If you know me closer you may have noticed that I am sensitive to “atheist” paroles which basically are not atheist in its original (scientific) sense but mostly anti-theist religion bashing. For a long time the target was Christianity. Christianity was the paragon of prudery, authoritarian family structures, social pressure in the shape of old-fashioned morals and bigot piety. This changed rapidly at a certain point of time. On September 11th 2001 to be precise. Now the majority of a(nti)theists have added Islam to their hate list and it is almost sophisticated to mock hijabs, get butthurt about halal food and assume a bomb belt on every person with a dark beard and eyebrows. And it all boils down to “religion is baaad” ignoring the fact that religion is much more than what you see in the news.
I have been reading theological and historical literature nearly all my life and a large number of my friends are scholar historians, ethnologists, anthropologists etc. and we discuss a lot of things so that I may say – in all modesty – I do have a little clue about history, cultural research, theology, religions etc. And on this basis I have a good reason to try my best to respect every religion even if it seems awkward.
And here is why:
Most world religions have developed some hundreds if not thousands years ago. Religion – if you look at it from a historical point of view – mostly show a social, a political and a spiritual dimension. The fact that today politics and social things are often in the hands of secular institutions have reduced religion largely to a spiritual dimension and religious practice is often individual and less about group building. There have been reasons for this split up – no doubt – and some of today’s news show why this split up has been taken into account be it the discussion about Jewish circumcision, the latest decision that bosses no longer cover contraception while they still finance Viagra or of course terror attacks in the name of religion. I do have my doubts, however, how “religious” those things really are and if secular interests might not be the main force behind it. In some cultures the influence on politics and society is still pretty strong in others it is weaker, sometimes it’s very obvious sometimes very subtle.
Religions vary a lot in forms of practice both with regard to historical development and social variety. Religious communities are extremely heterogeneous. There is not even THE Christianity nor is there THE Islam. If you look at the evolution of religion you’d be surprised how many different branches this tree has. Also individual approach leads to different types of religious life. Some people may be more like “easter+x-mas” Christians, some have a dedicated individual practice, some may be part of a religious community and of course some take their own tradition to extremes which are inacceptable to common sense or even human rights. But to use the latter to develop your very own persecution complex and feel entitled to bash an entire religion as a theoretical unity doesn’t make the world a better place. In fact it makes things worse.
Religion is part of a thing called “cultural identity”. This ID does not only consist of what has been written down, it consists of traditions, habits, special sacred places, performing rituals, mentality etc. These things are a timeless container of religious and therefore cultural identity. In fact they are a cultural memory maintained by those people who follow a tradition. These contents have a function and the function in its very original sense is about maintaining community by setting up individual ethical standards but also by creating an ideology to ID with. The social value of religion is largely neglected today because it is simply hardly needed today. You can be a “good person” if you respect human rights and some basic social rules without believing in a higher being. But for some people this spiritual dimension is closely connected to the social and humanizing quality of their religious practice and needs to be handled with some consideration and awareness imo. The thing people mostly pay attention to is when religion goes off the rails and then they freak out about it and feed their prejudice. If it doesn’t go off the rails or even creates something good no one cares and refuses to see that religion might also have a beneficial effect on society and individuals. And that being said a(nti)theism can be just as narrow-minded, bigot, ignorant and damaging as any kind of religious ideology. This is not about being religious this is about being human. If you use whatsoever ideology just to mock and despise others you’re doing it WRONG and you really need to fix your personal issues.
Rituals and traditions can seem weird, wrong and awkward if you are not part of the social group who is part of a certain cultural ID established on a religious foundation. Things like covering your hair as a woman, eating halal or kosher, praying, extreme forms of meditation, wearing a white dress for a wedding, etc. But this doesn’t mean that people who perform that are stupid just because YOU can’t comprehend it. I am sure I would find a lot of daily rituals you perform yourself which are totally awkward and irrational but are part of your daily habits and provide you a feeling of safety and stability. Nothing else do religious rituals and habits. They are part of a cultural ID like your very own habits are part of your individual ID and to violate these things is also violating cultural ID. Therefore I am trying hard to respect cultural identity like I respect individual integrity. I do fail sometimes myself and I am still critical and I point out my criticism occasionally both to individual as to groups or even about ideologies and I do not exclude my own tradition, opinions or views. But I aim to get well informed about things and try to criticize with some factual background instead of mere “but me feels dis is so wroooong!”-buttpain.
I am a religious person, too. I am a Kemetic, I am hard polytheist and I have dedicated myself to a badass storm god who owns my heart. This is close to what is called monolatry. So in a way I am probably extreme about religion, too. I don’t harm people for religious reasons nor do I bother people outside my community with contents of my practice. But the closer you intend to be part of my life the more you will take notice of it. If you can’t handle that and respect me as a religious person I am sorry but we can’t be friends.