Thus revealed, the creature buried its nose in the tire-tilled soil...
April 13, 2004
Why I am not a Christian. (in part)
Category: Serious

About a month ago (only a month ago? seems like it's been at least two...), blogger pal Dawn Eden wrote that I am "very possibly the only true agnostic [she's] ever known." I wonder if some recent posts (though I guess they're not that much different from a couple of older ones) have made her question that statement.

Or maybe tonight's will, since today (yesterday) I spent a bit of time reading over some of the writings archived on Positive Atheism, and I confess that I found much that I agreed with.

Of course, by their assessment, I'd be categorized as a theist -- "a theistic agnostic thinks one or more gods exist but can say no more on the subject than this (is a theist)" -- and what I read on the site did little to sway me from this position, but there were a number of articles that echoed my own thoughts about Christianity. Admittedly, chatting with Mac and Dawn via e-mail and reading over their blogs (and some others, like Irene's) has got me thinking a lot about the religion as of late, and I've been thumbing through the Bible quite a bit in the past few weeks. But I must confess that the more I've read and thought about Christianity, the less I've liked it. By contrast -- since my conversations with Mac have been somewhat concerned with Buddhism -- the more that I consider the teachings of the Buddha and the tenets of the faith, the more respect I have for that religion. I recall that in one entry Dawn quoted her mother as saying, "It is up to [Christian] believers to (at least) be loving and not give Gentiles any message of fear to turn them away from Christ." Given what I've read recently, I'm beginning to think Christians would best accomplish this by keeping them from reading the Bible -- or at least certain parts of it -- and in fact rejecting those parts themselves. Dawn's mother adds, "We [as Christians] should, of course, spread the message of the Good News every day," but I'll be honest -- the so-called Word of God doesn't sound very much like anything resembling "good news" unless one excises considerable chunks of it. Consider, for example, the following verses:

Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. (Romans 12:20)

It begins well enough, but then following the colon we're given the real motivation for the deed -- you should not feed your enemy and give him drink because it is good to do so, or because you love him despite his hostility to you. On the contrary, you do so out of malice and hatred, for your outwardly benevolent deed is really tantamount to "[heaping] coals of fire on his head."

And David said unto Gad, I am in a great strait: let us fall now into the hand of the LORD; for his mercies are great: and let me not fall into the hand of man. So the LORD sent a pestilence upon Israel from the morning even to the time appointed: and there died of the people from Dan even to Beersheba seventy thousand men. (2 Samuel 24:14-15)

The italics (or lack thereof) are mine, since I wanted to highlight the supposedly great mercies of God. However, in the next sentence, God unleashes a pestilence that kills seventy thousand men. Doesn't sound too merciful to me, really.

But as for you, your carcases, they shall fall in this wilderness. And your children shall wander in the wilderness forty years, and bear your whoredoms, until your carcases be wasted in the wilderness. After the number of the days in which ye searched the land, even forty days, each day for a year, shall ye bear your iniquities, even forty years, and ye shall know my breach of promise. (Numbers 14:32-34)

The above? Supposedly the words of the LORD. Not only do they strike me as rather cruel and brutal, but that last part is curious indeed: "...and ye shall know my breach of promise." Dawn has often quoted Romans 11:29, which reads, "For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable," but clearly this does not apply to the promises of God, since the word used here is clearly breach. (Though one could always argue that this is a mistranslation of the Hebrew text.) God does not here deny that He made a promise to the people; on the contrary, He clearly makes reference to it and notes well that He intends to violate it. And certainly there is nothing loving about carcasses wasting in the wilderness.

So to bring us back to the documents on Positive Atheism and the title of this entry, though I would technically be a "theist" in the eyes of the site's maintainers (and there are a number of things on the site with which I certainly disagree), today as I read I felt a sort of comaraderie with Robert Green Ingersoll and Bertrand Russell. And I mean to quote a somewhat lengthy excerpt from an lecture of the latter's, "Why I Am Not A Christian". No matter what you believe, I certainly encourage you to read it -- I very much think it's worth reading, though I don't agree with the entirety of it. I do, however, agree with Russell's thoughts regarding the moral character of Christ. After all, belief in the supreme excellence -- if not the divinity -- of the person of Christ is central to the Christian faith, so if Jesus were found to be lacking in any respect here, that would present a very compelling reason to reject Christianity as absolute truth. So let us defer to Russell on the matter:

There is one very serious defect to my mind in Christ's moral character, and that is that He believed in hell. I do not myself feel that any person that is really profoundly humane can believe in everlasting punishment. Christ certainly as depicted in the Gospels did believe in everlasting punishment, and one does find repeatedly a vindictive fury against those people who would not listen to His preaching -- an attitude which is not uncommon with preachers, but which does somewhat detract from superlative excellence. You do not, for instance, find that attitude in Socrates. You find him quite bland and urbane toward the people who would not listen to him; and it is, to my mind, far more worthy of a sage to take that line than to take the line of indignation. You probably all remember the sorts of things that Socrates was saying when he was dying, and the sort of things that he generally did say to people who did not agree with him.

You will find that in the Gospels Christ said: "Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell." That was said to people who did not like His preaching. It is not really to my mind quite the best tone, and there are a great many of these things about hell. There is, of course, the familiar text about the sin against the Holy Ghost: "Whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost it shall not be forgiven him neither in this world nor in the world to come." That text has caused an unspeakable amount of misery in the world, for all sorts of people have imagined that they have committed the sin against the Holy Ghost, and thought that it would not be forgiven them either in this world or in the world to come. I really do not think that a person with a proper degree of kindliness in his nature would have put fears and terrors of this sort into the world.

Then Christ says, "The Son of Man shall send forth His angels, and they shall gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity, and shall cast them into a furnace of fire; there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth"; and He goes on about the wailing and gnashing of teeth. It comes in one verse after another, and it is quite manifest to the reader that there is a certain pleasure in contemplating wailing and gnashing of teeth, or else it would not occur so often. Then you all, of course, remember about the sheep and the goats; how at the second coming He is going to divide the sheep from the goats, and He is going to say to the goats: "Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire." He continues: "And these shall go away into everlasting fire." Then He says again, "If thy hand offend thee, cut it off; it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched, where the worm dieth not and the fire is not quenched." He repeats that again and again also. I must say that I think all this doctrine, that hell-fire is a punishment for sin, is a doctrine of cruelty. It is a doctrine that put cruelty into the world, and gave the world generations of cruel torture; and the Christ of the Gospels, if you could take Him as his chroniclers represent Him, would certainly have to be considered partly responsible for that.

There are other things of less importance. There is the instance of the Gadarene swine, where it certainly was not very kind to the pigs to put the devils into them and make them rush down the hill into the sea. You must remember that He was omnipotent, and He could have made the devils simply go away; but He chose to send them into the pigs. Then there is the curious story of the fig-tree, which always rather puzzled me. You remember what happened about the fig-tree. "He was hungry; and seeing a fig-tree afar off having leaves, He came if haply He might find anything thereon; and when he came to it He found nothing but leaves, for the time of figs was not yet. And Jesus answered and said unto it: 'No man eat fruit of thee hereafter for ever'.... and Peter.... saith unto Him: 'Master, behold the fig-tree which thou cursedst is withered away.'" This is a very curious story, because it was not the right time of year for figs, and you really could not blame the tree. I cannot myself feel that either in the matter of wisdom or in the matter of virtue Christ stands quite as high as some other people known to History. I think I should put Buddha and Socrates above Him in those respects.

I quite agree. And for those of you unfamiliar with the fig-tree story -- I knew about the pigs, but this was news to me -- it's Matthew 21:18-20. Like Russell said, it's a strange little tale, even if you consider the supposed lesson of the fig-tree. After all, the fig-tree really had no power to cause figs to grow on its limbs out of season, so the comparison somehow seems a little off.

Comments are of course welcome. And I'm sure a number of Ingersoll excerpts will follow in subsequent posts -- and there are a lot of good ones -- but I'll close with the following quotation from him, with which I identify more than anything else that I read today:

I am an Infidel -- an unbeliever -- and yet I hope that all the children of men may find peace and joy. No matter how they leave this world, from altar or from scaffold, crowned with virtue or stained with crime, I hope that good may come to all.


-posted by Wes | 12:30 am | Comments (0)
No Comments »
Leave a Reply...