A Personal Kind of Excuse

Edit: Happy 100th post everyone!!!

“I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians — they are so unlike your Christ.” -Mahatma Ghandi

“With or without [religion] you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, you need religion.” -Steven Weinberg

“I’d like to think that, thanks to my intelligence, I make very few mistakes… But when I do make mistakes, they tend to be legendary.” -Me

The above three quotes tie together so well that it almost seems some kind of magic, even some kind of miracle. I don’t think that is an accident; the quote I gave from myself is one I tend to use as a talisman to ensure I retain some level of humbleness; it is when I think I am right most often that I make the worst mistakes (I once made a mistake so legendary it made the news, though thankfully my name was removed from the story). This is not anything to do with religion, this is to do with being a human, but it ties back so often to religion and to war that I felt it important to include it as a counterbalance to the Weinberg and Ghandi quotes.

Carl Jung, a great psychiatrist and psychoanalyst of the early 20th century, has been quoted (and the quote slightly varies, but the idea is always the same) as having said “I do not need to believe [in God], I know [God exists]!” This is the type of knowledge that leads to mistakes that can end up being legendary. “In the fullness of time,” writes Sam Harris, “One side of this debate will really win and one side will really lose.” It is in this vein that I try, as best as I am able, to never make an absolute statement with regards to religion.

I will fully admit, of course, that my own brand of intelligence has led me to lose my belief in God, but I would never say “there is no God.” That being said, I am comfortable saying the following: “There is probably no God, and if there is, he/she/it is probably not of the Christian variety.” If I am wrong, and both of those statements turn out wrong (and I am comfortable saying I cannot know the truth until I die), then I am comfortable admitting that I have made a mistake that was, in fact, more grand in scope than I could ever imagine in this life. Perhaps, I am open to thinking, there is something to the Christian religion, and to the fact that I may burn in hell for the things I have come to believe about the world and nature.

That being said, many of my beliefs in nature align with Christian beliefs, though that word was chosen carefully and advisedly. Belief and practice are often two very different things, as any public atheist tends to learn in the fullness of time. It is very few, the number of atheists that have not been told they will burn in hell, or that they should die, or that they are (quoting a letter sent to Richard Dawkins) “Only alive because my God commands me not to kill.”

Perhaps it is my naive reading of the Bible that has made me come to this conclusion, but I would think that wishing a person dead is in direct breach of Matthew 5:27-28, which states that, in part, “Any man who has looked at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” It is in my own naivete that I believe this is a broader commandment, one that charges Christians to keep a pure mind, not only with respect to adultery but with respect to all of the core commandments. This is, again in my mind, bore out by the fact that one of the core commandments states that thou shalt not covet thy neighbors goods; this is not just saying “thou shalt not steal,” but is further saying “thou shalt not think about stealing.”

I think the Golden Rule really needs to be more prominently on display in the Bible, and in the hearts of its readers. I really think that sending hate mail, no matter how justified you feel, is in breach of this rule. I think hating, or in any way persecuting homosexuals, is in direct breach of this rule. I think there are greater moral teachings than the Golden Rule, though it is very good, but like an artist with a block of clay, I work with what I am given. Much in the same way, now that I think about it, an apologist or Christian works with their own block of clay. There are parts of the Bible that no person can say are moral (or if you do, you are looking through some heavily tinted sunglasses), but they are there, so we work through them, all of us, even non-Christians.

Oh, but how do non-Christians deal with the Bible? I would ask the “witches” of Salem, whose belief or nonbelief in God did not matter. I would ask the “heretics” in the middle east for the hundreds of years that the Crusades lasted. I would ask the hundreds of thousands, or perhaps millions, whose delicate flesh got in the way of the Inquisitor’s hammer (That’s how that worked, right? The Inquisitors were Godly men, and thus never meant to hurt anyone, these people just happened to get in the way. By accident.).

If these examples are too archaic, then how about the Scopes trial of 1925, where science was denied in the very name of God? Or the more recent Vashti McCollum trial of 1948, where her family was ostracized, her children bullied, her name sullied for years. Is that recent enough?

I am not here to bash religion, but I am certainly not above bashing things that are done in the name of Christianity.

If we want to go even more recent, even today Teach the Controversy is being forced (or, at the very least pushed) upon a barely aware populace. The numbers from Gallup and Pew as to the scientific literacy of the United States of America are almost stunning to those outside of the country, and they seem to correlate with increasingy fundamental beliefs in certain areas of the country, rather than more progressive beliefs and education.

There is no “controversy” among the scientific populace, except perhaps between proponents of kin selection versus proponents of group selection, but even then it is a debate that is being solved by evidence and ideas.

The Scopes Trial, or the Vashti McCollum incident could have been gentle non issues; if you would treat an atheist like you would treat any other brother or sister in Christ, history would barely remember her. She would be referenced in court cases, and would certainly have a place in constitutional history, but who remembers the names of the people who pressed for constitutional amendments? No, I doubt seriously that I would be accutely familiar with (or even have heard) the name Vashti McCollum in a truly Christian world, where people practiced truly Christian beliefs.

But in a human world? Perhaps, perhaps I would have, and indeed, I have.

This is the point where you may say “AHA! You admit that being human is the problem! Well, Christianity allows us to transcend our baser instincts!” I am sorry for using a Straw Man in this case; very few people will speak to me of religion face-to-face, so I am forced to use hypothetical readers. I would like to think I am not an obnoxious atheist, but I am passionate where it comes to eliminating human suffering, so I may get more heated than I would like whenever someone defends their bigotry with the Bible… That being said, I must reiterate, I am not here to take religion away, I am here to take away the evil/bad parts of religion, and I will stay the course to that end. Worded another way, I do not want to debate, I want to discuss.

Now, off of that tangent, we are back to speaking about humans and their base instincts. I do not think it is a prevalent belief that women should be murdered wholesale, but why do you think the people of Salem held the witch trials? I do not believe they were evil people, I believe they were good people who did evil things out of fear and superstition–and they used their Bible as the justification.

It is not humanity that is evil, and it is not Christianity that is evil, but this is a case of chemistry taking two things, putting them together in a beaker, and the result is often ugly. To parallel that with something in the real world, I like mentos, and I like Diet Coke (get off my lawn, it still tastes good!!!), but I know that taking a mentos followed by a shot of diet coke is going to end poorly.

This goes back to a point I’ve made before; if we separate religion from our personal image of ourselves, we can transcend this negative interaction. If I say to you “The Bible preaches many evil things, among the good things,” your first reaction should not be one of indignation or hurt; that is a sure sign that the chemical reaction of religion/humanity is curdling your soul. If you ever defend bigotry using the Bible, that is a sure sign that the chemical reaction of religion/humanity is curdling your soul.

If, however, you admit that the Bible has a dark side, and that we can transcend it, but that religion is ultimately a force that allows you to surpass your own baser nature? I will be on your side. I will help you find Bible verses that support you. I will celebrate and trumpet your religion, but you have your humanity in one beaker and your religion in another, and you understand that they can compliment each other, but should perhaps not be directly mixed.

A moralist who takes the good of the Bible and throws out the bad has an incredibly sturdy foundation. That being said, a moralist is perfectly capable of being moral without using the Bible as their foundation, and that should be recognized, too.

We all have different ways of transcending our own personal flaws. Some use religion, though many in different ways. Some use the love of Jesus as a guide to loving thy neighbor; some use the fear of hell. These are two very different things, and I should hope that even the most die-hard Christian can see that. Some do not use religion; for me, it is my empathy. I do not believe in your God, but even so I believe in being moral and loving to those around us. I believe this should extend to the planet we live on, to those who do not share our beliefs, to those who do not share our opinions, to the animals around us. An issue I have taken with many Christians is that their Bible (and their personal beliefs) often do not extend to the protection of animals–but that, I will admit, is only a minor complaint in the big picture.

To summarize, perhaps, using the same example I’ve used before of the pastor who said he’d be a murderer if not for Jesus… You know what? If that is what it takes for you to be moral, ok, I’ll accept. The issue I take with that pastor is that he takes the Bible wholesale; he has the superiority complex that comes of one of the Chosen, he believes all people must be Christian, he believes that Muslims are the height of evil. Those are not moral beliefs, and I have a problem with his religion. His personal religion.

Do I have a problem with all Christians? Certainly not. I have a problem with the immoral Christians.

If you are Christian, I am going to ask you to take a look into yourself and ask not “What does the Bible tell me,” but “Am I doing unto others as I would have them do unto me?”

To bring out a tired example, if homosexuality were the norm and being heterosexual were punishable by ostracism (in progressive places) or death (in less progressive places), would you think anyone should have the right to decide what you do in the privacy of your own home when both parties are completely consenting? No one is harmed by your heterosexuality, you reason, and yea; no one even needs to know you are heterosexual. It has no bearing on anything outside of your love of your husband or your love of your wife.

“Hey Jim, have you finished your homosexual accounting?”

“No, Charles, I did heterosexual accounting.”

“Why’d you tell me that? Now we have to fire you.”

I should hope we all find the above conversation, regardless of our religious views, ridiculous. And that’s the whole point.

So, to beat home what I have said many times on this blog, let’s all be moral, regardless of our background. If only 10% of us would choose to live that way, the world would be a better place within the week.

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