Religion and How I Lost It
Religion and How I Lost It
"Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so."
These lyrics constitute one of my earliest memories of religious
instruction or the concept of religion. They may formulate the
base experience for many others as well.
Even if the song itself does not elucidate such a memory, the
concept implied in these lyrics may. This may comprise the primary
religious training of the preschool child, a training based on
unqualified love directed from this brotherly figure, Jesus, to
the lowly little child, a source of warmth and comfort, a contrast
to the child's own fragility. No matter where we go or what we
do the rest of our lives, that image will remain in some part
of our being. It may be the one feeling that is hardest to shake
when we grow to question and doubt this religion called Christianity.
We next learn that God is the creator of all that we behold and
all that we will never understand. He is the grandfather many
of us never knew or an extension of the grandfather on whose knee
we sat when young. We also become aware of God's propensity for
wrath, and we are told not to tempt him or displease him. Then
we are introduced to the Holy Spirit and the unfathomable tale
of the Trinity. That three can equal one is totally outside of
our ability to understand. In fact, few, if any, adults can comprehend
this one. The story continues to become more muddled and confusing,
and yet we are told we must believe, and we oblige. Belief becomes
a habit driven by fear of the unknown or the fear of rejection
if we doubt or question, so our questions are internalized, and
we begin to feel guilt.
We now learn a more rigid set of moral values. We learn that thinking
a wrong thing is the same as committing the act. Our guilt grows,
and our ability to deal with it overwhelms us. The feelings of
inadequacy wash over us, challenging the depth and the coldness
of the baptismal immersion. Thoreau said it well: "They think
they love God! It is only his old clothes, of which they make
scarecrows for the children. Where will they come nearer to God
than in those very children?"
Theists base their belief on faith, belief based on emotion and
culturalization. When reason and rationale challenge that faith,
then the reason can have no value and the rationale must be incorrect.
Faith is irrefutable and errorless because it must be in order
to validate all in which they believe. They then raise their children
into the habit of accepting absurdities, mysteries, convoluted
thinking, and supplication. They do this while the children's
minds are supple and moldable. They know that the habits of thought
thus formed stand a good chance of lasting a lifetime.
Belief existing in such a vacuum serves to alienate the faithful
of each new generation from the world around them. They either
live in judgment of anyone who does not believe as they do, or
they begin to question their own values. The following poem by
John Dryden may best express this phenomenon:
By education most have been misled;
So they believe, because they were so bred.
The priest continues what the nurse began,
And thus the child imposes on the man.
What I thought of as an honest and critical look at the religion
I had embraced all of my life had gone on for years as a halfhearted
effort. I wanted to find the truth, yet I wanted that truth to
support that in which I had always believed. In other words, I
was front-loading my search by trying to find corroborating evidences,
not by searching for the real truth.
As I delved into the questions raised by rational thought, I increasingly
found more questions. Each answer ended up raising dozens of other
questions. I finally had to face the fact that the only way I
would ever find the answers I sought would be to let the truth
lead me to its destination. I then stumbled onto the following
quotation. It is known as the Maxim of Freethought: "He who
cannot reason is defenseless; he who fears to reason has a cowardly
mind; he who will not reason is willing to be deceived and will
deceive all who listen to him." This struck home. I realized
my cowardice and resolved to overcome it. I threw myself anew
into research but with a new approach.
Biblical literalism and inerrancy appear to be enemies to the
truth, and subsequent study on my part has led me to believe this
to an absolute degree. Biblical literalism, as defined and interpreted
by various denominations and individuals, has produced such things
as the Amish shunning of modern lifestyles and snake handling
to prove one's faith and refusing medical treatment to oneself
or one's family. Biblical literalism has led to prejudicial actions
against nonbelievers, including imprisonment, censure, torture,
death, and even wars. Religion, says Feuerbach, is self-estrangement.
There is the separation of the world into one spiritual and one
earthly. Man sees himself, first, as an individual with limitations,
then as a self without limits, empowered by his God.
A major purpose of fundamentalist religions is to supply a safe
harbor for those who are insecure, fearful, lost or lonely, by
justifying a way of life with narrow, defining principles and
prejudices. The authority of the Bible is the final arbiter of
any question. The inerrancy of the Bible is the final argument
to justify or indemnify, becoming the central focus of such a
life. The main philosophy of fundamentalists is one of constancy
in which they find solace against an outside world filled with
questions. They insulate themselves against such assaults by finding
answers in these words and ideas, no matter how flawed they may
prove to be.
To be human means we are doomed to explaining our world, not simply
and directly, but only indirectly, through these interpretations.
We dwell in our interpretations. In explicating a phenomenon,
we always put it in terms limited by our ability to understand,
always based in our own prejudices and preconceptions. This means
that we will understand things partially and inadequately, through
language rather than a godlike omniscience. Therefore, we internalize
our belief structure, i.e., that which causes and enhances our
beliefs. At the same time, we externalize its effects on our lives
and that of those about us. This duality of nature does not lead
us to understanding or knowledge but to faith. Faith in an improperly
arrived at conclusion based on illconceived thought processes
becomes so entrenched that it is often thought to be the truth
even when it flies in the face of reality.
No reasonable person can believe that the guesses of preliterate
man, upon which the myths of gods and the supernatural are based,
were true. The beliefs of these primitives, however, were more
reasonable in terms of their limited and insignificant knowledge,
than the beliefs of today's religionists who have masses of information
available to them.
It is apparent that such faith is based upon emotion, rather than
reason. Emotion needs no proof and rejects all questioning. Reason
demands answers, questions conflicts, and objectively studies
the issues from every available source and viewpoint. Reason is
fearless thought, undeterred by legal, spiritual, or social penalties.
Dissenting viewpoints do not alarm those who seek truth. The knowledge
seeker who has a passion for truth fears nothing except error.
I have found the average skeptic to have a much broader knowledge
of the Bible and theological issues than the average Christian.
Whether led to skepticism by knowledge or led to the knowledge
by their skepticism, the truth of the skeptic is that he is ultimately
led by a search for truth.
Few Christians can delineate the reasons and evidences for their
faith. Almost any attempt to elucidate qualitative responses on
the subject elicit catch phrases and incoherent babbling. If one
believes, based on naivety or innocence, it may appear charming
or quaint, such as a child believing in Santa Claus. If one believes
culturally, because he was raised to believe certain things, it
can be understood, even if there is no other basis. If one believes
as a result of erroneous information or faulty study, it is lamentable.
When one defends, propounds, and propagates such error as fact
and refuses to examine other information objectively, it is intellectually
reprehensible, and I will challenge that type of belief every
Biblical literalism presents more questions than answers. It offers
a god we cannot respect or understand, a god who changes vastly
from passage to passage and event to event, a lack of consistency
in what should be consistent if our faith is not to be shaken.
What is impossible for our minds to believe our hearts cannot
(Bob Hypes, P. O. Box 305, Howe, IN 46746.)
EDITOR'S NOTE: Bob Hypes' letters have appeared in previous issues
of The Skeptical Review. He is a former Church-of-Christ preacher,
and he tells a familiar story. He grew up believing what he had
been taught in his childhood, but when he engaged in serious Bible
studies as an adult, he found things in it that made it impossible
to continue believing what he had been taught as a child. Many
former fundamentalists will say that the Bible is its own worst
enemy. If we could just get more Christians to study this book
that they claim to believe in so much, the inevitable result would
be fewer Christians. The Christian religion thrives on ignorance
of the very book that is its foundation.
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