Leaving Religion Over Guilt?
How Utterly Absurd!
From: "Paul Murray"
To: "Positive Atheism" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Sent: Friday, July 13, 2001 5:01 PM
Subject: Brian's response
I read the URL you sent out with the lastest mail:
For a perspective on what this all means, check out the exchange between myself and Brian Markland, "Looking At Some De-Conversion Stories."
I was struck by this in his first mail:
What I do see from the majority of those who try to dismiss the existence of sin is a deep sense of guilt and shame. The story seems the same every time-I couldn't conform, I felt guilty and worthless because of it, so I ditched the source of guilt.
Now, this is just plain not true. I read a few of the stories (haven't read all of them yet), and I don't think I once saw this attitude coming through. It's certainly not "a majority." Where is Brian getting this fact from? I'd suggest he is either projecting his own struggles, or else he simply believes what the Bible says about apostates without bothering to check the facts. Not untypical ways for a Christian to deal with deconversions.
Lev 27:28 Notwithstanding no devoted thing, that a man shall devote unto the LORD of all that he hath, both of man and beast, and of the field of his possession, shall be
sold or redeemed: every devoted thing is most holy unto the LORD.
From: "Positive Atheism" <email@example.com>
To: "Paul Murray"
Subject: Re: Brian's response
Date: Saturday, July 14, 2001 8:56 AM
Lev 27:29 None devoted, which shall be devoted of men, shall be redeemed; but shall surely be put to death.
Ooh, could this be another human sacrifice passage?
I couldn't conform, I felt guilty and worthless because of it, so I ditched the source of guilt
Now, this is just plain not true.
Since I haven't read all the stories very carefully either, but perused many of them while in a copy-edit mindset, I didn't catch this. Actually, I only touched on Brian's letter, too, as my mind was too busy trying to put into words what the De-Conversions stories do and do not mean to me.
However, a lot of Christians will read a passage such as Romans 1:18-22 and then rail upon atheists, thinking we actually believe the Gospel "deep down" but we refuse to admit this "fact" in order to justify every form of self-indulgence and disobedience (bwa-ha-ha-ha-haa!). Perhaps Brian went this far, but I didn't see this type of thinking dominating his exchange. He actually became quite reasonable in the follow-up letters. Of course, I just plain missed the part you highlighted and, as you saw by my reply, responded to other things he had said.
I will say that Christianity (particularly Roman Catholicism) and Judaism are major sources of guilt feelings, and this is one of the more popular reasons people reject it as they grow up. These guilt feelings are false -- contrived -- and that's what I think many see wrong with the "faith of their fathers" when they renounce that faith.
For example, how can looking in the mirror be an act of vanity? and just what's wrong with self-love and self-admiration? When I got off the streets after recovering from a long illness, I bought some new clothes (not used ones) and started wearing them. It's all I had, but I quickly noticed a profound difference in how strangers looked at me when I walked downtown. For that reason alone, I put all my spare money into new clothes for about a year (and I wasn't taking in much money at the time -- I had very little else, but I had those smiles on the faces of people I met).
More than a few Roman Catholic friends (ex-Catholics) would probably look askance (even if only out of vestigial habit) if they knew what was on my mind during these times. But I would call this phony guilt that had been contrived by the Church. Nobody would think this way on their own, or come to this thinking through natural thought processes. They are the teachings of an organization which has spent 2,000 years perfecting the art of rendering entire societies passive and submissive.
Another close friend ditched his family's Mormonism simply because of their attitudes toward sex. I can see prohibitions against aggressive sex when the other party does not want to be involved, and wholeheartedly support every form of rape law. I also respect the tendency to be loyal to a partner, and wouldn't have a partner under any other circumstances. But how can sex between two consenting adults be wrong, especially if there is no third party whose trust is being betrayed? Only an elite, self-appointed, authoritative group, bent on keeping the masses in line or making situations so they have the advantage (such as outlawing activities that are popular among targeted groups), would ever worry about the bedroom activities of people they don't even know.
I agree that guilt is one of the big factors prompting people to leave religion, particularly Christianity and Judaism (and probably Islam, though I am unfamiliar with this aspect of Islam). But I would point out that the "guilt" involved is false guilt. The "sins" being committed are generally not criminal acts but simply taboos against a religious dogma. This is easily seen by comparing the taboos of various cultures, as Joseph Lewis points out in the Adultery section of his book, The Ten Commandments.
I have long suspected that the two crucial elements in a confession of faith are (1) to believe a dogma that is unique to the group, and (2) for that unique dogma to be something that nobody would think up on their own -- that is, something carefully designed to be so utterly "out there" that the only way anyone would believe it is under threat of ostracization.
I touched on this the other day while discussing "the Dogma of the Trinity" (the Roman Catholic Church's wording, not mine). This idea is patently absurd. Christian theologians admit that they cannot even explain it, much less justify it. Their only recourse is the authority of the Church and a few "proof-text" passages from the Bible. Nevertheless, the doctrine of the Trinity is probably the biggest litmus test in those sects of Christianity which accept it.
This tenet is the test of orthodoxy precisely because it's so utterly absurd and so wildly unlikely that you'd never think of it on your own. This is the one doctrinal point upon which you cannot deviate and still remain "one of us." Somebody would never accidentally stumble upon this idea while walking in the woods and contemplating God. The Church will never have any members who came to this thinking apart from the Church's authoritative stand on the issue. Only those who accept what they're told without question, who have heard this from the Church and have believed it on the authority of the Church, will believe it and be accepted into the congregation. So, one must believe in the Trinity because -- and only because -- such belief is required by the sect. This is the loyalty test: if you believe this, you're in; if you don't, you're out.
A similar doctrine is Christ's redemption on the Cross: can you explain that to me? can you justify it? can you tell me why we need it or how it works or what it does? No, you can't, and neither could anybody else I've discussed this with (although one of our advisors, Roger Baker, a Seminarian, took a grand stab at it in an as-yet-unposted dialogue specifically on this subject). And someone in deep prayer, seeking the face of God in all earnestness, would not come up with the Christian scheme of Redemption, with Christ leaving the Glory of his Father behind and assuming human flesh -- only to die on the Cross for our sins. And nobody would suggest that the temporary death of a god would buy back the permanent death of a man. And who would even suspect that God would be so viciously angry that He would need to be propitiated in such a flamboyant way?
Not even a surrealist author as brilliant as William S. Burroughs could have penned a novel about a world where one-sixth of the population swallowed a line like this. Even surrealism, in order to work, must employ at least a kernel of the waking state: it cannot just come from a vacuum. But the story of the Cross appears to have done just that. Paul even admitted as much in several of his writings, telling us that he only was told this through visions (although it was actually Paul's amalgamation of several popular religious ideas, blended together, made enticing to the uneducated with its anti-intellectualism and useful to slave-masters and governors with its demand for submissiveness, hung upon a framework of Jewish history, and taken much more seriously than any of the religions upon which it was based).
And the Gospels as well, suggest this when portraying the disciples as being completely oblivious to what Jesus was about. I think this stuff was put in there to respond to the charges that the teaching of the Cross had broken new ground when it comes to logical slight-of-hand. They wanted those who would submit to anything the leadership told them, and the test was, at first, the Cross, and later, the Trinity -- both of which were, as ideas go, so far out the chariots didn't run there.
Thus nobody would simply stumble into such thinking: one's believing this, and thus one's loyalty to the sect, will be neither accidental nor deliberate. It will only ever be an act of submission. It will never be anything else. The key, I think, is the very absurdity of this idea.
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