Quite a few people in my life have struggled with the simple fact that I am an atheist. For me, it is a simple fact; I do not believe in any gods. But, family members, friends, and online strangers strain at this with varying degrees of difficulty, depending on how much they care about me. Some passively post articles about atheists who found their way to faith. Some argue with me at length, using everything from simple, easily shredded arguments such as the “Look at the Trees” argument to the much more subtle “From whence cometh self awareness.”
Each of these are attempts to find the key that unlocks the door to my spirituality, as if I will suddenly snap bolt upright and raise a finger to the sky and proclaim, “Oh, yes, now I get it! I believe in God now!”
For a long time, I did precisely the same thing with atheism, hoping that I could come up with the exact right thing or sequence of things to get those I cared about to shed their religious beliefs. However, the only “Ah-ha!” moment that arrived was my own.
It took nearly three decades for me to arrive at atheism after concerted study of religion, studying the Bible. the Qur’an, and a slew of other religious texts. I spent time as a pagan priest. It was not an easy journey.
What it took me a while to realize is it never is easy. No one reaches their equilibrium point quickly, or easily, or by stepping through a single door. There is no single key to unlock, no single barrier to get past. The friend that asked me the question that brought me to atheism didn’t bring me from hard core belief to absolute non-belief. I was nearly there already, a deist seriously examining all my beliefs. I am never going to come up with a single phrase that will convince my religious father to become an atheist any more than he will come up with a phrase that will convince me to become a Christian again.
All I can say is that one of the primary reasons that I am an atheist is that it is important to me that I believe as many true things as possible. If something is an unknown, I don’t want to believe in it until it is known to be true. No religion fits that description.
Quite a claim, I know. And I am sure to get some angry responses.
But the fact is that Trump stands against everything Jesus stood for. He is a con artist who has convinced the religious right that he is the exact opposite of what he actually is.
Let’s compare Trump’s statements with those from the Bible.
“When someone crosses you, my advice is ‘Get even!’ That is not typical advice, but it is real-life advice. If you do not get even, you are just a schmuck! When people wrong you, go after those people, because it is a good feeling and because other people will see you doing it. I love getting even. I get screwed all the time. I go after people, and you know what? People do not play around with me as much as they do with others. They know that if they do, they are in for a big fight. Always get even. Go after people that go after you. Don’t let people push you around. Always fight back and always get even. It’s a jungle out there, filled with bullies of all kinds who will try to push you around. If you’re afraid to fight back people will think of you as a loser, a ‘schmuck!’ They will know they can get away with insulting you, disrespecting you, and taking advantage of you. Don’t let it happen! Always fight back and get even.” (Trump: Think Big, 2007)
43 Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.
44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;
45 That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.
46 For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?
47 And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so?
48 Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.
Simply put, Trump is pro-revenge. Jesus is anti-revenge.
“I will build a great wall — and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me –and I’ll build them very inexpensively. I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.” – Donald Trump, June 2015
39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.
Simply put, Trump is anti-neighbor, and Jesus says to love one’s neighbor as one’s self.
“I’m putting people on notice that are coming here from Syria as part of this mass migration, that if I win, they’re going back!” – Donald Trump, October 2015
31 When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory:
32 And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats:
33 And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.
34 Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:
35 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:
36 Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
37 Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?
38 When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?
39 Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
41 Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:
42 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink:
43 I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.
44 Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?
45 Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.
Trump is against refugees. This contradicts the words of Jesus.
Over time, I have been accused of being an aggressive atheist.
Oh, the terminology has changed. I’ve been called an asshole. I’ve been told I am “proselytizing”. I’ve been told that I am too open and vocal about my atheism, even once by another atheist (or so they claimed at the time).
“Oh,” you are thinking, “You must be one of those anti-theists. You hate religion and the religious.”
Nope. I don’t hate anyone, and find religion to be, at best, annoying, and, at worst, an excuse for people to treat each other badly. Why, then, am I labeled like that?
Because I speak truth to believers. I point out the flaws in their belief, in their logic, and I ask questions that challenge their worldview. Let me give you an example.
Recently, a Facebook friend posted a meme of a “white Jesus” with the question, “Is there room for me on your wall?”
If I had been an anti-theist, my response would have been something along the lines of, “Sure, let me go get some nails.” or “Fuck no! He isn’t real!”
Anti-theism is not about speaking truth. It is about reacting negatively to religion. It can be dogmatic (All religion is wrong and evil!). It is usually very aggressive
What I did was ask why I would want a portrait of Cesare Borgia on my wall. For those of you who don’t know, the images of Jesus used in mainstream Christianity are of Cesare Borgia, a disgusting man from the 15th century who was given a PR makeover by his father. He had a variety of images created with Cesare as Jesus Christ. The campaign was super effective, and very, very few people today know that White Jesus is not Jesus at all, but Borgia.
By the end of it, I was threatened with violence, told by one person they had no idea what I believed (and then went on to tell me what I believed. Or, more accurately, what they thought I believed), told my parents had failed somewhere with me, and then blocked by someone who has known me since I was about eight years old.
Did I throw any insults? Not one.
Did I call people stupid? Nope.
I didn’t even really challenge their faith. But, I made them question it themselves, and that horrifies people. So, while it is acceptable for some Christians to say that other people deserve to be tortured for eternity, inciting thought and critical thinking is a crime worthy of banishment.
Why don’t I insult believers? For the same reason I don’t blame women for being raped, or the elderly for getting ripped off. Religion is a scam, and blaming those that have been scammed does nothing positive. The best thing for me to do is plant the seeds of doubt. In those that have a mind open enough to it, maybe they will realize the scam and get free. Forcing them with insults is not my style.
So, call me an aggressive atheist for challenging worldviews. It could be worse…
There has been a lot of press recently about the attacks made against Planned Parenthood, both by video, by hackers, and by politicians.
I thought I would make an attempt to clear up some confusion some Christians have about the issue, namely, the simple phrase, “Abortion is murder!”
It’s not. Legally, scientifically, and, yes, even from a Biblical standpoint.
I know what you may be thinking, “But, Aaron, you’re an atheist, how can you possibly know what the Bible says about abortion/dare to interpret my holy book/read the Bible without bursting into flames?”
I can read/I have nothing to fear but the opinions of Christians/you’re thinking of a magical realm of sorcery, not reality.
So, let’s start with the legal reason, first.
Legal issues come down, in many cases, to the definition of words. Some words have very clear legal definitions. Murder is one of those words. Let’s go to law.com for our definition (emphasis added by me):
n. the killing of a human being by a sane person, with intent, malice aforethought (prior intention to kill the particular victim or anyone who gets in the way) and with no legal excuse or authority. In those clear circumstances, this is first degree murder. By statute, many states consider a killing in which there is torture, movement of the person before the killing (kidnapping) or the death of a police officer or prison guard, or it was as an incident to another crime (as during a hold-up or rape), to be first degree murder, with or without premeditation and with malice presumed. Second degree murder is such a killing without premeditation, as in the heat of passion or in a sudden quarrel or fight. Malice in second degree murder may be implied from a death due to the reckless lack of concern for the life of others (such as firing a gun into a crowd or bashing someone with any deadly weapon). Depending on the circumstances and state laws, murder in the first or second degree may be chargeable to a person who did not actually kill, but was involved in a crime with a partner who actually did the killing or someone died as the result of the crime. Example: In a liquor store stick-up in which the clerk shoots back at the hold-up man and kills a bystander, the armed robber can be convicted of at least second degree murder. A charge of murder requires that the victim must die within a year of the attack. Death of an unborn child who is “quick” (fetus is moving) can be murder, provided there was premeditation, malice and no legal authority. Thus, abortion is not murder under the law. Example: Jack Violent shoots his pregnant girlfriend, killing the fetus. Manslaughter, both voluntary and involuntary, lacks the element of malice aforethought.
Note, this definition specifically touches on the point I was going to make. I didn’t actually realize it until I read through it, but I will attempt to explain further, just to clarify.
Abortion is not murder, legally, because abortion is legal. In order for it to be murder, it would need to be illegal.
Scientifically, let’s discuss the term “human being.”
Imagine Vitruvius. He is an average human being in every way. For sake of brevity, I’ll refer to him as V.
So, we cut off V’s arms. Is he still human? Yes.
Next, his legs. Still human? A bit difficult for him to do traditional gymnastics, but, yes, still human.
How much of V do we need to remove in order for him to stop being “human”? Is it his heart? Then people who have had artificial hearts are no longer human? Is it some other organ? Lungs, pancreas, liver, stomach, intestines, kidneys? Nope, all of those have been able to be replaced. Is it his face? So, people who have been severely injured facially are no longer human? Eyes?
Okay, enough gruesome vivisection. *waves magic wand and reassembles V to go on his merry way*
The brain, which stores the sum of all of the experiences a person has gone through in their life, isn’t even it. There have been cases of severe brain trauma and birth defects that have either badly damaged the brain or, in some very rare cases, ended up with people who have no brain. There was a math student who had an I.Q. of 126 who had no physical brain.
So, what is it? Many people would say “soul” but no soul has ever been found scientifically, so we can nix that. Well, sort of. Let me ask a different question.
What is Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony? Is it the paper and ink where the notes are printed? Is it the musicians and instruments playing the piece? Of course not. It is the music, the pattern of notes played in a specific order and in a specific way.
My conjecture is that a “human being” is the pattern of experiences and thoughts, carried out through the physical processes of life. We are, in essence, the sum of our experiences and translated through our brain (or other structure serving that purpose). Some might call that the soul, but, like the music in a symphony, once the instruments and at rest and the performance is over, that symphony does not continue to exist on its own. It requires a medium in which to exist, whether paper and ink, magnetic tape, or in a digital format. It also exists in the memory of the people who heard the performance. The same can be said of humans when they die.
Back to the topic of abortion. Hypothetically speaking, if my conjecture is true, it is not a human being until birth, possibly not until permanent memories begin to form between two and three years. Oddly enough, that’s the Bible’s standpoint as well. But, I will get into that in the next section.
When the case was brought before the Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade, a specific moment a fetus went from human tissue to human being had to be set. So, they did made the most sense: they set it to the average point where the brain is functional and the fetus can be removed from the mother’s body and survive. This is good enough for me and most pro-choice people. It is more conservative than the Biblical view, but it works with today’s understanding of physiology.
22 If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no mischief follow: he shall be surely punished, according as the woman’s husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine. 23 And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life,
24 Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,
25 Burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.
So, according to the law, abortion as a side effect of violence was not considered to be murder, or the Bible would demand the offender be killed. Instead, a fine levied by the judges was sufficient.
11 As for Ephraim, their glory shall fly away like a bird, from the birth, and from the womb, and from the conception.
12 Though they bring up their children, yet will I bereave them, that there shall not be a man left: yea, woe also to them when I depart from them!
13 Ephraim, as I saw Tyrus, is planted in a pleasant place: but Ephraim shall bring forth his children to the murderer.
14 Give them, O Lord: what wilt thou give? give them a miscarrying womb and dry breasts.
So, it is perfectly okay to ask God to perform abortions.
And then there is the word Nephesh (נֶפֶש). Nephesh is a interesting word. It is translated as “soul”, but the problem is that it is used several times in the Bible to refer to animal life, not human. And the word itself means “breath of life”. Meanwhile, the word “ruah” (רוח) is used to denote the spirit of mankind. Hence, we come to Ezekiel 37:5.
5 Thus saith the Lord God unto these bones; Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live
But, wait, that means the Bible considers life to begin at the point when breath begins. Actually, it goes a bit further than that.
According to the Bible, God tells Moses that children are not even worth counting until they are a month old. Numbers 3:40
40 And the Lord said unto Moses, Number all the firstborn of the males of the children of Israel from a month old and upward, and take the number of their names.
In fact, they are worthless as far as human sacrifice. Oh, did I mention there were specific rules for human sacrifice in the Bible? Not really my point here, but included for context. Leviticus 27:1-7
27 And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying,
2 Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When a man shall make a singular vow, the persons shall be for the Lord by thy estimation.
3 And thy estimation shall be of the male from twenty years old even unto sixty years old, even thy estimation shall be fifty shekels of silver, after the shekel of the sanctuary.
4 And if it be a female, then thy estimation shall be thirty shekels.
5 And if it be from five years old even unto twenty years old, then thy estimation shall be of the male twenty shekels, and for the female ten shekels.
6 And if it be from a month old even unto five years old, then thy estimation shall be of the male five shekels of silver, and for the female thy estimation shall be three shekels of silver.
7 And if it be from sixty years old and above; if it be a male, then thy estimation shall be fifteen shekels, and for the female ten shekels.
Finally, the Bible even goes so far as to provide instructions on how to perform abortions. Granted, it’s more of a magic spell than an actual medical procedure, but that’s common in the Bible (see the cure for leprosy or how to get stripes or spots on livestock). Numbers 5:21-28
21 Then the priest shall charge the woman with an oath of cursing, and the priest shall say unto the woman, The Lord make thee a curse and an oath among thy people, when the Lord doth make thy thigh to rot, and thy belly to swell;
22 And this water that causeth the curse shall go into thy bowels, to make thy belly to swell, and thy thigh to rot: And the woman shall say, Amen, amen.
23 And the priest shall write these curses in a book, and he shall blot them out with the bitter water:
24 And he shall cause the woman to drink the bitter water that causeth the curse: and the water that causeth the curse shall enter into her, and become bitter.
25 Then the priest shall take the jealousy offering out of the woman’s hand, and shall wave the offering before the Lord, and offer it upon the altar:
26 And the priest shall take an handful of the offering, even the memorial thereof, and burn it upon the altar, and afterward shall cause the woman to drink the water.
27 And when he hath made her to drink the water, then it shall come to pass, that, if she be defiled, and have done trespass against her husband, that the water that causeth the curse shall enter into her, and become bitter, and her belly shall swell, and her thigh shall rot: and the woman shall be a curse among her people.
28 And if the woman be not defiled, but be clean; then she shall be free, and shall conceive seed.
To sum up, legally, it does not classify as murder. Scientifically, there is no evidence that a fetus is a “human being” until it is capable of having cognition. From the Bible, fetus are not counted as “life” in terms of crimes, is not a life until it breathes for the first time, and children under a month old are worthless, anyway. Oh, and priests have an incantation that can cause abortion.
Setting aside theological concerns for the moment, this is a real and serious concern with the majority religion of the planet, namely, Christianity.
Whether it is a marketing issue, a difficulty in distribution, apathy, a dogma problem, or a little of all of these, some of Christianities core competencies are failing. Where there was once an organization that publicly helped those in need there now exists an organization that is more generally devoted to telling people how they are doing it wrong, trying to regain control, and support those that push hateful agendas.
Take, for example, the recent RFRA law in Indiana. Set the law aside for a moment and examine the immediate result of the law, the case of one Memories Pizza. The Blaze, a conservative website run by Glenn Beck, set up a Gofundme campaign for the restaurant, who had publicly stated they would not cater any gay weddings, then closed their doors under the social media backlash. In two days, they received nearly a million dollars of funding. Meanwhile, dozens of other campaigns for people, families, and businesses with legitimate needs went unfunded or underfunded. People in need. Families in pain. Instead, money went to support a pizza restaurant standing up for exclusion, because of their myopic view of the Bible.
Here’s some facts. Jesus never said anything directly against homosexuality. Some people stretch some of his words to cover it. Paul used coined terms that may or may not have had something to do with homosexuality, but were more likely dealing with temple prostitution. The Old Testament talks about it, about the same time it talks about pork, shellfish, and mixed fabrics being just as bad.
What did Jesus say? He said not to judge. He said not to lay heavy burdens on others (Matthew 23:4). He said not to lock others out of the Kingdom of God (Matthew 23:13). He said not to preach hateful attitudes (Matthew 23:15). He said some people are born different (Matthew 19:12). He said he loves weddings (Matthew 22:1-14).
There is a detailed description of this interpretation here. The first time I read this interpretation of Luke 17:34-35, I thought reading gay and lesbian sex into it was pretty wacky: “In that night, two men will be in one bed; one will be taken and the other will be left. Two women will be grinding; one will be taken and one will be left.” But now I find it impossible to read the passage without seeing the possibility that Jesus is saying homosexuality is irrelevant to salvation. The fact that the passage begins with a reference to Sodom and Gomorrah may reinforce this reading—if Genesis 19 is really about homosexuality.
This interpretation does interesting things to our arguments about the Bible and LGBTQ issues. In our modern debate, anti-gay Christians claim that the story of Sodom and Gomorrah is about homosexuality. The counter-argument is that the story of Sodom and Gomorrah is really about xenophobia and violence toward strangers. The inhabitants of the towns threaten visitors with rape. So, the counter-argument goes, this is a story about violence and exploitation, not a story about consensual sex between people of the same gender.
But because Luke’s apocalypse references Sodom and Gomorrah and two men in one bed, then I think it’s reasonable to claim that if one is about homosexuality, then so is the other—and if one isn’t then neither is the other.
The other common New Testament debate is about what Paul meant by the word “arsenokoites” from 1 Corinthians, 6:9. It’s often translated as “male prostitutes” or “homosexuals” or even “Sodomites,” but it is really a compound Greek word formed by the word “man” and “bed.” Anti-gay Christians claim that the word is clearly Paul’s reference to homosexuality. The counter argument is that it could be about any kind of sexual abuse or exploitation. The anti-gay response is that no, really, man-bedders has got to be a reference to the Greek translation of Leviticus 18:22, “lying with a man.”
But Luke’s gay apocalypse also turns this argument on its head. If “man-bedders” is “clearly” Paul’s reference to homosexuality, then Jesus’ similar language about two men in a bed must also be about homosexuality. This is one of those interpretive situations where you can’t have your cake and eat it, too. Either Paul isn’t talking about gay sex and Jesus isn’t either, or they both are. Either the story of Sodom and Gomorrah isn’t about gay sex, and Luke’s gay apocalypse isn’t either, or they both are. Either way, Jesus trumps both Genesis and Paul.
So, what happened?
Nothing happened. Christianity, like most religions, has been used to control others for thousands of years. It is the the positive fringe that look for the good in the religion and try to do good. Even some people whom the world considers to be positive forces are actually negative; Mother Teresa believed that suffering was good for people, so let people suffer when the suffering could have been alleviated.
If Jesus did exist, many of his teachings were very different, and there are Christians today that follow those teachings. Presbyterians, for example, seem to be a bit more aware of the times than most. Even so, I think that the Jesus of the Bible had a lot more in common with the hippies of the 1960s than with the bulk of Christians today.
Recently, I was the target of what I call passive censorship on Facebook. I belonged to an MS support group. Although the rules specifically state no posts about religion, there were allowances for prayer requests, and several posts a day talking about God. However, anyone talking about atheism was warned, their posts deleted, and if they did not take the hint that secularism was not allowed, like me, they would be banned, even if they followed the other rules. One admin claimed the group owner was an atheist, although nothing was heard from them about the whole thing. So, what the heck is going on here? The same kind of thing that happens in a lot of groups, and many people accuse Facebook of doing; passive censorship.
For more than five years, I was an admin on a very successful debate group on Facebook. It was eventually destroyed when a Muslim posted an image of someone being beheaded that was not caught by the admins and he later reported it for graphic violence. That was more active censorship; he very clearly intended to censor our speech. Passive censorship is more subtle, to the point where the person censoring may not even notice it themselves. It usually takes the form of rule manipulation to try and silence speech that is disagreeable. In some cases, this can be admirable; a few years ago, a group of pastors here in Indianapolis limited a Klu Klux Klan rally to the statehouse by registering events at all of the other public spaces in the downtown area. There have been cases where people have blocked access to the WBC without breaking the law. In a way, these are, in themselves, acts of free speech and defiance. The difference is that they do not prevent the speech of another; they are not full censorship. They do not eliminate the speech, only limit its scope.
Additionally, they do not show preferential treatment to one group over another. Granted, if I were to go into a Presbyterian church service on a Sunday morning and proclaim Allah as God, I would be met with, at least, a rightful request to leave. I would be on private property. directly violating rules and upsetting the reason people are there. However, if there was to be a computer trade show, and only Christians were invited, that would be passive censorship.
People have accused Facebook of doing this kind of thing, usually for political purposes. Recently, there was a case of a twelve year old whose account was removed. Allegedly, it was because of a post critical of Obama, but anyone who has read the Facebook TOS knows that the cutoff age is 13.
The thing is that passive censorship requires vague rules to begin with. Without vagaries, there can be no errors of interpretation, and no “benefits of the doubt”. That’s why legal contracts are so specific, long, and carefully worded. Such as a Terms of Service contract.
So, in the case of the MS group that bounced me out, well, so be it. You’ve proven to me that your adherence to your religion is more important than your compassion for your fellow man… which is, ironically, what your religion is supposed to be about.
My recent lapse and return to antiapologetics has had some rather stunning results.
While debating marriage equality, I found Christians who actively support slavery. I found one who excused slavery in the Old Testament by claiming that the slaves were not human.
While debating the story of Noah, I found Christians who advocated killing gay people. I found others who claimed that the US was a Christian nation and all other faiths existed here at the sufferance of Christians.
I think there are some factors that can account for this, at least for online interactions.
First, I think the Internet is acting to strip away many of the moderate Christians. Many are really looking into Christianity and finding the flaws and inconsistencies in it, and either leaving religion for apatheism or atheism. Many that are left are strongly Christian, and will defend it strongly.
Second, the moderate Christians that are left are not prone to examine their faith, and so do not participate at the front lines of causes that could cause them to question it. ‘Soft’ anti-choice sentiment, for example, can lead voting decisions, but, unless the person is active in the movement, they will not come up against those that question their views.
Third, the Internet fosters an air of anonymity that leads people to act in a way that is greatly exaggerated from the way they would in person. In addition, quick access to supporting information from like minds and opinions, as well as the rise of quote mines such as ICR, AiG, CARM, and Conservapedia.
Finally, it has allowed loud, aggressive Christians to gather in groups. In days past, these are the kind of wide eyed crazies that would have stood on street corners with sandwich boards declaring the end was nigh. Today, they can form entire churches and cults, convincing the slightly less crazy Christians to follow them.
These factors lead to large numbers of aggressive Christians appearing. But, there is one other factor that is in play, that I did not include in the list. Radical Islam has taught Radical Christians that society at large is finally willing to accept violence as a means again. September 11th didn’t just open the door to radical Islam like ISIS, but radical Christians like the WBC.
However, what it has also given rise to is a reactionary response that has led to the empowerment of causes that in previous years no one thought had enough traction to get anywhere.
I am the father of a transgendered teenager. My eldest was interested in joining the military, and, although I think the rigid discipline and regimented attitudes are exactly the opposite of their personality, one concern was how the military would deal with the transgendered status. We have an acquaintance who served in the military who is transgendered, but had to pretend to be their birth gender to make it through, so we asked a few months back if they thought the military might be ready to handy transgender by the time my eldest was of age to join.
They didn’t think so. A month later, this happened.
Thirty seven states allow for marriage equality for same sex couples. Ten years ago, that was a pipe dream.
The reaction from moderates to extreme, and public, religious zealotry has been to swing away from it and become more liberal. Perhaps their rage is fueling positive change in society, much to their dismay. In turn, it is probably fanning the fires of their rage. It is probably the same kind of pattern that was seen in the 1960s with civil rights.
There are two basic viewpoints on how sin is dealt with by a deity. Either the deity is just, and sin is treated like a crime against the deity, and punishments are meted out in a judicial way. In some cultures, this meant each person went before the deity or their chosen arbiter, and possibly plead their case, or were at least a witness to their case being plead. Those whose evil deeds outweighed their good were punished, and those who had done good were rewarded.
It was a simple, elegant system. Of course, different cultures added different embellishments. Some reflected the justice systems they knew, others the systems the desperately wished for. Some people, however, end up in the Not So Nice Place, whatever that particular religion calls it or describes it as.
At some point, someone came up with the idea of forgiveness in the face of this justice. Whether in the form of someone else standing in for the sinner (as in Christianity) or the deity just outright forgiving the misdeeds of the sinner (as in Islam) the concept is basically the same. The deity forgives all crimes, no matter what they are, given that the sinner does something specific. In Christianity, the basic act is to believe in Jesus (John 3:16). In Islam, it is to become Muslim, which has a host of things associated with it, from daily prayer to eating specific things to this that and the other thing (depending on the branch of Islam).
The problem with justice theology versus forgiveness theology is that forgiveness theology turns what is effectively a “perfectly just” system into a perfect system of bribery. Imagine, if you will, a judge who hands out nothing but death sentences. However, if you go to his son, before your trial, and tell him you love him, the son will go to his dad and tell him to go easy on you… but that is the only way not to hang. That’s the flip side of the coin, the nasty little secret that forgiveness theology carries along. You cannot just “be good” and expect to be treated well in the after life. No, in forgiveness theology, if you have not greased the right palm, into the fire you go. It makes all actions on Earth, save the bribery, completely meaningless. An evil person can kill and eat children, and end up in heaven, given he has accepted Jesus into his heart, and his victims, all Muslim and Jewish children, will burn in Hell. Some Christians talk about how God is “infinitely just” but the whole idea behind forgiveness theology throws justice out the window. True justice does not bow to bribery. Absolute mercy and absolute justice are absolutes that cancel each other out. If someone deserves death, and gets no punishment at all, then where is the justice?
The concept of a stand in taking the punishment for the sinner in some forgiveness theologies is an adaptation of the older sacrificial justice theologies, such as Judaism, which had a complex system of sacrifices. This concept goes back into the misty pre-historical record period, the idea that the deity or deities are just like humans and, when angry, can be soothed in specific ways. In a very real way, Christ as a human sacrifice is just a slight adaptation of the same ritual source as the Aztec ruler autosacrifice on the feast of Huey Tozoztli.
If your parent is angry, or not giving you what you want or need, you give them something they want, or something to get their attention.
What we are left with is a very powerful, and dangerous, concept. First, a theology based on the concept that one can be forgiven for any crime (nearly; most forgiveness religions have something that is unforgivable, usually something along the lines of “talking bad about the religion/our deity/our holy man”) which means that the leaders of these religions can commit atrocities, and even ask others to commit atrocities, even acts that their religion expressly forbids. This means that spreading faith by the sword, although possibly embarrassing later, can be psychologically excused by the believer. You would be hard pressed to find a Catholic who is truly angry at the Holy Roman Church for the acts committed during the Crusades or the Inquisition. Most merely wave it off as “Oh, well, that was another time, another culture”. The same thing happens with modern Muslims and horrendous acts committed by ISIS, Osama Bin Laden, and others. Some blame others for driving them to do it, others merely say, “Oh, well, they don’t represent my faith!”
Second, it allows for hypocritical behavior on a smaller level as well. Loving Christian parents feel justified in throwing their homosexual children in the street, ignoring certain commands of their faith in favor of others. Muslims who hurt or kill other Muslims, while other Muslims declare that Islam is a religion of peace.
I think one problem with forgiveness theology is that it has to assume that people are born bad, or it loses part of its power. Judaism is a culture as well as a religion; a Jew is a Jew from birth because of culture, not necessarily because they were born bad. Christianity teaches that the sin of Adam and Eve is a stain on every human (ignoring Deuteronomy 24:16 and Ezekiel 18:20) and therefore we must seek forgiveness from birth.
Finally, although religion was already an extension of tribal “us vs. them” mentality, moving from one tribe/religion to another under justice theology was difficult. That meant that wars fought between groups were for land, wealth, slaves, power of the group. This meant that peace could be brokered if there was a balance of power, which happened more often than not. With the change to forgiveness theology, conversion became not only possible, but desirable, and, in some religions, strongly suggested or ordered by the deity. This added another reason for war, one that pushed peace off the table. When god wants souls, who can stand in his way? This began bloody warfare that lasted thousands of years and only settled down once believers were so horrified by the industrial slaughter of the infidels that they finally settled down.
One of the short list of good things Hitler did that was good for the world was to end most Christian conversion by blood. And, like every other thing on the list, he didn’t set out to do it.
We are now faced with a religion that has the same idea, Islam. How we deal with it will determine the shape of the 21st and probably the 22nd and possibly later centuries. I sincerely hope it will not take another holocaust to disgust the common Muslim enough to forcibly put a halt to the extremist clerics.