Religion Good and Bad

“Now, broadly speaking, I don’t think religions in general
are particularly good ideas.”
A friend said this, and I agree.–JGM

Modern religion is almost all ideological–a matter of ideas–which is really unfortunate, since religion is about shitty ideas. The best religions cultivate skillful means of dealing with shitty ideas. They aren’t “about” those shitty ideas. which only exist the way poop exists. We experience human emotions–love, joy, transcendence, sorrow, anger, etc.–and the waste product is some shitty idea. We eat food, and the waste product is poop. Of course the master of ceremonies and his crew need some method for dealing with shit at the banquet, but shit is definitely not “what the banquet is about”–unless and until we invent modern religion, which I would liken to a really shitty banquet, a symposium wherein we skip directly from sullen sobriety to vomit-and-piss drunkenness with no poetry or philosophy in between. We have learned over generations that religions founded on ideas are stupid (best-case scenario: we arrive, get hammered, and wake up wearing underwear on our heads) and dangerous (worst-case scenario: the underwear is all that remains of our entire wardrobe, and we are in jail with no memory of how we got there). But for some reason we keep insisting on ideology as being profoundly important (instead of profoundly stupid and dangerous)–and ignoring the reality that religion has been about so much more than stupid and dangerous ideas over the course of human history.

Maybe it is time for more of us to realize that we can make music, poetry, and philosophy (not to mention other kinds of art) without identifying any of these things as particularly important. We don’t have to crucify Peter when he writes a rap song instead of a cantata. We don’t have to burn Paul at the stake for preferring haiku to hexameter. We don’t have to worship Plato or ban him: we can laugh and get on with our lives, telling our own dumb story (or making endless commentary on his). Theology is not serious; or if it is, then it is seriously important that we avoid fooling ourselves into thinking that we must get it right. Every generation before us has gotten it wrong (sometimes stupidly and dangerously). We must not expect to be exceptions to this rule. We must not oblige ourselves to treat ideas (in general) with more respect than their record warrants. Religion is there historically not to impart factual information (about how the world really works in some concrete, predictable circumstance), but to help us deal emotionally with the reality that we are all unpredictably fragile (in ways that are concretely insoluble, no matter our ideology).

“Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die” is only anathema if we practice bad religion (the kind of religion that assumes “having a nice party” necessarily involves getting trashed and shitting everywhere). If we know how to eat, drink, and be merry without wreaking havoc, then that ideology is fine. There is nothing inherently good or bad in ideas themselves (the idea of a party, say): it is execution in particular circumstances that makes them whatever we experience. Rejecting one dumb idea does not protect you against another. Being really careful to avoid the tequila party at your parents’ house so that you can hit the crack van down by the river is not smart–not even when you tell yourself over and over how dumb the people chugging tequila are as you smoke crack. It doesn’t matter how dumb tequila is, fool: you are smoking crack. The point of a good party is not to find the right drug, the one anyone can ingest at any dosage without experiencing harm, and then let everyone go hog wild. There is no such drug. The point of a good party is to make whatever drug becomes available as little harmful as possible. Keep the dumb ideas dumb. Keep the dangerous ideas dangerous. Just warn people beforehand, and have safeguards in place to keep the party from becoming too ‘modern’ (i.e. wild, devoted to intoxication for intoxication’s sake). Mix your wine with water, the Greeks would say, and remember that wine exists to facilitate other things–conversation, music, poetry, philosophy–not to replace them.

Ideas are fun entertainers. Occasionally they can even be useful servants. They are terrible masters. Surrender your humanity to them at your peril (not to mention everyone around you).

About kalekotxakur

Joseph Gresham Miller grew up in the southern United States, where his parents provided a well-stocked library and a large garden in lieu of school. As a young man, he left the States for two years to live in northern Spain, where he worked as an LDS Mormon missionary (basically an unpaid intern in corporate sales). After this adventure he went to school for more than a decade to acquire a doctorate in classical studies. Along the way, he met a very nice girl in Latin class, and they had two boys. Today, he and his family live in the mountain West. While his wife works full-time in academia, he adjuncts at local universities, writes, and takes care of the kids. He is interested in finding practical applications for more or less defunct ancient philosophies (especially Cynicism, Skepticism, and Stoicism) in modern life.

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