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I often hear those who support a Creationist view of the universe use the concept of beauty to support their position. “There is no way a sunset this beautiful happened by chance,” they say. “This definitely shows the activity of an intelligent designer.”
This article is not intended as a defense of an evolutionary process. Nor should it be considered an attack on Creationism per se. However, it is designed to demonstrate that the use of beauty as proof of the latter position may be all well and good for an opinion, but can in no way be considered proof. The reason why is because beauty is not a fact. It is, as mentioned, a concept. Christopher Hitchens, in his book God Is Not Great, recalls a story about an instructor, Mrs. Watts, who taught young Hitchens about nature and the Bible.
However, there came a day when poor, dear Mrs. Watts overreached herself. Seeking ambitiously to fuse her two roles as nature instructor and Bible teacher, she said, “So you see, children, how powerful and generous God is. He has made all the trees and grass to be green, which is exactly the color that is most restful to our eyes. Imagine if instead, the vegetation was all purple, orange, how awful that would be. (Hitchens 2)
Hitchens’ point was that nature did not change to suit the eye, but that the eye changed to suit nature. Perhaps more accurately, the human concept and expectation of beauty adapted to nature. We’ve all heard the old adage, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” Truer words have never been spoken and fewer more illustrative ones.
Remaining with our nature theme, there are certain parts of the United States considered beautiful by some and reviled by others. For example, I have relatives in the southern state of Louisiana. They love the area and believe it to be beautiful. While Louisiana may have some attractive areas, most of what I’ve seen (and I have visited on several occasions) has been either unremarkable or entirely off-putting. On the other hand, I am from the state of Michigan and consider it to be a state with much to offer in the way of natural beauty. However, there are those from other parts of the country who consider Michigan to be the armpit of the nation.
A pattern begins to emerge—simply that people recognize beauty in that with which they are familiar. There are some commonalities, of course. Everybody loves a brilliant blue sky, because everybody has been exposed to a brilliant blue sky. Consider a science fiction movie that takes place on a planet featuring a red sky. We see that and think how terrible it would be if Earth had a red sky. How frightening and strange that would be! Yet it is completely reasonable to assume that those used to a red sky would think the same thing about our blue sky. Sunsets and sunrises are universal for humans. We love the red, yellows, and oranges that accompany them. However, if we were used to a brown and green rising or setting, what we now love would seem out of place and perhaps even sinister. We are accustomed to the features of our own planet and therefore consider them beautiful.
Douglas Adams, writing in his bestselling book The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, includes a passage that, while not indisputably parallel to the topic at hand, is so charmingly demonstrative as to demand inclusion. In this brief passage, the earthling Arthur is talking with Marvin, a depressed and stoic robot. Arthur begins,
“I come from a planet called Earth, you know.”
“I know,” said Marvin, “you keep going on about it. It sounds awful.”
“Ah no, it was a beautiful place.”
“Did it have oceans?”
“Oh yes,” said Arthur with a sigh, “great wide rolling blue oceans…”
“Can’t bear oceans,” said Marvin. (Adams 135)
Humans love the familiar. It is more attractive to us. More beautiful. In general, we crave normality, predictability, and consistency. These qualities can raise our spirits when present and dampen them when absent.
When someone indicates a vision of natural beauty to me and says, “Are you telling me that such a lovely thing could have just happened? Surely it would take an intelligent being with inside knowledge of humanity to give us all these things that we enjoy and consider beautiful,” I must remark that the things of great beauty are such because they simply are the way they are. And if they were different, we would likely consider the alternative just as beautiful.
Hitchens, Christopher. God Is Not Great, How Religion Poisons Everything. New York: Twelve,
2009. 2. Print.
Adams, Douglas. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. New York: Del Rey, 1998. 135. Print.
It is no great secret that I have distanced myself from Christianity. While I have many family and friends still in the Church, I make no pretense of being involved or even interested in the religious life of a believer. Yet I have been an outspoken critic of the faith and of religion in general. Some of the questions I get asked is, “Why do you care so much? If you are so removed from Christianity, why spend so much time criticizing it? Wouldn’t it be better to simply live your own life? Why try to ruin someone else’s peace?”
I recognize these as legitimate questions and in this article will attempt to answer them, as I do have my reasons.
There is nothing I believe in more than the freedom to believe as one might wish, even if I consider those beliefs to be without merit. I am not the final judge of what someone’s personal worldview should be, or their religion, or whether or not they should claim a religion at all. Superficially, Christianity falls into this category. Is it not a personal belief? And am I not therefore infringing on someone else’s right to believe by consistently presenting cases against it? Why can’t I just leave it alone?
Again, these are good questions that deserve an answer.
1. Is Christianity a personal belief?
A belief in Christianity is personal in the sense that a person can hold such a belief for themselves. It is not personal within the belief structure itself. Christianity is constructed in such a way that it must be seen as the only legitimate belief system available. This inevitably results in great exclusivity within the ranks and merciless condemnation of other similar constructs. Christianity needs to be the only way to the Truth. Without that, it becomes no better than any other creed or belief. Its very existence depends on being “the way, the truth, and the life” (King James Version, John 14.6).
The effects of this arrogance are clearly seen. Those who do not accept Christianity are condemned and told that they will necessarily spend the afterlife in eternal suffering. Often, those who reject Christianity are shunned, pushed aside, treated with prejudice, maligned, libeled, whispered about behind closed doors, and treated to a never-ending barrage of entreaty. Believers gather and pray for misery to strike the stubborn heathen in the form of holy conviction. Unbelievers are seen as less spiritually aware. Christianity is an excellent method of ego-stroking. It allows the believer to feel superior to all those who side against belief.
These factors show that Christianity quite easily becomes more than simply a personal belief and begins worming its way into the lives of unbelievers. If one is not Christian, one is not good enough and is not fulfilling their potential. If one is not Christian, one is doing themselves, their families, and those around them a great disservice. Unbelief is considered pure selfishness.
It gets worse than this. Christianity depends on conversion. Those in the faith cannot be content with making others feel bad about their lives or causing them to worry needlessly about their eternal fate. Christianity demands that believers seek out and convert unbelievers. It is in their creed. In the parable of the marriage supper found in Luke 14.23, Jesus says, “And the lord said unto the servant, Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.” (The emphasis is mine.) This and similar commandments are not suggestions. Believers themselves face a price if they fail in this regard. “When I say unto the wicked, O wicked man, thou shalt surely die; if thou dost not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand” (Ezekiel 33.8).
In this more relevant sense, Christianity is not a personal religion. The believing individual cannot be content with having it for themselves. They are required to share it with everyone.
There are uncounted people (I know many) who struggle with this every day. It colors their lives in decidedly negative ways. The constant pressure to believe harms their lives, renders them unable to fully enjoy and appreciate their daily lives, and often separates them from family and friends.
Christianity is an insidious system. Many people, particularly those with a strict Christian upbringing, have no idea how to rid themselves of this loathsome burden. The religion they cannot accept has a hold on them nonetheless, exerting cruel control from afar. This is why it is necessary to confront Christianity head-on and to provide those struggling with the tools necessary to break the chains once and for all. Christianity claims to provide freedom. It does not. It is not satisfied with those who willingly accept it. It must own everyone else, as well.
2. Am I infringing on someone else’s right to believe?
No, I do not believe so. I am not saying and have never said that someone cannot hold these beliefs for themselves. One is welcome to believe whatever they wish. Unfortunately, this is not, as has been clearly stated, what Christianity does. I say, cling to whatever faith you wish. You might even talk about it with others. However, when you begin to say that everyone else must either agree with you or resign themselves to a hell, you have overstepped your bounds.
3. Why can’t I just leave it alone?
I feel this point has already been largely addressed. Having narrowly escaped a life within the grips of a fundamentalist regime, I have experienced the process of escape. I know it can be done, although not always easily. I feel a responsibility to those who now find themselves in the same position I was in some years ago. My specific goal is not to convert, but only to make it as clear as possible that there are options. People need to know all of the facts before they make a decision they may not find easy to fix later. Certainly, the Church is not going to provide these facts. Objectivity is not, and never has been, one of its strong points. This is why I cannot and will not be silent on this issue. As long as Christianity continues to forge shackles of required belief, I will do my best to break them.
King James Version. [Colorado Springs]: Biblica, 2011. BibleGateway.com. Web. 8 April 2012.
 The idea that the holy spirit will visit spiritual truths to hardened hearts, making them see the evil of their hearts to such an extent that they will be unable to eat, sleep, or function until they repent of their sins.
A common argument presented by Christians to show that their faith is superior or even relevant is the idea that its teachings require good (moral) works and actions. Some even go so far as to say that without Christianity, morality as we know it would collapse. There are numerous problems with this line of reasoning and, because it is so pervasive, it is necessary to address it.
We must first put to rest the notion that without Christianity, morality is not possible. There are two arenas here. First we can talk about morality as being good works: feeding the hungry, healing the sick, and so forth. This is what is meant by “moral works.” Then there is the standard of morality that includes the baser things: sexual behavior, for example. These are the “moral actions.”
Interestingly, Christianity feels like it has a monopoly on both of these markets. Not only do they feel they are uniquely qualified to help the unfortunate, but they also believe that their standard for moral actions is the only one to which mankind should adhere. This results in quite a lot of confusion, unlike that of moral works. For example, few people specifically argue that we should let people starve. However, the opining on homosexuality or extramarital sex rages hot and heavy in Christian circles.
In this article, we will work our way back, starting with moral actions, to see if Christianity can truly say that their standard is the right one. Then we will look at moral works to see if Christianity has that market cornered, including a very brief discussion of whether one needs god in order to be good.
Christianity certainly has a lot to say about moral actions. “Thou shalt nots” reign supreme, guiding the Christian’s life, particularly in the area of sexual behavior. This may be the place to start. For a religion that superficially appears to be repulsed by sex, it is perversely fascinated by the topic. There is no greater evidence for an entity’s fascination with a certain subject than that which is shown by that entity’s attempt to control that subject. In this area, Christianity excels. It dictates when during your life you can have sex, with whom you may have that sex, and in some cases which positions you may assume during sex. Presumably, Christianity holds these beliefs because they are the will of god, passed down to them through the teachings in the Holy Bible.
One interesting point to make is the division between the Old and New Testaments. There are many precepts taught in the Old Testament that Christians do not follow, such as not blending various kinds of cloth in their garments (King James Version, Leviticus 19.19). Yet there are other instructions to which Christians still tightly cling.
The common explanation for this is that when Jesus came he fulfilled the requirements for the law (Matthew 5.17). In that same verse, however, Jesus also makes it clear that he did not come to “destroy the law.” He says it twice in one sentence, in fact. So the law still remains. Yet we can afford the Christian perspective one small victory, because it is not necessary to win this one. Even if Jesus did abolish Old Testament law, we are still left with our original point: the control over morality, i.e. sex. For example, the Old Testament speaks against homosexuality. On the other hand, the New Testament has very little or, depending on your interpretation of the original Greek text, nothing at all to say about homosexuality. Jesus never mentions homosexuality. If Christians do not have to follow or defend Old Testament law and their teachings on homosexuality are markedly absent from the New Testament, then why the conflict?
This simply shows that attempts by Christianity to control moral actions are not so much motivated by a desire for others to have fulfilled lives, but more about the control itself. The desire and attempt to control others’ lives can be viewed as immoral itself. Therefore, even if Christianity was right about certain moral standards, the attempt to push people into rigid compliance may cancel it all out. Performing an immoral action in order to achieve a moral result is very shaky ground, indeed.
Now we can look at Christianity in the light of moral works. There is no doubt that Christian organizations do a lot of good things: feeding the hungry, etc. However, they do not have a monopoly on those works. Secular organizations do the same things, as do non-Christian religious groups.
The argument that is most often made is that Christianity, because of its focus on humanity and the idea that every human is “a child of God,” reinforces the drive the help suffering beings. I do not argue that this may be seen as a motivation, but this is not the point. In order to defend itself properly, Christianity needs to show that it is the only provider of such motivation or, at the very least, provides enough extra motivation to make all the religious baggage worthwhile.
Christianity is clearly not the only provider of motivation for moral work, so we can put that idea to rest altogether.
The claim that Christianity provides an extra layer of motivation for moral works is also shaky. Certainly Jesus talked about helping the poor. But so do many secular figures. Warren Buffett, who came in third on the Forbes list of billionaires, has given billions of dollars to charity. Buffett is a confessed agnostic and has affirmed this stance on several occasions (Singer).
It is also worth mentioning that Christianity has been responsible for an enormous list of evil works. Not simply deeds done by Christians, no! Deeds done because they were Christian and in the name of Christianity. Holy wars, the Inquisition, witch hunts, Manifest Destiny, and continuing bigotry and prejudice. To say that Christianity provides motivation for moral works may be true, but it also provides motivation for at least as many immoral works.
We can also ponder the question of moral works performed as a result of something else. In other words, is it truly moral to do a good thing because you feel that someone else has told you to do it? Or because you feel like you have to? If you believe god will be unhappy with you if you don’t do good works, then you may perform these works, but is it then truly moral? You only did it because you had to, after all. I would argue that a secular person who does good is exhibiting a more pure form of morality than a Christian who does the same good. A secular person has no other motivation, other than to help their fellow beings. A Christian may have motivation to do good, but doesn’t that simply mean that they need more encouragement to do those moral works?
In short, Christianity comes with a heavy price. Certainly, performing moral works is a good and decent thing to do. Yet we can get there without paying Christianity’s heavy toll. Why wouldn’t we?
King James Version. [Colorado Springs]: Biblica, 2011. BibleGateway.com. Web. 6 April 2012.
Singer, Peter. “Atheism and Altruism.” Skeptic.ca. JR’s Freethought Pages. Web. 6 April 2012.
It will come as a surprise to no one, nor will anyone be able to argue, that Christianity makes some unusual statements. Christianity needs the claims to be unusual, for it is part of its purported attraction that it offers something that nothing else does, the promise of eternal life, for example. If this claim was not unusual, it might be said that eternal life can be found elsewhere. If eternal life does not exist at all, then the claim that one can attain it is not unusual, but bogus and immoral. That is a subject for another article.
We can go one step further and say that Christianity makes claims that are not simply unusual, but downright extraordinary. Beyond ordinary. If something is ordinary, it is also unremarkable and unworthy of all but a passing glance. Like usual things, ordinary things can be found in more than one place; they are not rare. Christianity claims to be the only purveyor of true salvation, through which we can attain eternal life. Therefore it can be said that Christianity makes extraordinary claims.
We can now address the fact that extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. Yet this goes directly against another principle of Christian teaching, that it must be accepted on the basis of faith. There is no evidence for the divinity of Jesus Christ, no evidence for a creator god, and no evidence for a god at all, yet these are all integral parts of Christian belief. It is faith-based by necessity and by its own admission. It welcomes the idea of faith. It gladly owns the idea of faith. Yet it then sets forth highly dogmatic ideas and principles, many of which are just as extraordinary as that of eternal life, the acceptance of which is what allows one to attain that same eternal life. In other words, one must accept as true a list of extraordinary claims in order to attain the benefits of yet another extraordinary claim.
The problem with this, beyond the obvious, is that it presents the Christian god in a very poor light, indeed. No reasonable person would expect another reasonable person to accept grandiose claims with no basis of proof. And if they did expect it, they certainly would not condemn the person to death for disappointing them. Yet this is what the Christian god is supposed to do.
It is difficult to imagine a god, defined by Christianity as all-loving, all-powerful, and all-knowing, setting up such a scheme. Imagine what such a god would have to have said to itself.
“Well, it seems that the humans have bungled it again. I will save them and this is how I will do it. I will set up a system by which they must believe that my son died and rose again. However, I will be careful to provide no supporting evidence, because that would lessen the importance of faith. I want everyone to have free will and too much evidence might infringe on that right. If they don’t believe these unsupported claims I will send them to a place of eternal torment, because they could not rely on blind faith.”
This is what Christianity demands that we all believe about their god. First, this is a ridiculous line of reasoning for an all-knowing god. Second, it is a cruel stance for an all-loving god, and finally it shows a lack of creativity one would not expect in an all-powerful god. With what manner of consideration does this leave us? Is the Christian god not omniscient or omnipotent? Does it not contain a measure of love inconceivable to humanity? Christianity would have us believe all these things in the affirmative, yet we are left with a problem.
An all-knowing god would understand the ramifications of such a system and foresee the impact of implementing it to a species capable of rational thought. It would know that many people would have difficulty with such claims, not because they do not necessarily wish to believe, but because they cannot. To follow Christian theology, god created the minds of the skeptics and designed those minds in a way that will not allow them to follow a path of blind faith. If an all-knowing god were to set up a path to save all of humanity, one would have to think it would design it in such a way as to be accessible to all people. If this is not the case, then we must decide whether this god is not all-knowing and made a mistake or does not possess limitless love, since no truly loving god would segregate their creation in such a way.
Based on this, we can see that perhaps the method allegedly chosen by god to save humanity might not have been the best choice. If god is all-knowing it would have known this and, just as importantly, if it is all-powerful, it would have had the ability to change the plan. If god did not have the foresight to recognize the problems the plan would cause, then it is not all-knowing. If it did not have the power to create a plan reasonable to all, then it cannot be said to be all-powerful. If god is not all-knowing or all-powerful, then one cannot say that it is responsible for extraordinary acts and authority that would only be possible for such a supreme being.
Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. Yet we not only see the lack of such proof, but also see the weaknesses of setting proof aside in favor of faith in a god that would make such proof possible. Therefore, if proof is not present and faith is unreasonable, what is the allure of the belief in question?
Having been referred to over the weekend as a “Two Bit Internet Hack” by an angry blog commenter, I thought it would be hilarious to make up a business card for myself. I rather enjoy the title. I asked the angry man for permission to use the motto, but he did not respond to my question. So I’ve taken the liberty of using it anyway.
Why do intelligent people believe crazy things? In all fairness, it must be pointed out that “crazy” is often in the eye of the beholder. Something that makes absolutely no sense to one person sounds like genius to another. We see this in every election cycle, for example. One candidate seems like the savior of the republic to one voter, but looks like the anti-christ to the next. Some people love broccoli, others think it is something only the anti-christ would eat.
Yet often these types of disagreements occur over things which can be demonstrated as false, inaccurate, or at the very least so unlikely as to be so. Those of you familiar with my blog no doubt know I am talking about various tenets held by the highly religious, particularly those of the fundamentalist persuasion.
Having grown up in the Church, I met many (well, maybe a couple) people I still consider highly intelligent, those possessing the ability to critically analyze, ponder, and interpret. Some of these people (well, maybe one of them) are still in the Church, showing that having the tools does not equate to using them. Why do intelligent people who grow up in the Church continue to stay? Being a believing child is one thing, since the ability to critically examine comes later in life. However, once they mature enough to think independently, why do they not all depart? Naturally, this is my own perspective, but let’s examine what these people must believe in order to remain in good standing in the Church of which I speak.
Crazy Belief: Over the course of a week, a supreme being snapped his fingers and created the universe a few thousand years ago.
Why This Is Crazy: There is no scientific or physical evidence for a creationist or young earth viewpoint, yet there is for a more evolutionary process. It is one thing to choose between two equally unsubstantiated claims. It is quite another to look at two unequal ideas and choose the one with no support simply because one wants it to be accurate.
Crazy Belief: The Bible is the inerrant, inspired word of God.
Why This Is Crazy: To accept the Bible as true and from God, you must believe in magic and ignore endless contradictions, inaccuracies, not to mention accept the authority of suspiciously anonymous writings. You must believe that praying can alter the laws of physics, that God approves of genocide, and that the majority of people, no matter how upstanding they may be, are going to burn forever in a place called hell.
Crazy Belief: Jesus is going to come back to earth and when that happens, believers who died will rise from the dead.
Why This Is Crazy: Other than the fact that we are all still waiting 2,000 years after Jesus promised to return during the life of that generation, we would have to believe that physical corpses, which have deteriorated to mere skeletons and piles of dust, will reassemble and break from their graves, jetting off into the sunset like a host of grisly spacecraft.
And there are many more. The point is, however, that smart people must believe not-so-smart things in order to be Christian. How is this possible? Does this mean that all Christians are actually stupid and their perceived intelligence was mere illusion? I know this isn’t the case, so the answer must be something else.
The human mind is a fascinating thing. When we are talking about spiritual belief systems, there is always a level of improvable foundation that must be constructed. In other words, we must say “I can’t prove this, but I’m convinced enough to use it as a cornerstone so that I may continue building my belief system.” There must be something by which all future conclusions may be reached. A standard, in other words. For example, you must first believe that humans contain a spiritual element. Otherwise, proceeding with a spiritual self-examination and consequent construction of a spiritual worldview is utterly pointless.
Christians, of course, are no exception. They must believe certain things if their faith is to work. The things many of us believe are crazy make perfect sense to them, because they are viewing them through the lenses of things they have already accepted. Prayer can change the laws of physics, because you are praying to the being who created those laws. If he created them, why could he not break them? The Bible is worthy of trust because God inspired it and therefore it cannot errors, and all questions regarding its veracity are really secondary given that assumption. It doesn’t matter how unlikely the Second Coming or the resurrection of the saints may be, the fact is that the Bible (and therefore God) says it is going to happen. Case closed.
This is why intelligent people can believe crazy things. It is because they have made a conscious choice to ignore certain basic problems and accept an existing belief system foundation (Christianity). This in itself may be considered proof of a lack of intelligence, and the point could certainly be made. As I mentioned earlier, “It is one thing to choose between two equally unsubstantiated claims. It is quite another to look at two unequal ideas and choose the one with no support simply because one wants it to be accurate.”
So there must be motives for accepting a faulty premise as a belief system foundation. Christians have many motivating factors. Here are a few consequences of not believing for those raised in the faith:
- You will go to hell.
- Your family might reject you.
- Your friends may leave you.
- All that energy you’ve poured into the church, religious education, and ministry would be in vain and shown as a waste of time.
- You will lose the confidence of knowing your future.
- You will be without a belief system that for now stabilizes your existence.
- Questions regarding the purpose of life become unanswered.
- You will likely lose the warm sense of community within the church.
- You will be called a sinner, heretic, heathen, lost soul, etc.
- You will be used in sermons to illustrate the cleverness of Satan and the allure of sin.
And the list goes on. So you can see that it might be shown, in a literal sense, for people to choose to ignore the lack of veracity inherent in the Christian foundation in order to accept its other precepts. After all, is it truly intelligent to willingly subject oneself to all the above-mentioned consequences? It may not be. The intelligent choice, from this perspective, may be to continue as things are. The question, however, is it honest? And if it is not, then one must recognize that to accept the faith in the face of a mountain of disputing evidence is to live a lie, thereby contradicting the foundation itself. So it is up to you. Which do you think is ultimately the more intelligent choice?
Religion is power. To control the minds, lives, allegiance, and—presumably—the destiny of a millions of people must be a heady concept indeed. But religion’s founders accomplished this amazing feat and did so in brilliant fashion, by using one of humankind’s most basic needs to create a product to fulfill that same need. The human race has always had three deep, innermost desires: to know, to express, and to improve. The “desire to know” created philosophy, the “desire to express” created art, and the “desire to improve” has resulted in an endless progression of increasingly complex developments intended to change life for the better.
Religion grew out of the “desire to know.” It claims to provide solutions to life’s persistent questions, such as: “why am I here,” “is there a god,” “what happens after I die,” and a myriad of others. Given the intense desire, no, need of people to know these answers, it is hardly surprising that the various religions around the world have gained legions of followers. What is surprising, however, is that generation after generation of these followers have continued to blindly accept the basic tenets of a certain religion without once sitting down to honestly and brutally examine the foundations of what they claim to believe. One would have to assume that at some point a generation would blink their staring eyes and think, “Waaait a minute…”
This is that generation.
For centuries, religion has spoon-fed ideas and concepts to willing and often eager followers, who gobbled up everything offered and ran off to shove it down the throats of everyone else, never once stopping to examine what they’d been given. Religion is power. How can we know religion is power? Centuries ago, when the Christian church was at its highest point, controlling not only people’s individual lives, but entire governments and nations, believing in anything other than the sanctioned religion was heresy, an offense punishable by death. To destroy anyone who doesn’t agree with you? That’s power. Throughout history, nations have invaded other nations that did not hold to the same religion. To declare war on a nation that doesn’t hold to the same religion, or even the same theology of the same religion? That’s power. Indulgences were sold in exchange for absolution from sins. To charge money in exchange for the security of one’s soul? That’s power.
One might argue that religion is not directly responsible for these and other evils and it is therefore unfair to target it by saying “religion is power.” Consider this: what is more powerful? Something that makes someone evil or something that can be successfully used to excuse evil deeds? I would suggest the later. Let me provide an example. A drug lord sends his minions on various nefarious errands. He is responsible for their evil deeds. He is considered powerful. However, he must remain in hiding and if ever discovered is taken away by the authorities to the cheers of the public. Now consider a priest of high station and great reputation who abuses an altar boy in the rectory. He is found out, but because he is a “religious” man and because of his station, the authorities and much of the public turns a blind eye. Who is more powerful? The drug lord who does evil but must be careful to avoid the public eye or the priest who does evil and continues to appear piously before a congregation every week? Religion has not forced the priest to violate a minor, but it is so powerful a concept that is allows him to get away with it. Now that is power.
We’re a long way from the Middle Ages—on the timeline, anyway. In other ways, it seems we have progressed not at all. The church is still using its influence to rule people’s lives, keep the faithful to the fold, and control their beliefs. And while religion may not be evil in and of itself (it is simply a collection of ideas, after all) the fact that man is prone to evil or, as Nietzsche would say, the “Will to Power,” makes it a doomed system. Religion is tailor-made for abuse and has gone unchecked for too long. It is now inextricably intertwined with evil and exploitation. It cannot be remedied and therefore must be rooted out.
There is a difference between religion and faith, and between faith and spirituality. As defined by this book, religion is a set of beliefs that exists for a specific purpose. Christianity, for example, states that the acceptance of its belief system will result in the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. A typical aspect of religion is reward for obedience and judgment in return for rejection. So we can see that religion is about power and domination. By claiming to control the future of an individual, and convincing them that this future is dependent on adhering to a certain set of rules, the church controls the individual’s present existence. Once you control someone’s existence, you control everything about them. And that has always been the object of religion: to keep a tight-fisted grip on its converts and keep itself alive by squeezing the life out of them. Religion is a parasite, feeding on those who come to it for strength. Therefore, religion is, as we know it, evil. It is important to note that the vast majority of the references to religion in this book refer to that of the preceding definition.
The reason religion is evil, of course, is because it is administrated by human beings. I’m not going to get into a discussion here about whether man is basically bad or good, but it is safe to say that mankind rarely passes up an opportunity to make life miserable for its fellows. Religion turned out to be the perfect vehicle, for the very reasons articulated above.
The misuse of religion is nothing new. It has been going on from the very beginning. As soon as someone realized they could make someone else do something simply by telling them they would burn forever if they didn’t, the world was doomed. And we still haven’t gotten away from it. People are still living their lives in certain ways just to avoid eternal damnation, to avoid making God “angry.” But what is religion, exactly? What about it makes it so attractive to people? Certainly there has to be some reason why millions have flocked to various faiths, even if those religions haven’t treated them particularly well. Why does religion have such a hold on people? There are many reasons.
Religion gives people a sense of belonging. Church congregations are often close-knit and clannish. In my home church the congregation was quite small and had the feel of a small town. Everybody knew everything, it was “us” against the world, we were a tiny kingdom all to ourselves. Although there were the inevitable problems, there was a sense of camaraderie, almost as if it we all had a membership to the same exclusive club (which I guess we did). People yearn for companionship and, to be fair, religion (in the form of churches) provides that: youth groups, couples’ night, and potluck dinners. It may sound like a small thing, but once you’ve belonged somewhere, it’s not easy to put it aside and set sail for the unknown. It’s often easier just to stay where you are and deal with the uncertainties in silence, or even ignore them altogether.
Also, people often don’t want to think about the issues. It is simpler to do what they’re told, instead of finding their own way. Why struggle with the deep problems of life and eternity when you can let someone else to it for you and then just take their word for it? If they’re wrong, then it’s their problem, right? However, the Bible, the sacred book of these same followers, instructs them to “…work out your own salvation…” (Phil. 2:12) Yet, who bothers to do that? Most often, believers simply rely on tradition and habit. Generations attend the same church, because leaving would cause a family rift. A disillusioned member continues teaching Sunday School, because to quit would raise questions about their spirituality. A teenager joins the church because he thinks it is the right thing to do. Religion has such a long tradition that it simply does not occur to many people that there are options.
The last and most obvious reason for religion’s success is that it promises people life after death: bliss if they were good, torment if they were bad. Religion has served as a way to make living life a little bit easier, given human beings a sense of purpose and a motivation to be decent. Everybody wants to believe that there is something else out there waiting for us, that this strange, often downright unpleasant existence isn’t all there is to it. That our efforts to be “good” will somehow pay off in the end and that the evil among us will eventually get their comeuppance. It’s comforting to think about and certainly one can’t blame anyone for choosing this avenue if it gives them a measure of peace. People want to believe it. It does not, however, make it accurate. Freud, in writing The Future of an Illusion, said “what is characteristic of illusions is that they are derived from human wishes.” Therefore religion, with its comfortable promises of reward and certain desirable elements such as all evil eventually being repaid and all being set right in the end, is just a bit too tidy. Too convenient. Of course, just because something is “pleasant” or an “illusion” does not make it necessarily false, as Freud goes on to say. However, religion does possess a “too good to be true” quality.
- excerpted from the book, Passing Through: An Ex-Fundamentalist’s Pursuit of Personal Spirituality
I am pleased to announce the release of a new essay, “Mere Lewis - A Critique of C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity.” In this essay I take a good look at the first half of the book, which is the part that attempts to prove Christianity on logical grounds. I address Lewis’s various points, including his insistence that the world is operated under the guidance of a universal moral law set up by God.
Lewis’s book is certainly an interesting read and more than anything illustrates the fact that Christianity is truly a faith. The attempt to prove it logically fails, however, and since this is the object of the book, it also comes up short. The purpose of this essay is not to ridicule Christianity. As mentioned multiple times, one is certainly welcome to accept Christianity or any other belief system based on faith or preference. When one attempts to prove factual a faith that demands acceptance or death, however, it becomes fair game. In fact, one could make the argument that others have a responsibility to refute or present alternative arguments to any attempt to force acceptance of a religious or spiritual idea on anyone. This is what Lewis does in Mere Christianity. He attempts to craft a case for Christianity so that skeptics will have no choice but to accept it, even if against their will. Religious belief cannot be proven. It is, and must be, a matter of faith to some extent and in some regard. That is, in fact, the beauty of spiritual matters. They are protected from the harsh lights of the laboratory and can provide hope and comfort. Hope only comes from unproven sources, after all, and humanity often needs it.
It is my opinion that Lewis has done Christianity a disservice with his book and jeopardized the freedom of those who resist. Mere Christianity proves nothing and simply muddies the waters for those searching for spiritual fulfillment. This is why this essay exists. Presenting a belief system for consideration is certainly a legitimate pursuit, but attempting to drive it down throats with the cudgel of intellectual process is another matter and requires extraordinary proof. The book falls well short of the mark and must therefore be challenged. This is the purpose of this essay.
Christian fundamentalism abuses innocent people honestly searching for truth in their lives. This skit illustrates this abuse. Watch as an honest inquirer brings his concerns to a church official.