Colson: What’s religion got to do with it?

with John Colson


There’s a weighty word for the ages, and no denying it.

It has been the source of both comfort and war, a deliverance from despair and a cause of anguish and confusion, and, of course, a way to accumulate power and wealth for certain classes of people throughout the long centuries of human history.

At its very core, the idea of religion is based on unprovable theories, having to do with things that are well beyond our limited means of perception. Instead of proof, adherents of various religions offer “faith” as the reason we, the uninitiated, ought to accept this or that doctrine or precept, faith in a god that these same adherents claim knowledge of, belief in, devotion to.

Fine, I say. For them, I say, but not for me.

I’ve long pondered the nature and meaning of religion in human history, and have been essentially unimpressed by what I’ve learned, at least in terms of the meaning and validity of religious claims and doctrines.

But I’ll tell you what: Despite my lack of respectful devotion to any religion, what has impressed me is the outright fanaticism that religions often inspire among the faithful, a facet of faith that I believe has nothing to do with religion, itself.

I’m a curious guy, leaning toward the skeptical and cynical side of things, and as such I’ve never been a very good subject for religious teachings or the very idea of faith as the foundation for an absolutist outlook on life.

Today, as Paris, France roils with death and anger at Muslim extremists, while Jews there tremble at the prospect of hate crimes at the hands of Muslim neighbors, I can’t help but wonder at the destination to which we’ve been dragged by those steeped in faith in unverifiable gods.

And it’s not as though fanatical, sadly misled practitioners of the Islamic religion have a monopoly on hate and murder of those they see as their enemies.

Christians, in the days of the Crusades, were just as bad as any zealot Imam can be today, laying waste to entire cultures and countries in the name of a single god, discounting the rights of others to believe in different gods.

“Oh, but that was way in the past,” some apologists reply. “Christians have outgrown those kinds of hypocrisy and murderous policies.”


Tell that to an abortion doctor gunned down at the door of his clinic, or his patients forced to run a gauntlet of hate, spit and occasional violence as they try to keep appointments.

“Well, that doctor was murdering unborn children, so he deserved what he got,” the apologists might return.

Never mind that the belief cited is a matter of lively, usually hot debate across the land, or that the right of a woman to control her reproductive processes is supported by a majority of Americans in poll after poll.

The noisy minority is deadly certain in its own rectitude, and evidently too often is ready to back up that certitude with murderous intent.

Is that the kind of world we want to live in, where religio-political disagreements lead to the use of lethal force in the making of a point?

Not me, I can tell you that without hesitation.

Because that way lies anarchy.

And while some would tell you they prefer anarchy over the rule of law by greedy corporatists and their lawyers, I usually discount such claims as coming from someone too ignorant to be trusted.

And that goes for religious zealots as well as pistol-packing, second-amendment-quoting skinheads and their ilk.

I feel this way because, if the above-referenced nutjobs are right, then we truly never should have climbed down out of the trees (or out of the spaceship, or up from the oceanic surf, or wherever you want to believe humanity came from). Because the mere act of climbing above our initial level of religious misunderstanding and social disorganization clearly did not bring with it any advance in wisdom.

Far from being a source of solace and succor in troubled times, as it is advertised in its many disguises, religion seems to be a dividing influence among various ethnic and social groups the world over.

As noted, too many of us have not developed the wisdom to accept that differing religious views should be tolerated, examined and debated rather than exterminated on sight.

Of course, it is true that the world’s religious doctrines and texts generally do not cleanly advocate the kind of violence that too often spins off from the rhetoric of faith.

But the intolerance of others’ viewpoints must come from somewhere, and it is that terrifying reality that gives me pause when I ponder the meanings behind the word — “religion.”

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