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The Emperor's New Religion

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A new school year is starting, it’s ABA Journal Blawg 100 nomination season, and so what better time than to just alienate what some polls indicate may be 80% of our audience.

Last week I met up with another NYU alumnus for happy hour near Capitol Hill. Not someone I knew from school, our time there didn’t overlap, though we did have similar backgrounds. Some of the same student organizations, both were on one of the secondary journals that you join for reasons beyond your knowing. Both of us now spend our day doing things with only the most tangential connection to the Constitution.

Anyways, this isn’t about that. This is about the hour or so before he got to the bar. He has a job, and so got off work at the normal time people with work get to leave it. I on the other hand don’t like to let half of a perfectly good happy hour go to waste sitting in my apartment watching reruns of Louie. Great show, and incidentally the pizzeria in the opening credits is very popular with NYU students. We all hate it, it’s gross, but it’s still popular. Like a Law School 10. You know it’s not good, but whatever, it’s cheap and convenient.

But, it’s on Netflix, so I can watch that whenever. Happy hour, well, that’s only from 5pm to 8pm, so I gotta make use of the limited time frame.

I get to the bar, get myself a drink, and there’s a group of people nearby talking about religious fundamentalism. Talking loud enough that I can hear them. Also, I’m sitting right next to them at the bar, so not obnoxiously loud, but loud enough such that it’s not like I’m making an effort to eavesdrop.

One of the guys keeps mentioning that he’s Catholic, but not like really Catholic, like the people they’re discussing. And when he says this, there’s the traditionally round of “oh yes, well I respect everyone’s religious beliefs.” And that got me thinking.

Why the hell do we automatically respect religious beliefs?

If you believe that the Earth is 6000 years old, or that an all-powerful God cannot forgive sin without human sacrifice, or that divine intervention cures some people of their disease but never amputees because God hates the shit out of amputees, then your beliefs do not warrant respect.

We all know that what you believe in is completely bunk. The problem is it’s not socially acceptable to say that. So, I’m saying it. Most religions are so plainly bullshit that they not only don’t deserve respect, but rightly deserve derision.

Consider the theory the George W. Bush ordered the 9/11 attacks. Or that the moon landing was faked. Or that Obama was born in Kenya or Indonesia or wherever. Or that the Star Wars prequels were not total garbage. Or that Olive Garden is Italian food.

If anyone espoused any one of these beliefs, we would not only laugh at them and call them an idiot, but we wouldn’t feel at all bad about doing it. It takes an extraordinary amount of idiocy to believe any of these things, and chastising people for holding such beliefs is good, corrective behavior for our society and civilization.

Now look at religion. Specifically the Judeo-Christian tradition. And more specifically the story of Noah. We’re meant to believe that Noah gathered up two of every animal. Even a child with little concept of biology understands that this is laughable, in terms of the time it’d take to gather the animals, and the space needed, and the food, and the problem of managing all the species on the boat to keep them from eating each other. And I’m not by a long shot the first person to point out the absurdity of the story.

Are we really to believe that among all the other animals, Noah somehow made room for two elephants on his boat? Oh, wait. Scratch that. Six elephants, because there are of three different species of elephant, the African bush elephant, African forest elephant, and the Asian elephant. Noah’s Ark also contained not two but eighteen tigers. That is, if we’re going to include things such as subspecies and breeds as different animals. The Bible isn’t particularly clear on this. At a minimum though there would have been eighty cats on the boat.

We’re also supposed to believe that Noah collected the panda from Southeast Asia, while also grabbing a pair of polar bears from the Arctic and a couple of spectacled bears from the Andes. The Andes are in South America. Just think about this a bit.

There are nine species of bear living today, and fifteen subspecies of the brown bear. Unless God and Noah sat down and had a debate of which type of bear is best and just agreed on one for Noah to save we’re talking about a whole lot of bears for him to not get mauled to death by.

There’s about 2,700 species of snake. Many of them like to eat from time to time, with mice being a pretty popular meal. So did Noah’s Ark just have big barrels filled with tens of thousands of mice to feed the snakes? And what about the two mice that needed to be kept for breeding after the flood subsided? Were they set aside from the start, or did Noah just ration things perfectly so that there would be exactly two leftover and just by lottery of not being pulled out and fed to the snakes did those two become the chosen mice?

And of course two of every one of the 40,000 species of spider. There weren't enough glass jars in Judea to pull this off.

We all know it’s absurd, yet we’re not allowed to say that someone is a moron for believing in it. In almost every other context you’re allowed to call out this level of stupid. You think Obama is a secret Muslim? You’re a moron. Yet, that’s still more likely to be true than the story of Noah and the flood. Can’t point out the idiocy of believing that though, because it’s religion, and religious idiocy is inexplicably off limits.


Some people will argue that they don’t believe in the literal truth of those stories, and that they’re just there to teach us valuable life lessons about loving one another, or not pissing off God because he will murder every single person if you do, except not really any more. The flood was a one-time thing and he’s over that now. So, not really sure why we need the story other than to let us know that God was once a dick. It's like your current girlfriend admitting that she cheated on a previous boyfriend but assuring you that she'll never do it again. Even if you believe she won't, what was the point of telling you?

Things that might be reasonably argued as morality tales aside, what about all the laws that the Jews have to follow and Christians don’t? Things like not eating shellfish, or touching dead pigs, or wearing mixed fabrics, or trimming your beard. Christians believe that when Jesus came he created a new covenant that swept away the old laws and replaced them with a kinder, gentler code of conduct. That’s not just a metaphor, that’s what Christians have to believe to get around not obeying the very explicit commandments of the Old Testament.

So Christians believe that in addition to being a sacrifice to pave the way to atonement for our sins, Jesus also peeled and deveined the shrimp, or whatever the specific magical process is for making them clean and safe to eat. And that’s not the proper subject for derision? Why is it not okay to make fun of people for thinking that sometime between the years 0 and 30 God decided that he didn’t like the mountain man look and decided a bit of facial manscaping was okay?

Because the vast majority of the country will say they believe this sort of thing. They don’t though. Not really. No person with a survivability level of common sense could possibly have a sincere belief in these sorts of things. Catholic doctrine holds that through transubstantiation the wafer and wine offered up at mass literally becomes the flesh and blood of Christ. Literally. It’s one of the things that separates them from other denominations is that they believe this is not symbolic.

They can all see the wafer. They’ve tasted it. They know it looks and feels and tastes just like a non-transubstantiated wafer, and that the wine is still in every way perceivable wine. In a blind taste test they’d have no way of telling you what was plain old wine and what was the blood of Christ. Yet, they will insist that the wine really does undergo a literal transformation.

There is no possible way they believe this. It’s a lie that two people tell to each other out of fear of what the other will think if you don’t tell it. But we have to know that no one else really, truly believes in these things.

Tolerance is not inherently virtuous. It’s only good to be tolerant if what you’re tolerant of is good – or at least just not bad. We’re tolerant of other races because we know that other races are not inherently better or worse (or if they are, the degree of difference is not morally significant). But, if there should be some new race spawned where every member, by virtue of their genetic code, was a pedophile that then murdered and cannibalized his victims, we’d no longer tolerate that race. We’d eradicate it, and rightly so. Tolerance is only as good as what it is you’re tolerating.

If you believe that The Godfather II was better than the first, well, that belief has some sound reasoning behind it. It is a belief worthy of tolerance. Believing in the mythology of the Bible though? Or believing that the death of Jesus Christ made shrimp safe to eat? There is no value in tolerating such beliefs.

Yeah, sure, religious persecution has a pretty bad rap. I’m not saying we should be rounding up and burning believers at the stake. People do have the right to be stupid, and so we must suffer them. We do a lot more than that though. We don’t just let religious nutjobs keep to themselves in creepy dark corners of the internet. Instead we create a completely backasswards litmus test for presidential candidates, and candidates for almost every other public office, which requires them to publicly announce that they hold these unfounded, irrational beliefs.

It's no wonder we can't have a sensible national debate over issues such as poverty, or welfare, or abortion, or contraception, or the death penalty, or minimum sentencing guidelines when in order to get elected every candidate has to proclaim that some 2000 years ago Jesus made it totes okay to put bacon and cheese on your burger. And it's no wonder that we can't get representatives with a basic comprehension of economics elected to work on the budget when a large portion of the electorate considers a candidate's views on the conversion of the Baconator from unclean to clean to be more important than their substantive education and experience.

The reasoning for this is just as nonsensical as the beliefs themselves. We go about pretending as if these beliefs are completely legitimate because we don’t want to rock the boat. It’s not a matter of tolerance, it’s simply the path of least resistance in getting through our day to day life, because if you were to point out the obvious fact that the Emperor has no clothes, the crowd will not immediately join you in laughter. The crowd will insist that the Emperor does have clothes, and besides, whether or not he has clothes is a matter of personal belief and how dare you suggest that other people are looking at a stark naked Emperor.

[Read more from BL1Y]

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