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.