Religion is like a crappy commercial

This is a guest post by Jessica Ahlquist. Jessica is a Junior at Cranston High School West.

***

On Monday night when I was flying home to Rhode Island from Columbus, I found something interesting in the seat pocket in front of me.  It was a little plastic charm with an image of Mary on it.  Around her, the charm reads,

“O Mary conceives without sin pray for us who have recourse to thee.”


This bothers me.

I suppose a lot of Christians read this as a nice message.  You know, that famous old “Mary is pure and we’re sinners” bit.  Still, it bugs me.  What is it REALLY saying?

It’s saying that people are bad, and that we need forgiveness and prayer in order to be happy and good.

It’s called fear mongering and it’s what the media uses to sell people lies and products they don’t need.  They scare people into believing they need things they really don’t.

For example, that commercial of the unpopular guy who uses fancy cologne to make all the girls like him is fear mongering.  It’s basically saying that any guy who doesn’t use this product is never going to get a date.  It gets even more obvious though.  There’s another commercial for some sort of anti-bacterial spray in which the mother is freaking out because her kids are touching dirty doorknobs and telephones.

It may not seem like it at first, but that is religion in a nutshell.  Religion plays on fear and guilt because it wants to manipulate and control people.  It threatens people with Hell just like the commercials threaten people with unpopularity or germs.  And it markets itself, too.  Religion is trying to sell everyone an eternal happiness or afterlife: an intangible, nonexistent product unnecessary for living a fulfilling life.

Selling products that don’t exist or work is called a scam.  Religion is a scam and it should be treated as such.

 

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • Karen

    Furthermore, it says that Mary can be prayed to and can intercede for our benefit.
    Like, if there IS a god, he’d rather listen to his (?) mother’s requests to mine.
    Ah, the tribulations of a believer.

  • http://silveroutlinedwindow.wordpress.com/ Shannon

    Yes! Agree – NEMA!

  • http://mamamara.wordpress.com/ Mara

    @6b1d18d160f45df9cfb0e96780213769:disqus : Well, everybody knows that Jewish men have to listen to their mothers ;)

    Nice piece, Jessica, keep up the good work!

  • http://billybobsbibleblog.blogspot.com/ billybobbibb

    Religion is more than just a scam.  Homeopathy, healing crystals, talking to the dead, fortune telling are all scams.  There’s that false hope, but if you decide not to spend money on those things, no problem.  Christianity is blackmail, in other words, be one of us, or the almighty sadist god will fry your azz in HELL!

  • Anonymous

    Fear mongering, esp. in advertising, is a big topic here in our house.  It is popular in religion and politics as well, 2 entities who must peddle fear to keep the masses in line.  And it is amazing (and sad) to me to realize how many people just don’t see it.

  • Anonymous

    Wouldn’t praying to Mary qualify as idolatry?

    • gsw

      Please, the whole catholic religion is one big breaking the second commandment. All those life-size Jesus on the cross statues?
      “Do not make an image or any likeness of what is in the heavens above…” prohibits making an image of the God of Israel for use in worship.

      Sex is not a sin, but a way to be happy (R.A.H).

      • http://www.facebook.com/eggfulaura Egg Fu Laura

        Catholic 10 commandments don’t have a law against graven images.  http://atheism.about.com/od/tencommandments/a/prot_cath_3.htm

    • http://disienai.tumblr.com/ Semipermeable

      According to the Mysts of Avalon, Mary is the Pagan Goddess who snuck in to Christianity under Jesus/God’s nose because she got a new hat and became unrecognizable. 

      • Anonymous

        Mists of Avalon is a novel. The history of Mariology is quite complex.

        As for depictions of Jesus et alia: that went back and forth for the first thousand years, give or take. One faction liked art & thought it helped instill devotion (*not worship*), especially in the illiterate lower classes who made up the bulk of early Christians; one faction disliked art and equated it with idolatry. In Christianity, the art people won out (at least until the Reformation) in both East and West. In Islam, the art people lost out (for the most part).

        • http://disienai.tumblr.com/ Semipermeable

          I am aware, I meant it as an offhand jest instead of a commentary on the folklore.
          That is interesting though.

  • Elliott776

    Christianity is more than black mail, its akin to terrorism. IF you don’t live by God’s decree then you will burn for all eternity. Terrorists just burn people till they are dead or cut off their heads. But God will put you to the flame and won’t allow you to die. That is terrorism.

  • Mike Lemieux

    Great post, Jessica! Reminds me of this quote:

    “The very concept of sin comes from the bible. Christianity offers to
    solve a problem of its own making! Would you be thankful to a person who
    cut you with a knife in order to sell you a bandage?” – Dan Barker

    • Anonymous

      It’s the perfect control mechanism. Come up with arbitrary rules that you know with absolute certainty people will break and then offer them the only cure, knowing that they will be coming back

    • Che Resa

      OMG! Mike, another great comparison with advertising!! Create the problem and then offer up your product as the solution. Classic. Today, one can use Secret regularly to:
      The protection you want and the smooth skin you love with a bonus — you’ll shave less often. With continued use, it’s been clinically tested to:REDUCE VISUAL APPEARANCE OF HAIR
      CONDITION UNDERARM FOR SMOOTH SKIN
      MAKE HAIR LOOK AND FEEL FINER

  • Annie

    But I never got why Mary was considered to be without sin in the first place.  She was, presumably, human after all, and I hope religious folks don’t mean to imply that conceiving a child the old fashioned way is a sin.  If so, the Catholic families of my youth are in BIG trouble.

    Great post Jessica!

    • Anonymous

      Okay, the reasoning went like this. Jesus, being GOD, could not possibly have been tainted by being borne by a regular human woman with Original Sin. Therefore, Mary must have been special. She must have been cleaner, more pure than every other woman. Since Original Sin is passed to children via the sex that is required to conceive, Mary must have been conceived in a way that did not require her parents to have sex. In the days before in vitro, this could only done by magical intervention. Mary’s parents conceived her in a chaste, fully clothed embrace without bodily fluids being involved.

      • http://www.facebook.com/eggfulaura Egg Fu Laura

        O_o  

      • JohnnieCanuck

        And that’s what they mean when they refer to the Immaculate Conception.

        If you had to guess, being non-Catholic, you’d probably assume they were talking about when the Holy Ghost had non-consensual sex with Mary and then sent an angel to tell her that she’d been blessed amongst women.

        As Ibis says, they came up with this concept to solve the conundrum of their illogical imaginings.

  • (another) Karen

    Annie said: “I hope religious folks don’t mean to imply that conceiving a child the old fashioned way is a sin.”

    That’s exactly what I’ve always thought they meant — at least sort of, and at least for women.  Mary is supposed to be pure *because* she conceived as a virgin — she hadn’t “sinned” by having sex.  That concept was always rather disturbing to me!

    • Annie

      Me too.  Not just disturbing… but inconsistent as well.  Since humans are born “with sin” because of Adam and Eve, how the heck does procreating have anything to do with it?  If she was born human, she was a “sinner”.  Period. 

      • Anonymous

        Sex is the mechanism by which the curse is transmitted. According to Augustine (who was sainted for working this out of course), OS is a sexually transmitted disease. If just being human was enough, Jesus, who was fully human, would have been a sinner too. Which he wasn’t.

        • http://annainca.blogspot.com/ Anna

          That leads me to wonder what they believe about artificial insemination. How is the original sin transmitted if the parents of the baby didn’t have sex with each other?

          • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ Anonymous

            They were “playing God”. After all, if they were meant to have children, they’d be fertile!

            (That was painful to write.)

          • Anonymous

            I’m not sure. But doctrines that no longer make sense abound. The Catholic Church officially accepts evolution, and yet there are still, somehow, an Adam and Eve who were the first humans and disobeyed God in Eden from whom OS could be inherited. The thing is, most Christians know next to nothing about their theology. The clergy doesn’t really need to come up with explanations as long as the sheep don’t ask any questions. I firmly believe that the best antidote to religion is an education in religious history. It’s even better than knowledge of science, since with the latter a God of the Gaps can always come to the rescue in the end for those people who are so inclined. Then again, I’ve known a number of historians who knew all the dirty secrets, but were still firm believers (or at least pretended to be).

    • Anonymous

      If it’s such a sin, why do Catholic people have so many kids? They have nothing on Mormons, but still.

      • Anonymous

        They can just confess their sins away

      • Anonymous

        Sex itself (as long as it is chaste, i.e. in wedlock for the purpose of procreation) is not a sin. It just transmits the sin. However, believers were always encouraged to remain celibate and not marry at all.

        Best: Celibacy
        Good: Sex in marriage for procreation
        Okay: Sex in marriage for purposes other than procreation, as long as birth control methods aren’t used
        Not okay: Sex in marriage using birth control
        Sin, sin, sin: Sex outside of marriage
        Very bad: Sex outside of marriage using birth control
        Murderish: Sex outside of marriage followed by abortion

    • Surgoshan

      Christianity is, on even a casual reading, a little bit deeply and abidingly misogynistic from a to z.  Women are the cause of all the world’s problems as vehicles of sin and babies, and the cause of both is the same.  Sex.

      By tarring all sex as sinful, they’ve found a perfect mechanism for control.  You can only have sex a certain way, with a council of old men looking on, nodding in grim approval.  If they don’t approve, you get beaten to death with rocks.

      If you’re a woman.

    • Anonymous

      She is pure because she herself was immaculately conceived. She remains pure because she doesn’t have sex and her hymen miraculously doesn’t break during delivery. According to Catholic doctrine, she never has sex after Jesus is born either. Yep, misogyny in a can.

      • http://religiouscomics.net/ Jeff P

        How does Christian theology explain Jesus’ brother? 
        Didn’t Mary and Joseph do the dirty deed producing James?  (I think that
        was his name…)

        • Anonymous

          Not really a brother. Only a cousin or other close relative. Or perhaps Joseph’s  son from a previous marriage.

    • Anonymous

      She is pure because she herself was immaculately conceived. She remains pure because she doesn’t have sex and her hymen miraculously doesn’t break during delivery. According to Catholic doctrine, she never has sex after Jesus is born either. Yep, misogyny in a can.

    • Anonymous

      She is pure because she herself was immaculately conceived. She remains pure because she doesn’t have sex and her hymen miraculously doesn’t break during delivery. According to Catholic doctrine, she never has sex after Jesus is born either. Yep, misogyny in a can.

  • schnauzermom

    Ok, twelve years of catholic school talking here. Just to clarify: the Immaculate Conception has NOTHING to do with the way Jesus was supposedly conceived. It refers to the doctrine that Mary herself was conceived (by her parents, in the normal way) without the ‘stain’ of original sin on her soul. Because presumably god would not want to spend 9 months in the womb of a woman who was marked by original sin (the disobedience of Adam and Eve) thereby risking original sin cooties.

    • http://profiles.google.com/statueofmike Michael S

      I honestly wish you hadn’t told me that. I don’t blame you, but now I have more questions that I don’t want answers to…
      A friend of mine spent his childhood in catholic school. He infrequently has outbursts of regret about “all the stupid worthless crap I know.”

    • Anonymous

      Oh god my brain hurts

    • http://religiouscomics.net/ Jeff P

      I happened to also be conceived (by my parents, in the normal way) without the ‘stain’ of original sin on my soul… I wonder what that makes me?

      • Anonymous

        Human.  Like the rest of us.

      • JohnnieCanuck

        It was part of Her being a perpetual virgin, with a hymen unbroken by childbirth. You?

  • Sailor

    The doctrine of Mary being a virgin when she had Jesus was probably added later to give more credibility to the idea he was the savior. First off there is no way anyone (but Mary) could possibly know.Do you really think she would go about talking about it?  Jesus also had at least one brother which would man they were either all magically conceived or she certainly was not a virgin when she died. Old white religious leaders seem to have a real fear of normal biological processes, which is a shame because they are way more fascinating than the nonsense they spout.

    • Anonymous

      It could also be a mistranslation. The Hebrew word “almah” usually means “young woman”, in the sense of having reached puberty and being marriageable. There is no word in Hebrew that precisely means “virgin”

      In any case, virgin births are nothing new or unique. Every major religion has them. Dozens of myths (that are very similar to Jesus in other ways) have the hero born to virgins. Many of them precede the Jesus myth by thousands of years. It’s more likely that the concept was plagiarized like just about everything else in Christianity, though it certainly played into their sex-phobia

    • Anonymous

      It was actually a very early doctrine. As soon as the cult spread beyond the confines of Jesus’ original followers in Jerusalem. It’s a very old idea that Jesus was an only child and that references to his brothers were misunderstood (i.e. not brothers in fact, but cousins).

  • http://eviltwit.wordpress.com/ eviltwit

    hmm “Mary concieves without sin”.   i guess god’s the one who sinned there – having basically raped Mary and all – even without the sex. i know i’d have been ecstatic to wake up pregnant when i was still a virgin.  any interpretation of  the without sin bit is idiotic.  i can’t believe people ascribe to this shyte.

    • JohnnieCanuck

      Your quote has an error. Catholic doctrine has it as ‘conceived’. That’s in reference to Mary’s own conception, not of Jesus’.

  • JulietEcho

    Excellent article, Jessica.  Once you break through the lingo, evangelism sounds (and is, in many cases, IMO) pretty sinister stuff.  “Let me tell you what a horrible person you are so that you can ask my God for forgiveness!  That way, you won’t burn for your horribleness!”

  • schnauzermom

    And by the way, the medal reads “O Mary, conceived without sin…” Not “conceives…” Trust me. The nuns gave them out like candy and I had a whole collection of them as a kid. Nothing like Catholic school for making atheists, star Trivial Pursuit champs, and nightmares.

    • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ Anonymous

      And weird guilt complexes.

  • fenrir

    Zeus had enough virgin-born children to fill a high school…

  • fenrir

    Zeus had enough virgin-born children to fill a high school…

  • fenrir

    Zeus had enough virgin-born children to fill a high school…

  • fenrir

    Zeus had enough virgin-born children to fill a high school…

  • JJR

    @ Elliott776:  Exactly the point of Shadia Drury’s book,
    Terror and Civilization: Christianity, Politics, and the Western Psyche. Palgrave Macmillan, 2004 ISBN 1-4039-6404-1

  • JJR

    @ Elliott776:  Exactly the point of Shadia Drury’s book,
    Terror and Civilization: Christianity, Politics, and the Western Psyche. Palgrave Macmillan, 2004 ISBN 1-4039-6404-1

  • AHSFreethought

    great post Jess :-)

  • Cojin1976

    Jesus was very much ill-conceived.   

  • Anonymous

    brilliant post, Jessica. you have a future. keep it up.

    for me at least, this is the biggest turn off religion suffers. it really is like a bad commercial, most of the time. hokey, fake, silly, logically inconsistent, represented by people who don’t look like me or many others, sexually repressive, fearmongering…

    i can appreciate religion when it’s like art. pretty and flowery. but i can’t take it so seriously that i want it to be the  foundation of  our society or define our laws, etc. that’s like saying poets should be police officers, and vice versa.

  • http://profiles.google.com/statueofmike Michael S

    The comparison to advertisements is interesting. They both rely on archetypes for mass appeal.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    The relationships in heaven could be confusing:

    “Son, er, Dear, er, Lord…?”

    “Yes, Mom, er, Dear, er, My Child, you have a question?”

    “Well, yes. I was always wondering. Before you impregnated me with, uh, you, so that I would have you, and you could grow up to be a blood sacrifice to …well, you, so you’d appease …yourself and not be so angry with the rest of us, I mean humanity, and then join yourself up here, well, uh, anyway, before you did that I heard that you didn’t want to be born from a woman with original sin, so you… what? You arranged ahead of time that I’d be born without that? How’d you do that? Did you cleanse it from my mom and dad first, or from me when I was still inside Mom, or when I was a kid, or what?  And now that I think of it, if you could do that for me, why didn’t you just do that for everybody all at once? I mean it all seems so unnecessarily complicated, what with “original” sin, and then “new” sin I guess you’d call it, and water to get the original sin off, and your blood to get the new sin off, and wow, it’s kinda like a Rube Goldberg contraption, y’know?  I’m getting a headache…”

    Now, now, Mom, er, Dear, er, My Child, just lie down and have a nap, and try not to think so much. I’ll be out for a while doing some mysterious things, er, working in mysterious ways, I mean. I’ll be back later.”

    • http://religiouscomics.net/ Jeff P

      Of course a Christian would counter that the important idea is that Jesus never sinned in his life while everybody else sins at least once through personal action or thought.  I would disagree, though, that Jesus never sinned.  Consider the following just with the meager amount of information written about Him.  He doesn’t desire material things and doesn’t like money changing in holy places – that is a sin against God’s preferred American political party and our church institutions – and perhaps the sin of being a communist. He got mad at a fig tree – the sin of  wrath.  He unnecessarily walked on water – the sin of being a show-off.  He turned water into wine – the sin of gluttony and perhaps sloth.  He said it is better to gouge your eyes out than look lustfully at another (but He made us with the same sexual desire and passion as the other primate species) – the sin of setting us up for a fall which leads to the sin of wrath.    He had long hair and a beard – the sin of not being clean shaven.  He didn’t have a job – the sin of sloth.  The list goes on.  If we knew more about Jesus other than what the gospel writers chose to mention, there would probably be many more sins revealed.

      • Anonymous

        Ah, but if we take “sin” to mean “defying God’s will,” which is the definition I learned in catechism, and accept that Jesus was fully God, then it would have been impossible for him to sin. He couldn’t possibly defy his own will, and the concept of sin would basically be meaningless to him. 

        Religion can be fun if you forget that people actually believe it’s true. Kind of like discussing Star Wars.

        • http://religiouscomics.net/ Jeff P

          Right you are!  I was assuming an absolute standard of morality and religion assumes an operational definition where moral is as God says with no other consideration. The ultimate relativism. 

    • http://disienai.tumblr.com/ Semipermeable

      I will admit, I do find the idea of a virgin woman waking up suddenly pregnant to be slightly terrifying as opposed to miraculous. She didn’t really have the option to give consent, and the God figure sees no problem with creating a ‘pure’ women for the sole purpose of using her as some twisted sort of boat into the mortal world then throwing her away like a used tissue. 

      It really reflects how the religion views women in general, as some sort of vessel for the next generation. Only to be rewarded with a special regard if they fulfill the ‘Angel of the House’ role. 

      I would argue that Eve can be seen as a strong character, who, if you read genesis, acts on her own volition while Adam simply does what he is told. She seeks knowledge, and only after doing so is she given a name (even though Adam had already named all the other animals) and viewed as something apart from Adam. I may be wrong, but I find it interesting in a literary perspective. 

      • french engineer

        Myself, I always picture the archangel parting the clouds over Mary’s house, and descending amidst an angelic chorus,  a turkey baster in his right hand…

      • Robmoitoza

        Wow! I never looked at it that way. Do you think God could be charged with rape? He didn’t use rupes (sp?) did he? 

  • Peter Mahoney

    Critics say that the Catholic Church is ANTI-WOMEN.
    But… Catholic adoration of Mary shows adoration of women.
    There is one catch though… the woman must be a MOTHER…. AND a VIRGIN! :-)

    • http://disienai.tumblr.com/ Semipermeable

      And even that can be taken away if she so much as sneezes at abortion.

    • http://disienai.tumblr.com/ Semipermeable

      And even that can be taken away if she so much as sneezes at abortion.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    Very good post, Jessica. I never thought of the parallels with how commercials invent our inadequacies for us, and then offer their miraculous remedies, “Now, new!  With dihydrogen monoxide!”

    • Anonymous

      Watch out for that dihydrogen monoxide.  I hear that they’re adding it to all kinds of stuff.  It’s in food, tap water and even in the rain now.  Our bodies are even full of it.  Before you know it you’ll be drowning in the stuff.

  • Anonymous

    Selling Jesus has to be the most profitable con ever thought up.  You don’t even pay tax on it.

  • http://twitter.com/jonathanfigdor Jonathan Figdor

    I personally think some religions are scammier and sleazier than others. UUs, for example, don’t strike me as trying to scam believers through fear.  They’re more interested in creating meaningful “spiritual” communities (whatever that means).  I guess that’s why many Christians consider them immoral heretics…

  • Anonymous

    I know feminist women who take and reshape the myth of Mary.  I do appreciate the aspect of Mary that is compassionate and loving, and know that she provides deep acceptance and deep solace for those in pain. A home for those feelings that go beyond our everyday life experiences and seem otherwise to have no place to rest. I know, she says. I know. Her arms are open, her heart is exposed. As an atheist I do sometimes sit in a church and find a kind of spiritual solace unavailable elsewhere. I don’t disagree with the post, very well written, but I want to add that the experience of ordinary believers may lie elsewhere.

    • http://annainca.blogspot.com/ Anna

      I find it fascinating that an atheist would feel that way in a church! I bet a lot of it depends on what kind of experiences someone has had. I’ve never felt “spiritual solace” sitting in a church, but of course I’ve never been a Christian and churches are well outside my comfort zone. I suppose it must be different for former believers who had positive experiences in churches.

      • Anonymous

        I think it’s quite the opposite. I have no bad memories to overcome (having been raised outside of any religion). It helps a lot if the church is ancient, I have to say. It’s a sense that this is a place where people have brought their – beyond the daily range – experiences for hundreds of years, and it is a space that encompasses – I think I’m just dancing around saying “suffering.” I’m probably just projecting to be sure. I read somewhere – church was the one place a woman could sit a while without fear of interruption.

        • http://www.facebook.com/eggfulaura Egg Fu Laura

          I think this is awesome.  :)

        • http://annainca.blogspot.com/ Anna

          I never thought about it that way before! I’ve been to hundreds of churches while sightseeing around Europe, and I do find the old cathedrals quite beautiful. I love being in ancient places where you can “feel” the history, but I’ve never experienced solace there. Even though they may be peaceful places now, I can’t help thinking about all the time and energy that has been wasted, and about all the pain religion has wrought. However, I can appreciate the art and architecture. I tend to prefer old cathedrals to  contemporary churches, though. There’s really not much to see in most modern ones. I don’t find them interesting because there’s no history attached, and I just end up feeling sad and disheartened that people continue to construct buildings to worship deities. 

  • Fredericka

    Jessica, a good example of the kind of thing people do and for which they might then feel ashamed is to tell a lie for financial gain. Do you think it is a good thing to lie, and is it a good thing to encourage other people to lie?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/David-Tiffany/100001926356049 David Tiffany

    God does say that there is no fear of God before their eyes.  God also says it is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of an angry God.  But there is salvation from judgement for all who come to God through the finished work of Christ on the cross.  Jesus paid for our sins, took them out of the way, and made the way for us to come to God, escape judment, and receive eternal life.  http://atheistlegitimacy.blogspot.com/

    • Douglas Kirk

      Gotta get in that blogwhorin’ while Hemant is outta town.

    • ACN

      Are you hard-of-reading? Have you not noticed people have asked you to stop blogwhoring?

    • Anonymous

      Go. Away.

  • Robmoitoza

    It makes me so proud of our younger generation to read intelligent posts like this. 
    Right on, Jessica! (Old baby boomer term!)

  • Che Resa

    Hermant — I wholeheartedly disagree with: “It may not seem like it at first, but that is religion in a nutshell.” Frankly, a child’s first impression of Christianity is Christmas — you know, where you better be good or you’re not getting any presents. Fear is in it from the get go.

    Google “Elf on the Shelf.” Parents now put an elf in a child’s room and tell her that it’s  watching and reporting everything back to Santa. So what kind of gymnastics must parents perform once they’ve disclosed that none of these fictional characters are real — Santa, the tooth fairy, the Easter bunny … but somehow the kid is still suppose to think the divinity of Jesus and the afterlife are.

    • http://www.facebook.com/eggfulaura Egg Fu Laura

      I’ve seen other parents do this.  Creepy!

  • NorDog

    [rolling eyes]

  • NorDog

    “Frankly, a child’s first impression of Christianity is Christmas — you know, where you better be good or you’re not getting any presents. Fear is in it from the get go.”

    Yes, because we all know that children are terrorized by the thought of Santa Claus.

    • JohnnieCanuck

      I certainly remember lying in bed, terrified that Santa was looking in through the window, watching and judging me. I remember there were strange shadows on the floor from the moonlight which might have been his.

      Also that’s the first time I’ve heard of an Elf on the Shelf, and I think that’s cruel.


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