I’ve had many religious friends over the years and many of them seem extraordinarily happy. The ones I’ve stayed close to don’t push their religion on me. But they do encourage me to join their way of thinking, if only so I can join in all the good feelings.
Here’s the problem…
To a freethinker, religion is like poking out your eyes because you think you’ve seen enough.
It is like pouring concrete into your ears because you think you’ve heard enough.
It is like lobotomizing yourself because you think you know enough.
You’ve read all the books you need ever read–namely, one.
You’ve got all the answers you’ll ever need.
You are happy.
I understand this. There is immense comfort in a feeling of certainty. Even joy. The joy of letting go. Of surrendering. And of belonging–of knowing others think the way you do.
What better way to be certain than by declaring life’s great mysteries solved? No future work need be done. No mental effort. No problem-solving. One must only accept. The answers have all been worked out.
What better way to feel comfort than by embracing a community of like-minded individuals? The leader, guru, or messiah is the one that must do all the hard work and sacrifice. All the follower must do is walk in his or her footsteps.
Accept and follow. Certainty and comfort. Belonging. Purpose. Mission.
Versus being fundamentally alone, uncertain, challenged, even opposed–by one’s family, culture, society, world. And having to do an awful lot of mental work in figuring out life’s problems and mysteries. Hard mental work. Most of it plagued by self-doubt.
With those kinds of psychological and emotional stakes, is it any wonder most of humanity accepts one form of religion or another?
But there are a few of us who see this as the “certainty” of an ostrich with it’s head in the sand.
We look around, in awe at the natural wonder and beauty and mystery of the universe, and the challenge it represents, and we don’t want to look away. We don’t care if the problems aren’t solved–we still want a fair crack at them.
We want, desperately want, our fellow humans to take their heads out of the sand and look around with us. To see and listen and think about ideas that are new, since we see the old ideas as inadequate, puerile, and even destructive.
We want to read not one book but all the books, and we know even then that our knowledge will amount to the tiniest pinprick in the fabric of the cosmos.
We are cursed, in a way–the more we know the more our questions grow.
For years I thought I didn’t understand religion. Now I think it is religion that has failed to understand me.
Can you understand what it is like to be full of questions but be told to accept and follow? Do you not see that this is the same as telling us to swallow poison or accept a blade across our throat? That following in your footsteps is the same as following a herd to the slaughter?
It’s not that I have all the answers. I don’t. But given the cost of “certainty”, I choose discomfort.