I took a class in comparative religions once. The teacher was a buddhist, though he claimed not to want anyone to know it. He also claimed to be open-minded. I’m not sure if either claim was genuine, though his closed-mindedness made him a lot of fun in class. (Possibly the subject for a later blog.)
One day early in the class he asked us all if we knew what Ragnarok was. I answered that it was the end of days when Thor kills the Midgard serpent Jormungand and his venom drowns the world. The instructor lit up like a Christmas tree. “You know Teutonic mythology? That’s amazing! How did you learn?”
“I read.” Was my lukewarm reply. I decided that I didn’t want to finish the sentence with, “… Thor comics and Dieties and Demigods.” (For the uninitiated, Dieties and Demigods was the Dungeons and Dragons book that detailed ((in game terms)) the gods from numerous ancient mythologies for inclusion in your game.) Looking back, this may have been when I started taking my first real steps away from religion… though I imagine I had been foundering for awhile at this point. See, playing D&D, I had a big appreciation for fantasy. Now contrary to popular belief, exercising that fantasy did not in fact lead me to an inability to tell orcs from mailboxes. Quite the opposite. I began becoming more sensitive to the things around me which were fantasy… more able to tell the difference between fact and fiction. The realization that so much of our lives contain these fantasy elements was fascinating to me, and I began working to ferret them out. It was fun.
Racism and misogyny are both rooted in the fantasy that one set of people is inherently superior to another. The idea that more guns will lead to fewer shootings, the belief that Americans are better than anyone else, that Republicans and Democrats are in any way different from each other… all fantasies.
Many times the truths were surprising to me. Milk is not good for you. We do not live in a free society. Love is not all you need. Your parents aren’t any smarter than you are. But the thing is, once you get started seeing the world for what it is instead of what we commonly agree it should be, it’s kinda hard to stop. And when you look at religion… you realize there’s no difference between it and any other fantasy. (The milk think was a big deal to me. This was when I first realized that all the things I was taught growing up might not be true. It was kinda earth-shattering.)
Why do we believe in religion at all? I believed because I was told it was true as a child by people I loved and trusted. As a child, I hadn’t developed any real critical thinking abilities, and simply accepted what I was given. I believed. As I grew, it was easy to continue to believe, because everyone else around me did too. It wasn’t until I started really delving into the nature of fantasy that I began to realize how little religion differed from any other type of made up belief system — and I slowly began to extricate myself from it.
I have been asked many (many) times what it is I have against god. The answer is nothing. God isn’t real, so I can’t really have anything against him. What comes across as having a problem with god is really the destructive nature of the fantasy surrounding him. If church were more like a bunch of people getting together for a big D&D session, all would be well and good. But it isn’t. People act like it’s real, and others get hurt because of it. (A tip here, any time that a person’s reactions do not match up with reality, there is a huge chance someone is going to get hurt.)
My family was always worried that D&D would lead me away from god. Of course they thought I would become a devil worshipper or suddenly start running around chopping people’s heads off in the grocery store with a broadsword. Honestly, I think they were more upset about me refusing to drink milk.