Up until this point, I’ve mostly left my arguments against religion/God out of these posts. I’ve made snide remarks, mentioned my own lack of faith and such, but never really went out of my way to explain what exactly I feel is so weak about religious belief.
Two recent things have made me decide to say something.
Most recently, it was coming across this site: Rapture – Fall 2009?. Let me spare you the suspense: Yes, according to this site, the rapture is going to be Fall 2009, no question mark about it. Or, more accurately, September 21st, 2009, the last day before Fall and, as it so happens, today. That’s right, if you are reading this right now, look out your window, you should see a big pile of clothes where your Christian neighbor had been mowing the lawn. Mowing the lawn and silently judging you with those eyes….
But he’s gone now. And so are the billions (or maybe just millions… or thousands) of True Christians. And the rest of us have been left behind to divvy up their stuff. I call the Amy Grant CDs!
Of course, you may also look out the window and notice that all those WWJD bracelets are still attached to those same bulbous, rich, comfortable flag-waving wrists. In which case, we should still divvy up their stuff.
But now, the complaints come up from the Christians who I have personal ties with, the ones who aren’t waiting around to be raptured, the ones whose faith is about loving their neighbors, all neighbors, and sharing their faith but not about judging. Some of you don’t believe homosexuality is a sin. Good for you (welcome to the 20th century, now catch up). Some of you don’t even believe in hell. Except in that “Hell is other people” sort of way. Ooh, that’s witty. For you, Jesus is comfort, God is a fatherly figure and all either one wants for you and for me and for all of us is to know peace, to live in harmony, to play Beatles Rock Band. Hey, God is hip!
Which brings me to the second recent event (yeah, I hadn’t forgotten).
A few weeks back, the girlfriend and I were invited to a good old fashioned Midwestern barbeque with all the food, beer and protruding guts you could wish for. Plenty of good food and lots of Corona later, we headed home… or made the attempt. We were walking to the bus stop when we saw our bus fly by. Swear words were uttered. When we finally got to the bus stop we sat down, annoyed that we knew the next bus would be another half hour. Oh, we were so naive.
20 minutes later, another man joined us at the stop, a rotund black fellow with an affectionate, genuine smile and a ‘not-too-bright’ look on his face. To be fair, this is my bias: I think most people look dumber when they smile. Anyway, our new comrade, let’s call him Tony, struck up a conversation with us (I can’t tell you how many times strangers have talked to me at bus stops; in Philly I had an enjoyable conversation with a very large woman who turned out to be a phone sex operator). After a few minutes of conversation about what we had each done that night, my Spidey Sense began tingling. “Ruh Roh, this man is Christian.”
Now, my issue wasn’t that Tony was a Christian*, but rather that I knew he was going to be the type of Christian to turn the whole pleasant conversation into an opportunity to proselytize. Sure enough, at one point Tony called himself a ‘minister’ (considering that just minutes before he had admitted to being unemployed and looking for a work, I took it to mean he was a ‘minister’ in the ‘fishers of men’ sense, not that Ordained sense).
Keep in mind, Tony’s tone is ingratiating and cheerful the whole time, even as the half hour passes and we are fast approaching an hour of waiting for a bus. He begins to tell me and my girlfriend that A) We should marry and B) We should start going back to church. Both statements I found particularly rude and invasive. But, I was a Christian once, I know how it works, and instead of starting a diatribe on why I don’t have faith anymore, I simple nodded, smiled and gritted my teeth.
Approaching an hour and a half of waiting for the bus, Tony begins to change his message from what we should do to what he ‘believes’ we will do. He has a ‘feeling’ that we’re gonna start going to church soon and ‘get right’ with God. He also believes I’m gonna buy a diamond ring for my girl. He’s getting downright giddy by the idea and he’s confident of it. I smile and avoid eye contact. I can’t help but shake my head a little, but I’m not going to fight this man on it.
After nearly 2 hours of waiting, a bus finally comes (it would have been nice if Tony’s prophetic ability could have predicted when the bus would come; I could have run and used a nearby restroom.) That ended our conversation with Tony.
For the record: There isn’t a chance in hell of me attending church again. And as far as marriage is concerned, well, let’s just say, pffffffffffff.
Now to my point. Both Tony and the Rapture website share something in common: A confidence in statements they are making on pure faith. The Rapture site will obviously be proved wrong in less than 24 hours and then the site will just revise what they have to say and pick a new date. It’s exactly how the Seventh-day Adventist began, so for those who want to dismiss the writers of this site as kooks, keep in mind that kooks start religions.
As far as Tony, we parted ways and we will never see him again, and he went on his way believing he made a difference in our lives, ‘sharing the message of Christ’ and his ‘good feelings’ will never go disproved to him. As far as he knows, the girl and I are married and happily attending church, and he will never have to know otherwise. His work was done and he can feel a false satisfaction, based on the deluded idea that he did a good deed. (This is nothing against Tony, specifically, as I actually liked him well enough and generally enjoyed conversing with him when it wasn’t a subject of faith.)
Two examples of faithful people, both completely wrong, yet neither will lose their faith for it. The rapture-ready sites and those predictors who set dates (and they are legion) see the date come and go but never say, “You know, I was completely wrong about this and I had a lot of faith in it; maybe my entire faith is false.” One of the big factors in my own deconversion was the idea of the ‘end times’. Those who knew me when I was a Christian knew I read the Left Behind books. I even pushed them on friends. I never finished the series though because I lost my faith in that period, plus the writing was terrible. Terrible!
What bothers me about end time prophecies, and I mean all end time prophecies including the dumbasses who think 2012 is going to be the end, is that they have existed for thousands and thousands of years and have obviously been wrong Each and Every Time. When I started to look into the history and prophecies at the root of the Left Behind series, I found that a great deal of Christians had believed the end times were going to be in the 1970s. Before the Left Behind series came, there was a book called The Late Great Planet Earth. Same song, different verse. The apocalypse has been predicted so many times that I can’t understand how any sane person takes it serious. And I know intelligent people who still believe in the possibility of the apocalypse. You know, just in case.
Has no one ever heard of “The Boy Who Cried Wolf”?
Now, before people protest and say, “I don’t believe in the end times, I’m not one of those types” let me return your attention back to Tony. Tony represents the other kind of faith. The kind of faith that doesn’t make giant prophetic statements about the world but still allows faith a place in their life. This faith is the tiny kind of faith, the one that praises God when they get the job they were wanting or when the Chiefs win a game (haha, who am I kidding), but conveniently ignores mentioning God when they lose their job or find out a friend died. Or, if they don’t ignore God, they say it’s all part of His Plan, can’t be explained. This sort of faith is pleasantly shallow and ineffectual, but it also isn’t all that invasive. It might annoy me at a bus stop, but it won’t blow up a building or kill an abortion doctor. So, you know, kudos to you for that.
But this kind of faith gets proved wrong all the time, too. Tony doesn’t know it, but his faith was misplaced. And if you’re a Christian, you can’t dismiss Tony. He wasn’t crazy, he wasn’t a heretic, he wasn’t just some ignorant slob (funny that there seems to be a movement in liberal, scholarly Christianity that dismisses the uneducated masses as rubes; it’s like two degrees removed from the Dark Ages Christianity where the Church leaders had all the knowledge and the followers just had to listen and agree). Tony was just a Christian like everyone else, faithfully convinced of something that was flat out wrong.
Except, your faith is never wrong. Instead of admitting that God didn’t do what you expected him to do, you say “Sometimes God answers a prayer with ‘No'” which is basically saying, God is gonna do whatever the hell he wants and occasionally your wants line up with what he wants. And really, that’s just another way of saying, life is a bunch of random events, completely at the whim of a capricious Ultimate Being and you just better hope he likes you.
And how about those intelligent, educated Christians in the crowd who dismiss the untenable aspects of the religion:
Only idiots don’t believe in evolution, so you accept the fact of evolution (Macro, even) into your faith.
And Hell is an unsavory idea. It makes you sound bigoted and ignorant. Okay, you don’t believe in Hell anymore.
And homosexuality is fine. No worries.
Jesus said help the poor, so you donate money to the poor. (Ignore the part where Jesus said give away all of your things and follow him; I mean, Jesus didn’t mean you, and he would obviously think that iPhone is the shiznit.)
And you don’t want to be dismissive of other religions; from a logical point of view if you dismiss a thousand other religions as manmade, what really distinguishes yours? So, all religions have some truth and can lead to God. (Ignore the part where Jesus says no one comes to the Father except through him or the other place where he says the road is narrow and few will follow it; maybe just spin it in your handy-dandy exegesis until it means whatever you need it to mean… Exegesis sure sounds like “Exit Jesus” to me.)
When you’re done making concessions to your intellect, what does that leave you with?
God is a Macguffin. He’s the ultimate meaningless plot device, the overly complicated, contrived piece of plot expository that made sense in the first act of human history but has grown less and less necessary as science explains that the flu isn’t demon possession and the stars aren’t angels. Go back 400 years, and the number of things in nature that could only be explained by God would be ten thousand fold more than now.
Are there unexplained things in nature? Certainly. Are those things going to remain unexplained? Some will remain so for a few more years and then a breakthrough will show us the truth. Others may remain outside of our reach for hundreds of years, but that doesn’t mean “God” explains it better.
Faith is a failed hypothesis, constantly coming back with the wrong answer. Faith tells people to expect the rapture; they are wrong. Faith tells Tony that he helped lead two strangers back to God; he is wrong. Faith tells you that God is necessary to the story of human existence; every day, new facts prove you more and more wrong.
If you’ve gone through tough times, and we all have, faith can certainly help you through. But if that is its only quantifiable benefit, is that really a reason to hold onto it? May I suggest good music? That gets me through tough times a lot. And vodka. God, I love vodka.
If you are a person whose faith leads you to make decisions about the world when contrary facts are right in front of you, ask yourself, are you really any different from Tony. And, really, are you any different from the Rapture nuts? Really?
*While this post deals with Christianity, I could just as easily substitute in the New Age wackos and anyone whose faith leads them to irrational opinions