A friend of mine, in taking me to task for my outspoken contempt for religion, has voiced the odd idea that the good parts of religion are real religion, while the bad parts are a “misuse” of religion.
It’s perfectly true that there are good parts of religion. Charitable giving, consolation in grief, the encouragement to cultivate some sort of mystic consciousness, even the beautiful ceremonies and the great songs — that stuff is all good.
But there are other parts. Burning people at the stake. Genital mutilation. The amassing of obscene wealth. Ostracism of and cruelty toward those who are different.
My friend maintains that those things aren’t true religion. But she’s wrong. She’s wrong for this precise reason: She has no right to define what religion is and what it isn’t. Nor do I. Religious people get to define that for themselves. If they say they’re murdering people for having the wrong religion (or for having no religion), that’s a true expression of their religion, because they say it is.
You don’t get to cherry-pick the good, nice parts and claim those parts are the essence of religion while the rest is human frailty or something of the sort, because you have no logical basis on which to do so. Religion is whatever the religious people say it is. If women’s health clinics are being closed through the industrious efforts of religious people (and they are), and if women are dying as a result (and they are), religion has murdered those women.
The awkward thing about religion, for apologists, is that it’s not fact-based. It’s fantasy-based. That being the case, it’s not possible to make a logical case that activities A and B are true expressions of religion while activities C and D, even though they’re being engaged in by religious people for self-professed religious reasons, aren’t true expressions. There are no facts upon which to use logic. Sorry — there just aren’t.