Wednesday, September 10, 2014

On Being an Atheist Christian

I had a thought the other day: is believing in God necessarily a requirement for being, say, Christian?

The Old and New Testaments are, ironically, often cited by atheists as evidence in favor of atheist arguments. The trouble is, this has caused undue harm to the philosophy that comes from the religion.

The Old Testament includes equal-handed philosophical ideas and outdated cultural issues like keeping slaves and stoning adulterers. It also says that God exists, and that eating pork, or any meat on a Friday, or wearing two kinds of fabric at once will earn you the wrath of the only all-powerful being in existence. The New Testament says that doing many of these things, especially not believing that Jesus was in fact God in human form, will earn you a one-way ticket to Hell. It also says Hell is a place that is absolutely a real place filled with fire, bloodshed, and gifs of your parents having sex.

It's a good motivator for people with no formal education. Eating pork can be dangerous if you lack access to medical professionals and don't cook it right, even today. Saying God will hate you if you eat bacon is easier to explain to an illiterate shepherd than saying that those terrible stomach cramps, diarrhea and sometimes death are caused by eating pork (and yet sometimes it won't). Pounding into your impressionable skull from birth that higher powers will torture your soul for eating pork seems to have been an effective strategy. Hell, millions today still abstain because they believe God said so.

Whether they came straight from the mouth of the Alpha/Omega or not, rules like the 10 Commandments were beneficial to the few and the many if strictly observed. Maybe the ancient Hebrews and later Christians and Muslims really did believe in God. Then again, maybe they, or at least some, simply used religion and the idea of a god to keep people from hurting each other. Or themselves.

People are complicated, so maybe sometimes we need a complicated distraction to keep our minds off of our irrational fears. Maybe fear of God, or faith in God, really does work for some people. Either way, the base concept of the religion, God or no God, is based on sound principles.

All it takes to be a Christian, really, is to apply the dogma to your life. Saying "I believe in Jesus" shouldn't have to exclusively mean "I believe in the divinity of Jesus." It can also mean, "I believe he had a good idea or two about how to live one's life. Of course not all of it applies to everyone, and a lot of it may apply to someone in a positive way. Saying that all religions are bullshit because of their underlying beliefs, the faith in an invisible being of unfathomable power, in no way means that some of the ideas that stemmed from it- being a good friend, striving to be a positive force in one's environment- aren't good ones. Saying you're Christian, in my opinion, shouldn't have to mean "I believe in the Christian way of life in ostensibly every way that every other Christian does." The same goes for Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, any other religion. If a person identifies themselves as someone who holds such system of beliefs dear, who are we to say they aren't "really" a Christian, a Jew, etc? I know people who don't believe in God, but they consider themselves culturally Jewish, upholding traditions that have been passed down for literally thousands of years.

Gandhi once said, "I am a Christian, a Jew, a Muslim, and a Hindu," because he believed that all of them contained wisdom that is valid to his life. He may have been a demonstrable egotist with questionable ideas about how to behave with one's granddaughters, but I think he had a few good points. Humans are complex like that, and so are their beliefs.

It used to be that good ideas needed to be validated by something other than statistical data, because scientific method wasn't a thing yet. One way to get a large number of people to do something is to force them, like a despot, but history (and scientific study) has shown that intrinsic motivators are infinitely more effective. Telling someone to not be a shithead "in order to prove one's worthiness of salvation and the love of a god" seems like a pretty brilliant alternative, when you look at it that way...and still works for some people, so long as they make the effort to maintain a little perspective.