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The Danger of Religion


The thing I remember best about that church camp was the huge cockroaches in the cabin.

Maybe I should wait until more detail is out, but the deaths of four Americans of the U.S. Consulate in Libya caused by a misguided Christian have inflamed my keyboard. The tragedy made the point yet again that religion is one of the most divisive forces in the world today. I wish everyone would go back to communing with nature spirits.

The news report I read said that mob violence had been provoked in Cairo as well by a California-made movie carried by YouTube that ridiculed Muhammad as a madman and showed him having sex and calling for massacres. As of this morning’s paper, YouTube had not pulled the movie, but surely they will.

Why the tensions rising among various religions—Christian, Jewish, and Muslim in particular—would abate, I can’t imagine. I guess we just hold our breath and hope to be distracted by floods, tornadoes, earthquakes, hurricanes, volcanoes, etc. Climate change could enable us to access our humanitarian nature as we try to save each other.

I consider myself fortunate not to have been raised in any faith, even though a great grandfather was a Methodist minister. My free-wheeling and very comforting spirituality has resulted in part from many unpleasant experiences with organized religion.

My parents did try to do the right thing by exposing us to some of the possibilities. Early on, we went a few doors down to listen to Bible stories as this woman with a lot of hair and spittle at the corners of her mouth moved sheep and men in long robes around on a flannel board. However, that relationship came to an end when my older sister hissed “You old witch!” as the woman hung clothes out on the line.

Then for a number of Easters, we dressed up and shivered through sunrise services up in the Franklin Mountains around El Paso. Glad that came to an end.

The mother of my best friend in first grade induced me to spend some miserable mornings in Bible school at a Methodist Church. I never got over the feeling that her effort was inspired by disdain for my family, of whom I thought very highly.

We tried Baptist Sunday school until we came home one morning and informed our parents that dancing was sinful.

Then Pope John XXIII destroyed overnight my family’s wonderful friendship with a doctor’s children when he ruled that Catholics must cease to consort with non-Catholics.

A Presbyterian friend induced me to join her for Bible study near Alpine, Texas. The thing I remember best about that church camp was the huge cockroaches in the cabin.

I was married to a Catholic for eight years, but we ceased to go to Mass after a service when the presiding priest announced that anyone who was not Catholic was going to hell.

As a single adult in Houston, I attended the First United Methodist Church for a while due to the sermons of Reverend Charles L. Allen. He delivered these wonderful homilies from real life that helped people learn how to live successfully. When he retired, however, his replacement was back to the sheep-on-flannel-board kind of stories and I quit.

Finally, around turning 65, I decided to embark on a study of the Bible from this big tome filled with references and interpretations. Perhaps the mind of the latecomer is just less susceptible, and before I ever reached the New Testament, I got so depressed I had to quit.

Later I would run into a quote about how the Bible enforces the subordination of women to men, which I had certainly noted. I wonder if there is any organized religion that doesn’t. If there is ever to be peace in the world, women need the authority to grab by the ear troublemakers like the guy who made that nasty movie and send them to their rooms for a time-out.

I haven’t included the guy’s name here because I wouldn’t want to provoke further nastiness. We all do dumb things, but I hope his experience of the Law of Unintended Consequences will prevent other people who believe themselves to be good Christians from inadvertently becoming the angels of death for fellow Americans.

5 Responses to “The Danger of Religion”

  1. Marilyn Whiteman

    What a truly unfortunate introduction you had; mine, on the other hand was pleasant.
    While I decry the violence, hatred, and bigotry brought about by religious zealots and fanatics over the centuries and today as well, I feel there is a place for organized religion.
    The premise is that the human animal has a need for structure, for ritual and discipline, for ties with the community, for a sense of something bigger than itself.
    Many non-church goers seek to find these in other areas.
    The church I attend, when able, does not dictate to me, does not require effusive responses, does not advocate bigotry; in fact, seeks to broaden my understanding. Attending church thus provides me with a sense of renewal, of calm.

    • celeryellen

      Dear Marilyn,

      Of course I’ve always known that this aspect of your upbringing was very important to you, and you’re an example of the best spirit that comes of it. Through you and others like you, I derive respect for the possibilities, but it just came in a bit late. Nothing is an accident, though, I guess. The deficit turned me into a seeker, and that has been very interesting.

      Many thanks for sharing,


  2. Kate Heath

    Well said, Barbara. I think we we go back to the source of any of the major religions, we find the concept of “reconcil[ing] peoples’ differences so we can focus on doing good and making our world better and appreciating and respecting each other.” But the message gets corrupted along the road to intolerance.

  3. Barbara McCarthy

    Dear Ellen and Kate,
    Both of you are so eloquent! My family had similar experiences to yours. We attended Bible school with our cousins at a Lutheran church one year, my father was a lapsed Catholic and only my mother really liked attending church regularly but never ‘made’ us do the same although we attended with her because it made her feel good. In college I attended a Catholic church with my boyfriend until the priest tried to convert me.
    As for me, I have regular conversations with God as I think of Him as a person
    who is trying to reconcile peoples’ differences so we can focus on doing good and making our world better and appreciating and respecting each other.
    Thanks for bringing this up.

  4. Kate Heath

    I have always thought of good manners as the lubricant of society. It’s just not good manners to publicly vilify the object of another person’s affection, respect, adoration. Though freedom of speech apparently gives us the right to say all kinds of dreadful things, including spouting vitriol at the funerals of military personnel killed in action, using that right loosely is clearly not a good idea. A good man (more than one man, actually) is dead at the hands of a mob that didn’t take this disrespect lightly.
    As usual, plenty of wrong on both sides. The over-reaction is clearly worse than the original offense, but haven’t we received enough examples to realize that we can expect that over-reaction and that it will strike innocent victims?