The Runoff Principle



Over dinner today my friends and I had a discussion on the topic of what in particular I found to be so wrong with the concept of being spiritual, as opposed to religious, and I don’t think I got my message across in as clear a way as I would have hoped.

So this will, hopefully, serve as a more fleshed out and well-reasoned representation of my argument.  A written bit of staircase wit or as the French say, l’esprit d’escalier.  

The topic of personal spirituality, meaning here the separation of a deity from the context of a corresponding organized religious dogma, was raised and I voiced my opinion that I was not a fan of either the term or its cultural usage.

My dislike for the term “spiritual” stems mostly from its loose definition. When that friend of yours, you know the one, says that they don’t believe in any of that stupid religious stuff but they’re still spiritual I’m never exactly sure what that means. Do they still believe in a god or are they just super into nature? If original sin and the transmutation of wine into blood is too unbelievable for their modern minds then why is the concept of an invisible man in the sky still an acceptable belief for such a person?

The fact that being spiritual is so up to personal interpretation is part of what makes it so dissatisfying to me and so many other freethinkers.

When the discussion turned to the cause of this trend to the “spiritual” we came to a consensus that as our modern society has evolved the darker side of organized religion, namely the misogyny, homophobia, and murderous tendencies, have become too much for those socially liberal individuals who might still wish to believe in some sort of omnipotent higher being who watches over them. So instead of following the barbaric dogma of religions that were founded by illiterate desert dwellers thousands of years ago, they decide to come up with their own moral system and by extension their own version of god.

This type of opinion-based morality sets a potentially dangerous precedent.

When someone says that their personal god is an all-loving, all-forgiving, peaceful extension of the universe at large and therefore completely harmless, I have to disagree. For every personal peaceful hippie god interpretation, there is inevitably the reverse. The pick-your-own-adventure format doesn’t sit well with society when the convicted child-rapist, war criminal, or machete-wielding madman tries to pin his actions on his personal interpretation of the Bible, Torah, or Quran.

This picking and choosing of which parts of the (insert religious text here) that you choose to follow is one of the main reasons I became an atheist. If these texts actually contain the literal word and will of god then who are we to dare interpret them to our benefit? To say that gay people can’t get married and teenagers have to abstain from premarital sex but you won’t stone your daughter for mixing two types of cloth or for picking up sticks on the sabbath rings a tad hypocritical, no?

When we see clergy members constantly adapting the tenets of their faith so as to better appeal to modern audiences in an attempt to fill empty pews, then one has to wonder just how “sacred” the word of god really is?

(Pope Francis’ recent reversal of the Catholic church’s centuries-old stances on everything from contraception to evolution being just one example.)

This constant dilution of the core values of a faith is my primary argument as to why the concept of religion is so implausible to me. If an infallible god passed down his hand-crafted rules on how to live then how can his priests change these rules and still claim divinity? I firmly believe that theists must stand by everything in their books, even the truly evil stuff, or else abandon everything as equally illogical and ridiculous. What are we supposed to think about a religion as a whole when reading something as awful as this passage from Deuteronomy?

“As you approach a town to attack it, first offer its people terms for peace.  If they accept your terms and open the gates to you, then all the people inside will serve you in forced labor.  But if they refuse to make peace and prepare to fight, you must attack the town.  When the LORD your God hands it over to you, kill every man in the town.  But you may keep for yourselves all the women, children, livestock, and other plunder.  You may enjoy the spoils of your enemies that the LORD your God has given you.” -(20:10-14)

Modern theists, barring ISIS members and Evangelicals, have more or less come to distance themselves from these sorts of hateful passages in favor of the more “Blessed are the merciful” type bits, but this distancing does nothing to address the many faults at the core of the Abrahamic faiths and for that matter all religions. Seemingly every positive sentence in any religious book is followed by a paragraph glorifying suicide or blaming women, homosexuals, and apostates for the many evils of this world.

How can the “spiritual” overlook the horrific outcomes of religious faith and yet still yearn for some form of a deity whose followers will inevitably go on to commit horrors in its name?

They say that one quart of oil can contaminate a million gallons of drinking water, and the same is true when it comes to religion. The title of this piece, The Runoff Principle, refers to the fact that no matter how many different interpretations a religion goes through, becoming more and more distilled with each incarnation, each social advance, it still flows from the same polluted source and is therefore not safe for human consumption.

“Apparently one of the most uncertain things in the world is the funeral of a religion. “
– Mark Twain, Following the Equator.






The Runoff Principle