Thor asks a lot about God lately. In part, I’m sure, because he hears a lot about it on television at his grandma’s house, hears about it from classmates, and was reading a children’s bible in bed for a while. I’ve run the gamut from not thinking I knew anything on the subject, to thinking I knew quite a lot, to realizing that I know very little at all. I am honest with him about what I think, just like I am honest with him about the reproductive system. And just like he gets grossed out about the latter, he sighs at me about the former. He likes to deal in absolutes.
I’m going to break this down to the smallest fraction I can in explaining why I have lost faith with religion, but have maintained a philosophy: People are unreliable.
According to Jeremiah, I am screwed. “This is what the LORD says: Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who draws strength from mere flesh and whose heart turns away from the LORD.” Jer17:4
According to everything Christian, if I am basing any of my religious ideas (pro or con) on mankind, I am missing the boat entirely. Christianity is about believing that the God of Abraham impregnated a virgin, who was immaculately conceived herself, using only the power of suggestion, who brought forth the spirit of God itself in the form of a human, mortal man, who was martyred. In doing so, he absolved all mankind of any sin, hinging on the acceptance of the above and the following: that he was raised from the dead after serving time in Hell, and lives an everlasting life, sitting at the right hand of God, in a place called Heaven. Since there is no way to prove any of this, the Christian accepts it on faith. And the Christian is told he is blessed for having accepted it.
But who told him that to begin with? A man. Well, several men: The authors of the bible, who wrote the stories, and then the various groups of men who got together to decide which of the books written about things pertaining to the God of Abraham and Jesus were true and worthwhile as canon. And those men were told by God which books were the right ones. If you visit any store that sells bibles, you can see readily that some of these groups disagreed. Apparently, God told some groups different things. Martin Luther and Pope Leo X are classic examples of two men hearing from God at the same time, whose interpretations of godly word are slightly different.
And that, friends, is where it all falls apart for me. Mankind can’t even get on the same page about a counting system. It’s like Metrics versus Imperials.
I grew up in an agnostic household, that was largely superstitious about religion. Our superstitions were all based in Christianity, though. I grew up with the belief that the bible was sacred because God wrote it through men, and that it was perfect and pure. I fully believed that. I believed that so hard, it never even occurred to me that I was a hypocrite for giggling over the infallibility of the Pope, when I was whole hog over the infallibility of unknown authors and seemingly mad prophets (have you ever read Jeremiah?) We don’t even know who wrote Hebrews, but it is a major text for Christian doctrine, especially doctrines of faith.
I used to say, with smug superiority, “I think if God can manage to create the whole world in all its glory, he can manage to get a little book written.” I am probably more embarrassed about that, than the time I started bloviating on camera that we might value thinness in our culture because in our puritanical break with the Old Country, we were breaking with ideal images of vainglorious wealth. My hair was green during this interview, by the way. Really puts a twist on a discussion about beauty when you have accidentally green hair.
I worked for four different denominations of ministries/churches: Episcopal, Assembly of God, Word of Faith, and Baptist. I went to two parochial schools and one school that was heavily weighted with Judaism and Catholicism. I spent a lot of time around religion. I can tell you this without worry that it is over-generalization: The worst thing about religion is the Follower of the religion. And the problem with the Follower is his humanity because his humanity means his fallibility.
I worked for wonderful ministers who were human and made mistakes, and I worked for lousy ministers who were human and sometimes got things right. I was taught by wonderful Sisters and lay ministers, who cared for my well being. I was taught by dipwads who called themselves people of faith. What they all had in common was frail humanity.
God is supposed to alleviate that. Faith in God. Religion alleviates the frailty of humanity. The Blood of Christ adds a super to the natural, that makes us better. The Anointing of God that falls on the prophet, that makes him speak and preach overreaches his humanity. The divinity of the office of Pope falls like a cloak on the man sitting on the throne of the Vatican, making his ordinances perfect. So says the bible, which was written by…men who said that God speaking to them made them perfect in their speaking/writing.
It’s like me coming to you and saying, “I was out back, minding my own business, and my tree caught fire, but it didn’t burn. And then this voice came out of the fire and told me I was chosen to lead a revolution against the government on behalf of all the people on welfare.” You would have me sedated. But because we have a tradition and history of believing that Moses talked to a burning bush–and there isn’t any supporting or decrying documentation–we believe that Moses talked to a burning bush. Who says? Moses. Okay. Who can corroborate? Er…Moses. Well, that’s not even good business sense.
The idea that you have to be okay with being senseless in order to believe is…senseless.
There are days when I feel like I took the Red Pill. I miss the ease and simplicity of religion–of believing that I belong to something special and important, and that I am chosen, and that I can shrug off my troubles as being part of a greater plan meant to draw others into my circle of special and important. I miss that. But, it’s one of those situations where you can’t unsee something. I can’t unsee the Ouroborus of religion: that because a man tells me that God has made him infallible, I must ignore that he is a man and believe that he is infallible, else I am damned.
So what remains? Nothing of the Old Testament, I can tell you that. I am decidedly off board of a god who commands the killing of babies and innocent citizens, just so his chosen crew can have some more land. Of the New Testament, there remains an appreciation of the lifestyle of love and service taught by Jesus, and that appreciation is where I find myself.
I think there is plenty of wisdom in the bible. It’s a big book. It would be hard not to find goodness in it. But as long as it is just a tradition of men telling me that God spoke to them, and I have to believe them because God spoke to them, I can’t. I worked for one too many men telling me God spoke to them. I did one too many ridiculous things, believing God had spoken to me.
Do I believe in a god, meaning do I believe in a higher power, who set this whole thing in motion? Yes. Do I know who that god is? No. Am I worried about it? Also, no.
For now, I throw in my lot with Marcus Aurelius (for whom sources are also sketchy and unreliable, so we’ll just pretend that God told me that he said the following, and since God told me, you must believe that it was he):
“Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.”