Alternet asks what some would consider a legitimate question: are all religions equally crazy? It’s easy to see why atheists might think so in particular, especially given the currents running through the 21st century American political landscape. Christianity has “re-branded” religion and given it a bad name over the past twenty centuries, killing millions in the name of what atheists call an “invisible man” or a “zombie god” etc. The only religion the Western world has known since the fourth century is Christianity. People have forgotten that there was religion before monotheism – polytheistic religion, open, tolerant, and diverse.
They can be forgiven for this. After all, Christianity did a pretty thorough job wiping out those Pagan religions and their worshipers. But not without adopting many Pagan beliefs, trappings, and rituals along the way. The Christianity practiced today would be unrecognizable to one of those early congregations in the first half of the first century. But of course, those folks wouldn’t have recognized Paul’s congregations in Greece or Asia (modern day Turkey) as anything resembling Judaism (Jesus and his disciples were, after all, Jews).
The fact is, there are some very religious people out there who don’t behave in a crazy fashion. Now, I suppose an atheist might think that anyone who believes in any god, one or many, is in some way crazy or at least holding onto crazy beliefs (a large category that would include just about everything not provable by science). As Greta Christina writes in Alternet: “I think all religions are equally implausible, equally based on cognitive biases, equally unsupported by any good evidence whatsoever.”
But sometimes, the battiness of a particular religion is powerfully borne in on me, to the point where it becomes impossible to ignore. And it forces me to consider the question: Is this religion really any more batty than any other? Or is it just less popular? Less familiar? Is it simply newer, and thus has had less time for the more wildly ragged edges of its wackiness to smooth out? Is this religion really as crazy as it seems — or are all religions equally crazy?
Speaking of Mormonism, which filled her with horror, she asked, “How much crazier is this, really, than any other religion?”
Where do I fit in?: I’m very religious. But I’m a polytheist. My religion has nothing to do with Christianity. I am a strong proponent of science and the scientific method; I am of the belief that science and religion can co-exist, that they each have their respective spheres which need not overlap.
But I do believe in gods. I also believe in ancestors who remain behind to help us (disír), elves (alfar), land-wights or spirits (landvaettir) and in an afterlife to be shared with one’s ancestors. None of these things are provable in science. They are beliefs. But I accept evolution as the explanation for the origins of our species. Science can prove it to be true. Science cannot prove my gods, elves, wights, or spirits any more than it can disprove them. I believe that all religions are true religions, truth to be determined by whether or not a religion works for you. I believe that everyone has a right to their own beliefs and that there is no single Monolithic, capital-T Truth all must follow or be damned.
I don’t believe in a hell. My gods are beneficent not maleficent; they do not threaten to destroy our world or us unless we do what their agents on earth claim they want us to do.
Am I living in the same space occupied by the monotheists who hold such beliefs? Who believe their God destroyed New Orleans or large swathes of the Japanese coast? Or who believe that we must all believe what they belief or die? Or that the world is going to end on May 21, so repent!? I have nothing in common with these people and I admit to bristling when I hear comparisons made, when I hear the very idea of religion denigrated on account of these zealots and fanatics and their anti-religion, for that is what it is in truth: anti-religion.
Of course, it can be asked whether a religion that does nothing hurtful to other people is really no different from a religion that does, in that they both hold (to an atheist) crazy beliefs (let’s face it, belief itself is a crazy concept to many atheists). But is thinking a spring or a river or a rock is sacred as bad as throwing books on a fire (or even people?) or dehumanizing entire blocks of humanity like homosexuals, or women, or – atheists?
Greta Christina writes, “Plenty of religions are loaded with crazy when you scratch the surface. You don’t even have to scratch very hard.”
I’m sure it looks that way. She suggests that popularity may answer the question, “So why do these older, more mainstream religions seem less crazy?” I am sure she is right. People are afraid of what they don’t understand. “New” religions like mine, which is actually a much older religion than Christianity, are strange and unfamiliar. The “older” religions tell stories about us, as they did about my ancestors, turning the truth on its head in an effort to discredit. They did it before and they’d love to do it again. Worshiping “dumb” idols or rocks or trees are all arguments we’ve heard before in history.
And many mainstream, moderate Christians believe these things, even while having nothing to do with the zealots who burn books or hate on homosexuals. Their Bible says its true, after all. And you don’t have to be a biblical literalist to believe some of the things the Bible says. And pastors say these things too, every Sunday, from altars across the nation. The Bible is, after all, full of hate for everything not of itself, a rejection of everything that is not of this one particular God.
Still, despite all these many differences (and there are many more than I can cram into an article this size) we are all, as the author says, “out of touch with reality.” That is to say,
“Any belief in a supernatural world that affects the natural one is equally implausible, equally the product of cognitive biases, equally unsupported by any good evidence.”
And so there comes the dogmatic conclusion all believers of whatever stripe have been exposed to on atheist blogs and forums:
But all religions are out of touch with reality. All religions are implausible, based on cognitive biases, and unsupported by any good evidence whatsoever. All of them ultimately rely on faith — i.e., an irrational attachment to a pre-existing idea regardless of any evidence that contradicts it — as the core foundation of their belief. All of them contort, ignore, or deny reality in order to maintain their attachment to their faith.
And by that definition, all religions are equally crazy.
What is amusing to this polytheist is that he has been exposed to these dogmatic assertions from both monotheists and atheists: your gods don’t exist. Certainly, I am not going to paint all atheists as equally crazy, like Greta Christina does of all religious people. But some atheists are as dogmatic as the most dogmatic believers. I can go to a Christian forum and be told that my gods don’t exist; I can go to Dawkins’ forum and be told my gods don’t exist (and I have). For a polytheist like me, a member of a fast growing but still obscure (yet very ancient religion) atheism is at times a religion itself, or at least behaves like a religion.
Personally, I don’t care if you think the world will end on May 21 because Jesus is coming back, or whether you think invisible men don’t come back or dead men stay dead, or whether you think I worship rocks and trees. I know what I hold to be sacred. I don’t worry about what you hold to be sacred unless you try to push it on me, to correct me, to “save” me. I don’t care if you think I’m crazy, Greta Christina, because my religion works for me.
And if we all just minded our own business and quit worrying about what others believe or don’t believe, and didn’t worry about legislating these beliefs (or non-beliefs) into law, we would all get along much better and the world would be a more peaceful place. And let’s face it, atheist regimes have proven they can be dangerous to the rest of us too. What we need is more moderation and less extremism, whether of belief or of non-belief.
Image from Mesa Grande Academy