Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Half-hearted religious ramblings

This post might be a bit incoherent, since I'm a little tired (by a little tired, I mean I was practically falling asleep at my desk about an hour ago). But I caught a snippet of a Nightline report last night about the "Blasphemy Challenge" put forth by an atheist group. It consists of people recording themselves denouncing belief in God or gods. Of course, the religious establishment was up in arms about this, and the group has received death threats. Even the reporter appeared to be questioning the group's motives, calling it "indoctrination" against religious indoctrination, because they advertise to teenagers. Religious types seem to think that people can't think for themselves, can't be presented with evidence and make up their own minds without the hand of God or advertisers. While, like any ideological faction, atheism has its adherents who take the ideology too far and try everything to bring others to their way of thinking, at its heart, all the Blasphemy Challenge is doing is challenging people to reject religion. Whether or not they do it is up to them. No one is saying, "Denounce God or I'll kill you," unlike some fanatical Christians and Muslims still populating the world in the 21st century.
At this point, I have to say that I consider myself an agnostic, not an atheist. Some atheists, as Richard Dawkins relates in his book The God Delusion, consider agnosticism an easy way out, a way of having the best of both worlds. They say the existence of God can be proven. But I myself cannot prove this one way or another. I find the existence of a supreme being highly unlikely, but not necessarily impossible, and for that reason I have decided not to adhere myself to any particular faith. The uncertainty and hardships that populate our world, natural disasters, harsh climates, living things suffering, do not succeed in convincing me that there is any divine hand guiding us. We are just here, evolved from other life forms, some with higher degrees of intelligence and self-awareness than others, and I can see how that can be difficult to face without the promise of an afterlife or faith to guide the time spent on earth. However freeing it is to no longer pledge allegiance to a god, to live life for the here and now, some cannot bring themselves to take that step. As Albert Camus said, freedom is not a gift, but a chore.
Another prominent atheist, Isaac Asimov, said that the Bible is the best argument for atheism that exists. Richard Dawkins appears to agree. He views the god of the Old Testament the same way I do, as a petty, fickle, angry being that happens to have dominion over the earth. This god demands allegiance, and if he doesn't get it, he'll turn you into salt or command one of his followers to wipe out you and your entire race. Some believers, my mother included, have tried to explain that the Old Testament god was simply acting as a parent and disciplining the young human race. But if this is the supreme being I'm supposed to worship, an omniscient being who is preoccupied with how many sacrifices and prayers he gets, you'll have to forgive me for not wanting any part of it. The god of the Old Testament has the personality of a tyrannical dictator, much like the one that would later imprison and kill off the "chosen people," Adolf Hitler. No wonder so many Jews decided to abandon religion altogether and become communists, atheists and secular humanists.
Dawkins goes on to question, in a section of the book I haven't yet finished reading, if the New Testament is really any better, as many Christians insist that Jesus wiped away the vengeful god of old and replaced him with a kinder gentler deity. Jesus says in the New Testament that anyone who is not for you is against you. Bertrand Russell said that Jesus could not be considered truly moral because he believed in hell. Hell, that scare tactic of fanatical Christians since the Middle Ages, where the loving god sends those who commit any sin arbitrarily decided by him to eternal torture. Jesus has some admirable teachings, like love thy neighbor (although, as Dawkins suggests, this might only be intended to apply to other Jews, making Christians and Jews free to torment unbelievers) and turn the other cheek. But the Bible, as many have pointed out, is full of contradictions, not the least of which is two separate creation myths (try telling that to the creationists), and a lot of Jesus' better teachings are just common decency, which most of us practice with or without fear of hell.
Why, as the religious types suggest, do I need faith to be a good person? One of the major reasons Ronald Reagan didn't like the Soviets was because, as he said, they didn't believe in God and were therefore immoral. Recently, the US was attacked by men who believed so much in their god they were willing to die to please his capricious whims in the hopes of being treated to 72 virgins in the afterlife (that's the Muslim idea of heaven, which says a lot about their view of women). The fact is, people do bad things. They kill, rob and rape each other, with or without religious convictions. Just because I don't fear a god sending me to hell doesn't mean that I would rob and murder at will. When I visited Amsterdam, I didn't smoke pot, even though it was legal and widely available, because I didn't want to. I don't believe in violence as a way to solve my problems, whether or not I have a supreme being peering over my shoulder. I help out those in my life who need it because I think it's the right thing to do and I want to, not to gain access into a magical kingdom after I die. What the religious fanatics preach is an ethical system based on reward and punishment, in other words, fear.
I think I've gone on long enough. I was just in one of those moods where the thoughts kept coming and I could barely type fast enough to keep up. I'm sure I'll read this tomorrow and think, "I shouldn't have said that" or "I should have phrased that differently." Luckily, I know my friends won't send me death threats because of the views I've expressed here.

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