Opinion: Some friendly thoughts on religion and spirituality

Hank Venetta

Hank Venetta

Hank Venetta is a senior English major and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater.

Contact him at [email protected].

As the 21st century rolls along, more people seem to be getting irritated with religion. We do not come across this frustration in our everyday lives because religion is still a hush-hush topic. Like others, I remain silent out of politeness. 

The YouTube video “Why I Hate Religion, but Love Jesus” has been getting some attention lately, which at least shows that people are thinking about the issue. Many others, however, are taking non-religion a bit further.

Organizations centered on atheism, agnosticism and progressive humanism have grown over the years and their voices seem to be getting louder.

Look no further than the Reason Rally, “the largest secularist gathering in world history,” which will be held in Washington, D.C., March 24th. The main speaker will be none other than evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins. Accordingly, the band Bad Religion will be doing a mini-concert.

Hey now! Don’t jump to conclusions. The event is not centered on hatred. It’s always important to be respectful of beliefs. What it hopes for is dialogue, something the non-religious have always struggled to attain. Indeed, I am stressing non-religion as opposed to anti-religion. “Anti” sounds too brutal, and I don’t think it represents the majority of secular groups.

How do I define religion? Thanks for asking! Simply put, I think it is spirituality in a cage.

Religion is institutionalized. It consists of static and absolute truth. Spirituality is intimate and private, consists of truths and embraces constant change.

For instance, when religion enters politics, I see a persistent stubbornness to change. Politicians easily exploit wedge issues.

Rick Santorum’s extremist stance on contraception, for example, appeals to voters who don’t want to investigate black and white matters themselves. This is because a true answer has been provided.

I think a spiritual person would be equally open to exploring the Bible, Quran, Bhagavad Gita, Dhammapada and other texts.

Even scientific, poetic and philosophical books hold spiritual value. But when you extract your information from one supreme source, it is religion. And when that source is factually or morally contestable, the notion that it’s immune to questioning seems to wear a crown.    

For instance, the Book of Genesis contradicts new information in a variety of disciplines. Mankind did not suddenly pop into existence. The Earth is 4.5 billion years old.

There is no geological trace of a global flood. Babylonians and other early civilizations had an ark myth before the Bible was written. The writing style of Genesis has been analyzed by professionals; it is likely the book was revised, edited and tampered with many times by numerous authors.*

The rebuttals? The Bible meant so-and-so to be allegorical, not literal. Young-Earth creationism becomes Old-Earth creationism. The hundreds of writers were each divinely inspired. And so on.

This is where the endless cycle of adjusting information to fit belief starts, rather than adjusting beliefs to fit new information. This is unlike the exhilarating process of constantly revising your views on reality, which I hold is a spiritual way of life.

When I talk to someone religious, I immediately wonder if there was a time they didn’t have that religion. Usually, religion was passed down to them. Religious identity is often based on where one happened to be born and under what family. Affirmation of what you’ve been taught by your parents and culture is separate from self-discovery.

Jonathan Swift said, “You cannot reason someone out of something they weren’t reasoned into.” 

In my teens, I went with this suspicion, deconstructed my beliefs and started from scratch. It was worth it. Take that, Swift.

Sometimes religion is beneficial, but history has shown how powerful institutions prescribed religion as a method of sustaining predictable behavior. Do you think this isn’t going on today? I often ponder the extent to which religion was designed to contain elements of control from the beginning — symbols, objective morality, ethnocentrism, custom, etc. Religion maintains absolutism and exclusiveness, the most powerful ideological weapons.

So, those are some of my thoughts on religion. It’s tricky to avoid making it sound like I’m attacking all religious practices. If there’s a hornet’s nest I’m kicking, it probably belongs to fundamentalists.

I am not anti-Jesus or anti-Buddha. I’m a part of a movement that wishes to eradicate the phobia of a multi-faith world, a world in which only one prophet — just one — be it Christ or Muhammad, has something spiritually enriching to offer.

I am ecstatic to be a secularist, but also spiritual — no contradiction between the two is necessary. I am happy to explore the most sensitive and bewildering matters because to me they are the most essential for our growth.

There’s been an elephant in the room far too long.


*My remarks on the Book of Genesis might upset people. These works explore Biblical inaccuracies: “Hitch 22,” “The Oxford Annotated Bible” and “To Each Its Own Meaning: An Introduction to Biblical Criticisms and their Application.” I think these books contain good arguments.