After posting "Paul's And Jesus' Moral Fallacies" (June 22), I've been encouraged to elaborate more. I wanted that earlier essay to be brief enough to not seem preachy and to accommodate any attention span and be read during commercial breaks between, say, ESPN's Pardon The Interruption and Outside The Lines. This follow-up post won't do that. I apologize in advance, then, to those without a DVR and with other important things to do.
Much of this post here below is plagiarized, excised, or revised from my own earlier review of the movie "Jesus Camp," (posted in the forums section here at exchristian.net, a movie that was nominated for the 2006 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature), but I thought it worth it to get it to a broader audience than those who would read a movie review. And there are also some important additions, not presented in that movie review. So, if some of it sounds familiar to any of you, that's why. I begin by referencing that same movie, which I recommend.
There are subtle Christian moral fallacies that we've all probably been exposed to without necessarily challenging and "cutting off at the pass." I think they warrant serious holy ghost busting though. Here are some.
The movie Jesus Camp (2006) tells us that "forty-three percent of evangelicals become 'born again' before age thirteen." Children's minds aren't mature enough before age 13 to be making commitments to belief or disbelief. They can't know enough facts to combat fictions and they can't think abstractly. They therefore can't and aren't making truly informed choices then or even for a long while after. I am absolutely certain that, just as we do with Santa Claus, I could tell and teach my child at a young age that the writing on the back of a box of Cheerios is the written word of God and teach him to reverence and memorize it and sing songs about it and I could teach him that Snap, Crackle, and Pop on the box of Rice Crispies are the all-knowing, all-powerful Holy Trinity of God who loves him and I could teach him to attribute all good things to this God and all bad things to Tony the Tiger, even despite Tonys's beaming smile on the box of Frosted Flakes. My young child would believe me because I love him and shelter and provide for him and always have done so as far back as he can remember and no one else has or does. None of this indoctrination is fair to a child, let alone true. It is all the more ill-advised when we realize that only about one in twelve children break away from their parent's religious beliefs (The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins, 2006, p. 102). Ill-founded beliefs are and have been perpetuated, I'm convinced, because it's also quite likely that many, many religious parents-- who themselves never broke away from their own parents' religious beliefs-- have never investigated the many criticisms made against their accepted faith in a way that even begins to be objective, if they've even investigated at all.
Like their God, Christians have no evidence whatsoever that there is a devil. Christianity teaches us, from a young impressionable age, that "God can do anything." Children readily accept this tutelage. Yet children's minds aren't fully matured until about age 12 or 13 and they can't think abstractly or maturely enough to critically challenge this religious assertion with which they are now brainwashed. Can God really do anything? Can God make a rock so heavy that he can't lift it? This kind of unsatisfactory pre-programmed theology and thinking will become more and more problematic if these kids ever dare to open their minds when they open their bibles and will leave them confused and conflicted. Nice. Great legacy to leave children. Ultimately, simplistic but thoughtless retorts like "God can do anything," as the answer to most anything, will, in the ever-resounding discussion of the origin of the universe and other issues, do nothing to satisfactorily answer the interesting questions we all seem to find ourselves contemplating at some time in our lives. "God" must've come from somewhere or something and concluding that the answer to such questions is "God" only pushes the answers, and the questions, further from us and dead-ends the discussion. That's the typical mindset of the Christian, who, by "faith," has already dead-ended, deciding ahead of time what the answers will be before real discussion or investigation begins.
In the same vein, Christians say that god knows everything. Now let's think this through. Right now, there are billions of chemical reactions going on in the bodies of billions of people across the planet. Does god know the exact position of every electron, proton, neutron, or quark of every atom, of every molecule at every 1/1000th of a second, during this second and the one before (and the one after), in my body and in every one of us? And did I leave out other forms of life? Does god know that about them, too? Does god know the exact and multiple pressures at this very milli-second in the left ventricle of my heart, and at every milli-second during and between my heart beats, in every position in that left ventricle-- and the right ventricle and left and right atrium and the pulmonary arteries and the capillaries at every position on my skin and at the far reaches of my fingertips? Is it on the tip of his tongue right now? Does god know, right this second and tomorrow, the micro- or millimoles of Acetyl Choline, Dopamine, and Serotonin pausing at the junction of every synapse of every neuron in my brain and body? Does he know where, precisely, in all my cells, every ribosome is resting? And which direction every nucleotide of every codon of DNA and RNA is facing and what course the transfer RNA is taking? Please, give me the vectors and coordinates. That's only a minuscule fraction of what there is to know. And if god doesn't know it, then, no, god doesn't know everything. There will be a pop quiz, let me assure him, when I lean on the pearly gate and knock with every foot-pound of pressure I can (or, if he works in the metric system, every 1.3558179483314004 joules, or-- see, I'm not dogmatic, we can talk in kilocalories of force-- every 0.000323832 calories, because I'm not sure what units of measure he was using when he wrote the King James bible). Does he know that I'm that incorrigible kid who refuses to be afraid of him and I will require these answers of a god before I believe?
Christians seem to have an inordinate disdain for what science has to say when it threatens their belief system, all the while using the electric appliances in their modern homes enabled by the advance of science. Funny how the true and testable knowledge of science-- the real quest for truth in life-- doesn't prove anything when it conflicts with their beliefs, yet improves so much. Why don't they just pray for Jesus to cook the food, clean the dishes, and light and warm or cool their home instead of using electricity brought not by religion but by science? Don't believers allege that Jesus said that believers would do even greater miracles than Jesus himself did? Shouldn't Jesus' followers who claim miraculous abilities be able to make their whole life a Mary Poppins miracle so that none of this unproven science stuff would be necessary? But, truth is, it's the bible's words that don't prove anything and are empty, null, and void, and that's what parents should be teaching their children. Of the 43 studies since 1927 on the relationship between religious beliefs and intelligence or level of education, all but four found that the higher one's intelligence or educational level, the less likely one is to be religious (Mensa magazine, 2002, as referenced in The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins, 2006, p. 103).
There are 35 miracles of Jesus described in the "gospels." We could sure have used some those and more in the past 2000 years. Instead, it's mankind's-- not Christianity's-- achievements that have healed leprosy and given sight to the blind and more.
In the same light, a typical misleading and misbegotten idea propounded by the Apostle Paul in the bible is that the non-spiritual person thinks the things of God are foolish and he (the non-believer) can't understand them. Paul is wrong, as he is about other things. We, the accused non-spiritual, think the "things of God" are wrong, not just foolish, and we do understand them. There is really little or nothing that escapes our understanding about the supposed "things of God." We who know the bible and Christianity understand those "things of God" but reject them because we understand them to be wrong and untrue and despicable and we don't bow down in blind belief because some unsubstantiated source 2000 years ago said they were true. In the "things of God" in the bible, there is so much that can be shown to be untrue and wrong-- even without resorting to sources outside the bible-- that the Apostles and bible writers have no credibility, nor do those who believe today. An honest and honorable God would have to acknowledge this incontrovertible fact of life and would honor unbelievers for their unbelief rather than honor believers for their belief. But their man-made God is neither honest nor honorable. No matter how sincere, sincerity doesn't prove one right or wrong like science can. Bible believers are sincerely wrong and they school their children to be so.
When children are told and taught to do what god says, in chant-like uncritical acceptance and obedience, they are, in fact-- because God is presented via the beliefs and biases of their parents and church-- essentially pledging obedience to parents and church and not really to "god" (if there is one). Convenient. Because this allegiance is instilled by church members who insist that God speaks or has spoken to them and insist that they know God's words and his will, there is danger looming. When conflict between conscience and creed emerges, then guilt, inadequacy, and neuroses begin to be hard-wired into the psyche of these innocent victims of false beliefs.
Young Christians pledge their allegiance to the bible, but, you can bet, they haven't yet read the book they're pledging allegiance to. In their allegiance, they are, have been, or will be forewarned and scared off by the teachings of their faith, at the risk of losing their faith, from discussing these issues with an open mind, if at all, with people like me who would sometimes like to politely and patiently confront their beliefs and who have probably a thousand arguments against the book these believers are sworn to. Their allegiance at such a young age is etched into the neuro-circuitry of their thinking. A healthier allegiance would be an allegiance to Truth and the search for it, not allegiance to a pre-determined set of beliefs that forbids or fails to consider any reality that would confront and contradict the indoctrinations of Christianity. Those of us who are non-believers don't pledge allegiance to any book or belief-- especially not at a young age before we've considered the issues and developed a more mature mind so we can think abstractly and for ourselves. Young Christians will, thereafter, unfortunately be subject to an ever-looming disturbing dissonance in their lives when or if they later try to think for themselves and they find out that the book and belief they've pledged themselves to and invested themselves in is a huge and horrible lie and they will feel compelled but afraid to reject the world of beliefs they grew up in and pledged allegiance to-- especially as their church lives becomes more avid, devoted, and public and their circle of friends includes only those or predominantly those who also protect and perpetuate these false and ill-informed beliefs. Unfortunately-- or possibly fortunately, because we as a society, even among Christians, don't take pledges as seriously as a pledge should imply-- this will only be a small part of their future dilemma. More sad and concerning will be the years and energy wasted in their allegiance to this fairy tale fiction they call faith.
Christians are taught-- and I remember being taught-- that there's a hole in our soul that only god can fill and that's why the sick and lost unbelievers are looking for something that only god can provide but are, instead, filling the void with, say, sex, drugs, and rock and roll. If that was true, I'm sure Budweiser would've used it in a TV commercial. This belief beknights the religious person with purpose in life to supply such supposed sick and searching people a fundamental need. But have Christians who subscribe to that philosophy really met and known enough people deeply enough to draw this conclusion? No, they inherit this assumption and assertion, like their religion, from people who spend their lives in the pew and pulpit. Parents and church authorities have taken it upon themselves to insinuate-- without researching, exploring, or even asking or truly knowing many people outside of their church circle-- these claims of alleged sickness or an alleged search for something. It's all actually rather presumptuous. Of course, they justify it all because their religion tells them this. But I see no reason to believe that the writers of or leaders in the bible truly proved these issues either. What they and the bible offer is to be "saved." When we stop and think about it, beyond that supposed other-worldly "salvation," there is nothing real that the bible or Christianity in any of its forms offers that can't be gotten outside of the bible or Christianity. And, really, truly, when we consider the message of the bible, what it says that one needs to be saved from is God himself, because, in Christian theology, it is God himself who plans to send non-Christians to hell to be tortured and tormented forever. Now, seriously, does it seem wise to run into your tormentor's arms to escape his torment? And, in saying that we're "looking for something," Christians insinuate that such searching is a sad or bad thing and that God is really what we're all searching for (even though we don't know it). Well, no, the "search" itself is not a bad thing and, no, we're not looking for God. "Looking for something" is what drives this world to a higher standard of living, a better life. We are apt to always be looking. And that's good. And, moreover, it is really undeniable that "finding God" doesn't solve the world's problems. I see no evidence to the contrary. But, rather, "finding God" is one of the world's most excruciating problems. Religion and faith create and have created problems in excess of whatever supposed good they do or have done.
Christianity teaches believers to fast and pray. What could be immoral about that? Fasting and prayer are neither particularly commendable nor viable ways to solve the world's problems, anymore than hibernating in the winter would be. Misplaced emphasis on fasting and on prayer (except possibly benign because of its possible meditative effect) deludes the religious person into thinking he's accomplishing something real. He's not. I call it "minoring in majors and majoring in minors" and the Christian spends his life-- wastes his life-- doing it. There is so much more important stuff that could and should be done and taught. But fasting and prayer, I think, imparts a self-delusional confidence that one is doing the will of god. That self-delusion is just not defensible and, armed with it, can lead the believer to believe that whatever he does next is right. That's dangerous.
The "Devil" is real to Christians and Christianity's traditional scare tactics have been used for millenia, impuning the "devil" for "temptations" they will encounter in what should really readily be explained as a battle against their natural mature, civilized and their natural immature, uncivilized proclivities. Like their God, Christians have no evidence whatsoever that there is a devil. But this devil is part and parcel of Christian theology and is a monster created to ultimately try to blame someone other than God or oneself for evil and "sin." The devil concept is partly to blame for what can reasonably be considered a recurring anxiety or even panic inherent in the Christian's thought-world. This devil monster induces fear and, sooner or later, I am convinced, all too often if not always in sincere, deeply committed believers, inflicts neuroses in those who would have otherwise outgrown their childhood ghosts and goblins as soon as and as readily as childhood invisible friends disappear. Christians then attempt to fend off this devil, the false and fearsome phantom of their faith, by a continued dependency on prayer and reciting bible verses and asking God for help-- a help that, were it not for this belief in the existence of the devil, would be unnecessary. Or, instead, beleaguered believers drift away from the faith far enough that these nasty neuroses of faith can be forgotten, at least for awhile. In fact and moreover, they are taught that the devil targets the steadfast believer all the more, so they experience this sense of suspicion of the monster lurking all the more. Whatever one believes about human nature, Christians mistranslates the darker side of our nature as a "spiritual" battle, one of the grisly characters being the devil, accompanied by his minions. They then see the rest of us, because we don't have "God in our lives," as pawns of that devil and are suspicious, if not outright (though inwardly) paranoid, about any influence we non-believers have in their lives. They are therefore isolated from nonbelievers who could otherwise help them escape this labyrinth of lies they call faith that they've unwittingly walked into.
Christians are taught that "the punishment for sin is death." Funny, it seems that the punishment for doing good is death too, seeing that even the best among us dies. So, then, morality, in the Christian scheme of things, has no real bearing on whether we live or die. That would be obvious, were it not for theology that tries to insist otherwise. Heck, it seems that, by the Christian's line of circular "reasoning" (if "circular" reasoning can truly be said to be a "line" of reasoning in the first place), the punishment for drinking water or breathing air is death too, as I've noticed that everyone who drinks water or breathes air ultimately dies. How does one know that it's sin and not drinking water or breathing air whose punishment is death? Has the Christian disproved this by drinking less water or breathing less air? Would he be the first to try? Oh, and animals and plants die too. So, please, won't these Christian self-proclaimed experts on moral and judicial matters, explain to the inquisitive ones they take it upon themselves to teach, what sin have the animals and plants (or their ancestors if you like) committed that the punishment of death is now being consummated on them also. Can plants and animals sin? This Christian tenet, like so much else in their philosophy, is therefore specious and should not be thrust upon those who don't have the power or permission to object-- children and unsettled youth especially, still striving to find their way in the world.
And, despite the threats of death due to sin, it's my contention that, in general and in the broad scheme of things, the real criminals in this world aren't much persuaded toward being good or dissuaded from being bad by any sermon, on the mount or otherwise. It is those of us who are generally decent people-- without and before religion's supposed moral influence-- who truly internalize any remorse and regret about our actions deeply enough to make lasting changes. In other words, decent people don't need religion to tell them to be decent and indecent people don't much listen anyway. Christianity therefore ends up inflicting psychological (or spiritual, if you wish) pain on decent people, but indecent people effectively go unpunished (by religion's irrational ravings or by crises of conscience). What it really takes is an effective and efficient earthly judicial-- or social-- system to bring people to justice, when it even can be done.
Christians teach and very self-righteously believe very commonly that they've 'got to take back the land for Christ.' When was this Christ's land? Who said it ever should be? Ours was a land carved out by separation of church and state after people fled religious persecution in Europe. Ours is a country that was constituted to welcome those of all faiths and no faith to live with tolerance in harmony. Despite the incessant insistence to the contrary, the United States is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion, as one can see by what the contemporary senators near the time of our founding believed and said loudly to the world, at avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/bar1796t.asp, in the Treaty of Peace and Friendship, ratified by the United States in 1797, Article 11: "As the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion, as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Musselmen, and as the said States never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mehomitan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries." The reason, I'm convinced, that we haven't seen the violence we now see in Islam in the invectives of Christianity is because separation of church and state takes the persecutory and political power of the pulpit out of public life-- an unacceptable predicament for the recently emerging brand of Christian fundamentalism-- while the beliefs of Islamic theocracy have logically led to the same religious violence of earlier ages and which at one time or another has been endorsed by religious leadership of all three of the Abrahamic faiths when imbued with the power of government. (The Abraham of the bible and Koran is considered the "father" of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, generating the term "Abrahamic" faiths, for those who didn't know.) No matter what the New Testament translation, the Old Testament is part of the Christian faith and there is in it too much violence commanded and committed by the God they worship and written in the church's own autobiography to trust them near the trigger. They are only safe when disarmed, disabled, and disconnected from governmental affairs that would allow them to lord it over others. Unlike a Constitution underlined with a separation of church and state, the three Abrahamic faiths, when empowered, cannot be counted on to countenance dissent from their dogmatism.
Christians should take note and remember that their God of the Old Testament is, in their own theology, the same person as their supposedly moral Jesus of the New Testament. Their God-- let's face it, Jesus-- commanded stoning (or execution by unspecified means) for quite a number of offenses:
- A rape victim who is engaged and fails to scream loud enough when raped
- A woman who is not a virgin on her wedding night
- Anyone who blasphemes
- Anyone who breaks the Sabbath
- Believers who go on to worship other gods
- Anyone who curses the king
- Anyone who touched Mt. Sinai
- Someone who takes the "accursed thing"
- Animals (like an ox that gores a human)
- And witches and warlocks (Samantha and Tabitha both in "Bewitched"-- and Esmerelda, but I never did like her meddling in Darrin and Samantha's life anyway, so I'll let that pass-- and Harry Potter).
These strident strictures of scripture are similar to the tenets of Islam currently practiced unchecked in our modern world and those now engaged in employing such extremes are not misinterpreting the Koran but, rather, are obeying it (despite the superficial and politically correct statement that "Islam is a religion of peace"). Blind and blinding faith built on false premises and promises-- whether, Christianity, Judaism, or Islam-- can and does lead to these horrors. We've been there-- in the Dark Ages and-- it should not go unnoticed-- even in the early years of the founding of this country when "we" stoned witches to death. That wasn't that long ago. Unchecked fanatical and fundamentalist brands of faith will all too easily lead us back there or way too close. And, though seemingly innocent enough, non-fanatical, moderate Christianity facilitates this. Acknowledging these insane, inhuman injustices and abandoning this god can prevent this. Right now, Christianity is constrained by our Constitution. Otherwise, what's to say "we" wouldn't revert back to these biblical practices?
Some non-believers are willing to concede that the precepts "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" and "Love your neighbor as yourself" are the highest moral imperatives. At first glance, they seem to be. But I disagree. First of all, they are not unique to Christianity, so Christianity can't claim to be the one true light as it would have us believe. But beyond that, those precepts are, in fact, null and void-- because no one can, by definition, love his neighbor as himself. It cannot be done. So setting it as the highest moral standard is hypocritical of anyone who proposes it and, worse, sets us up to feel like a failure. It's possible that I can drive the speed limit at all times. It's possible that I can balance my checkbook without errors. It's possible that I can pay all my bills on time. But it's absolutely not possible that I can love anyone-- anyone, even the one or ones I love the most-- as I love myself. Heck, I can't even love myself perfectly-- and I'm not sure what loving myself perfectly would be. So, while it's good to aim high, the supposed highest moral standard we get from the bible is itself defective and, in fact, taken to heart, will make any thinking, sensitive, and sincere person ultimately feel bad about himself, thereby not loving himself and thereby unable to love others perfectly. If we need, for philosophical or other reasons, a moral standard to live by, there must be a better one out there than the biblical one that, whether we're Christian or not, we've accepted carte blanche without enough serious deliberation because it sounds good. But, considered more thoughtfully, it's not good. Christianity lost its moral authority to set the standard way back in the beginning, saying that parents should stone their disobedient children to death (Deuteronomy 21:18-21). And their god continued to show his moral ineptitude-- no, depravity-- throughout the bible to the very end. So they have no moral authority to speak on such profound issues.
My comments aren't ultimately just about bashing the church and religion. That's too easy. Although that can be fun and sometimes it'll just wear us down if we stay too serious about these grave issues. But the very real concerns are the damaged lives. Exposing the errors of this belief system is just the way to move the wreckage we call Christian faith to get to the victims.