The one great thing about being freethinkers is that we do not always agree on everything, but the one thing we do agree on is that we do not believe there is a god or even Casper the Holy Spirit nor do we need a god to be good people. We are free spirited people without ghosts, holy or demonic, but we all have different opinions concerning mythology, which makes life and meeting new people interesting.
I have read Greta Christina’s “Are All Religions Equally Crazy” and Be Scofield’s response to her rant on religion, titled “5 Things Atheists Have Wrong About Religion” and I have a lot to say on the topic of religion and religious texts, which I am breaking into two parts. As someone who took the long journey out of religion, via born into Evangelical Fundamentalism, leaving home, thereby leaving Evangelicalism and joining the Episcopal Church, and finally leaving the Church as a humanist I think I can bring yet another unique perspective to the “cat pride” of atheists. I hope that people will excuse my critters and long windedness, but I have a lot to say on this subject.
Over the years, after leaving Evangelicalism, I was influenced by people such as Bishop John Shelby Spong, Robert M. Price, Don Cupitt, Tom Harpur, D. M. Murdock (AKA Acharya S.), and even Abraxas (AKA Miguel Conner). In the process I studied religion, mythology, psychology, and of course Evolution. In fact, my degree is in psychology, but my influences, since I left the Church as a whole, include other psychologists, such as Marlene Winell and Valerie Tarico. I hope that my fellow atheists will follow me as I share some of the things I have learned along the journey to disbelief, as attempt to cover both Greta and Be Scotfield’s comments. This path caused any god concept I ever had to shatter, making it quite difficult to believe in any human concept related to religion, yet thanks to my mentors Spong and Price I am able to appreciate the stories as literature. At the same time, I also suffered from religious abuse that enabled other forms of abuse as a child, and it haunted me for years, so I very well understand depression, eating disorders, PTSD, and, thanks to my degree, other mental illnesses. However, I also had to overcome some anger and other emotions I dealt with concerning religion.
Strictly speaking, primitive, superstitious, infallible humans wrote religious texts, which most of us know. I am not telling any atheists anything new with this statement. Humans were inspired by the human need and desire to explain the unexplainable during a time when modern science was non-existent. There are no inerrant religious texts inspired and written by any deity and they cannot be taken anymore historically than John Jakes North and South or anymore literal than Aesop's Fables or Dr. Seuss' The Lorax. Religious texts are nothing more than allegory and a whole host of other literary tools to create rewritten mythology set to a specific culture, which made for good story telling around the nightly campfire before the adults put their children to sleep at night, at the very best. At worst, if the child refused to mind the parent during a time of vulnerability to host of wild animals and other dangers for a primitive society, there was always the demented deity story, who wiped out all the humans by drowning.
My attempt at humour might be lost on some, but the point is many of these stories are part of genre. Revelations, for example, is part of the genre called apocalyptic stories, which are obviously doom and gloom, as well as full of allegory and symbolism. Humans cannot take these stories anymore literally than a Star Trek novel that has the Borg attacking humans.
Talking snakes only become insane when one really believes the Torah, Bible, and Quran are literal works of God, but if taken as mythology, they can be an interesting and even a glimpse into the evolution of human mythical thinking. Even the Archbishop Rowan Williams of Canterbury declared the Virgin Birth story a “legend”, which is a form of mythology. Rabbis do not even take the story of the talking snake in the Torah literally. The talking snake is purely symbolic and a trickster character.
In and of themselves, these are just stories and not meant to be taken literally, but are just as interesting as The Lorax, if one is not forced to apply them to their life and believe them to have actually happened. Greta is right, none of the stories are plausible, except to the person who delusionally accepts such concepts literal, despite the fact the stories are nothing but tribal mythology.
Is reading The Lorax to your child and having fun improvising voices crazy? No, it is a fun story, as long as one does not attempt to convince anyone The Lorax is a real creature and at the same time, gives a parent an opportunity to explain why trees are important. A parent can take that idea from fiction to scientific reality, although a parent would be hard press to explain a talking snake, but that is not the point. Regardless, the same holds true for bats being birds. They are not birds, but at one time, due to lack of scientific knowledge, people once thought that all flying creatures were birds. Fiction cannot update itself in light of new evidence, but we as humans can update our thinking in light of new evidence and laugh off the story and primitive human thinking.
According to Be Scofield, there are at least five atheist myths about the religious and religion. The first (fifth for his article) supposed myth he stated was that atheists believe Liberal and moderate religious people justify the extreme forms of religion. Personally, I think liberals and moderates can enable the extremists, but they do not justify them or their actions. While liberal Episcopalians support LGBT rights, the Conservative Episcopalians do not and perpetuate the Evangelicals’ beliefs about homosexuality, with the use of Bible stories. Similar holds true with the case of women and I grew up in a religious setting in which women must submit to male authority because the Bible says so.
Religion is a means to control the Vulgar. Most of the teachings taken literally date back to a primitive society, in which the patriarch control the masses and today, the Church often twist nonsense statements into something dehumanizing and degrading. The behaviours of religious authorities are a means to regain patriarchal control, even through government by violating the First Amendment. Religion can oppress people, even cause humans to kill each other, as well as teach mentally damaging concepts, such as hell.
Granted, the stories do not always make sense, especially when one does not know the origin and history or even how the stories evolved, but when one has a concept of hell packaged and given to them, it can cause emotional trauma. I have met many ex-Evangelicals, even Evangelicals for that matter, who have nightmares about hell, but the truth is, “these are all just human concepts”. As Spong said, “Religion is in the control business,” and “they create this fiery place, which has literally scared the hell out of people.” “People need to grow up, not be “born again”.” Humans do not need any religious authority controlling their lives. Adults are quite capable to forming their own opinions, ideals, morals, and ethics without religion, but that does not mean one cannot enjoy the stories as pure fiction. Humans can be good without God, but some of the stories, such as Anansi and Hanuman, if taken as purely literature and human concepts, can be fun.
Few Jews, Christians, and Muslims realize or even acknowledge that their religion evolved from animism and fertility nature worshipping religions prior to their existence. Many of the stories originated in Assyria, Mesopotamia, and other surrounding tribes. The stories are purely tribal thinking, but when the religious hierarchy enforces the tribal laws, things can get inhumanely dangerous. Primitive tribalism reoccurs when humans insist on taking the stories literally and historically factual, as they enforce such barbaric behaviours and attitudes on everyone. Individual women, children, and LGBTs become victims of rape, incest, and even stoning in some cultures. Religion taken literally and applied to reality can become extremely dangerous for society.
The fourth myth atheists supposedly have is that religion requires a belief in a supernatural deity. Granted, Taoism and some forms of Buddhism do not rely on any beliefs in a supernatural deity, but this is not true of all religions. However, many forms of Buddhism do believe in reincarnation, which is purely superstition and has no scientific basis. Add to that, Greta is right that Mormonism holds some very crazy beliefs and superstitions.
However, Unitarians and Jewish Rabbis were some of the people who signed the first Humanist Manifesto in 1933, as well as the second one in 1973, and many of them fit the definition of Religious humanists. Ironically enough, we also see Unitarians and various Humanistic Jews (Sherwin Wine) listed as signing the latest one written in 2003. Thus, Be Scotfield is correct with his statement that not all religious views necessarily include a belief in the supernatural.
Bishop Spong, Fr Tom Harpur, and Don Cupitt are a few Christians who do not believe in a personal deity. Don Cupitt often discusses Christian humanism and non-realism. He even discusses this in his book After God. Spong, Cupitt, and Harpur are also great examples of Christian humanists or Humanistic Christians. None of them takes the Bible literally and even Tom Harpur pointed out the mythical origins of Christianity, specifically its relationship to Egyptian mythology in his book The Pagan Christ. Even so, all three of them are very religious and have a god concept, which brings us to Anthony Freeman, an excommunicated Anglican priest. He was excommunicated for his statement “there is no God”, which was taken out of context in his book God In Us: A Case for Christian Humanism. Even so, he makes his case well and in a very humanistic manner.
Lastly, while pantheism is naturalistic, it views nature, even the universe as a god. However, many pantheists do not consider such a deity a literal god and some also ascribe to humanistic views. Others ascribe to Christianity or some other religious philosophy.
Are they necessarily crazy religious and supernatural concepts as Greta rants? Yes and no, but her rant is well justified in light of religious extremism. It all depends on whether or not those who ascribe to a certain religion take religious texts literally or not. I have yet to meet a Buddhist who insists that the Buddha’s miraculous birth story is true. Most admit the story is just a myth given to that Buddha.
The third myth Scofield accuses atheists of making, is religion causes bad behaviours. Humans can corrupt religion as much as they do politics, which I have seen as both a theist and non-theist. As a history professor once explained to me, there is nothing innately wrong with Socialism or Communism. In the hands of humans, any political view, including democracy, is corruptible. Stalin, a supposed atheist, killed millions of people, just as Hitler, a Catholic, did. However, more crimes have been committed in the name of religion than atheism. There is no atheistic ideology to condone or commit genocide, abuse, dehumanization, or deny human dignity, but many a religious text does. However, it is possible to use science for both good and bad purposes, but religion does not save lives, humans do. Human beings can save lives with or without religion. Humans can also use science in the endevour to save lives and use religion or philosophy to form their worldview.
The fact is, some religious people, especially those with more extreme views could very well be mentally ill and religious dogma can even exacerbate a mental illness. Many Evangelicals are bat-shit crazy and need some serious psychological help, but religious texts do not necessarily make them mentally ill. Their religious beliefs and concepts do define their actions though. If taken as mythological stories, there is nothing wrong with any religious text, but the religious dogma and ideology humans create with such text can very well trigger or enable symptoms of mental illnesses such as OCD, depression, and alike.
However, even atheists can suffer from a mental illness too, but atheism does not contribute or cause their mental illness. The lack of a belief in a deity does nothing, just as religious texts, not viewed as the literal inerrant word of God, does nothing.
The second myth Scofield specifically mentions Greta as committing, but I did not notice it personally. What I read from her article was a rant concerning mythology taken literally and used to live life, but not all atheists are anti-religious. I am neither pro nor anti-religious. I am emphatically anti-extremism. I take no issue with a religious group who truly support humans regardless of their gender, sexual orientation, age, or race. Secondly, I have no issues with any religious group that does not impose and enforce their religious views and beliefs on others nor do I have a problem with religious people who do not dehumanize, degrade, or deny the dignity of other human beings. As a vegetarian, I do not have a problem with people eating meat, especially when they treat other animals with respect. I just do not wish to see them kill an animal via slaughter, Halal, Kosher, or hunting. However, I do take issue with animal rights activists who state that animal welfare is not good enough and commit violent acts and crimes similar to religious extremism. Anything taken to extreme is when it becomes seriously unhealthy.
While a god is not scientifically provable as true or not, the mythology has been part of the human culture to explain the condition of humans and life itself since humans began. It is only a concept created by humans. On top it all, the idea of a deity, heaven, hell, and sin are all human concepts with no basis in reality.
The fact is, humans are like The Blind men and the Elephant, seeing parts of the whole and creating various tribal concepts of the smaller parts to describe a whole they cannot imagine, except in mythological stories that are not accurate, as science has demonstrated repeatedly. The sun does not revolve around the earth and humans are not a separate creation. The use of science helped to find the reality of the planets revolving around the sun and the evolution of various species. As we observed DNA, RNA, and fossil findings, we discovered Darwin was right. We are 98.7% related to the Bonobo and have a common ancestor, which explains why a preschooler can look at other apes and say, “They look like us, only with more fur.” I seriously did that before I was the age of five and my mother seriously chastised me. Boy was I glad to learn I was right, because I love being related to other animals on this planet, as well as chemically part of the earth and universe itself!