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The Unreliable Guide to… Religion

By Nat Shepherd on January 8, 2019 in Other

Don’t assume the missionary position, by John Chau

As Christmas has emptied my pockets once again, The Unreliable Guide has been thinking about religion. I’m not alone. The largely secular western world is watching in surprise and trepidation as the rest of the world appears to be moving away on a rising tide of fundamentalism. But why is that happening? Maybe we agnostics and atheists should start believing in something other than consumerism as the path to happiness? The Unreliable Guide has some tips and tricks to help you decide if you should be a believer…


Since the dawn of mankind we have tried to make sense of our world. Religions offer a narrative that has helped us to understand the inexplicable: from early man’s curiosity about the sun rising and despair at the crops failing, to the eternally perplexing question of what happens when we die. Religions also organise us, salving our desire for social cohesion and, at their best, offering ways in which we can strive to be better versions of ourselves. They provide a moral compass, outline ways of behaving and suggest how we should treat each other. They also promote cultural identity and maintain rituals that give a sense of continuity and safety. Smart! No wonder they are popular.


The main reason religions are crap is that when people believe something strongly they tend to think that everyone else should think the same. After greed, religion has been the main cause of war for millennia. Religious certainty can lead to the belief that those who don’t think the same way as you should be excluded, tortured or killed. Even like-minded believers may be expelled or shunned if they don’t follow the exact laws laid down by the current leaders. Worst of all, by preventing questioning of the status quo, religions limit the expansion of human knowledge. Religion provides easy answers to hard questions, hindering philosophical advancement and leaving mankind in a self-imposed rut.


If you fancy being part of something and want someone tell you what to eat, think and wear, there are plenty of folk out there ready and waiting to enfold you into the bosom of their flock. Like nightclubs, however, some religions are easier to get into than others. While certain religions require years of study before they allow you in, others will come looking for you. They’ll knock at the door, thrust a magazine into your hand and invite you to join them there and then.

If you want a religion by teatime just pop into any of the happy-clappy Christian sects and they will welcome you (and your credit card) with open arms. The problem comes when you try to leave. Buddhists are equally welcoming, but they don’t ask you to tithe a tenth of your income and seem happy with casual membership. Just one word of advice: don’t join any religion that insists you leave all your friends and family behind. They are cults.

Finally, The Unreliable Guide suggests you just practise loving-kindness. Tread lightly, use empathy, don’t be a wanker. This idea is at the core of every major religion, but it often seems to get forgotten along the way.