Inspired

In my last post, I stated the following seemingly preposterous proposition:

The collection of ancient documents commonly referred to as the bible (actually a combination of ancient Jewish documents commonly referred to among Christians as the Old Testament plus early Christian documents referred to as the New Testament) is merely a work of human culture, and not the “Word of God” in any sense.

 So there it is. I am now officially a (or is it “an”?) heretic. Great. Because, of course, this statement would have undoubtedly led to a gruesome and violent death in many parts of Western Europe and even what is now the US during significant parts of history. I hope to at least satisfy you as my readers as to why I am willing to take this position and perhaps consider adopting it yourselves.
Let’s start with a basic assumption: The burden is on religion to prove the veracity, divine authority, or such thing for their particular brand of “The Truth”. And herein lies the core issue: Each religion (at least the more aggressive western religions, as we will see) claims to have a monopoly on “The Truth”. I call this the Claim of Exclusivity, and this is fundamental to Christianity’s current claim that the bible is the “Word of God”. And the stakes are very high. We must always remember that each western religion (especially Christianity and Islam) has a claim of divine condemnation as well: If you do not accept their particular brand of religion (and often that can be quite specific), you will surely rot in Hell, at least according to what the adherents of the religion believe.
And they seem like such nice people in general. I have mentioned my fried Ray previously, and he and I had an amusing interchange regarding Christianity’s assertion that the bible (which I will stubbornly refuse to capitalize in this blog) is the “Word of God”. Once I challenged this assumption for Ray, he proceeded to try to justify it. Basically, Ray’s arguments for the authority of scripture look like this:
  • Folks who believe that the bible is the “Word of God” are happier in general than people who do not.
  • These folks are also generally nicer than other folks, although sometimes they can be naughty.
  • Thus, the concept of the bible being the “Word of God” has been good for people generally.

Forgive me, but I had to point out to Ray the obvious fallacy (which you undoubtedly see already). I will do so again here: It is exactly like believing in Santa Claus. Why do parents so stubbornly refuse to tell their offspring the truth about Santa Claus? Simple. They want to continue to manipulate their children so that they will obey. Santa provides great leverage. Even if the child is in on the deal, Santa still works. The child knows that Santa is a fake, but why “out” dear old Santa? The child gets such great stuff, after all. As for the parent, he or she probably knows that the child (who is not stupid after all) has calculated the speed required for Santa to visit each and every home on planet Earth in a single day, and has realized that it significantly exceeds the speed of light. Thus, Santa would have to be divine to accomplish this feat. For this reason, for many years, I have thought of Santa as the Christian patron saint of capitalism. More on Santa and the whole Christmas thing later.

Religion (assuming Ray’s explanation to be the most correct one for believing religious tenets), can thus simply be thought of in this way: It is, well, exactly like Santa. We believe in Jesus (or Buddha, or Mohammed, or whatever), because we need a reason to live a better life. I love the definition of religion from Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut. Paraphrasing, Vonnegut invents a character named Bokonon who recognizes the need to create a new religion. Because of the great suffering of his people, he creates a set of comforting lies he calls foma. Basically a foma is a harmless lie which, if you believe it, will give you hope and cause you to live a better life.

Early in my Christian period, I had a friend (who later attacked me by the way) who was kind of sketchy. Joe, the leader of the Christian commune at which I was living, had a habit of adopting derelicts (one of whom he had live with me for a while). Mike was an ex-con with a very pretty but very pregnant young wife. Mike liked weed and other drugs though, and had trouble settling down with his wife. Mike once told me the following very revealing thing about himself:

Even if it’s not true (referring to our particular brand of Protestant Charismatic Christianity), we are better off. We live a better life by believing. I am here, with my wife. I am not doing drugs or alcohol. I am taking care of my kids. You see that, right? We are better off even if it’s all lies.

What I did not learn until later was that Mike had converted in jail, and had received probation because of this. He was also physically abusing that pretty young wife. But as long as he would remain in the religious community, he had a way of remaining at large (provided that he did not do drugs or alcohol, attended regular meetings, and so forth.)

This what I call The Payoff: Each religion provides a benefit for believing. In the case of Christianity this has historically taken the form of a tight (often secret) community, with all that that entails. There is no doubt that religion has provided a powerful set of networks which have been a central way of grooming leaders within our culture.

Back to the core issue of this blog: Whether the bible is the “Word of God”. The central tenet of modern Evangelical Fundamentalist Protestant Christianity (yes I will be this specific in this blog) is that the bible was effectively faxed from heaven in its current form. Thus, the bible is literally a word for word speaking from the Mind of God. I have actually argued this point with various Christians (some of whom were, admittedly, very conservative) and have been told by them that the King James translators were guided by the Hand of God. (No kidding.) Thus, the King James translation of the bible (and no other translation) contains the correct and true reading of God’s Word. (If you were born in a country that does not speak English, I guess you are out of luck.)

And, of course, every single detail in the bible is literally true and correct in every way. You can argue with these folks all you like: Trust me, I used to be one of them. I certainly was not capable at that time of admitting the possibility that I might be wrong. This is the central marker of religion: An extreme reluctance to admit the possibility that what you have been indoctrinated to believe might not be true.

And therein lies the thing that I want to ask for from my friends, and those who are kindred souls (I hope you are out there): I will certainly admit that I could be wrong. Please be kind enough to return the favor. I will not take kindly to a Christian soul telling me that I am going to Hell (although that may not stop you). I like to think that I am as spiritual a man as anyone I have known. Certainly, I work at it pretty hard. Thus, I will not accept the concept from any religion that their brand of “The Truth” is the only path to God.

Like I told my son tonight: I do not want my Christian friend to stop being Christian any more than I want my Hindu friend to stop being Hindu. All I am asking for is that all of my religious friends admit that they could be wrong. I will surely do the same. I would submit, though, that it is physically impossible to admit that your religion might be wrong, while asserting that your religion’s particular book is the “Word of God”.

It may even be impossible to believe the “foma”, the comfortable religious lies, while admitting they could be wrong. It would defeat the purpose of making you a true believer, if the possibility existed that the religion could be wrong. Thus, I may effectively be asking for the end of religion. I am not sure that would be a bad thing, although you may disagree. Certainly, for me, I will no longer believe the convenient lies. I choose to seek what I call the Non-Cultural Truth. Assuming that religion is culture, then there is a possibility for a core of Truth underlying all religions. Many have sought this. I may be on a vain quest, but it is certainly one which I relish. Join me there, please.

One thought on “Inspired

  1. Pingback: Payoff | Scars Upon the Earth

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