I had a conversation with a guy on the weekend. He is a Catholic, sometimes reader of this blog, and one of those who, at least as far as I can tell, is a well put together mind. He wanted to remind me that not all religious people believe in the Old Testament as anything more than stories that attempt to explain the nature of the world around us all. He admitted that there were obviously people who truly believed the stories were the absolute word of God, but he wanted to remind me that not all of the faithful felt this way.
Of course, I already knew that. I don’t know what the global proportions are, but I have a feeling on the global scale, the number of purist believers is higher than the regular believers, but here in My Home Town, I’m fairly certain that isn’t the case. Those people certainly represent less of a problem than those loud and outspoken souls who would like our chidren to learn both sides of the manufactroversy around the origin of life, but those people shouldn’t take what I say on the topic too much to heart. When I’m laughing at the Old Testament or the literal word, and they happen to be the words you’ve decided aren’t important, then I’m not laughing at you.
But once you accept that some of the Bible is without merit, I want to know where you draw the line. Recent experiments have shown us that the God we believe in is determined in large part by the way we view the world. As such, you can find in the Bible (or any other so-called holy text) the justification that shows God to be exactly what you want him to be. But what do you do with all of the other bits? Dismissing them as eroneous seems like a cop-out.
It’s like those people who go to see a psychic, and the psychic sprays out thirty different things that are going to for sure OMG happen to them. 28 of those don’t come to pass, but two of them did. They focus on the two that did. The thing about prophecy is that on a long enough timeline, you start to see patterns that match the prophecies. Remember when the two brothers of Nostradamus (or whatever the hell they were) represented John and Bobby Kennedy? Now they supposedly reference the Twin Towers. You would think that a prophecy that can refer either to two Irish rum runners who ascended to the upper echelons of politics or to two giant stone buildings that housed some of the most successful economists of the modern time would make for a prophecy that nobody buys, and yet there are plenty who will gladly accept it.
In the words of the theme song to that from-my-childhood sitcom The Facts Of Life, you take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and there you have the facts of life. But religion (and all magical thinking) doesn’t work this way. If one guy drinks the homeopathic remedy and his skin looks better and another guy drinks it and his doesn’t, we like to disregard the second guy and promote the story of the first. But that isn’t real, is it?
I’m a bit all over the place on this, but that’s because this seems to happen everywhere. I’m not pretending to be immune to it, I’m just pointing out where I see it. We expect this behavior from politicians who say one thing when they are the opposition and another when they are the leadership. Why do we allow it from our churches? We can’t simply pick and choose the theology that fits our self interests and disregard the rest. Either the Bible is a book of divine truths or it isn’t. Either a remedy holds a reasonable chance of success or it doesn’t.
I get, though, that this isn’t how the world is. People will go to church and embrace the loving God and ignore the fact that this loving God condemns people to die, hates damn near every one of us, and encourages all manner of evil. It’s how they get through. But when I comment on the stuff you don’t happen to believe in and you get mad at my lumping you in with the evangelicals, understand this: I do it because you fit with them.
In my opinion, religion is dangerous. Any kind of dogma is dangerous if it cannot be held up to scrutiny. It doesn’t matter how absolutely you hold your religions or philosophies, what matters is that you accept them, even a little bit. It’s one thing to say “There’s some good stuff in the Bible amongst all the horrible stuff” and another entirely to say “There’s some good stuff in the Bible that is the word of God, but it’s surrounded by all the horrible stuff that we should just disregard”.
At its core, religion is a means of segregating. Your opinions are not yours, they come to you from God, and anyone who doesn’t share them is in for some trouble.
I remember when I got a call from my ex-wife informing me that she had received a complaint from one of our kids’ school claiming that the child had said something antisimetic. This is not okay with me, so I dug deeper. It turns out that she was listening to grandpa tell her about how Christians get to go to Heaven. She asked about non-Christians, and he said that God would not let them into heaven. She’s a smart kid, and she put her two and two together, then went to school in a panic the next day to save her friend, a Jewish girl. What she said, which was essentially “You have to start believing or you’re going to burn in Hell!” was absolutely discriminatory, and founded on that simple aspect of the Christian faith; if you don’t believe, you don’t get saved.
So it doesn’t matter to me how evangelical, how fundamental, how liberal, or how passive your faith is. You immediately judge me for my lack of faith, and you find me to be a worse person than you. That is unacceptable to me, and I’m not going to make excuses for you. You engage in cognitive dissonance as much as works for you, but please do not ask me to do it for you. You may not believe in the bad stuff or the stupid stuff, but in my eyes, it’s all bad and stupid.