The Irony Of Religion

“The irony of religion is that because of its power to divert man to destructive courses, the world could actually come to end. The plain fact is, religion must die for mankind to live.” Bill Maher, Religulous

As a Buddhist sage once said to Nobel Laureate Richard P. Feynman: ‘To every man is given the key to the gates of heaven. The same key opens the gates of hell.” Something good, put in the service of bad intentions will have a bad effect; while something bad put to good use can be transmuted into a positive. The irony that Maher finds in religion is not the irony of religion, but the irony of all things powerful: their ends are not predetermined, but determined only by the use to which man puts them.

Guns, science, morality too – all have the power to destroy, corrupt or cripple man – and with him, unfortunately, so much more of everything else. But this power is not inherent to object – it does not lie (with)in the object, but within man. The power actually lies in man’s free will to use the object toward whatever end, to put the object in the service of x. The plain fact is not that religion must die for mankind to live – that is like taking a child’s toy away so that he does not have to learn how to share with his playmates. The plain fact is that man must gain mastery over himself in order for mankind to live, peacefully.

Now I understand that Maher has more faith in rational humanity’s ability to extirpate faith than to install self-mastery, poise and temperance. Perhaps we have not yet learned – though I think there are enough examples in history to dispel the idea that man has never been able to use religion, or better still, spirituality or faith, to good ends – but it is actually and technically illogical to think that that means we never will. “If the world does come to an end here,” Maher says, “or wherever, or if it limps into the future, decimated by the effects of religion-inspired nuclear terrorism, let’s remember what the real problem was. We learned how to precipitate mass death before we got past the neurological disorder of wishing for it. That’s it. Grow up or die.”

It’s probably more like: Grow up or aid and abet a lot of other people dying until you do. So okay, yes please: let’s all choose to grow up. But let us be clear: this does not involve taking away our toys until we have shown that we are responsible enough to use them. It cannot: for we do not have that choice. And that is not the way we learn to play properly and appropriately and responsibly with our toys anyway. Much like we do not have the choice to give an adolescent a fully functioning penis only after he has proven himself responsible and master over his sexuality.

We must accept the hard fact that some things, cloning and designer babies and all, are just not in our power. Learning how not to precipitate mass death before gaining mastery over our impulse to destroy others is, apparently, one of them; having faith is another. What we have faith in, and to what ends we put this faith – this is in our control, even if we haven’t yet proven ourselves masters over this domain either.

We have no power over whether we are given the key – but we do have power, and it’s our only power here, over how we use it: to unleash what’s behind door number 1, number 2, number 3 … . And until the God that you probably don’t believe in takes the key back, the best thing we can do is refine our skills. And maybe, maybe, like with our sexuality say, see that it can be put to good use. (And who knows, maybe even make life just that much more enjoyable.) That must be what it means to ‘grow up’.

Let’s grow up. Join me for more soon: my latest vignette, On Faith. Or Why You Don’t Live Without It., launches next week! In the meantime, you can catch a preview of it here.