Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Does religion create misery?

There was a letter in the Idaho Statesman yesterday (September 11, 2007), that I feel compelled to respond to, even though the author of the letter will likely never see my response.

Here's the letter:

So much misery is the result of religion

Today, Sept. 11, marks the anniversary of one of the most perfidious attacks on American citizens.

This was the infamous 1857 Mountain Meadows Massacre, which has been described by historians as the worst Indian massacre in American history — except that it wasn't committed by Indians, it was committed by ordinary Euro-Americans in a frenzy of religious madness working under the orders of a deluded, self-styled man of faith.

Fast forward 144 years to 2001 and once again innocent Americans were murdered by religiously inspired zealots working under the orders of a deluded, self-styled man of faith.

How can so much misery be the result of religion?

First, one must realize that all religions require their adherents to turn off their minds. This makes them more easily susceptible to control by their power-hungry clergy. The Abrahamaic religions go one step further by commanding that there be no other gods.

From this commandment, as Thomas Jefferson so poignantly wrote, "Millions of innocent men, women, and children … have been burnt, tortured, fined, imprisoned."

Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg has concluded that all it takes for good people to do bad things is religion. Now you know why these atrocities occurred.

Gary Bennett, Emmett

Now, first of all, Gary Bennett writes letters regularly. Most are critical of religion or religious people, conservatism, patriotism, etc. He obviously has a burr under his saddle, and views "the root of all problems" far differently from me. Which is his prerogative.

How unfortunate to view religion as an impetus for carnage and misery. Bennett is definitely a "glass-half-empty" kind of guy. Maybe he had a bad personal experience with religion.

The Mountain Meadows Massacre of which he writes - perpetrated by Mormon settlers in southern Utah - has been debated for 150 years. Bennett describes it with authority, as though he is aware of facts that have escaped other historians for all that time. (I s'pose his "deluded, self-styled man of faith" is Brigham Young. Or it could be John D. Lee, a local Mormon who was tried and hanged for the incident.)

Incidentally, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued this statement on the anniversary of that tragic occasion: "We express profound regret for the massacre carried out in this valley 150 years ago today, and for the undue and untold suffering experienced by the victims then and by their relatives to the present time." (Delivered by Apostle Henry Eyring at the site of the massacre, where the Church has also erected a monument honoring the victims.)

Indeed, much evil has been perpetrated over the course of history by people who claim to be motivated by their religion. But in almost every case, upon closer inspection those people could also be accused of personal greed, or ambition, or lust for power and influence, and their "religion" is a smokescreen. The radical Islamofacists come immediately to mind (particularly on September 11th). Richard Butler - former leader of the Aryan Nations in northern Idaho - painted himself as a "Christian." What could be farther from the truth? Is it fair to condemn a billion Muslims because of bin Laden? Or all of Christianity on account of Butler's twisted behavior and philosophy?

One could also get a negative view of religion by looking at "Reverend" Fred Phelps and his band of followers who call themselves the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka. (How is it that he can call himself a Baptist? I'd think they'd disassociate themselves with the likes of Phelps.) In case you're not familiar, his group travels from place to place with brightly-colored signs reading "God hates Fags," and declares that anything bad that happens is God's punishment on society for our tolerance of homosexuals. They are well known for "demonstrating" at funerals for fallen soldiers, etc. (I s'pose he thinks we should round all the homosexuals up and gas 'em, like Hitler did to the Jews. Can you imagine Jesus Christ - the Prince of Peace - endorsing such a message?)

Yeah... people who claim to be religious don't always act religious.

Consider the good that has been done, and is currently being done, by people who are trying to be good Christians.

When disaster strikes, it's almost always religious organizations (and the Red Cross - a private organization), who are the first responders. They don't ask for anything in return. They're just trying to be good neighbors and citizens, and treat folks the way they would like to be treated.

Right here locally, religious people provide shelter for the homeless, clothes for the naked, food for the hungry, care for the needy. They visit people in prison. They create recreational and learning opportunities for children and youth. They seek out those who are hurting, or lonely. I heard about a group of folks - motivated by their religion - who visit the Intensive Care Unit at the hospital once a week to sing to the patients and lift their spirits. I know a group of women who devote every Monday morning to assembling essential supplies for disaster response - "humanitarian kits," they call them - for people they've never met, and will likely never meet.

Yeah... so much misery.

(As for religious adherents "turning off their minds" - that is an entirely different topic. But I can confidently declare that Mr. Bennett's view is distorted. Some of the smartest people I know are deeply religious. A thinking person has no problem reconciling scientific theory with religious belief. Exercising free will by participating in religion does not mean surrendering one's free will. It's difficult for skeptics and cynics to understand that concept.)

I take great satisfaction in being associated with people who are motivated by genuine religious charity, and can't help but feel a bit of pity for Mr. Bennett for his jaded viewpoint. (Although he may be the author of much good in his community; I hope he has such opportunities.)


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