Religion is ketchup

Steve MerrymanReligion1 Comment

In an online article at Quillette, Clay Routledge makes the case “From Astrology to Cult Politics – the Many Ways We Try (and Fail) to Replace Religion.” The main thesis of the article hardly needs explanation (it’s right there in the title).

A large part of the article is a rehashing of demographics with accompanying generalities.

“Nearly one-third of Americans report having felt in contact with someone who has died.”

“The number of claimed ‘haunted houses’ in the United States is growing.”

“Some who reject both traditional and non-traditional supernatural beliefs…”

Etcetera, etcetera.

There’s nothing wrong with citing statistics. They do a fine job of showing where people are at the moment, it’s just they don’t really explain much beyond that.

It’s a snapshot. Not a story.

I got a little frustrated reading these demographic info because I couldn’t find anything to reflect my position, then:

“Some people may be disinclined toward religious-like thinking in all respects, but they are likely an extremely small percentage of the population.”

At last! There I am!

But, like many religiously inclined folk, Professor Routledge can’t leave it there, he must explain away people like me as lacking the self-awareness to realize how religious we really are:

“Instead, most people who imagine themselves as irreligious simply haven’t come to terms with their religious nature.”

Apparently, Professor Routledge is a mind reader who can sense my inner conflicts with his penetrating and oh so sexy gaze.

Prof. Clay Routledge

My inner religiosity laid bare.

He continues:

“They believe that because they have rejected the faiths of older generations that they have no faith at all.”

Hmmm. But maybe they have no faith because they have not only rejected the faiths of older generations, but also the silly superstitions of this modern era like haunted houses, ghosts and magic stones. I mean, if we’re gonna graph this out on a line going from “Belief” to “No Belief”, it should at least be possible that some exist at the far right, in the “No Belief” category, right? Prof. Routledge, being a man of science(?) must agree it’s possible, even if he thinks the probability is low.

“They may simply be unaware of many leaps of faith they regularly take, and misjudging which ones will allow them to generate meaning in ways that allow humans to maintain a healthy harmony between the secular and the sacred.”

Boy, I could have really used an example of a “leap of faith” here. He seems to be making a lot of assumptions in that confusing sentence. He also seems to be asserting that to be fully human, one must have a belief in “something more enduring and meaningful than our brief mortal lives”.

Look, I’m just a dumb artist with delusions of blogging grandeur, so what do I know. But as a definition of religion, “belief in something more enduring and meaningful than our brief mortal lives” seems to set the bar pretty darn low.

I “believe” in the Universe. I “believe” the Universe exists. I “believe” the Universe is more enduring than I. To the extant that anything has meaning at all, the Universe surely has a larger claim to meaning than I. Does all this mean I have a religious belief in the Universe? I don’t think so. But would Prof. Routledge, say that I do, but I’m just too dumb to realize it?

I often wonder why it’s so hard for believers to accept that some of us simply have no belief in any of that stuff. I’m often confronted with arguments like the good professor’s which attempt to assign to me, without any evidence, some level of religious belief in what I can only assume is an effort to define everyone as religious. To me such attempts smell like arrogance and insecurity at the same time, sort of a cross between mothballs and cat poop.

Is it really that hard to imagine someone living outside of religious belief and still experiencing the fullness of humanity? I don’t think religion is the “special sauce” in humanity’s Big Mac. I think it’s more like ketchup. I don’t need ketchup to enjoy my burger, but some people want a little ketchup with theirs, and others want a little beef with their ketchup.

ketchup burger

Religion requires many napkins.

I’m saying religion is a condiment in humanity’s burger (remember, you heard it here first). Professor Routledge seems to want it to be the bun or the burger itself.

This metaphor is making me hungry.

I can’t presume to speak for anyone but myself (Professor Routledge might consider doing so as well), but all this talk of the need for religion strikes me as nothing more than window-dressing for the desire to forget Galileo and return to a heliocentric creation where our actions, our thoughts, and our wishes are the most important and meaningful thing in the Universe.

I just can’t buy into that scenario because based on observation, the Universe appears random and kind of absurd, and we look like happy accidents of nature that are of little or no consequence in the grand scale of time-space. In the end our story will be like Seinfeld: all about nothing.

I don’t see that as negative. I see that as liberating: I get to define my own meaning.

The meaning of my existence is what I say it is, or what I try to make it, and it can be as simple as waking up each day and being a loving and protective husband and father, a good master to my dogs, and endeavoring to be a creative and happy artist. And cheeseburgers. Don’t forget the cheeseburgers. The “grand meaning” of my existence is nothing more than my desire to be present to those I care about and do as much as possible with what I have in the short time I have left.

And to eat cheeseburgers.

Others may be dissatisfied with that, and seek more from life. I wish them well, and hope they find what they’re looking for.

Like every human, I’m a superstitious monkey at times. Despite what Prof. Routledge implies, I don’t embrace superstition. I try to rise above it.


Steve Merryman is a cranky old fart. He writes about things that make him tick, and things that tick him off. You may object to his views; you may think he's a moron; and you might wish to tell him so. In return he would remind you that his lack of concern for your feelings is only exceeded by his indifference to your opinions. Good day, Sir!

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