“Faith is cold as ice, why are little ones born only to suffer, for the want of immunity, or a bowl of rice? Who would hold a price, on the heads of the innocent children, if there’s some immortal power to control the dice?” — Neil Peart, Roll the Bones
Faith is, indeed, as cold as ice. Disingenuous too. In this post, I intend to show that not only are the claims of faith specious, the faithful don’t believe their own press.
Let’s start with an obvious question: Why do churches carry insurance? Simple, you say, god helps those who help themselves. But you’d think those who believe in a higher power would certainly believe they have some kind of reduced risk. After all, they spend a lot of time praying for intercession, and with all the clean living they supposedly do, they should be in better graces with the almighty. Therefore, if some disaster befalls a devout congregation, what are we to make of it?
There are no statistical anomalies. A car with Jesus is God, Read the Bible plastered all across the back is no less likely to be in an accident than other cars. Nor were churches spared the wrath of recent hurricanes. Neither get a break on their insurance. If they felt entitled to divine protection, why would they gladly pay the same insurance rates as ‘heathens.’ Obviously, they really don’t believe in divine intercession.
Faith apologists will stop me right here: ‘Our faith is in our hearts, of course we have insurance, it would be foolish not to.’ I will then be chastised for being so literal. But wait, I say, I’m not the one who is being literal. Pat Robertson just told the residents of Dover, Pennsylvania that “God would not protect their town” from disaster, because they decided not to teach creationism in their schools. Who’s taking things literally??
As I was growing up, my parents had a decidedly morbid and superstitious fear of accidents and other calamities. That’s funny, because they were both self-proclaimed messengers of god. Their preoccupation with ‘dark forces’ was almost total. Their savior from the dangers of life was Archangel Michael, ‘defender of the faith.’ It’s funny they revered him so much, because he was also portrayed as a fearsome enemy of Earth. He fulfilled their agenda as a divine enforcer and agent for the returning ‘karma’ of humans. In one picture they commissioned, an artist depicted the good Saint Michael as a twenty-thousand mile tall being standing in space pouring a vial of what looks like sewage onto a hapless Earth. I guess we can assume that when the ‘cosmic sewage’ hits the earth, it produces things like tsunamis. Or H5N1 bird flu. It is this cruel juxtaposition of roles that shows the true horrors of faith: Behave yourself, and Archangel Michael will protect you. Screw up, and he will send his plagues upon you. This is little different than the rantings of the ‘old-testament prophets.’ It also smacks of a mafia protection racket. The faith that supposedly gives us hope and comfort, also scares us half to death. The only way to regain any sense of security is to pay our daily ‘protection’ to Saint Michael, lest he send his plagues upon us.
Saint Michael is also part of the demonization of human nature. This was started by the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages. We see dozens of artists depictions of a winged-Mike killing dragons. What are these dragons, and what do they represent? A thinly veiled metaphor for uncontrolled human nature, namely anger and repressed sexuality. These are always the enemy of the church, because they are powerful and represent self-direction, instead of abject kow-towing to the theocracy.
I recall these vicious myths being taught to the children in our church. There were nursery-rhyme-like prayers we would recite: Lord Michael Before, Lord Michael Behind…, and we would point our fingers forward then backward, to our left, to our right, etc., making us feel that we had an impenetrable cube of protection around us. Nothing could hurt us. I remember being told at the age of six, that after repeating another of these nursery-rhymes, the ‘Tube of Light,’ people in Africa had been shot at with guns, and literally had bullets bounce off them. I believed that until the age of about 12 or 13. Now I realize how convenient it was that the people were in Africa–no way for a young child to prove or disprove the claim.
Part of the routine when I was a kid was to say these nursery-rhymes (we called them ‘decrees’) for 15 to 30 minutes before going out to ride bikes or to skateboard. But that didn’t stop me from getting more than my share of scrapes and bruises. Nor from breaking my leg when I was skiing. When I would come to my mom in tears and ask her why Archangel Michael didn’t protect me, she would always say “think of how much worse it could have been.” Each bump and bruise left me with a little less faith, and a little less desire to repeat the evidently useless rhymes.
Another pernicious little myth she promoted was her theory of responsibility for injuries. If you got hurt on your left side, it was the ‘dark forces.’ If the injury was on the right side, it was your ‘karma.’ Either way, you were responsible. Left side, not enough decrees. Right side, your fault as payment for past sins. Where’s the hope? Where’s the compassion?
But did mom actually believe in Saint Michael herself? I think not. There was a time in the church community when quite a number of people had been injured on motorcycles. She proceeded to announce from the pulpit that “Archangel Michael would not protect anyone riding a motorcycle.” Wow. She also claimed that good old Arch wouldn’t protect you in a car either, if you were speeding. She used this a lot when people got tickets. How convenient and ironic, since her epilepsy prevented her from driving and ever experiencing such misfortune.
I could go on all day about the insanity of faith in the cult that was called the Church Universal and Triumphant. But, you say, other religions are not like that, other churches teach compassion, good works and helping others. Other churches serve an important social role.
Other faiths pull the same crap. They paint a picture of spiritual warfare, but then they wage it with real weapons. They pray for intercession against disasters, but then they take physical precautions. They hang pictures of saints and Jesus all over their houses, but they still pay their insurance. They don’t believe their own press.
And if they don’t believe it, why do so many people still participate in this hypocrisy? Part of it stems in my view from a real misunderstanding of probabilities, mingled with a vague sense of some value of religious tradition. Anyone who fears airplane crashes, earthquakes, meteor strikes, or plays the lottery needs to have their head examined. Especially if they also drive to church and smoke cigarettes. The lifetime odds of dying in an airplane crash are 1 in 20,000, a car crash 1 in 100. Dying in an earthquake is 1 in 132,000, whereas the combined risk of cancer and heart disease is 1 in 3. A churchgoer (or anyone) is about 1,000 times as likely to be die from a firearm (1 in 325) as being hit by a meteor (1 in 500,000) or winning the lottery.
It is the same lack of understanding of risk that contributes to our insane public policy in the United States, where we belch out coal smoke and vehicle exhaust (with greenhouse gas CO2 and deadly mercury and particulates) ad infinitum while dragging our feet on renewable energy projects due to “environmental” concerns. Most people don’t realize that according to a report released by the EPA, (EPA-410-R-99-01) about 4% of annual U.S. deaths are attributable to this fossil fuel inferno.
What of the faith of Islamic radicals, who seem to rest all on their visions of paradise. The bomber who bombed the Khobar towers with a fuel truck full of explosives was heard counting down on his cell phone: “10 seconds to see the virgins”, “9 seconds to see the virgins”, etc. until he blew himself apart. Would have saved a lot of lives if someone had just gotten him some hookers! If he was so devout, why was he so preoccupied with sex anyway? He obviously didn’t believe his own press either!
We would have had nothing to fear from Islam, if 19 hijackers hadn’t been able to commandeer 4 real planes, built of aluminum and steel, and full of fuel. We would have had nothing to fear, had U.S. fighters scrambled in time. Abortion clinics would not fear the so-called judgment of Saint Michael, if it weren’t for crazies with bombs. That’s the weakness and coldness of faith. Got nothing to show, can’t win any arguments, evidence fails time and again, full of crap and superstition, we’re going to prove that our faith works–by being its agent. If anything demonstrates the utterly destructive and insidious nature of faith, it’s this: Some people prefer to die than to change their beliefs. Isn’t this the very definition of a virus?? Something that uses a host to propagate, and then kills the host? This can be seen historically in the Ridley Scott vehicle Kingdom of Heaven, where the crusades are portrayed in all their “glory.” And sadly, we have plenty of evidence in our daily headlines.
Don’t be fooled. It’s not just the radicals. It is the very nature of belief itself that ultimately kills. How can believers profess to stand for goodness, morality, and social justice, and then spread pernicious lies about risks, the world, and the afterlife to their own children?? Moderates of all religions provide the nutrient-rich petri dish for radicalism. How far is it from the corner church to the pope? How far from the pope to Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson? How far from Pat Robertson to the abortion clinic bomber? How far from the single bomber to the hijacker of 767’s? How far from Osama bin Laden to the nuclear terrorist? In each case, it’s a matter of degree and commitment, not a difference of faith. In the case of a nuclear terrorist, it doesn’t take any more commitment than we’ve seen hundreds of times on buses and in hotels in the middle east. A suicide bomber is just as dead, whether he kills 10 or a million innocent bystanders.
With the holidays coming, it’s time we reflect on our myths, the ones that serve us, and the ones that do not. This year at Thanksgiving, I am primarily grateful that I am free from these superstitions. I have been delivered from the hell of irrational beliefs, which now survive only in my nightmares. My waking faith is in facts and probability, and the knowledge that my number could come up any day. No god or archangel will save me, nor can they hurt me. I must take advantage of every minute granted by this sheer indifference. It’s about as likely that I will die at the hands of a religious fanatic, as at the hand of nature. And nature–life on earth–is made possible only by the permission of geology and plate tectonics: which permission, as we’ve seen, can be revoked at any time.
So as Neil Peart would say, “Get out there and rock, and roll the bones, get busy!“