Monday, April 03, 2006

"I don't believe in organized religion"

Like, what does this mean exactly?

My sponsor when I was received into the Catholic Church was (and is) a really awesome single woman who, when she would tell guys on the first date that she was Catholic, would invariably hear the smug response, "Oh, well, I don't believe in organized religion." "What can I say to that?" she asked some of us who stayed to chat one night after RCIA class. "What do you believe in, then, disorganized religion?" was my smart-ass response.

But seriously, so what? I mean, I am the queen of non-joiners. I'm registered as an independent. No, scratch that; I'm registered not even as an independent, because that might mean a capital-I independent, but as unaffiliated. I don't want to join a political party because I don't want to suggest I agree with all of one party's platform, because I don't. I like being unaffiliated. (Or else I have a lot of friends at either end of the political spectrum and I want y'all to keep liking me. Actually, that's probably more to the point.)

With religion, though--well, there are several reasons I can think of that the statement "I don't believe in organized religion" deserves to be challenged, and I will list them, because I like lists:

1. This usually implies that the speaker thinks he or she is too smart and independent-minded to be brainwashed by people who insist that they adhere to a certain set of beliefs and refrain from questioning them. Human history demonstrates that stupid ideas do not have to be religious for large groups of people to accept them unquestioningly. It also demonstrates that most people are not as smart as they think they are. Thus, the statistical probability is high that if you don't believe in organized religion, it's not because you're unusually capable of free, critical thought. But maybe you are that special. Nonetheless, I remain skeptical.

2. The following doesn't apply to pure atheists who don't believe in anything supernatural. However, that's a very small category (although I've noticed more than one atheist who thinks that people who are unaffiliated with any church are by default atheists, which isn't true, but that's yet another rant). But if you do believe in something spiritual, and if you think it's important, then doesn't it make sense to seek out other people who believe those things are important so that you can discuss and enjoy those things with other people? And wouldn't that imply some kind of, you know, organization?

3. Any organization, religious or not, is going to be flawed, because people suck that way. I call it original sin; you can call it what you want. If you're disillusioned every time someone in authority does something corrupt, repressive, or dishonest, you must be a very cynical person.

4. "Organized religion" is such a huge category that it's almost meaningless. Anyone who uses this phrase is probably thinking of something a lot more specific than the phrase actually encompasses. If you don't believe in nuns with rulers, pedophile priests, and the rhythm method, that doesn't sum up organized religion.

5. People who do believe in something spiritual but don't believe in organized religion seem invariably to believe in some vague higher power, living in harmony with nature, and being nice to other people. For being disorganized, not believing in organized religion is surprisingly monolithic. Most theologians, Christian and otherwise, have much more interesting and varied ideas than people who don't believe in organized religion, whose ideas are usually vapid and boring.

Do I exaggerate? Am I being unfair? Probably. Discuss.

I know there are people who say "I don't believe in organized religion" for legitimate reasons, but to me it's become a cliche and I think it's the sort of phrase that no longer deserves to be self-explanatory. At least if you don't believe in organized religion, maybe think of a different way to say it.

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