This seemed to be the easiest format just to put on record in a more complete way some thoughts about religion and the expression of religion that..well..doesn’t fit so easily in the short formats of social media. Many of you, if you have found your way here, are Christian and are here because of comments that I have made in regards to your postings on Facebook or elsewhere.
I want to be unambiguous on this. I am not a believer. I am not agnostic (a doubter, some one who is unconvinced), I simply do not believe.
It’s not my intention to be offensive, nor to be dismissive of your faith or for that matter any faith, but I want to be clear that in the many Christian messages I see each day, not all of them are merely expressions of personal faith. Many of them are directly insulting to my set of beliefs, insulting to others sets of beliefs, insulting to honestly held Christian beliefs or otherwise demonstrating what many people would find to be truly uncharitable, unthinking and yes, un-Christian sentiment.
What prompts me at the moment is the telling of a version of a common joke that makes fun of the talkative neighbour on a plane who insists on introducing an unwelcome topic. The victimized neighbour posits a prelimary question about the various shapes and forms of animal excrement with the punch line “how can we talk about this when you don’t know shit” – mildly amusing. However this particular telling has the talkative neighbour be an atheist and the unwilling neighbour be a young girl. The joke is no longer an innocuous commentary on a familiar situation, but one that derives it’s “humor” from an outright insult to Atheists with an undercurrent of suggesting the Atheists immorality may extend to his interaction, in this case, a 10-year-old girl. Atheist.
I simply do not understand why someone with a truly Christian belief as it is usually interpreted today (as opposed to the biblical version which is quite different), would find such insults as appropriate, much less amusing. And when some Christians object to the stridency of the “New Atheists” I wonder whether they hear how often they do such things even outside of the overt bigotry, anti-Semitism, racism, anti-Muslim bias that permeates certain fundamentalist sects.
In some ways, the casual insult – the person making this one is a lovely person – is more difficult that the overt bigotry. One of the criticisms of faith, of all flavours, is that it encourages people not to use their God-given powers of reason, and it is easy enough with the Abrahamic religions their inconsistencies – where’s all the death for the cotton poly blends? Can’t we get the Jacob story straight between Genesis 27 and 28? But does faith mean that we should be so unthinking as to not be able to distinguish the difference between a mildly humourous joke playing on the expression “you don’t know shit” and something that is simply a small-minded insult? And not even understand you are making such an insult.
Most people of faith – all faiths and even self-professed literalists – pick and choose what they “believe.” Whether they believe the scriptures are symbolic, a set of parables or the literal truth, most believers are only vaguely aware of the specifics of their scriptures. Studies show literalists have the least knowledge of all, Atheists, the most. Ask a Muslim the cause of the schism between Sunni and Shi’a and they can generally tell you – but the rank-and-file can probably only give you a general idea of the specific dogmatic differences at a given time. Christians as a rule are almost wholly ignorant of theological differences that have set Christian against Christian in mortal struggle.
I don’t know what, other than the preaching of self-interested preachers and the general human instinct to want to “belong” (and the flip side “exclude”) that prompts otherwise good people to be so disregardful.
It is said that many evil activities require a God, otherwise good people would simply not fly airplanes into buildings, ritually mutilate genitals, rationalize genocide as did most Christian denominations (over centuries of pogroms). That’s simplistic, but surely one of the steps on such roads is that someone else is not even worth the consideration of a joke being applicable to even a stereotyped view of the group.
Christians and Christian apologists are fond of saying there can be no morality without God. This leads to a certain amount of theological, rhetorical and moral patchwork when examined (did the Abrahamic religion believe it was OK to bear false witness only after Moses saw the burning bush?). But if I were to come to you and say, your deeds don’t matter. At all. You are not to do good because it is good, but instead because I will give you everlasting good things if you obey and everlasting bad things if you do not. If I were to say, you don’t have to make things right with me if you wrong me, you have to make them right..somehow…with someone else. You would call me mad. If I asked you to Tithe me, you would nod your head knowingly.
C.S. Lewis talks about these things and concludes, wrongly, in my opinion, that I would be mad or God…and in Jesus’ case he must be God. Unlike the dozens, hundreds, thousands who have made similar claims. The New Atheists tend to say that Lewis made the correct argument and then abandoned the obvious conclusion and I say not. The obvious conclusion is that if your God says “only through me” – and that his morality only extends to remorse and believing in him. That if even the principal sin is against God, that God can still redeem the lesser sin against the person….then your God and your morality is small. That it is precisely this kind of thinking that tells you that the rest of God’s creation really doesn’t matter – that personal attacks and jokes at the expense of other people are simply not of consequence.
And that, I propose, is immoral.