Tagged: atheism

The Churches of Evil

The New York Times continues to mine the dark territory between religious belief and atheism in a series of articles in the opinion section, with the most recent being Gary Cutting’s thoughtful meditation on agnosticism, ways of knowing, and the contributions of religion to individual lives and society. In response, Penn Jillette and others discuss atheism as a religion-like venture.

We can dissect Cutting’s argument while still being generous to his overall thrust. It is certainly true that aside from the specific knowledge claims of religious people that there are traditions of practice that result in positive outcomes for religious folk. But when we drill into the knowledge dimension, Cutting props up Alvin Plantinga and Richard Swinburne as representing “the role of evidence and argument” in advanced religious argument. He might have been better to restrict the statement to “argument” in this case, because both philosophers focus primarily on argument in their philosophical works. So evidence remains elusively private in the eyes of the believer.

Interestingly, many of the arguments of both are simply arguments against a counter-assumption that anticipates a secular universe. For instance, Plantinga shows that the Logical Problem of Evil is not incoherent, resulting in a conclusion that evil (neglect “natural evil” for the moment) is not logically incompatible with omnibenevolence, omnipotence, and omniscience. But, and here we get back to Cutting, it does nothing to persuade us that the rapacious cruelty of Yahweh much less the moral evil expressed in the new concept of Hell in the New Testament are anything more than logically possible. The human dimension and the appropriate moral outrage are unabated and we loop back to the generosity of Cutting towards the religious: shouldn’t we provide equal generosity to the scriptural problem of evil as expressed in everything from the Hebrew Bible through to the Book of Mormon? That is, after all, where everyday believers pick the cherries of their arguments?

Of course, such realizations are not an argument for atheism per se, for why concern oneself with such barbarism if it is all simple hooey? Instead, it is the moral character of such deities that is put in question by the scriptural analysis of evil. The religious should actively discourage reference and reverence to the works that define them. Cutting hints at this in his extended critique:

There are serious moral objections to aspects of some religions.  But many believers rightly judge that their religion has great moral value for them, that it gives them access to a rich and fulfilling life of love.  What is not justified is an exclusivist or infallibilist reading of this belief, implying that the life of a given religion is the only or the best way toward moral fulfillment for everyone, or that there is no room for criticism of the religion’s moral stances.

I would argue that the first statement takes precedence over issues of exclusivity and infallibility, however, and not just based on contemporary applications of Christian or Muslim belief concerning gay rights or whether or not infidels must die. Instead, the extensive cruelty and moral evil expressed in most ancient texts must be addressed by religious believers by distancing themselves from their traditions. The modern, evolved versions of the faiths could easily declare themselves as “derived from the best teachings of Christ” or “the most loving aspects of Islam” and so forth, thus also ensuring that they don’t have to confront the grotesque shades haunting their own traditions.

Enjoy the eggs

Eostre was a Germanic pagan deity, likely dating to Indo-European origins, and reflective of spring rebirth in northern European mythology. Jacob Grimm, of the Brothers Grimm, analyzed the linguistic and mythological origins of Easter and connected the modern beliefs to syncretization during European Christianization.

Still, Easter was about bunnies and fertility, with eggs representative of the latter. This was abstract symbolism. With syncretization, however, the traditions of human sacrifice drawn from Middle Eastern religion were overlain on the old forest beliefs about dawn and fertility. These sacrificial tendencies extend backward to the horrors of the Old Testament. We begin with Isaac and Jacob, but continue on to the genocide of the Amalekites by the Jews, including:

Thus says the Lord of hosts, “I have noted what Amalek did to Israel in opposing them on the way when they came up out of Egypt. Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.” (1 Sam. 15:2-3)

Old Testament killing and sacrifice continues on and on:

 …you must attack that town and completely destroy all its inhabitants, as well as all the livestock. Then you must pile all the plunder in the middle of the open square and burn it. Burn the entire town as a burnt offering to the Lord your God. That town must remain a ruin forever; it may never be rebuilt. (Deuteronomy 13:13-19)

If you give me victory over the Ammonites, I will give to the LORD the first thing coming out of my house to greet me when I return in triumph.  I will sacrifice it [a daughter] as a burnt offering. (Judges 11:29-40)

This rampant cruelty extends into the New Testament where the ancient traditions conspire to produce the truly bizarre idea that we can escape our sins by God’s sacrifice of his own child. Somehow the Jews’ collective punishment for failing to follow complex Mosaic Laws, even after having once been drowned by God to the point of near extermination (The Noahic Flood), needed additional sacrifice to demonstrate our perfidy. But our collective moral failures are scapegoat-able (literally: an escape sacrificial goat); that is, our sins can be removed from us and absolved by Jesus who carried them back to Heaven by random cruelty by non-believers. Yet we remain sinners? Or, at least, the sin might be available for absolution by faith alone. Or acts and faith for some? It doesn’t make much sense and never really has. At least Eostre needs little explanation: the cycle of life continues.

Apparently, the urge to kill and sacrifice human lives was just getting back to basics:

You must give me the firstborn of your sons. Do the same with your cattle and your sheep. Let them stay with their mothers for seven days, but give them to me on the eighth day. (Exodus 22:29-30)

What a horrorfest. At least enjoy the eggs.