I was thinking about this t’other day, and something Chris Sawyer said sort of precipitated the thoughts out. So hold onto your hat for religious…stuff, or bow out now, according to your personal preference.
I think maybe Christianity doesn’t matter.
Bear with me a minute here. I’ll get back to that. I don’t like the notion of it not mattering any more than anybody else–readers probably know that I have quite a dislike for modern Christianity, and while specific Christians that I know are often perfectly decent people, I have had too many bad encounters and seen too many vile things and ideas perpetrated in its name to think that it’s overall a positive thing. I dislike it. I am, despite years and time and much mellowing, still angry with it. And one hates to think that one is angry at something that’s basically unimportant. If you’ve got a really good, savage wrath going on, you want it to be at something that matters. Wrath at, for example, a small fuzzy mammal just makes you look like a weirdo.
Religion, to me, is like snakes. I have no problem with snakes as long as they’re over there. Some snakes I even quite like locally. In fact, I grew up with snakes!* (This metaphor is getting better and better!) But because I grew up with a healthy respect for snake-kind, I know that a minority of snakes are poisonous and Should Not Be Handled. And having witnessed, seperated by an inch of glass, the fate of little mousies with rattlesnakes, I have personal experience to draw on. So now, when I see a snake that I do not know, I don’t touch it. I don’t pick it up. I don’t go near it. I don’t want it dead, I don’t kill it on sight, and I am apalled at the notion of killing a snake merely because it is a snake–rattlesnake roundups are horrible, tacky things–but neither do I poke the snake or casually pick up the snake. And if one got in the house and tried to bite the cat, I would probably kill the snake if I felt I could do so safely, because it started it.
A minority of snakes are poisonous, but I don’t handle ANY of them until I know that they aren’t. You can try to tell me that in order to be a tolerant individual, I should judge snakes on their actions and give all snakes the benefit of the doubt until they actually bite, but since I’m not an idiot, that’s not going to happen. I will assume that all snakes are dangerous until I have proof they aren’t, just like Jeff Corwin told me to. Once we know that it’s a perfectly nice little harmless snake, it’s all good, and I’ll be happy to have him in the garden, but bugger if I’m snuggling what might be a timber rattler just because I should judge him on his individual merits.
That was sort of a digression, but bear with me here.
So I don’t like Christianity. I’m fine with individual Christians, but on the whole, I have many major gripes with it. It has generally done me, personally, more harm than good. Your experience is different, you’ve had a wonderful time, that’s cool, but I have had bad times. Don’t bother telling me how great you think Christianity is, because it’s all anecdotal, mine as well as yours, and it’s not like you can get hard data about these things. Everybody has to go by their own experience, and mine have sucked.
It goes without saying, of course, that I don’t particularly believe in any religion, because like many things, once you’re outside, you look back and go “Holy crap, I can’t believe I swallowed that tripe.” I don’t believe in revealed truth. Stuff just is. So we’re judging Christianity here on its merits as a social system, not on what it actually says, because what it says, to me, is the least important part of the faith. I don’t give a rat’s ass what’s in the Bible–been there, read it, not overly impressed. It’s how Christians ACT that defines the religion, so far as I’m concerned.
Okay. Now that we’ve gotten all the disclaimers out of the way, on to my point.
I don’t think Christianity matters. It kills me, because my dislike of Christianity is a fairly solid point of my psyche, ’bout which I can ramble for hours–the only one of its kind in said psyche, so far as I know–but it just doesn’t. Does anyone really believe that Jerry Falwell would be a kindly old man who read to children and puttered around the garden without the influence of Christianity? Does anybody REALLY believe that Bush would not be a money-grubbed sanctimonious asshole without being born-again? I sure don’t. The world breeds assholes. And on the flip side, I have yet to meet a good Christian that I was proud to know who wasn’t nearly identical to a good non-Christian I was proud to know. There are good and decent people who ascribe to this faith, who continue to read my blog, and I’m proud to know them–but they’re all good and decent people and I’m confident they would be anyway. All the best people I know are good because they’re good. They’re doing good because they have empathy and kindness, not because they’ve bought into a paranoid fantasy that a man in the sky is judging their every notion and must be appeased, which, at its worst, is what Christianity turns into.
Now, obviously playing “what-if” is a game for alternate history writers. You can claim that maybe Falwell would have been a good guy if not for Christianity. You can claim that you yourself might have been the next Hitler if not for your faith. We can’t prove any of it. But I think that people, fundamentally, are people, and while a few individual allegiances might shift, generally the good would be good, and the bad would be bad. If it wasn’t Christianity, it’d be something else. Islam and Buddhism and Hinduism all have their assholes in power and their great men who did good, and there are plenty who did good and evil who didn’t believe in anything much. Whether you’re hunting Jews in the name of the master race or the name of God, it doesn’t matter. Whether you’re doing social work in the name of humanity or the name of God, it still doesn’t matter. People will do stuff–good and evil–no matter what. Doing something for religious reasons ameliorates the responsibility for that act not at all. YOU still had to pull the trigger or plant the tree.
Religion doesn’t do squat. People do stuff.
So, much as I hate to admit that my perfectly good angst is misplaced, I think maybe Christianity doesn’t matter. If there wasn’t that bit in Leviticus, does anybody think that redneck good ‘ol boys would suddenly embrace homosexuality as a valid alternate lifestyle? Ha! It’s all about the Sanctity of the Rectum, not the sanctity of the Bible.
Now, a caveat. There’s at least two points where the specific shape of Christianity DOES matter. The first is creationism. If not for what the Bible, specifically, says, we wouldn’t have this idiocy with young earth creationists. Nobody in their right mind would claim the earth was 5000 years old if they weren’t trying to justify their belief in one particular text, because it’s patently absurd. People wouldn’t just come to that conclusion in the absence of the Bible, you gotta work at it. (Thank god, I can still get pissed about that.)
The other point is that because assholes in power call themselves Christian, they can often get very nice people to go along with them, because…well…they’re Christians, and being Christian is important, and I want to do the right thing, etc, etc. Recall all those people who wanted to vote for Kerry, but because Catholic priests told them they couldn’t support Kerry, voted for Bush (or didn’t vote, or voted Kerry, but felt guilty as hell.) A lot of people vote their conscience anyway, but a lot more people are unfortunately suceptible to the hijacking of their religion. The pope says not to use birth control, so we don’t. And in this case, the specifics of Christianity do occasionally matter, like the birth control thing. But I don’t think that Christianity is any more guilty of this than anybody else would be in their place–the clever and unscrupulous will always find something like that to use against the well-meaning accustomed to obediance.
So…except for the specific case of Creationism, I guess I’ve concluded that Christianity doesn’t really matter, because if it wasn’t that, it’d be something else, and even if there wasn’t any religion at all, it still wouldn’t matter, because people are fundamentally people.
Bugger. And I have such a good angst about it, too.
*Dad had these boa constrictors…