Tuesday 14 October 2014

Faith is no bad thing to have, unshakeable certainty should never be trusted though

I worry about a lot of stuff, mostly because it is the 21st century, and we have plenty to worry about, or so we are told, ebola, Isis (not the goddess, or the Bob Dylan song, or even this unfortunate post-metal band) and the ever present threat of global meltdown from an unruly oil based economy. There's a much longer list, but those 3 will do for now. Today I am worrying about people who take allegory literally. Those who believe that the Bible (or whichever holy book of choice they have) is a literal account, written by God, and thus infallibly true, gospel, if you will. Even Jesus gives us a few hints that you might not have to take it literally, with his parables, which are not actual truth, but nice little stories, which help us to live better lives. It is a shame that he doesn't go so far as to explain that Genesis is most probably an allegory as well.

Fundamentalism is rarely pleasant, and usually practised by those who refuse to see that at best, the words of any holy book are the words of God as interpreted by man (and this includes the recent spate of Atheist fundamentalists who treat the God Delusion as a holy text). And the amount of time that passed between the events written of and the actual writing down of them is more than enough to have changed the original by some considerable amount. This is not blasphemy, this is simple logic. At best, the first gospel was written down in 70AD, a good 40 years after Jesus' death. It is now nearly 40 years since the Sex Pistols played the Manchester Free Trade Hall and if all the people who said they were there actually were, it would have needed to be a much bigger hall. Exaggeration happens over time, think of the amusing stories your Grandad told you, and how they would become more embellished and better every time, and further from the truth. Think of the even more unlikely version of the tale that you now tell to your children. Now multiply that by lots (the oldest KNOWN copy of the Bible (the Codex Sinaiticus) dates from 350 AD, the 70AD date came from a bible-proving source, for balance, and relates to a Gnostic Gospel left out of the final edit) and imagine how the details have changed as they are handed down from generation to generation before being written down.

Now at this point, I have to admit my atheism, it is a well studied atheism, and I do not deny people their right to have any gods they wish. I was brought up in the wishy-washy anglican tradition by eminently sensible Christian parents. At any time when I questioned the madder parts of the Bible, like Adam and Eve, or Jonah and the Whale, my Dad would tell me it was an allegory, and not meant to be taken literally. Which is true, any way you slice it. Once I had realised the whole thing was not for me, I wondered why a sensible man like my Father would continue to attend Church every Sunday against all reasonable evidence. It is a conversation I am still not brave enough to have with him, however, once I had presented a cogent and reasonable argument for my own lack of belief, they stopped making me go to Church every week. As I said, eminently sensible, and reasonable Christians, and I thought they were all like that for a long time.

I have since met many others, who try and convince me that Genesis is literal, and not allegorical at all. They will not even enter into a debate about the problems with oral tradition and the fact that God has dubious biographers, and a fairly crappy publishing approach. As far as they are concerned, every thing in that book is the word of God himself (not withstanding the fact it has been written by men, a fact that cannot ever be debated, it is very much true) and I don't know how to argue against that without resorting to belittling sarcasm. Faith is an intransigent thing, and if I'm honest I am faintly envious of those who still have it, it is comforting. But I cannot disprove it, any more than I can disprove Russell's teapot. So I have stopped trying.

I can still remember the euphoria I experienced at enormous Christian gatherings, where we all sang the same songs as one voice to a higher power, and felt the tremendous power of the spirit come over us all. Unfortunately, I then experienced exactly the same thing at Donington Park in 1991 watching AC/DC, as we all sang with one voice to the higher power (or high voltage if you like a good pun) of Angus Young's cherry red Gibson SG. It was the same feeling and I find it unlikely that the Holy Spirit was endorsing Highway to Hell by blessing us all. Not to detract from the experience of the religious, but it is the act of people coming together and sharing in the same thing that brings the rush and joy, in my experience, rather than any holy spirit. This is not a bad thing, humanity together can achieve wonderful things, and it is good to know that when we all come together as one then euphoria ensues with or without chemical enhancement. Maybe we should try it more often as a species.

I have no problem with those who have a God, whatever brings you comfort is good for you, personally I prefer the waily guitar stylings of Steve Hillage for my religious experience

You're welcome, sorry if you were hoping for AC/DC.

But I know that plenty of other people don't, and that is okay. What happened to the wishy washy allegorical Christians, who agreed with Darwin and God? Evolution was all part of the great plan they said, and I liked the way they altered their perception of the world and their God to fit in with the new information. Ironically, some of the greatest scientists the world has ever seen were part of the original Islamic Caliphate, and their scientific discoveries were celebrated as proof of God's benevolence. I am not sure at what point religion stopped trying to understand the world that we have been given (which after all is exactly how religions begin, as a way to understand the world we live in) and decided to stop, in case it found out more than it wanted to inside Pandora's box. Why do otherwise reasonable and intelligent people scoff at the Norse model of the Yggdrasil world tree, and yet fully accept the garden of eden, snake and all?

I am in no way denigrating religions, and the religious experience, spirituality is a fine thing, and there are indeed more things in heaven and earth than science can currently explain. That doesn't mean it won't though, and the good thing about the scientific method, is that it admits it is wrong. In fact, it goes out of its way to disprove itself whenever possible. The misunderstanding of the word theory has led to far too many religious dinner table arguments about the theory of evolution being just a theory. Not so many about relativity though.

As I mentioned earlier, I was brought up in a very Christian household, and it was a lovely place to grow up. We had friends we knew through church, many of my oldest friends are people I met in sunday school. The community aspect of the Church is the thing I like about it best, a place where you can go and be welcomed, and from what I know of it mosques and temples are the same, though living in the middle of nowhere as I do, my experience is limited. I was probably much older than expected when I realised that very few of my school friends went to Church every sunday, and I was actually in the minority, whether that had any bearing on my eventual loss of faith or not I cannot say. But very probably. They are nice places, like Pubs, but without all the drinking and fighting. Though there is wine (and tea and coffee afterwards) and a good old singalong every week, which is nice.

I do not want any of this shared and quoted by the “lets all laugh at the stupid religious people and their primitive beliefs” brigade, as they are no better than the religious fundamentalists who refuse to believe in dinosaurs. Dawkins has gone too far in his crusade, and before you tell me about all the wars waged in the name of religion, I can stop you by pointing out that religion was the excuse, territory is pretty much always the reason. God is often a convenient excuse for psychopaths. Even if we had no religion, we would still be dreaming up exciting reasons to kill each other in new and innovative ways. Kids fight over their favourite music, let alone anything important (mods and rockers, ravers and rockers, goths and pretty much everyone else) why blame the one thing that actually tells you not to kill people? Interpretations are everything, and usually miss the point.

I spent much too much time in my youth trying to argue with people of faith, using logic, science reasoning, occams razor, anything you like to change their minds. This was misguided, and as bad as the religious types who were trying to convert me. Once I had stopped (though I still invite the jehovah's witnesses in for a chat, I don't argue as much now though) I realised that tolerance is really the key to everything. Live and let live, if their beliefs bring them comfort, then let them keep them. Plus faith, by its very nature, is often unshakeable, stop trying to shake other peoples, and check your own instead.

Those who are defining atheism as a movement with Richard Dawkins at its head are really missing the point, an absence of belief is not a belief system. They are probably the same people who take the wonderful, tolerant, inclusive texts of the Koran, and twist it into the awfulness that is ISIS, and militant Islam. It bears no resemblance to the teachings of Mohammed, any more than the Westboro Baptist Church represent the teachings of Jesus. Underneath this article in the guardian which manages to miss the point by a fairly wide mark, a commenter called unretrofied wrote:

Atheist movement? Thats your problem right there. I just don't believe in God or gods, I'm not joining a fucking club about it.”

Which kind of summed the whole thing up nicely for me.

Enjoy your God, enjoy your faith, but accept the failings of it's prophets, who wrote in the context of the world they lived in. Adapt to a changing world, the World tree can not possibly exist in the universe we now know of (although maybe it does in a parallel dimension, as we have to accept those now as well, if we want to understand string theory, and we do want to understand string theory) but maybe, just maybe, the guy who wrote down the world tree theory meant well, but was not listening to what his God had told him properly. Man is fallible, and we only know of God through the words of men. I for one think this is proof that there is no God, as surely he/she could clear all of this up without too many problems without all of this “do not test the lord your god” and “have faith” stuff. But that's just my opinion, and I am allowed it, as you are allowed yours. But maybe just accept (like my Dad did) that Evolution was part of God's great plan for the universe, rather than wasting so much energy trying to disprove it.

“Tolerance implies no lack of commitment to one's own beliefs. Rather it condemns the oppression or persecution of others.”