Here, take a swig, calm your nerves. Relax, you’re taken care of. That’s it, settle down. There, feel better? Good, good, feel the love, feel the comfort. Now, slowly, lower your troubles, and lay them at your feet. Feel the holy spirits lifting you up. Liberating your soul. How about one more sip? There you are, up, up, floating towards a state of grace, that’s it. Another…
Like alcohol, religion is… amazing. A social equalizer, inspiring song and cheer, fostering community for all willing to play along, instilling lessons in the young about the limits of mankind, and wisdom in hearts of the battle-tested old. Born into a chaotic world where nothing makes any sense, not the color of the sky, nor the distance of the stars, we are told thou shalt not kill, and it all begins to click. Just one sip, that’s all it takes. Thou shalt not steal, for stealing is just as bad as killing! Thou shalt not covet, an acquired taste you’ll appreciate when you’re older. Like Campari.
And like alcohol, religion can be dangerous in excess. Socially, a numbing sedative or inflammatory wrecking ball, inspiring blindness from truth or blind fury once the truth becomes too big to bear. Religion like alcohol can rupture families, take neighbors for enemies, and justify oppression or violence against those most unlikely or unable to fight back, instilling delusions of damnation and righteousness, two extremes, in the young, and delusions of salvation in the old or poor or prisoner dying and in need of just one more sip from the holy cup.
A few weeks ago, in a story that received heaps of international press, a young American missionary named John Chau bribed fishermen to illegally escort him near a remote island in the Bay of Bengal so that he could convert members of a 30,000-year-old hunter-gatherer tribe to Christianity. The tribe had resisted prior initiations of contact from the modern world, including aiming arrows at Indian coastguard helicopters during rescue operations after a 2004 tsunami, and killing two fishermen who had washed up, asleep, on their shores in 2006. Violent tendencies aside, visiting the island was also illegal because the tribe, isolated as they are, are feared not to have evolved an immune system that could combat the common cold, making contact with outsiders – no matter how peaceful – dangerous for their own survival.
Drunk on ideology, Chau knew all this and went anyway. On his first attempt, he got bombarded by arrows, even took one in the Bible he was holding out, and narrowly escaped. On his second, he was killed. Much, much, much, much, much too soon. In his journal, the night between attempts, he wrote, “This is not a pointless thing. The eternal lives of this tribe is at hand and I can’t wait to see them around the throne of God worshipping in their own language, as Revelations 7:9-10 states.”
A second example:
A man possessed by drink who has total faith in himself to make it home, no matter the odds, one night drives his car off the road and down a riverbank.