Saturday, November 30, 2013

Questioning God

Contrary to my upbringing I have become highly skeptical of both organized religion and even the basic idea about the existence of God. In my opinion I came to these positions honestly and not through some form of bitterness at having a religion force fed to me since I was a child. Nor out of an idea of revenge where I would do everything I could to dissuade others from their faith because of some past abuse at the hands of a minister or important leader in some church.

To be honest, in hindsight when compared to the fanatical Christians that have become the most visible examples of that faith here in America my religious upbringing was unbelievably mild, bordering on politically progressive. In my view such was the case in the late 1960’s to the early 1980’s before religion became hopelessly entwined with right-wing politics. Few seem to remember that one of the most attractive points of Jimmy Carter’s personality as he ran for the presidency in 1976 was his Christian faith.

I seem to remember Sunday sermons before the rise of Reagan and his alliance with the “Moral Majority” that dealt with the actual teachings of Christ. Not the fearful and mystical lectures performed by an increasingly paranoid bunch of Caucasian men out to build comfortable little empires of wealth and power for themselves. Yes, there were the occasional sermons on both the “End Times” and the Rapture but the various preachers involved always ended them saying a good Christians just had to live the principles taught by Jesus and those Apocalyptic issues would take care of themselves.  It was a clever way for intelligent reverends to tell the more excitable members of their flocks to live in the real world and not be constantly wishing for it to come to a nightmarish end.

Of course, the religious right has systematically undermined this pragmatic attitude as it has drifted further away from the center of American politics. Politicians, always looking for an advantage, have responded by catering their message to win the votes of those that fervently hope to live long enough to ascend to the clouds with Christ where they will relax and watch this world be drenched in the blood of evil sinners. This is where my break with mainstream organized religion began as the lowbrow, apocalyptic types who believe everything in the Bible is the literal word of God came to the forefront.

I truly wish time travel were possible because every Bible literalist I have had the misfortune to encounter would be far better served living in the worst part of the European Dark Ages. To them science is a form of witchcraft created by the Devil to lead people astray. These folks make it clear that they truly believe the universe is somewhere around six-thousand years old, that the human race originated from Adam and Eve, and that there was a global flood where  one family was charged with the duty of building an ark and taking care two of every life form that lived on land.

Just to show how wild these magical beliefs could run I offer two examples.  I once served with a guy in the South Carolina National Guard who could drone on for hours about some sort of water canopy that God, or some now canceled law of physics, had once suspended in the Earth’s atmosphere. According to this person this water canopy blocked radiation allowing for the long life spans of Old Testament figures and, when God decided to destroy the world, provided the water for Noah’s global flood. Another fellow who I attended community college with ran out of a classroom once convinced God was going to strike dead the person sitting in the desk beside him because that person was tearing pages out of the Bible to be used as rolling papers for his marijuana.

Such nonsensical beliefs make it impossible to carry on a conversation about the important issues the country faces. Combine that with their idea that the Christian Rapture is imminent and every discussion ends with the most religious person in the room proclaiming that nothing matters anyway because Jesus will arrive soon and take his people away. These people become so strident at times, it is easy to get the idea that only modern laws and traditions prevent them from burning those they see as heretics at the stake.

It was this drift from the relatively reasonable aspects of Christianity into a surreal retro-Dark Age mentality that has soured me on the benefits of attending church and in many cases having any real relationship with those professing to be Christian. Yes, exceptions exist but they are increasingly rare. Our mutual problem, with each other is that I question everything and that is something your average Bible thumpers cannot stand.

Given this developing mindset, it was not long before I began to wonder about the basic concept of the Christian god, or the other deities claimed by the monotheistic faiths. In ancient times, God had a nasty habit of being a vengeful psychopath to anyone not a member of the tribe of desert dwelling nomads he preferred above all the other people in the world. Even as a kid I never could wrap my head around the basic assumption held by some Jews and many fundamentalists Christians that God plays favorites.

More to the point there eventually came a time I could no longer ignore the question as to why God let Satan run rampant through the world causing so much evil. If God controls the universe, it seems sadistic to the extreme to let an evil entity run around destroying the lives of innocent people. Yes, I know humans are fully capable at creating their own brand of evil but I was taught that Christian theology believes that all wickedness can be traced back to the Devil.

More to the point, I have a problem with what many call “God’s plan.” In countless sermons, I heard preachers blather on about how God has a plan for each of us. Even the esteemed Rick Warren in his book “A Purpose Driven Life” blathers on about how when God made each of us he planned the exact time of our birth and death and the days of our lives in between. In my humble mind, this rather beats the Hell out of the concept of free will. If the entire world is just some pre-planned puppet show what does that say about women who get abortions—something fundamentalists abhor---or horrible events like rape, child abuse, or genocide? Are these events all part of some master plan scripted out the day Adam and Eve first set up shop in the Garden of Eden? If that is the case, I can no longer ignore the idea that God is a psychopath.

What brought this home to me was the recent news that a local girl, who I have never met, has lost her battle with brain cancer. Every few years some moron will garner a few minutes of television news coverage claiming that Jesus has manifested his divine presence on something like a MRI scan, or a grill cheese sandwich, or even a goldfish cracker. Such claims defy the most basic commonsense about reality but the mindless proles love such occurrences, to them it validates everything they have ever been taught about God’s supposed love. I know my late grandmother would absolutely flip out over what I am about write but personally, God would score some serious points with me if he would forego the fried food imagery and start performing some miracle cures on kids who deserve far better.


MikeP said...

Religion is like the obnoxious pal of Philosophy who always shows up at the party with him. Philosophy is cool and you'd really like to get to know him better, but Religion keeps butting in on the conversation and eating all the shrimp. He's a double-dipper, too, and that's just messed up.

There isn't enough space on the internet to address all the things you are touching on here. But, some questions about religion are pointless to ask. The answers come from people who make it up as they go or, to be a little more compassionate about it, from those who don't know the answers either and often ask themselves the same questions. That latter group, regardless of the religion in question, rely more on the hope (or faith, if you will) that not being privy to the answers doesn't mean there aren't any. Whether it's good or bad, it's in our nature to seek these things, even in those of us who reject religion.

You are right, Beach. Much of what passes for religious belief here is steeped in hypocrisy and serves little purpose other than to divide us further. The events that go on every minute of every day across the world are impossible to reconcile with a loving God, at least the one you and I are familiar with from our Christianity-lite upbringing. But, that upbringing really doesn't reflect the religious beliefs of Christianity elsewhere. Nor does it reflect the view of God held by many, if not most, of the world's religions.

The problem isn't that Christianity here is hypocritical to the point of nonsense. The problem is that most religions, even real Christianity, don't think there's anything wrong with a God who takes sides, lets millions suffer, and even inflicts that suffering just to be a dick.

Susan Flett Swiderski said...

In my opinion, unexamined inherited faith has little real meaning. Years ago, I taught a comparative religions course to my Sunday school class. Some of the parents weren't thrilled with it, but the teenagers were very enthusiastic. Shortly after my hubby and I visited that same church, we joined a class to learn more about it. At the first meeting, the pastor tossed the bible on the floor. His actions were met with a few gasps, but he told us, "This is only a book." So in spite of the kind of Christians and churches you've known, it's a gross generality to say they're all like that. They aren't.

Anyhow, it's good that you're struggling with this. It means you're thinking. Gotta keep exercising the ol' gray matter so you don't turn into a "fathead" like your neighbors.

Rose L said...

I attend a church that is quite different from many. We are very much into community service projects. We have our Bunkbed ministry where men in the church build the beds for children who have no beds to sleep on. This year we provided 106 beds. We provide 2 handmade quilts for each bunk bed, as well as bedding, pillows, and a couple stuffed toys. We also go out into the community and assist seniors with painting, repairs, gardening and such at their homes. We collect food all the time to donate to the food bank. We shelter homeless families awaiting transition into permanent housing. This time of year we provide toys to children in need as well as a big food basket for the family.
We do Backpack Buddies in which we provide food for children who have none over weekends other than when at school where they receive free breakfast and lunch. Every Friday the children in need have their backpacks stuffed with food for the weekend. They love it.
This is a small list of how giving the hearts of our ministry is.
Our church also accepts anyone. Some do not want gays or lesbians, but we believe we are not to judge but to be accepting like Jesus was.
As to God letting Satan run rampant...God gave us FREE CHOICE. He is not going to force people to follow him, but allows us to make a choice as to how we live our lives. That is very loving. If someone chooses to do bad in their lives, it is their choice.
And God cannot save everyone. What would the world be like if no one died? Very crowded and even filled more with struggling people. He is there to welcome them after they are gone.
I do not feel that God takes sides, but he tries to referee. It is so hard to explain, but without Him in my life I could not have made it through the difficulties I have been through, especially this past year.
I am not a religious fanatic and neither are those in my church.
we are not tea-totterers. We often have a bunch of us who go out to lunch after church and share laughter and stories and support. We can tell an off color joke, dance, enjoy life. We do not judge others but pray for anyone in need.
I hope this will not push you away from being a blog buddy. You have a right to your opinion and maybe one day will find the right way for you. No one should ever be forced into a belief.
But I will say God Bless you!

Ranch Chimp said...

I just had to tell ya Bum that this is a really a good posting and appreciate your honesty here, honesty to me is a luxury these dayz since it's spread so thinly. Of course to those who know anything about me, I'm not a fan of institutionalized religion's, and the Nazarene Christ figure Jesus was equally as appalled by it it seem's when I actually read the 4 Gospel's for example, after all, according to the Gospel's it was strong influence from the Synygogue that had him executed, not Roman Law, and Yes, I have read the Bible entirely as well as the Quran (which are the 2 most popular of course). My idea of a higher power is not very mainstream and I dont elaborate much on such for reason's and insult's with attack's on me and endless debate's and conversation over such, so whatever someone want's to label me as is fine with me, I am firm in my belief's myself, but NO, I never been a Christian. Frankly though Bum, I never could figure out what institutionalized/ oraganized religion has to do with anything spiritual, or God, Jesus or anything, I figure if there was any truth to what is said for instance in the Gospel's, Jesus himself would be outraged and probably tried and executed faster now by his own kind than back in his day. My idea of God/ Spirituality is nothing like what is mainstream taught, and I am also strongly a firm believer in science as well as evolution, so the popular concept's of what God is, are meaningless to me. When people condemn me to Hell, call me evil, wrong, or whatever (and many have time and again), it hasnt a thing to do with God, nor has any impact on me ... you see ... most of these folk's that say "they serve God" ... I see as folk's that just "use" God to "serve them" and their sick twisted hatred toward's people that dont agree with them, and frankly they better HOPE that there isnt a God, cause the way they have degraded and abused this earth and humanity is unforgivable. On the other hand I see positive's in prayer and belief in God with many folk's, I seen first hand how belief in such turned some of the most hardcore drug addict's around, and how it hold's families together, community, etc, etc, so I am a strong supporter of a person's right to believe and pray, I just keep it seperate from political issue's, the environment, science etc. It's rare that I talk in public about religion too much, yet if someone ask's me stright up I will be honest with them and answer any question they have, so I'll just put a cap on it here, and appreciate the posting ... it was a good piece Guy ...

Later ....

BTW, Denver Bronco's are sure smoking this year too! I am happy too, because many folk's looked as Peyton Manning as over the hill cause of his age or whatever, and he has alwayz been one of my all- time favourite quarterback's, I'm a big Manning fan {: )

Ranch Chimp said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Life As I Know It Now said...

Being spiritual has nothing at all to do with being religious. Good thought provoking post BB. :)

Red Nomad OZ said...

Extreme ANYTHING is always a problem and difficult to reconcile with the 'free world' and 'free speech' concepts the 'civilised' world holds dear. Intriguing!

The Bug said...

Great post! I'm a reformed Southern Baptist (Episcopalian now) and I'm not going to present any arguments on either side of this debate, but I did want to offer one reminiscence: After college (1986) I joined a Southern Baptist program that sent college graduates to the mission field to do support work for 2 years (I was a secretary/bookkeeper in Lusaka, Zambia). Before I was allowed to apply for the position I was taken into a separate room & made to sign a statement that the Bible was the Inerrant Word of God. I was baffled! I hadn't heard about this new "fad" & didn't even really know what it meant. I was pretty sure that I didn't really believe it exactly as they were presenting it, but I decided that I would sign whatever so I could go to Africa. So, yes, I basically lied so I could be a missionary. :)

Pixel Peeper said...

As all your other commentators said, interesting and thought-provoking post!

My religious upbringing must have been similar to yours. In Germany, there is religious instruction in school. It was the teacher for that class who first taught us about evolution. Churches in Germany don't seem to have a problem with accepting science as "science" and religion as "faith." I was totally aghast when I first came to this country and encountered someone who didn't "believe" in evolution or earth being billions of years old.

Mike said it, there isn't enough space on the internet to discuss it all, but it makes for interesting discussions (if the participants are open minded and willing to accept differing opinions).

My way of dealing with nosy questions by fundamentalists about my religion usually has me saying, "I believe in God, but I have a lot of questions."

Beach Bum said...

Mike P: As you can tell I tend to beat themes and certain ideas like the proverbial dead horse whose bones have long since been bleached in the sun. That being the case I have an extremely hard time dealing with people who see the actions of a Supreme Universal Entity in all events and circumstances. Even worse is how this god can be excused for its selectivity in giving the all the benefits of a good life to one person, family, or even a nation but seemingly cursing another for no apparent reason. Of course the usual excuse is that "God works in mysterious ways." That is all well and good for sheep but to me such behavior is more akin to what I have read about ancient pagan gods.

Officially I am agnostic, I personally cannot discount the possibility that some sort of intergalactic entity exists. If it does I am convinced the only concern it has for us puny humans is that we treat each other with dignity and respect.

Susan: Yeah, I fully understand that there are some devout and caring churches with members that struggling to practice to the teachings of Christ. Like I mentioned in the post though, they are overshadowed by the Taliban-like fanatics who believe such things like the Bible was written directly by God. Even worse in some ways is how numerous Christians take Jesus' message of forgiveness to mean they can act like total selfish asses inflicting trauma of others and after a small prayer are back in the good graces of the Big Guy upstairs. Like I said, yes there are some good and true Christians as I am sure there are in all the faiths in the world but organized religion in general has caused more trouble than it is worth.

Rose L: In all due respect I apologize if I painted too broad a picture of Christians in your mind. Like I said to Susan above yes, there are some wonderful followers of Christ that try their best to follow his teachings.

That being said Christian theology cannot have it both ways. Either there is free will allowing humans to chose their own fates for good or bad or God is a cosmic puppet master that knows how everyone will end up. Christianity cannot have it both ways. Pastor Rick Warren's book clearly suggests that he believes the latter.

As for God taking sides the Old Testament is replete with examples of how he sided with his "Chosen people" above others going as far to order the murder of women and children.

And yes, I have to question to the sanity of a God that would lets Satan run wild causing havoc and destruction to people who just wanted to be left alone. It simply does not make any sense to me.

Finally you are always welcome here and I hold you in the warmest regards. In fact feel free to keep me honest, like all people I am subject to falling in love with my own ideas. It takes differing opinions on all subjects to keep a healthy discussion going.

Beach Bum said...

Ranch: I personally believe that if Christ appeared right now in America he would do another rage in the temple like the time he flipped out and overturned the money changers tables.

In fact Jesus, in my opinion, was a raging socialist concerned more about justice and human dignity than politically conservative Christians would ever admit.

Life As I Know It Now: Officially I am agnostic but I have read enough philosophy and science to believe we humans are just scratching the surface of understanding how the MULTIVERSE really works.

Red Nomad: I agree! Discussions on how free will and whether it exists are always interesting. It amazes me how some secular types reject the notion believing that the smallest television commercial can make people go out and buy a product. As for free speech, here in American I have observed how it is slowly being strangled not from some government secret police but by and assault of mindless television crap generally in the form of fluffy news stories and reality shows. If it was at all possible I would have long since moved to Tasmania to get away from the ongoing American nervous breakdown.

The Bug: I have met many people who believe God himself wrote the Bible. It is a puzzling belief that is easily disproved if someone is open to facts and reads a little history about the early years of the Christian faith.

Pixel: I often feel that I was adopted or that I am a mutant. My lack of acceptance of mindless belief and my questioning nature has caused me more grief that I can discuss and has resulted in a kind of mutual disownment from my family members. Such is life I guess.