Category Archives: My Problem With Your God

My Problem with Your God 6 – The Afterlife

Rosa Celeste: Dante and Beatrice gaze upon the...

Image via Wikipedia

I find the whole notion of an afterlife puzzling. We live, and then we die.  Unless, of course, you believe in magic and fairytales, in which case, we might either get a second chance at things, some kind of reward, or even punishment. I do understand the appeal of an ‘afterlife’; it would be nice if all the good deeds we had done in life, great and small, were recognised by some all-knowing judge who smiled upon us benevolently, gave us a pat on the back, said “well done, here, you deserve some bliss”. And, of course, the corollary, that all bad people, and those who had done us wrong in life, are punished. I mean, it’s only fair, right? Life isn’t fair, but the afterlife is? Is that the way it works?

As I understand it, this ‘God’ fellow is the ultimate arbiter of who gets in to the exclusive club known as ‘Heaven’, or of who gets to go on a jolly journey to ‘Hell’. You have to ask then, what are the requirements of entry? I mean, aside from the whole Ten Commandments nonsense, the abstaining from some of the more fun aspects of life, and the general belief in the delusion of a sky-god and his zombie son. If you believe in a heaven you must believe you have a pretty good chance of getting in, otherwise what’s the point? So, are you a paragon of virtue, or the lowest common denominator? Would you join a club that would let someone like you in? I imagine most people who pray weekly in the relevant temple of their faith believe that they will go to heaven; do you think that they all qualify? Do they live up to your rigorous standards? Because everyone can’t get in, that’s part of they system. By the simple fact of not believing in your peculiar delusion the vast majority of people are excluded from your faith’s vision of heaven. And that’s not just those living now; think about all the people who lived and died before some semi-literate desert nomad invented your faith. The vast majority of everyone ever will not go to your heaven, and I reckon quite a good deal of them are better than you. I don’t mean that as a slight against your character, but you are up against the likes of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle (who are the foundation of Western science, reason, and civilisation), the genius who came up with oral rehydration therapy (which saves millions of children dying from diarrhea  every year), and Norman Borlaug (the guy who saves millions of lives every year by designing better types of wheat). How do you compare? How many civilisations have you defined? How many millions of lives have you saved? Surely, by virtue of their astounding accomplishments, they get to go to Heaven, right? Would you give up your place to someone more worthy? Maybe God would overlook the “believe in me” red-tape, it’s all part of the plan, right?

The whole “God’s plan” thing is worrying too. People who die in accidents, of God-Pythondisease, or other such tragedies, are, in the words of clerics, taken before their time, it’s all part of God’s plan. Plus, as an added bonus, they get to go to heaven directly, because of the suffering and whatnot that they had to endure.That’s nice, comforting. It’s not really a random accident that could happen to any one at any time because Nature and the Universe are our best friends and they would never do anything to hurt us. It might even be that, if the human race is ever wiped out by a gamma ray burst from a star billions of light-years away that died billions of years before God was even invented, some religious person’s last thought will be, “it’s all part of the Plan”. The problem with ‘The Plan’ is very simple; if it’s all part of God’s plan, and you get to go to heaven for playing your little role in the plan, doesn’t everyone get to go to heaven? “Well”, you might be saying to yourself, “that certainly solves the exclusivity problem mentioned above”. Yes, it does, but it also means everyone gets in. Everyone. Including Hitler (yeah, I went there). If you believe in ‘The Plan’, you have to accept that everything is part of it, and that every player is doing God’s Will. And God is Good (I’ve been told this quite often, but remain unconvinced, especially by the use of the copula), so everything he does is good, therefore the plan is good. So bad things might happen for a good reason. If this is so, anyone who did anything evil was really just an instrument of God, and so can’t be blamed for their actions, and if they cannot be blamed, they are free from sin, and get to go to Heaven. Even Stalin. If you believe in ‘The Plan’ you kinda have to accept that you will be sharing Heaven with murderers, rapists, dictators, pedophiles (the Catholic Church lets them in already), and all kinds of other nefarious folk, like the CEOs of banks, boy-bands, and anyone who ever appeared on reality TV.

So. Let’s agree that ‘The Plan’ notion is fundamentally flawed, and that good people go to heaven and bad people go to hell. I’ll give you, the believer, the benefit of doubt; you are a good and ethical person who happens to wholeheartedly believe in a worryingly transparent fantasy. According to your rules, you get to go to ‘Heaven’ when you die. While there you meet all your dead relatives, friends, and the other cool kids who got passed the bouncer, because they also abided by the rules. After a while of hanging out with the angles and their dull music you wonder where all the good music is. It’s in hell. Ah well, you still have bliss on tap. You look around and your best friend Timmy isn’t among the saved. You ask why and find out he went to hell because he didn’t believe in God. So. Your friend burns for all eternity. While you get bliss. That would really ruin my buzz, if I were you in heaven (but I wouldn’t be in heaven, because it’s not real). Knowing that perfectly decent people suffer for no other reason than they don’t believe in your brand of hysteria would really tarnish the whole good vibe thing that Heaven had going on. How could you (after-)live with yourself? Unless God wipes your memory, which is deceitful, or you are a cruel soulless person, in which case you have to wonder how you got to heaven in the first place, and what kind of sycophant are you? Sorry, that last bit is unfair, believers are not sycophants, that’s the clergy. Believers are chattel.

Orthodox icon of St Edward the Martyr

You get to hang out with people like this forever... Image via Wikipedia

But the problem really is that you already agreed to abandon ‘The Plan’. If God doesn’t run the show, what’s the point of having a God? Okay, fair enough, you can make the case for human agency, but this removes God from being a loving, caring blah blah blah, to a remote and uncaring arbiter who decides what is good and what is evil. Why is he uncaring; well, if he cared he wouldn’t let bad things happen, would he? So, God is a judge; there is no right of appeal, no other avenue open to you. He makes the rules, he enforces them, and he is the king of heaven. I’m sorry, but that’s a dictator. And dictators exist to be overthrown by popular revolt. The Democratic Republic of Heaven would be a nice thing. It’s almost a pity that there is no God to overthrow, or no Heaven to liberate. Anyway, we’ve given up ‘The Plan’, and God is just a judge. Heaven is an exclusive club of pretty much all the most boring people ever. Sure, there are some good ones in there, but let’s face it, hermits, martyrs, the chaste, and the pure can’t really have many interesting anecdotes to pass the time with. And you will have a lot of time to pass, an eternity in fact. I know it’s an old joke, but all the fun people will be in hell, along with all the evil ones, the not-so-bad-but-didn’t-make-the-cut ones, and the actually-wonderful-people-who-didn’t-believe. Which makes heaven seem really unfair and boring.

Centaur & a Lapith in battle

Image by Lawrence OP via Flickr

It wouldn’t be so bad if religion had just left heaven as an unknowable state of being. They had to go and make it a place, a thing, a kingdom with walls and subjects, of eternal peace, and limited imagination. And that’s just stupid. Even so, an unknowable heaven is only slightly less redundant. You could say “but, you admit, it’s unknowable, you don’t know that it doesn’t exist, you can’t prove its non-existence”. You got me there, that’s a humdinger. I also can’t prove the non-existence of basilisks and centaurs, but just because we can’t prove something magical doesn’t exist doesn’t mean that it does. I’ll wait here until you bring me evidence of an afterlife; evidence, mind you, not the collected ramblings desert nomads and delusional parasites, feverish hallucinations, or other such deceptions .

You didn’t exist for millions of years before just recently, and you will cease to exist again quite soon. Enjoy a moral life while you can, because you won’t get a second chance; you’ll just be dead, forever.

Ceterum autem censeo, religionem esse delendam

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My Problem with Your God 5 – The Burden of History

The Bible was written down over a long period of time from a variety of oral sources, sources which a hardly the most reliable foundation for history at the best of times. But God did not begin with the Bible, Old or New Testament. Primitive man may have been monotheistic, believing in a simplistic and solitary sky-god rather than a pantheon of promiscuous phantasms. As humans grew more complex they required a more nuanced understanding of reality, which became fused with ancestral tales passed from one generation to the next, becoming ever more fantastic, provided early cultures and civilisations with a rich tapestry of spirits, demi-gods, city deities, and entire economies of faith. Judaism came from out the deserts of the Near East, bequeathing to Western Civilisation the ‘One True God’, a title which every spurious schismatic sect slaps on its derivative deified delusion. But even in this, even in faith and religion, through the discipline of history, we can perceive an evolution of the illusion of god.

By the time the Jews and their strange theology became a spotlight in the Roman Empire every other culture worshiped many, many gods. The Romans, Greeks, Persians, Egyptians, and Celtic peoples possessed pantheons which fitted every niche of society; the Romans had spirits for everything from doorways to docks, from wine to winter. Some monotheistic sects did exist in this world, such as the cult of Atun in Egypt, Zoroastrians in Persia, and the cult of Zeus. The word ‘Zeus’ itself (in Latin rendered as ‘Deus’) literally means ‘god’. The Jews did not invent the one-god concept, and may even have had more than one over the course of their history. The Bible itself suggests that the early Israelites had several gods, one of which was the ‘God’ god. YWHW, the purposefully unpronounceable name of the god that became God, was the son of El, and the patron god of Israel. Going out and meeting the world the people of that particular god met other people with many gods. They may have borrowed the one-god idea from the Atun-cultists during their time in Egypt (where they were probably not slaves but skilled workers). On their way home to the promised land they lost faith in the one-god, and switched it for another while they wandered through the desert, which Moses was rather upset with. Later one group of Israelites would attack another for worshipping ‘Baal’, which was just a title (Lord) for the same god, in a war which essentially extinguish all other branches of the fait; imagine, if you will, if one of the Christian Churches declared was on all the others, and succeeded in annihilating them, and then wrote the history of the world describing themselves as the only true Christians. This monotheistic cult was reinforced when Babylonians and Assyrians kept conquering the people who were supposedly chosen by the one-god. In spite of having had the crap kicked out of them twice by non-believers, it seems that the Israelites decided that their god was not just their god, but also the supreme god of everything. Their reasoning may have been that since their god loved them and they were chosen by ‘Him’, clearly ‘He’ was using the invaders to punish the faithful; it wasn’t that the gods of the invaders were better or that the Israelites couldn’t form a united front to defend themselves. This is an innovation of a conquered people who seek to aggrandise themselves through faith and divide their identity from that of their conqueror. It wasn’t their fault that they lost, nor was it due to the victors’ prowess in battle, it was all part of ‘God’s Plan’. The whole formation of the one-god concept is very complicated and largely lost to time, but at its core it is the ideal that an exclusive club of people are the only ones who know the Truth, and that even though they are not in charge right now, given time, and enough homage to their peculiar fantasy, they will rule and all who oppressed them will be punished. An empty threat that would only work on those who believed in the first place.

Building on this religion of desert nomads and oppressed peoples, the words of a man executed, ironically, by the tools of his trade began a new schismatic cult. Where the Jews of the Roman Empire believed that they would be rewarded on Earth, and that the Messiah was a military leader cast in the mould of King David, the followers of Christ believed in the promise of an afterlife. This is an innovation of capitulation. Many of the early converts were from the lower classes, the poor, and slaves, and so the idea of a reward for their suffering in the kingdom of fantasy was very appealing. These early masochists revelled in the persecutions of Rome; it only proved their worthiness to their chosen fiction. And then Paul of Tarsus opened the gates of heaven to the gentiles and all of a sudden wealthy and decadent Romans could join in on this ‘eternal reward’ gimmick. Jesus’ hippie-esque peaceful protests and sermons of love were soon happily ignore as the One God of the Judeo-Christians found itself a new home in the armies of Rome. The popular cult figure worshipped by Roman soldiers prior to this was that of Sol Invictus, the Invincible Sun, which may have influenced the newly militarised faith of peace. Soon Christ became the official brand of the Empire, and an official doctrine was needed. So a bunch of supposedly pious men got together and decided, with some encouragement from the business end of a Roman sword, what everyone else should believe in. From this we get the Bible, and the Council of Nicaea. This Creed was designed to be, and is seen by the Church as being, a legal document which binds you to the one True Faith. It is not a prayer; it is a contract with God and its representatives on Earth.

Before long the Empire split in half, divided by subsequent emperors between the Greek- and Latin-speaking parts, which also caused a division in the faith. This eventually resulted in the Great Schism, leading to the establishment of the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches. These two branches of the faith were imperilled by the rise of Islam. Roman Catholicism only really took off with the discovery of America, where it did a very good job of converting the entire population to its version of God’s Word by following the teachings of Jesus and living in his example, by which I mean sycophants and soldiers committed acts of genocide which rivalled the Holocaust. The Catholic Church may not had condoned such actions, nor did it condemn them, a rather ambiguous position for an establishment which sees itself as the arbiter of all morality.

Soon, a new schism arose offering whole new flavours of faith, ranging from the sour and super-strict to the laid-back and lemony. Many of these new Protestant religions were connected intimately with a state or king, so that not paying taxes became a sin, or were based around small independent, quasi-communist communities. Bringing Christianity to Africa became the fashionable thing to do, as Protestants and Catholics fought for the souls of those they would enslave. Christian faith fused with racial theory allowed European and American society to subjugate vast numbers of people it deemed to be in need of guidance and care, in a token of ‘Christian charity’. The teachings of the carpenter found their true home once more in the downtrodden underclass which dreamed of freedom in the afterlife. Not much has changed since then; Rome still dooms Catholic Africa to grotesque torture by allowing the HIV/AIDS pandemic to endure despite the proven effectiveness of prophylactics. Many Christian faiths rabidly oppose homosexuality, a lifestyle which is older that the teachings of Christ, among many other perfectly reasonable ideas, such as evolution, logic, and reason.

If the word of God was True and Immutable surely it wouldn’t have changed much in the last few thousand years. Except that we clearly have several competing versions of this ‘Immutable Truth’. Add to this the fact that the Bible, the container of Truth, comes to us not as a pure source, but as a text which has been copied, amended, edited and altered for the best part of two thousand years. Large parts of it are based on oral accounts, hearsay, and dreams, which is hardly the basis for historical accuracy. Compounding this algal bloom of confusion are the claims of each new version of Christianity which claim a novel interpretation of the teachings of Christ. Each makes claim to the past, espousing a nuanced version of history to prove their validity, or simply ignore reality entirely and accept the Bible as history. ‘The Lord of the Rings’ provides a far more convincing history of the world before the Age of Reason than the Bible, and it’s far less self-contradictory, though much less people die in it, and it was written by one man! Evangelical and Charismatic Churches are a new red tide which threaten to expunge all intelligent life, leaving only stupid life in their wake. Is this all part of God’s plan? Inventing new versions of belief in himself every twenty minutes? If so, does he suffer from ADHD, and can we give him some pills to make him calm down? No, of course not, that would be silly; you wouldn’t give Bambi grief counselling, nor demand Shiva attend therapy for it’s destructive tendencies, nor suggest to Santa that he has some kind of benevolent OCD because, and I cannot stress this enough, they do not exist. And neither does the Judeo-Christian God.

Ceterum autem censeo, religionem esse delendam

My Problem with Your God 4 – Sin

Sin is a very peculiar notion when you really examine it. Sin is often considered to be the infraction, or breaking, of moral code of the Abrahamic faiths. This is not entirely correct, because, as we have seen in previous chapters, faith is not a precondition for, or guarantor of, good moral conduct, and also because sin is not really about morality. Sin, in the religions descendant from the would-be filicide, is the denial of the god-head or the commandments ascribed to it; to ‘sin’ is to break the ‘law of God’. Sin was not conceived as a moral concept but a legal term. Almost all established religions see their adherents as being legally bound to believing in their peculiar brand of fantasy, and to break their rules is to be sinful. So, everyone in the world lives in sin, according to the doctrines of someone else, and has done for thousands of years, not because they are immoral, but because they do not accept the rules of a given, opposing, religious organisation. So only those who believe can be without sin, but everyone lives in sin according to someone else. But then the Christian faith masterfully tricks its own adherents into making them sinful too, providing a reason for, and perpetuating the necessity of, its own existence. The unfaithful live in sin, the faithful are born into sin, and the Church alone can absolve sin. It has managed to screw over its own believers and make them thankful for it. Which is, you must admit, a wicked stroke of genius.

Where did sin come from? Apparently, from eating a fruit.Adam and Eve The fable of the Garden of Eden is, aside from never having actually happened, a strange and exceptionally unfair event. Adam and Eve were told not to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge by God. As I understand it, Adam and Eve were complete innocents; they had no knowledge of Good or Evil, Right or Wrong, and would therefore have no concept of punishment. God gives them one rule not to break, doesn’t tell them why, or what the consequences would be if they did break it. This God character made Man, or so I’m told. I’ve noticed that humans tend to be very curious, and their children are even more so, which is an important point to make considering Adam and Eve’s unique purity of personality. God tells these curious creatures to do anything they want except for one thing, and he doesn’t even put up a sign, or a fence, around the forbidden tree. I mean, that fruit was begging to plucked, and God seems to have stacked the odds in favour of this happening. Maybe if he had explained, if he’d shown them how awful the outside world was they might not have eaten the fruit. And sure, you could blame the snake, but God, in his infinite wisdom, made that too, right? Either the entire situation is all part of God’s sick and twisted plan, or whoever made this story up either never heard of ‘plot-holes’, or had a pretty gullible audience. Later this God fellow wrote down some rules for a tiny minority of the people he populated the world with. He wrote them on two stone tablets, according to Moses who was alone at the top of a mountain with no-one else around, who then smashed them, but these were conveniently replaced later by God, not unlike the tale of a certain Joseph Smith… Anyway… Breaking these rules was ‘sinful’. Christianity later put a unique twist on this whole ‘sin’ thing, possibly because Jesus died on the cross, as some kind of ultimate blood-sacrifice to a vengeful God. The carpenter died for the sins of all mankind, but only the faithful can take advantage of this delightful gift, because if you don’t believe you get to go to hell instead. So, the burden of a Christian is not really the guilt of sin, but the guilt of letting somebody else suffer for it, and the fact that you let this wood-cutting saviour down every day by being weak, and by committing the sins he saved you from. And if you atone for your sins you get to go to Disneyland. Or Heaven. I’m not entirely sure which; while they are both magical places of fantasy, one is an exclusive resort for a small minority of people, an illusory island of ephemeral dreams which the huddled masses of a cold, harsh world aspire to visit, and the other is Disneyland. Either way, everyone else gets to burn and suffer in Hell for all time. For all time. Wouldn’t that make Heaven suck? What if you got to go, but someone you knew or loved didn’t. Or even people you didn’t know? Burning for all eternity, while you eat ice-cream with the angles. Unless you didn’t have a conscience, or any sense of ethics, which would make you a soulless bastard, in which case you wouldn’t be in Heaven anyway. Is part of the deal that you forget about everyone else, or are you to be so content in Heaven that you don’t care? Or was it designed to appeal to sadists who want people to be tortured for eternity? Heaven must be a very lonely place, or full of lobotomised saints. Yes, this is a perfectly reasonable doctrine to believe in. Absolutely. One hundred and ten per cent.

So if Jesus died for the sins of Man, aren’t Christians, or even all humanity, off the hook for all the sins they have or will commit? And since Jesus was a Jew, and his big idea was, basically, “forgiveness; for anyone, all the time, any time”, and when he was dying on the cross he asked God to forgive his crucifiers, wouldn’t he forgive all the Jews and Gentiles who didn’t believe in his Revelation and allow them into Heaven too? And speaking of the New Revelation, why do Christians even bother with the Old Testament as much as they do, surely they should focus on the teachings of their so-called ‘Saviour’? Why do they cling to Ten Commandments when he distilled them into two? Better marketing? Was it maybe because most Christians for the first few hundred years of the existence of the new faith were actually still Jews, members of a radical new cult, a new law within an ancient faith? Christians didn’t really have any good framework for sin until Augustine in the fifth century, but his writings could prove whatever you wanted depending on how you read it, so the Church had to wait for the theological master that was Thomas Aquinas in the thirteenth century to clarify matters. The Catholic idea of sin, and that of its descendants, is not really based on the teachings of its superhero, but on the notions of a monk writing in an age of failed crusades and terrible setbacks for his faith. It was also the age of the genesis of the Renaissance, the very first steps were being taken towards a new paradigm.

Sins are a set of proscriptions devised by religions, the rules of the club. The privileged position Christianity in the history of the Western World has allowed for these rules to be misconstrued with morality, and immorality with sin. It might be both immoral and sinful to be a glutton when so many of the planet’s children go hungry, but it is only sinful to be gay, it is not immoral. It is immoral to kill people based on their faith, but strangely, not sinful; it is even seen as holy by some. Many faiths have denounced as sinful eating certain foods, drinking specific beverages, wearing stylish clothes, and even not growing your hair a certain way. Yes, that is right, the all-loving, all-knowing, all-merciful God, who made everyone in his image, will condemn you to Hell if you eat pork, and wear short skirts (especially if you are a man), but will love you more if you have a beard or curls. This makes perfect sense. An all-loving God damned you to be born in sin, damned you to live in sin, and if you don’t stop being sinful, and, well let’s face it, being human, you will go to Hell to be punished, because you broke a set of rules set down by an omnipotent God. Surely he would have known in advance that someone would commit these sins, and that maybe, since it is a loving and compassionate deity, try to stop them? Does he want people to go to hell? Did he fix the game in advance so his pawns can’t help but lose? And why make a world where it was so easy to sin in the first place? How do the faithful not look at the world, and wonder about what they have been taught? They make claims that God is testing their faith. Surely he’d know how faithful you were, what with him being omnipotent and stuff? Is faith the greatest mass hysteria ever? You can’t pick and choose what your delusion did and didn’t do; either the spirit in the sky is all-powerful and created everything, or it didn’t. If the former is true, what kind of perverse fantasy is that? It must have created sin too, and so, in some fashion, must know what it is to sin. To know ‘sin’ one must have sinned. Is God a sinner? A voyeur watching every decadent breath humans make, ever gleeful at each sexual desire which condemns another soul to Hell? Can God go to Hell? Of course he can; something that doesn’t exist can go anywhere that also doesn’t exist. God is Hell, an answer based on ignorance, designed to instill and propagate ignorance.

If we return to the fable of the Garden, we find an instrumental piece ofAdam and Eve Expelled evidence as to why religions are so determined to be powerful and dogmatic. The tree the fruit comes from is the Tree of Knowledge. What was this knowledge they were not allowed to know? Good and Evil. What a weird thing not to tell your creations about. Adam could have been going around the garden beating bunnies to a mushy pulp, and pissing on ants, while Eve ran with scissors and played with matches (luckily they hadn’t invented sex yet, or Adam might have done worse things). Without any concept of Good or Evil any, and every, deed or thought is legitimate. Had God asked Adam to commit genocide before the fruit debacle he may well have happily complied, and slaughtered anyone who he laid eyes on.  But that is the kind of blind obedience that God (and all religion) wants, just ask Abraham, or better yet, Isaac. God wanted a docile servant, a gardener – “And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it,” Genesis 2:15. And he forbade his gardener to Know, because in knowing stuff the gardener might want a better life, he might want to be rewarded for his labours. Maybe Eve was the first Marxist, throwing off the shackles of God’s imperialist tyranny in favour of the down-trodden worker. Two things which religions hate; socialism and knowledge. People working together for the greater good without any need or desire for the babblings of a closeted, self-proclaimed elite, and information that is not controlled or diluted by that same self-aggrandising fetid swamp of intellectual abortion. Knowing is a sin, this is what we learn from the Bible. Religion would have us be ignorant slaves of God, happy with whatever the great sky-god gives us. What an abhorrent ideology. Of course most believers will say that they don’t believe in this part of their religion, just like how they think that homosexuals are not actually sinful. But they support their religion, most implicitly by simply ticking boxes, not speaking out, allowing the madness to continue. The Catholic Church, among many other religions, condemns homosexuality, among many, many other perfectly reasonable and normal things. Others deny evolution. Others think that blowing yourself, and innocents, up is a fabulous idea. These are all symptoms of the same delusion. Sin plays a large role in all faiths, it is what motivates them. Their adherents seek redemption, some through prayer, others through explosives.

What is sacred? Human life, its dignity and freedom, and the pursuit of knowledge for the improvement of human life. What, then, is sin? Impeding individual freedom and education, proscribing forms of healthcare and scientific advancement, and wilfully ignoring justice for the benefit of an institution too big to fail, with far too much invested in the promise of an afterlife. Religion is, then, the greatest single sin humanity has ever committed. The faithful must repent, and change their ways, and we must forgive them so we can all move on to better things. They must leave the delusion and join the real world. Our dogma is truth, innovation and reason, not lies, tradition and blind faith. We believe in the responsibility of Man, not in the will of a fantasy. We must purge the world of this sin, and its immoral perpetuators, and consign religion to a brief, and cautionary, chapter in the history of humanity.

Ceterum autem censeo, religionem esse delendam

My Problem with Your God 3 – Responsibility and Forgiveness

God said unto Abraham, “Go, and kill your son, your only son, whom IAbraham and Isaac know you love dearly. Cut his throat and burn his body. I want you to prove that you are absolutely terrified of me, and will obey me no matter what.” Abraham went and did as the Lord said, and just as he was about to strike, an angel appeared and said “God is happy that you are willing to sacrifice everything for him, because, oddly for a supreme being who can do anything and knows everything, he wasn’t really sure if you were truly serious about worshiping him, so you don’t have to kill your son.” Abraham, wracked with guilt for almost murdering his son to satisfy the voices in the sky, but still too afraid to disobey said, “Thanks.” God was so happy about this little episode that he told Abraham, “Since you are so completely loyal to me I will reward you. Your children will be many and they will conquer the whole world in my name. Which isn’t really much of a reward for you, but a great service to me. Oh, and you’ll have two sons, who will each become figureheads for different religions, the most fervent members of which will kill each other mercilessly for centuries in my name. Isn’t that great?” Abraham, really hoping that attempted filicide would not damage his young son’s fragile mind, said nothing and went home.[1]

A complete submission to the will of god or gods is usually an article of faith in most religions. This particular episode is the basis for complete obedience to God in the religions which claim Abraham as their ancestors. Jesus developed on this notion when he told his followers to abandon, to hate, their families and friends, and listen to his interpretation of the will of God alone.[2] Which is not at all similar to what cult leaders tell their followers nowadays. The word ‘Islam’ literally means ‘submission’. Faith in the ineffable plan of a supreme divinity, submission to its will over that of personal common sense and reason, and the belief that all events occur by its sole design leads, inevitably, to the relinquishing of free will and individual responsibility. If a person sincerely believes in ‘God’ and that ‘He’ guides their lives in every minute detail, their actions are not their own; they bear no responsibility for their deeds or misdeeds. It is all part of ‘God’s plan’. This has had many very interesting consequences. Many who are wealthy (often American evangelicals) believe that their prosperity is a reward for their absolute faith in God. Consequently, those who are poor are being punished by the very same God – which is ironic considering their personal saviour’s views on such things – and are therefore not really worthy of being helped, and should ‘help themselves’.

Many Catholics will say that they are more rational than these more extreme brands of Christians, that they do not believe that their deity involves itself in the incidental details of their lives. It merely offers guidance and solace, encourages its adherents to do good things and refrain from doing ill. But it still knows what everyone does and will do.[3] Your fate is always in its hands. Individual freedom and responsibility is transferred to the god-head which can do no wrong. Yet the faithful continuously implore their deity to change its plan in human vanity and arrogance. They sit in churches and beg it to improve their lives, or to thank it for its benefice and mercy. Any events that transpire, for their benefit or misfortune, are due to its will, not theirs. Cries of “Deus volt” (God wills it) inspired the CrusadesPope Urban II, and victory confirmed His divine consent for their actions. To attack these people is unfair; religion and faith physically shaped their world in a fashion it no longer does, and they had no alternative explanation, such as science. Faith was their only choice, but they do provide an interesting example of blind faith in God’s hand. This was not an isolated incident. Watch interviews with soldiers returning from the Middle East and it can often be found that they believe that they are doing God’s work, that God protected them, and that their actions are sanctioned by God and country (an interesting development of the American belief in a divinely ordained Manifest Destiny).

There is no real need for the faithful to act responsibly; everything is in the hands of their god. Global warming is not their problem as they drive to mass to save their souls, and damn the planet. They will happily give money to charity when a disaster strikes some part of the world, but long-term aid efforts, the enforcing of democracy, ensuring the rights and education of women, children and minorities in disadvantaged parts of their own and others’ nations are not their problem. Intermittent and fleeting charity is useless charity. Religious aid is often contingent on accepting the faith of the would-be doers-of-good. Conditional charity is not charity. Charity is responsibility neglected. It is a piecemeal placation to assuage feelings of guilt. The Faithful and the Reasonable alike are culpable for the misfortunes of the World, but the Reasonable have no deity to hide behind, they accept their faults as their own. The Faithful say change will come with the help of God, which is no help at all. Change will come when all humanity takes responsibility for individual, national and global actions, no longer seeking the comfort and concessions of a figment of the imagination. God will always forgive His flock, how could he not? He is their tool, their conceit, their delusion.

The forgiveness of sins by God has to be one of the greatest, if often overlooked, innovations of Christianity.[4] Other faiths do demand that the faithful seek the forgiveness of others for their infractions, at which point the supreme judge will confirm the act and offer its concession. This requires the offending party to approach the offended. This is a perfectly reasonable and laudable practice, co-opted as a tenet of faith, clearly evolved form the practicalities of living in small communities which needed peace and cooperation to survive. An injury, physical, emotional or verbal, incurred by a person would demand, in a world without the facility to forgive, either a very high degree of forgetfulness or perpetual cycles of revenge. Christianity made a bold and brilliant adjustment to this custom. A Christian only has to repent and seek the forgiveness of God. They do not in fact need to approach whomever they have transgressed. The need only forgive, and assume they are forgiven by, others to receive the consent of their personal illusion. By seeking forgiveness from the arbiter rather than the affronted Christians have surrendered the responsibility for absolution in one dazzling move. They do not have to embarrass or humble themselves, make others aware of their failings and misdeeds, to wipe their slate clean of sin. The forgiveness of their imagination is good enough.

Lets us examine for a moment, in a simplified fashion, the rules, so to speak, of forgiveness. A reasonable person might assume the following: Some action has occurred which breaks the social or personal contract between two individuals. Forgiveness is sought by the offender for the restoration of trust in the hope of repairing and continuing the relationship. The offended must believe that the offender is truly repentant for trust to be restored. If they do believe the sincerity of the offender, forgiveness is delivered, the transgression is forgotten, and the contract is restored. This is clearly not a unilateral affair, and requires the assent of both parties to repent and forgive. Forgiveness cannot be given unless it is sought. Christianity has corrupted this process such that an individual need not seek the forgiveness of the offended, and is required by faith to forgive others, even if they do not seek forgiveness. This bizarre situation leads to everyone forever seeking forgiveness from their deity while at the same time forgiving everyone else to please that same voice in the sky. Everyone is free from blame and responsibility. To make up for this imbalance penitence was invented, punishment for the sins committed, almost as if the faithful do not believe that the forgiveness of their personal saviour is good enough. Sycophantic self-flagellation is preferred to responsible admittance of culpability. Of course only God can forgive an individual’s transgression against His laws, which has the same effect as saying sorry to Santa for being a naughty child, but Christians use this very same formula for all sins and misdeeds.

Between people, forgiveness is the forsaken of the right to avenge injustice and injury. Forgiveness is a gift which allows us to move forward in life without regret (or at least a lesser regret), or fear of reprisal. In this fashion it is a very important and entirely gratuitous gift. Institutional forgiveness, the ability to forgive accorded to the Christian Churches by God, is not such a gift. Indeed the ritual and sacrament which involves the removal of sin may not necessarily be called ‘forgiveness’, and may only be ‘leniency’ due to a failing of understanding and misuse of language. In any event, the penitent believe, and are taught, that they are receiving the forgiveness of God for their actions. Belief is of course fundamental to religion, and they hold true what they believe. In their minds, God does forgive them personally. And so they submit to a certain degree of punishment, penance for their sins, to show they accept their fault in the wrongdoing, to learn not to repeat it in future, and to illustrate their faith. Religious forgiveness is thus inherently bound to some form of punishment, however severe or gentle, while forgiveness between people takes an alternative path and forgives without punishing. An offender seeks forgiveness from the offended so that their relationship will continue, but the offended may also seek ‘forgiveness’ from the Church and God so that they may continue to enjoy the services and benefits of the institution and the spiritual renewal of being redeemed before the eyes of her Lord.

Responsibility is the burden of an adult. It is a consequence of freedom and reason, two ideals which people have fought and died in the defence of for several centuries. They are arguably humanity’s greatest intellectual achievements. And the faithful would surrender them to fantasy. Forgiveness and repentance are the sole property and right of responsible people and should not be entrusted to a fiction.

“Liberty means responsibility. That is why most men dread it.”

-George Bernard Shaw

Ceterum autem censeo, religionem esse delendam


[1] Genesis 22:1-19. This is a summary of what occurred in plain English.

[2] Luke 14:25-33.

[3] Jeremiah 10:23; “O LORD, I know the way of man is not in himself; It is not in man who walks to direct his own steps”, and Acts 1:7; “And He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority.”

[4] Matthew 6:14-15; For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

My Problem with Your God 2 – Morality

God is generally accepted by Jews, Christians, and Muslims Mosesto be the ultimate source and judge of morality. Some people of faith often look upon we who do not hold their God close to our hearts as being somehow inherently immoral, since we reject that from which morality flows. Many more see our rejection itself as being immoral; we reject that which is intrinsically ‘Good’ therefore we reject ‘Goodness’. I find this particular conviction of the faithful to be morally abhorrent.

Morality is a system of rules for correct conduct. The followers of the Abrahamic divinity point to the Ten Commandments as their exemplar for morality, built upon by Jesus and Mohammed (depending on the faith). George Carlin dismissed with these fabled tablets in an excellent and concise fashion, but for the purposes of this article, in short, the first three are nonsense about fearing the deity, next we have respect for one’s elders, which has little to do with morality, and the rest boil down to fidelity, honesty and murder, which do. These do not require divine inspiration; any society will arrive at some form of this system almost naturally.

An orderly society can only be built if people respect each other’s right to have and maintain property, and the right to live. Without these Commandments are we to believe that everyone would go about their lives arbitrarily stealing and killing? This would be anarchy, and yet the great cities of Mesopotamia, the civilisations of the Yellow River Valley, the Nile, and the Aegean were able to survive and flourish without God telling them how to behave. They may also have invoked the wrath of their gods on those who were immoral and broke laws, but that does not mean that God or gods were the source of their morality. God is merely the guarantor of this particular social contract.

We do not need Commandments. If these were wiped from history the social contract would survive, morality would endure. We would know that it is wrong to murder or to steal, as we can imagine how it would to be to have these things done to us. Quite simply “Do unto to others…” In a civilised, secular world the enforcement of this does not require a deity, simply a justice system, or even a strong sense of societal norms. People often point to, for example, the brutality, use of slavery, and corruption of Roman Empire, the Crusades, or Medieval Europe as being times of great immorality. This is an anachronistic assumption. The brutality of these people was perfectly coherent within their moral structure, and often affirmed by their faith. The sacking of cities, the execution of prisoners or the killing of religious zealots is looked back on with disgust, but were generally socially acceptable at the time. These people were not more primitive than we; they lived in a harsh world and acted in accordance with their traditions, social norms, and often with their faith. They were a moral people, no more than people of today, they just had different morals.

Morality is then a set of rules, largely accepted by a particular society at a specific time, which can evolve as the society or culture develops. It does not require God, or faith. And even then, the morality they preach is a corrupt and repugnant version of morality. To be moral is, basically, to be able to distinguish from right and wrong. Catholicism teaches that in doing ‘Good’, in doing God’s work, the faithful will be rewarded in heaven. This work is taken generally to mean being a loyal subject of the illusory king, converting more souls to join his army of faithful, and expounding his peculiar brand of truth. This is seen to be a morally good life. It is a betrayal. A truly moral or virtuous act is only such if done without the prerequisite stipulation of reward. In effect, you do the Right Thing because it is the right thing to do, not for riches and glory, here or in the ‘afterlife’. The faithful expect, even demand as an article of faith, to be rewarded for their deeds. This might lead one to believe that it is the faithful, not we atheists, who would descend into anarchic and bloody kleptomania without the promise of heaven. To do Good Things, virtuous and moral acts, are rewards in themselves. As Kant said, “Always recognize that human individuals are ends, and do not use them as means to your end.” Converting people, and doing good things for them as a means to your own salvation is a very cynical morality. This is the condition for entrance to heaven: use your fellow man. The ultimate commandment of the Christian God is ‘Fear me, obey me, abuse your fellow man, and I will reward you’.

Heaven

Stairway: Denied.

Atheism and secularism are then exceptionally more moral than any system of faith based on reward. They make no promises of ‘eternal reward’, or for the kind judgement of a fairy-tale king, but ask that we behave towards one another in a civilised fashion, with mutual respect and understanding, and without reference to capricious deities. They exist in the here and now, where actions have permanent and tangible consequences.

Children have to be taught what is right and wrong, and, depending on the time of year, an ultimate sanction, such as the dreaded Santa Claus, may be used to guarantee good behaviour. Fear is an excellent means of controlling the credulous. Adults (should) know what is right and wrong, yet the ultimate sanction still exists in popular culture. Bad people will go to Hell for eternal punishment, and the good will ascend into Heaven for eternal reward. Fear is an excellent means of controlling the credulous.

Grow up. Be moral for your own sake and that of your fellow human individuals, not for Santa Claus, the Bogeyman, or any other such fiction.

Ceterum autem censeo, religionem esse delendam