Religion, morality, and the guiding principle of Shit Happens.
Post Updated October 2, 2022. The head of the Russian Orthodox Church said this week that any Russian soldier who died in battle in Ukraine would be cleansed of their sins. Great.
That’s code for “Murder, plunder, rape. Go ahead, it’s ok with god”.
Really, is it a surprise? Religious leaders have been at it since religion was created.
This post is 10 years old. But with the mixing of religion and politics on the rise around the world it’s probably more relevant then it’s ever been in my lifetime.
I thought I’d share it again.
I’m an atheist. It’s not a choice I ever made, I was just raised that way. As a child in rural Quebec, my only contact with religion was when we went to church on Christmas eve with family friends. Although Quebec is historically very Catholic, my parents and friends never spoke of religion.
We moved to Zambia, in Africa, when I was 8. There again I had no exposure to religion.
In 1976, when I was 10, I was sent to a private boys school on Vancouver Island. It didn’t take long for religion to come up and for kids to taunt me about “not believing in god”. You might as well have sent me to Papua New Guinea and told me that we had to pray to the spirits of dead animals. Jesus born of a virgin (how does that happen?), son of an almighty god who looks over us and judges our every action? Sounded like something out of Star Trek. It didn’t take long before I had school yard fights because of other kids taunting me.
I’ve had a few other events in my life where religion has affected me personally. In all cases they were negative; either people rejecting me because of my (non)belief or trying to convert me. The first type are easy to avoid. The second type just get me hot under the collar. If I can accept you as you are, why can’t you accept me the way I am? Surprisingly it’s not always the usual suspects. I had a good friend who was a priest. He was in an all-priest hockey league and he once invited me to fill in when another priest couldn’t make it. I was surprised at how well these guys played hockey, but I was also surprised that religion never came up during the game. They didn’t bless the puck, they didn’t do a Hallelujah after every goal. In fact, religion was never brought up by my friend. What he did talk about was helping others in the community. He was a good person. Unfortunately he left the church a few years later because he wanted to start a family, something the church wouldn’t allow him to do.
I don’t care if someone is Catholic, Muslim, or Jew. If belief is what gets through your day I think that’s great. If I’ve ever insulted, or in the future insult your religion, I apologize. I probably didn’t realize it. I always try to dress appropriately when I go into a place of worship, I take off my shoes when I enter a temple. I try to remember not to point my feet towards a religious symbol, I try to remember not to touch a Buddhist child on the head. I will respect someone’s right to believe what they want and will be respectful of religious symbols.
All I ask in return is that others respect my right to not believe. And if you know I’m not religious, please don’t turn every conversation into something having to do with god. That’s also disrespectful. There’s lots of other things to talk about.
A lot of people will turn a conversation about religion into a conversation about morality. Most people will agree that the two are separate issues. For people who need convincing I suggest they read “God is not great” by Christopher Hitchens. Think of all the things in history that have been done ‘in the name of religion’. You don’t have to look far, there’s a whole bunch of wackos who’ve been going at it for over 50 years in the Middle East. Not much morality associated with religion.
Another thing that bothers me is “Destiny”. Depending who you talk to, destiny can have religious implications. Lissette and I sometimes talk about it, she has some belief in destiny. Destiny defined is “a predetermined course of events”. It is different from “fate” though where fate is unavoidable, whatever you do. Destiny is a predetermined outcome based on a flow of events as they work themselves out. Lissette for example will say “We were destined to meet. Even if we had not met the way we did we would have met in another way”. That sounds nice and completely harmless. But whenever I think destiny I think of a conversation I once had with one of my bosses. A plane had gone down, over 150 dead. I was reading it off the Reuter’s and said “I feel really sorry for those people and their families”. He responded by “Why are you feeling sorry for them?”. I was a bit flabbergasted “because they died a horrible death!”. He responded “You can’t feel sorry for them, it was their destiny”. I just though that it was an insensitive way to be summed up, like they were just somehow sacrificial lamb. How about kids with leukemia, or thousands of people washed away by a tsunami? “Oh well, it was their destiny to die like that”. What a pile of bullshit. I notice it’s always “destiny” when it happens to other people but that term is never used in that sense when something bad happens to you or your loved ones…
So by now you basically think that I believe in nothing. Which leads me to my Guiding Principle.
Yes. Shit Happens. Good shit happens, especially if you do all the good things in your life to make good shit happen. Most of the time, if you are nice to people, study hard, and work hard, good things will happen to you. Unfortunately bad shit can also happen – and its usually the bad stuff that you can’t control: sickness, accidents, natural disasters. Some people can be the nicest people on earth and do 99% of things just as they should – and somehow everything goes to hell for them, whereas other people can be the biggest assholes (and I’ve met a few) and have everything going for them; the best jobs, great health etc…Why? Shit happens and most of the time you can’t do anything about it.
Fortunately I also believe in another principle; Karma. It’s a sub-principle to my Guiding Principle of Shit Happens. But not Karma in a cosmic or religious sense. I think how you treat others (and everything around you) will come back to you one way or another. If you’re really generous to the people around you then doesn’t it make sense that you have a good chance that it will be reciprocated somewhere down the line when you need it? It just logical. The same way that biggest asshole will eventually pay the price.
Anyway, what does all the above have to do with Travel? Several things: 1) There’s some places that I won’t go because of what I consider religious extremism. Overly religious people make me nervous, partly because of what they’ll do in the name of God or what they won’t do (or resign themselves to) in the name of God. I’ve been to a few Muslim countries where the pilot says something along the lines of “Inshallah, we’ll be in Medan in 55 minutes”. I see people praying. That kind of stuff makes me nervous. Fly the plane properly, don’t use god as your crutch – he’s not flying the damn plane. If certain values or sensiblities are incompatible with a certain destination maybe it’s a sign that one shouldn’t go. 2) I always plan for the worst even if I do everything I can to do it right. Because bad shit can happen. 3) Karma – try to be giving to others, a bit of time and a smile never hurt.
I wish you all the best shit.
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