Legalistic religion is the inflatable doll of rational thinking: It fills the emptiness of reality with a pretty but vacant simulation. Although many need this illusion to survive, their desperate need in no way transforms the plastic into flesh and bones.
Having said that, however, it is also important to realize that religion is built-in to human beings. Faith and religious thought has its own center in the human brain. I wish that the noble words of Jesus could be practiced instead of used to leverage a club over people’s heads but I seldom get my wishes… We will always have legalistic religion with us because it is part of who we are. The question is, what should be done with it.
I am not an atheist and this is not an argument about God. MY position is that any definition of God is automatically wrong because one cannot write a finite definition of the infinite.
What I would like to do is to bring faith and truth together, if not for a melding then at least for a peace treaty. You will find a working assumption here that God exists. This isn’t a provable assumption, but it is the one I’m working with. The problem isn’t with God’s existence but the nature of such a Divine Being and how people use beliefs about “Him” to bend the world to their way of thinking.
If you are a sincere and devout religious person, you probably shouldn’t even be reading this. And please don’t write in an attempt to enlighten me: I’m an expert in the Bible, having spent my youth on advanced theological studies. I know all the arguments inside and out. I’ve heard them all and even invented several. In fact, there’s a good chance any argument you use was something I developed since tracts have been written based on teachings from my unenlightened days.
If you are new to this discussion, please review the previous posts on this subject. Each post builds, at least to a degree, on former posts.
The Problem of Evil (aka Parsimony): The short version is this – a God who is pure good, all knowing, and all powerful could not be in charge of a world where 50,000 children starve to death every day (to give one example among a countless sea of horror), often in “His” name. This does NOT prove that God does not exist, however, as some have attempted to claim. It merely means that who or what God is, assuming “His” existence, must be re-thought if one wishes to deal with reality rather than live in a fantasy world. For more, see The Problem Of Evil discussions elsewhere.
Attempted counter-arguments usually begin with free will, but of course nobody chooses of free will to get cancer or be in the path of a tsunami. These are examples of things that just happen to people. Oh yes, I can hear some zealots saying that some people must choose cancer or to be wipe out in a natural disaster. Whatever. Are you prepared to argue that ALL such people including infants make this choice? If not, then you lose. Even one person who is an innocent victim disproves your assertion. Sometimes sin is named next, but it’s always tough to try to argue that every baby who is born with a fatal illness is that way because it or its parents were big time sinners. And then there’s the problem of saying everyone you know who gets cancer or dies unexpectedly must have been especially sinful. Clever theologians try to muddy the waters of discussion by prattling on about the difference between moral evil and natural evil. It doesn’t matter, either God created everything or he didn’t. If he did, he made evil. If he didn’t, he’s not the God you claim “him” to be. This also has nothing to do with the free will to love or not love God, another smokescreen sometimes raised to divert ones attention from the real world. As pointed out, babies are not free will agents and do not choose the bad things that happen to them. Alas, all of these arguments are intended to obfuscate and cloud rather than enlighten. A really good theologian can drone on for hours about free will and choice without ever dealing with reality. It just doesn’t work, so then the defender is left with nothing but “we can’t always understand God’s purpose.” This is a non-argument, of course: It simply means that you can’t think of any further rationalization for the horrors of the world so you simply declare it off limits to discussion.
If you are a Christian – especially if you are a fundamentalist – you DO claim to know God’s will, and you tell people on a regular basis that they must conform to what you say God’s will is. You think, act and vote on the assumption that you know exactly what God wants. Only when you are caught trying to defend the indefensible do you resort to the no-knowledge cop-out.
That’s okay, I realize the one thing you can never allow yourself to think – even for a moment – is that your founding premise might be faulty. This is the unfortunate but inevitable problem encountered by those who start with a conclusion about the world and then try to bend the facts to fit. It is part of human nature to do this, but it can be a very hurtful part.
You have to reach a point of being genuinely tired of being lied to by people with a desperate agenda before you can really get past this. Few people get that far, preferring to close their eyes to what is really happening in the world around them. And I admit, ignorance is far easier than facing reality.
In this discussion, we start with the known facts and try to draw rational conclusions from them. This flies in the face of human emotional makeup, as I am well aware. I struggle with this problem every day. My emotional nature wants to abandon reason and logic and sometimes it gets the better of me. ..But not at the moment.
At this time I do not wish to get into discussions about the existence of God, or lack thereof, nor do I wish to expound on other phenomena such as psychic powers, ghosts, or reincarnation. We can save that for another time.
Instead, let us consider what real, observable facts tell us about a Supreme Being.
First of all, we should deal with the question of evil. It’s easy enough to blame the Devil but of course God created the devil if you believe the Bible or the Quran. Some will say, yes, but God gave the devil free will. But free will does NOT have to include evil. I have free will about where I stand but I can’t flap my arms and fly because I will it – free will is not unlimited. People who don’t really want to deal with evil use free will to explain away the horrors of the world but one can observe from nature that many people act in good conscience without having to live in fear of a vengeful papa-deity.
And free will choice does not explain all the diseases and natural disasters that kill millions of innocent people every year. Clearly, evil is built in to creation itself. And while God is called our Heavenly Father, what earthly father would stand by and allow these horrible things to happen to his children if he had the power to prevent them?
God does not display compassion in a way that any sane human would understand the term. Quite the contrary, if a creator of the universe exists, he must be at least somewhat indifferent to suffering – at least by human standards. Which is not to say God is callously indifferent, as you should note that I said “by human standards”.
If God exists then “He” is what he is, not what we wish “Him” to be. My objections stem from the fact that religionists continue to sell God as the loving father figure in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. We can see why such an image works on the human psyche, but we should look deeper for its real meaning before deciding to try to shove it down everyone’s collective throats.
So how do we do this? Putting aside the fact that religion is built-in to the human brain, one should examine the milieu in which current major religions were formed. Here are some pertinent facts:
1) In the period in which the major religions were founded, the average life expectancy was somewhere between 30 and 40 years. This means that people had a very limited opportunity to get a handle on life: they needed pre-packaged and simple explanations for everything.
2) As recently as a few generations ago, the average person would know only a few dozen people in his/her entire lifetime, and most of these would be relatives. This is very important to the understanding of how it was possible for God to become a loving father figure. If you only know a handful a people, it’s probably much easier to accept the idea that God really loves you, like daddy, and all sickness and death comes from some kind of sin or possibly demon possession, from daddy who is displeased with some of his children. If you are unaware that somewhere else in the world, thousands of children are starving to death or that others are wiped out in an earthquake, you don’t really have to struggle with the moral questions. You can accept the simple explanation that God has a specific intent for each act, even if it is hard to discern. No doubt this helps explain why so many religious people today intentionally isolate themselves from “wordly” news and current events, accepting only a heavily filtered Christian version of reality. They must do this iin order to maintain the illusion of specific purpose and meaning.
3) Back to our discussion of historical context, Holy Men and storytellers were once as common as McDonalds employees today. They were often considered important as entertainers as well as moralizers. Time, however, makes us lose this perspective. We tend to see the storytellers of long ago as somehow imbued by God in ways we would never attribute to today’s prophets, who are now more commonly seen as crazy.
4) The Holy Men storytellers of long ago were people just like today, with similar ideas and agendas, and their words were refined by their followers long before they were ever written down. Therefore, it is impossible to know for sure what Jesus or Mohammed actually said with any great degree of accuracy. We only know what their later (a generation or more later) followers wanted us to believe they taught. Because of this, even the casual observer will note that much of Christian teaching seems to be revisionist Judaism, just as Islam refines and repurposes Judeo-Christian teachings. Inconvenient old teachings were thrown out while new ones were added to deal with what were then present-day issues.
The refining of teachings continues, although this has become more difficult because we now work with written text instead of oral tradition. For a common example, the New Testament clearly shows that mental illnesses are caused by demon possession. It couldn’t be more clear on this point. This belief continued unchallenged for centuries until we began to discover biological causes for mental conditions. Initially the church fought this, as it has always fought the advancement of knowledge. After all, if Jesus says epilepsy is caused by demons it must be caused by demons, right? Jesus was God incarnate so he couldn’t have made a mistake. But today orthodox churches have surrendered to science due to overwhelming evidence backed up by decades of research — so that when a parishioner has a child with epilepsy they now go to a doctor, not an exorcist. The words are still in the Bible, but people try hard to ignore them, since it is impossible to construct an argument whereby a disease that was caused by demons in the first century is caused by biological conditions in the twenty-first.
Still, we all need something to hope for, don’t we? I’ve had believers tell me that if anyone could prove conclusively that there was no God so that it became an inescapable reality, they would kill themselves. Indeed without fully realizing it, they have found the true purpose of religion and why it is built into the brain: It’s part of the survival mechanism as well as the chief agent of social control.
I certainly don’t want those poor people to kill themselves. Instead, I hope to build a New Hope – one based on reality, reason and logic. I suppose this still comes out to some sort of religion, but perhaps we can come up with one that doesn’t cause as much harm as the present versions.
Ultimately, this is the bottom-line source of my objection to present day religions: They leave a trail of bodies, both figuratively and literally, that is unacceptable to me. The faith that proclaims love and forgiveness practices judgment, condemnation and even outright violence. And there’s nothing loving about that.
Look to the stars.
Let hope burn in your eyes.
And we’ll love,
And we’ll hope,
And we’ll die…
All to no avail.
All to no avail.