Monday, June 18, 2007

Why is God so concerned about my beliefs?

For some reason, belief seems to be quite important to God. And I can’t figure out why.

The God of conservative Christianity asks that I first believe in him before he initiates a relationship with me. Why this prerequisite? Not only does he set this as a requirement, but he also holds accountable those who do not believe in him. According to conservative Christianity, a mass murderer who has accepted Jesus will go to heaven, but a person who has a lived a moral life caring for others, but who has not accepted the Gospel, will go to hell (John 20:29 and John 3:16). It makes no sense to me why the personal, mundane and victimless action of belief (or unbelief) is such a big deal to the creator of the universe.

As Richard Dawkins writes in The God Delusion (page 104):

But why, in any case, do we so readily accept the idea that the one thing you must do if you want to please God is believe in him? What’s so special about believing? Isn’t it just as likely that God would reward kindness, or generosity, or humility? Or sincerity?

Martin Luther King, Jr., in his great speech in Washington, DC, on 28 August 1963, spelt out his dream of a land where his children would not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character. He realised, as many of us do, how unjust it is to use skin colour, over and above character, as a way to measure a person. Isn’t it just as unjust to judge someone by the thoughts that they hold, over and above what they are as individuals? This was one of the great stumbling blocks that I faced as a struggling Christian: I couldn’t understand why believing in stuff like the cross, Jesus, and the Trinity was so important to salvation, seemingly more important than goodness, kindness or honesty. God may not be a racist, but he certainly seems to discriminate along lines of belief.

Richard Carrier, also concerned by this aspect of conservative Christian theology, writes in Sense and Goodness without God (page 17):

The good judge others by their character, not by their beliefs, and punish deeds, not thoughts, and punish only to teach, not to torture.

I’m with Carrier here: when I left Christianity, I decided that thoughts are not as important as deeds; that when I meet a person for the first time, I should evaluate that person according to who they are as individuals, and how they treat other people – not according to their skin colour, sexual orientation, or religious beliefs.

Why doesn’t God do the same?

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Philosophy verses religion

I'm busy working through Richard Carrier's Sense and Goodness Without God. Here is a quote that I found quite interesting, where Carrier outlines what he believes is the difference between religion and philosophy (page 26):

Philosophy is . . . fundamental to our lives. It should be our first if not our only religion: a religion wherein worship is replaced with curiosity, devotion with diligence, holiness with sincerity, ritual with study, and scripture with the whole world and the whole of human learning.

The philosopher regards it as tantamount to a religious duty to question all things, and to ground her faith in what is well-investigated and well-proved, rather than what is merely well-asserted or well-liked. Instead of keeping her nose ever in one book, she reads widely and constantly. Instead of aligning herself with this or that view and keeping only like-minded company, she mingles and discusses all views with everyone. And above all, she commits herself to the constant study and application of language, logic, and method, and seeks always to perfect, by testing and correcting, her total view of all things.

What do you think?

Sunday, June 03, 2007

The last human alive

The last human alive sits huddled in a dark cave, alone and weak. The friends she once knew, the family she had loved: all are gone. Six billion lives lost in just six months; victims of the deadly virus that had spread throughout the world.

The last human alive, the final gasp of what was once a successful species, begins to cough and wheeze. She knows that she doesn’t have much time left. In her despair she whispers to the one stable comfort that she knew as a child.

“God,” she utters into the dark, “please help me.”

Despite the pains in her chest, she calls out again, more loudly this time.

“God, if you can hear me, please help. God, where are you?”

But there is no answer. No voice. Nothing. The last human alive suddenly realises that she is utterly and entirely alone. There is nobody here, no other intelligent mind to hear her speak. Her words are simply meaningless sounds.

She wonders: where is this being called God? Why does he not come to the last human ever to walk this earth? She realises that maybe, just maybe, God had not been a spiritual being after all, but a natural one. Like the billions of single neurons creating the complex networks of her personality and character, the billions of human brains throughout history had created the character and personality of God.

God had existed, but not in the way most people had believed: his very essence had simply been a product of the human mind, a powerful and complex pattern that had spread through billions of brains over thousands of years. Humans did not depend on the existence of God; rather, the concept of God – like the concepts of language and music – had depended upon the existence of humans.

And now, in this dark hole in the ground, the once great and powerful essence of God splutters like a candle flame in the rain; a belief that once occupied billions of brains, now reduced to dwell in a single human mind.

As her breathing slows, her eyes close, and her mind clouds over, the last human alive suddenly realises that her death will be the most unique human death in all of history: through her death all of what is human – courage, love, and imagination – will die with her. Her death will mark the ultimate end of the brief period in the universe’s history in which intelligence life had existed.

But more than that, her end will mark the death of God.