I regularly discuss religion with people who both agree and, more commonly, disagree with me. I think this is an important aspect in self development and allows you to not only grow as a person but also understand both sides of an argument. In my various discussions, with people from all sorts of backgrounds and socio-economic groups, I’ve noticed a strong trend in those who are religious. It seems as though the vast majority, upwards of 95% I would estimate, find religion through one of two means. I’ve explained each of the two means below, and I’d be interested in your thoughts on each.
By far the most common way to become religious is to simply be raised religious. It happens all the time, and allows sects and fundamentalist groups to thrive within confined and controlled environments. Take the Westboro Baptist Church for example. Their beliefs are, to many, conflicting with good Christian values, yet their leader claims to be one of the best versed people on the planet when it comes to the scriptures.
Yet those within the church accept the teachings of Fred Phelps without question, so the question has to be asked, why? For many, the simple answer lies in their susceptibility to Phelps’ charisma (an interesting aside, one of the best definitions of charisma I’ve seen stated that an attribute of a charismatic person is the ability to resist other charismatic people) and authoritative way. For others, they are simply raised as part of the extended family and know no difference. I’d highly recommend this documentary by British journalist Louis Theroux. One of the most telling aspects of that documentary is the responses given the Theroux by the children he talks to. They don’t know any different, and they believe everything that protest, even though they don’t understand it.
The Westboro Baptist Church is an extreme example, but in reality, it’s no different to the situation being played out up and down the country, and all around the world. Children are being formally and informally indoctrinated into religion without really understanding it. This is something organised religion relies upon in order to perpetuate. Trying to convert developed adults, people who aren’t vulnerable, is difficult because they understand religion and can question it. They can see the obvious, gaping chasms in the logic of religion and rightly reject it. Children do not possess these skills, and in the end just become vulnerable victims of organised religion.
The baptism or christening of a child is, quite frankly, a crime against decency and should be punished as such. I always find it strange that we restrict the age at which people can drink, or get married, to protect them, to ensure they have developed mentally to the point where they can freely make informed decisions. Yet we allow children, babies even, to be indoctrinated in to a cult.
I mentioned above that it is difficult to convert adults to religion. The exception are those people who really want, or need something else to be out there. These people find themselves in difficult or traumatic circumstances and simply can’t cope. Talking to religious people, as I do, I have found that the vast majority of those who came to religion later in life did so in the midst of some form of traumatic event.
The explanation for this should be immediately apparent. People want something else, they want a way to absolve themselves of responsibility. They want something else to blame, or they want something else to do the hard work for them so they can get out of the situation they find themselves in.
One of the most common examples you’ll hear of, where people come late to religion, is a person who has lost everything, their job, their house, their money and their family. Then they “find God” and get back on their feet. What doesn’t get acknowledged is the fact that they have been helped by people working on the premise that they will receive help in exchange for joining the religious group providing the help. It’s the classic missionary scenario – “before God we had nothing, now we’ve found God we have running water and crops”.
The classic debate relating to these situations goes like so: –
- The Religious say that when people open up their hearts to God in their hour of need, God will help them.
- The Non-Religious say that vulnerable people are being exploited, they want something to blame, to take control, and that it’s easier to believe in something when you really want, or need it to be true.
You will of course know which side of the argument I stand on. In much the same way I don’t believe Children should be indoctrinated in religion, I don’t believe people in a vulnerable position should be either.
You’ll notice that both means described above rely on exploiting those who are vulnerable. Either through age or circumstance. This is a consistent thread throughout different religions and cults. It is difficult to convince people of something that isn’t true, and has no evidence to present unless they are in a compromised position, or are unable to logically assess the premise you are putting forward.