Still here? Don't say I didn't warn you.
It occurred to me today that perhaps religion is merely an attitude and not a belief or system of beliefs--at least for some people. What I mean is: some people have the attitude: Jesus--Yay! or God--Boo! This attitude or expression of feeling is different from the system of beliefs which can be outlined as something like: "I believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth..." and so on (quoted from the Nicene Creed according to Catholicism-text found through Wikipedia). While an attitude is changeable and dependent, a belief system is inflexible and independent of opinion. You can't say, I believe in God and Jesus, but I don't believe in the Holy Spirit, when you claim to subscribe to a particular belief system. It's all or nothing. An attitude, however, such as feeling positive about God and Jesus, and negative about the Holy Spirit seems perfectly acceptable. (Note: As you've probably remarked, this discussion will revolve exclusively around Christianity, as I believe it is most relevant to a discussion of religion in the US today, and also because I have more experience with it than with other religious paths.)
The problem I would like to address here is that there are way too many people holding religion as an attitude rather than as a belief system, but still claiming to hold it as an end-all belief. Every system is flawed (systems in general, I mean), and religion is no different. There's always going to be something that you're not one hundred percent comfortable with. But an attitude can change, even from one day to the next. Find twenty bucks on the sidewalk--Yay God! Lose your job--Boo God. Attitudes are fleeting. Holding religion as an attitude is as arbitrary as liking a flavor of ice cream. Monday I like vanilla ice cream. Tuesday I had an upset stomach from the vanilla, so on Tuesday I like chocolate. Many people seem to believe in God, and whatever bits and pieces of the religious system they prefer over others that involve God, as it suits them. They can quote scripture. They can reprimand you for whatever hot topic is the order of the day. They can claim that they know more about the loving arms of Jesus than sinners like you ever will. But so many of them would drop that God-loving attitude like a hot potato if the shit really hit the fan.
The issue here is not that people shouldn't be religious. The issue is hypocrisy. Religion is a commitment that too many people take too lightly. Kind of like marriage. (But that's another discussion for another day, dear readers.) I have no problem with people who are religious. In fact, I find many of them fascinating (although I find many more of them misguided). I have a certain soft spot for religion, no matter how increasingly implausible it may become for me. So, this isn't an anti-religious finger-pointing session I'm running--rather, I want to examine those people who use religion as an excuse for their actions, as a bolster for their intolerance, and as a simple means of argument for the sake of argument.
Those kinds of people have no business maintaining religiosity. God is not a pawn in your argument against abortion. Jesus is not a reason to be for or against the death penalty. And neither of them can be used in a discussion of gun control, primarily because guns didn't exist 2000 years ago. We've veered into politics now--dangerous waters, I fear. But, it seems that the two are inextricably tied because people refuse to separate them. Politicians use religion to support their ends, and private citizens use religion to support their politics. In any case, it's wrong because doesn't make their arguments stronger. It weakens them. Your religious life may in fact play a role in which issues you support or reject, but you cannot use religion as the explanation for supporting or rejecting those issues. Using religion to explain your non-religious beliefs is like trying to explain trigonometry with Shakespeare. The two are completely unrelated. As a result, it seems that people who do employ this tactic may either be ignorant of aspects of their religion, or may be one of those people who hold their religion as an attitude, dependent only on its helpfulness at that particular moment.
I believe I've gone far enough now to provide my conclusion: (1) Be religious if you must, but don't half-ass it--we can't all be saints, but we can't purposely be sinners and claim that we're still saints because we say we're "sorry" for it; (2) Be political if you are so inclined, but keep your religion out of it--certainly there are other nonreligious arguments that can support your opinion that you agree with: use them. I won't say I'm right about all this. But I hope those of you who made it this far will at the very least consider religion and people who claim to be religious and examine these concepts a little more closely for yourselves.
Rub-a-dub-dub, thanks for the grub. Yay God.