Bad Religion

Religious people clearly take great comfort in their faith. They are certain that their beliefs are the way to salvation and a better life, here and in the hereafter. Because their beliefs are such an integral part of their lives, they often can’t understand why non-religious people don’t (and won’t) accept those beliefs.

Recently a close friend lost one of her parents, and in talking about her loss I was reminded of an incident that, I think, helps to explain why I am not now a church-going person. It happened years ago, after my father died. His obituary appeared in the newspaper and, because he was not a religious person, it made no mention of a church affiliation. A few days later, I received a crudely lettered, anonymous postcard in the mail. Dad’s obituary (with his picture) was glued to one side, with a message that read something like: “Seems like a good man. What a shame he didn’t go to church. Too bad! So sad! By now your father is burning in hell.”

This postcard was sick, creepy and infuriating all at once. Who was this person, who was willing to consign my father to eternal flames but too gutless to sign his name? And why would his religious beliefs motivate him to send such a mean-spirited, intentionally disturbing note to a complete stranger at a time of great loss and sadness?

I’m not suggesting that all religious people would do such a thing. What did trouble me, however, was that this sanctimonious jerk apparently felt compelled by his religious beliefs to do such a thing. I think one of the reasons I am not a conventionally religious person is that am not eager to give myself over to a belief system so powerful that it could convince someone to do such an obviously inappropriate thing.

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