Tag Archives: ‘the god delusion’

The Harry Potter Effect: Religion, Fear, and Reality

Harry Potter’s influence reaches far beyond the sphere of providing an entertaining story for children to read. When the first book arrived  here in the US there was all kinds of uproar in the christian community about its defamation of Jesus and apparent blatant attempts to sway children towards satanism and magic – I received an email from a dear church friend of mine saying so.

At the time I was still in deep in the church, a worship leader and children’s church director, but bubbles of doubt had been making their way to the surface of my conscious thought for a couple of years , instigated by my observations about the world within christianity and the world outside of it.   When the email hit my inbox I read it, followed up on the links and also researched what other christian parents were saying about the book.   In the end, I realized the only way I could make a reasonable decision about Harry Potter was to read the book myself.

It was a watershed moment for me.   First, there was no defamation of Jesus, no promotion of Satan.  There are no religious connections in the book whatsoever which means the email circulating was a complete lie and the author of the note either read the book and lied about it anyway, or didn’t read the book and decided to promote a fear-inducing story based on ignorance.

Then, I began to look at other issues the church was talking about by reading the leading publications.  Instead of taking their word for it, I did the research myself. In each instance I found that the church was absolutely promoting false information and with an obvious overtone of fear.  Whether or not there was a god, I made my decision to leave the church.   Even HE couldn’t condone the obvious lies, I thought.

A recent article published by Christianity Today takes a look at the tornado of fear stirred up by Harry Potter and other issues and confesses that on the whole, there really is much ado about nothing.  To this day I am willing to research just about anything that pops up on my facebook feed in the hopes that someone, somewhere may just get it right.  Alas, there’s always more hype and subterfuge than reality reveals, and the fear inducing rhetoric is blatant as always.

I shouldn’t be surprised.  The premise for converting to christianity is fear of going to hell so using fear to keep the congregation clinging to something more hopeful is of course the preferred modus operandi.   What saddens me, what concerns me, what “really grinds my gears” is the blind acceptance of it all.   Even the author of the CT article stops short of actually admitting that their assertions were lies.  Instead he provides a short analysis on the idea that maybe the church is becoming more accepting – thereby missing the point that all the issues he exemplifies have been circulated as a means to promote fear.  Whether or not Harry Potter actually affected millions of young minds didn’t matter, what mattered was successfully creating a shroud of fear and anxiety so that we couldn’t see for ourselves the reality of the issue – this was a harmless book that reiterated the same hero theme as Jesus’ own story.   Sigh.  Even in the admission that there’s been much ado about nothing, we are still unable to admit that fear is used as an effective tool by the church to keep its people isolated from reality.

Here’s to those who are willing to look beyond the fear.

Frankie

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The First Commandment: Thou shall be Ignorant

Right there in the very front, in the beginning so there’s no question of its importance, no room for misinterpretation, god commands his children NOT to eat of the tree of knowledge of ‘everything’* and thus the religion is bound and encapsulated within itself, with no outside influences – however sound their truths might be.

This thought struck me for the first time the other day and it intrigued me greatly because I immediately understood that it was important, no it was crucial to the religion to damn knowledge right off the bat, at its inception: That way there could be no question or curiosity from its followers and any thinking or contemplation done by said person is strictly limited to “a chaotically cobbled together anthology of disjointed documents, composed, revised, translated, distorted and ‘improved’ by hundreds of anonymous authors, editors, and copyists, unknown to us and to each other, spanning nine centuries,” as Richard Dawkins accurately describes the bible.

Now I am well aware of the ‘theological’ discussions regarding this particular transaction in the story of the garden of Eden, I was a christian myself for a long while.   Most interpretations use the story to set the stage for the rest of the bible, ie.  the fall of man, the failure of man to be perfect and hence the need for a redeemer.  Some say it defines man’s life cycle: pain associated with birth, toiling in the soil until death.  There is also significant discussion about whether the whole thing was a set up:  surely an omnipotent god just knew we were going to botch it? Yet, didn’t he have to give us free will at some point in order for us to have the ability to choose whether or not to obey him?  But if he was an omnipotent god wouldn’t he have known we would be unable to resist temptation?  Especially that all-too-human trait of doing exactly the opposite of what a parent tells us to do?  But then he had to allow us a choice….ad infin.

I say not one of those premises is the truth and they merely act as smoke screens.  See, if one is tasked with compiling a workable document for a fledgling religion as were the delegates at the Council of Nicaea under Constantine’s orders, then it makes perfect sense that a well refined story would be utilized at the very outset of the narrative which effectively deters its readers from ever wandering past the pages of that one quilt-worked book.  By so doing, the religion is then set up, indeed, mandated to refuse any other refinements or outside information.   Now the religious leaders have a captive audience.  Now can begin the building of a theological empire whose leaders are given carte blanche control over their flocks because they have been taught that information and knowledge is evil and suspect.

It’s been an effective tool.  The christian religion is entirely encapsulated and absolutely refuses any new information.  Check out what Copernicus went through when he observed that the sun did NOT revolve around the earth.  His successor Galileo was forced to recant his view about a heliocentric galaxy and not until 1992 did the church issue a formal apology on his behalf.  1992!! Darwin’s ideas have been similarly refused even though the past one hundred fifty years have yielded massive amounts of support in their favor.  Yet a christian’s response is almost robotic:  Doesn’t matter, got a commandment to follow, No. New.  Information!!!!!!!

How has that affected our nation?  Well, we have a large section of our population who are dutiful  christians and therefore make for paranoid, suspect, information wary voters whose only source of information comes from the church and select news sources that are proven horribly skewed.  I know ’cause I was once one of them.  Some of those christians have been elected to office and so we possess wholly ignorant politicians who are charged with making long-term policies without caring about facts, they blatantly admit it, and they careen forward recklessly, with blinders on.  So we will continue to suffer the effects of global warming because we cannot accept new knowledge as a nation. And we will continue to be left behind the world in terms of groundbreaking science research, education, and progressive social goals.  We can no longer claim to be number one as a nation on several levels simply because so many of us have obeyed the first commandment:  thou shall be ignorant.

It’s a damning, damning situation and there’s not much to do for it except plod along.  It doesn’t do any good to present facts, send links to verifiable resources, or emphasize one’s historical background in education.  Our brothers and sisters simply cannot fathom or manage any form of outside information or knowledge: they’ve been taught that its evil. I find for myself, that at some level this new revelation allows me to muster a great deal more patience towards my fellow humans. Awareness is everything sometimes. The best we can do is educate when the opportunity arises and try not to sound like arrogant asses at the same time (I know this can be a problem because I’m sure I’m not the only one who has to be conscious of it).

Despite the ironclad direction to remain naive, there are those brave enough to dare step outside the lines and let the road take them where it may.  I know because I was one of them – and every day more and more of us make the choice.

Imagine ….  a movie with a character living in animation until suddenly something makes her real and we see her foot emerge from the cartoon into real grass, experiencing real sounds, amazing smells, and beautiful, beautiful colors for the first time.  She feels the warmth of the sun on her face and the wind gently tossing her hair.  For several long moments we might watch her as the camera circles around her and we witness the overwhelming gratefulness she experiences as she takes in everything and smiles at her newfound freedom, no longer confined to the pages of someone else’s hand. Yes she’s a bit scared and we would see that she navigates through some bumpy roads in this new reality, but we watch her grow more confident each day.  And, at the end of a few years, we might picture her at her computer writing these words of truth:  Peace comes with understanding, it does not pass it.

Here’s to knowledge and understanding kids; and let truth will out.

Frankie

* I choose to use the word ‘everything’ here since it more accurately depicts the gist of the commandment.  In research for this article it was asserted in several places that the phrase ‘good and evil’ is really used a merism…that is a set of linguistic opposites put together with the effect to mean not just the parts, but the whole. So the interpretation of knowing ‘good from evil’ is a bit off, it really means that adam and eve would have knowledge of everything, including good and evil.


“The Village” and “The Church”: An Analogy Worth Consideration

M. Night Shyamalan made a movie a while ago entitled “The Village.”  I love that movie and I love it for a very personal reason.  It reaffirms why I left “The Church” in the first place (I’ll take the real world over a made up one any day of the week) and it also conveys the truth of the idea that evil exists within each of us, not as some outward demon.

The story line to the movie goes like this a bereavement support group, whose relatives are victims of violent crimes, decide to escape modern society into a walled sanctuary.  They live a Luddite lifestyle cut off from the world. Modern conveniences such as electricity and motors are shunned, they make their own furniture, live off the land, and are completely oblivious to anything outside the four walls they so carefully built.  Theirs is a peaceful lifestyle, where men and women know their place, children are loved and coddled, and everyone knows everyone else (the narrative is nicely wound around a love story, and a very sweet one, I think).

Since the proprietors of  The Village were challenged to invent a way to keep their offspring from wandering too far and perhaps discovering that they were cut off from an entire civilization, they invented a story consisting of monsters who lurked in the forest beyond  (The Village was an isolated settlement set upon a huge, and privately funded, land reserve) . The monsters were known simply as ‘the others’ and children were indoctrinated at an early age concerning the dangers of crossing the designated borders.  Apparently an agreement exists between The Village and ‘the others’:  if the Villagers don’t cross into their territory, ‘the others’ won’t cross into The Village.  A popular game for adolescent boys is to stand on a rock just at the border and tempt ‘the others’ to come get them, of course no one showed up, but the occasional howl of a coyote or wind was enough to give life to the story, reinforcing the narrative and instilling fear.

The elders were quite detailed in the shenanigans they were willing to engage in to keep their children in fear of the forest and ‘the others’. They didn’t stop at merely demarcating a physical boundary between good and evil.  The color red for instance, was labeled ‘the bad color’ for that was the color of ‘the others’.  In one scene a pair of tween girls came across a flower in their yard with ‘the bad color’ and with haste they both dig a hole and cover it up. Offerings are made to the forest to appease ‘the others’. Occasionally we are given the glimpse of a wooden box, tucked away in a corner, looming with mystery.  The box contains memorabilia of the outside world: newspaper clippings of murders and robberies of family members, pictures of their lost loved ones. It serves to remind the elders of their decision to leave the evil world behind.

And yet, evil springs up from within ‘The Village’ despite the elders’ attention to detail. In the opening scene of the movie we watch as a grief stricken father weeps at his son’s graveside.  The implication is that the son might have lived were there simple medicines available to give to him, but in their complete dedication to remain isolated, they sacrifice life.   At the feast following the service, it is noted that, despite even heartbreaking moments, they must remain committed to their cause.

A moment of compromise finally occurs however when a young man is stabbed by a jealous autistic Village member.  This strapping male is recently betrothed to the blind daughter of the very man whose idea it was to found The Village.  She begs her father permission to transgress their rules and travel to the lands beyond in order to get medicine to save her beloved’s life.  Her father bends to her pleas and allows her the freedom to go. Before she leaves however, he tells her of the ‘invented’ monsters, shows her the elaborate costumes complete with a row of sharp fang thingys and coarse fur.  It was apparently worn as a sort of ‘coat’ by village elders at times when a visible reinforcement of ‘the others’ was needed (I am reminded of Dawkin’s observation in ‘The God Delusion’, recently read, that  “…the horribleness of hell…is inflated to compensate for its implausibility.”) These home- made monsters were a bit intimidating, and made all the more so since we are put in Ivy’s place of having to discover them through touch only since she is blind.

Armed with the knowledge that nothing really exists to harm her, Ivy is allowed to breach the sacred boundaries and embark on a quest to find medicine to heal her only reason for living.  There’s a slight caveat given in order to keep ‘the others’ well alive in the mind of the rest of The Village. Ivy is sent with two companions, all three robed in a special color as a signal to ‘the others’ that they mean no harm and pass in peace.  The trio is even given a bag of ‘magic rocks’ for protection as well…which Ivy promptly dumps out once her companions abandon her for home out of sheer terror.

Our blind heroine finds the road, is met by a compassionate stranger (she notices “a kindness” in his voice that she “did not expect”) and obtains the lifesaving medicine for her soul mate, returns safely, and they live happily ever after.

Except, that is,  for the parents of the jealous autistic perpetrator who must live with their son’s deviant actions and subsequent death.  The autistic youth who stabbed Ivy’s beloved in a fit of envy was found to have escaped his isolation room.  They found him later, dead,  in a pit he’d fallen into whilst following Ivy into the forest,  wearing  one of the costumes of ‘the others’.  Alas, the final lesson of the story is that evil exists within, no matter the lengths we might go to keep it out.

As I watched my sons grow up alongside a myriad of children at church, and watched those children who were home schooled compared to those who were not, I noticed a bit of a difference.   It was my opinion that my boys will be going out into the world to make their way and it was my responsibility to make sure they were prepared to survive and contribute positively to society.  If I kept them home, shielded from the realities of the world in which they were born, then not only would be unable to thrive, they would live in it timidly – afraid of others and their motivations…I could already see the beginnings of some of these traits with the children who were more isolated from society.

They are grown now, for the most part – and  I took them out of The Church when I left because I myself had enough fear mongering and conspiracy theories. The eldest has been on his own these past three years now and just landed a great career job, if he decides to make it that.  The other two show great potential as well, comfortable in any sort of crowd, able to converse with just about anyone, and each possess a quick witted humor that makes me proud.   I have every confidence that my children will do well on their own, out in the scary big world because, well, we’ve taught them how to survive in it and they aren’t afraid to listen to new ideas or question old ones.  I feel I’ve done my job as a parent.

As parents we are burdened with the responsibility to raise our children to be independent of us, to live separately from us and thrive in the real world.   We do them a great disservice when we isolate them from the realities of life and coax them into a fearful world full of made up demons and monsters.

We do ourselves a disservice as well.   No matter how big those four walls of any church are, evil exists within it as well as without.  One doesn’t need to peruse internet headlines for very long to see that greed, adultery, gossiping, homosexuality, and child abuse is as alive in the church as it is out of the church.  This truth must be recognized if we are to move forward and progress.

We humans have a history of inventing gods and their demon counterparts as a way to explain our lives and purpose on earth.  It also allows us to blame some demon for a downfall rather than take responsibility for our mistakes ourselves. Evil exists within, and no  matter how elaborate the story we make up, no matter how high the walls we build, no matter how far away we can leave the outside world behind, we will always be confronted with it.   As for me and my house, we will choose the reality of life over man made stories, there is much more peace and freedom to be found living thus.

Peace comes with understanding….it does not pass it.

 

Frankie