Friday, 19 December 2008

On God, Sin, and Morality

Yeah, I know, I haven't posted here in ages. Whatever, I do what I want!

Anyway, I was stirred out of my non-blogging funk the other day, when someone presented me with the pressing need to have a good old-fashioned rant. So here it is:

I was accosted by a person the other day, who completely unprovoked and with no knowledge of my life, thoughts, or deeds, declared me to be a sinner, an immoral person, and told me I was bound for Hell.

Normally, this kind of thing washes over my head. If someone thinks I'm going to Hell, fine. Personally, I don't believe in Hell, and in fact, archaeologists (and my old priest, Father David) say that when the Bible says that after you die you go to a place full of fire and brimstone, it means it literally - there was a place outside Jerusalem where "unclean" bodies were burned, to prevent the spread of disease. Personally, I'm fully behind the idea that so long as it doesn't harm anyone else, people should be able to believe and do whatever they like. I have friends who are Christian, Hindu, Sikh, and Jehovah's Witnesses; and I've never had a problem with any of them or their beliefs.

What got me on this occasion however, was the assertion that if I don't follow the Bible and its teachings, I am therefore an "immoral" person. Immoral, as in not in conformity with accepted principles of right and wrong behaviour. Excuse my language here, but what the fuck does that have to do with believing in God? The implication here is that even if I live a life of complete morality, because I don't believe in the Christian God, I get an eternity of torture?! That seems a bit much, and I'm pretty sure that's not really the view that most Christians have.

I thought about suggesting that maybe being moral because you were afraid of the consequences in the afterlife is in fact not so much morality as selfishness. I thought about pointing out that arriving at your own set of morals and sticking to them, not because you believe a higher power told you to, but because you believe that people deserve (on the whole) to be treated fairly and with respect, makes you more moral, if anything. I even, for a moment, thought about pointing out that judging me as immoral based on what I do or don't believe rather than how I act is downright prejudiced and goes against (again) what most Christians believe.

But I didn't, I bit my tongue. I understand that Christians are told to "spread the word of God". My mother is a Christian, and I'm confirmed, not because I believe in God, but because when I was baptised my mother promised God that she would ensure that I got confirmed. While to me that's a promise to nobody, to my mother it means a lot, and I respect that, and went through with the process. I still occasionally attend church with my mother, at Christmas time usually. I don't do the proclamation of faith ("I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of Heaven and Earth, who for us men and for our salvation, came down.." - see, I paid attention in Sunday School), because that would be disrespectful and patronising, but I'm there. So I understand why this person felt the need to try to convince me that the Christian life is the way forward. However, I don't see why he would feel the need to be so fucking rude about it.

I've read a lot of the Bible, I've read some of the Koran, and a bit of the Talmud. I've flicked through copies of the Watchtower, read Richard Dawkins, and studied Taoism and Buddhism. I don't believe that there is a God, but I would describe myself as a non-theist, rather than an atheist - someone with the convictions of an atheist, but the evidence-based approach of an agnostic. None of this makes me a good or bad person. I'd like to think I do alright. I hold the door open for people, buy drinks for girls even if I don't want to sleep with them, smile at old people on the streets, and rarely kill babies.

This guy however, judges someone as worthy of an eternity of torture based on one single question: "Are you a Christian?" Try replacing the word Christian with "white person", or "heterosexual", and see how far you get with that argument. I'm a decent person, as I'm sure you'll agree. That guy, however, was a prick.


Twinkle said...

Im with you on this one. One of my best friends is a devout Christian, and although having known her several years she has only just begun discussing her religion with my other friends and I.
I like to ask her questions about her faith, mainly so I can learn I guess. I find it interesting how she believes things through what her parents have taught her, but I feel that some of the things she says I need to disagree with.
The time that springs to mind is when I asked
"If I live a good life, and don't sin- yet don't believe in God, am I going to hell?"
She said yes I would, although i have plenty of time in my life to find him.
I let this pass me by, but my next question was
"so are you saying you're a better person than us cause you believe in god and would go to heaven while we go to hell?"

To this she had no answer...


DanX said...

Well, in my opinion a God who would punish genuinely good people who just happened to be of a different or no religion wouldn't be a God worthy of worshipping. In fact he'd be cruel and petty, which is not the light that most Christians I know paint their God in.

The problem is clearly with this guy. You can interpret the Bible in a lot of ways, he just seems to have chosen a way that allows him to feel superior to other people. Says more about him than about God, in my humble opinion.

Twinkle said...

Yup I hear ya!
There's so many religions out there, how are we- as humble humans supposed to know what is 'true' and how could God judge us if we make the wrong decision?!

Anna said...

You know I believe in God, Dan. I don't have much in the way of answers these days, but I can say that Christians are NOT 'better people' and don't think of themselves as such (or shouldn't anyway). The point is that we're crappy and we know it (clap your hands...)

But yeah, it works the other way too. I was once berated by a stranger in a pub for half an hour for believing a bunch of "fucking fairy tales."

As for the hell issue, if God exists as the perfect judge, then he'll make the right decision. And if you don't believe in him, then it should bother you who goes to heaven, or what heaven even means!

DanX said...

Quite Anna. Like I say, it's not Christianity (or indeed any religion) that I have a problem with, it's those who act like they have all the answers, and look down on those who they think don't.

Thankfully I've had enough of a Christian background, and enough contact with folks of varying faiths to know not to let this guy reflect badly on other Christians, like yourself and Gav, whose beliefs I would never disrespect. It's no wonder some people have such a dim view of religion with such intolerant idiots around though.

Of course, the same can be said for certain atheists too. I agree with a lot that Mr Dawkins says, for example, but I don't think his condescending tone is too endearing.

To paraphrase the ever-relevant South Park: "for some people it's not enough to use logic [Dan's edit: or faith] - they have to be a dick to everyone who doesn't think like them".

As for Heaven - if it turns out to be there and they won't let me in, I'm totally hitching a ride in one of your suitcases ;)