Killing Itself Softly with Its Words: why religion may kill itself

Recently, on a journey back from Bournemouth—where I shall soon be living as a Geography teacher—I missed a connecting train journey and as a result met a small group of people who managed to convince me that religion will die. And it will die very soon.

I caught a train from Bournemouth to Dorchester, to change for a train to Castle Cary and from there I could catch a train to Taunton. The change at the Dorchester station is the material most train-based worries are based on: if I miss that connection I will have to wait around to two hours. And, indeed, this is what happened to me. The timings are close: I had to get off at Dorchester South 10 minutes before my next train left, and make a non-signposted walk to Dorchester West; if my train is so much as 5 minutes late I get stuck in Dorchester for two hours, and there’s nothing to do there. So, that happened.

To pass the time I set myself an eating challenge: an entire large Dominoes pizza and a tandoori wrap, which I ate while three wasps bullied me. I sat on a train station bench with my large camping rucksack taking up the rest of the bench. That killed about 20 minutes. There was another hour and forty minutes to go. While I waited patiently two girls approached me and asked about my day and I about theirs. We chatted for a while. And for 30 minutes no one mentioned the elephant in the station: they are wearing badges that say “Church of the Latter Day saints” and “Jesus Christ”. Jesus Christ! I did, of course, move my bag and offer them a seat. They introduced themselves, after some time, as Sister Yappi and Sister Brown. They were nice girls.

But those 30 minutes passed and soon they said they were missionaries. They told me about Joseph Smith and the newest covenant with God. They told me how the original records of the Bible died with the apostles (they obviously need to do some research; the named authors of the New Testament were illiterate and the first written copies existed well after the death of all the named Gospel authors, and probably their children too!). They told me how this loss meant the Bible was the corrupt work of men (to which I agree), and how Jesus told Joseph Smith in 1820 how things are meant to be (in a language that is dead, because even when Jesus reveals himself to an English-speaking American Jesus is too cool for English).

They then proceeded to ask me my religious affiliation, to which I answered “None”. “Have you not thought about whether there is a God?” asked Sister Yappi. “Of course I have, and I haven’t found it at all convincing”. With a frown on her face, and in her admirable English, Sister Yappi asked “So you don’t believe in any type of God?” “What do you mean by God?” Both of the Sisters took this as an opportunity to question dodge, and the conversation went on as let me tell you what my religion means to me. You’ll notice I didn’t say I was an atheist. Well, I did actually say it in all but name. But I never said “atheist”.

Their religion means, to them, family (but I love my family very much without any call on a God and they never even explained why they needed God to love their family); purpose (but I consider it weak to need to be given your purpose); security… and the list goes on. Eventually the train arrived and it was no surprise they were getting on the same train; it’s the only train in the last two hours. They sat near me and the conversation continued.

I listened to them explain how I can ask God if He is real, and how the truth of the pilgrimage of Joseph Smith demonstrates the truth of his claims. I listened them explain the love they felt in reading the Book of Mormon. I listened to them explain how it was translated from other languages because… why would God give an English speaker His word in English? If we know anything about God from His earlier work—The Old Testament, the New Testament, The Koran—we know He loves to obscure meaning obfuscate.

The ticket inspector passed and overheard our conversation, and I politely pondered to myself what the rules were on promiscuity in the Church of Latter Day Saints, and they gave me a copy of their book with a hand written note in it. And to be honest I blanked the rest of the conversation with niceties and politeness, but I can’t remember it. I tried telling them my reasons for doubting, but these girls were well-trained in talking over questions.

They got off in Yeovil, one stop before I got off in Castle Cary, and after they left the ticket inspector came back to me and asked what my interest was in the Latter Day Saints. I explained that I had no interest and I have never been religious and that I’m certainly not in the market for a religion and we just happened to meet at the station. “Accosted”, he corrected. I smiled and let that pass.

The ticket inspector didn’t notice that I said I wasn’t in the market for a religion. He said he didn’t want to have this conversation with me while the Mormons were there, but he wanted to promote Messianic Judaism. This was not a day of your standard religions: I didn’t think Mormonism was a thing in the UK (I suppose that’s why they sent missionaries) and I thought Messianic Judaism was a joke (but it makes sense if you are a Jew by birth—because that makes any sense—and you don’t want to lose members to the peer pressure of Christian countries). He promotes Messianic Judaism through a website called Moriel Ministries (www.Moriel.org). You may visit that and point out its lunacy any time you please.

But this is why I think religion will die out; look at the divisive social etiquette that surrounds it: I would not use the word atheist in front of the Mormons; the Messianic Jew wouldn’t discuss his religion in front of the Mormons even though he feels passionately enough about it to come back and tell me about it; no one accepted the idea that I don’t believe and I’m not shopping; Mormons think Christians are following a corrupt word of man; Messianic Jews think everyone else is deluded; I think they’re all wrong. There are simply too many etiquette land mines for it to be socially sustainable. There was a time when the Catholics and Protestants went to war against each other and the greatest peace seems to be maintained by dogma-free environments and minimalist religion.

Multiculturalism won’t let religion stand: it exposes us to the fact that a Muslim has as good a reason not to be a Christian as a Christian has not be a Muslim; we should soon realise the entire institution can be thrown out. Multiculturalism will kill religion because people will not forever tolerate having to put up with being silent, and when they talk another religion can tell them why they are wrong.

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12 thoughts on “Killing Itself Softly with Its Words: why religion may kill itself”

    1. If I had internet connection I’d have brought your blog up immediately. But, alas, trains are pretty bad at connectivity.
      Besides, I’d already as a solid Latter-Day-Saint mind-frazzling.

  1. I have regularly been using the tactic of telling believers that it is not me they have to convince, it’s the 33000+ other religions who they that they are going to hell that they have to convince. Yep, more than 33000 other groups they that any particular Christian will go to hell. They don’t have to convince me, go preach to the believers!

    1. Welcome back!

      I’d love to make other religions argue against each other. But they all call on the generic defences that only make sense against atheism (and I use the term “make sense” quite wrongly).

      1. Keep working at it… it takes some subtlety but you can get them to admit that religion X is wrong and they are going to hell. It’s a beautiful thing when you can do it, and it tastes like revenge… yayayayayayayayayaaaaaay

  2. I cannot agree with you, because I am Orthodoxal (sounds like a promotion, doesn’t it?), but I am not going to promote my religion, I just want to disagree with you. In Russia we have an Orthodoxal Church and we almost have no division in It. It has been almost indivisible since the Christianization of Kievan Rus’ that happened in 998. And talking about it generally, for example, Christianity exists more than 2000 years, and there have always been some sects and branches, so why should religion kill itself soon while it continues existing for such long time? What other evidence could you provide that it will happen soon? P. S. Sorry for my English, I’m training in it 🙂

    1. Hey Katy! I know you’re training; I was your teacher.
      It’s called Orthodox Christianity. And Christianity has existed for more than 2000 years. Your English is fantastic. (Feel free to correct my grammar.) I still think your certificate should have been “Advanced” (especially if Arsalan and Olga got pre-Advanced).
      Anyway, you requested more evidence. Compare the nature of religion throughout history to religion now. Christianity was characterised by Witch hunts and persecuting adulterers and forbidding women to teach (so Annie and Fabia would never have been allowed to be a teacher). Christians used to kill people for “sin”. We don’t do that anymore. We were so confident with our religious beliefs once that we would kill each other; we are now much less confident.
      As people become more mobile, and therefore we are starting to get Muslims in England or Buddhists in Russia, so we start to merge our ideas; how can you be certain a Muslim is wrong without also suggesting you are wrong? Simply being immersed in other people’s ideas kills your bad ideas.

    2. consider, also, the polytheistic (many gods) religions of the romans who existed alongside the early Christians; they called Christians “atheists” because how how few Gods Christians believed in, but that religion also died out. I agrue that it died out because of multiculturalism–having the ideas of many cultures in one place; religion is a competitive idea. In Russia there is not this level multiculturalism so the ideas stay. In England where multiculturalism is very big people are nebulously religious, non-religious and atheist. Seriously religious people are rare and their views are seldom voiced.

      1. Firstly, thank you for still being my teacher in English. J   Unfortunately, I must agree with you and in England religious people are very rare. I am studying here and I have never met at least one religious person. But this doesn’t prove that the religion (does not matter Islam or Christianity or any other religion) is dying out.   Yes, may be because of the multiculturalism  religion is dividing in many branches, but I am sure that we can always find at least 10 people who strongly believe in their God or gods and who will passionately distribute their ideas (as Sister Yappi, Sister Brown or ticket inspector). There will always be people who try with passion to save and continue their religion. And I think that’s why they are not dying out.   Moreover, as you have said, people become more mobile this means that, yes, we have Muslims in England and Buddhists in Russia, but it also means that now religion have more opportunities to spread, therefore, more people can start believing and this will preserve religion from death.

        1. Part of the problem is that religion is a highly competitive idea. The Messianic Jewish ticket inspector refused to talk to the two Latter Day Saints of the Church of Jesus Christ. I refused to explain to either that I am an atheist. People do not stand in the streets and proclaim their religion (or, at least, not often). Compare this to a time where everywhere had their own religion–Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant–and not being a member of the local religion was a punishable offence; go back far enough and the punishment was death. In more modern times societies have gone to war over it.
          This may sound like I’m saying religion is still highly prominent in culture. But I live in a world where my Muslim friend is not publicly mocked or scorned for her religion, and I am not hung for being an atheist. The zealots of the past who might have killed me are gone. The religion that exists today comes to us in this smiling-faced, ingratiating, gay-tolerant, racially tolerant, non-killing kind of way precisely because it has had to give so much.
          And the thing that religion has had to give so much to is open discussion. Jews and Muslims have good reasons for not worshipping Jesus, likewise Christians know why they do not worship Mohammed (unlike the Muslims) and do worship Jesus (unlike the Jews). And in an open discussion each religion slowly erodes away the other. The true extremes of religion, the intolerant and the hateful, are eroded in number by civil discourse with humanist ideas. Scientific illiteracy inspired by religion, like those that shun evolution, believe the universe is less than 10,000 years old or think that the Earth is centre of the universe and does not move–are all excluded by evidence and reality. Multiculturalism means each religion has the opportunity to erode another. And as each religion becomes slightly weaker, scientific ideas intrude on religions. And slowly the dogmas of religion die off.
          It is the competitiveness of religions, in societies that increasingly have an open-market* of ideas, that is killing off religion. The evidence for this is the increasingly weak stance of religions from times where the Church had more power and everyone was religious or they were shunned, to a world today where only 28% of people who call themselves “Christian” do so because they believe in the teachings of Christianity. This is what you call “nebulous” religion: it doesn’t look like religion at all.

          *an open market of ideas is where everybody is free to have an idea, no matter what that idea is. The idea is then considered based on how much sense it makes and how much evidence there is for it. Ideas that have a lot of evidence and make sense are good ideas and they push out bad ideas. A closed market of ideas is where someone else tells you an idea and you must accept it! You must accept it even if it is a bad idea, or has no evidence, or makes no sense. You cannot disagree.

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