Ever since I was a young iconoclast, I’ve been thinking about this topic and pondering over it. I vacillated between the tags of religious and pious before settling on pious because pious has a certain feel. Piousness seems more extreme than mere religiousness. Piety, in fact, suggests, at least to me, zealotry; a definition of which is: fanatical partisanship. I’ve always been a little cautious of zealots, they’ll do anything they think they have to do to achieve their aims.
Case in point, a couple of weeks ago my mother and father went to a doctor’s appointment. In the lobby of the office building that held this doctor there were a random selection of magazines and other reading materials; Dad said that it looked as though most of them were forgotten by previous visitors.
One of the magazines that was there was an Evangelical Christian example. It was a slim publication, a medium grade periodical. Inside were a series of articles aimed at helping the reader live their life the way the authors thought they should. I managed to read less than a quarter of it before the cognitive dissonance almost ruptured my skull. The two main thoughts running through my head, chasing each other in circles, were: “How stupid are they?” and “How stupid do they think I am?”
There wasn’t a topic that was safe from their rigid, blinkered, dogmatic approach. I saw articles denouncing evolution, linking secularism with social and financial ruin in Europe, and one comparing the Titanic disaster with not believing sufficiently in God. There were ten articles in it but I could only stomach three before my personal limit for intolerance was reached. My father, Archon’s Den, actually managed to get all the way through it without having a stroke or killing anyone.
Clearly the writers, editors, and publisher are very religious people. Perhaps it’s unfair, but personally I can see some of them presiding at a witch hunt or book burning; the remainder would just watch.
There was a local man of God, now deceased, who wrote a weekly column in the local paper about a variety of topics usually based on some happening in a local church or in the wider religious communities. He was broad-minded and attended services for other denominations and even other faiths. He also studied them and applied lessons learned from them into his own life and sermons.
Now, being militant agnostic, I read his columns religiously. I think it’s always a good thing to know what they’re up to; it’s like with children, when they get real quiet, you know they’re doing something they shouldn’t be.
The topic of one of his columns was about how religion could be a force both for great good and for great evil. The column was, as they almost always were, intelligent, well thought out, and insightful.
He wanted to find a way to encourage the good and negate the bad. The problem of course was that he was inside the very box he was trying to examine the outside of. I wrote him a letter after reading the column. I was disappointed, but not surprised, when I didn’t get a reply. For a supposedly retired minister he was a busy man and surely received dozens of pieces of mail each week as a result of his columns, his ongoing activities, etc.
This is a letter I wrote him; it’s from about eight years ago.
Dear Sir: I am a regular reader of your weekly column and I always have to admire your self-honesty and your struggle to find greater truths in the familiar. This past Saturday’s column was a prime example of both and I would like to share with you an insight I had several years ago on this subject.
Please pardon any apparent errors in word usage that you may find. I have found that certain words mean different things to different people, and the words that I use have a particular meaning to me. So, to you these words may not mean the same as they do to me, but I think that you will be able to determine what I mean by context, if not by denotation.
I have found that there is a difference between being “pious” and being “spiritual”. It may sound self-contradictory, or even counter-intuitive, but I have perceived a difference.
Pious people burn books, and people, because they are closed-minded and afraid of any idea that hasn’t been given them by a religious leader. A spiritual person reads those books and listens to those people because there might be truth to learn from them.
Pious people have and will commit the most heinous atrocities because `those people’ don’t believe what we do and are therefore, by definition, evil and beyond the pale. Spiritual people will only try to persuade and teach by example the correct path.
Pious people are certain that since `unbelievers’ are evil, they will go straight to Hell to suffer all the pain and torment; the pious even experience a certain malicious pleasure in the thought of the “heathens’” suffering. Spiritual people believe in their hearts that people of good intent, whatever their religion, will go to Heaven, Paradise, Nirvana, or whatever, and that people of evil intent…, well the Spiritual hopes they get better soon so that they can join the party.
Pious people blow things up and kill people to make their point. A spiritual person will, at the most, lecture in a firm voice, or set themselves on fire to make their point, making sure that the flames won’t spread.
Pat Robertson and Osama Bin Laden are both, to my way of thinking, Pious people. Mother Teresa and Mohandas Gandhi are both, also to my way of thinking, Spiritual people. Therein lies the difference. Pious people believe that people serve the church. Spiritual people believe that the church serves the people.
Perhaps that is all that needs to be said, all the rest is window dressing.