Religion and its worthlessness; with special reference to Christianity Monday, Jun 21 2010 

I would like to take some time to share with you some thoughts on this topic, and I’d like to preface this carefully.

The inherent value of religion lies in its veracity. Quite simply without any hint of veracity, the stories and exhortations of religion are reduced to the same position as any other literary construction or myth with the same sort of value for wisdom and knowledge. Thus, when we speak of the exodus and the other stories of the Bible one must either recognize that they have [a] a direct truth value and therefore an empirical, didactic value in and of themselves that sets them apart from other literary constructs without such veracity, or [b] a value of wisdom unrelated to its value of truth, which reduces such wisdom to the forms that we may derive from the Iliad, the Aeneid, Beowulf, and other integral, formative works of literature that so beautifully and perceptively express the human condition.

Thus, we may discuss the veracity of religion, from its higher claims to its basic historical accuracy, and ultimately this is what defines us and our position, for it is the position of any honest human being to embrace what he views to be the truth, irrespective of its value as regards hope and any arbitrary ideal of ‘goodness’.

However what I would like to present to you at this point is what I view to be the relative worthlessness of religion outside of its claims of veracity. That is, if I may, to discuss religion (and specifically Christianity) on its own terms, and to interrogate its inherent value outside claims of truth and constructed realities. I find that, outside of the mere question of veracity that surrounds the Bible, it carries, if it is true in its entirety, many highly disagreeable implications, and here are some of them as I see them.

If you can I’d ask you to forgive the concentration on Christianity as well as the length of this opening post, the former seems more relevant to this forum of discussion and the latter is unavoidable. In all of this I work, as well, with the assumptions that, in such an issue, God is omnipotent, omnibenevolent and omniscient.

The Bible, in the Christian ethos, is predicated on the sinful nature of humanity. Humanity are created with a predisposition to sin, immorality and evil, and are thus deserving of eternal punishment, however by the grace of God, Christ was sacrificed in order to pay for our sins, and so anyone who accepts Christ as their Saviour may transcend the punishment that their sinful nature rightfully demands and proceed into heaven.

However I find it incredibly difficult to empathize with an omnipotent creator, entirely and supremely aware of every consequence of his mightiest action into the infinite corners of the universe, who then creates men with a predisposition to sin and blames them for it. I find that the idea of free will does not compromise, in the slightest, the atrocity of this sequence of events; quite plainly put, if I burn my bread when I am making toast, I do not blame the bread.

To suggest, also, that God’s choices lie between free-will (with knowledge of good and evil) and slavery (without knowledge of good and evil) is severely limiting and presumptuous. It is entirely plausible that human beings ought to retain their free-will whilst being granted knowledge of good and evil without being entirely sinful and despicable creatures, yet the Bible does not recognize this possibility.

Any limit of our emotional, moral and intellectual capabilities that does not allow us to comprehend good and evil and retain our free-will whilst not being creatures of sin and evil that we are is a limit that God has imposed upon us and has blamed us for. That is to say that we are created so that we cannot possibly do all of the following:

[a] have free will
[b]comprehend good and evil
[c]be righteous creatures

Yet these are impositions upon us, and God was entirely aware of the ramifications of his actions when he created us thusly. He created us with the limit such that only two of any of the three things I listed above can be achieved, and most religious people would agree. Yet he still saw fit to test his creations that he had created with such limitations, and to stake the eternal fate of generations to come on such a test.

I find this to be abhorrent. After Adam and Eve were ejected from the Garden of Eden, their immortality was no longer given but forced to be earned, and if it is to be earned then, tacitly, there will be some that will not earn it. These people should suffer, die and live in a lower state of being (for ideas of hell are still fuzzy at this stage) and denied further life due to a test to which they were not a party that God created us predestined to fail.

Also, again, the Bible then deals with suffering that humans suffer due to their own immorality and evil nature, but what of that they suffer due to nothing more than the way that God saw it fit to create the world. The world and its function has been characterized by natural disasters, earthquakes, volcanoes and other forces of destruction from its very inception, and if the Bible is to be believed, this was God’s will.

Such destruction is a by-product of natural mechanics that the Earth, as created by God, requires, and these by-products, of which God was aware in creating the Earth, are destructive and cause suffering. The world does not require such disasters any further than God endowed it with such necessity, and this necessity leads to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of human beings yearly.

Similarly, new-born children are often endowed with bone diseases or defects from the second that their existence begins. We can extrapolate two positions from this, in the Bible, and neither of them are agreeable, but I’d like to clarify first. There is nothing about, for example, children born with diseases and defects, that is natural or automatic any further than God made it so.

God is omnipotent. He is not working within a construct that is set for him; he had no obligation to create a world in which bone cancer, birth defects and other such miseries were ‘automatic byproducts of natural mechanics’. There is nothing automatic about it; the world and the natural order was, as held by the Bible, very carefully and specifically crafted by God; the miseries that result from it cannot then be ‘automatic’ or ‘necessary’, they are not ‘automatic’ byproducts but byproducts of the specific way that God crafted the world and its natural mechanics.

So in such, it is dishonest to claim otherwise; that God did not intend for such defects to exist and should be viewed accordingly.

When debate becomes meaningless Friday, Jun 4 2010 

I recently realised something.

Debating with religious people is really difficult.

Now, obviously I already knew this up to a point, but I’ve recently had something of a realisation regarding the extent of this. In a recent debate about the nature of demonic forces allowing and spreading evil within the world (already with the benefit of hindsight I can tell I was taking far too much for the sake of argument), and a reply came back which basically consisted of several assertions and Bible verses. I realised at this point that we were having a completely pointless conversation.

I don’t care if you say god is love, I don’t care if you tell me angels have the free will to rebel and become demons, I don’t care if you tell me Jesus is the way to battle demonic influence, and I don’t care if you quote me every passage from the Bible complete with it’s little name and number. I realised after reading this that he was just talking utter nonsense because it was all unproven assertions as far as I was concerned. For me to take the existence of angels and demons as true for the sake of argument is conceding far too much – it loses me in a world of fantasy that I cannot argue against because I don’t actually believe any of it.

When it comes down to it, the only real debate is this: can the existence of god(s) be proven? All the arguments from morality, all the demonstrations of religious excess and cruelty, these count for nothing because they don’t tell us anything about whether god(s) exist or not. The real debate needs to be about if god(s) exist or not – is the teleological argument convincing, for example, and if not why not?

I suppose my point is really to point out something I’m guilty of fairly often: don’t concede so much for the sake of argument that you end up talking about angels and demons and how the affect our morality, because then we may as well be talking about how pixies affect the productivity of cobblers.

Is the criticism of religion bigotry? Tuesday, Jun 1 2010 

If you are an active atheist – someone who debates with religious people to any extent – it’s more than likely you have been called a bigot for your trouble. To some, criticism of religion is bigotry, and I have heard this opinion even from atheists.

The problem is that religion tends to be a large part of peoples lives (especially those who conciously seek out conversation with those of opposing views), and thus to criticise their religion is to critice something that is percieved to be a core and unchangable part of their life.

There is a further problem, for me as a Brit at least: criticism of some religions is equated with criticism of those who tend to follow it, or to put it bluntly: racism. Here in the UK, we have a fairly large Muslim community, who tend to come from Pakistan, India (along with Hindus and Sikhs) , and Bangladesh. Quite frankly, as a wishy-washy liberal, I love it. I love the fact that curry is now a British staple dish, I love the fact that we have different and more numerous cultural influences, I love the fact that most of us can live together without a whole lot of problems. Some people don’t love that fact: the BNP are the far-right party in the UK, and their dream is of an ethnically pure Britian. Seriously. However, the vast majority of people aren’t quite that racist, so for the past few years, the BNP has been using criticism of Islam as a way of criticising immigrants.

Amongst those of a liberal persuation, this leads to a distrust of criticism of Islam: I even find myself doubting something criticing Islam from time to time because I have a knee-jerk reaction to equate criticism of Islam with a blanket criticism of those who follow it.

And herein lies the difference. Religion is something to be followed, it is not what you are. Maybe you are a religious fanatic who feels that they are nothing without their faith: but you must choose to follow through on it. If someone is Pakistani, Eritrean, Fijian, Flemish, Irish, if someone is male or female, if someone is gay or straight: they didn’t choose it and there is no creed or set of instructions to be followed. With religion, there is a creed, there are sets of instructions, and to criticise those who interpret them a certain way is not bigotry, it is simply comment on the free action of another human.