I heard a bit of religious argument today delivered by Ben Shapiro. He argued that you can prove God exists by the design of the observable universe. Basically, the “Clocks don’t exist without a clockmaker” argument. But that wasn’t the real point he was making. He was trying to say that atheists are liberal intellectuals lying about why they don’t believe in God, so therefore they are evil and we should hate them. A complicated, judgemental, and hate-filled thing to argue, like most of the arguments I hear Ben Shapiro make. His particular digestive issues must be really painful if he’s always that angry.
But the idiot in the title is not Ben Shapiro. (I am also not saying that Ben is not an idiot. I am just saying I am not calling him that here.) The idiot of the title is Mickey. This is Mickey’s Sunday Sermon. Mickey should get all the blame for this.
Mickey is a Christian Existentialist. I think I have explained that before as a way of saying, “Mickey is an atheist who believes in God.” Really that means he is an agnostic, someone who is not able to prove that God is real, but wants to believe… if only that were logically possible.
You notice that I started this sermon with the Maxfield Parrish picture of a girl sitting on a flowerpot. And why is this picture the start of a sermon? Well, to the flowers in the flower bed, the girl with the watering can looks like God. She who makes it rain when the weather is too hot and dry. But notice too, there is no flower bed in the picture. Only a puddle behind the girl. Did God overwater the flowers? Or did the flowers decide as a matter of faith that they didn’t need water, and believed they were made of sugar crystals so hard that they actually became sugar and melted when they were watered? What a stupid thing for Mickey to think about, let alone say! That picture has nothing to do with religion!
So, why is religion important to someone like Mickey who claims to be an agnostic? Well, a very smart man told me there are three functions of religion in society. It is needed for the maintenance of behavior, belonging, and belief. Society looks to the various churches to set a standard for how you behave towards others. That’s the Shalt Nots that teach the congregation not to commit murder, theft, adultery, or swear, or do the many other things that seem bad to religious leaders and also the laws that govern the general public.
They also look to religion to provide places for people in society to gather together, to develop a sense of belonging, a community. In churches, temples, synagogues, mosques, and other sacred-type places people gather to share proper religious ideas, teach their children, listen to sermons, and gossip about their neighbors, especially neighbors who are not in the building. Shared values and working-community undertakings are fostered and nurtured in these groups.
And if not everyone sleeps through the sermons, these religious groups all share, encourage, and agree to alter their basic beliefs.
None of these functions are themselves a bad thing. One could argue they are essential to the life of a civilized nation. Religion is good for you in many ways, even if you are not a true believer. Studies have been done that show true believers have less stress and are healthier than non-church-going individuals.
So, here’s what the idiot actually thinks. Religion is good for you. It is important for society to function properly. However, religious extremism is pushing this very natural part of human life too far. It can result in the burning of old women as witches, the Westboro Baptist Church protesting military funerals, the burning of black churches in the Southern United States, and some of the very badness that the holy books generally forbid.
And, truthfully, you don’t have to believe to benefit from the existence of religions. You simply have to hope that believers don’t believe too hard and pass judgements they’re not entitled to prosecute.