Discover more from 5 Minute Break
An unholy f-bomb
Or how we learned to love the effing Word
WARNING: This article makes very liberal use of the f-word. If you are someone that finds this offensive, I suggest you stop reading now. If, however, you are offended by any views of religion that contradict your own, then I invite you to read on, but at your own risk.
It seems to me that nothing better describes the move in modern free-thinking western societies from religion to secularism, than the substitution of the f-word for ‘god’ in the phrase ‘for god’s sake!’
Now I know what you’re thinking. "For fuck’s sake, Jonathan!" you say, "how can you build an argument for secularisation around one little phrase? There must be hundreds of other indicators, such as falling church attendance and fewer people claiming to have a religion or believe in god. Or even the marginalisation of the clergy in national debates. And yes, you are quite right, those indicators do suggest that religion is on the run in most, if not quite all, western societies (the ‘Land of the Free?’ Fuck, give me strength).
But hear me out on this.
A very learned Roman philosopher called Seneca once observed a very, very long time ago, "Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by rulers as useful.” Religion worked in bronze-age and early societies as primarily a means of social control. Its basic precept was that if you disobeyed ‘god’s law’ – which by happy coincidence was virtualy indistinguishable from the needs of the powerful elite – then you would go to hell. This is why in biblical times their god seemed to think slavery and misogyny were perfectly acceptable, while eating shellfish or pork, uncovering your head, working on the Sabbath or wearing mixed fabrics were worthy of eternal torture in fire and brimstone. Fuck knows why.
One of the key commandments that this god felt was so imperative that he passed it on via his spokesman Moses (not in person of course, as that would mean showing himself), was not to take his name in vain. "Do that," he grumbled, "and you had better get measured up for an asbestos suit, and pronto."
But now it is seen as perfectly acceptable to not only take a god's name in vain, but to substitute it for ‘fuck’; a word that represents the kind of sin that got the bronze-age elders so hot under the collar. To me, this casual everyday ‘blasphemy’ demonstrates that we no longer live in fear of divine retribution - and specifically the threat of being burned for all eternity by an ever-loving god when we die. If that threat is lifted, then it shows clearly that the power that religion once held as a means of social control is gone. Gone, but unfortunately not forgotten.
"Aha!" You might say, "but the point you are missing Jonathan, is that religion provides us with a basis for our morality. Without reference to a higher authority, how can we know what is right or wrong?"
But when it comes to the biblical morality of Christianity, (the only religion I can talk about with any confidence), that doesn’t work for me. There are two reasons:
A person who says their morality comes from the bible must be ignoring all the verses (across both testaments) that condone genocide, rape, incest, slavery, torture, misogyny, family abandonment, cannibalism, sacrifice and threats of damnation. If they only focus on the ‘god is love’ message, then by what moral standards are they making such a choice? By definition it must be a higher level of morality than the bible itself - and presumably a similar morality practiced by those who do not believe in their god.
Doing good because you want to be rewarded in heaven (or not tortured in hell) is a morality based on self-interest not empathy. I think that a truer type of morality is when someone does good because they care deeply about their fellow living creatures and the natural environment. Not because they are trying to book their own ticket to heaven.
Of course, as recent events in America show us, there are those who still believe their religion gives them carte blanche to impose their interpretation of morality upon all citizens, regardless of whether or not those other citizens happen to share their beliefs. Which is, of course, a perfect definition of social control by religion.
To which the only valid response is surely "For fuck’s sake, keep your bronze-age morality to yourselves and let everyone else get on with their lives."
For more on Jonathan Posner - author, please go to Jonathan's website
Thanks for reading 5 Minute Break! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.