I am a Postchristian

I have discovered that I am a postchristian. Wikipedia defines postchristianity this way:

Postchristianity is the decline of Christianity.

I would accept that definition as long as the decline occurs not only within human societies (as the wikipedia article indicates) but also within my own heart. I read the article and recognized the state of my own heart: I am what you become once you decide the Christianity is bullshit.

I do not say that Jesus is bullshit. Jesus may be the real McCoy. I don’t know. At the very least, Jesus was a terrific guy, at least from what we can tell from the biblical record. Way, way ahead of his time. And a genuine improvement over the other apocalyptic prophets of the time.

My experience has not been so much with Jesus as with his followers. I have become a reluctant critic of the American style of Evangelical Christianity, which I have come to believe is simply a form of capitalism at this point. And the product is essentially a form of entertainment. A religious buzz, nothing more.

Now, having said that, others are apparently figuring this out as well. There is a postchristian church. And it is exploding, largely at the expense of the more traditional Protestant churches.

I encountered one such church last Sunday, and as I write this, my wife and I intend to go there again tomorrow. This is Unity Center of Peace in Chapel Hill. I had a nice conversation with Rosemary, the (oh, I don’t know what to call her: Head Pastor?) at Unity. Seems they welcome all comers. Persons of all faiths or no faith at all. Their statement of faith says that they welcome unbelievers. I replied: “Great! I am an unbeliever. Thanks for welcoming me.”

There does appear to be a mildly delusional, but otherwise quite pleasant, gospel, which I refer to as the “interfaith gospel”. I will blog on that later.

Dark Verses

I recently ran across this blog, which I found quite engaging. The author (named Tracy as I will refer to her in this post) claims to promote a state of being “radically free”, and generally, I would say she is on a good path towards that goal.

But she still continues to engage in one (in my opinion) form of delusion: She continues to maintain that the bible is the Word of God, or “revealed truth” as I like to call it. This particular Christian dogma takes many forms. In its most extreme fundamentalist form (which Tracy obviously rejects), the bible is to be read literally, as a historical document.

While Tracy certainly does not hold to that view, she does tend to quote the bible in support of her position. I call this “bible bashing”.

Bible bashing occurs when a person regards the bible as authoritative for human living, and the expression of divine will. I no longer hold that view, and I believe a careful and systematic study of the bible will reveal what I have discovered: The bible as we know it is a work of human culture. A collection of literature, nothing more.

How do I know this? Easy. First, I look at the 85% of the bible that almost all Christians (and Jews for that matter) tend to ignore. I call these the “dark verses” (hence the title of this post). These are the verses that show the character and nature of the god described in the bible. Which is a pretty poor character in my view, and I think most reasonable folks would agree.

Take a story that Christians love: The story of the flood, Noah, and so forth, which is contained in Genesis 6-9. This is a story which I personally taught to my children as  a bedtime story. My wife and I even decorated our children’s bedrooms with pictures of the ark, animals, and so forth.

Let’s get real. This is a terrible story. In this story, the god of the universe, the creator of all the stars, galaxies, and so forth, decides that he is annoyed with mankind, because they are engaging in all sorts of behavior of which he disapproves. (No explanation is ever given as to why this particular god has an opinion about things like foods, sexuality, what day we should rest, etc.) Anyway, because mankind has failed to measure up to his standard, he has a simple solution: Wipe them all out.

Imagine the young mother at that moment, holding her newborn infant in her arms while god causes the waters to rise. She struggles to keep her baby above the surface of the waters. Eventually, she is overwhelmed, and her baby falls into the water and is drowned as well.

Now, several questions are patently obvious:

  • Would you worship a god who would kill an innocent infant in cold blood for the purported crimes or his or her mother, or other adults in his or her culture? I mean come on here! Supposedly, one of the basic tenets of Christianity is redemption which is a beautiful idea. The gist is that all humans are capable of being fundamentally good, if simply given a chance. Everyone has the potential to be redeemed. Not this baby apparently. At least not in god’s eyes. He or she never gets a chance to prove what kind of life he or she would have had. In my mind that god is a monster, a genocidal maniac who makes Hitler look like an alter boy.
  • What are the crimes of which this culture is guilty, and which is connotated to justify mass genocide? Homosexual practices for one. Does anyone in our current culture maintain that because of homosexuality that our culture deserves to be wiped out? (If so, I would suggest that you are a bit out of step with modern values.)
  • Oh and the other crime: Worshipping the detestable gods of their religion. Which I have pointed out before is simply code: Religious documents of all stripes invariably refer to the practitioners of another religion as wicked idolaters. That’s right before they decide that these folks deserve to be killed.

Many other examples could be chosen. I have pointed out all of the incredibly cruel, misogynistic, bigoted and just plain stupid things in the Old Testament law. And the New Testament (especially the later books like the Pastoral Epistles and the Book of Revelation) are little better. Even the gospels do not escape from the issue of dark verses.

I will not belabor the point further. My real purpose in this blog post is to beseech all of my fellow humans: For the sake of the planet, for the sake of human suffering, please, please, pretty please, drop the silly pretension that your particular religious text (whether it is the bible, the Quran, the Vedas, the Gita, or whatever) is the revealed truth. It is simply not possible for all of these books to be faxed from heaven: They are wildly inconsistent, after all. (The bible is even internally inconsistent, which is also true of many of the other texts which claim the status of revealed truth).

As long as there are millions of believers who maintain that their particular book is the revealed truth, and yours is the work of demons, we are all going to remain stuck in a persistent state of being assholes who bash each other over the head with these books. Can we stop doing this now, please?

Perfect Sinless Life = Genocidal Maniac

I have blogged previously on the idea that the concept of sin causes religious folks to behave in various evil and irrational ways. Thus, I identify the concept of sin as the “enemy” in terms of religion. That is, sin is the part of religion that does the most damage to human society and increases suffering, war, and the like.

In the post, I will examine an interesting discovery that I made recently: Especially when we are talking about a major Western religion (i.e. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), a person who lives a perfect, sinless life (from the perspective of that religion) is frequently also found to be a genocidal maniac who commits numerous war crimes.

This seems counter-intuitive because these folks look so good, at least from outward appearances. And there is absolutely no doubt (at least not within their own circle) concerning their sincerity.

A few examples would suffice. I have previously called out good old King Josiah, arguably the first truly monotheistic Jewish king. (I believe that Solomon, for example, was a standard, run-of-the-mill pagan who simply worshiped Yahweh as a pagan god.) Josiah is held up by many Christians as the ideal godly person within the Old Testament canon. He truly worshipped God!

And, again, looking at it from the perspective of either Rabbinic Judaism or Christianity, Josiah looks really good: He did embrace utterly the way of the law of Elohim. And he was revered for this reason during his own time, at least from what we can tell from the biblical record.

That record, as well as extra-biblical sources, also tell a darker story: Josiah was one of the most maniacal mass murderers in ancient times. He was responsible for eradicating massive numbers of his own subjects for the simple (and in our minds unacceptable) reason that they practiced a different religion from his. And he is actually praised in the bible for doing this! (See: 2 Kings 23:4-10).

And, of course, all of this genocidal activity is fully justified, because it was blessed by God. In this respect, Josiah is depressingly similar to other figures of the OT who get treated with great deference by Christians. These include Elijah, who massacred the worshippers of Baal (a very common practice at the time, apparently), and of course Joshua, who wiped out entire tribes of Canaanites, Hittites, etc., during the invasion of the Land of Canaan as described in the Book of Joshua. Typically, the tribe of Israel was instructed by Joshua to “kill everything that breaths”, and, again, this was all justified by divine blessing. See for example, this ridiculous excuse for a website in which the slaughter of innocent children is condoned because of the “wicked idolatry” of the people of Canaan. (Isn’t it interesting that in every religious text, pretty much without exception, the practitioners of another faith are referred to as “wicked idolaters” or some other similar fluff, right before we decide that it would be a great idea to kill them?)

Moving into the Christian era, the New Testament is devoid of any genocidal maniacs, which is pleasant to be honest. However, we don’t get too far into the Christian era before we have the rise of despicable creatures like Cyril, Bishop of Alexandria. Cyril was actually declared a saint by the Roman Catholic Church, despite his genocidal persecution of Jews and pagans, as well as the murder of Hypatia, an innocent prominent woman for the sole reason that she was an agnostic, and led a school of Neo-Platonic philosophy. His shock troops, the notorious Parabalani, were probably the first true terrorists in the world. Certainly, the murder of Hypatia, an innocent civilian by any measure, is the textbook definition of terrorism. The sainthood of Cyril undoubtedly states where the Roman Catholic Church stood on these actions.

Later Christians were no better. Another example from the 15th century would be Tomas de Torquemada, who I have blogged on previously. Torquemada was the original Grand Inquisitor of the Spanish Inquisition. Far from the deranged monster that is frequently depicted in film and print, Torquemada was a very charming and admirable person who convinced almost everyone he knew of his utter and complete devotion to God. Why? He truly was sincere! Torquemada simply took literally and idea that many Christians pay lip service to, but do not behave as if they believe: Hell is real and far worse than anything we experience in this life. Thus, to Torquemada, torturing someone to death in an attempt to get them to repent and accept the true religion was not only justifiable: He was actually doing that person a favor!

Yet another would include Sir Thomas More. While More certainly lived an exemplary life, at least within the context of his Roman Catholic religion, he personally imprisoned Protestants for heresy and ordered the execution by burning of six Protestants. Their crime: Heresy due to their being Protestant. In More’s mind, nothing else was required in order to justify their agonizing death. More even regarded their death as being a requirement of God.

Protestants do not fare well either. As this site points out, many Protestants have committed terrible atrocities against Catholics, on the sole cause that they were Catholic. Again, no crime other than practicing a religion other than my own is needed to justify the death sentence for these people.

It boggles the mind. I think I am making an important point here though: Frequently I hear Christians argue in favor of Christianity by stating that the behavior of prominent Christians throughout history is so refined, so representative of the nature and purpose of God. Not. It turns out that Christians are just like everybody else: Christians have behaved in a manner equally as despicable and reprehensible as any other group in human history. Certainly, there are very admirable Christians who are not genocidal maniacs. Mother Teresa comes to mind. Also St. Francis of Asisi. But do not be fooled by these positive examples. A perfect, sinless life within a religious context is sometimes the gateway into something far darker.

Sin is the Enemy

I had a bit of a breakthrough today. I now understand who (what) the enemy is. The enemy is not faith. Sorry to disagree with folks like Bill Maher, but the enemy is not religion.

The enemy is sin.

I don’t mean that you should try to live a sinless life, i.e. attempt to eradicate sinful behavior from your lifestyle. Nor should you abandon discretion and common sense and live a dissolute and reckless lifestyle. In other words, give in to sin. No, you should simply abandon the idea of sin, the idea that there is a vindictive, jealous and vengeful God who will wreak judgment upon those He finds displeasing. And that you can somehow please him by living in a particular manner.

Let’s examine that idea closely. Take the story of Elijah and the priests of Baal contained in 1 Kings 18:23-40. As this site indicates, this story is a favorite among Christians. Invariably, Christians spiritualize the story without really examining the events themselves. In the story, Elijah proves that Yahweh was the true God, whereas Baal was a false god. Elijah does so by miraculous means, and the way he does so is quite spectacular and rather amusing, no question. But look what happens afterwards:

And Elijah said unto them, Take the prophets of Baal; let not one of them escape. And they took them: and Elijah brought them down to the brook Kishon, and slew them there. (1 Kings 18:40 KJV)

Now, assuming you believe in God (which I certainly do much of the time), then you must have some internal concept of the nature of God. You probably believe that God is loving and compassionate. Let’s call this a Loving and Compassionate God, or L&CG.

Now, which of these two scenarios is more likely:

  • Elijah called fire down from heaven, which L&CG obligingly sent, thereby proving His existence and power in graphic terms. Elijah then proceeded to massacre a religious minority, with the explicit approval of L&CG.
  • Elijah orchestrated the massacre of a powerful religious minority for political gain. He then exploited his religious culture to justify his war crimes.

I don’t know about you, but I find the first scenario entirely less likely than the second one. Yes, Elijah may have existed. He even may have called down fire from heaven, although I seriously doubt it. What I do not doubt, however, is that the annihilation of a religious minority within ancient Israel (or anywhere else in history for that matter) is not, never has been, and never will be justified and endorsed by L&CG.

I came up with a hypothesis based upon this idea. The gist is that sin-based religion has caused more religious war, persecution, etc., than non-sin-based religion. It turns out that this is certainly true. Of the major world religions, the number one culprit in terms of causing religious war, persecution, etc., is Christianity, with about 15 million deaths. Islam is next, with between 8 and 9 million, except that most Islam-related religious wars also involved Christians. Thus, much of that has to be credited to Christianity as well. Everything else is noise.

Religions where sin is not a major feature (Hinduism and Buddhism being the two major world religions that fall into this category) do not figure in religious wars very much at all. If they appear, it is in a defensive role. Thus, Buddhists or Hindus will defend themselves, violently if necessary, when they are persecuted by another religion (usually Christians and Muslims). Typically, Christians or Muslims attempt to convert Hindus or Buddhists forcibly. This does result in resistance, understandably. Otherwise, the non-sin-based religions simply do not figure in religious wars very much.

Thus, it appears that my hypothesis is correct: It is not religion that dramatically increases human suffering. It is instead the concept of sin, with the associated idea of a vindictive, judgmental and vengeful God.

This gets played out in daily life of ordinary folks as well. Take this scenario. A small child is killed in some senseless and brutal manner. The parents are understandably devastated. A well-meaning but clueless religious person shows up, sees the pathetic scene, and says something like the following:

We just can’t know God’s plan. Although we don’t understand it, we have to accept that God knows best, and somehow this was the best thing for <fill in child’s name>. I mean, who knows, <fill in child’s name> might have turned away from God. By taking her now, God knew for sure that she would be in his loving embrace for all eternity. Maybe this is God’s perfect will.

I am not exaggerating here. I have been to many funerals that sounded just like this. And what has this religious leader just done? He or she has made God to blame for little <fill in child’s name>’s death, and the suffering of these poor parents, who must now try to worship a God who countenanced this obscene event.

In some cases, the opposite occurs. My cousin Monty was the most egregious example of which I ever heard. That happened fairly soon after I had just become a born-again Christian. Monty was a severe alcoholic who was separated from his wife, having multiple affairs, and died in a drunk driving accident in which he was at fault. In the process, he killed an entire innocent family. At his funeral, which I personally attended, the Baptist preacher said the following, more or less:

We can know for sure that Monty is in heaven today in the loving arms of Jesus. That’s because he came down the aisle in this very church at the age of 12 and accepted Jesus into his heart, and was baptized in this very church.

Now, if anyone ever arguably deserved to burn in Hell, Monty would be up there. He was a cad, no question. Not a lot in Monty’s life to admire. However, for me, given a choice of believing that Monty is burning in Hell or in the embrace of Jesus, I will go with neither.

Monty was broken. I am broken. You are broken. We are all in a terrible state. But that does not mean that there is a vengeful and jealous God who will condemn us when we die.

A few Christians are even beginning to embrace this idea. Take for example Rob Bell, a Christian I have thoroughly enjoyed. Rob seriously pissed off the Evangelical establishment when he announced that he no longer believed in Hell. He later recanted when faced with serious persecution, I suppose. The question that got him: If there is no sin, then why did Jesus die?

Why indeed?

Isabella

In my previous post Bad Sin, I talked briefly about Queen Isabella of Spain, and how her religious beliefs ended up directly affecting her policies. In this post I will punch that up a bit.

Queen Isabella was a devout Catholic. She certainly lived what appeared to be a virtuous and admirable life, at least from outward appearances. Most Christians would find little to criticize about Isabella’s personal conduct. In fact, her behavior was so exemplary that she was awarded sainthood by the Roman Catholic Church in 1874.

Problem is, she had a very bad counselor.  Her personal confessor was Tomás de Torquemada, the Grand Inquisitor of the Spanish Inquisition, which Queen Isabella herself created in 1478. Similarly to Queen Isabella, Torquemada also had a very devout and “sinless” lifestyle, at least from outward appearances. However, he believed something most Christians do not presently accept. Effectively, Torquemada believed that torture was justified, if it could prompt a person to confess their sins, repent, and accept Jesus. Once they were effectively in the kingdom, the killing them was doing them a favor. They might backslide after all! The gist of the idea is that it would be far worse for someone to die in sin, and spend eternity in Hell, than be tortured to death in this life, but receive forgiveness and a heavenly reward.

Obviously, the underlying basis for this idea is sin. Without sin, there would be no Hell, no heavenly reward, and so forth.

Torquemada was also one of the most virulent anti-semites in the dark history of Christianity. He orchestrated the forcible expulsion of the Jews from Spain. It would not be overstating the case to say that one of the main reasons that Spain is a poor country today was because of the stupid, blind, and senseless policies of Queen Isabella and Torquemada. By expelling the Jews, Spain decimated the Spanish middle class, where most of the economic activity was being generated. Up to that point, Spain was the superpower. Afterwards, once the economic impact was felt, Spain declined and the British Empire became pre-eminent.

This theology had serious practical for the entire world. A foolish and silly doctrine resulted in the direct death of thousands, and indirectly affected the lives of millions. Thus, what we believe matters. It affects our behavior dramatically.

I still stubbornly maintain that the concept of sin is pernicious and evil. Like I said previously, allowing another person to tell you what is, and is not, in the divine law is a very dangerous thing. Queen Isabella agreed to allow Torquemada to tell her that. He was the one who guided her in her daily life. He fed her the formula for success. And succeed she did! In the context of her culture, Queen Isabella was a superstar. Too bad her delusion had to be so catastrophic for the entire world.

My advice: If you hear a religious leader telling you what is, and is not, sin for you, do not hesitate. Run. Do not walk. Flee.

Bad Sin

Sin is bad. I know what you are thinking: No kidding. Like I didn’t know that!

But that’s not what I mean. I need to be a bit more clear here.

What I am saying is that the concept of sin, i.e. the idea of a vengeful, legalistic God, who puts concrete requirements on human behavior, and punishes disobedience, is a pernicious, evil concept which leads to terrible consequences. Thus, it is the idea of sin that is bad, not any specific sin itself.

I have been living in the “no sin” state for a while. Bear in mind, I am not saying that I live a life of sinless perfection. (That would be delusional!) No, I am merely saying that I have abandoned the sin-based way of thinking. I no longer believe that there is a divine law which I am required to obey, or face divine justice.

In the process of abandoning the concept of sin, I have become aware of the effect that consciousness of sin had on me. If you believe in sin, you believe in a divine law. Thus, there is an objective, non-cultural standard for right and wrong, good and evil, etc. Here’s the rub: How do you decide what is the content of the law of God? In other words, who decides what is and is not legal?

Typically, in our history, that has been left to religious leaders to decide. And I was no exception. I bought what religious leaders taught me was right and wrong. I attempted to live a relatively sinless life, as that term was defined by my cultural context, in that case Evangelical Christianity. Other religions which assume the existence of a legalistic God are no different, though. Islam, from what I can tell, leads to a very similar place.

Giving someone else the power to decide what is and is not in compliance with the divine law is a very dangerous thing indeed. Especially if the law you are attempting to follow is from a completely different culture, geographic region, historical era, etc. Inevitably, you end up attempting to adapt the putative divine law from those conditions onto your current conditions, with often disastrous results.

Take slavery. Slavery is a well-understood anthropological phenomenon. Once neolithic cultures arose from pre-historical, paleolithic environments, then there was a huge increase in the number of available calories. That meant that part of the human society no longer needed to work on gathering food. This led to the development of government, religion, and the military. Early neolithic empires used soldiers armed with metal weapons to conquer and enslave the surrounding paleolithic humans (whom they regarded as “barbarians”). In the process, neolithic empires obtained access to a large number of captive humans.

What can you do with a captive human? You can kill him/her. But that has limited utility. How much better to force them to hang around and do stuff! Thus, slavery arose almost immediately in human history, following the neolithic revolution.

Once slavery took hold, it became a required part of life. The Roman Empire famously ran on slaves. Once all of the available surrounding cultures were conquered, and the supply of excess slaves dried up, Rome began to collapse. With slavery being the dominant way of organizing human activity in the ancient world, making it illegal under the “divine law” would be unthinkable.

Sure enough, various religious cultures have used their version of the divine law to justify the conquest and enslavement of surrounding primitive cultures. The Western European colonial expansion into the New World was depressingly typical. The annihilation of numerous primitive cultures was justified with the idea of winning new converts to Christ. Columbus’s voyage, for example, was underwritten by Queen Isabella of Spain, a devout Catholic. The explicit goal of the voyage was to find new converts to Christ, thereby increasing the glory of God, and of His faithful servant, i.e. Queen Isabella herself.

Further, the enslavement of Africans during the colonial period was justified using a silly and ridiculous reading of the book of Genesis. In Genesis 9:20-27 Noah prophesies a curse against his grandson Canaan, which includes these statements:

25 And he said, Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren.
26 And he said, Blessed be the LORD God of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant.
27 God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant.

The Christian European invaders regarded the Africans as the descendants of Canaan, and thus naturally slaves to the other sons of Noah (notably themselves).

So there you have it: Giving the power to a religious leader to decide what is and is not in the law of God directly led to the institution of slavery, and the resulting enslavement of millions of primitive humans.

If that ain’t bad, I don’t know what is.

Richard L.

I had a moment of clarity today while talking to my wife. I realized that I have had the same experience multiple times with various Christians.

The title of my post was typical: We will call him Richard L. Richard and I were buds. He lived in Raleigh, and I lived in Chapel Hill, but that didn’t let that keep us apart. I would come to Raleigh regularly to help Rich with the storage shed he was building, ride bikes together, etc. We even went on several business trips together, as we were both members of the same professional trade organization.

My wife had a bad feeling though. She kept warning me that Rich was a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Rich was the “leading brother” of the particular brand of Christianity that we were involved in at that point in our lives. I must admit that in that role, I found Rich to be a bit difficult. He was authoritarian, for sure. But I stuck with Rich stubbornly. He seemed genuinely interested in having a relationship with me. And, as usual, I had the emotional need for a relationship with another man.

Eventually, Rich completely and spectacularly rejected me. The circumstances around this are strange. One day Rich and I were best friends. The next day he simply stopped talking to me. I later found out, via gossip (which I normally try to avoid, but I was desperate) that Rich had had an affair, and his marriage was in trouble.

At that point, I called Rich and really pressed in. If he was having a tough time in his marriage, didn’t he need someone to talk to? Couldn’t I still help him? Couldn’t I still be his friend? I mean, how else was he going to process what had happened to him?

But, no, Rich would not talk to me. Most of all, he would not talk to me, because by doing so, he would have to confront his feelings. And we can’t have that, can we? Oh, no! In the Christian circles we ran in, if a man came home from a drunken brawl and confessed to an affair, his wife was expected to clean him up, put him to bed, and then continue to love and forgive him after that. All the while, never, ever talking about it. Oh, no! We don’t want to give any glory to Satan. Talking about our sin? How would that help?

Rich was only one example though. I have developed what I called last night a “flinch”. Basically, when I start to become intimate with someone, I want to spew out all of my stuff all at once, warts and all. I am saying: “Are you going to reject me? Go ahead, then. Please, get it over with. Put me out of my misery quickly, please. I don’t want to emotionally invest only to be disappointed again one more time.”

I need to work on that, I suppose.