Belief

It is often said that there are certain topics you should avoid discussing, especially in polite society.  So in my usual way, I've decided to go in hard.  If religion or politics makes you feel faint, tune out now.  I have chosen to write about this, after watching two things on TV last week: Richard Dawkins - Sex, Death and the Meaning of Life, and Kumare.  To set the scene I should say that I don't have a religious learning at all and am firmly in the atheist camp.  I've always lived my life by my own personal ethics, which when boiled down amounts to this: Be nice and try not to hurt anybody.  Like most people, I have been more successful at living up to this idea at differing times in my life.  But hey, we're all trying our best.

I remember being primary school age and camping at Partarlington with my family (which we did every summer).  Fliers were handed out advertising activities and games for kids.  Excitedly I went along, only to discover it was like Sunday School and there was much talking about God before any fun took place.  I sat on the ground, staring at the dried summer grass feeling uncomfortable and quite out of place.  I was on my own and didn't feel I could just get up and leave.  I often think back to this as I had quite a physical reaction to Christianity.  In High School my favourite subject was Art.  Our teacher talked about architecture and paintings inspired by religion - as many were in the Renaissance.  She said how churches had carvings and images of hell, so illiterate people could understand the horror that awaited them, if they didn't believe.  That has always made me so angry.

So this brings me to Richard.  In his calm and measured way, he discusses religion and society.  In a glorious moment he spoke to someone collating statistics regarding sex.  A survey was undertaken by many people regarding their sexual activities, especially masturbation, oral sex and pre-marital sex.  The stats showed that in participatory numbers it was pretty even between those who were religious and those who weren't.  The big difference however, related to a question about guilt.  Not surprisingly it showed everyone was doing the same thing, but that religious people people felt really terrible about it. Richard also spoke to an American helping black kids get out of the gangs and off the streets.  He had started a school and was teaching the kids about respect, understanding, empathy and how to contribute to a community.  I had to salute him, but again it was taught with the fear of hell and damnation as the big stick.  I find it sad that being a better human being isn't enough of a carrot to entice people to understand these things.

This leads me to the next TV moment.  If you haven't seen Kumare, I strongly urge you to.  It's a documentary following the film maker as he becomes a fake guru.  He isn't doing it to mock people, but more to see if he could do it - and especially after his own experience with guru's in India.  Surprisingly, he does get a band of followers and even though he tells them he is a fake, they subscribe to his beliefs.  I think what was at the heart of his success was that he listened to people.  He heard their stories and slowly told them to look within themselves, after all they had the answers to what would make them happy.  People prioritised themselves, learned to let go of fear, be nicer to themselves and others and do what makes them happy.  But he does have to come clean to his followers about who he really was. I won't spoil this, as it was compelling viewing.  Ultimately he was helping people believe in themselves, not through fear or guilt, but out of the very western first world problem of not being happy.

I have friends who believe and have their own faith.  I have seen it help people and give them strength and a community.  I guess I tend to feel upset by the doctrine that excludes others.  In the ABS Census it shows that there is a decline in Catholic and Christian numbers and an increase in 'no religion' and others such as Buddhism and Islam.  I guess sitting here on the atheist fence, I can see the landscape changing.  The reality is not everyone can be right and I guess we'll all find out one day if there really are pearly gates or a firey hell...or nothing.  It is this fact that makes me despair at political decisions made based on religious conservatism.

I'm married, but I lived for many years with a couple of different partners...UN-WED.  Getting married had nothing to do with religion, but everything to do with love.  This fact seems to have been forgotten somewhere by those people elected to represent the masses.  I have friends who love each other and would like to get married.  The problem is they are both women.  I asked them if they'd get married overseas, and their response was that when they came home it would mean nothing legally.  And this, my friends is bullshit.  Religion is getting in the way of this basic human right, and it's making us look quite discriminatory in the process.  I'm not pro-marriage, but I believe that anyone who wants to should be able to.  Similarly if you just want to live with your partner, go for it.

Perhaps life would be easier if everyone gave space for everyone else's beliefs.  I'm not talking about nut-job fundamentalist extremists here, just space for everyone to do their thing.  We should be looking at how we all contribute to the community, show empathy and understanding, find happiness and perhaps be nice...and not hurt anyone.

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