In my university, there are many religious organizations and most of them are Christian. It is, I believe, an amusing habit of theirs to suddenly jump in front of you in your way to your lectures, like a brilliant marketer with a very interesting advertisement plan to ‘sell’ their religion to you. Now, as annoying as this may seem to others, it’s been an amusement for me in recent weeks because I had never seen such behavior before. Where I come from, the Middle East, there was no advertisement of this sort, only belief.
Therefore I play their game, but I try to make it mine in the process. I engage in semi-debates, or probably better say friendly arguments, with them to see what they say to my thoughts, especially to the ones that are about internal inconsistencies and dilemmas of a religion like Christianity (or maybe Islam).
This particular conversation was between me and two Asian members of one of these groups (separately), but I had met them earlier that week when they gave me a flier about God. That flier was basically about human need for a God, which aside from its fancy words was logically useless because human beings have needs for many things, and that is not a base for the truth of those things. (1)
A week later I saw the same guys in the same day, but separate from each other. I started talking to the first one in a sidewalk close to our student center, and at some point the direction of our conversation drifted toward morality. Now, this is an area that I (as a gay man) feel to be the weakest point of any religion, and Abrahamic ones are the worst in this topic.
I started by asking “How do you think that the Bible is a good moral book?” He answered by mentioning “it contains a lot of good moral things, like the ten commandments.” I went right to asking: “Well, let’s take stealing for example. Is that ‘why’ you don’t steal things? Is it because the Bible says so?” Here I think he realized it would be a very bad case of appealing to authority if he says yes, therefore he went on by saying “No. I won’t steal from you because if I do that you’d be upset.”
I think you can guess my answer, “So you do not do good because the Bible tells you so, you do it because you have sympathy for others.” Which clearly meant that the good cannot be from that specific book. I went even further than that that: “How can we say the Bible is a good book while we have something like the story of Lot, a ‘prophet’ of the lord who ‘offered’ his virgin daughters to the mob, and then his daughters got him drunk in cave and slept with him?!”
He didn’t give a clear answer, and the first conversation of that day ended there. I hadn’t gone that far when I bumped into the second Christian “marketer”. After some chatting we reached to the rest of that conversation, which was very interesting for me. I went on by the story of Lot again, but this time the guy tried to justify the story: “But the story has a lesson for us.” I suppose he made an effort to make it more plausible as a metaphor, though he did not mentioned it directly. “You see, the immorality of the people in Sodom corrupted Lot.” and he continued by stating something like a conclusion on how we should not tolerate immoral behavior.
That of course begs the question of where morality comes from, but that is not my main problem with such justifications of religion. I first pointed out that there are a lot of stories to ‘justify’ in the Bible, like the stories of David in the old testament. Then I made my main point: “How is it that these stories need justification? Weren’t they supposed to be true to begin with?!” he could not answer, and we said goodbye at this point, but let me carry on a bit:
There is a dilemma here: “If these stories need to be justified from time to time, and new moral values are to rise to challenge the old ones, like the ideas about Homosexuality and sin, or about the rate of interest (which is interesting because not many people now know that it was strictly forbidden in Christianity in the past, and for Many Muslims it still is), there could only be two possibilities: Either the books are false,or we have made a mistake in understanding them, which means they are not understandable enough. If they are false, well, atheists are proven right; and if they are not understandable, how can Christians and Muslims possibly justify their so called ‘laws’ and ‘values’? What makes religious people think that they can ‘ever’ trust that they have reached to be the ‘truth’ (about morality or anything else)? (2)
(1) I actually know that such fliers seem very meaningful at times, especially when people feel emotionally vulnerable.
(2) This idea is actually quite funny: Is your God messing with your head? I mean, what kind of a God would send the vaguest of books to their followers? I know: A ‘prankster’ God!