By Bill Jeffreys
Believing in something beyond the self can have a beneficial psychological impact, even if the belief is false.
Just having a window to view life from is helpful even if the window we look out from is crooked. Religion is like that. It gives people a crooked point of view to judge the world. Sometimes it helps, but ultimately is suspends certain areas of growth, reason and compassion.
Take for instance the view of homosexuality in the Bible. There is nothing rational about the Bible's view on Homosexuality, but people accept such an ancient prejudicial view simply because it is written in their holy book. Why do we tolerate such discrimination in the name of religion?
I think it is because religion just mirrors the fear people have toward the unique, unknown, or different. Why is homosexuality condemned in the Bible? My guess is because it was different and not the norm, so people used their religious mythology to justify their fear and discrimination. After all, isn't God made in the image of people? In other words, the view that God hates homosexuality is really an irrational fear some people had in the bronze age. Yet this false belief is perpetuated in the modern world in the name of most religions. Does this aspect of religion have any bases in fact, science or rationality?
The Old Testament mirrors ancient views of morality and ethics. Some ideas are helpful and rational and some are irrational and hurtful. Take for instance the Old Testament view that if a woman is raped and she doesn't scream loud enough then she is also guilty and deserving of death. The 10 commandment are equally barbarous. The remedy for not obeying the commandments is death. In fact death is often the chosen form of punishment in the Bible. Not obeying the Sabbath was death. I can not image how this is the best that an all knowledgeable and powerful god could think up as a means to help people.
Another view point, which I think is screwed up, in the Bible, is the institution of marriage. We seem to believe it is an all or nothing type of system. What is marriage? Is marriage only to one person until death? Is marriage a relationship only with the opposite gender? Is marriage the only way to successfully raise children? Is marriage necessary to be happy? Is marriage the only morally acceptable means for a couple to live together, or have sex? Does being married mean one has to have sex with only one person the rest of their life?
How about we define marriage so that it maximizes our potential thereby maximizing the relationship. How about we take a rational and individual approach to marriage, rather than trying to shoehorn everyone into the same belief? How we let people tailor make their marriage to benefit themselves and each other?
Jesus supposedly asked if man was made for the Sabbath, or was the Sabbath made for man. I would like to ask the same question about marriage. Was marriage made for man or man made for marriage? Maybe marriage can be a fluid relationship where people learn to grow and change toward self awareness, honesty and confidence. Maybe the end result is that people learn to be authentic and relational without artificial barriers.
A religious belief system can help if you believe it, but it is inevitably false. It can not be tested and it is unrepeatable, therefore it can not be proved nor disproved. The only proof religion has are its own writings. It is a psychological fact that having something to hold onto emotionally comforts people especially in vulnerable times. A belief system can compel us to act either compassionately, or contemptuous.
Just as an abused child still clings to an abusive parent, so the religious person clings to an irrational God. The challenge today is to determine if what we believe is rational, accurate and helpful. It's time to let go of dogma, prejudice and fear and forget what we want to believe. It is time to have the courage to seek the truth no matter where it may lead us.
Online Reading List
- An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish by Bertrand Russell (1943)
- Bible Teaching and Religious Practice by Mark Twain
- God is Imaginary
- Is there an Artificial God? by Douglas Adams (1998)
- Skeptics Annotated Bible
- The Age of Reason by Thomas Paine (1795)
- Which Way? by Robert Ingersoll (1884).
- Why I Am Not A Christian by Bertrand Russell (1927)