Thursday, June 07, 2007

The road to religious skepticism is paved by a close reading of the Bible

I once participated in a nine-month seminar dedicated to a close reading of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament). The discussion was lively, interesting, and valuable. The seminar planted the seed that grew into my religious skepticism.

The story of the fall of Jericho is particularly instructive. After Joshua has conquered the city, god commands him to kill all the civilians and animals in the city. Joshua, being a godly and righteous man, promptly obeys the command. God also instructs Joshua to take the gold and silver in the city for they are righteous in the eyes of the lord—very convenient for Joshua. These are the parts you never hear about in Sunday or Bible school.

The story is repugnant to our modern moral sensibility. Civilized countries consider such activity immoral and criminal. A humanist morality has replaced religious morality and for good reason. The religious moral codes are based on whatever god commands is right rather god commanding what is right. This is as arbitrary and relative a moral code that ever existed since it bases itself on a capricious god whose moral standard is either nonexistent or at times sadistic and murderous. Belief in god is one of the origins of evil in the world.

Ivan Karamazov said, “If god does not exist, then everything is permitted.” I wonder if the opposite is not true. The story of Jericho shows that if god exists, he permits everything.

The preponderance of evidence showing that the natural world is all that exists is what eventually converted me to religious skepticism. However, how anyone can give a close reading to the Bible and come away believing in a god dispensing divine justice eludes my imagination. The book is too crude, violent, and immoral to give it any credence. Its spirituality destroys human life and offends our moral sensibilities.

I feel good having thrown off the yolk called religion. Too bad the lash to which religion subjects us is still in play through its inspired extremists.

It is difficult not to believe religion a dangerous body of thought. Too many people are willing to kill in the name of religion, for they believe by doing so they will cross into a supernatural world whose existence possesses scant evidence, especially for those who commit murder and other atrocities.

Religion may come naturally to us, but it has outlived any usefulness it may have had if it actually had any.

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