Pick a religion — any religion! I mean it: a serious person can gain great insights from any one of them if they are so inclined. My experiences are mostly with Christians, and so that is what I will stick with. I’ve known a lot of serious thinkers who considered themselves Christians. There is nothing about following a particular religion that precludes depth. It’s kind of like being well read. I would have no problem with someone who appreciates Adam Bede, but chooses to read Pride and Prejudice each new year. But if she told me that Pride and Prejudice was the only true literature and that I should only read it, we would have words.
The specifics of any religion are, in general, rubbish. So I really do have a problem with religious literalists. I’ve been told by many Christians over the years that they know their religion is true because the Bible says right there in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life.” Who’d have thought it would be so easy? I ought to have this printed up:
What bothers me is just how silly it all is. By focusing on the literal truth of the Bible, people seem to lose sight of any of its spiritual teachings. It isn’t so important what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, but that it is literally true that he said it. Like in Life of Brian: “Judea AD 33. Saturday Afternoon. About Tea Time.” I just don’t see many Christians living as though they actually believed, “Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.” In fact, some of them have threatened me with violence for suggesting that the Bible wasn’t literally true.
It makes me think of the Norse mythology. I don’t know much about it — basically just what I picked up from reading The Mighty Thor when I was a kid. But I do know this: it isn’t all that different from Christian mythology. As John Constantine says in the movie, “Impossible rules, endless regulations — who goes up, who goes down, and why.” But I’m sure that all those old stories were helpful to those Scandinavians. But it was just silly for any of them to really think they won the Battle of Lena because Odin was happy with the Swedes and unhappy with the Danes.
Assuming that humans manage to continue their cultural progress and not destroy themselves, in a couple of hundred years, I expect someone to be writing this same sentiment about the Christians of today. And that, I think, is where the theological rubber meets the road. These Christian literalists (the vast majority of American Christians) seem to harbor a fear that I’m right — that their religion is just the modern version of the Norse or Greek or whatever mythology past or present you want to point to.
I think this is why the beliefs of people like Denys Turner or Reginald Foster or Tenzin Gyatso seem so relaxed. They all get something deep from their faiths — something that pointing out obvious contradictions in holy texts can’t disturb. Compare this to a man like William Lane Craig who has wasted his whole life trying to prove the the Bible is literally true and defining anything God does — like the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that killed roughly a quarter million people — as good.
But Craig and the hundreds of millions like him have not only wasted their lives, they’ve wasted their faith. The purpose of religion has always been to find insight. And the literalists use all their abilities to avoid insights. Because the truth is right there in English, which is after all, a pretty good translation of Greek and Hebrew and Aramaic. And those original sources were after all direct copies of direct copies of direct copies that were only mere hundreds of years after the original ones were written. And those copies only contain some 100,000 errors. But the truth is right there! And if it seems a little unclear, don’t worry, someone will tell you what it means — most likely that homosexuality is wrong and zygotes have souls.
But those Ravens really stomped on the Steelers today. I hear Odin is a big Ravens fan.