Religion is like porn

Religion is like pornography. No, it is not necessarily offensive (religion, I mean!). In reference to hardcore pornography Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart said, “I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it.” I think religion is like that, I can’t really define it either, but I recognize it when I see it.

If we look at the origin of the word religionwe find that it is derived from the latin words “re-” and “ligare” which means to “bind again.” Now some may see parallels with pornography here as well, but that’s not what this post is about.

Bound by faith?

What religious people are bound to is probably different to different people. Some suggest religious practitioners are bound to their deity or that they are bound by faith to a specific set of religious tenets. Or perhaps practitioners of the same faith are bound together in a community of shared spiritual experience.

Obviously, religion means different things to different people. Most people have probably not considered what religion means to them nor why they practice their form of it. This is unfortunate and a little bit dangerous. Religious robots could be (are?) told what to do and how to think. This is probably happening, more or less, in many parts of our society.

The scary side of religion. Thankfully most religious folks aren't of this ilk.

People are told how to vote, what businesses to shop at or boycott , what charities to support, and how to think about (or not think about) scientific issues. This is frightening and precisely why many people are frightened by religion. In so many (by no means all of them) religious denominations people are discouraged from questioning their beliefs. Some go so far as chastising or ridiculing those who do have the courage to question their beliefs.

How else is religion like pornography? The very idea of both often stir intense emotional reactions. You’re either for it or against it. The “new-atheists” argue religion is supplanting reason in the western world. Fundamentalists argue faith will save us all. Similarly, some suggest pornography objectifies women and is degrading. Others suggest that some forms of pornography empower women, allowing them to become financially independent.

Both pornography and religion also balance on a very fine line with an antipodean twin Pornography walks a fine line with art. Art is beautiful;porn is offensive.

Art or porn?

Religion walks a fine line with reason. Religion explains the human condition; reason improves the human condition. Don’t read me wrong. Some art is offensive. Religious fundamentalism is has little power in explaining what it means to be human for everyone. It would seem then, that both pornography and religion are a matter of perspective.

So, religion is like pornography in that it’s hard to define, stirs intense emotion, and is highly dependent on perspective. It may be cliché, but it seems apt to close by stating the obvious, “different stokes for different folks.”

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About benevolentheathen

I am an Associate Professor of Biology at Northwestern Oklahoma State University. I teach courses in ecology, evolution, and behavior with an emphasis on terrestrial vertebrates, especially reptiles. In recent years I have become increasingly interested in the interplay between science and religion. I consider myself spiritual, but not religious. I am continually reassessing my thoughts and ideas about God, faith, and religion and how they fit into my empirical worldview. View all posts by benevolentheathen

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