Young People, Ignorance, and the Church

Young People, Ignorance, and the Church

A friend of mine recently posted on Facebook something to the extent of “there are just as many religions as there are people.” As one who is fascinated with religion and has had a very unique experience and relationship with it, I couldn’t agree more.

Naturally, there were a number of snotty comments who interpreted my friend’s status as something insulting toward religion, and they cheered in agreement and shared their sassy, supportive viewpoints. It is possible my friend did mean something negative by the status, but I don’t care. I still strongly agree that religion – or, let’s be safe and say “spirituality” – is highly unique for each individual.

The secret to keeping young, critically thinking people involved in religion is to admit that all religion is open for interpretation. With the exception of the few who devoutly deny any sort of spirituality, we all have some sort of not-so-easy-to-define sense of the Force. Maybe that sense manifests itself as Christianity, or maybe it manifests itself as non-deist Buddhism. Whether you believe in ghosts, saints, transubstantiation, Obi Wan, or King Triton, none of it is really that different.

I’m no scholar on religion, but I do know some things. Either that or I think I know some things. But that’s not important right now.

I’ve come to conclude that many people in my demographic really, truly annoy me when they open their mouths and something about religion comes out (it saddens me that I still hear some people my age differentiate between “Catholic” and “Christian,” for example).

I hate it when they say they think religion is bad. I can only assume what they mean is organized religion. Not even just that, but the organized Christian religion. And not just that still. But hyper-conservative, ignorant, in-your-face, organized Christian religion. Hell, they might even just be thinking of Westboro. And saying “I think Westboro is bad” is a universally agreeable statement, unless you’re a member of Westboro yourself.

Perhaps these young people had a bad experience at a church camp. Or perhaps their parents were ignorant nutcases that kicked them out of their home when they found out their child was gay. I feel incredibly sorry for these terrible experiences, but they do not represent the bulk of religion. Nor Christianity, for that matter.

I have this friend named Danielle. Danielle is from what you might think of as a conservative, Christian background. She is pro-life, she does not share the same opinion as I do about the Affordable Care Act, and she is the youth minister at a church in Alabama. Danielle is not an asshole, but she did come from a different place than me. Danielle, in my opinion, is doing Christianity right. She is a wonderful example of someone with a very strong faith, who does not shove it down your throat. She would, however, be glad to talk to you about how you can become active in the church.

Not all people who admit they’re Christian – or even religious – are nutcases. In fact, I’d argue that most of them are of perfectly sound mind. Danielle isn’t a nutcase, and her deep spirituality isn’t that different from one who regularly smokes pot and contemplates whatever is out there that is greater than ourselves.

Sometimes, douchebags use religion as a pathetic excuse to be douchebags. But, sometimes, religion is used to do incredible good for the world. Saying religion is bad or good is over simplifying. Because there are as many different religions as there are people.

I think that, in order for young people and religion to harmoniously bond, two things need to happen: young people need to open their minds, and (organized) religion needs to allow for wiggle room. Both need to welcome doubt and questioning.


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15 replies to “Young People, Ignorance, and the Church

  1. Father John

    I wonder about the use of the term “douchebags” and I completely agree with your last paragraph

  2. Taylor M.

    Religion is bad. I’ll invoke Hitchens on this and challenge you to tell me one GOOD thing that is done in the name of religion that could also not have been done by a non-religious person or for a non-religious cause. It’s hardly worth pointing out – it’s so obvious – but the opposite, something HORRIBLE that only could have been done in the name of religion is very easy to see on a daily basis.

    Now when I say Religion is bad, I mean all religion. Not just the extremist brands or the literal ones. All of it. By definition it invokes and wishes people to believe in a supernatural existence for which their chosen bit of dogma is decreed. It’s almost entirely dogmatic. The volume of religions that don’t have some inside claim to the Truth (capital T) are few and far between. They all claim some idea of how people should live their lives while failing to account that what makes Taylor feel happy and fulfilled is in no way shape or form necessarily what Liz needs to do with her life to make her time meaningful to her. The worst bit of this, is they do this without any evidence or argument but invoke Faith as if blind trust were something to value. Religions teach people to believe in something without naturalistic evidence. If one cares at all at justifying and purging false ideas from what they value and believe in how can we possibly want religion to remain a force that has any sway over humanity? Be done with it. Leave it the way we’ve left every other set of myths that preceded it.

  3. Jana Milhon-Martin

    I think it would be helpful to define the term religion. I believe all people to be religious, even Taylor M. If you apply any kind of meaning to life, that’s an act of faith. Period. There’s no evidence that life has any meaning beyond a reptilian existence. Then if you mechanize that meaning, you have religion. Perhaps not organized, but religion all the same.

    And Taylor, please. Your anti-relgious rant is full of as much dogma as any religion I’ve encountered. “All religion is bad.” Except you fail to account for the fact it does make some people happy and gives their lives meaning. And that happiness and meaning (in some cases) injures exactly nobody.

    So in short Taylor, you’ve offered the most dogmatic statements I’ve encountered all day–and I’m in seminary.

  4. Max you know

    I used to think religion was bad too. Now, I really don’t see how it can really be differentiated from any other cultural force or representation there of. It’s just another manifestation of one’s upbringing and influences upon them in a given culture. Honestly it’s people’s actions that really count, not some metaphysical belief… If they do it in the name of god or Christ or whatever I really don’t give a love. There are good religious devotees and there are bad ones, same with atheists and all manner of spiritual alignments you can think of.

  5. Taylor M.

    How about we don’t make up our own definitions for religion like people tend to and use a legitimate third party. Wikipedia says, “Religion is a set of variously organized beliefs about the relationship between natural and supernatural aspects of reality, and the role of humans in this relationship.”

    I don’t see myself as having used anything that doesn’t match that definition. Religion specifically speaks to the supernatural which is largely where my issues lie with it. Meaning doesn’t necessitate any supernatural existence at all. Meaning is largely not an act of faith but a result of values and is completely irrelevant to this conversation.

    Note you failed to acknowledge the challenge, which is basically the entire point. Anything desirable that you get from religion can be found elsewhere. There are objectively bad aspects of religion (from the standpoint of humanity) that are unique to religion. These negative effects are only predicated on the existence of religion. If you are arguing that people need religions, even if they are blatantly false, to be happy I reject that out of hand and it is insulting for you to suggest people are so weak.

    Your statement about my dogmatism is cute but hollow. If you heard a single reference to any god today nothing I’ve said could remotely compare to the magnitude of the arrogance such a claim carries with it. We’re inoculated to the insanity of these claims because they are so common but their claim to Truth is monumentally incomparable to any other claim it is possible to make. You are literally breaking the known rules of the universe and arguing for an exception to all that we’ve ever been able to prove to be true in order to assert your religion. This is insanity and it needs to stop.

  6. Queen Elizabeth

    Taylor – literally the next sentence in Wikipedia after the one you provided is: While religion is difficult to define, one standard model of religion, used in religious studies courses, was proposed by Clifford Geertz, who simply called it a “cultural system”.

  7. DrewHoo

    Taylor M, I feel like I know where you’re coming from. I have a hard time seeing the benefit of religion sometimes. Wouldn’t the world be a much greater place if people came together to do great things in the name of reason and altruism instead of in the name of a capricious, inconsistent deity? I will say this: have you listened much to the Prairie Home Companion? I find its gentle satires of religion–while providing satisfying jabs at the fallacies of organized religion–make a nice case for the values of religion.

    Re OP: I would just like to say what I find most irksome is when Christians refer to God as though s/he is their fairy god-mother who makes everything go right for them. I fail to see how saying “Thank the LORD for my new job!” is any different from “Thank the LORD for the $20 I just found.” God did not just drop $20 at your feet, and if s/he did, then, just, what the what! Thanking a deity for any real-world event obfuscates our good ol’ causal relationships. You don’t know that God gives a hoot about your job either way. S/he might’ve been ‘telling’ your new boss to hire someone else. Anyone who thinks they know the mind of got might ought read Job more closely. I am a little embarrassed to admit that I “unfollow” pretty much anyone on my Facebook feed who talks about God being responsible for their daily lives. Part of my resentment for this phenomenon comes from my upbringing as an evangelical Christian. It’s a really nice idea that you have a fair-godmother-god who makes your stoplight turn green just a little faster. If I found this idea to be a valid belief, I would prefer to believe it; it is very comfortable. However, this God is not consistent with the observable world in which we live, and here is where I think you’ve hit the nail on the head about young people and critical thought. The Problem of Evil has no solution, and that problem is made thornier by the staggering inequality in our world.

  8. Queen Elizabeth

    @DrewHoo, Oh, don’t get me started on the many forms of Christianity that make me want to punch innocent things.

  9. Taylor M.

    To act as if culture and religion were the same is to assert a very false equivocation. An element of culture is religion or supernatural belief and that is religion’s defining feature as an aspect of a culture – it’s supernatural claims. Yes, what religion you are is statistically determined by your parents beliefs (with plenty of exceptions but it remains largely true) but your invocation of the powers of nurture over the powers of nature is something that is not a given.

    What people do is driven by their beliefs. I’m not saying religion is the only false belief that exists, only that it is a popular one and that I oppose it not only on its lack of evidence but on how unnecessary it is and will eventually be. Humanity will outgrow it or it will very likely die.

  10. Taylor M.

    Liz, you weren’t talking simply about cultural systems. Nobody uses the word religion when they are referencing a cultural system.

    I’m sure if we continue to go line by line through that article the volume of references to things that are specifically supernatural will not be rare.

  11. Jana MM

    Taylor, my reference to your dogmatism was neither cute nor hollow. And your reference to Wikipedia as a legitimate third-party is plain hilarious.

    You’re insistence that all religion is bad is intellectually untenable. (And is as dogmatic as it gets.) More troubling is your need to conform others to your way of thinking “the insanity needs to stop.” That reaches beyond dogmatism to kind of fundamentalism.

    And your arguments confound belief in god with religion. They’re not the same thing, but you know this.

    This statement you have, (which you apparently find very reassuring) “anything desirable you you get from religion can be found elsewhere.” I would argue that the “elsewhere” is a religious mechanism–whether you define that way or not.

    NFL fans are religious. Energetic atheists are religious. You and I are in an argument of semantics which I find incrediably tedious.

  12. Taylor M.

    Drew, I’m not saying values aren’t important. In fact I find them to be the most defining aspect of who each of us is and I’d assert it’s impossible to Be without asserting values. The value of life over death is asserted simply by each of us not killing ourselves. We assert all sorts of values just by living what we’d call a “normal life” in which we go to school and have jobs. At some point you have to prioritize your values to make choices and that’s where conflict begins. The values of religion are in some cases predicated on logic, rationality, and the well being of conscious beings and in other cases it is not. We can borrow from the religion of today as it borrowed from the religion of yesterday, I just request we leave behind the supernatural elements and deal with reality as we can know it to be and not how we can assume it to be. Once you leave behind the supernatural bits each claim stands on its own and can be judged by its merits. Honoring your father and mother? Sounds likely to reduce conflict and harm, I’ll adopt that one. Take no other gods before me? Sorry, that belief is long past its expiration date.

  13. Taylor M.

    Jana, I’m sure you won’t read that but other viewers might. It’s an excerpt from Steven Pinker’s book he put out back in 2008 that very simply and poignantly points out why it is important to value semantics and this is just why dismissing things as mere semantics is a defense tactic intended to shut down the conversation when you’re backed into a corner.

    Wikipedia has been a legitimate source for a long time, any popular or systemic article is regularly gone over with a fine-toothed comb by teams specifically purposed to remove bias. Long gone are the days of jokes about boobies in the middle of pages on the French Revolution. Feel free to use Webster’s definition, you won’t find it any more helpful in arguing your cause as it also directly calls on the supernatural.

    Religion doesn’t necessitate belief in a god, Belief in a god does necessitate religion. Religion also does necessitate belief in the supernatural. Whether that supernatural is auras, ghosts, witches, virgin births, magical healing, the gods of the east, the gods of the west – it doesn’t matter to me. It’s all supernatural and there’s not a shred of naturalistic credence.

    Passions are not religions, any group of people very likely shares some traits with other groups, to intentionally confuse the issue by acting like sports fans and their beliefs are equitable to religious beliefs is not only an error of semantics but an act of intellectual dishonesty.

    Feel free to step away from the vague and stake an actual claim of something that can be done in the name of religion that can’t be done outside it. I’m more than happy to offer the contrapositive statements. Dogma is and always will be the enemy of reason and religion is a gigantic source of dogma.

  14. Danielle

    I have a shirt that says ‘religion kills, Jesus saves’ I know that probably doesn’t make sense to a lot of people, but to me, it’s more about a relationship with Christ, not ‘obeying a list of man made rules we call religion.’ I follow Jesus because I love Him. not because of the rules and regulations set forth by man when they created religion. If I’m in a committed relationship with someone I will not rebel against Their word because I love them. Same concept with Jesus. When I got saved, I entered into a covenant, a committed relationship with Him. So I obey His teachings. I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me. And the life that I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me.’ Galatians 2:20
    The secret to keeping young minds in church is to put more emphasis on relationship with Christ and less on entertaining church members. I think this is what has caused the decline of American church. We snuff out the relationship due to convenience and entertainment.

  15. Max of spades

    Taylor, you say that both good things and terrible things are done in the name of religion, and if you took the religion away, the good would stay and the bad would go away. I’ve heard this argument before and I don’t get it. I’m mostly an atheist too, but I really just don’t see how some people having supernatural beliefs at this day in age will topple the human race. Maybe a radical Islamist blows himself up in London. Maybe the Westboro church makes some people mad and sad. In most cases where things are purportedly done in the name of religion, I’d say that the motivation is really something worldly and invoking god just adds legitimacy to th act in the eyes of some people. At this point in our history, I fail to see how religion would continue to be a deciding factor in world conflict. I don’t think the human race is going to perish if people don’t stop believing in god/other supernatural forces, which by the way, they are- religiosity goes down every year, you’re getting your way anyhow.

    You sound like a smart dude and I hope your time and energy is not frequently wasted in debates like this… They’re pointless! People tend to stick to their guns in discussions like this and you aren’t likely to change anyone’s mind.

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