I have always believed that the topic of religion is best avoided. There is no subject more unwelcome, potentially explosive and unsatisfying to discuss than dogma. Having teed up this post with that disclaimer, I will make a one time exception here and then things religious will never be broached again in this space. The late, great Christopher Hitchens once described religion as, ” … a totalitarian belief. It is the wish to be a slave.” The Hitchens quote that I find even more compelling was his comment on an all seeing God who knows your every innermost thought. Hitchens described such an arrangement as a “celestial North Korea.” Hitchens also described God as, “… an unalterable, unchallengeable and tyrannical authority who can convict you of thought crime while you sleep.” I am not an avowed atheist but when I see otherwise intelligent people choosing to murmur, pray, scrape, bow and confess to an unseen deity soaked in incense and ritual silence, then I have reached the point where I have to call them out on the joke.
Having had just enough Roman Catholic background and adequate education to recognize absurdity in a clear light, the complaints against the Catholic Church are well known. It is behind the times, it holds back women, it is against contraception, even if that means preventing disease. It is obsessed with ritual, it is bureaucratic and misogynistic. It harbors pedophiles. On March 5, high on his perch above St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis said that the Church had acted with “transparency” and “accountability” on sex abuse in the church. He then complained that the Church was being “attacked”. Such blindness comes standard with the Papal vestments, apparently.
To many people, Islam is often described as a fanatical, violent and backward faith. There are stories every day about bombings and murders inflicted on one sect of Islam by another sect. Publishing any image of The Prophet may get you killed. 1000 years ago, Islam was leading the pack in free thought, invention and open inquiry. Does it still or is it just getting terrible press these days?
I have a lot of respect for the Jewish faith. People I know of that tradition seem more concerned with putting their religious values into daily practice and doing so with humility. On the world stage, it’s as bad as the rest. The violence in the Middle East will never be solved as long as three faiths share the same holy sites while using their respective holy books as legally binding land deeds. Even as a child, the Roman Catholic traditions seemed oppressive and mysterious to me. Transubstantiation appeared to be willing self delusion. In the following video, a simple test debunks this outrageous teaching. I am not a Raelian, by the way. If changing a wafer to human flesh actually happens, then it should be detectable by modern scientific testing. I am not playing the doubting Thomas but teachings presented as literal truth should withstand the literal proving of such. Otherwise, it simply isn’t true.
The Raelians are themselves a cult and they show a scientific test here. In the context of irrational beliefs, even science is suspect. Without the clouding veil of cults or religions, science speaks for itself. If this same test was performed otherwise, the result would be the same.
If we were born sinners, how could a perfect God have made so many imperfect, sinful people? Until recently, I was willing to accept that great evil and suffering was the price paid for free will. For me, it’s not enough anymore. If God really is all knowing, then He knew that untold numbers of innocent people would suffer and die in the name of religious purity. God wants us to choose freely to love Him but is willing to sit by and watch every murderous choice humans make otherwise. God needs praise and love from us? That sounds like insecurity to me. If God knows your ultimate destiny before you are even born, then free will is an illusion. You are already signed, sealed and delivered, for better or worse. If you have free will and God doesn’t know your choice until you make it, then God is not all knowing. Even with free will, God is diminished by comparison. God can’t know your fate if you have free will. If he does know, you never had a choice at all. Do you see the problem here?
Stephen Hawking has said that since time did not exist before The Big Bang, then God had no time to make the universe at all. Therefore, God does not exist. With all due apologies to the the greatest mind of the century, that is simplistic thinking. Let’s assume that God could well exist outside of time. Scientists posit that many dimensions of time are possible so let’s concede this point to the Master Clockmaker. You would think that Hawking could attack the moral absurdity of a God who demands devotion out of fear while ordering us to love Him at the same time. Hawking’s choice to apply scientific logic to a series of fairy tales can’t be seen as credible since there is no objective methodology for willing self delusion.
My bottom line complaint is the Adam and Eve story. In that whopper of a tale, the original nudists were thrown out of paradise for eating the apple from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. For me, the capricious, cruel and vengeful nature of God is there to be seen in this one fable, the true genesis of a terrifying and unyielding faith. If Adam and Eve were the first sinners, then they had no idea of the true consequences of what they were doing when the talking serpent got into Eve’s ear. They disobeyed, they realized they were bare ass naked, they began to age and had to work for what they got. They had to get jeans, T-shirts and underwear at Target. They paid in cash so their identities wouldn’t be stolen. The God of love, the all knowing and all forgiving God, threw the squatters off the estate and brought suffering and death into the world for all time.
God had the power to forgive the first sinners and refused. He then passed on that suffering and death to everyone else for ever more. To compound His own error, he brought his Son into the world to be brutally killed to gain the forgiveness for mankind that God could have bestowed on the spot in the first place. What about the millions who died before the time of Christ? Are they all in Hades now? Am I missing something here?
If Adam and his old lady were not worth a mulligan, what chance do the rest of us have? If that is love and forgiveness, then I would get more insight, comfort and satisfaction out of my Netflix subscription. I use the Adam & Eve chestnut as one example. So many other Bible stories and accounts from other faiths only pass muster as fantasy, yet we are supposed to put aside our own knowledge and experience in favor of unthinking scriptural compliance? I’ll pass, thanks. The modern world isn’t even worth the odd miracle once in a while, the 2013 Red Sox excluded, of course. In the absence of all tangible evidence to the contrary, the God in the sky is mythical, indifferent or powerless.
Religion is the same confusing, guilt inducing and homicide creating debacle that it always was. It is a collection of fairy tales for creatures who know too little about the universe to escape their debased conditions. If our debasement comes courtesy of a Creator, then he is insane. If the debasement is our own, then let natural selection bring this evolutionary misfire to its natural conclusion. Free from religion, there is endless capacity for hope, love and compassion already in us. We don’t need gods to tell us what to do and how to live. Religions were first formed for control, intolerance, profit and the sowing of division. To that extent, they are a great success.
Mankind ignores his own conscience as readily as a god. One of these two things is simply redundant. As Jonathan Swift once said, “We have just enough religion to make us hate but not enough to make us love one another.” Mr. Swift was only half right. More religion won’t solve anything. Less religion is no guarantee either but it would be a good start. This is my own modest proposal. The incomparable Mark Twain offered this devastating insight in his story, “The Mysterious Stranger”. Twain calls out a God who;
“… mouths justice and invented hell, mouths mercy and invented hell, mouths Golden Rules and forgiveness multiplied by seventy times seven, and invented hell; who mouths morals to other people and has none himself; who frowns upon crimes, yet commits them all; who created man without invitation, then tries to shuffle the responsibility for man’s acts upon man, instead of honorably placing it where it belongs, upon himself; and finally, with altogether divine obtuseness, invites this poor, abused slave to worship him!…”
If God does exist, then I have encountered the divine in my fellow human beings. They are the only holy books worth reading. If God’s heaven is empty and with Mr. Twain’s formidable indictment squarely in mind, then they are holy just the same. This suffering class of primate has grace enough, if we would only seek it out from within and stop fearing intolerant tormentors of our own design. The only true church is your own conscience, if you have the requisite tools, patience and skill to build one.