In my life alone I’ve seen this in its more inconsequential form, all the way to its extremely dangerous form. Not that it’s ever inconsequential for a person to act in a seemingly crazy way over faith, but comparatively, there is a hierarchy.
Let’s go to the Mohave desert for our first trek into the minds of those who are willing to do anything to get closer to god. Once a week in the deserts of California and Nevada, many teams meet up on a weekly basis. Their overall objective is to get closer to god or closer to his saints as a group. Some groups feel that by snapping Polaroid photographs of the sun and looking for apparitions to appear in the photographs, they are somehow getting closer to their creator. Other groups wait for the Virgin Mary to appear before them as some have testified to have happened in the past.
What we really have here is a little thing known as group hysteria. A hallucination common to every person present within a group that is so strong it is believed to be real. Now as these people stand in the middle of the hot desert, probably malnourished, they all feel certain things and even occasionally see certain things that they relate to whatever god or saint in which they believe. This probably happens to people all the time in the confines of their own home, however, when you get a group of people together who all want to see something the energy from it tends to be more powerful. This bleeds over to everyone else in the group and leads to group hysteria.
Have you ever been alone in your home, and watched a scary movie in the dark? I bet you had a similar feeling if the movie actually creeped you out a little bit. A personal example: One of my many guilty pleasures is a radio broadcast known as Coast to Coast AM with George Nory. It can be a great show whenever the discussion doesn’t get anywhere past the political spectrum, but when he gets on to the more spiritual topics it’s a riot. Yet sometimes while listening in the dark hearing person after person giving these ghost stories that I feel they actually believe to have happened, I can get a little creeped out. It happens. I don’t even believe in ghosts or for that matter God, but it can even get me from time to time. I get a creepy feeling and look over my shoulder a little bit more. I like this feeling, being scared is a great way to remind you that you’re alive. But the difference between others who experience this and myself is that I know that it’s just my mind playing tricks on me and I also know that the creepy feeling I get is only a form of minor hallucination. It’s just chemicals in my brain reacting to what I’m hearing. Others, however, seem to think that getting this feeling must mean that there is actually a ghost peaking over their shoulder, or that there is something there. If this persists, it could truly turn into a very scary situation in which your brain goes into kind of a panic mode and you begin truly thinking there is something there.
If you believe strongly enough that something is there, then you will eventually see something. That’s the way the brain works. Perception, inside the brain, is often stronger than reality. This is because every thing that you see isn’t actually what is there. Sight is only your brains interpretation of what it is that your eyes are seeing. And truthfully, that can often be very deceptive. If your brain is tired for example, you may begin seeing little lights or fuzz in your peripheral. This happens because the brain is tired, not because there are actually little fuzzy lights flying around you. This is just hallucination and is exactly what people think is reality when they interpret little messages in their photographs of the sun in the middle of the desert. There’s really nothing there, but when you have one person thinking something is there and another who really wants to see something, person B is easily convinced. Then suddenly you have two people seeing the same thing and it’s even easier to convince the others in the group in a chain effect that will lead to group hysteria.
In the end, is it really all that healthy for your eyes to be taking pictures of the sun? Probably not, but people do it anyway because they think they’re going to see something. I bet if it weren’t for religion, people wouldn’t be doing this sort of insanity.
That was a very light example of the way that religion can cause people to behave erratically, but there are many more. Here are some now…
A man, who will remain unnamed as he is not a public figure and I’ve been sued enough, sat on death row for ten years for the crimes of matricide and patricide. This man was a Down Syndrome inflicted teenager who’s parents were cousins and grew up with his parents preaching the bible very heavily to him. This man killed his parents not because he was angry with them for inbreeding, but because the bible teaches that inbreeding is wrong. This is one of the few points where I’ll agree with the bible, but this poor kid interpreted the bible very literally, and just like many generations of people before him noticed that the bible condoned killing in the name of God.
His parents had sinned by inbreeding, therefore, in his mind deserved to die. He shot both of his parents in the head then called the police and confessed what he had done. The police picked him up and he was actually surprised when he was brought up on charges. Not surprised because of his condition, but surprised that a person could be legally charged for committing an act that the bible said was right. The sad part is that his down syndrome had nothing to do with this situation. Any child brought up in that sort of atmosphere could be just as susceptible. If you have both of your parents pounding this book into you so that you live by it, you will act accordingly to the book. And the cold truth is that the bible condones murder under certain circumstances.
He sat on death row for ten years trying to appeal and every time he was given a chance to speak at an appeal hearing, gave the same argument that he was acting in the name of God and, therefore, should be set free. He was executed in 1995. So not just one life wasted because of religion, but three lives suffering their end because of words in a book. A fictional book that has no more historical relevance than Charlie and The Chocolate Factory. A book that is no more factual than the movie Titanic. Yes the boat actually went down, but did any of that other stuff actually happen? No! Just because it’s almost historically correct doesn’t mean anything else in the book is real. But people think it is to a point where some will actually kill for it.
This is only one in hundreds of thousands of cases where people have harmed others because of the things written in the bible. If this can happen, then I would have to say that it’s not just an opinion that religion is dangerous, it’s a fact.
Is there a greater example of harm done to others in the name of faith than exorcism? Well, yes, but we’ll get to that in just a little bit here. Exorcisms take place when a priest or another religious official—usually catholic—believes whole heartedly that a human being has been possessed by some sort of magical demon or unholy dead person.
A larger group example would be cults, but the stranger ones seem to be the islander cults. I won’t go too far into detail about the John Frum Cult in Tanna, as my hedro-man-crush, Richard Dawkins, already beat me to it. However, it doesn’t make it any less absurd that these poor people gather annually on February 15, to welcome back their white messiah. Then every year the trek back into their huts, their faces washed with sadness and hands holding luggage, like the cranky old guy in the Twilight Zone Movie. It’s actually quite sad, but more than that, it’s irrational, mindless behavior based on faith.
People can argue until the inevitable effect of voice loss stets in, that Rhinoceros horn increases libido, or that fornicating under a full moon increases fertility, or that splashing magical water onto a child’s face will secure him with the fruits of eternal life, that shaking a maraca made from human skull and cougar sperm will somehow cure impotence, or that Alanis Morrisette has a keen grasp of the English language. Argue about these things as much as you wish, but you’re only wasting your breath. Fervently advocating myth will not cause it to miraculously become reality. You’re proving nothing with these irrational statements except for your own lunacy, delusions, and possibly, mental illness. Until society as a whole can accept this, we’re doomed to seek the veil of the Shaman.
People have a problem associating contemporary religions with primitive tribal beliefs, however, they are one in the same. Whether it’s an ancient culture believing the white man to be divine because supply crates come from the seas to maintain them, or if it’s Jesus doing magic tricks to convince people of his divinity, or if it’s the seas turning red and the sky turning dark under primitive people who thought it was god’s divine judgment; what’s happening is the same thing. The primitive mind was quite easy to trick as they had no legitimate science, therefore, if I lived in said world and saw an eclipse, I might rush into my home and prepare for God, Jesus, Allah, Elohim, Zeus, or Margaret Thatcher to rain down fire upon my head. However, we’re not in that world anymore. We’re beyond that stage of human evolution. Come on!!! We’ve mapped the Genome, cloned pigs, made glow in the dark puppies, birthed children from test tubes, and created satellites that rotate around the earth that are so powerful that we can watch the girls on nude the beaches of Spain from the comfort of our own in Lincoln, Nebraska via the internet. Don’t you think it just might be time for us to let go of these primitive and infantile beliefs and behaviors? Don’t you think we’re ready to move on? I’m just going to come out and say it: it’s just silly! You’re being silly, you silly person! I didn’t write this book with the intent of being demeaning or calling all religionists vacuous people, but the beliefs do that without any effort from me. After all, you must realize this. This kind of behavior makes the walks at the Ministry of Silly-Walks seem rather un-silly. But it only gets worse.
Sadly, we see the same types of beliefs coming from other sources, such as Mormonism. Racism seems to be frowned upon by the more liberal parts of the church now, but then again, so is polygamy. However, there are still fundamentalists who practice the original teachings of the church. These teachings make the claim that people of dark skin are lower than those of white skin, and are afflicted from God with their skin color because they took the side of the devil when he rose against the round table of Messiahs. Although, a dark skinned person can easily become white skinned, but only by becoming righteous in the eyes of God. This is a pretty serious claim, and one could imagine that it’s lead to much violence. Violence is seemingly the thread that connects all religions with one another. Of course, there are different severities, as it seems that the more primitive ones were far more peaceful than the ones we know now, but with its short history, I can’t help but be amazed at the great amounts of bloodshed committed by the Mormons. Some bloodshed over faith; some violence over race; some slaughter over paranoia. They argue that they are only so, because of their history of persecution. However, if you can find a religion that hasn’t faced ages of persecution, then I will admit fault and call myself a liar.
I guess the best way to describe just how crazy religion makes people act is the mere fact that people actually pay for astrological readings. However, there are much more extreme ways that people act outside of the box of pure individually irrational, self-inflicted idiocy. But I’ll get to those another time. These are just some things that I had to get off my chest.
Thanks for reading and remember to subscribe and smile with me.
Your friend, The Smiling Atheist, smiling my way into hell.