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Austin Cline

50 Things to Love About Religion?

By January 7, 2013

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Is there anything to love about religion? Perhaps, but it's difficult to come up with a list. The problem isn't just that there's lots wrong with religion, but rather than there's nothing good about religion which is unique to religion. Thus anything good about religion is equally good in non-religion. This makes it difficult to justify sticking with or focusing on religion.

Loving Religion
Loving Religion
Photo: Tom Fullum/Getty

That doesn't stop people from trying to come up with lists, though. Unfortunately, doing so only ends up serving to highlight more of what's wrong with religion - in particular, the mental gymnastics that believers have to go through in order to rationalize and validate their ideology.

They don't usually end up seeing this, though. They only see a feel-good list of things that reinforce what they want to see in their religion. They never step outside of their assumptions to see the flaws or problems in what they are saying.

The Huffington Post published a list of "50 Things to Love About Religion." No one had the guts to publicly put their name to it, which should already tell you something about the quality of the ideas being expressed.

Some of the items are obviously and exclusively Christian. Christian elements and assumptions are so dominant, in fact, that it's hard to understand why they didn't just honestly say in the title that the article is about Christianity.

Then, at the same time, the picture they use looks more like it belongs with a "New Age" article, not one extolling the value of the Mass an the Eucharist.

7. Love is valued as the most important goal in life
8. Jesus
9. The Beatitudes
14. The beauty of the Liturgy
20. The communion of saints
21. The cross
23. Mass
30. The Holy Spirit
44. The Eucharist
48. Free wine

I doubt that Hindus think "The cross" is a reason to love Hinduism, that pagans think "The Eucharist" is a reason to love paganism, or that Buddhists think "free wine" is a reason to love Buddhism.

Several others are not quite as obviously Christian, but the language is far more fitting of Christianity than other religions and it's unlikely that they weren't included without Christianity being the driving inspiration. At best, they are limited to just a narrow range of religions.

1. Grace
4. The peace of knowing that God is ultimately in control
6. Reminds us of God's love.
19. Eternity in Heaven
25. Oneness of God
36. Relationship with God

When Christians list blatantly Christian things as part of a list of things that are supposed to be generally "religious," they reveal just how large and thick their intellectual blinders are. They reveal that they have little understanding of "religion" and, therefore, can't really be trusted to understand "Christianity" very well.

Other items on the list are just blatantly false because they are the exact opposite of what actually happens in religion (either generally or at least in many cases):

3. No one preaches at me
5. Emphasis on social justice
10. Freedom to question
12. Openness to ideas
15. Pure transparency
18. Gender equality
22. No dogma
27. Hatred for none
29. Inclusive
32. Unity
35. Encourages debate
40. No more guilt
46. Not being forced

No dogma? Dogmas are often an important element of what defines a religion, or at least that differentiates it from other religions. So is preaching, though I suppose if you want to be generous you can interpret #3 as saying that you don't suffer from as much preaching once you join a religion. That, however, would simply be an admission that outsiders being harassed by preachers are justifying in hating that religion.

Most of the rest in this group are more a matter of wishful thinking - and non-religious wishful thinking as well. Items like "gender equality" and "freedom to question" are ideals which liberals hold for political and social reasons, but they are not ideals which religions have traditional promoted and, what's more, conservative forms of religions today promote exactly the opposite.

A significant number either have nothing to do with religion at all or exist equally well in secular systems:

2. Community of faith
11. Confidence
13. Music
16. Silence
17. Mystery
26. Forgiveness
28. Compassion
31. Joy
33. Courage
34. Service to others
37. Power to change hearts
38. Transforms lives
39. Creativity of the Spirit
41. Beautiful prayers
42. Simplicity
43. Tranquility
45. Consciousness
47. Food
49. Tradition

Confidence has nothing to do with religion. Neither do consciousness or food. I'm not even sure what "Creativity of the Spirit" means, but creativity does not require religion. It isn't even especially helped by religion. Other elements, like music, courage, joy, compassion, etc., not only don't need religion but can be found in equal or greater measures outside religion.

One element is listed twice:

24. Hope
50. Hope

Maybe that's because the author(s) recognize that this is the most important and fundamental part of religion: hope (as in wishful thinking) rather than truth and reality?

Regardless, this is representative of how much of an abject failure the author(s) were in trying to create a list of 50 things to love about religion. Not only did they fail by listing things that are exclusive to one religion in particular rather than religion generally... not only did they fail by listing things that aren't true about religion... but they failed to even list 50 unique and separate things.

So what's to hate about religion? Maybe one thing is that it makes you so desperate to defend and rationalize religion that you lose the ability to count as high as 50.

January 7, 2013 at 3:31 pm
(1) Anand says:

The list is obviously about making HuffPost more appealing to religious readers – especially the American strains of Christianity. The claim that “gender equality” (Islam), “no more guilt” (Catholicism), “pure transparency” (Mormonism). etc. are more common in religion than irreligion is painfully laughable. The authors must either have clinically distorted view of the world or deliberately lying.

January 7, 2013 at 4:56 pm
(2) Liz says:

I am left speechless by this list. According to the HuffPo article, it wasn’t composed by a single author but is a compilation of things the community of readers said they loved. That probably also explains the Christian-centric bias. Nonetheless, it is clearly a list of feel-good sentiments for people who don’t want to think to hard about things but just want to feel “blessed”.

The cross as something to feel good about is a stunner. I recognize that people wear or display it as a symbol and it is in churches, but it was the cause of a great deal of suffering on the part of their savior – how do you feel good about that?

January 7, 2013 at 6:15 pm
(3) Victoria says:

The comments on HuffPo about the article are hysterical, but then I am sure you read them already, Austin.

January 12, 2013 at 6:12 pm
(4) Eric in Alameda says:

I believe the list is composed of things the respondents love about THEIR religion, as opposed to religion in general. As such, it is more of an indictment of what they see as wrong with OTHER religions, denominations, or churches. For instance, 5 emphasis on social justice is listed because someone apparently loves that HIS religion supposedly has this, which most religions do not.

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