No, I Will Not Have A Blessed Day

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In 1927, the philosopher and social justice icon Bertrand Russell gave a talk at a town hall in London. His friends and admirers asked that it be made into a booklet and published. The talk has an intriguing and direct title which, by itself, stirs up controversy.

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He went on to explain why he was not a Christian.

Whenever Christianity has a problem with itself, it splits into another fragment, ostensibly under the banner of reform. This is currently happening with the Southern Baptists, who do not find their leadership traditional or conservative enough, even though their current doctrine supposes that all of the Bible can be literally interpreted as a guide for modern life.

Russell posited many arguments for why belief in God was ludicrous, irrational, and self-serving. In addition, he pointed to things Jesus said and did that reveal a man who was very much human, vindictive, and capricious.

But he concluded his talk with recognition of something the non-religious among us already know: Religion is based on fear.

Faith is a form of denial

Faith is the remedy, we are told, to the uncertainties of life. It helps get us through tough times, which are inevitable. It buffers us against bitterness.

Should a horrible tragedy befall us, for instance, the loss of a child or a house burning to the ground, we use our faith to steady us. Our conviction, that is, that life will improve because a God who cares about us will respond to prayer.

The odds are, life will improve. Most people don’t have decades-long runs of bad luck. Tragedy usually rights itself.

But the fear can linger. The trauma can be hard to heal. We are told that faith will protect us here on earth, and will help us be closer to an unseen God.

But at what point does faith shift from optimism to delusion?

Russell said:

Religion is based, I think, primarily and mainly upon fear. It is partly the terror of the unknown, and partly, as I have said, the wish to feel that you have a kind of elder brother who will stand by you in all your troubles and disputes. Fear is the basis of the whole thing — fear of the mysterious, fear of defeat, fear of death.

There is nothing to add, as those who find a belief in an afterlife, hell, and immortality absurd will immediately grasp that emotion rules most of us, even if you take religion out of the equation.

Our lives would be colorless without feeling and drama and the range of emotional experience. HBO would cease to exist. The stock market would become sleepy and predictable.

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And we would never be able to persuade our children that there is a heaven and hell.

Russell goes on to make another insightful statement that wraps the argument up in a tight package.

“Fear is the parent of cruelty”

Anyone who watches the parade of Christian faiths, churches, doctrines, and meddling with everyday life can see clearly — if they are not influenced by their belief or idea of themselves as a ‘Christian’ — the mountain of evidence for cruelty in Christianity.

The Inquisition wasn’t a blip or anomaly.

We have a Catholic church that continues to pay off families whose children have been molested by priests.

We have a Baptist congregation that has covered up sexual abuse of female members by its male leadership.

We have cults of every stripe and color that encourage their adherents to kill themselves or attack others.

We have the religion invented by a science fiction writer, Scientology.

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We have Mormonism, in which women are treated as second-class citizens here on earth and in the afterlife.

Inside the looking glass

When these arguments are brought up, Christians often respond with, “You must have faith.”

Must we? Could we choose instead to acknowledge that life is unfair, that some situations aren’t fixable, and that, as Russell notes in his talk, a better God certainly could have created a world for us that didn’t include the KKK and Fascists?

But the insistence remains, that the best way to confront life is to overcome fear with faith. Or pretend there is no fear, just harps, and angels.

It seems like faith is a balm, in which we hand over our intelligence and powers of observation so we can pretend evil and horror don’t exist. It helps us put everything off till tomorrow when we’ll inhabit a perfect world as immortal beings in which a just God — one who isn’t vengeful or capricious or demanding — will hand out serenity and justice like they are dime-store candies.

Faith has now seeped into the most mundane places.

I used to cringe at “Have a nice day” when I handed my money to the merchant and got my change. Now I chafe and roll my eyes at, “Have a blessed day.”

But what if I’d just rather have a reality-based day, and see how it unfolds? Am I allowed to walk out the door and face a world that is mysterious, and often scary?

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Jean Campbell is a writer who focuses on true crime, personal stories, and life. She is a frequent writer on Medium; follow her website for more.

This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.