8/15/2014 | Share this article: View CommentsBy Carolyn Hyppolite ~
So you’re an atheist now. You have left behind one of the many gods that humanity has invented to comfort themselves and control others and you look askance at the pious proclamations of your former co-religionists, shaking your head in exasperation that people could be so irrational.
Isn’t obvious that you can’t possibly place all the animals on the planet in one ark? *Face palm*.
And then you remember that not too long ago this was you. Not too long ago, you espoused propositions that are indisputably mad.
Surely, I was not this bad you say to yourself. Yes, I was a believer but I asked questions; I was engaged in a sincere quest for the truth; I was open-minded; I was progressive.
Admit it. You were like that—judgemental, naïve, and certainly, credulous. You believed things that were undeniably insane.
I remember once a few years back, I was having a debate with a secular Jewish employer about evangelicals who were supporting Israel because they thought it would help usher in the second coming.
He explained, it’s a double-edged sword. We welcome the support but it comes with religious baggage. We will have to worship this Messiah.
I replied, “But if you saw Jesus coming in the clouds, wouldn’t you worship him?”
He didn’t respond. He gave a half smile, half grimace.
Today, I recognize that look. It’s the look an atheist gives a theist when she realizes that the person she is talking to is no longer in touch with reality.
Our interesting conversation about the interaction between American religious lobbying and Middle East politics had been interrupted by something otherworld—the possibility of a man coming down from heaven flying on a cloud, riding a horse.
The conversation was over.
At the time, I thought not much of it. After all, it’s not like I had said anything truly insane, such as there will be a rapture followed by a seven year tribulation. No, crazy dispensationalist evangelicals believe in that stuff. I was simply pointing out that should Jesus manifest himself by descending on Earth on a cloud, surely he, a secular Jew, would have no choice but to fall on bended knee. Perfectly rational.
If you saw Jesus coming in the clouds, wouldn’t you worship him?And quite probably that would be the case, but I hadn’t considered just how improbable such an occurrence was—certainly as improbable as the rapture.
It is indeed easier to see the splinter in your neighbor’s eyes than the wooden beam in your own. I am nonetheless grateful for all the splinters that I did observe because they eventually helped me identify my own.
Because I was never fully satisfied with any branch of Christianity, I spent a lot of time visiting and occasionally belonging to a lot of different Churches. As a result of my church hopping, I noticed that Christians were just as critical and as condescending to the beliefs of other Christians as atheists were. More importantly, I noticed that Christians are well-equipped to recognize irrationality when the irrationality happens to be coming from someone of another denomination.
My Catholics friends did not hesitate to laugh at the evangelical who believed that he would be raptured soon. My Orthodox friends openly snickered at Catholics who hold that the Roman Pope is infallible. My Evangelicals friends expressed their disgust at the cannibalism believed to be occurring at the Catholic mass. And all these three are shake their heads at the snake handling charismatic. Despite the fact that all four of these beliefs or practices can be supported by the Bible, Christians—if they were not raised to interpret the text that way—have no trouble recognizing the flawed reasoning underpinning these activities.
Even within Christianity, crazy is crazy.
It is not clear to me now whether the fact of this is a reason for us who are striving for a more secular world to hope or to despair.
On the one hand, we can be hopeful that childhood religious indoctrination does not completely impair the human faculties. Believing that God is going to give you a planet, 72 virgins, or streets of gold does not prevent most people from running a business, managing a household, or navigating through most of life’s challenges. As I have noted, even the ability to rationally assess the religious delusions of others seems intact. The damage, while very real, is localized.
On the other hand, this may be make it harder to help believers reason their way out of religious indoctrination. First, since the religious delusion is contained, it is not permitted to affect most areas of life. The Christian surgeon—even if she prays before perform an operation—relies principally on her skill. Consequently, she may not perceive how this irrationality is an impairment since she rarely believes in magic when it counts.
Yet, I am going to choose to have faith about the bringing the faithful to doubt. If believers can be persuaded to apply the same rules of logic and evidence that they apply to other religions as they apply to their own, they can be made to see that their precious, pious proclamations are just as absurd as the ones they dismiss. Everyone has an inner atheist. We can help them find it.