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Imagine No Religion. On Facebook.

By Valerie Tarico ~

Boston bombing victim 3 lu lingziSometimes Facebook mirrors our world a little too well.

I go to Facebook to escape—from mounds of laundry waiting to be folded, weeds that are taking over the front yard, the ever burbling saga of minor crises in my extended family, or the frustration of not being able to find the right words for my next article. But lately, things have been reversed. The laundry and weeds have become welcome distractions from the news feed.

It’s my own fault. My Friends list is full of people who actually give a shit: curious seekers who are passionate about whatever inspires them, social activists, outspoken anti-theists, and a smattering of Christian fundamentalists who keep me up to date on the latest defense of Bible belief. Normally I’m fascinated by the mix—alternately inspired, amused, or horrified. But recently it’s just been draining. Too much bad news, and specifically too many ways that religion, which should be a civilizing influence, was making the world worse. I found myself wondering: What would my Facebook have been like this month without religion? The answer that came back was telling.

No toddler dead from faith healing. In 2009 medical neglect caused the death of 2 year old Kent Schaible. He didn’t receive life-saving treatment for his pneumonia because his parents believed the promise in the Bible, “If you ask anything in prayer, believing, it will be done.” The also believed the teachings of their church: “If anyone has more faith in doctors and drugs, than they have in the living God and the risen Savior, their salvation would be in serious jeopardy.” Now, a second of the Schaible’s nine children is dead for the same reason and child protective services have, finally, removed the other seven from the home. No religion? The Schaibles don’t have nine children. My Facebook has an article about the decline in toddler and infant mortality.

No violent protests in France over gay marriage. Gunpowder in an envelope, a young man beaten unconscious, damaged cars. . . . Ultimately, fortunately, the themes of the French revolution—liberté, égalité, and fraternité—prevailed. France’s national Assembly approved marriage equality by a strong margin, and marriages may begin as soon as June. But the opponents, largely a coalition of conservative Catholics, Muslims, and Jews, have vowed to keep fighting. No religion? The streets are filled with celebrators wearing old Mardi Gras costumes. My Facebook has an article about healthy families in evolving societies.

No Boston bombers. Some on the Left claim the Boston marathon bombing was a conspiracy by the CIA, and--in stark contrast to the other Abrahamic traditions--Islam is a religion of peace. They would do well to look at the evidence, the psychology of conspiracy theories, and the words of Mohammed himself. No religion? The Tsarnaev brothers both are college students, Dzhokhar recognizes his brother’s god complex for what it is, and the CIA (or whoever) has no Imams to quote. My Facebook devotes the space to the Texas explosion and the XL Pipeline, and how best to protect the public against industrial disasters.

No Salvadorian mom waiting to die from a complicated pregnancy. As of April 24, a 22-year-old mother, identified only as Beatriz, lies waiting in a Salvadorian hospital, unable to end a pregnancy that doctors have said is life threatening. As if that weren’t enough, her fetus is anencephalic. It doesn’t have a brain and never will. In other words, it’s nonviable, one of the sixty plus percent of fertilized eggs that never make it to the cooing-crying stage. The hospital appealed over a month ago for permission to abort, but thanks to Catholic theological influence on Salvadorian policy, abortions are illegal under all circumstances, like they would be in the U.S. if some bishops had their way. No religion? Beatriz is home with her actual, living child. My Facebook has pictures of baby rabbits and kittens and the occasional capybara.

No Christian villagers begging Israelis to not destroy their town by building a fence aimed at preventing Muslims from killing Jews. For over 10 years the Israelis have been constructing a barrier through the West Bank that they say is necessary to prevent suicide bombings (and that Palestinians say is a land grab). Local villagers have been helpless to stop them, but one Christian village has a powerful ally: a third of the surrounding land belongs to the Vatican. They hope religious sentiment and political clout will prevail where ethical appeals have not. No religion? No Church has vast real estate holdings. Medieval religious rivalries didn’t culminate in the Holocaust, so the state of Israel doesn’t exist. My Facebook advertises scuba diving in the Red Sea.

What would my Facebook have been like this month without religion?Scholars tell us there was a time when religion brought us together and enabled social order, a time when the construct of an all knowing father-in-the-sky strengthened our moral compass, a time when our hungry, precarious ancestors found solace and comfort and kindness and strength in stories that promised a better life in a world to come. Maybe so. But today is not that day. This world has moved on, and religion has not. Today, our sacred texts, the golden calves of the literate, bind us to the tribal, patriarchal world views of our Iron Age ancestors. They jail us and kill us and erect barriers through which all possible crossings are manned by armed guards.

Surely, in the age of Facebook--and Twitter and Tmblr and Instagram--we can do better. Isn’t that what social media are for? To break down the barriers and lower the guard to let old dogmas drain out and new ideas flow in? To glimpse enough pain and joy in other communities, cultures and species that we experience the flood of compassion at the heart of morality?

We are not as divided as our religious dogmas and news feeds suggest. By contrast with the hard-scrabble times when the world’s largest religions emerged, today men and women of many races and cultures rely on each other for everything from disaster relief to distance learning. True, we face moral questions and challenges that didn’t exist in the time the Bible and Koran and Torah were written. But we also know more about our past and have more power to decide our future than ever before. What might it mean to transcend the tribal superstitions of our ancestors and create spiritual community that fosters wellbeing in this modern world? Together, we have the capacity to cure polio or cancer. Or hate. If only we could stop re-enacting a set of scripts written for a simpler time.


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