Religion, atheism, moral awkwardnesses, and all that (pt. 1)

Now I have other, much better and perhaps more interesting or amusing things I could be talking about on this blog. But after reading a certain post on a certain blog, and having got into heated arguments in the comments section of that post with the blog’s author, and on a certain discussion forum elsewhere on the internet having come across much the same sort of issue, I feel like it is about time I addressed certain issues which, to say the least, are going to be pretty divisive.

(And yes, after reading the above, some of my readers are wondering what the bleeping heck I am on about. Why can’t this guy just write clearly?)

It is often the criticism made of atheists and skeptics that ‘religion’ is pretty much the cause of most or all of the world’s problems, responsible for all manner of wars, injustices and atrocities. And whilst indeed what is commonly called religion has played a contributing factor in many of these things, often it is given far more credit than it deserves. It’s not like mankind has not managed to commit wars, injustices and atrocities completely independently of religion, after all, and may or may not even have tacked on religion as an excuse. Think about it: were the Troubles in Northern Ireland, say, a conflict concerning Protestants and Catholics? Or about whether Northern Ireland should be part of Britain, or part of the Republic of Ireland? And what about Emperor Constantine, the man who is credited with making Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire, really conquering by the sign of and in the name of Christ? Or was he just using the faith for political gain and as a convenient way of uniting the already fractious empire? And did that act, ultimately, do more to damage the perception of the faith than anythng else in history? After all, it is a sad thing when something which is supposedly not of this world, which is supposed to stand headlong against all the world’s evil, corruption and wickedness, is co-opted by it and used to justify that very evil?

Or is that really so?

Because it is also the same criticism of those atheists and skeptics that said Christianity in particular, whilst supposedly claiming to be all about love and righteousness, is anything but, and that its foundational documents, that collection of writings called the Holy Bible, is full of all manner of atrocities including slavery, genocide, oppression of women and more.

The trouble is, on the face of it they might seem to be right.

Yet in ways, not all is as it seems. For instance, many of these allegations prove to be completely unfounded when you understand the text for what it really is, the context of the ancient world (which let’s not forget was not only operating under much different constraints to now, but did not and cannot be expected to share all of our values and presuppositions about what is right), and so on.  I don’t claim to understand everything about this of course, as I am no scholar or full-time apologist, but it certainly makes for enlightening reading. Yet other things, when viewed from a radically different angle, turn out not to be unspeakable evils, but perhaps unfortunate though necessary ones. In future posts I may try to address these issues in more depth, though time, space and willingness do not permit such in this one.

It might be also worth pointing out that many views the atheists and skeptics themselves tend to hold are far from perfect. I could mention certain things such as abortion, say, though at the same time I realise that particular issue is not simply divided by matters of faith. There are “pro-life” atheists and quite probably people of faith who are probably ‘pro-choice’. (Both of those terms are lacking.) I could mention the historical example of Marxist-Leninist communism, which also sought to do away with religion (and yes, a certain fellow-blogger who knows who she is, it was an atheistic value-system as well as a political ideology) in the name of providing a fairer and better world. At the same time, it is unfair to assume that all atheists are like the communists became, or to assume they share that political ideal. After all, Ayn Rand despised Communism and Christianity alike, in favour of an also extreme laissez-faire ideology the complete opposite of communism. I could use the example of Rand too, though I dare say many atheists despise her views too. But it all goes to show how rejection of religion does not imply whatever else we believe is automatically better.

And ultimately, I would like to show my faith as not one of evil but of good- of love shown to those whom all others have rejected, of sins forgiven, of the sick healed and the hungry fed and injustice replaced by justice. Of a God who is Love, not some vindictive and uncaring monster.

I very much doubt I can do it, but as the Apostle Peter said, “always be ready to give an answer to everyone who asks you a reason concerning the hope that is in you…” (1 Peter 3:15, WEB)- and that is hope, not despair and disbelief.