I post some things that are seen as anti-religious sometimes. I thought it may be prudent to explain myself and maybe explain atheism in general so that many misconceptions can be cleared up for readers. This will be a three part installment of my experience as an atheist including how I ended up here, why I stay here, and how it affects my interaction with the world.
I am at least the third generation in my family to grow up without a foundational religion. My great-grandfather did not raise his children with religion. The family attended a schoolhouse rural church on special occasions and that is where the religious affiliation of the family ended. My grandparents raised my mother in the same kind of household, maybe with even less religious presence than the three days a year my grandmother attended as a child. My immediate family members were never required to attend church as children.
However, my grandmother found religion when my mother became pregnant with me and by the time I was ten years old, my grandfather was attending church regularly with her. In a few spurts during my childhood, I attended church with them. I also attended church with my friends, and throughout the span of my childhood and early adulthood, I stepped into a variety of churches; Lutheran, Catholic, Unitarian, Baptist, Jewish, Wesleyan, Jehovah’s Witness and Methodist. If the truth be known, religion has always fascinated me and is likely responsible for the beginning of my skeptical nature.
For those who know me, they know one thing to be a constant in my life; I ask questions and a lot of them. I asked questions in Sunday school and the answers I received solidified two basic concepts for me. The first is that few religious people are willing to discuss the bible unless we are discussing its infallibility as a holy text. The second is that people know very little about their religion beyond what they have read that is congruent with their own ideology. These are not statements with value judgments. I have no personal stake in this argument. I do not hate religion or religious people. I just do not buy its premise and here is why:
Point 1: Inconsistency irritates my rational mind. Inconsistency begins immediately in Genesis with two stories of the creation that are contradictory to one-another in several key ways. But, more importantly the four stories of life of Jesus are the ones that stick out for me. You mean to tell me that four books in the bible are dedicated to telling me the story of Jesus and three of them leave out the fact that mom was a virgin? I was around twelve years old when I first asked this question in a youth Sunday school class. I did not ask it like that, but I may as well have given the response I received.
Argument in response: God placed these inconsistencies on purpose to test your faith in his message. How can a person argue with that? Seriously, how? I like the fact that any error at the core of religious doctrine can be chalked up to “a test.” Would it not be better to provide a group of people with a clear book of principles, establishing the foundation of the religion, and then test people with LIFE to see if they got the message? Why place the test within the language of the religion, only confusing your own message, and opening your purpose to misinterpretation?
Point 2: Improbability must be met with reason. Most of my problems with the bible could be solved if Christians would just say, “These are stories, or parables that are intended to spread the lessons that god has for us, they are not necessarily his words.” With this, all of my questions about the probability of two of each of all species on earth (even those that don’t need that second one to procreate) fitting onto a man-made arc so that they can all survive a flood (even those that do well in an aquatic environment) would be answered without further argument from me. However, it would also bring into question all of the text as the law of god, so I know why religious folks are reluctant to say this.
Argument in response: God makes the improbable probable. To this, I ask, “Why not anymore?” Again, this “God does this for reasons we don’t know” response leaves us with very little in actual answers to reasonable questions. I see some arguments for making the arc, but why make the mistake of insinuating every creature on earth needed a pair for procreation, and why not explain what happened to these aquatic animals more specifically? It is not like they had a word limit for the bible. Why are some things so specifically presented, things that have less importance, while others like this story are vague and riddled with problems? What is the probability of that?
Point 3: Suffering is not virtuous. This may be my most difficult thing to set aside when addressing this god concept. Caroline Myss is one of my favorite targets for my mantra “even a whack-job has something sound to say that we should all hear.” You can look her up and draw your own conclusion as to her level of bat-shit crazy. However, when I was reading into her crazy, I came across a clip of her talking about how everyone walks around, identifying with their suffering as a way to gauge their own credibility. If you are a cancer survivor, people assume you have this monumental strength. If you have survived rape and are willing to discuss it, well then, your credentials in the “I know life” department are very substantial. We do this to people and I cannot help but wonder if the precedent was not set with Jesus on the cross. Why did Jesus have to suffer to save the world? This question has never been satisfactorily answered for me. I do know, however, that we still erroneously equate suffering with wisdom and strength.
Argument in response: Jesus suffered so that we knew, without doubt, that he was dying for all of our sins. We needed to see what sin had done to us by witnessing what it had done physically to Jesus. Then, we are too fucked up to save. If we need to watch another person suffer unspeakable things to understand that we should not exact suffering upon others, then we are a species beyond saving. Even feral animals have more empathy than that.
Point 4: Double-standards do not compute for me. Either the book is holy or it is not, but you cannot have it both ways. Picking and choosing scripture you are willing to follow and not willing to follow does not do much for the “this is the holy word of god” thing you keep saying. The good book suggests we stone people for blasphemy. Are all of you Christian folks prepared to stone me to death? If a man sleeps with a woman other than his wife, then they both should die according to the bible. That is really going to thin the herd here in The God-fearing United States of America. Read the books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy and then look me square in the face, maintaining eye contact and tell me how this book is the holy scripture depicting the vision of the world from this loving and magnanimous god. Sorry, but I just do not buy it.
Argument in response: You have to understand that times were different back then. Some laws that were required for those times no longer have meaning today. Hmmmm….I am not really sure how to address these folks. Sometimes I go the route of slavery with “So slavery, which is perfectly fine according to the bible, was necessary back then but not now?” Sometimes I ask the obvious question, “So, what about adultery has changed so much that death should no longer be the punishment?” Things usually fall apart pretty quickly during this phase of questioning.
Point 5: Changing the rules does not play well with me. I know many people that identify with the words of Christ, whom I admit had some pretty great things to say about being a good person. However, Christianity has never been practiced by Christ’s words. Never. If anybody would care to refute that by pointing to a time in history when Christianity has been practiced based on the actual words of Christ, then by all means educate me. My point is that those of you who find peace and love in Christ’s words are not, by definition, Christians. You are people with an ideology that is congruent with the words of Christ. You identify with him and the message he had for the world, but you have no established religion that agrees with you.
Argument in response: I am a Christian – I follow the words of Christ, not some preacher. No, that makes you a follower of the philosophy of Christ – not the Christian religion, which has very little to do with Christ. The religion did not bother so much as to tell the story of his life, only his lonely birth and brutal death, with a few words peppered here and there. Go to church for a year and tell me how much that church focuses on the actual words of Christ as opposed to the rest of the words of the bible. The Christian religion is based on that whole book, not just the words of Christ. In fact, the religion outright ignores Christ’s words to emphasize other scripture when it meets the need of its agenda.
- That is all (for now)