Admittedly, I can be pretty tough on religion. For the most part, I think I've been fair in my treatment of it overall. Yes, I focus on the negative aspects about 90% of the time. This isn't a newspaper, so if you want balance find it elsewhere. There are plenty of apologists and supporters that can tell you about the good things that religion can bring to the table. Often though, they act as though the good that is done by the religious couldn't be done without the behest of an ancient book. I take major exception with that premise, as even a two or three year old child can feel when someone is in need of comfort. For that matter, there are less evolved primates that can feel sympathy and care for others. That's not where I'm going today though. I want to actually put some of my thoughts down on how religion can be a benefit without being a detriment. Of course, I realize, even before I forge ahead that I will likely aggravate both the believer and non-believer with what I have to say. That's OK. I feel like maybe I'm doing something right if that's the case!
Perhaps it's time to put aside the miracles. I don't care how devout you are, there has to be that little voice in back of your mind saying "That didn't happen.". No, it's not the "debil" saying that, it's your common sense. There are more reasonable explanations. And among those explanations are.....someone made it up. The virgin birth is not mentioned in two of the gospels. I, personally, would think that would be a pretty big deal if I were writing an account of someone that I considered to be the son of god. A better explanation would be that the authors (and nobody is 100% sure of who they are) that did include it were fulfilling prophecy. I'm not going to start listing all of them, but since there are no credible accounts of miracles since, it's pretty safe to say that the miracles were probably made up or misinterpreted. A lone person such as Muhammad, Paul/Saul, Joseph Smith, etc seeing heaven and being told what to do by god could just as easily been a mental delusion or the effects of psycho-active drugs. It happens today all the time (UFO sightings, people saying Jesus appeared to them), but nobody gives them credence. Read it in a 2,000 year old book and suddenly it's the spot on truth! Let's not pretend that people were not using hallucinogens for religious ceremonies in the past. That's been happening all over the world for thousands of years and could very well be the basis for why Jesus said the kingdom of is within you. I certainly know that I have felt that connection much stronger in seeking "god" (I really hate using that term, but for the sake of understanding I will) apart from religion than I ever did when I was immersed in it. Most eastern religions also refer to god or heaven being inside of us and not an external place to be sought after. So, I guess in these areas I'm asking folks to consider that the books written thousands of years ago may contain quite a few exaggerations, inaccuracy, and perhaps some passages that need to be re-examined in the context of what is possible or mostly probable.
What about the notion of defining the attributes of god? God is explained in the ancient texts of our most popular religions as a man. A man with very human attributes and what we would consider flaws if we were speaking of a human being. We are told god is all loving, yet he is unforgiving. We are told god knows endless grace, yet he is vengeful. Maybe, just maybe, god has all the attributes of man because that's exactly who created the account of what/who god is? Why would god have a sex? Why would god need to be full of vengeance and anger? Why would god need to be jealous? Not very god-like attributes are they? Sounds like you or I, doesn't it? If we let go and actually admit to ourselves that we have no idea who or what god is, we could unshackle our imaginations and allow ourselves to be truly in awe of what god is (if god exists). What a wonderful creation we have. What an awe inspiring universe we are a very small part of. Do we need to be so certain that we are the center of it all? Do we have to be so certain that a very human-like god is keeping an eye on everything as a sort of cosmic pit boss? How about seeing the watchful eye of god in nature? That we are evolving and nature takes care of its own by instilling survival skills that can adapt to different environments or stimulus? Philosopher Alan Watts says that god is everywhere and everything, so any harm you do to anything else, means you are hurting god. He also says, so brilliantly that "the only god we can cling to, is the idea of god". Watts means that we can't possibly know something that is by definition vastly superior to us, and also is us. You let go of the idea of god because god can't possibly be defined in any way that doesn't limit it. I am not certain either way if there is a god or not. I will say this; if there is a god, I am CERTAIN that I wouldn't know how to describe it. Anything that we say about god must be so weak that we do a disservice to the very notion of what an all-powerful entity is. It's a disgrace to describe god. The religious texts are very wanting in the description of god. Amazing and awesome are even inadequate if there truly is a creator, don't you think?
The devil and hell have to go. Much of the Old Testament doesn't really deal with the idea of hell after death. That death is merely the end with no eternal torture. Depending on the OT translation, "hell" could mean several things from merely being non-existent to a separation from god. I've said a good bit on hell on this blog before and don't intend to repeat much other than this; an eternal hell is in direct opposition to a loving and forgiving god. This notion of blaming everything that isn't "godly" on the devil is excuse making for our own humanity. It's time to stop bringing people to eternal love with the fear of eternal torture. Notice, I didn't say punishment....I said torture. That's the only way to describe what hell is as defined by most modern religious folks.
Let's bring the ancient texts into modern times. The Bible/Torah/Koran are only precious and not meant to be altered because they say they are. They are only true because they say they are. Could you write "Kobe Bryant is god" on a napkin and use that as proof that Kobe Bryant is god? Of course not, so why would you take the word of a book that a bunch of people wrote that had absolutely no knowledge of how our natural existence worked? Because the books tell you to, right? See where I'm coming from?
The 10 Commandments are nice, but we know that they are not the absolute authority on how human beings should act. There are some good ideas there, but any guide that doesn't include something about treating women and children humanely might need some revamping. A guide of morality such as the Bible is called that doesn't tell us to abolish slavery, yet tells us just how severely we can beat our slaves might not be that moral. I guess I will defer to Sam Harris on the 10 Commandments;
“If you think that it would be impossible to improve upon the Ten Commandments as a statement of morality, you really owe it to yourself to read some other scriptures. Once again, we need look no further than the Jains: Mahavira, the Jain patriarch, surpassed the morality of the Bible with a single sentence: "Do not injure, abuse, oppress, enslave, insult, torment, torture, or kill any creature or living being." Imagine how different our world might be if the Bible contained this as its central precept. Christians have abused, oppressed, enslaved, insulted, tormented, tortured, and killed people in the name of God for centuries, on the basis of a theologically defensible reading of the Bible. (23)”
― Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation
― Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation
We could merely lift the ideas that are fit for modern time and apply them to our lives. It'd be so easy. Jesus and Muhammad supposedly said some great things and among those were lessons on how to treat other people and even animals. How can modern Christians and Muslims hold to those standards while at the same time wanting to deny the mere humanity of homosexuals, women, children, and opposing faiths? This "do unto others" thing doesn't really work unless you apply it to yourself honestly. If judgement truly is for god, you must give up judgement. We could also use a heavy dose of "STFU" when it comes to wanting to teach religions dogma in public schools. Science is science and we can't teach our children that Adam and Eve and Noah are the origins of life on the planet. We are already slipping down the list of the top educated countries and we continue to confuse the issue by telling our kids that the Bible/Koran can tell them more about the world they live in than modern science and basic common knowledge. The stories in these books can be inspirational and strong metaphors for living a life, but to teach them as truth is outlandish and a disservice to our nation and to humanity.
We have seen the Crusades where Christians would "save" (baptize) babies before murdering them to serve god. We have seen Muslims blow themselves up taking life with them in order to serve god. These are extreme cases, but these things are done in the name of ancient texts which have no bearing on our modern society. Christianity has mostly evolved past the killing of apostates, but Islam is still behind the game. The ancient books hold us back. They separate us. They shame us as a species in how they ask us to treat people who do not believe as we do.
Religion can be such a positive and if people truly think of their god as all loving and all forgiving, then they need to start acting like it and separate what they know in their hearts and minds from what they are being told by people that were trying to control populations and force their will on the poor and weak thousands of years ago. They still hold power today and that's a disgrace. Make religion personal. Make it about you and your relationship with god. If you say with your mouth that god is love and wants us to love one another than start reflecting it in your actions. It doesn't have to involve hate, distrust, and separation from others does it? Do we really think that is what god would want?
So, I say that we can move towards a more harmonious existence that may well please a god by showing love, forgiveness, empathy, and understanding to one another. Not just to those who agree, but with everyone. We are not us and they are not them. We are all the same. We are of the same species. We belong to the planet and should be doing all we can to preserve this place for future generations. We should be doing all we can to ensure that our children have a pathway for living a life that doesn't involve worry about being ostracized for being a different color or of different sexual orientation. Shouldn't our children grow up thinking of others and how we can better existence for everyone? Should another 18 year old have to die in a war that is fueled by the unwavering dogma of a religion that holds absolutely no relevance in our modern times? Do you think the Middle East problems are going to be solved? If you do, you better think again. The problems in the Middle East are directly related to the notion that the believers of different religions (that all believe in the same god, the god of Abraham,oh by the way) think god promised them a piece of land that is for them and them only. That's not going to be solved until we set aside the two thousand year old bullshit. Nobody owns god, but I see people every single day that act like they do. To pretend to know what god wants is very presumptuous and prideful. If anything would help us to avoid killing or hurting one another it would be understanding at least that much.
I could have really sunk my teeth in to more, but I'm not writing a book here. Our modern society can benefit from all religions fulfilling what many modern believers see as their core values; selflessness, forgiveness, understanding, kindness, and love. If you believe those are the attributes of the god that you worship, why would you accept the awful and disgraceful written words that implore the religious to act in direct opposition to those things? It's a tall order, but isn't it worth the effort?
I guess I'll close this by saying that I don't have a belief in "god". I do not have unbelief in "god". It is religion that I have the problem with. You Christians should really dig into the words of Jesus a bit deeper and think of them on a deeper level. I can't imagine that his words can be taken as someone that was intending to create a dogmatic religion based on his existence. I merely want to find as much understanding and knowledge as I can and religion gets in the way of that by limiting my (dare I say it?) god given gifts of reason, intellect, and curiosity. In that way, it doesn't matter to me if a god exists. I know that there is at least one conscious being on this planet and it's me. I can't be certain about anyone else. For now, I'm a part of the universe experiencing itself. I am not perfect, but even though I fail quite often, I want to try to treat people decent and with love. I truly don't believe any amount of jumping through dogmatic hoops will honor our existence or a possible creator more than that.