Functioning Religioholics.

With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion. ~ Steven Weinberg

God, I love whiskey.  Love, love, love it.  I also have a sweet little thing going with Vodka, on the side.  And if I’m being honest, I’ve been known to drink rum, tequila, wine, beer… Essentially, I’m a liquor slut.  But whiskey is my first love.  The Juliet to my Romeo.  The Kate to my Leo.  The Tina to my Ike.  Hmm, that last one might not be the best example.

What I’m saying is I love me some spirits.  The visible kind.  Not the Casper kind.

Am I an alcoholic?  Well, no, I don’t go to meetings.  Har har.  But seriously, no, I’m not an alcoholic.  I’m a heavy drinker, but my love for the stuff hasn’t crossed the line to a need for the stuff (maybe down the line; fingers crossed).

Why is alcohol bad?  Well, it can cause you to lose control.  It can make you ill.  It can kill you.  Those who give in to its control may lose their jobs, their families, their homes.  Essentially, alcohol can make you lose your life in whatever form that may take.

Why is alcohol good?  Oh, the reasons are innumerable.  The taste.  The way it makes you feel.  The way it socially lubricates.  The way it can take a long, hard day and just erase it, even if only temporarily.  It makes a dull party fun and makes a fun party memorable (up until the point that you can no longer remember).  I could go further, but I’ll press on.

With self-control and balance, alcohol can always be good.  It’s only when drinking passes a certain threshold that it switches sides and becomes bad.  It is, like most everything else in our life, a wonderful gift to modern man, up until the moment that it is taken in excess.

So, what’s my point?  The title of this post isn’t about alcohol, obviously.  (And yes, I known the whole -oholics thing on the end of words is stupid, but it’s also an easy shorthand that everyone understands.)

Faith is a lot like alcohol.  It functions in a person to bring about positive feelings.   For instance, it can help you through hardships and tragedy, or soften your fear of death or insignificance.  It also can be a kind of social lubricant, as it provides a bond between people, even complete strangers.  As well, it gives the sense that your life has a purpose, which is essentially like saying it gives you confidence in your self-worth.  Quite a bit like alcohol, wouldn’t you say?  (I was going to make a joke about faith not tasting very good, but I don’t want to hammer on Catholic Priests too much in this post.)

And like alcohol, when faith is taken too far, it stops being so good.  Faith can lead to bigotry.  It can be the root of abuse (in any form you can imagine).  It can lead to murder, both singular and mass.  Faith has been behind some of the greatest atrocities in human history.  Essentially, faith taken to the extreme is religion.  Just as a drinker who has too much alcohol can become an alcoholic, a person who allows faith too much control of his or her life can become a Religious Extremist:  A Religioholic.  (I swear, I won’t use that term ever again.)

The atheist argument against religion almost always leads to the same point:  The Crusades.  9/11.  Catholic Abuse of Choirboys.  Essentially, it just becomes a litany of well-known evils.  Usually, the faithful respond in kind, listing off famous Atheists who have done horrible things:  Hitler (not an Atheist; a Catholic, or just a generic theist).  Stalin.  Pol Pot.  Fair enough, those last two were pretty convincingly atheists.  But, that of course misses the point.  The actions of Stalin and Pol Pot were not done in the name of no-God.  They did not kill millions because they felt compelled by the non-existence of God to kill.  They did it because they were evil fucks, and as Hitler proved, an evil fuck can believe in God.  Evil fucks will do evil fucking shit, and they have done it since the beginning of time, belief in God or not.

My point is not to say, “Belief in God makes you do evil things.”  As is evidenced by the billions of believers (in whatever religious/faith system) who have never killed a person in the name of their God, having faith is not inherently a bad thing (it is not inherently a good thing either, but I’ll get to that).

As I said before, faith is like alcohol.  Follow me down this metaphor trail: There are millions of people who enjoy a drink now or then, on holidays, or when family is around.  They have a few drinks, have a good day and then go about their daily lives and rarely think about another drink.  Then, there are millions who drink on a regular basis, but it’s more like a weekly affair, they have their drinks on the weekend and then they go the rest of their week sober as a priest on Sunday.

Then we get to the heavier drinkers.  There are those who drink daily, not to an unhealthy degree, more of a European style drinker, where wine with dinner is a normal occurrence, and that person rarely gets drunk (maybe at parties or on special events).  These people know how to enjoy drinking and rarely let it get the better of them (everyone has a weak night once in awhile).

Then we get to the alcoholics.  Contrary to socially conscious wisdom, there are actually two kinds of alcoholics:  Fuck ups and Functioning Alcoholics.  AA and recovering alcoholics may tell you that the functioning alcoholic is a myth, but the fact is, there are people who drink to excess and still manage to hold onto steady work, pay bills, maintain a family.  Are they healthy?  No.  Are they living up to their highest potential?  Probably not.  But they are functioning, getting through life with no major disasters.

I hope you don’t need me to spell out the metaphor here.  If you’re religious, you fall somewhere along this spectrum, too, just reword the last 3 paragraphs so they read about religious activity instead of drinking and it should make sense.

When I was religious, I was right in that middle ground.  I was a daily indulger in my faith, it was central to my life, but I had aspects of my life that didn’t revolve around religion and at times, I actually wanted a break from it all.  Don’t get me wrong, there were periods in my life where I definitely straddled the fence of being a Functioning Religioh… er… I mean, religious extremist.  But I’d say I remained fairly firmly planted in the real world, even at my most zealous.

We all know who the Alcoholics of Faith are.  Suicide Bombers.  Abortion doctor killers.  The Pope.  (I’m not going to apologize; the man has been given all the authority in the world by his religious followers and he uses it to protect his own ass, not those of the children who have been abused.  If the Catholic church weren’t so powerful, he’d be arrested.)

But who are the Functioning Alcoholics of Faith?  Well, Fred Phelps for one.  Some people would question me putting him in this category and not the former, but I think it’s fair.  He hasn’t physically harmed anyone (that I know of), he’s just a vile piece of shit who spews hatred.  He’s a horrible person, yes, but he functions within the bounds of the law; he’s a pathetic weasel in that way.

Pat Robertson would also go in this group.  Ted Haggard, too.  Any number of Fundamentalist Preacher types.  And this is true in other religions, too, but I live in America and so I really don’t see much outside of the Christian bubble.  These kinds of people don’t necessarily do evil themselves, but their hateful, disgusting preaching can lead to it, either by inciting people to action or by influencing politics.

I draw the line at them, because below that are the many charitable, loving, peaceable members of faith, those who are not perfect and may on occasion cause harm to their fellow human being, but who in general try to be decent people with at least some inclination towards actively bettering other’s lives.

Here’s where the problem lies.  Without those decent, loving, Brady Bunch members of faith, there could be no religious extremists.  Religious extremism cannot last in a bubble. Suicide bombers are going to kill themselves all off.  Abortion clinic bombers are going to all go to jail.  This Pope will die off, sooner than later we hope.  Alcoholism is not a sustainable lifestyle.  Even the functioning types will die off without a network of drinkers and alcohol providers around.

Those people who say, “Faith is a good thing, religion is where it goes wrong,” mean well, but what they don’t seem to get is that faith is the root of it all.  Religion is merely a way of harnessing faith.  But if people didn’t have faith, religion would have no power.  What makes faith a powerful tool is that there are no limitations on it.  Anything that is believed with no evidence (or with only the most flimsy of evidence) is a manifestation of faith, and when it comes to unprovable beliefs, any one is as good as any other.

You can’t very well criticize a suicide bomber’s faith by any practical standards if your own faith is no more provable than his.  Yes, your faith in peace, love and lollipops may be more palatable to your average consumer, but that doesn’t mean it’s any more right.  The largest religious body is Catholicism, and you see the horrors being done under their watch, so we can hardly say Might Makes Right in that scenario.

Whether you believe in a hippie, peace-loving Jesus or alien overlords, reincarnation or the Flying Spaghetti Monsters (or Goblets, for that matter), if your faith is based on nothing more than your personal feelings or the inconsequential evidence of your psuedo-scientific pursuits, you have no means with which to judge other people’s faith as good or bad.  Other than your feelings, of course, but that just puts us back in the merry-go-round of whose feelings do we trust, yours or those of any one of the other 7 billion people on earth.

Your willingness to put aside any sort of critical evaluation for faith (and how could you critically evaluate a matter of faith) leaves the door open for the Religious Extremists.  This isn’t a slippery slope argument where I say faith inevitably leads to extremism.  I simply mean, there will always be nutjobs and those who can’t handle their liquor (in whatever denomination available), and those who unquestionably support faith as a virtue are the enablers of the religious world, providing a zone of safety where religious faith cannot be questioned and religious extremism can fester.

I’ve heard it countless times when I’ve called out a specific religious misdeed.  Instead of religious people saying, “Yeah, I agree, that was horrible,” they chime in with a lot of, ‘Yeah, but…’ statements.

“You can’t generalize about all religions from that one instance.”

“You can’t lump all Catholics in with them.”

“Plenty of religious people donate money to charity.”

You’re right.  Instead of focusing on the atrocity perpetrated by some religious leader or group in the name of God, your energy is better used making sure I don’t brush with too broad a stroke.

Never fear, I get it.  Most religious people are decent people.  But they would be decent people without religion, too (if religion is the only thing keeping a rapist or murderer from unleashing his true self, I don’t want to live next door to him).  Yeah, maybe faith makes them happier, but alcohol can do the same thing.  And alcohol can be measured out.

So, what is my conclusion?  Do I think we should abolish all religious belief, ban it from America like it was a drug?  No, of course not, no more than I would want anyone to ban alcohol (and as any student of history could tell you, it clearly wouldn’t work).

I’m writing to an audience of one.  You.  I’m not seeking to encourage mass changes in our society, or to turn public consensus against faith.  It’s religion’s job to control the mind of the masses.

I’m merely asking you, consider the failings of your faith.  Consider the limitations.  And question your feelings.  Remember the wisdom of the prophet Thom Yorke:  Justcause you feel it doesn’t mean it’s there.

(I hold science in such high esteem precisely because it’s mechanism of knowledge is built on questioning and testing perception.)

I get it, your faith brings you happiness, relieves some pain in your life, and brings you closer to family and friends.

Alcohol can do the same thing, though.  And while you may drive your car into a tree under its influence, you’ll never fly a 747 into a building because of it.

Think about that the next time you’re saying, “Oh, don’t worry about me, I can handle my religion.  I’m not like my dad, I’m only a social believer, I can quit anytime I want.”

12 thoughts on “Functioning Religioholics.

  1. God! I love whiskey,too!

    It took me a long time to admit that I’d crossed the line ,over into alcoholism.
    So ,no,I don’t drink any more.
    It would be much easier for me if there were no alcohol around.But there is .

    Your metaphor is very apt.

    I don’t see why anyone would bother with booze at all if they’re not going to get seriously drunk – what’s the point?

    What’s the point of religion if it means little to you ? Same thing.

    I go to AA. Great fellowship, nothing like sharing a problem to lighten it.And I’ve been successful in staying sober.
    But I NEVER get into discussions about “God” – they lead nowhere & a lot of alkies get really upset if you say you’re agnostic.
    I can’t “believe”in the Church, Jesus, Kingdom of Heaven & all that – haven’t been able to in over 60 years,since I was a small child.

    I stick with the AA friends I like, who don’t preach. We try to live a better life now that we’ve stopped damaging ourselves & breaking our loved ones’ hearts.We have a good time.Life is good.People are good.

    But I do get worried about newcomers being turned off by the God stuff in AA.However,I try to help through what I call “human kindness”.

    We all have it in us .You seem to have a lot of it!

    I really enjoyed reading your point of view – refreshing & down-to-earth,& non-ranting.


  2. I definitely don’t think this song is about me, but I will say if there wasn’t a God and if I didn’t believe, I’d be directing porn right now and I’d be rich.

    Make of that what you want.

    Thankfully I do believe, and just like my liquor, { I’ve discovered I’m an excellent happy drunk btw, I only had the one barf incident and now I’m a ninja at staying tossed without tossing, thank you very much} I like to think I have a good sense of control, that I can measure the limits where my faith starts tipping into extremism same as I can whether my sake threatens to come up right after its gone down.
    Not saying that I have my shit down, I’ve admitted I don’t, I’m nowhere near perfect, but I continue to try and to feel its important. Which makes my life much more meaningful to my own truth. And in this world of excess and “ok” where almost anything goes and brands are more significant than people, don’t you agree with me that thats a lot? Especially since I’m not on the opposite end of the spectrum, I’m no extremist.

    I identify that I’d direct bangin porn for goodness sakes.

  3. Well that’s cos you don’t own the handy dandy Ivy to English translator, only 3 easy payments of 19. 95 and you too could understand me.
    You know you want it.

    I meant that I’m no religious extremist. I’m a girl who believes because she’s seen things in her own life that convince her God is real, it’s not because I’m a nicer or more moral a person than the next. My post was above was sort-of a continuation to a facebook discussion he and I were having..which we have approx every 6 mos.

    Neither one of us usually has new material. 😉

    I stated first sentence that I could (and certainly would} direct some great porn if I hadn’t my belief in God. I’m a normal person with urges, I’m neither innocent nor extreme. My faith compel me to do insane acts in the name of religion- because why would God want that anyway?
    Above the thumb/ brain killer combo he gave us, clearly the biggest gift we recieved being sentient able creatures is choice.
    It’s not for me to try to guide anyones but my own.

  4. The problem that ‘spiritual’ people don’t seem to ever be able to address is the contradictions. You, Ivy, seem too be one of those people who is willing to believe anything, as long as it claims to be ‘spiritual.’

    Let me ask you, is there anything you don’t believe in? Do you not believe that Muhammad was a prophet of Allah? Do you not believe that demons enter humans and control them? Do you not believe in the so-called Thetans of the Scientology belief system.

    I think that your willingness to accept any claim to spirituality is rooted in the fact that you seem uninterested in actually exploring them, questioning them, investigating their claims. “Science can’t explain everything” so let some crackpot fill in the gaps.

    You say things like, “Jesus might be the Son of God” and “I’ve seen ghost cats” without knowing how those two ideas are completely incongruous (you really should read the Bible). The reason no one could ever ‘disprove’ your version of the spiritual world is that it has no form. It’s anything and everything you need it to be at any moment, and if it ever fails to live up to testing, it doesn’t matter because you change the definition.

    Ultimately, as I said before, your spiritual belief isn’t based on anything more substantial than making you feel better. The irony is, as an atheist with no belief in any form of spiritual, I am more contented and happy than you seem to ever be, because I do not have to question my actions (“bad Jesus” causes me no mental pain) or worry that I’m not on the right path. Your faith in the spiritual world is more of a hindrance than you realize. True peace and freedom is realizing that happiness comes from controlling your own life, not giving it up to the invisible whims of an intangible force.

    What does your spiritual belief give you? Temporary relief from pain? You’ve already admitted that your daily life is a struggle. So how is dipping into spirituality any different than dipping into alcohol, or cocaine or porn or episodes of The Simpsons? They’re all temporary fixes for permanent pain, and as you prove, spirituality offers no lasting solution.

  5. Dear lyttleton,

    I find Taoism very fine.
    It counsels us to not name that of which we know nothing & for which we have no words.
    I have read little about it ,but find that I am drawn to Taoism.

    I suppose you could say I am an atheist in the true sense of A-Theism.
    But I am most definitely spiritually alive, being artistic,loving colour, movement,music, the beauty of people & fellow animals.

    I find it pointless to engage in jousting with religious people about their beliefs , which is why I said thanks to Ivy & ended the exchange.

    I’d be interested in knowing your thoughts about this, & about Taoism.

  6. Taoism is not one of the spiritual beliefs I’ve studied. I have a passing familiarity with the general spirituality of it, but not enough to comment it on.

    The morality of Taoism (compassion, moderation, and humility) are absolutely excellent moral points of view. The spiritual background for it, to me, though, is unnecessary.

    As an atheist, I can be compassionate, practice moderation, or have humility (though, I am fucking awesome). It is almost always pointless to joust with religious people, as you said. But I feel it is worth it if I can convince even one of them to ask themselves tough questions about their faith.

    The spiritual belief always starts out innocent, well-intentioned, and with the desire to do good. Rarely, though, does it remain that pure.

    If you can believe in the inherent rightness of compassion, moderation, and humility, and you don’t need a belief in the spiritual world to support it, isn’t that so much better?

  7. Jen B, what’s with the rude dismissal, because anyway who was jousting with you? Wasn’t I just answering your question?

    Joseph, did you respond before or after our conversation? I don’t think I ever said that I believe “in anything that claims to be spiritual”. Where did I give of that impression?
    In fact I think I made it clear that I don’t really know what about ‘spirituality’ is true, nor what to name it really. “Spirituality” or “God” -I’ve explained to you before- are just place holder words to me, to be able to communicate an idea as effectively as I can in english. I don’t think those words actually fit given the stigmas attached to them. We can use goblet if you like for spirituality, and Holy father instead of God and it works the same for me.

    Bottom line and what I am willing to say that I believe is that there is something bigger than me, something that goes along with evolution and science {I think its silly that one needs to exist instead of the other.}
    Besides that, it’s basic. I’ve gleaned from what has happened to me in my life, the reflection and results that I interpret, that there is a God and that I symbiotically want to be as kind and graceful in my daily interaction as possible.. Simple as that.

    And that human as I am, I will try to moderate myself within the guidelines I think are right.

    To make it clear, anything I believe beyond that I hold as just my own private feelings or interpretations, which is why I don’t try to change your mind or anyone elses. I’m just having a conversation. I’m listening to what you have to say and sharing my opinions and the things I’ve learned also. Because is your point that only you have the ability to make another person consider and think? Are your own learnings over?
    As for me I’m open to it, thats why I say Hi every so often, and kick it in this mode for a day or so, to test my convictions precisely because I’m not afraid of looking or knowing, or even learning something. I’m trying to have more exposure to foreign ideas. Dude, I pause and really listen to you when you speak, though yeah I do have my own things to say, it doesnt mean I’m set in concrete or stone.

    “The spiritual belief always starts out innocent, well-intentioned, and with the desire to do good. Rarely, though, does it remain that pure.”

    Remove “The spiritual belief,” apply the rest of it to all of mans outlooks, like..friendship, conversation, etc etc.. its the same. Why? Ego. And wanting to sound great or be right or gain or whatever else is the daily drug.

    “If you can believe in the inherent rightness of compassion, moderation, and humility, and you don’t need a belief in the spiritual world to support it, isn’t that so much better?”

    Why would man believe in the inherent rightness of compassion/ moderation / humility without another beyond himself to ask him to do it.
    Honestly, are you all those things, often, motivated by your own character?

    But yeah, I agree it would be so much better… if it was so.

    • *first off, yes, I responded before our phone convo*

      Actually, yes, I think I have the ability to practice compassion, moderation and humility without a belief in God. Or at least, I have the ability as well as anyone who has a belief in God.

      You talk about how the belief in God helps you be a better person (I’m using shorthand here), but yet you still struggle to be good sometimes. How does that make you any different from an atheist who is good a lot, but still stumbles?

      This is ultimately my biggest problem with religious/spiritual belief. It supposedly helps someone be a better person, yet there are countless spiritual people who struggle with depression, selfishness, asshole-ishness or any other countless issues. And I know there are absolutely self-less, compassionate, humble atheists, doing good things for other people.

      You say you believe in a world that is bigger than yourself. I do, too. It just happens to be a completely natural world, in which I am just an infinitesimal organism in a vast universe. Can you explain to me how your belief in God makes you more humble than my knowledge that I am a product of millions of years of evolution? Either way, we both understand that we are small and we must make the most of our lives. The only difference is, my understanding is based in fact, and yours is based in faith.

      The facts remain steady, but your faith can waver. If you base your entire system of morality on a belief in God and that belief crumbles, what happens to your morality? My morality remains steadfast because it’s based on logic and reason. Even if I was shown that there was a God, my morality would remain unchanged.

      If you were somehow shown without a doubt that there was no God, would your moral sense remain the same? If you say no, then I’m sorry for you, you have a flimsy foundation for morality. If you say yes, then you admit that your morality isn’t actually based on God, he’s just the symbol you use to explain it.

  8. Sorry Ivy.Yes, it was rude.
    I just wanted to get out of the whole tangled mess because for me the
    bottom line is this : nobody, but nobody, knows or has ever known who or what “God” is.
    As for the future, well, we’ll see…..

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