The Bible Set Me Free
Blame it on my parents. They always told me to “think for yourself”. I doubt they ever considered what would happen if I really did that.
Now, I suspect what they meant was, “Think what we tell you but do it in your own words.” Too late. When I was 13, I began to question everything and soon the total absurdity of religion became apparent.
Because I have been “encouraged” (forced) to read the bible several times, it was easy for me to see the contradictions in the book, what christians professed to believe, and how they really lived.
When I refused to go with them to their church, they said they would “Make me go.”
I asked them, “How are you going to make me? How will forcing me to attend church change my mind?” Already, their attitude was starting to harden me against everything else they would tell me.
Their next idea was to have their minister talk to me. I told them it was a waste of everyone’s time. They persisted and had him come to the house to “Talk some sense into me.” (as if they ever works for anyone) After about 15 minutes of him quoting the bible to me and me pointing out that he was either wrong in his quotes or showing him how it said something else in another place, he became very angry and told me I was going to hell. I suspect it was because I knew the bible better than he did and was, at age 13, able to prove how ridiculous his arguments were.
I told him, “If there is a Hell I’ll see you there. Save me a nice place, OK?” He said I was an impertinent, disrespectful child. By then, I was angry myself and for the first time, I told a christian that he was a hypocrite, a liar, and a fool. My parents insisted that I apologize. I refused and left the room to a lot of yelling and threats.
For the next four years, I heard about this at least once a week. So the night I graduated high school, I left my parent’s home and didn’t see them again for well over a year. By then, with the credits I had accumulated in high school and summer school, I had completed a couple of years of college. Fortunately, I was able to pay for this myself. I was entering the army and wanted to try to make peace with them, but had to listen to the same old recriminations and arguments again.
The next time I saw them was two years later when I was getting married. After several years of an on-again, off-again relationship they finally agreed to just not discuss it any more. I’d like to say that worked, but subtle hints slowly became outright condemnation. Then I took a job transfer from Ohio to Arizona, so family meetings were rare enough to become occasions for something other than contention.
I do have to say that I appreciate the other things they did for me, like encouraging my education and equipping me with the work ethic and attitudes I needed to survive and thrive at that early age. In those areas, they were excellent parents and I am grateful for those things.
What did I learn? Even your family can turn against you if you refuse to share in their illusions. There are times, if you are to become your own person, you must stand firm in what you know to be true.
Is It Important If Jesus Existed?
There is not much evidence to support the actual existence of the biblical Jesus. Does it really matter? Which is more important, the message of peace, tolerance, and love or the physical presence of an individual person who may or may not have actually existed?
The message of Jesus, as most would believe, is to “Love thy neighbor as thyself”, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” In modern language, treat people fairly, honestly, and without prejudice or intolerance. That’s pretty simple and good advice. True, it’s not always so easy to do, but, acting in our own best interests, it is a good way to live. Cheating people, taking advantage of them, or otherwise hurting someone unnecessarily will ultimately not be good for ourselves. So, whether Jesus actually existed is not nearly as important as following the very good, true advice attributed to him.
Consider this. What if there were no record of say, Thomas Jefferson, until 40 or 50 years after his death? Then, there were suddenly one, then several people writing about things he said or did. Would modern day people doubt his actual existence and believe he was a fable like Paul Bunyan or Pecos Bill?
In the case of the historical Jesus, there is not one contemporary record of his existence. The Romans, who otherwise kept very good records, never mentioned a figure who was supposed to be socially, politically, and spiritually so significant. Not until the Gospel of Mark, written from 40 to over 100 years after the supposed crucifixion, is there any mention of Jesus. If we look at the fables of Horus, Attis, and Mithra, we see amazing similarities. Born in low circumstances on December 25, 12 followers, executed at an early age, son of a god, resurrected, the list goes on. It would appear that the early church, in need of a powerful central figure, “borrowed” from earlier myths to create a rallying point for their religion.
As stated by Dr. Bart Ehrman, Professor of religious studies at the University of North Caroline, Chapel Hill, NC said, “In the entire first Christian century, Jesus is not mentioned by a single Greek or Roman scholar, politician, philosopher, or poet. His name never appears in a single inscription, and it is never found in a single piece of private correspondence. Zero! Zip references!”
Again, what does it matter? The important thing is the message. Be good to each other, help the less fortunate, do not discriminate because someone is not like you. Be like the Good Samaritan and act kindly to all. Are those things more valuable if they were spoken by an actual person or lessons a group of people agreed were important? Being able to assemble these things into a coherent collection of quotations from one person makes them easier to understand and practice. Maybe that’s what the founders of the religion had in mind?
Where Is God?
We can demonstrate that no god exists. Certainly not in the Jewish/Christian/Islamic omnipotent father-figure image. Notice the contradictions in observed reality with the image of the loving god that is aware of “every sparrow that falls” and “numbers the hairs of your head”. Clearly, no such deity exists and there is no divine intervention in either a positive or negative sense. If there were, at any moment the 27,000 children around the world dying of malnutrition and starvation be permitted? Would evil be permitted to exist? Would people benefit from evil deeds and good deeds go unrewarded?
For that matter, it can be mathematically demonstrated that prayers are not answered, either. Unless you consider a success rate of .01% to be “answered”. That’s far below even the rate of random chance. Even the behavior of religious groups when confronted with practical matters demonstrates that they do not believe in the “power of prayer” either. If they did, they would simply pray to god to provide their churches with all that was needed instead of extorting money from their members. If they don’t trust that, they must not have much faith in their “god” either.
Land of the Free?
America is not the land of the free and never was. This is not limited to the USA, of course, it’s true of most places at most times. It is only free if you profess to believe the “right” things, practice the “right” religion, support the “right” causes, and say the things that “everyone knows” are correct. Now, it must be “politically correct,” too.
Dissent has always been not only discouraged, but punished, socially, legally, and often physically. How many “hippies” of the 60’s were disowned, ostracized, and often physically abused for their views and lifestyle? Is it any different today? Isn’t “gay bashing” still practiced? How about right of choice? Is that also punished? Even to the point of murder?
Anyone that opposed the Iraq War 2 was accused of being unpatriotic, unchristian, and possibly treasonous. The fact that not one weapon of mass destruction has been found in Iraq and that it is becoming very apparent that the government, starting with the President and Secretary of State misstated or even lied about the intelligence excuses for the war has not lifted the mantle of hate aimed at these few voices of reason. Some “friends” have even told me that, if I can’t say what they want to hear and stop criticizing the government to stop communicating at all. I may have lost some acquaintances, but I have kept my integrity.
It doesn’t stop with false patriotism, it continues into every area of life; especially when you intrude upon religion. Madelyn Murray O’Hare may have won a few battles, but at the cost of eternal hatred and enmity from so-called “Christians.” The hate and threat-filled mail she received reveals the true level of “Christian love and tolerance” that exists in the USA.
Anyone that dares to express dissatisfaction with blue laws and protests anyone attempting to enact their personal religious beliefs into law is reviled and attacked, often physically. Think about the number of bombings of abortion clinics. Are these acts of Christian charity? Whether anyone likes it or not, the abortion issue is a religious one. Has any other argument been offered against it? If you don’t believe in abortion, don’t have one. If you have a logical, provable, argument against it, state it clearly and reasonably. Attempting to enforce your opinion with violence or making it a law with its implied threat of “legal” violence is morally wrong and contrary to the standards of a free country.
If America were truly free, anyone could express any opinion and live any way they chose without running the risk of social, financial, or physical danger. This situation does not exist today and never will because there are two universal truths that forbid it.
The first is: A person’s most precious possessions are his illusions. People will sacrifice their homes, money, possessions, even their children as long as they can maintain their illusions of religion and what’s “right” and wrong”. If you doubt this, think of parents watching their children go off to fight and die in a war because they refuse to surrender the illusion that “It’s a just war against a godless heathen.” They cannot accept that it is to ensure the profits of oil companies and presidential pals. They do this because very few are cognizant of a second truth. Beliefs, no matter how sincerely held, do not alter facts.
One of the things I’ve learned is that most of our beliefs and attitudes are really an accident of birth. If you had been born in another place, you might just as sincerely believe in Hinduism, Confucianism, Islam, or some other religion and be convinced that your country was always right and that America was the “Great Satan.” You would be just as wrong.
America free? Think about these. No-warrant wiretaps, indefinite detention of citizens without charges, no-knock entries. Search and seizure without warrants, rendition of prisoners, torture renamed as “intensive interrogation”, stop and frisk without probable cause, confiscation or destruction of cameras used to record illegal police actions, mounting cases of police brutality and even executions by police that are never investigated, much less punished, and finally, “managed news.” Does this sound like a free country?
Do I expect to suffer for these opinions? Most certainly I do. There is no doubt there will be hate mail and death threats (the religious reich is especially fond of those) but also financial, social, and personal loss. But I still have my integrity. That’s more than most.
A popular theist argument for religion is “Without religion (god) we would have no morality or ethics.” So without religion can there be morality? Morality based upon fear of punishment or seeking rewards isn’t really morality at all. Perhaps what they are saying is that they would be evil without fear of hell. Then they project that lack of moral courage upon everyone else. I say to them, “Don’t judge others by yourself. Your lack of ethical backbone is not universal.”
People can practice what I term enlightened self-interest. An individual’s self-interest is best served by doing no harm to others except in defense of themselves or those in their care. This thinking does not need threats of eternal punishment to follow, It only requires thinking about what will ultimately yield the best results for yourself. Treating others fairly and generously is always better for yourself, personally, financially, and socially.
Those that co-operate and adapt have always been more successful. As such, basic ethics has evolved to improve the survival of species. Indiscriminate killing, sex with close relatives, cannibalism, are a few examples of things that are contrary to survival of the group. The most cooperative and adaptable species have the best survival rate. Even animals conform to these “moral issues”. That religions have attempted to claim these things originated with them and would not exist without religion is not just hypocritical, it is ignoring obvious facts.
There are more complex issues that apply more directly to humans. For example, robbing a bank may yield temporary wealth, but at the expense of either a prison term or a life of fear, running from the law. Similarly, cheating others in business dealings may increase profits for a time. Eventually, your reputation will be so poor that your business may fail. This is a simple principle that, “It’s always cheaper to make a customer happy than it is to make him angry.” This same idea can pay dividends in ordinary human relations. For reasons I don’t understand, few businesses or people appreciate this idea. Maybe it’s because they operate on deist principles? Everything is forgiven if you repent before you die. Although that wouldn’t seem to help those you cheated, treated badly, or even murdered.
So should nothing be discouraged? Should everything be permitted? Capable, informed individuals could engage in any activity that interests them even if it puts them personally at risk.
An example would be an automobile race. It is certainly dangerous to drive at racing speeds and it is equally dangerous to stand near the race course to observe or record this event. Two people may choose to do these things if they understand and accept the risks involved.
One question that arises from this would be, what if one or both of these people have a spouse and children that depend upon them for financial and emotional support? Should they still do this knowing that if they are injured or killed it will cause some degree of harm to these dependents? If they choose to do so, does anyone else have the right to prevent them?
Those are ethical questions that can and should be debated, but each person must be free to choose his own answer. No other person, religion, or government should have the right to make these choices for us. If you are keeping in mind that humans are often in error and thus prepared for all possible consequences, no matter how remote the possibility, you can do what you think best.