Home > philosophy, religion > The Road to Atheism Part VIII: The Things God Doesn’t Care About

The Road to Atheism Part VIII: The Things God Doesn’t Care About

It’s probably lucky for society that I turned out the way that I am because, if I were religious, I would have to be a fundamentalist…not the idiot Evolution denying, gay hating, anti-education, pro-war kind that have currently hijacked the American Republican party; but one of those that would strictly adhere to the rules that were laid out. God says, don’t lie, I won’t lie…ever. Things like that. The rules are pretty spelled out, yet being a strict religious person (as I was in my past) is difficult when you are a child. If you see your parents doing something wrong according to your religion, and you call them out on it, it isn’t they who feel bad it’s you. Because you get yelled at for questioning authority. Or you get into one of the earliest theological debates possible. I.E. If you catch your mom lying and tell her that she should tell the truth based on Commandment 8 (or 9 depending on which numbering system you use) she fires back with Commandment 4 (or 5) to honor your parents.* So who wins? God or Family? Apparently, according to my memory Family wins. Lying, is apparently not an absolute commandment.

This is tricky, because the commandment isn’t the same as I was taught as a kid. As a kid it was always, “thou shalt not lie,” but according to the bible it is “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor” (Ex: 20:16). Some scholars, and some non-academic religious types interpret the commandment literally meaning that one should not lie in court against they neighbor, or falsely denounce them. Obviously this makes a bit more sense as lying in court can have grave consequences. Under this determination, it would seem that Kant is more an absolutist than God when it comes to the lying issue. If god however doesn’t care about the little lies then why are we taught about the lying in the first place?

Answer: to keep little kids honest, until they learn for themselves that some lies can be easily gotten away with and there are no reprecussions. There are apparerntly little sins, those that wouldn’t even be considered venial, that while bad just aren’t the things that god cares about even though he forbids them on some level. It would be wrong to say that the realization was a major hurdle to my atheism, but it certainly was a step. I realized that there weren’t any reprecussions to breaking the rules, and that sometimes I was being actively encouraged to break the rules. I should lie to family members I don’t like when I see them, according to other family members. I shouldn’t covet my neighbor’s house but when I’m in it for the first time, I should pretend that I would want to live there. I should keep holy the Sabbath and not work, but if I still have to go to church (working to get there) and do my homework. The former is probably a good excuse, but the latter? If I didn’t have the work done on Saturday I should be kind of screwed by Monday.

Then there’s the shopping. All of the stores in every place that I have lived start their sales on Sunday. Encouraging people to break the sabbath by sending one group of people to work so that the other group of people can go to the stores and buy their stuff. And this is supposedly a Christian country. Christians don’t keep the Sabbath as much as the Jews, but even they have some strange ways of finding loop holes.

The day I write this on is Shavout, this is the Jewish holiday celebrating the giving of the Torah to the people on Mt. Sinai, which is strange because I thought Moses wrote it (even though American Founding Father Thomas Paine illustrated that this simply cannot be the case) and it is their Pentecost–fifty days from Passover. It is also a Saturday which means that around sundown the Sabbath starts. The effect of these two days has been that in my Jewish neighborhood there has been an endless parade of people walking by the front of my apartment to the Jewish Temple across the street from me. I could throw a rock and hit this place, that’s how close it is, and the people walking have decided that they would park their cars a little further away down by the corner of my street even though there is ample parking in front of my place and in the bank’s parking lot once it closes around noon. Also the streets closest to the place are conspicuously empty of any cars as well.

My hypothesis is that they are parking away from  the eyesight of the temple and then walking. Which kind of destroys the point. Or does it? If thou shall do no work on the Sabbath, I would think driving a car is ok, because it is certainly less work than walking (depending on the distance of course). Sure more energy is used but the exertion necessary to drive a car is profoundly less by the person. This of course is the difference of spirit/letter of the law. Which the drive-and-parkers are violating both. What they are doing is making sure no one in their community sees them breaking the law, but still breaking the law. Sinning is internal, it’s a matter of volition not of effect. Just because the Rabbi and the Temple-ladies (I’m assuming that they exist) don’t see doesn’t mean you didn’t do.

Of course what I am seeing now is just further evidence of an idea that I developed when I was devoutly religious, and for which the examples of such greatly outnumber the exceptions. That is that religious rules and edicts are more often than not followed or broken by matters of pragmatism generally and self interest in a close second. Lying is the best example, in general I should not lie, but a white lie doesn’t count and if the lie makes things easier on everyone else it doesn’t count either. I should pretend I’m sad at a funeral for a person that I didn’t know, I should tell a relative that I’m happy to see them even if it means I’m going to have to listen to their rants about how the banks are screwing them (specifically them that is), because these lies grease the social wheel. A person who is one hundred percent truthful isn’t going to be liked, a person that refuses to do anything on a Sunday (or a Saturday night to Sunday evening) isn’t going to be popular among people that do not share their view, so these rules are broken on an almost daily basis.

And…these weren’t considered wrong by anyone, in fact, I was encouraged to tell people there stories were interesting when they weren’t because we don’t want to hurt their feelings. To work on Sunday if my job called for me to work on a Sunday. Which of course, makes sense to me. Pragmatism is probably the best form of morality, sure it runs into problems of relativism and subjectivity and is inherently non-universalizable; but it is at least honest about it. Given the choice between lying and not-lying you just judge on a case by case basis. This is certainly the case in the political realm as Machiavelli has taught us, certain secrets have to be denied if the state is to survive, sometimes you have to send an army to kill others that “turn the other cheek thing” won’t allow a state to have either a military or a criminal justice system (I should note that the Catholic Church has a work around for both but the bible literalists do not).

No one does it, Christians should not have celebrated the death of Bin Laden, or in 2003 been so ardently in favor of going to war with Iraq. Muslims are supposed to conduct war based on very specific rules (not killing women, children, or the elderly; not harming fruitful trees, or those of monastic devotion according to Abu Bakr), yet none of the devoutly fundamentalist terrorists seem to follow that. Buddhists are supposed to reject all attachment to the world yet their religious orders still maintain titles and even have a centralized leader. In all of the violations of the rules laid out by religion we see the mark of pragmatism. How can one rectify being given a set of universal rules and then be told that some of them can be broken when it makes life easier? Is the theodicy of David Griffin supposed to trump the specific laid out religious doctrines?

It would apparently be so. When the good Christians of the U.S. were frevently opposing Health care reform on the basis that they didn’t want their money to go to the poor who didn’t earn it, I rolled my eyes wondering what specific cherry picking religion they listened to (I will note that not all of them opposed the law on these grounds but enough did). The rules I was being taught were losing their authority and their cohesion. The rules were now arbitrary, and most of them were either for pragmatic reasons of state, or would be broken for such. Doubt is a powerful thing and when you realize that two different rules could run into direct conflict, or that one rule could just be broken, well the whole thing begins to look shakey.




*It’s been so long since i have even concerned myself with the ten commandments that I had to look them up. Then I remembered that this is going to be difficult. The numbering system used is either Augustinian, which I was taught being raised Catholic, or Philonic based on the writings of Philo of Alexandria which is the oldest. There is also the Talmudic numbering system but since the Talmud is only supposed to be memorized from rote and not understood I think it’s safe to reject it.

Categories: philosophy, religion
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