Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Thoughts on Religion

I have been thinking about religion lately. Mostly it is because my sister and her husband and their two grown daughters are always writing about God and Jesus on their Facebook page. I am not religious, but I am curious about religion.

Once on the phone, my sister mentioned some health problems she had, none of which I would wish on anyone. But then she said when she dies and goes to Heaven she expected God to give her a new healthy body. She really believes this.

I think it would be very comforting if I could believe that after I die, I will go to a happy place where I would live forever. Unfortunately I have no belief in any such thing, any more than I believe in the tooth fairy or Santa Claus. And I wonder how anyone could possibly believe in such a thing. But polls show that millions of people believe in Heaven and Hell. It makes no sense to me.

I am not absolutely sure there is no God. I am about 90 percent sure that God does not exist. I tend to think the universe came about as a result of implacable and immutable forces of nature that we do not fully understand. The Big Bang apparently began with a tiny bit of something smaller than a pinhead. But I don't think God had anything to do with it. I tend not to believe in God for several reasons.

First of all, the universe is logical, orderly, and capable of being mathematically analyzed. Explanations for God are not at all logical. Science depends on careful examination and analysis. Religion depends of faith. Religious people tell us God's behavior cannot be explained, while science continues to discover precisely how nature works according to universal laws.

I think religion serves three main purposes for people. First, churches, synagogues, mosques and other religious gathering places serve a social purpose. People are social creatures and they like being around people who share their values. I also think God or gods were invented to explain mysteries. The Greeks and Romans had gods of weather and love and thunder and the passage of the sun from morning to night and all sorts of mysteries of nature. Bit by bit over the centuries, science has unraveled much of what religion once explained. Finally, I think religion, especially Christianity and Islam which preach Heaven or Paradise offers hope to those who fear death. Hindus believe in reincarnation. Some Jews believe in an afterlife. The whole idea of afterlife was central to AD Egyptians. It appears that Christianity borrowed that idea and ran with it.

Seems to me there are a lot of problems with the idea of Heaven and Hell. First of all, why would a loving God invent a place of eternal torture? The only answer that makes any kind of sense is that God is not at all loving, but vengeful. There's a frightening thought, a vengeful and all-powerful God. But that doesn't square with the idea of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace and Love. So there's a contradiction.

And then there's Heaven, where people (who accepted Christ as their Lord and Savior) go to spend eternity in blissful happiness, forever and forever and forever. Sounds crushingly dull after a few hundred years. Happy Happy Happy. And what if you go to Heaven but your loving husband or wife or kids who never quite accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, are not allowed into heaven, but sent straight to Hell. Are you still going to be Happy Happy Happy forever and forever knowing that your loved ones are consigned to a place of eternal torture?

And then what about all the people who were born and died before Christ, so never got the chance to accept him as their Lord and Savior? Straight to Hell, I guess. And all the Jews and Hindus and Muslims who don't accept Christ. Straight to Hell. Doesn't make sense.

Christianity doesn't make sense. I don't know much about any of the other religions, but it seems to me belief in an Imaginary Man in the Sky is ridiculous. My sister recently had an auto accident. She and her husband were hurt but not too badly. One of her daughters thanked God that they were not killed. I wondered if God was responsible for saving them from death just then, why couldn't God have prevented the accident in the first place. The answer was that God Works in Mysterious Ways, it is not for us to understand. This lets God off the hook, seems to me. God as an irresponsible teenager.

Actually, I wish I COULD believe in religion. It comforts those who do believe. It works for them. Apparently makes them happy. At least it works for those who really follow the best aspects of their religion, the parts about peace and loving your neighbor. Problem is, a lot of religious people seem to be vengeful and judgmental and selfish. And then there are the Catholic priests who have molested children. The worst kinds of people are those who use religion for their own selfish purposes. Or the hypocrites, who pretend to be religious but act quite in opposition to their own stated religious beliefs.

There are many people doing good in the name of their religion and their God. To me, this is the best face of religion. But I think God never created man. Man created God. So religion is not a divine and holy thing. It is just a flawed human institution, embodying good and bad, like the people who invented it.