Drove My Chevy to the Levee

I know some of my friends are religious. Their faith baffles me. I don’t understand how anyone could ever think or feel those things: It just isn’t possible.

To me, a religious person is like a guy who is delighted to tell you all about his mint-condition cherry-red 1993 Chevy Corvette convertible. He loves his car. He invites you over to his house, raises the garage door, waves his arm expansively, and crows, “There she is! Ain’t she a beaut?”

And the garage is empty.

Not only is the garage empty, but the guy simply doesn’t understand when you tell him the garage is empty. He tells you about the new transmission he put in, the special brands of wax he buys, the gold-plated hood ornament, the horsepower. He offers to take you out for a spin in the Corvette, and shakes his head sadly when you decline.

What can you say to a guy like that?

What’s worse, this analogy is the most benign, charitable, kindly view I can take of religion. Any other way of looking at it is worse. A lot worse. But the analogy does point unerringly at the central threat that religion poses to our world.

Some religions are relatively benign, and many religious people are good, kind, and inoffensive. On the other hand, some religions are savage and horrifying, and many religious people are filled with anger, cruelty, and just plain bad information.

But no matter what their denomination, no matter what their personal character, they all have an empty garage and, blind to what anybody else can plainly see, are convinced there’s a mint-condition cherry-red Corvette convertible in the garage. The problem with religion is precisely this: It prevents you from seeing certain things that ought to be obvious. Religion — any religion — begins by insisting that you believe things that simply aren’t true. In order to cling to your religion, you must accept those lies. You must embrace them. You must ride around town in them with the top down and the wind in your hair, listening to the Beach Boys on the dashboard radio.

Of course you don’t think they’re lies. You’re offended that I would even call your cherished beliefs lies. But somebody needs to. It’s my turn.

Now, you may think you have a Corvette convertible while the guy next door has a rattletrap Model T that belches oily smoke and can’t go but fifteen miles an hour. The trouble is, he thinks the same thing! He thinks you’re the one with the rattletrap Model T. He’s quite proud of his Corvette. The two of you may even get into fist fights over who has the better car. (If only this were a metaphor. Can you say, “Northern Ireland”? I knew you could.)

Stepping aside from my rather belabored imagery for a moment, the problem with religion — any religion, no matter how beneficent you may think it is — is that it leaves you unable to distinguish truth from falsehood. In order to become an adherent of a religion in the first place, you have to embrace a set of beliefs for which there is not a scintilla of reliable evidence. You have to agree that you will be guided in your behavior by those beliefs.

This happens at a pre-conscious level in most cases, I’m sure. It’s an instinct, or the result of how the human brain is organized. A few of us are born with a different kind of brain organization. A few more are so shocked by what happens in their church that they give it up. But for untold millions of people, that moment of awakening never happens. They sleepwalk through life, thinking they’re driving a Corvette.

Once you’ve agreed to the tenets of your faith, you have no way to test them. You have no way to tell whether they’re healthy for you, for your loved ones, and for the world, or whether they’re monstrously awful and will cause nothing but suffering and mayhem.

Nowhere is this fact more starkly demonstrated than in the current rise of fascist Christianity. There is, in the United States, a terrifyingly well organized and massively well funded effort to shove fundamentalist Christian beliefs down everybody’s throat. The people who follow this creed don’t care about freedom. They don’t care about the rule of law. All they care about is advancing their own twisted agenda.

Of course, if you’re one of the nice, good, kindly religious people, you may be firmly convinced that you’re nothing at all like these jack-booted thugs with their impeccable three-piece suits and perfect teeth. You have a cherry-red Corvette convertible. They only have a rattletrap Model T. (Your God is red-hot. Their god ain’t doodly-squat.) But they think the same thing about you! And how can either of you judge which is which? They certainly can’t — and sad to say, you can’t either.

The only people who are capable of figuring out which of the ideas put forth by the various religious traditions are good and healthy, and which ideas are dangerous and evil, are the secular humanists. We’re the only ones who can see that the garages are empty.

We’re all on foot. So walk the walk.

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7 Responses to Drove My Chevy to the Levee

  1. Roulettemans says:

    No. The garage door hasn’t opened. It is just that guy saying there is a Chevy inside and you saying there is nothing inside.

    • midiguru says:

      Show me the Chevy. Can’t do that? Oh, okay. But you still think threre’s a Chevy. If there is a Chevy, then hey, show me the Chevy! Either that, or admit the garage is empty. But please, don’t waste anybody’s time with silly quibbles.

  2. Roulettemans says:

    “…are good and healthy, and which ideas are dangerous and evil.”
    There is no absolute good and evil. There are only opinions about it. And your opinion is one of many. You are very patronizing. The people who have different beliefs than you are neither “wrong” nor “evil” nor anything. They are just disagreeing with you and you fail to see their point; this doesn’t mean they don’t have one.

    • midiguru says:

      Uhh, there are certainly actions that are absolutely good, and actions that are absolutely evil. Post-modern relativism is a cop-out, and not even an interesting cop-out.

      Here’s a simple example: A man learns that people are dying of thirst while crossing a desert, so the man travels out into the desert and puts bottles of water where they can be found. That is, objectively, a GOOD act. There is nothing relativistic or ambiguous about it. In the same way, tearing children away from their parents for no better reason than that the families have entered an area that you feel they shouldn’t have entered is objectively EVIL. If you try to quibble or equivocate about this, then YOU are evil.

      Also, why should you assume that I fail to see the point being espoused by people with whom I disagree? You seem to be denying the possibility that I see their point perfectly well, and that the point they’re making has no merit.

      It’s not patronizing to point out that somebody is spouting obvious nonsense. It’s just being clear-headed. If you prefer to remain muddle-headed, that’s not my problem.

      It’s really a very, simple, concrete question. If there is a scintilla of objective evidence indicating that the cherished beliefs of any religion have a valid basis in fact, then please — show us the evidence! Trying to pretend that it’s all a matter of opinion is just plain ordinary garden-variety bullshit.

  3. chiweeniedijon says:

    How do you define “religion”? It is a pretty bold statement to say that ANY religion “insists that you believe things that simply aren’t true”… I wonder if you are confusing “true” and “provable”?

    Anyway, given your opinion of religion, I wonder how you feel about this discussion:

    Peace, brother.

  4. midiguru says:

    With those pearls and the black lace, I’m not sure I’d be paying enough attention to the discussion, whatever it is, so I’ll skip the video.

    My Webster’s 3rd Unabridged says, among other things, that “truth” is: “(1) FACT” … it’s all in caps in the dictionary; “(2) the body of things, facts, and events that make up the universe: actual existence: ACTUALITY….” The dictionary goes on to provide usages for the word that are clearly metaphorical: “(3) often cap: a fundamental or spiritual reality conceived of as being partly or wholly transcendent of perceived actuality and experience.” But that’s a metaphorical extension of the meaning. Confusing “truth” with something “transcendent of perceived actuality” is just plain silly. It’s an inadmissible form of argument known as special pleading. I’ll stick with the concrete meaning of the word — and in a concrete sense, yes, what is true is provably true. No more need be said about that.

    • chiweeniedijon says:

      LOL, okay, don’t watch the video – whether it is because you don’t want to deal with a potential challenge to your worldview, or you don’t want to deal with an unwelcome boner, both perfectly valid reasons! But, the overall idea is that government is religion, and that people’s unyielding “faith” in the legitimacy of government authority is every bit as dangerous as people’s faith in a god or religious leader. She draws several parallels, but the main point being is that we collectively are okay with this special institution having the exclusive right to initiatory violence (e.g. you break a law nonviolently, gov’t agents can force you with guns into a cage). We all are indoctrinated from childhood to simply accept this. Given your statement about religion requiring people to believe lies, along with the question of how you define “religion”, i thought you might have an interesting perspective on this idea.

      Anyway, thank you for the response. You do seem to take a hard line on dividing the world into true and false, without much grey area for something to be true but unprovable. I think your analogy could be rephrased to be a little more accurate:

      There is a garage whose door is unopenable by any conventional means – there’s no way to physically penetrate the barrier. Your friend is convinced there’s a red Chevy in the garage. Perhaps he claims “transcendent” spiritual experiences that have allowed him to see past the door. Your other friend is convinced there’s a blue Ford in the garage; she has her own reasons for believing it based on her own life experience and/or indoctrination. You are convinced that the garage is empty – some law of nature requires it to be empty. None of you can prove your assertions through any logical system. But it seems to me that there is some fundamental unifying “truth” underneath all of this: that is the deep mystery of what could possibly be in the garage.

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