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.