God’s middleman

29 Dec

This is a really basic concept, but it was something that I wrestled with for a while when deconverting from Christianity. The night I became an atheist I laid in bed for several hours pondering hell and eternal damnation. The thought of letting go from the ledge and dismissing the intense warnings and threats of hellfire terrified me. Two realizations comforted me and led me to take the plunge. The first was that I must be able to trust my own reasoning skills. Without them I’m not my own person. The second realization was as follows:

Everything we know about religion and gods, we are told by other people.

 

Think about it. Who told you about god(s)? Your parents? Your friends? Where did they hear about it? Their pastor/priest/rabbi/imam/shaman? Who told them? Another person. But what about the books? People did. People claiming to talk for god(s). That’s all it ever was; one person claiming to know the mind of a supreme all knowing, all powerful super being that created the entire cosmos. All the books, the art, the music, the buildings, the dogma and doctrine, all of it comes from someone who heard about god(s) from someone else, who in turn heard from another someone.

Ultimately, if it were possible to follow the chain of he said/she said’s all the way back, you would come across a single person or group who started the rumors game.

What about this person? What credibility do they have? These are very serious claims they are making. They purport to know the mind of this supernatural being. Entire societies, gender roles, ways of living, eating, procreating, and dying are structured around the claims made by individuals like these. I say that makes it extremely important to determine if they’re telling the truth. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, so what is their evidence?

“Just trust me…”

Seriously, that’s it. Sometimes they’ll throw in a little incentive like “or you’ll burn in eternal hell-fire!” Sure there are stories of miracles, but these miracles are never documented outside of the story books claiming them, nor are they anything beyond what would impress the local population of that time and location. Water to wine? Multiplying fish and bread? Walking on water? (I’m using christian mythology because that’s what I’m familiar with. There are plenty of other examples from other religions) Those are miracles? Why not something like curing amputated limbs, or transporting people to Alpha Centauri, or dividing by zero? And while you’re at it, just so their can be no confusion or doubt, make sure it’s well documented by a large variety of independent sources.  Unfortunately the people who were around when these belief systems were invented didn’t ask for such evidence. They were quick to believe and slow to doubt.

One of the hardest things to wrap your mind around is how just so many people could be so wrong, and yet so sure they’re right. This was another thing I struggled with. “Look around you! Look how Christianity is everywhere! Look how many people believe! It can’t possibly be based on a lie! It’s unthinkable that it could all be wrong! Surely its ubiquity must attest to some level of truth?”

People who are surrounded by Islam think the same thing. So do the people who are surrounded by Buddhism, Toaism, Judaism, animism, voodoo, etc. The people who were surrounded by the worship of Thor felt the same way. As did those who grew up in ancient Egypt with Ra. Your location, your cultural preferences, they are not the world. For ever million believers who think like you, there are just as many equally fervent believers of another faith. They make the same justifications and rationalizations that you do, but they change the name of the god(s).

The problem is that the system reinforces it’self.  One person starts a rumor, then more people spread it, and then more until it spreads exponentially.  Eventually everybody in a location knows the rumor and it becomes common knowledge, common truth. Children are then raised in a society saturated in the rumor and it’s taken as a given, a natural existence.  The more people who believe in the rumor, the more the individual believer feels secure in their belief.

No matter how many people believe something, no matter how many books are written, buildings built, and songs sung, it all goes back to that one individual, god’s middleman.

“Just trust me…”

3 Responses to “God’s middleman”

  1. lepenseur February 24, 2011 at 6:56 pm #

    I agree with you, it doesn’t make much sense to take someone else’s word on things like religion.
    Um, but I don’t really know how any belief makes sense if you further that line of thinking…Any belief you arrive at is really based on someone else’s beliefs or evidence.
    You’ve detached yourself from the cycle of belief sharing that has continued for centuries, how do you propose to fill the gap? What is the logical conclusion of life in general?
    No one has really figured it out, and if they think they have, I want to laugh in their face. There’s always doubt.
    Now that you’re “free,” you’re not free. Either you’re alone, unsubstantiated, or you’re following someone.

    I don’t have the answer for how to choose beliefs, I just know that the ones I’ve grasped a hold of are basically based on hope. If I believe it, I see the logic in it (to the greatest degree possible on this stupid earth), and I hope that the doubts that I inevitably have are eventually filled.

  2. godlesspaladin February 24, 2011 at 10:49 pm #

    Hey Lepenseur, thanks for the comment. I could totally be misunderstanding you, but I would argue that not all “beliefs” are equal. For example, while one could take someone’s personal testomony to the existence of a god as evidence to support their “belief” in that god, this is not the same as me taking the evidence of a scientist discussing physics to support my “belief” in gravity.

    Sure the religious person and I will both say that we feel the effects of our belief everyday, and yes we originally heard of the concepts from another person, but unlike the religious person, my belief in the theory of gravity can be tested over and over again in controlled settings and is falsifiable, their belief is not.

    So while yes, I do get some beliefs about the world from other people, those beliefs are at least empirically testable and potentially falsifiable, unlike the beliefs of someone who learns of a magical entity from another person.

  3. lepenseur February 25, 2011 at 11:01 am #

    That makes sense. I agree. The only thing that I think still exists is that empirically testable beliefs only go so far, so I think everyone has to have some sort of faith, or at least an educated guess, on what answers there are to questions that don’t have solid evidence for any answers. For example, the average scientist will say that life came about as a result of chemical and physical reactions, but a more religious person would say that a higher entity created life. Both aren’t based on empirical proof, but each has its own reasons, its supporting evidences, to claim what it does. I have no problem with someone who believes opposite of what I do, I just usually hope and sometimes even assume that I’m right and they’ll eventually be proven wrong.
    I think that that is something a lot of theists, especially Christians, have trouble with. If Christianity is true, Christians have no reason to get angry at atheists because they believe differently. And I think Christians assume that science is attacking their beliefs, so they need to fight back. I don’t see that as necessary at all. The areas of science that actually conflict with traditional Christianity are fewer and smaller than many think, and they can often be fixed by a reevaluation of Christian beliefs or scientific implications.
    I feel like I’m just rambling, but this is a topic I have a lot of interest in, so I enjoy this dialogue, even if I’m not making much sense or following very good logic.

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