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Rational Religion

By John ~

This is from The Orthodox Study Bible: "Man is not sinful by nature. The Orthodox Church rejects any teaching that man has a 'sin nature' or that man is depraved to the core. Because we are created in the image of God there is indelible goodness in our nature that can never be undone. While we can become immersed in sin, we know that it is still not part of our nature, but a foreign force that dwells in us. Thus, sin is what we do, not what we are."

I wonder how many of us would still be Christians if we had been raised under a concept like this? From reading extimonies on this site, I would have to guess that most of us would still be Christians if we had not been exposed to high doses of fundamentalist doctrine.

In reading the above text, it seems to me that the Orthodox Christians agree (at least in theory) with the general principle that people are capable of good even without an atonement. This is a huge step up from what the fundies believe. What I don't understand about Orthodox Christianity is the necessity of a god-man to die. If people are capable of doing good and are (according to this) good by default, I think we can dispose with all but about a dozen words of the Bible and have done with it.

The more I consider this, the more I think that the fundies have done us a great service. As painful as the paradigm shift of leaving one's faith is, is it not better to be here on the outside? Isn't realizing how small and insignificant we are in the cosmos a far better motivator to behave well and take good care of this planet than listening to people spout on about what God thinks? Is it not better to take responsibility for one's actions knowing that we don't have an "out" waiting for us at the confessional?

People will squabble. It is in our nature. Scientists have a go at one another as much as anyone. People will fight over land or politics. The thing is, science, property and civics are all practical and useful to humanity. It is to the benefit of mankind that scientists disagree. It is to the benefit of mankind that people engage in political debate and even that there be revolutions when those in power are causing suffering. It is important that someone fights against anyone who wants to run ram-shod over the rain forests or oceans or other wilderness areas.

Here's the thing; what good can possibly come from theology that cannot also be gained by being humanist? Is there not more reason to shun religion than to embrace it?

As I said, people will squabble. But when they squabble about that which by its very nature cannot be known, how does humanity benefit?

To my mind, a "reasonable" religion is far more hazardous to humanity than the obviously idiotic teachings of fundamentalists (of any religion). By wearing the mask of reason, they put people off their guard.

Religion divides. Division is not always bad. But to be divided over mystical imaginings serves no good. Religious division has no bearing on improving the human condition. Indeed, much "religious" bickering is simply a thinly veiled squabble between tribes and ethnic adversaries, even (and perhaps especially) among the Orthodox.

Have religious people improved the human condition? Absolutely! But they have done so by first recognizing the value of humanity. To value humanity does not require any religious instruction whatsoever.

There is no good that a religious person or institution has done that cannot be attributed to humanist concepts.

There is much harm that religious persons and institutions have caused over theology.

And there is as much of this in the Orthodox faith as anywhere else.

It troubles me that I might have become Orthodox and never found my way out of religion. It troubles me that there are so many Orthodox (of many religions) who will never feel the need to challenge the premises upon which their faith is built. These will go on believing what they are told, thinking what they are told to think, and simply accepting teachings that should make them shutter with disgust.