Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Do they Actually Listen?

I'm an atheist. But I was brought up as a Christian, in fact as a Methodist. We went to church on Sundays. I even went to Sunday School for a while. It was at least a way to avoid boring sermons! We learned the simple stories from the bible, or at least from the new testament. It was all good, humanist stuff and a fine basis for dealing with people. It really boils down to the fact that most people are pretty reasonable, and that it's a good idea for everyone if we try and treat each other fairly and to be helpful. While keeping an eye out for rogues, of course. A lot of basic Christian teaching is like that. Good common sense. It matters little to me whether Jesus Christ actually existed. If he did, the one thing we can be confident of is that he was not the son of any god. That's one thing about which Muslims are correct.

While I was young, the words of the stories and hymns drifted by as comfortable, well known companions. The 'softly spoken magic spell', as Pink Floyd would later term it. But as I got older, I actually started to listen to what was being said, or sung in church. And then the questions started, and then the whole ediface fell apart.

Lets take a simple example. Is it the revenge-based 'eye for an eye', or the placating 'turn the other cheek'? They can't both be right, yet they're both in the bible, and it is supposed to be the word of god. At least, that's what Christians say whenever they read it out in church. And the more I listened, the worse it became. Take the virgin birth. What a bizzare way for an omnipotent god to appear on Earth? If god created everything, why would he take such an arcane route as impregnating a virgin? Apart from the time involved, what about the risk that the population might not buy the story, preferring to believe the, frankly, much more likely alternative. Surely, a god capable of bulding the entire universe could just create whatever he wanted, with a virtual snap of the fingers. The story simply doesn't stand up to scrutiny. And spare me the post rationalisation about how this process demonstrates his love for humanity. Piffle.

Also, if god created everything, in what sense is being crucified any real sacrifice, even if it happened? An omnipotent god could surely arrange things however he wanted to get the desired effect without any personal harm. He even rose from the dead, according to Christians. While the story of the crucifiction would be a real sacrifice for a human, the same cannot be claimed for a god. And that, for me, is the key to making sense of religion, or at least of Christianity.

For me, the bible only makes sense when viewed as a work of human inginuity, written to try and control an illiterate population and to get them to behave in what today we'd recognize as a basically civilised manner. And, in addition, to fund a very expensive church hierarchy. Man created God in his own image, not the other way around. That neatly explains why he's such a nasty piece of work in the old testament, by the way.

The bible is very out of date, of course, which is continuing source of tension for Christian churches of every denomination. The history of Chrisitanity over the centuries has been one of gradual abandonnment of so-called 'truths' from the bible as they become socially unacceptable. Homosexuality is following hot on the heels of women bishops as just the most recent issue that has required the liberal wing of the faith to gloss over the now politically incorrect words in the bible in order to placate the congregation and to keep bums on pews. Any other kind of organization would already have been the subject of multiple lawsuits for discrimination.But if you call yourself a religion, it's amazing what you can get away with. Just ask the American tele-evangelists.

Churches really are organizations built on the shifting sands of ignorance. As populations understand more and more about the world, they find less and less need for the superstition disseminated by their faiths. They vote with their feet, which is why congregation sizes, in truly enlightened countries, continue to fall. To counter this, inconvenient 'truths' from so-called holy texts are quietly dropped, post rationalised out of existence by tthe church hierarchy apparently without a second thought for the incredible hypocrisy that is involved. The cracks are papered over for the believers by pretending that the texts need 'interpretation' by scholars. A helpful side effect is a healthy job market for scholars to help believers over these difficulties.It also provides a handy way for the church elite to assert themselves more directly over the faithful.

And so I'm forced to wonder about believers. The ones I know strike me as reasonably well balanced, sane and thoughtful individuals. Have they never asked the sort of questions that make me an atheist? Are they really satisfied with the hypocritical weasel words spouted by their priests to worm their way around the unacceptable messages within their outdated holy texts?

Or is it simply that they don't actually listen to the words?

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