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.