Morality, the Bible, and the Nazis

I was re-watching the PBS show “The Question of God” the other day and during the debate segment on the moral law one of the commentators brought up the example of the Nazis. He asked how a person who did not have an absolute divinely-inspired concept of morals could explain to Hitler or the Nazis that what they were doing was wrong. So I thought I’d chip in with my two cents on my blog.

Now, I was not surprised by the question, since this seems to be a common strategy of Christians. The Nazis are often painted as godless and immoral, who were only able to do what they did because they did not ascribe to God’s laws. However, believers might want to be a little careful around this topic. Afterall, one of the central themes of the Old Testament is the idea of a chosen people. The Israelites were the chosen people of God, empowered by God to invade neighboring nations and kill/enslave their people. The fact is, the Nazis could very easily have justified their actions using the Bible. Just like the Israelites were the superior race back in the iron age, the Germans are the superior race in the industrial age and must fulfill their biblically-inspired destiny. The fact that their extreme anti-Semitism can also be traced back to a long history of Christian persecution of the Jews (as well as the writings of Martin Luther in their own country) also doesn’t bode well for Christianity’s “civilizing influence” on the Nazis.

In short, the idea that the Bible could have deterred the Nazis from the Holocaust is ludicrous. If anything, it would have empowered them further since they would have seen a divinely-inspired precedent in the “good book”. Another commentator in the show brought up the example of Wilberforce and the abolishment of the slave trade in Britain, yet we know during the American Civil War that both sides used God to justify their positions. Although Wilberforce credited God for his anti-slavery actions it’s clear that he could have taken the opposite stance just as easily (all we can say for sure is that he was against slavery and happened to be religious). The fact is, morality has never moved forward because of religion and we need to stop looking at it to guide our lives in the modern world. Living with empathy and compassion for your fellow human beings should always be the guiding principle of moral actions, not a 2000-year old book of magic.

Reinforcing the Illusion

I’ve always found it interesting how religions like Christianity have frequent and regular days of worship. Every Sunday, Christians file into their churches to hear how their all-loving God will punish them in a lake of fire for all eternity unless you worship him and eat him in the form of crackers and wine. They do this week after week, year after year, from the moment they’re born until they day they die. I can sort of understand why children might need to go to church (after all, they need to learn about their zombie savior from qualified authorities), but why would adults need to do so? They’ve already learned this stuff when they were kids and it’s not like they’re going to learn anything new (ask an adult Christian what they’ve learned from church in the past year and they probably won’t be able to tell you a thing). So why do they do it?

The answer, I suspect, may have something to do with a funeral I attended way back when I was a Christian. It was the first funeral that I had ever attended and it was more-or-less what I expected, with people somberly paying respect to the deceased. However, I remember being kind of confused at the time. Afterall, this person who had toiled and struggled on earth while alive was now in a much better place. Instead of weeping and mourning, the people at the funeral should have been dancing and partying. I mean, what better time could there be for a celebration than when someone leaves this mortal coil and becomes united with God? Of course I didn’t say anything at the time and just went along with it, but it struck me as odd. Thinking back on it now though, I think the reasons are obvious. Despite all the talk about the afterlife and eternal rewards in heaven, Christians don’t actually believe it. Deep down they know the truth, and when the time comes they will be unable to deny it (such fantasies shatter in the face of cold, grim reality).

I think this is the reason why there are regular church services: it is to reinforce the illusion, to get people to believe in childish things long after they should have given up such beliefs. Much like Santa Claus and the tooth fairy, such kooky beliefs will eventually disappear if left on their own so religions like Christianity need to constantly reinforce these beliefs in order for them to exist. However, much like belief in the afterlife, when push comes to shove even regular church-goers would be hard-pressed to admit to such fantasies. It’s only the odd nut who denies modern medicine to treat their illnesses; most believers go to their doctors when they get sick, not their priests. Reinforcing the illusion is a critical part of any successful religion (a note to anyone wishing to start their own religion ) ). However, behind the smoke and mirrors, secular reality beckons and we are all subject to its call.

The inefficient God

You know, of all the bible stories, I like Noah’s Flood the best. I like it not only for its outrageous improbabilities but also because it demonstrates something, God’s utter lack of efficiency. Of course this is something that can be pointed out in nature as well (I, like all males, have nipples), but Noah’s story is a particularly good demonstration. In the story, God decides he’s had it with humanity so what does he do? He decides to flood the entire earth (basically using the sledgehammer approach). However, he then decides that remaking everything would be too much work and so he decides to save a copy of everything on Noah’s party boat – along with a boatload of miracles to make everything work. However, all this work was ultimately for naught since mankind continued to sin (including the holy Noah, who got blind stinking drunk and cursed his son for seeing him that way). So what did God achieve by flooding the entire earth? Nadda, zippo, zilch.

Now, I don’t mean to be critical of the people who wrote the story, since they didn’t really know much about the world (it’s only with our recent scientific knowledge that we’ve come to realize just how proposterous it is, requiring miracle after miracle on virtually every level). However, if God really does exist and really did want to wipe out humanity you’d think he’d be a little bit more efficient in achieving his ends. For example, God could have created a lethal virus or bacteria that would have killed every person on earth (like the bubonic plague, but a lot more lethal). As for Noah and his family, God could have given them a special mutation that would allow them to resist it (at the same time, he could have also introduced a gene that made mankind more compliant). This would spare all the animals and plants and would require very little effort on God’s part. Alternatively, God could have just wiped out everything and started over again, getting it right this time. Instead, God commits world-wide genocide with nothing to show for it at the end.

Of course that’s not the only instance of God’s failures. Even as a Christian, I found it interesting that the death of Jesus didn’t really change anything. Even under the most optimistic interpretations, Jesus’ death only allowed a way for human beings to reach God, it did not remove sin from the world nor made it so that mankind no longer sinned. According to Christian eschatology, the second coming of Jesus is when God will finally set things right but his previous track record leaves much to be desired (frankly, I’m not holding my breath).

I once joked that God is like Microsoft; no matter how many times they tried they could never fix the Windows 9x series* (FYI, they ultimately had to ditch the whole thing and go with Windows NT instead, which is now the basis for Windows XP, Vista, and 7). No matter how many times God tries he can never quite manage to fix the problem, requiring yet more intervention later. And yet this is the god that Christians (as well as Jews and Muslims) pray to to fix their problems!

Evangelical schools are all about promoting the omnipotence of God, but this means they have to constantly make excuses for God’s shortcomings. The thing is, if they were honest about themselves then they wouldn’t believe in the biblical god since it’s very obvious that this god is not only not all-powerful but that he is inefficient as hell. No one in their right mind would think such a god worthy or worship.

As I said many times before on many different occasion, even if such a god existed, I would not worship him.

* For those of you who are not computer geeks, “Windows 9x” is an umbrella term for the Windows 95, Windows 98, and Windows ME operating systems. These systems were notorious for their “blue screen of death” (BSOD), a problem that Microsoft was never able to fix (BSODs finally went away when Microsoft switched to the Windows NT core, an entirely different system from 9x, and which first saw its debut with Windows XP).

Living in denial

I heard some interesting gossip the other day. It was from my sister, who told me about a certain acquaintance we both knew who had gone to work in Japan a few years ago and who recently came back (due to the earthquake). However, it seems that while in Japan this person had engaged in some out-of-wedlock frolicking and when she came back she came back with a baby. The most interesting part, at least to me, is that this person is a devout Christian.

While hearing about this I was suddenly reminded of Bristol Palin, who also had a child out of wedlock and was also from a highly conservative Christian household, and I remember commenting about how these kinds of things always seem to happen to the most devout Christians. It just seemed odd to me that those people who are the most vocal about abstinence and having no sex before marriage frequently end up breaking their own rules. Of course secular teens also engage in pre-marital sex but at least they’re honest about it.

This then reminded me to those studies of homosexual arousal, which showed that those people who are most homophobic also tended to be the most homosexual. It seems clear to me that those Christians who rant and rave about social issues day in and day out are actually just living in denial. They’re fighting against their own inner urges, denying who they really are, yet unable to suppress it. I guess it’s sort of understandable from a psychological point of view (we all have our little insecurities and try to deal with them in various ways), but those single Christian moms should know that denial never works. Being a spokesperson for abstinence might make one feel better about their own personal failures, but it would be a lot better if they put their efforts into programs that actually worked.

The thing is, if I was still a committed Christian I would most likely have condemned that acquaintance for not keeping her marriage vows. However, as a secularist, passing judgment is the last thing on my mind. Instead, I want to congratulate her on entering motherhood and try to help her raise her baby in the best possible way (and I will do so when/if her family decides to make this knowledge public). I find it’s far easier to understand your fellow human being when there’s no god in the way.

Pitying God

Well, it’s another Saturday, and tomorrow millions of people will go to their church to worship the Christian deity.

You know, in many ways, God is a rather pitiful figure, requiring millions of his own creation to sing his praises and worship him. Many Christians try to justify this by comparing God’s relationship to mankind as a parent’s relationship to their offspring (just as a parent expects respect and obedience from their children, God also expects respect and obedience from us). However, this is a fake analogy – a far more accurate one is the relationship between a computer programmer and their computer program (I use this one quite often since I am a programmer myself). Frankly, it would be quite pitiful if a programmer was to create a program that was designed to tell him how great he was. I mean, your self-esteem would have to be pretty darn low if you needed your ego lifted by your own creation. And yet, this is exactly what God requires of us! Even if God existed, this is not a being worth looking up to. Instead, it is a being that is to be pitied since even we lowly human beings do not need our ego lifted by having our own creations worship us.

I find one of the greatest ironies is that if God truly is what Christians say he is (all-powerful, needing nothing, fully secure in his own sense of worth) then we wouldn’t need to worship God at all (or even recognize his existence). In short, a belief in a powerful God results in an atheistic lifestyle. Only an inferior, insecure being requires worship and recognition (especially from his own creation), something Christians do not seem to realize.

And so, tomorrow millions of Christians will file into churches in stuffy Sunday clothes to pity their god. I pity him as well.

Thoughts on the devil (Satan)

I was reading Barbara Walker’s wonderful book Man Made God: A Collection of Essays and it happened to mention the tempting of Eve in the Garden of Eden. Today, most Christians consider the snake that tempted Eve to be Satan/Devil/Lucifer who, as Paradise Lost would have it, came back from hell to corrupt God’s greatest creation and put mankind onto the path of sin.

Anyways, this brought me back to something that I had known when I was a Christian (but chose to ignore at that time) and that is that Satan was the one who told the truth about the fruit of knowledge. God specifically said that Adam and Eve will die if the fruit was eaten, and yet they did not. Satan, on the other hand, said that eating the fruit will open their eyes and make them know the difference between good and evil. Although one can sort-of kind-of reinteret God’s words to mean something else (i.e., God didn’t mean they would die right away, only that death would immediately be introduced into the world) but there’s no denying the fact that Satan actually told the truth to Adam and Eve (despite being called the father of lies…).

After reflecting on this it occurred to me that in some ways Satan is like the titan Prometheus in Greek mythology, who brought fire to mankind and was punished for it by Zeus. Satan, or Lucifer (the “light-bearer”), brought the light of knowledge to mankind, foiling God’s plan to keep mankind naive and ignorant. In many ways, humankind should see itself as indebted to Satan and he should be treated as the patron saint of science and technology (as well as all other branches of knowledge). Instead, we have the world’s great religions treating Satan as the enemy and God as the savior! If I still believed in a god then Satan would be the ideal god for me: a god who tells the truth (unlike God and his mysteries) and who encouraged learning and knowledge (unlike God who demands everyone become like ignorant children).

Of course when you think about it a lot of this Satan/devil stuff doesn’t make sense at all. Hell is supposed to be Satan’s domain where the wicked are tortured for all eternity, yet why would Satan want to punish one of his own? Shouldn’t God’s angels be the ones putting evil people through their torments? Frankly, if I was Satan, I would make hell one continuous party for my enlightened followers, with a beer volcanoes and… oh wait, that’s already taken by his noodly appendages :p

Anyways, just some thoughts on Satan…

On evolution and Nazism

This entry was inspired by a documentary that I saw recently. It was a 6-part BBC documentary series on World War II called The Nazis: A Warning from History. In it, the narrator (Samuel West) claimed that Hitler was “a passionate believer in the law of natural selection, the rule of the jungle”. This was quite a shock to me when I first heard it.  I had always believed the links between evolution and the Nazis was false and yet here was evidence that it was true. I looked into this more and found that there are indeed links between evolution and Nazi ideology.

I had to sit down and think about this for a while. Can a belief in evolution lead to ideologies like Nazism? After much thinking I came to my conclusion: no, it does not. In formulating my answer I had to distinguish between two types of “beliefs”. A statement such as “I believe in X” can have two meanings: one is a statement of fact (“I believe in gravity”, “I believe in radiation”, etc.) and another is a statement of opinion (“I believe in abortion”, “I believe in euthanasia”, etc.). To say “I believe in evolution” is, to me, a statement of fact. I believe in evolution because it happened, not because I approve of it (and I do NOT approve).

One of the ideas of those who claim that the Nazis were inspired by evolution is the idea that if a person  accepts evolution as fact then they will also approve of it. This couldn’t be further from the truth.  Just because you hold something to be true doesn’t mean you have to approve of it.  If that was the case then everyone who believed in World War II would also be warmongers. Approval or disapproval of something does not depend on the belief of it being true. I think another assumption they make is that evolution is a natural law and thus, those who believe it should follow it. Of course this is completely wrong as well, and is a classic is-ought fallacy. The idea that what is natural is what is right is nonsense. Nature makes a lot of harmful stuff (arsenic, viruses, tidal waves, etc.) and the “natural” process of evolution is a remarkably brutal, slow, and inefficient process. There’s no possible way that I would approve of evolution as a method for people to live by. As human beings we have risen above evolution and can find much better ways of doing things (as Richard Dawkins said, human language and culture is a second type of genetics and it is one that is immeasurably faster). Biological evolution is how we got here, but it shouldn’t be the way we should go from here. What is natural isn’t always better and one should never adopt a policy simply because it is “natural”.

If a Christian were to come up to me and ask if I “believed in evolution” my answer would be “no, but I believe it happened”. I do not “believe” in evolution any more than I “believe” in war or genocide but it’s undeniable that evolution happened (and is still happening). Certainly Hitler and the Nazis may have believed in the fact of evolution but that did not lead to their approval of it. Most likely they used it to back up their own racial hatreds. Stating that evolution is what caused the Nazis to murder millions of people is like blaming Martin Luther’s anti-semitic writings for the Nazi’s extermination of the Jews. In both cases it was the Nazis who made policy (not Darwin or Luther).

First post

It’s strange to consider how long I’ve been a computer nerd and still haven’t gotten my own blog yet. I always thought they were peculiar things and stuck to message boards instead. However, after much thought I decided that I indeed needed my own private space on the net and, being a member of ravingatheists.com/blog/, I thought this would be a good place. Thus this, my first blog, was born.

I plan to use this blog to post my thoughts on religion, and on Christianity in particular. It’s a topic that I’ve been thinking about and debating about for a long time (first as a Christian, then as an atheist) and which I have developed strong opinions about. I’m not necessarily anti-religious (I’m tolerant of religion for the most part) but I have serious problems with  organized religion  (particularly the dominialist/fundamentalist movement in the USA).

At any rate, I’ll update this blog whenever I can. I’ve got plenty of stories to tell and opinions to express so stick around )

Daniel