There are people who are absolutely convinced that religion does no good, is harmful to people and the best thing to happen would be to eradicate all traces of it from the face of the earth. These are people like Richard Dawkins (author of The God Delusion) and Christopher Hitchens (author of God Is Not Great — How Religion Poisons Everything), and many others in the New Atheist movement. My circle of friends includes a handful who think this way as well.
But not me.
While I myself am currently irreligious, and constantly criticize religion, and read and listen to the aforementioned authors, I cannot deny that my own upbringing in such an environment was beneficial, the greatest of which was meeting a girl in the church choir whom I eventually married.
I do not believe that religion does no good because it has done some good in my own life, as well as in the lives of many of my friends and relatives. I know many people who turned from a life of decadence and crime because of religion. Whatever the personal motivation was (fear of hell, guilt, shame, etc.), the end result was a life lived for the good rather than for destructive ends, and I would take that to be a good thing, all things considered.
So, you may ask, why do I spurn religion?
Before I answer that question, let me tell a story.
There was once a monastery where the head monk saw a stray dog on the road and decided to keep it as a pet. The dog was allowed to roam freely around the place, but it became a big distraction during the monks’ prayer times as it was quite playful and would move around them, licking their faces, climbing on their backs, and so forth.
The head monk then decided to tie the dog up to a post during prayer time. A few years passed and the dog passed away. The monks were so used to having a dog now that they got another one, and continued the practice of tying it to the post during prayer time.
A few years later, the head monk passed away, and a new head monk was chosen. He continued the practice of always having a dog, and having him tied up during prayer time.
A few centuries later, the monastery now attracted tourists because it featured a “prayer dog” in full ceremonial garb who was always present and tied-up during the monks’ prayer time. The monastery even had several volumes of written works extolling the spiritual virtues and benefits of having a dog tied up during prayer. Visitors were invited to put a few coins in a collection box near the dog — for good health and good fortune.
In a similar fashion, religion was originally a way for people to seek truth and meaning in life. In a very short while, however, it was no longer that. It became a vehicle to maintain and propagate beliefs. In the worst cases, it became a tool used to manipulate and exploit people. Most religious institutions do not really help people seek the truth. Instead, they claim to have already found it and their task now is to indoctrinate those who enter their doors to follow their teachings, their scriptures, their methods, their ways.
I remember sitting through a sermon many years ago where the pastor challenged the congregation to “seek the truth.” That woke me up. I was pumped, for around 2 seconds, because he repeated the phrase with an addendum, “Seek the truth, but don’t stray too far from the Bible,” and that totally deflated me. This was not an honest challenge. It was a rigged game. You cannot tell a person to seek anything and then put a leash around his neck.
It was not long after that when I turned my back on religion, but I realize this path is not for everyone. Many people are happy where they are, singing their hallelujahs or bowed on their prayer mats. My task is not to make everyone irreligious like me for then I would be guilty of the same indoctrination I so abhor. I simply aim to clarify and share the things I discovered along the way. If you happen to be on the same path as I am and find my stories helpful, I’m glad to have been of help. If not, well, it was nice meeting you anyway.
Originally published in Sunstar Davao.