From time to time, I like to have discussions with religious people about their faith, be they Christian, Buddhist, Scientologist… I don’t discriminate. I find it a good way to examine my own beliefs, and given how religion has been such an important, some would argue integral, part of human development, it also helps me understand other people.
On occasion these discussions get heated. Once I attended a Scientology convention in London. I wandered around the displays, noting how they’d cleverly appropriated every significant event and religious figure to help justify their religion (they got that trick from the Christians), and tested out their E-meter. I also took one of their questionnaires and had a chat to the auditor about it. He told me that I was hiding something. I said he could he ask me any question and I’d tell him the answer, so how could I be hiding something? He got really aggressive when I started challenging their claim that Jesus was part of their religious heritage and yet Scientology charges excessive fees for access to their secrets, an argument that works just as well on most Christians.
I gained a new line of attack from noted god-botherer botherer Christopher Hitchens a couple of weeks ago when I saw him speak at the festival of dangerous ideas. I’m still ironing out the details, but basically it’s that the god of Abraham (which Jews, Christians and Muslims all flock around) was immoral. According to Hitchens, morality is strongly related to protecting and valuing children and ensuring the continuance of the species, and yet Abraham’s god asked Abraham to sacrifice his son to prove his faith. This shows not only the immorality of Abraham’s god, but also that he is cruel god.
It’s not a bad argument. Abraham was already a firm believer, his god had given him heaps of good stuff, and yet Abraham was continually tested and put through the wringer to prove his faith. I’ve been reading up on Genesis to get the low down on Abraham. And it sounds like Abraham’s god has an insecurity complex. Apart from the “kill your son to prove you love me” example above, there’s also the “mutilate your son to prove you love me” covenant between Abraham and his god. I particularly like the passage:
“Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.” Genesis 17:14
This form of religion sounds more like slavery, where slavers would brand their property. I wonder if at the Pearly Gates, St Peter is there giggling and licking his lips as he asks all the men to drop their pants for a foreskin test.
Of course, there’s a certain point where discussion with a religious person becomes pointless. This is when they decide to pull out their trump card – faith. Faith is completely irrational. Especially with a devout proponent of an organized religion, it cannot be talked about in any rational way and it is their fall-back for any question which they can’t answer. You can just imagine Abraham and Sarah having a conversation:
Sarah: Where are you off to, Abraham?
Abraham: I’m going to kill Isaac (or Ishmael, depending on the version).
Sarah: Have you lost your mind?
Abraham: Don’t worry, God told me to do it. To prove my faith.
Sarah: Again? Wasn’t your foreskin enough? You still have nightmares.
Abraham: If my faith is not tested, how do I know it isn’t true?
Sarah: God, Abraham, this god of yours is a bit insecure, isn’t he? How many things is he going to do to us before he believes you believe in him?
Abraham: I have faith the Lord has a plan for me. But to prove I am worthy of his plan I have to prove my faith. Do not fight your faith, Sarah.
Sarah: Faith?! I’m not going to fight a mad god – mutilating our boys, getting you to kill our son, and sending a plague to that nice pharaoh you tried to pimp me off to. The fool’s out of his mind!
Abraham: Have faith, Sarah…
If everyone were agnostic, or at least progressive, there’d be a lot more interesting discussion on religion. You can get all the historical baggage out of the way quickly, agreeing that it’s the basic cause of every problem the world has ever had. Including global warming. Then you can get into the interesting stuff, like what’s the real Truth of it all. Are we in a Matrix like structure?
Of course there’s no point at all discussing anything to do with the subject with an atheist. They can’t see the wood for the trees.