8/18/2013 | Share this article: View CommentsBy Joshua Olsen ~
I'd always viewed this notion with a sidelong glance, this is to say I simply could not understand it. I'd been brought up to believe that god was love, that god was forgiveness, that the purity of the love of god transcended all things.
Pure, unimaginable, nigh-pornographic suffering. Forever. Until the universe unravels. Torture, agony, despair.
Herein came the disconnect from which I would ultimately never recover.
God creates humans, sick as evidently we are, and commands us upon pain of eternal torture to be well again. God, knowing all things, is well-aware of that to which our inclinations will lead us and yet chooses to imbue us with them anyway. God is therefore either unbelievably inept or unbelievably callous and stupid and indifferent. You must believe in X Abrahamic religion or you will suffer eternal torture. God, being all powerful, could simply give the entirety of the world an unambiguous sign as to which religion is the correct one, an inarguable omen that god is indeed a factual being, but he won't.
And hell awaits
It didn't take a lot of digging to reveal that "hell" came about as a bastardized, ham-fisted idea stemming from the "Hel" of Norse mythos and the Greek "Tartarus".
Well, I'd already done some research, I'd already started the inexorable process of critical inquiry. I no longer feared hell, having seen it for the bogus fabrication that it was. Might as well keep the questioning rolling right along.
My own ancestor, Martin Luther, the yammering, hysterical, anti-Semitic founder of the Lutheran church once said "In order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, one must close his eye of reason".
Martin, it occurs to this particular ancestor of yours that you were dangerously close to stumbling onto an actual point.
What I found in my discovery of critical inquiry was that one question lead inexorably to another. Having been dispossessed of the "most sublime of all truths", I found that I wasn't disillusioned. For the first time in my life I felt free: I wasn't consumed by fear, hatred, guilt, intolerance and tribalism. I was no longer poleaxed by the constant questioning of why I was thrown into a universe against my will, without my consent, to be subject to an unalterable celestial dictatorship. What I realized about my time as a Christian is that all the while, I was absolutely certain of my damnation. I was certain of this because, in the darkened corridors of my mind, I didn't believe but I desperately wished to. I wanted so badly to believe that I had all the answers and yet there was that persistent echo from the depths of my being, perhaps my intellectual conscience, telling me that I was a fool, that no human before me or since had all the answers, that limitation is the quintessence of my race.
In hindsight, perhaps I was always a charlatan.
I know there are more like me out there. I know that they meander through the services, the hymns, the tiresome, unlettered rants about eternal suffering. I know the fear they feel, that fear that is bred only in the certitude of one's damnation, the dread of the darkness to come for those who doubt god.
I've had a gun pointed at my head before. I can still summon the stimuli of the experience: the coldness of the barrel, the acrid yet musty scent of the oil on the gun. I was almost certain I was going to die that day. However, the fear of death paled in comparison to the fear of where I'd be going after the bullet painted the wall of that dingy little apartment with my brains.
Humans should never have to live with this sort of fear. Humans should never have to be blackmailed into virtue and decency. Humans should never be threatened with torture for thinking for themselves. Humans should never be treated as second-class citizens because of their sexual orientation, over which they have positively no control.
To tell children that they are overseen by a god that they MUST love and simultaneously fear is positively disgraceful: it is the sort of emotional connection a rapist might force upon his victim. And for a good portion of my life, this is precisely how I lived my every cognizant moment. For a good portion of my life, I attempted to walk a razor's edge while inwardly laughing at myself, laughing at my folly and the inevitability of my doom.
This was the good news the church brought me. The good news was that, ultimately, I was constructed in such a way that I could not believe. Irrespective of my piety, my virtue and many failed attempts AT it, it would always be my doubt that was the fulcrum upon which my fate turned.
And that's really the point of all this. Doubt. This is the only unforgivable sin in Christian doctrine, the only sin from which there can be no repentance and no absolution. Doubt. In the sleep of reason, monsters awake. In the slumber of rationality, we humans BECOME the monsters.
Take heart, dear reader! I have Good News! The good news is that this horror, this nihilism, is no longer necessary. We have shown, time and again, that human beings can be just, noble, and heroic in the absence of god. Indeed, by my estimation we've always been that way: without god.
Perhaps doubt, at the end of the day, might be something offhandedly heroicReligion is our first attempt at ethics, at morality, and to some degree health care. As it is our first attempt, it is also our worst. As such, I believe it should be left at the roadside, along with other tedious traditions spawned during the infancy of our species, a species so full of fear and, paradoxically, wonder bestowed by virtue of our cognizance.
Good news! One day, this will happen. One day, the religions of today will be looked upon with a chuckle and a shudder, they will be looked upon with shame when one considers what we higher-primates have done in their ignominious names. This is, of course, provided we don't turn the earth into an irradiated wasteland in the name of these religions.
If we do, I'd say we had it coming. I'd say we were too collectively stupid as a species to survive. I'd say that the human creature was destined for failure because we learned how to eradicate our species before we learned how to be reasonable. I'd say that ultimately the animal in us beat the human.
I'm no nihilist in this regard. I don't want the human race to simply peter out, like the countless other species that have vanished forever. It would be decidedly ironic however if we, like the dinosaurs, met our fate in a storm of fire and ash.
Good news! As long as people like me live, we won't allow that to happen. We will fight each and every day to make certain that it doesn't. We will combat the wickedness and stupidity of religion until we are ground to dust because it's all we can do, because we have faith in this species and wish for it to continue, not merely to perpetuate the existence of our own lives, but for the lives yet to come, the future yet to behold.
Perhaps doubt, at the end of the day, might be something offhandedly heroic.
Know that you're not alone in your doubt, in your skepticism, and when you stand against those who would force their beliefs upon others, who would deny others their rights because of their metaphysical convictions, many consider you hero.
I know I do.
Never stop fighting. Never give in. Never surrender. Reason must prevail. The human race can't afford for it not to.