The Religion Dilemma
(The Skeptical Review)
The United States presidential candidates espoused God in their campaign oratory as if religious belief is the impetus for moral standards, not to mention Godís blessings in America. The U.S. House of Representatives, which recently passed The Ten Commandments Defense Act, agrees. The so-called liberal media also consent by not daring to challenge these unfounded assertions lest its image is further tarnished by the religious communityís "anti-religion" accusations. So what is the dilemma?
Contributing first to the dilemma is that we cannot name one moral precept from the Bible of the Judeo-Christian God that he himself and/or his surrogates have not violated. The Bible attributes acts of killing, stealing, lying, and sexual atrocities to God. Then the public is surprised when Christian actions reflect the nature of their God. Witness the notorious Monicagate scandal. Godís behavior becomes a salve for the conscience of the perpetrator. When the sin is exposed the accusers put on airs of self-righteous indignation. Both the accused and accuser mirror their God. The immorality of this God and its adherents is the heart of the dilemma.
Secondly, the Holy Bible upon which the newly elected president swears to uphold the honor of the office contains accounts of a God who is something less than holy. Not only that, but this book has passages that even the most respected theologians find contradictory. Some would even suggest the Holy Bible has several contradictions, inconsistencies, and errors. To the "objective" reader, this inerrant, infallible "Word of God" is the work of man, rather than the culturally popular virtuous, omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent God. Iím now asked why during my years in the ministry I never saw these Bible problems. It is now easy to see it was a combination of both not wanting to and not recognizing the difference between subjectively and objectively reading the Bible. Sincere skeptics are maligned as being rebellious or mad at God. No, they are just honest inquirers, who read the Bible objectively and find it sadly lacking.
For example, donít the many misinterpretations and false alarms regarding Jesusís second coming suggest a possible problem with the accuracy of the Bibleís prophecies? Look at the most prominent of the Bibleís prophecies, the coming of the Messiah. The fulfilled Old Testament prophetic scriptures of the Messiah claimed for Jesus of Nazareth are simply "cut-and-pasted" Old Testament scripture verses superimposed on alleged New Testament events and then called miraculous prophetic fulfillments. No, there is not one single legitimate Old Testament prophecy that says the Messiah shall... "do thus and so" fulfilled in the gospel accounts of Jesus. No wonder Jewish scholars find the messianic fulfillment of Jesus laughable, if not for the heinous Christian persecutions that followed.
Further, there are no "credible" first-century testimonies from non-Christian Jewish, Greek, or Roman writers confirming the Jesus story. Yet works of numerous authors of this period still exist. Of these philosophers, poets, natural scientists, moralists, theists, and historians, not one makes a "credible" comment about Jesus of Nazareth. (Incidentally, there is no conclusive historical evidence of Nazarethís existence until 200 C. E.) Encyclopedia Britannica scholars call the notorious "Jesus testimony" in Josephusís Antiquities of the Jews of 93 C. E. "an invention." Later writersí references to Jesus are questionable out-of-context, superficial passing remarks. Could the purpose of these references be to mask the embarrassing lack of evidence for a historical Jesus? Could almost 2,000 years of religious tradition be based largely on fiction?
Todayís Christian reads the Bible in amazement at the uniqueness of Jesus. Unfortunately, this same Christian is ignorant of the fact that 2,000 years ago practically every religion had savior- gods with stories very similar to Jesusís, so much so that not one single event, miracle, or teaching of Jesus makes him distinctive. (Krishna taught a "Sermon on the Mount" in 1000 B.C.E.) To continue Roman hegemony, the fourth-century Roman Emperor Constantine needed a singular savior-god who would at least equal the other savior-gods. Eusebius, Constantineís overseer of church doctrine and history, who was later honored as "Father of Church History," is quoted in his book The Preparation of the Gospel that "it will sometimes be necessary to use falsehood for the benefit of those who need such a mode of treatment." Eusebiusís condoning fraud exposes the mind-set of the Roman Catholic church and her Protestant progeny in instituting a dominant savior-god clone. Jesus's life is not remotely close to unique, but is simply a composite of Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Persian, and Indian savior-god myths.
Then we have the very practical question: Is Bible faith a virtue? It is a way of thinking that neutralizes the ability to think critically. Bible faith encourages quick, naive, often fanciful answers minimizing one's interest in genuine intellectual pursuit. In this sense, it is destructive. This faith closely parallels what the con artist hopes his target will embrace when hearing his pitch. "Believe, buy now, then you'll see and understand later." The Bible belittles skepticism but praises the gullibility of faith. Reason, evidence, and integrity are minor considerations in "faith's" thought and conduct of life. Hence, parades of preachers claiming to preach the "Word of God" attract multitudes willingly seduced by quick-fix formulas.
Religion is a coping mechanism for the uncertainties of life. It enables us to rationalize disappointments and tragedies. When under stress we humans find it helpful to give responsibility for our lives to a "higher power," someone outside of ourselves. For some, this is a conversion experience. With God, believers can rationalize virtually any irrational event! Having an immediate answer for lifeís calamities is one of religionís primary attractions regardless of its sectarian garb. Even human mortality is answered. To keep up with religionís competitive market place, Christianity adopted pagan concepts of the soul, of heaven, and of hell. Christian intimidation claiming its religion as the only religion enabling one to reach heaven is the perfect marketing ploy for us egotistical, gullible humans. Christianity gives eternal happiness for its adherents and the vindictive pleasure of eternal punishment for its detractors.
Recognizing the Judeo-Christian religious tradition with all its favorable and unfavorable qualities as man-made sets us free from this religion dilemma. We no longer have to go through the mental gymnastics of explaining the many contradictions and irrationalities of this God and his people. The apostle Paul stated Christianity is a "mystery" religion. Is it any wonder why its followers are often mystified as to why God did or did not do this or that? But, Christians will keep on praising the Lord, putting on a show of spirituality waiting for the next revelation or explanation of how to put square pegs in round holes. Being able to think and search for lifeís answers outside the bounds of an archaic, irrational Bible written by unlearned believers in a sun that makes circles around a flat earth is truly liberating. Jesus' alleged words, "You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free," are still valid today, even though the gospel writers had to plagiarize the 600 B. C. E. words of the Buddha to come up with the idea.
I recently saw a bumper sticker stating, "Prayer is a Hotline to Heaven." Christians, as with other proselytizing religions, would have us believe all they have to do is pray, God hears, and the answer is received. That is what Jesus promised! Yet the hidden reality is that the failure rates of prayer far exceed success rates. Maybe this explains why my success rate in praying to Zeus equals my former success rate praying to Jesus. Incidentally, Zeus does answer prayer! I have testimonies to prove it! But donít be alarmed; Iím not trying to convert you. It only proves there is a measure of power in positive thinking. Rather than religious mysticism, "the more excellent way" sought after by Paul will be found as humans emphasize mutual tolerance, reason, evidence, and integrity as their guidelines for life.
(Lee Salisbury, 2690 Northridge Lane, Stillwater, MN 55082- 1500; e-mail, email@example.com)
Editor's Note: Lee Salisbury was for fourteen years a Bible-believing, Pentecostal preacher and now hosts the Cable TV series Free Thought Forum.
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