Religion has existed since humans evolved enough to think that abstract. In our early development religion made a lot of sense. We had no idea how the natural world worked, we lived in shaky, ramshackle shelters and were surrounded by dangers of all kinds; life was precarious even in the best of times. Even I must admit if I was in their shoes storms, earthquakes, eclipses and other natural phenomena would be terrifying. Religion helped explain all of these kinds of things, so it made sense. It served some other purposes to early civilizations as well:
- Community/Social: Religion gave people something in common with their neighbors. Single churches, synagogues and temples served as a center for community and socialization for entire cities.
- Cultural: There is no denying how much culture religion provided for early civilizations. Countless works of art, music, architectural wonders and invention have been inspired by religion.
- Ethics: Early civilizations also benefited from moral guidance provided by religions when we were still learning how to treat each other and behave. Religions also gave an early way to enforce whatever was considered acceptable.
- Existential: Religion gave meaning and purpose to early cultures that were still struggling with philosophical questions about life and death.
Religion was so much of a help to early civilization it took complete control of it in most parts of the world. The Roman Catholic Church, the Church of England, Islamic and Jewish Councils etc. came to rule with power parallel with the governments of the countries they existed in, sometimes greater. Well all know of the chaos, incalculable misery and suffering that ensued. We still have an incredible amount of problems.
As civilizations grew religion slowly started to see more and more criticism and rebellion.
- By the middle ages great schizms began occurring within the great religions. Other religions began to surface out of discontent with existing ones.
- Into the Renaissance philosophers and historical figures began to criticize religious belief.
- It wasn’t until this past century that religions started coming under heavy criticism, there was even ‘open’ atheists.
- Finally over the past 50 years or so more and more are letting go of religion and are feeling free to criticize it. We are even seeing the benefits of countries being religion free.
It hasn’t been an easy journey to feeling free to criticize religion.When criticized the religious can get rather defensive as the crusades, witch burnings, inquisitions and other kinds of chaos, murder and mayhem still proves every single day. John Lennon, an icon of love and peace, received nationwide ridicule and death threats for an offhand remark that the Beatles were ‘bigger than Jesus’. Salman Rushdie still lives under an Islamic death threat for writing a book. There is no doubt that the religious feel entitled to special treatment and get offended when their beliefs are are criticized.
First off let me be clear how I feel about being offended, nicely articulated by Steve Hughes.
Is it wrong mock, ridicule or offended religion? Clearly Not. When one considers the colossal suffering religion has brought into the world it is impossible to believe that religion deserves special treatment. As James Spader (as lawyer Alan Shore) in Boston Legal so eloquently put:
And I don’t know about you, but I’m getting a little tired of this whole “freedom of religion” thing. I mean, when did religion get such a good name anyway? Be it the Crusades, the Reformation Genocides, the troubles in Northern Ireland, Middle East, mass slaughters in the name of Allah, as well as the obligatory reciprocal retribution. Hundreds of millions of people have died in religious conflicts. Hitler did his business in the name of his Creator. 9/11 was an act of religious extremism. It is, in fact, our greatest threat today — a Holy Jihad. And if we’re not ready to strip religion of its sacred cow status, why don’t we at least scale back a bit on the constitutional dogma exalting it as all get-out?
We are talking about criticizing their religion, not them as a person. Unless you know a person really well personal attacks and premature judgements of their character are immature and ignorant.I will rarely attack a person for being religious and would never take away their freedom to practice it. But I will criticize their religion, sometimes pretty harshly. Given religion’s ongoing history there is nothing sacred about it and so if they get offended, at the risk of sounding immature, I can’t help but want to say ‘Cry me a river’.
“Let me just tell you something. For hundreds and thousands of years, this kind of discussion would have been impossible to have, or those like us would have been having it at the risk of our lives.
Religion now comes to us in this smiley-face, ingratiating way – because it’s had to give so much ground, and because we know so much more. But you’ve no right to forget the way it behaved when it was strong, and when it really did believe that it had god on its side.” Christopher Hitchens