Religion is like a giant Easter egg

by Charlie_East_West on March 31, 2013

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“What can be asserted without proof can be dismissed without proof.”
Christopher Hitchens

Happy Easter. As we all hunker down and stuff our gluttonous faces full of Easter eggs, let us not forget why we are all having a long weekend holiday. It is thanks to Jesus Christ Superstar. He was most brilliant self publicist of all time.

Jesus Pole-Vaulting Christ – the man who could do anything. He was a great motivator, doctor, self help guru, red wine connoisseur, chef, writer, model, raconteur, wit, explorer, water skier, and playwright. He also had a heroically high pain threshold, was extremely stoic, and heartwarmingly forgiving. He was like a combination of Sir Ranulph Fiennes, Dr Phil, Harold Pinter, Gandhi, Keith Floyd, Billy Connolly and David Beckham rolled into one.

Basically, according to the New Testament, Jesus could do anything. He could even walk on water for Christ’s sake. He was that good. Jesus was shit hot. Jesus was after all, the son of God.

Imagine if Jesus was alive today? He would be ubiquitous on a scale not seen since Cheryl Cole. Social media would tweet itself into a frenzy over his every move; life stories with Piers Morgan; Judas seeking redemption in an interview with Oprah; I’m A Disciple…Get Me Out Of Here; ✝Factor. The walking on water stunt would replace Gangnam Style as the biggest ever youtube viewing experience.

Ultimately though, his death was most untimely. It completely ruined a well structured fictitious piece of literature called The New Testament. The novel was completely spoiled by the main character dying half way through. Alterations would have been made today. The book would have been ‘sexed’ up.

It is all a great rollocking read, but a fictional one rather than a work of fact. That is the problem with religion. It is a diktat of fantasy that has created one of the greatest con tricks the world has ever seen.

Since my formative years, I have never been able to understand as to why so many people are brainwashed by such supernatural piffle. At best, it gives many people something to cling to in terms of faith. At worst, it is engineered obedience training.

I have no problem with anyone who claims to be religious, each to their own, but I do have many problems with religion itself. In particular, those who claim to be the heaven sent gatekeepers of religion.

I have an even bigger problem with the manipulation of religion for political or social ordered means. Almost all of the major historical problematic territories on our planet have had their seeds of evil sown by religion, and effectively those seeds have sprouted into the flowering of despicable acts of social control, war, intolerance, discrimination and abuse. There is an axis of evil based on the interpretation of the fictional stories of religion, and as a result, a never ending tribal schism right across the world still exists today.

There’s no evidence for reincarnation, life after death, the commandments, or a beady-eyed multi-tasking know-it-all creator, and yet mind bogglingly, all over the world people continue to act out, preach, discriminate, fight, and yes, bloody well die over religion. It is all so depressingly futile.

As I said, I don’t mind people being religious, but if being religious means you move from being a believer to becoming intolerant, sanctimonious, aggressive, and occasionally, downright dangerous, then something has gone terribly wrong.

Today remains a special day for billions of people. Which, if handled in the right way, is a force for good. Unfortunately, today is also a sharp reminder of the darker forces of religion. So, I will leave you with these apt and well chosen words from Yassar Arafat, who understood more than most about the problems of religion:-

“Fighting about religion is like arguing over who has the best imaginary friend.”

Happy Easter to one and all. Enjoy your chocolate egg scoffing. The Easter Egg is the perfect analogy of religion. Slice beneath its surface and you will find nothing – just a giant hollow emptiness inside.

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

George_East March 31, 2013 at 12:26 am

If you are treating the New Testament as a novel, He actually kind of dies at the beginning and on multiple occasions which is a nice post-modernist inter-textual touch (Borges would have been impressed). You’ve then got to wade through the Acts of the Apostles, all those letters before getting to the bad acid trip of Revelations. The book needed a good editor.

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Charlie_East_West March 31, 2013 at 1:05 am

Piers Morgan?

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Alex W March 31, 2013 at 7:17 pm

Sigh. Almost as cliched and predictable as the ‘traditional Easter’ message from the local Vicar.
“Since my formative years, I have never been able to understand as to why so many people are brainwashed by such supernatural piffle.” If you don’t understand maybe best to not to jump straight into the hyperbole. It might just be possible there is something else going on that you haven’t experienced or do not understand, at least give the many intelligent believers around the planet some kind of credit, they may be deluded, but perhaps this may be based upon your oversimplified explanation.

“Almost all of the major historical problematic territories on our planet have had their seeds of evil sown by religion, and effectively those seeds have sprouted into the flowering of despicable acts of social control, war, intolerance, discrimination and abuse.”
Such as ww1, ww2, vietnam war, korean war, sino-indian war, the numerous tribal conflicts in africa, the napoleonic wars etc etc etc.

If you turned around the statement it would make more sense:
Through the desire for control many have used religion to sow seeds of evil ….

Your attack should be upon individuals and institutions seeking to control religion to control people, not religion per se. Admittedly, too often these things are hard to distinguish between, but this is hardly an excuse for lazy generalisations.

“As I said, I don’t mind people being religious, but if being religious means you move from being a believer to becoming intolerant, sanctimonious, aggressive, and occasionally, downright dangerous, then something has gone terribly wrong.”

Absolutely and any reading of the gospels would tell you that these were amongst the main targets for Jesus’ ministry.

Perhaps you could recognise that the bible is no more a work of fiction, than is a book of philosophy, feel free to disagree with it and argue against it, but attempts to dismiss it in this way puts you, in my book, not much further away from those literalist’s who try and suggest every word is fact.

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Charlie_East_West March 31, 2013 at 7:54 pm

Fair play to you Alex. You have set out a strong argument here. Each to their own though.

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Jackie_South March 31, 2013 at 9:04 pm

Although I’m not religious myself, fair play to the churches today: offering far more effective criticism to the welfare changes than, say, Liam Byrne, despite that actually being Byrne’s job.

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Ray_North March 31, 2013 at 10:05 pm

I’m interested in your opinion here Alex – there’s a strong feeling amongst intellectual atheists that Christians who do not believe in the full enchilada are somehow inferior and that their views are pointless because it is just too easy to take the parts of religion that you want and dismiss the clearly ludicrous. And there’s something in that.
Charlie dismisses the Bible as a work of fiction – and he may be right about that, I don’t know – but, I’m not sure that it can be dismissed altogether, or so lightly, because amongst the weird and the wonderful, there are elements of moral philosophy that are difficult to argue against.
The problem with all works of moral philosophy is its manipulation by men (that, and the promise of eternal life, which is a huge thing to offer in return for subjugation)

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George_East March 31, 2013 at 11:07 pm

Alex I am intrigued by your response. You implicitly reject New Testament literalism but do not set out that which you say you believe to be true. Plainly aspects of the New Testament are self-evidently fictitious – the census necessitating the heavily pregnant Mary’s travel to Bethlehem and explaining why no rooms are available, the slaughter of the innocents etc. Other aspects though are surely central to the tenets of Christian belief, if it is to have any real meaning at all – the virgin birth, the miracles, the resurrection, Christ’s duality as man and God etc. What, if any of this, do you accept?

Ray says that there are aspects of moral philosophy that are hard to ‘argue against’, and that may be fair enough (though for my part at least it seems mostly pretty trite and platitudinous), but if the New Testament is to be interpreted purely as a work of philosophy, then why bother with the supernatural guff and the institutional worship at all. It genuinely puzzles me.

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alex w April 1, 2013 at 12:23 pm

You’ll have to bear with me as I don’t have an answer to every question, nor do I think having a faith requires a complete response to every challenge, if that were the case it would no longer be faith. At the same time you cannot deny completely contradictory evidence, but religion is a shifty thing and is from the very beginning not really set up to provide a scientific or complete explanation for everything. Something that infuriates atheists and often leads to an instant dismissal (see Hitchens quote to begin with). Often I find arguments between theists and atheists resembles two men arguing about what colour a zebra is! For some reason the debate in recent times feels like you have to agree that it is black or it is white.

OK back to your question, and also Ray’s point too. Literalism is a foolish position to take for several reasons; veracity – unlike Islam, Christianity has never made a claim that every word is the pure word of God, translations and retranslations have been made down the ages and there was never an original text in the first place. The gospels are drawn from letters and messages from the original apostles or people writing down what they said. Christianity’s origins are partly within an oral tradition, the importance is the message not the specific language, rich in metaphor and symbology. As a result taking an english sentence, based on a translation from a copy of an original text does seem to me a bit strange. Information about Jesus’ early life must have come from Mary, or other older members of the family, as such there accounts may have not been literally true, but true in their context. Either way the reason is not significant, the meaning is i.e. symbology of David’s birthplace, humble origin linking to ministry and central message. A cynical account would posit this as a made up account after the event, but then why chose an explanation so easily discounted so soon after the event?
Now here comes the delusional bit, however my understanding/belief is that the bible was written by men but inspired by God and we can each interpret this text through inspiration from God, in ways which allow it to become relevant in different contexts down the ages.
Jesus often spoke in parables, these are not meant to be understood literally (there would be a very small number of people getting any kind of inspiration in such a case) so why do we assume the rest of the New Testamant be understood in this way. Instead there is an opportunity to return to familiar stories and section and gain new insight and understanding. Different parts of the bible have ‘spoken’ to me in different ways as I have grown. As to picking and choosing, there really is not any picking and choosing when it comes to core elements of Jesus’ ministry, either he was the both human and divine or he wasn’t if you take the latter view, you are not a Christian in belief (but maybe in outlook), if you accept it then all the other ‘ridiculous’ miracles etc follow. Charlie E-W in his original post said their is no evidence for reincarnation and that is kind of the point to the resurrection being a miracle I think. The bit I find hardest talking to atheists about is that I do meet believers today who claim miraculous interventions in their own lives, often or a medical kind. It is easy to try and dismiss these as circumstances, placebo effect etc, but when you have heard a number there keep appearing some which defy other explanations. At least under our present understanding or the world. Perhaps we will one day be able to explain them (I’m no advocate of a God of the gaps) but they do reenforce one’s belief (of course they could be completely lying to me, but then so can those scientists we rely on!).

At the heart of my own belief is a conception of the world around me, the futility of existence and the lack of any convincing natural justification for benevolence, fraternity or compassion. In such a bleak view point a God and a faith like Christianity provide both hope and purpose and resources to fight the good fight. (sorry about the martial finish, perhaps you are right about the war thing ;))

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Charlie_East_West April 1, 2013 at 7:05 am

I’ll admit, at community level, religion has a lot of merits – it is Big Society in action. Local parish work offers huge levels of support and guidance to those in need, and it can fill a certain amount of discrete advocacy and collective action that cannot be fulfilled by government policies.

But, the main issue is this – it isn’t so much what a person believes, but what follows as behaviour. Community action and support – yes, a lot of positives on that front. Propaganda and moral indignation – no. Religious opinion often takes a moral code with supernatural origins and often the need to spread their gospel to the uninitiated or the vulnerable.

Religious diktats can really hurt society – bans on condoms and abortions; bans on using stem cells; sexism and homophobia; forced genital mutilation of children; wars – all prime examples of where religious beliefs have created a pattern of religious thought and behaviour that has damaged many societies, individuals and communities.

As we learn more about the world, supernatural explanation to justify opinions looks increasingly misplaced. The “creation” theory, simply does not stand up against scientific rigor. If the bible were to stand up to scientific scrutiny, I would consider the narrative within the bible with time and respect – but the simple fact is, it does not.

I will finish with the words of The Dalai Lama on his own religion: “If science proves some belief of Buddhism wrong, then Buddhism will have to change.”

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alex w April 1, 2013 at 12:29 pm

Agree behaviour is the key, but for every fanatic and misinterpretation of the message (although I can only speak for Christianity here) there are people who have done great good with both a small g and and a big G. Religious diktats can harm but they can also help society just as any political message does. Where I will support your position is where the diktat is backed up only by appeal to a ‘higher authority’ of which a subset of people claim to have direct access to. Many of those diktat’s mentioned cannot be sustained by any genuine rigorous analysis of the religions they claim to be sustained by. This is one reason why God makes some people atheists; so they can challenge and hold to account religion. (OK that last but was a bit tongue in cheek but I quite like it, but probably only because of the annoyance factor!)

If by creation theory you mean a literary account of how things came about, fair enough, but I’m not sure why the current evidence denies the existence of a creation. Afterall it was not that long ago that atheists staked much of their ant-creation ‘faith’ position in a constant state universe, if anything the growing acceptance of the ‘big bang’ theory points towards an act of creation!? But I am not a physicist so my understanding is limited.

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alex w April 1, 2013 at 12:30 pm

sorry last bit poorly phrased not ‘an act of creation’ but an ‘a birth event’ would make more sense.

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Charlie_East_West April 1, 2013 at 4:56 pm

Alex – you have raised some really interesting points on this debate.

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Alex w April 1, 2013 at 8:19 pm

Thanks, sorry about the incoherence in places, I am often writing these bits in brief moments snatched between breaking up two infant age children falling out, or up to mischief.

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Charlie_East_West April 1, 2013 at 10:28 pm

Alex – I can empathise – with the brief moments snatched between kid wrangling!

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