One of my initial ideas for the #creativact empathy task was to do something around religion and atheism. I ended up not turning it into a filming task, but I still think I need to post up my notes.
One recent Friday evening, I got approached by two separate guys, both of which started talking to me about religion. I don’t know if it was because of the Friday evening, but it was bizarre. The first guy was working for a church, giving out leaflets etc, so it kind of made sense why he started asking my about my beliefs.
The second guy, however, really surprised me. We started talking about Bulgaria and Nigeria, things like foods, traditions, the weather… and I really don’t know how he decided but he started asking me about my beliefs – and he ended up preaching to me and trying to convert me for the next hour (!).
Most of this blog’s readers probably know that I am not particularly religious. In Bulgaria, the official religion is Orthodox Christianity, but our society is not too concerned with religion. Yes, we do have lots of traditions and celebrations that originate in christianity, but most people are not believers. Some people go to church or marry in churches because that’s the tradition – not necessarily because they want God to be their witness.
My personal link to religion is even thinner – in my family, church has never been a favourite place to go, and if we did go in churches it was usually because it was an interesting tourist site – but not because we wanted to light a candle and we certainly didn’t believe this had a huge impact on our lives. Usually, when I walk into a church, I don’t really know what I am supposed to do, and since I don’t want to be hypocritical about these things, I usually just walk around quickly, and go out. I haven’t embraced religion and I don’t want to look like I have.
It’s been fascinating for me to observe people’s relationship with religion – especially since I came to the UK. I still don’t quite understand the scale of this connection – for example, I can’t possibly imagine going to a catholic or any other type of religious school, and I wouldn’t want these kinds of studies to be taught to my children.
I believe religion is something personal, that maybe you pick up from your family while growing up – but school is where you learn about life in a more scientific way. It is not the place to indoctrinate, especially since children are so vulnerable as we all know from the media studies we’ve been doing. It is, of course, good to study the Bible’s texts for illustrative and literary purposes (we had that in my high school books and it was indeed lovely). There are some very wise and beautiful stories, but then you also need to consider the wisdom in islam, budhism, and all the other religions – and take them as stories and not as a belief system.
For me, it is more important to have a good value system, that can also be outside of religion, and, let’s be honest, most religions do preach the same basic virtues. Even though I am not religious, I believe I carry a lot of these within me. What is more, I believe people are inherently good, and I try to always seek to find the good in them.
But back to the Nigerian guy. I asked him if he believed people are good. I expected this would be a straightforward conversation where we agree on something obvious – but I was wrong.
It turns out, in christianity, people are not good. In fact, you are born a sinner! Even before you are born, you are already a sinner just because Jesus decided to die for your sins… So when you become a christian, you already have this burden on your shoulder – you are guilty for Jesus’ sufferings – even if you never even asked for the favour.
Another thing that is quite concerning, I think, is the fact you are born a sinner but then Jesus already paid for your sins. So does that mean you can do whatever you want? I mean, if someone has already paid for this, doesn’t that give you the ultimate permission to sin? ‘This is a sin!’ ‘I know, I’m covered by Jesus Christ Insurance’. Quite disturbing, if you ask me.
Here is Julia Sweeney’s take on christianity, and especially on taking things literally:
I devoted a good weekend trying to understand religion… But since I wasn’t sure how to approach the believing part of the conversation, I found myself trying to understand it via people who are already studying it from a more skeptical perspective. Here is, for example, Michael Shermer, who argues blowing candles on a birthday cake is just as bizarre as kissing a cross, or whatever christian traditions there are in place. It’s just a matter of tradition and what meaning you put into a certain ritual, he argues – and we all do irrational things. Some of them are socially accepted (within a certain society), and some not.
A J Jacobs also did an interesting experiment – he spent a year living according to the christian rules. Interestingly, he makes a valid point that the Bible resembles Wikipedia in the way it was written – it’s had numerous authors and editors throughout the years, so it is more an interpretation than a guideline. He makes a very important distinction at the end of his talk – it’s well worth watching!
In conclusion, religion is a choice. I was happy it was not made for me by someone else, and I had the freedom to choose what to take from it. I don’t believe people should live feeling guilty, and I don’t believe we are sinners. I don’t want to be told that God created Man in His own image (and I don’t agree with all this Capitalisation), and then be told that we actually have the Devil within us making us sin all the time. I don’t want to carry the burden of Jesus’ blood that I didn’t ask to be sacrificed for sins I haven’t even committed yet…
So I choose to not be a christian. But does that make me a bad person? I just prefer to question things – as much as we like questioning people’s ethics, theories, science, etc., we should be able to also question religion. On that note, here is what the Oxford biologist Richard Dawkins had to say about it:
And last, here is Sam Richards’ take on empathy, using the example of religious wars:
TED Talks – links: