My Six Favourite Things About Religion

My Six Favourite Things About Religion January 7, 2019

It’s funny how many people out there presume to know me based on a blog post, a single tweet or even my profile picture. They insist I’ve not read the Bible or the Quran or whatever holy book they’re hawking. They claim I’ve not been open-minded enough, or that I am forcing atheism down my son’s throat. They seem to think I am angry at God, or that I must have had a bad experience with religion in order to be an atheist. They assert that I cannot see clearly, think logically or make sound decisions. They’re absolutely positive I’m stupid. It’s fun, really.

This is just par for the course for someone who is openly atheist on the internet. I get about a dozen messages along these lines every day on various platforms. The funny thing is, they’re always accompanied by an assurance that he or she has a more profound understanding of morality than I do. I would never say such things to someone else, and yet they, who’ve just said it, are more moral? You can see why I struggle with religious logic?

I don’t get bothered by it, outside of the fact that these people would, without their religion, probably be really good and compassionate people. With God on their side, and the possibility of confession and repentance, they feel nothing but unfounded righteousness as they sit upon on a high but very crippled horse, and look down on us heathens.

And then they preach. As though somehow, their tirade of name-calling and acting like a child having a fit, is somehow an effective way to draw me into their religion and make me want to explore their faith.

“You’re a waste of space!”

“Thank you! Please, teach me how to be more like you!”

To the contrary, if accepting your faith makes me act like you, I am all good.

Theists, it doesn’t have to be this way. Did you know that there are, in fact, amazing things about religion that would be a much better selling point than proving how moral you are with name calling? Indeed, there is beauty in religion and if an atheist denies that, well, they probably have a stone heart.

Here are six such things that are much, much better selling points for your faith than asserting I am a waste of space:

1. The Muslim Call To Prayer:

If you can actually listen to this, especially in a Muslim country where the call rings out from East, West, North and South and bounces off walls and streets and buildings, and not feel overwhelming emotion, you’re simply not alive. The calls at dusk and at dawn are particularly intense, especially when you’re in a hot city. It’s stunning and I hope that when the world is no longer religious, someone keeps this up for tradition’s sake. The beauty in this, for me, is the human voice. We are such beautiful creatures and that has got to be one of the epitomes of that beauty. I’ve experienced the call to prayer in many places, but the one place it was most emotional, was on Koh Phi Phi at dusk. Imagine, hearing the call echo against the hills while looking at this:

Koh Phi Phi, Thailand
Koh Phi Phi, Thailand

2. Christmas – Christmas is the perfect excuse to spend loads of time with your family and cook a giant feast and give gifts and just be completely human for a couple of days. My favourite thing about Christmas is giving. I really love to put some thought into gifts, so I can invoke that emotional beam on Christmas morning. You know, the one that comes with misty eyes and a look of incredulity: “How did you know?”. There is no greater feeling than to be able to give that to a loved one. Since being a mom, Christmas has found a whole new meaning and it’s not easy to get through a Christmas Eve with my son without getting emotional. These are the moments he will remember forever.

3. The Art – It is true that most of the religious art in the world was commissioned and that had those artists been commissioned to create art for science, they would have done just as amazing a job. But that’s not what happened, and the art they created was religious and it is just as stunning and moving and skilful as a painting of a colourful nebula or the Milky Way would be. Even in ancient history, though, religious art was dominating: The Sphynx, The ancient Buddha statues, etc. Art that seems to invoke the biggest response is art that appeals to our emotions and the tales and fables and myths of religion are quite good at invoking emotion. Look at anything by Sandro Botticelli and tell me it doesn’t make your eyes widen and your chest feel tight. Read the words of Khalil Gibran and tell me you don’t see immense beauty.

4. The Architecture – Blind faith can lead people to do a lot of grandiose things, including building massive structures in which to worship. From ancient times, this tradition has been the case and I am hard pressed to find such a structure and not be impressed. From Chichen Itza and The Pyramids to the Blue Mosque, Notre Dame and the Sistine Chapel, religious architecture is deeply fascinating. I think the universal accuracy of that statement can be proven by the sheer popularity of Dan Brown books. People find wonder and awe in their historical significance. I don’t believe in ghosts, but I do believe places can be haunted – you can’t help but step into a place like Chichen Itza and not imagine the sacrifice that took place. You can’t walk into the Sistine Chapel and not consider how long ago it was built; how many people walked through its doors. We are haunted by our past and always will be and these structures stand to help keep us levelheaded about who we are, and where we came from. They are monuments to our past, and our progress more so than monuments to gods.

5. Easter – If you know me, you know I have a Cadbury Creme Egg problem. These near-divine little ovals of silken sweet nectar make Easter one of my favourite times of the year. Add to it, the fun my little boy has running about with his basket collecting eggs, and you have a family tradition I won’t soon let go of.

6. The Community – Churches, mosques and temples all have an extremely effective way of building community. That same sense of community is possible without belief, but it’s not that common yet. Feeling like you belong to a larger family is a wonderful feeling and can definitely make leaving your religion behind an extremely difficult thing to do. I would like to see more secular community centres and groups that meet regularly and build strong, tight communities based in reality.

The interesting thing about each of these points is that every single one is possible to appreciate without faith. These points are all about what it means to be human – what we can create, what we can build and what joy we can experience. They won’t make me a believer, but talking about them rather than calling names will certainly ensure I won’t mind conversing with you.

Ultimately, the very best way to make me become a believer is evidence of God. And that, I believe is what frustrates you, theists. Because there is none. So, lash out at me in frustration as you will. All it does is serve to prove many of our criticisms of religion, and push us further away from your church.

What are your favourite things about religion? Let me know in the comments!

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Image: Creative Commons/Pixabay

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  • My husband and I were talking about what to do about having a secular funeral. We are planning to be cremated, but we are trying to figure out where and how to have a memorial service….or something. Religion gives locations and rituals that we have to develop as secularists. I miss that aspect… some degree.

    It was nice to look forward to seeing dead relatives in an afterlife, but I didn’t like the notion of them watching me shower and everything now…….I felt robbed of privacy

  • I’ve told my wife and sons that I don’t want a memorial service at all. Family and friends should come over to the house, share a meal, talk about the old times, and play my records.

  • Judy Thompson

    We are both planning to be cremated. I want to be scattered in the garden, he wants to be in the family plot. Our markers are already there, so it really matters not where the remains actually are. We are neither of us religious, so that solves one problem. Whomever is left gets to choose what to do next.

  • I agree with you about religious art, which happens to include some of the most stunning paintings, poetry, music, and architecture ever created. It’s easy to look and listen past the religious themes and just admire the human imagination and talent involved in their making.

    You hit the nail on the head when you said: They are monuments to our past, and our progress more so than monuments to gods. Absolutely true.

  • TheBookOfDavid

    Sure, art can always be appreciated on its stylistic merits, when divorced from its foundational precepts. Case in point:

  • TheBookOfDavid

    This composition has a catchy guitar rhythm, powerful primary and supporting vocals, and arguably the most badass horn section in pop music. To any non English speaking crowd I’m sure it would have broad appeal. In similar fashion, religious art, while aesthetically pleasant on its surface, conveys much harsher themes. Its architecture makes human endeavors and aspirations insignificant to some “greater good”. Its literature posits servitude as our natural state. Its visual art resides on the premise that we are fundamentally broken, undeserving of love or respect, and can rescue some scraps of dignity only by appealing to an external benefactor. How is it any better than an anthem to creepy sex stalkers and child predators?

  • I see your point, but I couldn’t help but feel awe when I stood at the base of the pyramid at Chichen Itza. No matter what it’s a monument to, it’s awe-inspiring.

  • Thank you for reading!

  • Yeah, I always thought about that when my religious friends and family would tell me my grandfather was looking down on me. Like, no he isn’t and thank goodness for that!

  • slripk

    Thank you for writing! I very much relate to this piece. In fact, I will save it among my “best of” favorite atheist writings!

  • Catherine Spencer-Mills

    I’ve told my relative and friends – do what you damn well please. I’ll be dead and won’t care.

  • John Conolley

    The only thing I ever liked about being Catholic was midnight mass on Easter. The beautiful gold robes, the flowers, the incense, the blessing of the holy water. I was surprised that most Catholic churches don’t hold midnight mass on Easter.

  • Catherine Spencer-Mills

    Religious music. I once sang in a university choir – Faure’s Requiem Mass, Haydn’s Missa Sancti Nicolai, Berstein’s Chichester Psalms (in Hebrew, no less as the director was Jewish and fluent), Schubert’s Magnificat, and many others. A listening pleasure, but inspiring and exulting to sing in a performance with full orchestra, fellow choir members, and pipe organ.

  • Daffodil

    I see your points and generally agree, but I can’t get on board with commending religious groups on their community. It’s all well and good if you are a natural at playing the good christian (sub: muslim, jewish, whatever) man or woman, but if you’re not or if you just can’t live up to the ideal, these “communities” have ways – both overtly and covertly – to make you feel anything but wanted and loved. They really are all cults of differing severity and with any cult, there are ramifications to not fitting in. It was one of the most liberating feelings I have ever had in my life when I no longer had to play the games to fit in anymore and could just be myself.

  • TheBookOfDavid

    Glad you enjoyed the experience. I’m sure the sight is more thrilling than I could imagine, and terrifying to consider how much blood is in the mortar.

  • Jim Jones
  • Jim Jones

    Other alternatives are reef burial or tree burial.

  • Jim Jones

    Of course you could slide any old god into the slot provided without making any difference to the effect.

  • Judy Thompson

    I always looked forward to Christmas Midnight Mass, and Easter Sunday when the purple drapes were removed from the images, and the choir sang hallelujah.

  • John Conolley

    Nah. Easter Mass is Jesus-specific.

  • Jim Jones

    It isn’t even named for Jesus.

  • I agree wholeheartedly. I went through a phase where I listened to nothing but Josquin’s masses. I miss that phase. If there’s a more beautiful piece of music than the Agnus Dei III of his Missa l’Homme Armé Sexti Toni (at 3:45 in this video), it’d probably kill me to hear it.

  • John Conolley

    Yeah, nobody cares. Easter is Jesus day. Take the advice of the Mamas and Papas: get down on your knees and pretend to pray.

  • Jim Jones

    Hot cross buns are the only good things about ‘Easter’.

  • Tom Hanson

    Even conceding what you say about Christian art, which I don’t really, I can’t understand how you can say that of the Venus de Milo or the Winged Victory.

  • Ejaz Naqvi

    As a fellow Muslim blogger and a devout Muslim, I have to agree with you, Courtney. The believers get a little too carried away when they start to judge others. Your mention of the Muslim call to Adhan (prayers) brings back great memories for me, especially those I heard in Mecca and Medina while performing Hajj- which in itself was also a great experience for a lot of the reasons you mentioned on your post.

  • TheBookOfDavid

    There’s an interesting point. If you ignore the fact that the deities represented likely never existed, these works can be appreciated as monuments to civic participation and examples of wealthy patrons offering a public benefit.

  • adriancrutch

    …I study religion when I come across something I feel is better to help my understanding of the past…which a lot of people miss out on…you just can’t dismiss ancient temples like the ninth century Buddhist pyramid on Java discovered in the jungle after being abandoned after a nearby volcanic eruption…it has remarkable bas-reliefs that are some miles long and thought to be the first discovered to use 3D…that’s more to the kind of “religions” I explore…

  • sleepyowl

    Pilgrimage is a tradition of many religions that has mostly been abandoned by the Western world. Maybe Courtney would have included that if she had lived in an earlier time or came from a tradition that still retains the custom.

  • sleepyowl

    Chicen was Maya, not Aztec, and even the Aztecs weren’t so bad until overpopulation started to seriously tax their sanity. But then, the Maya were hardly the peaceful astrologers of popular myth, either. People are people.

  • sleepyowl

    I think the point is kind of moot. The Venus of Milos or the Nike on the Acropolis were the equivalent of their times. They were just as much civic propaganda at anything with a Christian flavor, regardless of what gods were used to justify the status quo of their time, or ours.

  • TheBookOfDavid

    True, with one striking contrast to Christianity or Islam: the pagan artifacts were examples of accomodation of religious diversity and mutual cooperation, instead of intolerance. A temple with a shrine to “the Unknown God” is making an effort to be as inclusive as possible.

  • Freethinker

    Indeed, there is beauty in religion and if an atheist denies that, well, they probably have a stone heart.

    Yeah, how about….no. Lovely and charitable sentiments but most of these points, other than the Muslim call to prayer which is an incredibly perfidious form of brainwashing and forced social cohesion, have nothing to do with religion as we know it today, so not really sure why they would be even mentioned in the context of religion, especially Monotheism.

    Christmas: In the current form as we have it, from the decorated tree to presents to naughty and nice, Santa and lumps of coal are all predating Christianity. It was one of the 2 most important Christian holidays entirely stolen from the pagans, specifically the Germanic pagans in north western Europe. The actual virgin birth, three wise men etc are also plagiarisms of multiple other religions predating it. Is stealing things and pretending that you have somehow invented them really “beautiful”?

    Easter. Same thing. Usurped from the European pre-Chritistian traditions which celebrate the goddess Ēostre (or Ostara), the Spring Equinox and fertility which is why there are eggs and bunnies still around, the universal symbols of fertility, and one of my favorite things to stump Christians on making any connection as to what they possibly have to do with the death of their Messiah.

    Art & Architecture can be lumped together as they simply represent the projects on which the obscenely wealthy churches, mostly the RCC have spent countless billions from funds extorted from their cult followers and blatantly stolen from the multiple cultures they decimated in the name of their God.

    Had an equal amount of funds been spent by entirely secular cultures, we would see precisely the same level of art and architecture just not celebrating a Jewish resurrection cult. Look at the Roman Empire and their building and engineering projects to get an idea. It’s just too bad they didn’t use a sufficient amount of lions to get rid the Christian plague when they still could. Too harsh? Maybe just practical.

    Community That can apply to literally any group of people throughout the last 350,000 years or so that we have been humans regardless of where you are on the planet or what your belief or non belief systems are. And wouldn’t we be better off as a community if it did not involve promoting ignorance, fear, making people, especially children feel like they are broken and imperfect sinners in need of a fix? Think about how much more advanced we would be as a species if we were allowed to create and discover based on evidence and science instead of a narrow dogma of so called religious “morality” stifling progress at every turn, right down to today and especially in the States where virtue signalling legislators want children to learn that the world was apparently created by a man in the sky, 6000 years ago and that women’s bodies do not belong to them.

    Favorite thing about religion? That at least in the West it is slowly dying off. Otherwise, like Hitchens so aptly put, it “poisons everything”.

  • roberto quintas

    I add language, music, literature, law, justice, science and technology. we inherit all of this form ancient folks, all of them religious.

  • The link between art and architecture and religion is pretty straightforward: Who had the money to pay all those full-time artists, architects, stone masons and other allied crafts?

  • Lisa Cybergirl

    My grandmother (who died just a few months short of 100!) was cremated, and on what would have been her 100th birthday we gathered at a beach picnic table and talked about how wonderful she was, and ate cake. It was just about perfect. Very little mention of religion of any kind.

  • macastle

    Sorry, the incense in a Catholic church has to be the worst. Experienced it during a catholic in-laws’ funeral. Over-powering.