I think it’s obvious from today’s news that God is sending humanity a clear and powerful message: religions are idiotic. Even more, they can kill you.
At least 345 Muslim Hajj pilgrims have been killed while throwing stones at the devil. They were caught up in one of the stampedes that happen with disturbing regularity: 1,426 pilgrims were trampled to death in 1990. More recently, 35 were killed in 2001, 36 in 2003, and 251 in 2004.
A rational person would say, “This is absurd. The devil-stoning ritual has to stop. When people are being killed in a devilish fashion while railing against the devil, it’s time to say no.”
No more blind obedience to religious authority.
No more running with the herd, literally or figuratively.
No more accepting of dogmas that defy reason.
As Rich says on the Uncommon Sense blog:
A good rule of thumb is to never allow yourself to be part of anything where you're debased to the point of being referred to as a “pilgrim.” It never ceases to amaze me; how easy it is to render human beings so pathetically meek, weak, and shameless. I'm reminded that Christians often refer to Christ as shepherd and themselves a flock of sheep. I don't know about you, but that analogy makes me ill enough to want to vomit.
I hear you, Rich. Instead of wolves roaming free, howling at the moon from lofty mountaintops, most religious faithful become lapdogs who are content to trot along at the end of a leash.
I can’t believe that God wants us to be imprisoned within the confines of ritual, blind faith, and slavish adherence to dogma. Though no one knows the nature of the hidden ultimate reality we call “God," we do know that our evident human reality includes the capacity to separate fact from fiction, truth from belief, cause and effect from superstition.
It doesn’t make sense that the divine would demand that we throw away the evolutionary pinnacle of Homo sapiens in order to embrace the spirit. Rather, we should build upon the best qualities of which we are now aware—truth seeking, compassion, love, freedom, rationality—and attempt to grow, not shrink.
Religion degrades. It turns us into people who consider that throwing stones at an unseen devil is worth hundreds of deaths. Insane.
Yet some self-introspection is in order lest we consider that, because we’re not Muslim fundamentalists, we are above such craziness. Perhaps we haven’t stampeded bodily in the name of God, but almost everyone has run with the herd in a psychological sense—and it is a truism that actions are the result of thoughts and beliefs. There are many devoted religious people who are one “thou shalt!” away from committing acts of violence against their brothers and sisters.
Witness the Inquisition. Witness the many modern manifestations of faith-based irrationality, a la Pat Robertson’s regular displays of hateful intolerance—the latest of which he just apologized for.
I could list many examples of my own milder throwing-stones-at-the-Devil mentality. Such as, meekly contemplating peeing in my camera case rather than getting up and walking to a restroom while the guru held forth.
And, abjuring the health benefits of a daily glass of red wine for several decades because a commandment of my spiritual group, Radha Soami Satsang Beas, said “thou shalt not imbibe even a drop.” (I’ve found, not surprisingly, that sipping a few ounces in the evening has absolutely no effect on my meditation the next morning, other, perhaps, than reducing my holier than thou quotient).
Spiritual practice should be based on reason and direct experience, not irrationality and distant dogma. Yet most people hold onto nonsensical religious beliefs that should be let go of. Stoning the devil is an obvious example, notwithstanding unconvincing Islamic arguments that there is wisdom behind this ritual.
If anything deserves to be stoned, cursed, and ridiculed, it is the human propensity toward gullibility and groupthink.