You really are my friends, despite the different ways in which we view the world. We have grown up together, gone to school together, worked and played together, enjoyed good times and not such good times together. And most of you probably didn’t realize that I saw things that differently from the way you did. Until, that is, more recently when I decided to start speaking up.
I have decided to put my Skeptic Reflections blog on hiatus for now. I have plenty more to say, but I thought year-end might be a good time to give things a bit of a rest. Some of you may be relieved; others of you may have just decided to stop reading the blog because it was so different from your own point of view and you really weren’t interested in questioning your perspective at this point in time. But before I suspend my writing, I thought I would summarize some of the more important points I have been attempting to make.
First, please do not get too defensive about God’s “pain management” problems. It seems that each time I bring up the Christian idea that “the wages of sin is death” or some equivalent, some of you feel compelled to point out that pain and suffering and loss of eternal life are not God’s fault. Either we are the ones responsible or the blame needs to be laid on Satan. But really, according to the Christian story, God in his omnipotence and omniscience set up the whole shebang. It was God who created the universe, along with the rules governing everything, including the rules of conduct under which humans were to act and under which they failed miserably. And God, in his omniscience, must have known that they would fail. Moreover, it was God who established the consequences of sin, namely, pain and death. Even I, with my feeble brain, could have come up with a different set of rules that would have been easier on us.
Oh, I know the story about Lucifer or Satan or whoever he is called and the argument that he and his henchmen are responsible for sin and its consequences, which are pain, death, and perdition--all the bad things. But the fact is that according to the Christian story God also created Lucifer, knowing full well (remember God is omniscient) that he would turn against God and bring evil into the world.
And on a related note, when I point out the myriad ways in which the Old Testament God was brutal and bloodthirsty, you are quick to say that that all changed with Christ’s sacrifice. But did God change his personality between the Old and New Testaments? And if so, why did he wait so long? And I’m not talking about a subtle change here. Just to cite a couple of examples, Exodus 35:2 directs that anyone who works on the Sabbath should be put to death, and Leviticus 24:10-16 specifies the same fate for anyone who blasphemes God. Pretty harsh, wouldn’t you say? Presumably, these are God’s rules, not man’s, unless Moses was just winging it. Probably not, since there it is, right in the Bible.
My second concern is the scriptural picking and choosing that Christians are prone to. The Bible is a very long text, and it contains all sorts of things from really dry genealogies to fanciful stories to bizarre prophecies to erotic poetry. So there is a wide array of statements that one can find to support just about any point of view. The problem is one of selectivity. Growing up I was never taught the verses stating that it is OK to sell your daughter into slavery (Exodus 21:7) or that it is OK to possess both male and female slaves (Leviticus 25:44). But there they are. Why weren’t we taught that? Because by the time of the era in which we live we recognized that slavery is morally repugnant under any and all circumstances and so such passages were and are simply skipped over. I suppose you could argue that those rules were reflecting the mores of the time and place. But really, if so, shame on God for not only letting such practices persist but actually condoning them. And these were supposedly his “chosen people.” And shame on Christian apologists for ignoring or whitewashing this ugly side to God’s history.
As I said, Christians routinely pick out those passages that fit their current moral code and simply ignore those that don’t. And this practice still persists. More recently we are dealing with gay rights. And while the majority of Americans (and presumably Christians) believe that homosexuality should be accepted, it is clearly condemned by God in the Old Testament (Leviticus 18:22). Now what?
Third, there is the issue of God’s plan for salvation. I know the story. Humans had sinned, disappointed God, and simply weren’t worthy of salvation. But God the Son came down to earth, was born of a virgin, lived a pious life preaching love for our fellow man, was crucified, and rose from the dead and ascended back to heaven. As a result, we are now eligible for salvation, an eternal life of bliss following this one. Growing up, I accepted this story, just like everyone else. After all, it is the very sine qua non of Christianity. If you don’t accept the salvation story, then you aren’t really a Christian, are you? Oh, you could say that the essence of being a Christian is to live a Christian (that is, good) life. But that isn’t really being a Christian; it’s simply being a good, moral person, like I try to be.
But the salvation story doesn’t make any sense. None of it. There is absolutely no logical connection between any part of the salvation story and a rationale for God’s changing his mind and allowing mankind to enjoy salvation and eternal life. If there is a logic to this, I would sincerely appreciate learning it. But please don’t just say it is simply God’s plan. Or that it is a mystery. Or that it is strange but true. That’s just being circular.
Objectively, considering all of the facts--historical, rational, scientific--it is simply more logical to believe that Jesus was one of any number of would-be messiahs hoping to set up a religious kingdom and was crucified, like so many others. But in Jesus’s case his message was “turned” by the apostle Paul and others into one of a heavenly kingdom to come, a message and set of beliefs that were not dis-confirmable and therefore could endure. It was a great story for the time, but now we know better.
Finally, I am frustrated by the fact that you would prefer believing something for which you do not have objective evidence (e.g., God’s existence, the salvation story) on the basis of authority--simply because you have been told it is true. In other areas you have been taught to think critically, to question. So why should religious beliefs be any different?
The problem in believing something based simply on authority rather than on critical thinking and scientific principles is not just that it robs you personally of coming closer to the truth. Worse in my view is that it denies the world of your intelligence to help in dealing effectively with the problems that we continue to face and that together we can find solutions to through science, as we have been doing for the past several hundred years. We could really use your help in dealing with these issues through rational thinking rather than letting beliefs based solely on authority get in the way.
I hope I haven’t offended you in all of this. I know I have not been offended by your beliefs, but perhaps that’s because I am familiar with and accustomed to them. In addressing these issues, I have tried to be respectful. But I realize at times I have failed. I hope you will forgive me for those lapses. After all, that would be the Christian thing to do.
© 2013 John M. Phillips