image is also a big no-no.
4) The entire basis of Christianity is that Christ died for our sins: human sacrifice. That he is human is sometimes disputed -- just as his divinity often is. That this was a real sacrifice is also disputed -- if he was divine and he knew he would be resurrected and granted eternal life, then three days of chilling out in a tomb is not much of a sacrifice. And there's the whole Abraham and Isaac sacrifice deal...