Have I Made You More Religious?

I email my Advisory Committee: “You guys are my closest friends. Have I persuaded any of you to become more religious? To reach out to God?”

Fred emails: Is that what you were trying to do? I have actually become a committed agnostic. Over the years I have read a ton of books on religion, including the old and new testaments, the koran, the catechism of the roman catholic church, the analects of confucious, the bhagavad gita, the gilgemish, the first two books of the book of mormon (wins the prize for most tedious scripture), the Tao Te Ching, “God is Not Great” by Christopher Hitchens, and a shitload of other books. I have watched numerous debates and lectures on youtube re whether there is a god, e.g. by Hitchens, Dawkins, Sam Harris, Dan Dennett and their opposite numbers such as Lane Craig and Ray Comfort (Comfort, in my opinion, is a first class dunce).

I’ve also read Coppleston’s history of philosophy, and pretty much all the philosophers in the dark ages were catholic theologians.

Here’s the conclusion:

1. There’s no proof there’s a god.

2. There’s no proof there’s not a god.

3. All the arguments mounted by believers fall into the same old rehash, e.g. Pascal’s wager, god of the gaps arguments (e.g. if there’s no god, then how do you explain this or that), and similarly fatuous nonsense. I could write a script for the debates.

4. Hitchens tends to be funnier and more erudite than any of his opponents.

5. There are tons of inconsistencies in the Bible.

6. There are tons of stories in the Bible which science demonstrates could not possibly be true.

7. The Bible is a poor moral compass. There’s lots of stuff that’s outrageously immoral that’s ordered by God.

8. There is a possibility that a deist god exists–e.g. something envisioned by Thomas Jefferson.

9. In virtually all “is there a god” debates, the theists try to come up with logical arguments as to why there is a god, but I sincerely doubt that they ever explain why they personally believe there’s a god. Most people subscribe to a religion because that’s the way they were raised. (Luke is obviously an exception.) Clearly, most religious belief is nothing more than an accident of birth.

Luke, why do you think there’s a god?

Luke says: My reasons for belief in God:

* Something does not come from nothing.

* Design implies a designer.

* Murder is objectively wrong. For that to be true, there has to be a transcendent source of morality.

What does God do or advocate in the Old Testament that you think is immoral? What is advocated in the Hebrew Bible you think is wrong?

Khunrum emails: Let me add my thoughts. I was basically a nothing before I met my Thai wife, Actually I was Protestant but my family went to church maybe twice. My dear old Dad did his praying at Belmont Park Raceway when his horse was coming around the last bend. My wife is very Buddhist. Although I know almost nothing about Buddhism, I perceive it as a rather soft core religion. Buddha was a man, a Prince as it were. Basically the rules are, do the right thing and you won’t be reincarnated as a cockroach……or a water buffalo. You don’t want to come back as a water buffalo. Hard work tilling the rice paddies. Once a month there is a Buddha Day. We honor Buddha Day. Actually today is a Buddha Day. No Meat-No Boom Boom-No Alcohol. The no boom boom part is not a problem at my age being married six years but I sometimes would like to have a cheeseburger on Buddha Day.

Fred emails: OK. Here’s where your arguments fail.

1. Something does not come from nothing.

This is a “straw man”. The absence of God’s existence does not require that something come from nothing. This is simply a “god of the gaps” argument, i.e. I don’t understand how this happened, therefore, it must be God. A thousand years ago, you could make the same arguments about diseases, earthquakes, motion of the planets, etc. Today we know what causes these phenomena. People’s ignorance about causes is not proof of god.

2. Design implies a designer.

What design? I don’t see a design.

3. Murder is objectively wrong. For that to be true, there has to be a transcendent source of morality.

Nope. Our morality concerning murder evolved. It had to evolve for civilization to exist. Any group that did not consider murder evil would have died out. Much of morality is clearly secular. Example 1: the belief that slavery (permitted by the bible) is wrong (enshrined in the 13th amendment). Example 2: the belief that things like stoning people to death (commanded by the bible) is wrong (enshrined by the 8th amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment).

4. What does God do or advocate in the Old Testament that you think is immoral? What is advocated in the Hebrew Bible you think is wrong?
You must be joking. All of the murder and slaughter and genocide ordered by god against various peoples. Permitting slavery. Stoning people to death for various minor infractions, e.g. disrespecting parents or working on Saturday. Sending a bear to kill a bunch of children who mocked one of the prophets. Slaughtering a people and allowing their female children to be taken as concubines (raped). Drowning everyone on the planet except Noah. Tormenting numerous innocents (including one of David’s offspring as punishment for something David did, or the first-borns of Egypt for something Pharoah did). The list is rather endless. Do you seriously believe otherwise?

BTW, I don’t think much of the Christian bible either. If the doctrines concerning hell were true, that would make god a monster.

Luke says: Well, with regard to point four, you haven’t studied much. As no “slave” can be forcibly returned to his master, there is no “slavery” in the Torah system as the “slave” can leave any time he wants.

Regarding stoning for disrespecting parents. It was brilliantly moral. Throughout human history, parents have murdered kids in rage. The Torah says you take that decision away from the parents and give it to the elders. We have no recorded instance of this being carried out. Laws on the books are important for rhetorical value, even when they are never carried out.

The most important moral test of the Torah is the performance of the people who’ve observed it, aka religious Jews, and I am happy to match the quality of their lives with any other system you name.

GREG LEAKE EMAILS: Hi Luke,

May I respond to “Have I made you more religious”?

In my experience the first problem people have when considering a question that involves the word “God” is that one necessarily needs to define what they mean by that word before the conversation can truly advance. In today’s world this English word “God” means so many things to so many people with so many ramifications that one must pin down a definition to keep the subject from wandering off into cosmic vagueness.

I remember one definition of “That Old Time Religion.”

I love Aphrodite though she’s flighty in her nighty,
But it’s that old time religion and it’s good enough for me.”

So the word God requires a definition. The definition can’t be expected to be all-inclusive, as the finite cannot define the infinite. (Define: draw a line around.)

Likewise, religion cannot automatically be de facto seen as a proposition that points directly at our definition of God.

I see the relationship between “God” and religion similarly to the ocean and boats. There are many boats. A huge knowledge of boats can be passed on. There are experts at seamanship.

At the same time, if all the boats disappeared tomorrow, the ocean would still remain. Some people in desert country would still believe in the ocean because of tales passed on to them. Other people would believe in the ocean because they live adjacent to it and have experience with it. And some have had a rich experience of the ocean without even having set foot in a boat.

As it happens, I believe in an Absolute Divine Nature of the universe. Despite that, I view it as entirely possible that someone who does not believe in this Divine Nature can be closer to it simply because his own personal nature is more attuned to Divine Nature than my own.

I also think that the dynamic argument that goes on about whether there is a “God” is important, but in my mind at least it shares company with other, equally important subjects that reference the divine Nature. And so I sometimes feel that the focus on that particular question obscures and obfuscates others.

Beyond a certain point, my view is that a person necessarily has to have the capacity to think metaphysically to move beyond certain initial propositions. This is sometimes hard for people raised in traditions that resist transpersonal thinking and whose focus is always Positivism.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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