Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Christianity Is Unethical

Many of my problems with Christianity are inherent to the religion, and not a reflection of the actions of its followers.

I have a problem with the concept that disobedience to any entity, no matter which specific entity it is, must always necessarily constitute a sin. There is nothing wrong with seeking knowledge, but Genesis tells us it is wrong when God says so. Sometimes the noblest act is defiance of a powerful authority, rather than submission.

I have a problem with the tendency of all gods in all religions to draw a line in the sand and state, "Beyond here, no mortal shall trespass." This is illustrated in the story of the Tower of Babel, wherein God reminds the puny mortals of their role as his inferiors. This is the sort of thing that retards scientific progress, such as stem cell research or cloning, or causes people to fight back against it, such as the HPV vaccine, based on the apparent assumption that some problems are just not meant to be solved.

I have a problem with the scapegoating found throughout all Christianity, from the original sin passed down to me because a snake convinced a rib woman to eat a fruit, to Jesus being sacrificed for the times I've lied, to God's specification in the Third Commandment that he will punish your great-grandchildren if you reject him. My "sins" are my own, I don't want anyone else taking that responsibility from me, and I refuse responsibility for anyone else's sins.

I have a problem with the concept of infinite punishment for finite crimes. There is no crime I can imagine that warrants eternal torture. When lack of belief, or belief in another god, is held as one of the crimes most obviously deserving this punishment, it is illustrative of a flaw in the system. Even under the interpretation of Hell as simple separation from God (which, in my experience, hasn't been so bad), the suggestion that there can be no redemption after death for disbelief in the face of an overwhelming lack of evidence is fundamentally unethical.

I have a problem with the free pass given to God for atrocities either committed or commanded. The mass murder of children is never justified - certainly not because their Pharoah refused God's authority. This kind of story encourages a tolerance for "collateral damage" that should be obviously vile. The many justifications trotted out by apologists for these crimes are insufficient defense, and I would be happy to debate the specifics with anyone who cares to challenge this assertion.

I have a problem with lauding unthinking obedience to any authority figure as a virtue. Abraham nearly sacrificed his son on God's word. The only thing that separates him from the many "God told me to do it" convicts we see murdering their children, or innocent bystanders, or whoever, is that God stopped him at the last second. But what if the word never came? No, the correct answer was, "No, Lord, I will not murder my son for you. And if this disobedience invokes your wrath, then let it be on my head alone." Unquestioning obedience to orders is not a virtue; it is a short route to atrocity.

I have a problem with human sacrifice. If you buy into the apologetics that she wasn't sacrificed, but only delivered into the clergy for the rest of her life (I don't), I have a problem with the assumption that uninvolved parties are obligated to someone else's agreement with God.

I have a serious, serious problem with teaching that the end of the world is soon, unavoidable, and generally a good thing. Modern technology has brought the ability to end the world closer to the reach of vastly more people than ever before. All it requires, today, is a fanatic with access to the right buttons. The availability of those buttons is likely to only increase - the world's populace simply [i]must[/i] learn that the apocalypse is to be averted, not sought. This is why the USA is trying so hard to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. And yes, it's a Christian problem, too.

I have a problem with the concept that being human is inherently bad - so bad that we deserve to die just because of the fact that we were born human. This is a central concept to all Christianity. The reason Jesus had to be killed was to save us from a horrible fate that we entirely deserve. It is because God is "just" that he could not simply forgive these apparent failings, and required a blood sacrifice to appease him. This is how cults behave - they tell you that you are worthless, that you deserve only pity at best, but then they "save" you. This is manipulative. This is evil. And it's a core part of Christianity.

I could go on. Do I lay these failings at the feet of Christians? Not usually, no. Most Christians/Jews I know tend to gloss over these and other problems with their scripture. Most Christians seem to agree that the Ten Commandments form the foundation of American law and tradition, despite the fact that the First and Second Commandments are in direct violation of the First Amendment.

It sounds great to say that religions basically just teach you to be good to other people, but only by ignoring the vast majority of any given religion's scriptures could you come to that conclusion. Humanism, however, does actually teach you to be good to other people, and nothing more. This has nothing to do with why I believe religions are not true, but it does address some of the reasons I'm glad that they aren't true. I am not one of those who wishes he could believe, or who believes religion is just a set of stories that help us be more moral. The Bible teaches submission, either to God, fate, or ignorance. I reject it, thoroughly.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

You'll Understand When You're Older

Quite some time ago, an acquaintance of mine, who is not a theist but was taking their side in this argument, came the closest I've seen to solving the problem of evil.

He suggested to me that, from God's perspective, the apparent tragedies endured by people are insignificant. Essentially, in a very Buddhist way, that our suffering is illusory and, once the test is passed, we would be let in on this secret. He drew a comparison to a parent refusing a child a simple treat, having the child's long-term health in mind. The child may scream and cry and view the denial of what seems a perfectly reasonable request as an act of great injustice. When the child becomes an adult, however, he or she will see that the cookie was minor and it was really in his or her best interest not to eat it.

This, in some sense, does equate unthinkable atrocities with the simple greed of a child, but I don't think that's invalid given the context. The entirety of our experience of the material may very well seem trivial from the perspective of the immaterial (or transcendent, which is probably the word theists would prefer to use).

The problem of evil, as I'm sure you know, is that God either allows suffering or is powerless to stop it. If he allows it, he's not that good. If he's powerless to stop it, he's not God. This, of course, assumes an omnipotent god.

This response partially grants the first point - that God allows the evil - but it follows with a caveat that it's not really "evil," which makes it somewhat more compelling than the usual Problem of Evil responses (which invariably grant either the first or the second conclusion, but those making the responses never seem to realize that).

It is, however, an invalid response. At the very least, it demonstrates a God who is without any consistent standard or message. The foundation of this argument rests on the assumption that the material is trivial, and the transcendent is vastly more significant. Childhood versus adulthood - the minutiae of childhood seems laughably simple compared to the challenges and, indeed, the consequences of adulthood.

However, while expecting us to be aware of the transitory and trivial nature of the material, God also assigns incredible importance to our actions in the material world. Our entire transcendent existence is predicated on the method with which we conduct ourselves in the material. The punishment for indulging those supposedly trivial urges is eternal torture. Even the most generous interpretation of Hell (i.e. separation from God, or annihilation) would seem to be extreme reactions to these behaviors.

To carry on the metaphor - the child demands a cookie. The adult refuses. The child whines and screams and, when the adult isn't watching, steals and eats the cookie. The adult, in response, sends the child to prison for the remainder of his or her existence. The more generous adult ceases all contact with the child; completely cuts the child off. When the child has grown to adulthood, presumably he or she regrets eating the cookie - but it is simply too late. There is no repairing the harm done. The individual simply should have known better when it was a child, and now it must endure the consequences. There can be no reparation.

Either the material matters, or it does not. If it does, then God still either permits or is unable to prevent suffering. If it does not, then morality is an illusion, and "Do what thou wilt" shall be the whole of the law.