Charlie versus God

Admittedly, a fight between me and god would go something like this.Okay, here is my fundamental disconnect with religion.

God tells Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac as a testament of his faith. Despite not wanting to kill his child, Abraham does so because God commanded it. At the last moment, God tells Abraham to stay his hand and sacrifice a lamb instead. God explains that He just wanted to test Abraham’s faith and loyalty.

For some reason, Abraham doesn’t point out that God has just been a tremendous douchebag.

With the exception of the zealots who try to force their beliefs on others, I have no problem with religion in general. I think most religions have some decent moral ideas behind them and some interesting mythology. The main reason that I don’t follow any particular religion myself, besides a simple lack of faith on my part, is that most of them tell me that I should follow their commandments simply because God says to.

Now, I realize how arrogant this sounds, but who the fuck is God to tell me what to do?

I understand that in most modern religions, God is considered infallible. He created the world, He gave us life. But where I don’t get most monotheistic religions is where they tell me that I should do what God commands merely because He tells me to. Maybe it’s just me, but if God tells me to cut open my son in sacrifice, I would flip him the bird and accept damnation. I’m not about to kill my own child, no matter who is telling me to do it. It’s just not right.

In Vermont, where last year there was a bill passed that will allow gay marriage, the primary argument against that legislation was based on the fact that God forbids homosexuality in the Bible. A few verses after he says that homosexuality is an abomination, though, God also endorses slavery. So in the span of a few pages the Bible has gone dramatically against my moral compass, first telling me that something that doesn’t cause any harm to others is a Hell-worthy sin and second telling me that one of the worst abominations I can think of is actually okay. Why should I follow a God whose morals I find so reprehensible?

That’s not to say that Christianity should be considered invalid because of a few pages of Leviticus. I only brought up those two passages as a demonstration of why the argument of, “Because God said so” doesn’t hold any water with me.

Why should I listen to God? The answer that most people give basically boils down to, “Because He’s all powerful and you won’t get into Heaven/Elysium/Nirvana/whatever eternal paradise you believe in if you piss Him off.” And I just don’t get that explanation. According to that view, I’m supposed to act not out of conscience but out of fear for the consequences. And that just doesn’t seem right to me.

Admittedly, keeping people in line through fear of punishment is effective. The whole American legal system is based off of the fact that if you break the law, you will go to jail or suffer a similar consequence. From a practical sense, that works. From a moral sense, however, I need more of an incentive to do good than just to avoid punishment. If someone pisses me off, the reason I don’t shoot them isn’t because I’m afraid of jail time. It’s because murdering people is fundamentally wrong. At the same time, if the law tells me to discriminate against gays or blacks, or if a police officer told me to stab my brother as a sign of loyalty to the state, I like to think that, as a person who tries to act ethically, I would break those unjust laws regardless of the consequences. American history would have progressed remarkably differently if people were afraid to break unjust laws because of the punishment behind them. In a nutshell, extreme punishment is not enough of a reason to do something that is morally reprehensible if one is trying to live ethically. If God tells me to kill my son, He’d better have a much better reason for me to do so than, “You’ll go to Hell if you don’t.”

Many of God’s commandments are worth following and make good moral sense. Yeah, you should honor your parents (in most cases, at least). Yeah, murder/thievery/adultery is wrong. I’ve got no quarrel with most of the Bible, and the various churches of the world smartly stick to the more universal ethics that people won’t question. And I’m not saying that Christianity, Judaism, Islam, or any other monotheistic religion is bad – for all I know, I might be some stupid heathen whose soul needs to be saved. I’m just illustrating my fundamental disconnect with most religions: the fact that a lot of it is based on, “You should do this because God said so.”

Growing up, the closest thing to all-powerful authority figures I had were my parents. They had some rules that didn’t make a lot of sense to me. They also explained why those rules were there, rather than expecting me to follow them only because I would have received an ass-kicking otherwise. And they certainly never asked me to do something as extreme as killing someone merely to prove how loyal I was to them. Moreover, my parents earned my respect over the years. They sacrificed a hell of a lot in order to raise my brothers and I the way they did. So maybe that’s another disconnect I have with the Bible – that God, when presented as a formless, omnipotent being, never has to sacrifice anything. He does what He does because He can, and He expects loyalty not because it’s the right thing to do, but because He said so. In that regard, the New Testament goes a long way toward making God someone I can actually respect and care about. It’s one thing to flood the world or turn people into salt when you’re omnipotent. It’s another thing entirely to enter the world as a mortal, spend three decades trying to teach us ignorant swine, and then let yourself get crucified for crimes you didn’t commit. Those are actions that earn respect, which would probably explain why Christianity grew so quickly as a religion. But even in the New Testament, there’s surprisingly little thought put into the question of why someone should follow those teachings. Instead, even Jesus focuses very much on the consequences of not listening to him.

In the end, it boils down to Abraham and Isaac. I don’t get religion because I don’t get why Abraham would actually kill his beloved son. And I don’t get why I should hate gays or avoid eating pork or kneel down and pray to the clouds just because I’m told to.

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