In the documentary The Root of All Evil? Richard Dawkins says
We live in a time of lethal polarization, when the great religions are pushing their conflict to a point where it is difficult to see how they can ever be reconciled
and goes on to show the fear, misery and atrophy of thought caused by religious extremes.
We live in the shadow of a religiously-inspired terror, in an era when science has plainly shown religious superstitions to be false.
It’s a fixed fight when Dawkins interviews Ted Haggard, among others who are likely quite disturbed enough without religion. Religion just gives them the ultimate authority they need to justify their thoughts and actions. And the moderate, benign believers are revealed by Dawkins to be fuzzy-headed equivocators, interpreting the Bible selectively by glossing over the unpleasant bits where God’s an “ethnic cleanser urging his followers to acts of genocide”, as Dawkins puts it.
Why we can’t take the Bible as an authoritative moral code is because it’s a compendium of Bronze to Axis-age beliefs. These social norms included owning slaves and concubines, condemning gays, witches and adulterers, and the wholesale killing of tribes of men, women, children and even their herd animals, because god said so. Taking the Bible as a moral code that’s relevant to our lives denies that “we have a moral conscience and empathy and it is constantly evolving”.
I’ve had my own encounters with religious extremists that have shaped how I am. When I was a little girl, a friend invited me to what sounded like Girl Guides. Pioneer Girls is “a Christian ministry that’s entirely driven by a passion to evangelize and disciple today’s children.” Another of their goals is to “reached unchurched families”, through those little evangelized pioneers.
In a recent survey, 46 percent of our churches reported that unchurched families had begun attending worship services as a result of their child’s involvement in Pioneer Clubs.
How they hoped to do this was through scaring the crap out of us, amen. Lots of end-time stuff. Jesus is coming back at any moment, so we had better make sure our families were saved. I was an eight year old insomniac, as many nights I lay awake, worrying about the Rapture. Was I good enough to go to heaven? And what about my family, would they have 666 tattooed on their foreheads? And my grandpa who sang, “Jesus walks upon the water, he’s the lifeguard at our pool”, would he be thrown into the lake of burning fire forever?
So lots of the Book of Revelation, Chick Publications, C.S. Lewis and memorizing Bible verses. The devil was everywhere, tempting you, especially in anything pleasureable like tv, rock music, comic books and movies.
I couldn’t believe that nobody had warned me about this. This was so important, that the world worked this way. Why hadn’t I been told? My grandmother, who attended the United Church certainly never mentioned the dire straits we were all in. In order to try to save my family, I started to read my copy of Good News for Modern Man. Certainly it would contain all the clues, as it had Jesus’ own words in it.
Then I started having doubts. God seemed really angry and sort of sneaky a lot of the time. It was mean-spirited of him to hold all the cards, putting the tree in the garden of Eden while giving people free will and curiosity and then punishing them for it. That wasn’t fair; what about a second chance, love, forgiveness and compassion? It was harsh, but worse was to come. Crumbling towers and plagues of death to cities, to people who were just trying to make a living, and all the innocent animals killed in the flood. That good old OT god, always looking over his shoulder, warning us we’d better not have any gods before him, threatening, boasting, needing worship and the blood of sacrificed animals to propitiate him. Please don’t rain curses on us again…
But no, wrong. God is a god of love. He loves us all. It’s a confusing kind of love, of a tyrant who demands the father sacrifice the son to a god who needs blood. (And this was the good guy, not the evil devil.) So what was the mental aftermath for Abraham after having been told to kill his son and having been ready to do so? How could he or Isaac ever forgive him that willingness to murder? God was playing head games with Abraham. And what of our trauma and confusion, after god’s demand of the murder of his own son? This notion of a blood price, is that the best he could do, he who made the rules? And now all of us have no choice but to have him in charge.
When our cat Sylvia died, I told my friend that I would see Sylvia again in heaven some day. Oh no you won’t, my friend informed me, because animals don’t have souls. That was the last straw for me. I decided I wasn’t on god’s side anymore, and that I had a few words for him.
I’d prefer not to have faith as the underpinning for morality, so that our good deeds can stand on their own, rather than as appeasement to an angry god who wants to test us, and who’s going to incinerate us if we fail.
I don’t really care what people believe or draw comfort and meaning from – the religious impulse fascinates me – but I do care about their actions. And the problem with religious belief (or any extreme ideology) is that it can stifle rational thought and lead to hateful actions. A supreme authority that incites people to hate is not an entity I’m willing to believe in. It’s time for God 2.0.