Religion is other people

The existentialist Jean-Paul Sarte wrote in his play No Exit, “Hell is other people.” As an introvert myself, I can understand the sentiment, but I think it could use some caveats.

Perhaps: “Hell is religious people”? Metaphorically, of course.

Compare these two postcards up at PostSecret this week.

PostSecret postcard submitted by a Christian.

This Christian girl wheedled her previously-non-Christian boyfriend into converting, because she was convinced there was something inherently wrong with him since birth so he needed to be “saved.” That’s how much she loves him — enough to tell him that, millennia before he was born, two people (who didn’t even know what being good meant) did a bad thing when they broke God’s rule about not finding out what good and bad things are. Then God, who is full of love and grace and mercy, punished everybody who would ever exist in the future, forever. Except for that God sent himself in the form of his son to die, which formed a loophole so that if we just believe, God would lift that punishment that he himself imposed.

Because that is definitely a compelling narrative that makes total sense. I’m sure your boyfriend’s conversion had nothing to do with wanting to get in your pants.

The worst part of it all is that it appears to have been ultimately about convincing herself, saving herself. She probably had some doubts about the whole scam. But just like they say the best way to learn is to teach — the best way to believe is to convince others to believe with you. It’s validating. If this person thought your spiel was a good enough reason to convert, your religion’s probably right … isn’t it?

It puts those street preachers and missionaries in a whole new light. “Please! Let me manipulate you into believing with me!” they are really shouting at you. “I need to be surrounded by groupthink so I don’t have to face my doubts!”

Meanwhile, this atheist has a much healthier relationship with other people.

PostSecret postcard submitted by an atheist.

If you were to pick which of these two people seems better guided by their beliefs to be kind and compassionate to their fellow human — to “love their neighbor,” as it were — I just can’t imagine you’d pick the Christian.

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  1. chughes

     /  June 29, 2010 at 3:30 pm

    According to what moral standard are you appealing when you judge the second person’s post card more “compassionate and kind”? Why is kindness and compassion something we should value anyway? Just curious.

  2. chughes: I value kindness and compassion because I know it makes me happy when people behave kindly and compassionately towards me. I think it’s a reasonable generalization to say that nearly everyone else on the planet is also made happy by such behavior.

    The writer of the second postcard seems more kind because they seem focused on actually caring for others, while the first person seems more selfish and manipulative. This is based on the definition of the word “kind.”

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