JR'S Free Thought Pages
Did the Easter Bunny Die for Our Sins?
A Meditation on Easter 2006
Life is full of misery, loneliness, and suffering - and it's all over much too soon.
Not only is there no God, but try getting a plumber on weekends.
If only God would give me some clear sign - like making a large deposit in my name in a Swiss bank!
- Woody Allen
Man's most valuable trait is a judicious sense of what not to believe. - Euripedes
It’s springtime and with the coming of Easter, an old geezer’s attention turns to thoughts of the Easter Bunny and other supernatural entities. I’m now 61 pushing 62 and as I think more about my mortality and draw closer to the void, the more mystified I become of Christian belief in the deity they call by the not very original name of “God”, as though there had never been countless others pre-dating the Christian version centuries before.
Two things in particular immediately come to mind that are perplexing: first the claim, proposed in Genesis but still subscribed to today, that ex nihilo, the Big Daddy in the Sky made our world and everything in it, yet without even a hint of an explanation of the one thing any curious person would want to know: just how in practical terms did he pull off such a massive feat of engineering? The precursor to that query however is how one avoids rejection of either causation on the one hand or acceptance of the infamous infinite regress argument on the other. Any curious preschooler will ask “Who made God?” Perhaps it was Super God? The popular rock group AC-DC realized the reductio ad absurdum in their song “Who Made Who”?
However, these logical difficulties and inconsistencies don’t seem to concern the person of faith.
The second conundrum is this. Every week in their churches Christians belt out in hymn after hymn that "God" is all-powerful, all-knowing, just, merciful and wise, yet also, they claim, mysteriously invisible, inaccessible and mute. These attributes are, even to a child, contradictory, since if the latter are true, surely the former cannot be. Moreover, just where in our daily lives do we find examples of God's mercy, wisdom and justice? Gratuitous violence, injustice, suffering and death continue ad infinitum. Then there’s rap music, Oprah and The Price is Right.
Here’s a case in point. My wife’s best workplace friend of over thirty years, a wonderful loving Catholic woman who enjoyed life and lived it to the utmost, just a few days ago died a horrific death after enduring weeks of chemotherapy, radiation and a mastectomy, only to have the cancer return after about a year and spread to her lungs, brain and other vital organs. Our Christian God, however, was conspicuous by his absence and all the prayers by her religious friends were evidently left unanswered. The funeral is this afternoon.
If by some remote possibility, such a supernatural creator of the universe actually exists, he’s quite obviously a mean spirited evil asshole who doesn’t give a damn.
Yet despite the inconsistencies, contradictions and non sequiturs, the Hallelujahs continue to hammer the rafters and shake the steeples in places of worship all over the world. Self-assured accolades of gratitude and reverence are repeated ad nauseam (Praise him! Praise the Lord! Praise Jesus! Praise the omnipotent, omniscient God of infinite goodness, benevolence and righteousness!").
Do the true believers in the flock really believe that anyone or thing out there is listening? Have they ever paused to consider how silly and childlike is their behavior? It’s certainly no more imbecilic than Jews nodding at the Wailing Wall, Indians appealing to the Great White Spirit by performing a Rain Dance or Muslims prostrating themselves in the direction of Mecca - an activity described by Rowan Atkinson as the hunt for Khomeini's contact lenses.). And has David Hume's famous observation escaped them: that it is an absurdity to believe that the Christian deity has one of the lowliest of human attributes – an unrelenting appetite for obedience, egoism, power, flattery and applause?
It’s a mistake to consider gods as disconnected, existing in a vacuum. The literally thousands we have been inundated with over the millennia are heirs to a long line of former idols like Quetzalcoatl, Cocomama and Ishtar, Baal and Mithras, Ra and Osiris, Zeus, Thor and Odin, and before them literally thousands of others, gods of the sea and sky, of rivers and mountains, stones and bushes, all of which originated when primitive man sought consolation and reassurance from the natural phenomena that frightened him: thunder and lightning, droughts, earthquakes, volcanoes, fearsome beasts, poisonous fruits and berries, disease, death and in-laws. The aforementioned Gods no longer exist. Why is that? The answer is patently obvious. Since their cultures have been extinguished, so have their Gods. No one remains to believe in them so they are relegated to the trash heap.
The God one believes in is, not surprisingly, strictly contingent on time and place – a function of cultural forces within the society into which you are raised. If you are born in Iran, India or Tibet, it is highly unlikely you will grow up to be a Catholic, Baptist or Mormon. Is this alone not sufficient to lead any thinking person to skepticism about the truth of any particular religion? Oddly enough however, regardless of where you were born or where you venture in the world, the inhabitants study the same mathematics and science as they do anywhere else.
Bertrand Russell once stated that, 'There is something feeble contemptible about someone who cannot face the perils of life without the help of comfortable myths." As Russell suggests, the reality is that all gods from time immemorial are fantasies, created by humans for the satisfaction of humans in a facile effort to explain the seemingly inexplicable and provide a palliative for the inevitable contingencies and vicissitudes of life. But do we, in the sixth year of the 21st century of the Common Era and on the springboard of understanding consciousness, the human genome and the workings of the universe, need such security blankets and Teddy Bears? Should we not heed the message of Corinthians that while we once spoke as a child, understood as a child and thought as a child, we are now grown-up and should put away childish things? Did we not experience a Scientific Revolution and philosophical Enlightenment four centuries ago that continues unabated to this day with each scientific discovery hammering another nail in the coffin of religion? Yet religion, the major weapon in the war against reality, continues as if there were none. Paradoxically however, Christians believe that the most wonderful thing that can happen to them is to go to Heaven, but they are no different from non-believers in that few of them are in a hurry to make the trip.
There have been periods in history when men and women found spiritual fulfillment, as I and a small minority of increasing numbers do today, in the wonderment of philosophy, science, mathematics, music, art, nature and the awe-inspiring mysteries of the unknown. There have been long periods too when they lived without the neuroticisms and delusions of religious belief. The ancient cultures, wrote the 17th century philosopher John Locke, had no beliefs in a personal god, and about the same time French missionaries seeking converts were finding godless societies living contentedly all over the world.
The indigenous peoples of the Gaspe peninsula, wrote Chretien Le Clerq, had never formed a conception of any divinity but were charitable beyond anything in Europe, while the Jesuit Le Jeune found the natives of Cap Breton "exceptionally clever, honest and decent, very generous with a cheerful disposition", but also godless. And the Dominican Jean-Baptiste du Tertre whose church had warned him he would find black atheists in the Antilles to be depraved found otherwise.
"The love they have for one another is extremely tender... they assist each other in all their illnesses and cannot see their companions mistreated without feeling their pain." Similar discoveries were made in Thailand, China and Japan.
Why then did these indigenous peoples suffer exploitation and subsequent genocide at the hands of the good Christian white man?
If only such societies still existed today? Instead, everywhere one looks there is religiously grounded conflict: Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland; Jews, Christians and Muslims in Palestine; Muslims and Hindus in the Indian subcontinent; Sunnis, Kurds and Shiites in Iraq, Christians and Muslims in Nigeria, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere. Is not the case for atheism made on the basis of this alone?