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Freshly Boiled Blood

by Noah Lugeons

My issues with religion are largely philosophical.  I live in a city rich with religious diversity and history among people who have long learned to overlook the demarcations of faith.  New York City hasn’t always been a pillar of religious tolerance, but today it’s home to at least some number of any devotion to any sect of any denomination of any religion you can imagine.  We have to share subways and sidewalks and parade routes and we’re constantly running late.  Most of us simply don’t have the time for religious friction.

The point is that if I didn’t seek it out, I would hardly ever have a reason to be pissed at religion.  I read the religious news, I seek out the abuses of religious authority, I immerse myself in religion’s festering underbelly.  But if I didn’t make an effort to do so, I’d hardly ever encounter the bad parts of religion in my daily life.

I constantly remind myself that this is probably true of most people in this country.  Sure, they know about the child rape and maybe they know about the fundamentalist camps, but what they see every day is religious people doing good things in the name of religion.  Unless they make an effort to see the ugliness backstage, religion comes off looking pretty clean and pretty most of the time.

Of course, much of it is simply slick PR.  When I was growing up, all I knew of the Latter Day Saints was from the heartwarming commercials they played during cartoons on Saturday morning.  A guy on bike would get splashed with mud by a guy in a truck.  Cut to guy on bike coming across guy in truck later.  Plot twist: Guy in truck is no longer in truck because his truck is broken down.  Resolution: muddy guy on bike stops and helps the asshole who splashed him.  Because Jesus.

But it would be petty of me to write it all off as a PR campaign.  Most of the sterling image of religion comes from the fact that most religious people are really awesome people.  I think this is probably because most people are awesome and any random selection of people will probably contain a majority of awesome ones.  But I don’t know that to be true.  What I do know is that when you give good people an outlet for their goodness, you usually get some good results.  You get some well fed homeless people or whatever.

Obviously I don’t think religion is necessary for charity, but I’m also not naive enough to overlook all the good.  When I step outside of my own perspective, I can see why atheists look like ranting assholes to a lot of people.  Why are they attacking this mostly good thing?  Why are they pissed off about bibles in cabins or god references on money or prayers at graduation ceremonies?  Why be so vindictive toward a mostly good thing.  After all, taking “In God We Trust” off the money isn’t going to stop any kids from getting raped.

But as I said, I seek out the bad.  And now that the podcast is starting to gain a wide audience, the bad is starting to seek me out as well.

If I’d really thought it through before I started the show, I should have seen this coming, but I didn’t.  I was ready for vicious hate mail and death threats (which I still haven’t gotten), but I was not prepared for some of the heart wrenching stories I now find in my inbox.

And for the first time today, I was moved to tears by one of them.  A fan of the show sent me an email detailing his personal experiences as a vulnerable child entrusted to the care of a sadistic Baptist minister.  He said he loved the show because it allowed him to laugh at the abuses of religion instead of simply welling up with impotent rage.

I’ve gotten a couple of emails like his so far.  None that detail such horror, but several from disowned sons, estranged spouses, alienated friends and psychologically tormented apostates and while I never expected them to come, I certainly welcome them.  I don’t want to hear these stories but I need to hear them.  They are the fuel that boils my blood.

I understand that a lot of people feel a need to share these stories.  I invite them.  I can’t help you much by listening to your story, but you can help me a lot by sharing it.  To keep up the effort this podcast takes, I sometimes need freshly boiled blood.

  1. June 9, 2013 at 5:52 PM

    I don’t see awesome people doing things good for religion… I see brain washed good people doing as they are told to do because if they don’t …. hell.

    When good is done without religion is is not for fear of hell, but because it’s a good thing to do (mostly). Yes, they do act good for fear of hell. If it weren’t for fear of hell they’d sleep in on Sundays and if not for church they’d be doing good when it suits them, not as part of the church.

    So when you measure up the value of a good deed, is it more worthy when done from desire to be helpful, or more worthy when done as part of the plan to avoid hell? Even if the results of the deed are the same, there is a difference. The church tells them who to be good to and who to not be good to. If you’re a pregnant teen or GLBTQ, what kind of good deed will you get from the believers? Many of them will do anything but help a GLBTQ because to do so ruins their chances for heaven and puts them in hell. This being true, we can reasonably deduce that all their other good deeds are motivated by fear of hell.

    I see no good in religion, at all.

    • June 9, 2013 at 7:21 PM

      Excellent point. What little good trickles out of religion often does so after religion perverts it.

      That being said, I still hold that a lot of good comes, not so much of religion, but of the institutionalization of charity. Many people enter church with the intent of doing good works (in other words, it’s not always the result of indoctrination) and studies continue to show that even when religious giving is factored out, church-goers tend to be more charitable than non-church-goers (note that this says nothing about someone’s religiosity, as from what I’ve seen, it correlates only to church attendance).

      That being said, this is not at all a product of religion nor is it a feather in religion’s cap. They’re taking the charity of others (which they don’t own and did not inspire) and signing their name to it. A soup kitchen doesn’t run because Jesus, it runs because there are generous people within the church. I don’t believe that the majority of these people are motivated by a fear of hell or the reward of heaven. I honestly believe that the majority of people are altruistic (at least within their own group) and that churches take advantage of this fact and claim responsibility.

      And, of course, as you point out, along the way they pervert this natural tendency toward charity in a number of ways:

      – They narrow the definition of one’s group to exclude those of other faiths or sinners like gays and transsexuals.
      – They confuse true charity with giving money to the church itself.
      – They reward good people by telling them that they’re evil sinners who deserve to die and burn in hell.
      – They bastardize natural morality by conflating it with unrelated shit like pornography, masturbation and premarital sex.

      I could go on, of course. Despite this, their proficiency in taking credit for things they have nothing to do with certainly colors the average American’s perception of religion.

      But let me make it clear that I point these things out only to try to see things from the view of the apathetic agnostic. I in no way believe that any of the good that comes out of a church is because of the religion. It is only the product of good going in and much of it coming back out again.

  2. June 11, 2013 at 9:40 PM

    The Cognitive Dissonance guys now have a “De-conversion Stories” page on their website (http://dissonancepod.com/?page_id=509). Might be worth considering something like that, so people can share their stories of leaving religion.

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