Slap-band Titanic (or, Jesus makes you crazy)

Religion is the most widespread untreated mental illness in the world. Ok? I said it. Not that I have exactly been sitting on the fence on this issue during my years of expressing loud opinions, but it’s important to put it firmly on the public record at some stage. While I do believe in respecting other people’s opinions, I don’t believe that madness can be considered an opinion. When a shambly street crazy comes up and mutters through his beard that Martin Luther King speaks to him each Tuesday through two or three common brands of instant pudding, I do not respect that man’s opinion, nor accompany him to the confectionary aisle to see what the good Doc has been up to lately. Nor do we as a society respect the opinions of his like. We do one or all of locking them up, medicating the hell out of them, keeping tabs on them, avoiding eye contact on the tram, corralling them in the outer suburbs during the Olympics, or handballing them to some nice healthcare professional to patronise them with “Of course they do, Barry. They’re colonising everyone’s eyes. Don’t worry now, eat your soup.”

So why the pretence of respecting ideas that are blatantly the work of a fragile grasp on reality, or a massive case of denial? I have been polite about this for so long, but really… If I know you, and you are religious, I will happily have this discussion with you any day of the week. Shit, I’ll even have it with randoms on the internet. And I’ll listen to you. I’m not out to shout you down. I actually want to understand this better. But I just can’t begin to comprehend what the hell you people are thinking. You look and sound like crazy people. If you can tell me why you’re not, then it’s Chips Ahoy for Captain McSavage. But right now the question is unanswered. Why is believing in Jesus or Yahweh or Vishnu or Harry the Bloody Dancing Fish God any different to believing in Superman? There are a lot of freaking books about Superman, after all. And surely with all that literature out there and all those devotees, it’s not like someone could have just made him up, is it? No smoke without fire, after all…

The thing that has tipped me into the red zone is this:

A New York City man who leapt 40 storeys from the rooftop of an apartment building has survived after crashing on to a parked car. Witnesses and police say 22-year-old Thomas Magill jumped from the high-rise at West 63rd Street on Tuesday. He landed in the backseat area of a Dodge Charger after crashing through the windshield.

The car’s owner, Guy McCormack, of Old Bridge, New Jersey, told the Daily News he is convinced that rosary beads he kept inside the Dodge saved Magill’s life. McCormack was not in the car at the time.

What in the name of Harry the Bloody Dancing Fish God is wrong with this thought process? My inanimate string of beads, imbued as they are with some mighty power of salvation, have done the job here today, ladies and gentlemen. Because I left a row of wooden balls on a string in the vicinity, the force of gravity when drawing a human body at high velocity into a collision with a large metal object was not sufficient to entirely kill the person to whom that body belonged. But why not attribute it to the Christmas tree deodorant hung from the rear-vision mirror? Or the 93 old receipts in the glove box?  How the hell does one imbue a simple accessory with such inordinate power? It’s like saying look, my slap-band sank the Titanic.

So because those rosary beads are somehow aligned with God, then God himself must have intervened and saved the poor unfortunate chap from death. Yes, sorry, if there are no beads, then no miracle for you. “Oh, there are appears to be a man falling from a building. Hmm. Any holy relics in his approximate landing zone? Any…artefacts? No? How about trinkets? A trinket will do. One of those plastic jobs from a souvenir shop? Anyone wearing a pendant nearby? Err…maybe a hot cross bun? No, afraid intersections don’t count. Oh well, looks like you’re shit out of luck, my son.”

And I note that in this oh-so-fortunate case, while God may have saved the guy’s life, He did in His unending benevolence and grace give him two broken legs and a host of internal injuries and leave him unconscious in intensive care. It’s a miracle. I mean, clearly the beads won him his reprieve, but God can’t just let you off scot-free. The guy did jump, after all, and the Book was very clear on the no killing yourself bit. “What did I say, Jayson? What did I say? No killy-willys!” Even if you think you’re saved, seems God can always fuck you on the technicalities. And while He may not have let the guy die in that moment, it rather looks like He’s just deferred the decision, maybe for another authority to take care of. So what does that make Him? Some sort of divine Met-cop, on the job taking names? “Sir…Sir…yes, I heard what you said, Sir. And what I’m telling you is, I’m not giving you a fine in this instance. All I’m doing is taking the details of the case, and I’ll then make a report to the Department of Infrastructure. They’ll decide whether to proceed from there.”

So why is any credence given to this particular strand of lunacy? If the guy had spat out any other random line of blather would they have reported it? “Mr Collins said that he often masturbates into a Kermit the Frog towel from his childhood. While he generally aims for the facial area, he said there was no sexual connection between him and the depicted frog, and it was more a question of geometry.” All very well, but not newsworthy. Yet a religious statement is of sufficient import to be reported, and must then be treated with great reverence. We frown on all other kinds of madness but exalt this one. It’s just another flavour. It’s like banning alcohol at the football, unless it’s grappa. Why grappa? Lord knows, but why not? Bring a hip flask.

This is not rhetoric. This is not a rhetorical post, and the following questions are not rhetorical. Someone please try to explain this to me. ‘My jewellery saved his life.’ Where the hell does this thought process come from? How can an apparently sane person claim that? And most incredibly, how do other people not contest that statement for fear of making themselves looking silly? “Because I left a banana in my freezer, there is free fish for all of Beijing on the Queen of Denmark’s birthday.” Oh, really? Well, you’re a fruitcake. Nothing more, Your Honour.

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6 Responses to Slap-band Titanic (or, Jesus makes you crazy)

  1. chernz says:

    Hmm I’d say religion deserves as much respect as any other opinion, that is – none. I respect people’s right to have and express their opinions, no matter how assinine – but the opinions themselves deserve no respect in and of themselves. I reserve the right to question, criticise, disrespect and plain insult opinions which I rationally judge to be stupid.

    And this is the crux of the problem as I see it – religious people seem to think their opinion deserves some kind of respect above and beyond that accorded to any other opinion. For some reason the opinion that their exists an invisible sky-daddy, who loves them personally and whom they know intimately and converse with regularly, unlike any other statement one might make about politics, philosophy, art or the universe, is somehow above criticism or even question. You always hear this justified by twee phrases like “you have to respect other people’s beliefs” – I’m sorry but why?

  2. Dale Slamma says:

    I am without faith but quite often I wish that I was not. I think it would be lovely to have everything worked out, to be able to find and believe reasons for what seems like a series of random events until you die.

    I have a vague and unformed theory about religion just being a way to cope with not knowing the answers to the big questions. I’m thinking along the lines of Clarke’s third law, ‘Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.’.

    Shit can be scary if you don’t know why or how.

  3. geoff says:

    Mr Cherny, you’re quite right: there’s a crucial distinction between respecting the right to an opinion and respecting the opinion itself. And like you, I don’t understand why it should be such a touchy subject. If someone is so convinced that they are infallibly and divinely right in their beliefs, then surely those beliefs should survive any kind of questioning, however crude or however thorough? People who suggest it’s inappropriate to challenge those beliefs only give away a weakness in them.

    I’ve had a lot of good arguments with religious people, and enjoyed. I usually try to be relatively courteous, though, because I want it to be clear that I don’t claim to know anything. I just have made my conclusions based on evidence. Never seen any kind of evidence for the existence of god, therefore I don’t think there is one. But I’d be open to changing my mind if any evidence ever came up. And I’m open to listening to religious people without hitting them in the head with my inflatable Atheist hammer. If there’s someone who can convince me that their crazy beliefs are not in fact crazy, then that person must be fascinating and erudite and I want to hear what they have to say.

    Ms. Slamma, your vague and unformed theory is a good summation of my own view of what religion is. In fact that’s exactly what religion is. The universe is big and scary and fucking confusing, so we try to see it in relation to our own experience – people make things, things have a purpose, there is order and reason and a linear timeline. And yes, anything you don’t understand does appear to be magic. Viz any magic trick ever, which immediately becomes un-magic when explained. Take your iPod back to the year 1600 and you would be burned as a witch.

    And so I understand the vague slug-brain impulse toward religious belief, but I don’t understand how the highly-evolved intellectual frontal lobe allows that mush to still be believed in. How does the same person believe ‘me turning my keys makes the car start by triggering an igniter that initiates an internal combustion reaction’, and ‘me keeping jewellery in the car affects the safety of those who collide with it at high speed’? One is based on a chain of logic, the other on a chain of crazy. Or a non-chain. There is no connection. It’s a non-sequitur. A frog and an earring. How are the two modes of thought compatible?

  4. kninja says:

    C’mon, do you really need someone to tell you? Surely from experience by now you’ve figured out that trying to apply rational thinking or reasoning to anything concerning faith is an exercise in futility. The whole concept of faith is essentially to believe in something which has no proof, and in the instance of religion it is perpetuated by the idea that the whole purpose is to believe in something BECAUSE there is no proof.

    You’re pointing the finger at religion, but really religion is not really an illness, its merely a symptom of other far more fundamental human traits – fear. Fear of death, fear uncertainty, fear of being persecuted and powerless to help yourself, fear of having to make decisions and choosing badly, fear of having to stand up for yourself. Religion caters to all these conditions by providing an idea that people can cling to that enables them to overcome the paralysis of fear. An afterlife, assurance, a protector, a higher power to cry out to when you are incapable of saving yourself, a rule book to tell you how to live so you dont have to make up your own mind, and providing a convenient scape goat should things not go your way. ‘my life is shit because it is part of god’s plan, and i know some day his purpose will be revealed to me’.

  5. geoff says:

    I like this comment so much. I could have written a multi-thousand word essay to reach that exact same summary that you just nailed. I probably still will, because I like writing essays. But I like succinctness too.

    I certainly understand where the impulse for belief comes from. But you and I have those same impulses of fear, and are able to transcend them rationally. I will die, no-one will save me, it will all end, and I’m ok with that. I don’t understand how people who apparently understand logic (like the fact that gravity made that guy fall onto the car in the first place) also give credibility to such patently anti-logical ideas.

    Logic and faith are antithetical, but how people incorporate both into their lives is… just hypocrisy, really. Make a call.

  6. Jo says:

    I classify myself as agnostic. Something that fascinates me, though, is the way altruism is upheld in many religions as a highly desirable human trait. This would, at first glance, seem to be at odds with the theory of survival of the fittest. However, the need to reproduce indefinitely in order to ensure the continuance of our genes only makes sense under the assumption of infinite resources. As soon as you accept that a system is finite, it becomes clear that perpetual growth is unsustainable and the ultimate goal has to be system balance.

    Thus, I’ve come to the conclusion via a non-religious line of enquiry that altruism is the key to our future survival. It seems to me that most of the big challenges we face (climate change, loss of biodiversity, overpopulation, resource scarcity) can only be solved via a global philosophy that is rooted in this religiously-favoured value.

    From a biological perspective, the ultimate act of altruism is reducing your own species’ reproductive capacity in order that other species may thrive. Admittedly, the modern religious view of altruism has typically been about putting the needs of other humans ahead of one’s own, not other species. But when you consider that harmony with nature features heavily in many eastern, ancient and tribal religions, it seems to me that a species-wide trend is evident. I wonder whether there are two competing genetic urges in humans as highly evolved organisms: the urge to reproduce, and the urge to recognise a system’s limits and seek balance.

    Expanding upon this line of thought, whereas the dominant economic religion of our times – capitalism – is devastatingly aligned with the need to grow, now we need an alternative, altruism-based mechanism for managing economies and societies. Further, I wonder if our unquestioning adherence to the dogma of consumerism has dulled our perception of what we once understood at a genetic level, that for our species to continue evolving, we must eventually deny our instinct to grow.

    Perhaps religion originally emerged in human culture not only to help us explain what we couldn’t understand, but also to give expression for some of the wisdom that we carry at an instinctual level. Sadly, along the way we have twisted it into a tool to achieve our own flawed ends. So I guess what I’m saying is, perhaps an aspect of religion is that in its purest, most unadulterated form, it can function as an evolutionary safety mechanism: an off-switch that “life” itself has programmed into all of us to ensure its own survival.

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