I’ve never been very big on religion for a variety of reasons. The main one is what I like to call ‘The Santa Claus Effect’. When I was little I was told that when I lost a tooth, the Tooth Fairy came into my house, took the tooth, and replaced it with cash. I was told that every Christmas Eve Santa Claus also came into my house and dropped off presents. On Easter, a large bunny also would drop off a basket of goodies. As a child it was clear to me that it must be remarkably easy to get into my house. (And it was; the basement window was always unlocked.)
Eventually I learned that none of these things were true. Being a kid that liked paranoid Cold War movies like Red Dawn, it occurred to me that if indeed Santa had some sort of flying reindeer, the United States Military would take them and use them against the Russians. I had visions of US Soldiers with M-16s riding Donner and Blitzen into Red Square. It occurred to me that since this never happened, the Fantastic probably did not exist.
So after learning about Santa and the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny, I was told of a guy named Jesus, who was the Son of God. I was told that after I die, if I’m good I go to Heaven and if I’m bad I go to Hell. I was told that I could read all about it in the Bible. And while I was also told many times from many people about God speaking to them, I never really heard God’s Voice. In fact, when pressed about it, few people would say that they actually heard a voice. It seemed to me that perhaps this God thing is just Santa for adults.
This is why it bugs me when Presidential Candidates talk about praying to God. I’m honestly not sure that when it all falls down, I want the man in the Oval Office praying to some invisible deity that may or may not actually be there. I want someone who knows what they’re going to do.
Today I went over to my dad’s house. He’s a born again Christian. Brought up Methodist, but now a Lutheran because that’s what his wife is. I talked to her a bit about religion today. This is almost always a bad idea. She and I have nothing in common except that we both love my dad. One of her son’s was one of my best friends in high school. He hasn’t spoken to anyone in the family in years.
Anyway, I got her talking about religion which I knew meant she would tell me how The Lord has blessed her on her journey and how if I’d let The Lord guide me…..etc, etc. And I told her how I’d recently heard a biblical scholar on NPR who I was very interested in and how I was reading a book he’d written about all the books that didn’t make it into the New Testament.
So we’re talking about religion and philosophy and history and suddenly she says one of the stupidest things I’ve ever heard anyone say in my entire life. She says, “I found that knowledge was getting in the way of my faith. So I shut off the knowledge and just began with faith. And eventually by starting with faith, I let some of the knowledge back in.”
What she was telling me was that the facts that she knows to be true do not match up with what she wants to believe so she ignores the facts and just goes with what she wants to believe instead and then allows whatever facts match what she wants to believe in. In other words, she was willing herself to be stupid. It was at this point that I had the choice of letting her natter on or just outright attack her. Given that she was my dad’s wife and my wife and kids were there along with my dad, I felt it was probably best that I just let it go, so I did.
I’m still a bit amazed by it. I’ve never actually heard someone say that they willingly ignored what they knew to be true. It was like hearing someone say, “I know I am wrong, but I am right.” And it’s something that seriously bugs me because I know she can’t be the only one who thinks that way and the idea of there being more people thinking that way really bothers me.
Believing something without any evidence is faith. Believing something despite contrary evidence is delusion. And the idea of someone like that talking to other people about how great God is regardless of whether or not God even exists is the sort of thing that’s kept me out of church for the past fifteen years.
I do have religious beliefs. I do believe there is a God, but I’m not someone who just walks around sharing my religious beliefs because I think personal beliefs are just that. I think that the world would be a much better place if everyone just kept their beliefs to themselves. If they did that, I wouldn’t know the way my dad’s wife thought and it wouldn’t be bothering me right now.