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Litmus Test

April 12, 2010

The only way I can write this and be totally honest is if I pretend that nobody else is going to read it, in which case, I might as well just write it in my diary.  Only I don’t keep a diary, other than what I write for this blog, so taking that into account, I should go ahead and post it.  But if I post it, I know for a fact that it will piss people off, and I don’t want to piss people off, so maybe I shouldn’t post it?  But I enjoy writing, and I enjoy it when other people enjoy what I write, so selfishly, I have my motives.  In the battle of self-interests vs consideration for others cherished beliefs, self-interests wins.

You know that feeling you have when kids talk about Santa Clause or the Easter Bunny, and you smile, knowingly, because you know how innocent they are, and that it’s just harmless bullshit?  Well, imagine instead that you meet an adult who professes to believe in Santa Clause.  Are you still smiling?  Doubtful, because like me, I bet you’d be feeling pretty damned awkward.

Welcome to the world that I live in.  A world where most people (it seems, and this is supported by poll evidence) profess to believe in a magic, invisible man that lives in the clouds.  A magic man that knows when you’re sleeping and knows when you’re awake, knows when you’ve been bad, or good, knows if you’re a fake.  I don’t mean this personally, but if this is you – if you really, truly believe in some magic “God” being – I simply cannot relate to that.  In fact, I’ve been a skeptic and an atheist for so long now that I don’t remember what it was like to be a believer.  And yes, I was a believer, because like you, I was brought up in an environment and a town and a region and a culture that just accepts the “fact” that “God” exists, and that his name is/was Jesus, and that he looked like that guy in the Mel Gibson movie.

Honestly, it’d probably be more accurate to say that I wanted to be a believer, primarily because I did not want to be tortured in a lake of molten sulfur for eternity for not believing.  So, in an effort to be a better believer, I did what many believers do, or at least what they say they’re going to do; I started reading the Bible.

Holy Shit!  (pun, conveniently, intended)  If you haven’t read it, let me save you the time; it’s absolute garbage: talking snakes, talking donkeys, incest, rape, murder, jealousy, rage, genocide, ethnic cleansing and just moutains upon mountains of complete and utter bullshit: water turning into wine, dead people coming back to life, talking bushes, magic…it’s just completely fucking insane.  Seriously, think about it for a second.  If you saw a news headline that said, “Man dies. Comes back to life 3 days later”, would you believe it?  Hell no!  You’d call bullshit in a heartbeat!  Dead people don’t come back to life.  Period.  Thus the seriousness and gravity and finality of the fact of death.  And I’m not talking about people that were in the ER and their heart stopped beating, and the Doc said, “Call it, time of death 7:06″, and then somehow (with the aid of adrenaline and electric shocks) their heart started beating again.  I’m talking dead dead.  Three days in a tomb with no pulse, no brain-waves, no breathing, no nothing dead.  Dead as a doornail.  Dead as Yesterday. Dead.

I used to enjoy debating and discussing this, but not anymore.  It’s not fun anymore, primarily because every “Yes, but…” argument I’ve ever seen is ridiculously shallow, and that just leads to more awkwardness.  I get the impression that people think my standards for belief are too high, and that may be so, but I just can’t accept an argument that says, in effect, “We know the Bible is true because it was written by God, and the Bible says God would not lie, so it must be true.”

Me: That’s begging the question.

Them: What?

Me: Begging the question.  The question itself presupposes the truth of the question being asked.  It’s basically the same thing as, “So when did you stop beating your wife?”  When you say that “God” wrote it, you are presupposing the very existence of God, to say nothing of the alleged attributes “he” possesses.  Therefore, you cannot claim that the Bible is true because “God wrote it”, when the only reason you have for believing in God in the first place is the Bible “he” supposedly wrote.  It’s circular reasoning.  It’s bullshit.

Them: But dood…GOD wrote it!

Me: [blank, awkward stare of disbelief while I think, "I can't believe you have a drivers license..."]

It just pains me to know some of these things about people, and I can’t help but feel a little let down when I find out that they have the religion meme.  Now, that being said, I’m not implying that people have to be flawlessly “complete” in order for me to like them or have a friendship or relationship with them.  People aren’t flawlessly complete.  Everyone has little contradictions and absurdities and otherwise strangle little quirks about them, myself included.  I don’t believe in God, but I “believe” in a weird, alternative Platonic universe where “mathematics” lives, and somehow ~ I don’t know how ~ interacts with our own universe.  It’s fucked up and arguably irrational (though I must point out, it’s also arguably rational), but I still believe it anyway.  No harm, no foul.

But here’s where I take issue with religion.  By and large most people take it pretty damned seriously and are willing to do anything to defend their worldview to include: murdering abortion doctors to protest the sin of killing, flying planes into buildings full of innocent people, stapping bombs to themselves to blow up more innocent people, torturing alleged “witches” for the crime of witchcraft, or sentencing a father of 5 to be beheaded for the crime of “sorcery” (a sentence which, thankfully, has not been carried out yet)  The list of crimes and atrocities is literally endless, with new horrors surfacing every day.  How much blood needs to be spilled over these invisible men?  Better yet, how much more blood will be spilled?

So considering these things, part of me wishes there were some sort of “litmus test”, especially for service in a public office.  I don’t have any problem if you’re a “regular-Joe” kinda person, just trying to live your life, raise your kids, work, pay your bills, etc, and part of your life includes going to church and praying to the invisible sky-guy…fine.  Freedom of religion.  I’m a big fan of the Establishment Clause and Freedom of Belief.  But if you’re going to be making decisions on behalf of other people, such as those an elected official might make, I personally find it hard to reconcile the responsibility that is incumbent with that kind of leadership with the beliefs and behaviors so often correlated with religious belief.  For example:

  • If you doubt the fact of evolution, you’re probably a church-going Republican
  • If you doubt the fact of “global warming”, you’re probably a church-going Republican
  • If you supported the religious extremists on the KS State School Board, or the TX State School Board, who literally used their political powers to re-write public school curriculum to conform to their private-religious beliefs, you’re probably a church-going Republican
  • If you’re a Republican, but you don’t go to church, and don’t support the activities and/or denials of reality that I’ve referred to above, your Republican friends call you a RINO behind your back

Again, I’m aware that people don’t need to be wholly “perfect” to be good or even great leaders (pick a leader from history, read their biography, and this will be self-evident: Jefferson was a power-hungry asshole.  Lincoln suffered from depression.  Kennedy was a wandering husband.  Shackleton was a womanizer.  Einstein had issues.  Point: Turns out our heroes were human too, just like us.  And just like us, they weren’t perfect.), and I’m perfectly aware that our founding fathers had the good sense to include Article 6 in our U.S. Constitution (“…no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”), but still, if you’re capable of denying…reality…to suit a particular religious belief, then what aren’t you capable of believing?  That homosexuals don’t deserve the right to get married?  That “Global Warming” is a hoax being perpetrated by godless liberals intent on preserving our planet for our children?  That “Intelligent Design” is a legit scientific theory, and deserves “equal time” in science classes, alongside of evolution?

I’m vexed by this.  Part of me understands it (religious belief), and part of me just absolutely does not get it.  Consider it my problem; I’m simply unable to believe in magic or contradictions.  If you can…congratulations? (Although honestly, I feel like I should be giving condolences).  But for what it’s worth, if you read stuff that I write that pisses you off, it’s not my intent.  If it was, I’d say so.

Anyway, after reading back through this, I think I’m probably in the 80+ percentile range on being totally honest about how I feel.  As much as I tried to convince myself that people that I give a shit about wouldn’t be reading this, I know better.

There I go again; I’m just unable to fool myself into believing what I want.  Like I said, it’s my problem.


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4 Responses to “ Litmus Test ”

  1. Nat on April 12, 2010 at 1:58 pm

    I wouldn’t say the Bible’s absolute garbage because it’s fiction any more than I’d say The Hobbit‘s garbage because dragons don’t exist.

    In that same vein, and from one atheist to another, I wouldn’t bar a religious person from entering public office any more than I’d bar someone ignorant of fundamental economics. Sure, there’s a lot of religious nuts out there, but there’s a lot of non-religious nuts, too, and as the past has shown, you can hold some pretty absurd beliefs and yet still be a wise and just ruler. It’s not religion that makes the bad decisions, rather, and as you indicate, it’s the individual.

  2. Dan on April 12, 2010 at 2:52 pm

    After having spent the day with a friend of mine who is, other wise very intelligent, a recent Jehovah convert, this was a great read.

    I started off finding it fun, I’d ask him what he believed and then laugh (not to mock him, just because it’s hilarious), but it’s since turned to despair and exacerbation. It genuinely depresses me that an intelligent adult can hold these views, let alone convert to them.

    Feeling a bit depressed now, thanks for cheering me up.

  3. Mr. Smarty Pants on April 12, 2010 at 3:01 pm

    I know. You’re right. Good points, especially on not throwing the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak, with regard to the Bible being a work of fiction. I hadn’t even recognized my own (unspoken) standard which required that the Bible have some correlation to reality in order for it to be of any value.

    I started typing that with no real point, and I was kinda-sorta hoping one might develop as I continued to write, but it didn’t. I guess it’s just a pointless rant that doesn’t really go anywhere or accomplish anything, other than convey the (general) unfavorable attitude I hold toward religion & superstition.

    A friend of mine is very active with the “Interfaith” community here in KC (he basically founded it), and has really helped me to keep my biases in line. He hasn’t read it yet, but I’m sure he’d agree with your comments 100%.

    Thanks for your feedback. When I saw the “New Comments” e-mail from Nat, I thought, “Great…now I’ve pissed off one of the few men who write for this blog.” It’s one thing to be a square peg, it’s another to be a square peg with enemies, so I’m relieved by your comments!

  4. Mr. Smarty Pants on April 12, 2010 at 3:06 pm

    Thanks Dan! Sweet! I didn’t think this piece would make *anybody* smile, so thanks for passing that along; I feel better now!