Monday, April 21, 2008

In Which I Fail To Get It

A couple of days ago (I was lackadaisical about keeping up with my feeds this weekend), Jay Lake wrote the below paragraph, in linking to a news story about that West Texas polygamist sect that is completely different from every other religious group, because they are evil, and everyone else is good:
"Girls in the west Texas polygamous sect enter into underage marriages without resistance because they are ruthlessly indoctrinated from birth to believe disobedience will lead to their damnation[.]" How is this different from any other religion? That's a serious question, not snark. The followers of virtually all religions raise their children within their religious framework, and impose the moral and behavioral rules of their faith on their children. Why is this different? If you're going to give social approval to religious upbringing, where does the line fall in picking-and-choosing? From my atheistic point of view, it's all indoctrination, after all.
Various people immediately jumped on Lake for being nasty and anti-religion and mean to cuddly little bunnies and unappreciative of their personal soulful connection to Invisible Pink Unicorns and Lake, being a polite man, backed off and apologized.

I, however, am not polite. This was also the weekend in which an old man, selected by a bunch of other old men (of which he was then one) to be head of a huge organization, came to my area to insist that everybody just shut up, stop thinking for themselves, and do what he says. (Or else they'll be tortured for all eternity by an all-loving supernatural being who created everyone and knows everything.)

In other words, he taught that "disobedience will lead to damnation."

All other Christian denominations that I know of also teach that "disobedience will lead to damnation."

The Muslim sects that I'm familiar with teach that "disobedience will lead to damnation."

Judaism is built on a vast interlocking set of detailed rules, and "disobedience will lead to damnation."

So is the problem merely that Lake is pointing at the most egregious example, and nobody likes to see their own ox being gored? Because it certainly looks to me as if every major religious tradition comes down to "these are the rules you have to follow, and if you don't you'll be tormented for all eternity." And that's exactly what the crazy Texas polygamists are saying, only with their own specific set of rules...but every group has a slightly different set of rules.

The responses all seem to be "well, all the people I know would never play the eternal damnation card...oh, sure, it's there, hidden in the religion somewhere, but only Republicans would actually mention it to the darling little children." Which is hogwash. All Catholics get a solid diet of hell, and so do Muslims. It varies by Protestant denomination, but, unless you get way out to Unitarian Universalists, there's some hell in the mix. Hell is part of the religious equation.

Look, I won the Bible Olympics two years running at my Church in my mis-spent youth; I know what a happy, positive, non-Hell-centric religion looks like. But Hell is still there; damnation is one of the underlying themes. If you don't like that, perhaps you need to reconsider your allegiance to a Supreme Being that insists on it.


Unknown said...

You took my point, which a great many other people seem to have failed to do. I very much appreciate that. Thank you.

Unknown said...

This is a fantastic post. I read the original and subsequent apology on Jay's blog this morning and had a similar response to yours, only you've managed to articulate it extremely well, and minus my under the breath swearing.

If the original post upset people, then hopefully it got them thinking, as well. Parents tend to indoctrinate their kids to their way of thinking with regard to religion and beyond. If you'll excuse me, I'm going to go have my child baptized with spaghettios. RAmen.

Di Francis said...

You are snarky and you are brilliant . . .

Thought actually one thing I would disagree on. My experience with various religions is that the going to hell thing is the cornerstone, rather than hidden, more often than not. Like that's the only reason to belong.


Anonymous said...

He certainly seemed to push PNH's button on that one! I was going to post a comment along the lines of "Oh my, really, what's all the fuss?" but... didn't.
Glad you posted this though!

PS I was delighted to see Gardner Dozois' dedication to you & Ellen in GALACTIC EMPIRES.

Anonymous said...

Oh, I was also going to mention that hell/damnation actually probably doesn't really feature in Judaism - in fact, the Jewish idea of the afterlife is pretty hazy.
But that's coming from someone in a long line of atheist Jews, so I can't really speak for the religion. It's always seemed to me that the hell of the Jews is Your Mother's Disapproval. AAAAAAH!

Anonymous said...

nice blog


Andrew Wheeler said...

Peter: My ex-boss Ellen Asher also (in e-mail) gently mentioned the general lack of damnation in Judaism; I was being a bit too expansive at that point. Damnation and Hell have been bolted onto various modern flavors of Judaism, but they're not intrinsic to the religion.

My point would have been stronger if I'd stuck with Christianity and Islam. (And maybe Zorostrianism, though I don't know that very well. And isn't this world hell, more or less, in Buddhism?)

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