Although I read through the book already a few weeks ago, some of the theses of Dawkins still keep me thinking. Despite being very witty and despite the good metaphors used in his book, the purpose is clear – consciousness-raising, as Dawkins puts it. While the consciousness-raising example he gives – history vs. herstory – is limited to the English language, other examples are not.
Admittedly I’ve been an atheist since I can think and I never made a fuss out of it. In fact I even had discussions (already years back in school, for example) with pastors and religious fellow students, mormons, Jehovas witnesses, and muslims. I also had the chance to be part of an “experimental school subject” in the German federal state of Brandenburg called “Lebensgestaltung, Ethik, Religion” (in short “LER”, for “Organization of life, ethics, religion”). This subject wasn’t tied to one particular religion as is normal in the oh-so-christian occident, instead we had the chance to learn and teach each other the views of different religions and much more. This subject was the favorite of many fellow students for a simple reason – no grades. While this is an advantage for a subject that deals with such sensitive(?) topics and where teacher and student not necessarily share their point of view, I liked more the debating in this subject. In fact you could well have called it “philosophy”. The subject, by the way, was meant to become a common substitute for “religious instruction”, which (of course) should rather be called “Christian instruction” in old Europe 😉
Anyway, being an atheist has not been an issue for me or those around me for quite a while. Despite a petition I sent to the “Bundestag” (German parliament) to remove the mentioning of “God” in the constitution, I’ve not been active at all. But Dawkins is right – creationists and other Christian fundamentalists are on the advance and we shouldn’t leave the public arena to them. My favorite in the last few weeks was a video on Youtube, where a young man explained why the idea that chimps and humans are genetically related drives him bananas and why there must be an intelligent designer. He ended his video with something like “if we allow this view, we don’t have to wonder if everyone behaves like in the zoo”. While this whole argument is loaded with prejudice about the oh-so-inferior animals, it also carries the old “argument” that we derive our morals from religion.
Having read large parts of the bible (German, Lutheranian version from the 1960s) and having read matching quotes from the English version in Dawkins book, I don’t feel the urge to reiterate why this is nonsense, but something else popped into my mind. If we’d behave like animals, maybe genocide, a life for profit and other plagues of modern times would end? But humor aside, religious people – and please don’t take that as an insult if you have a faith – especially Christians, tend to believe in a merciful, omnipotent being that created man and then woman from a rib of man. In fact, thinking of this god as being merciful is a euphemism at its best (read the bible!). Doesn’t this story sound like a fairy tale? To me it does. However, in my childhood I was never influenced by religion beyond the usual “religious” holidays, that weren’t all to religious anyway in the GDR – and historically hijacked pagan holidays taken over by “the church”. What bothers me is that religious people also tend to be picky. If you ever meet someone who really read the bible (or whatever is the holy book of the person) – and I don’t think too many Christians bother reading the bible really beyond the parts an instructor tells them to – this person will certainly be someone who has no problems cherry-picking the parts that she likes. Now what? Do I have to take the bible literally or am I allowed to interprete it? Was the bible written by human beings or not? Well, I certainly don’t know the answer to these questions from the theological point of view, but Schopenhauer would call such cherry-picking an evasion tactic 😉
Now Dawkins says over and over again that he favors Darwin’s evolution theory – certainly an insult for Wallace – he mentions only once that he’d throw this theory over board if there would be a better theory. While this may seem opportunistic, it is the usual approach taken in science. Newton also had an idea of gravity, but his model was too fuzzy to explain some aspects which later theories could. I am personally indifferent, but I have several reasons not to believe in the god of the bible.
Most modern people oppose the idea that some muslim countries want to introduce the Sharia (law according to the Qur’an), yet there is no outcry when some Christian fundamentalists suggest to have laws according to the bible in Western countries. This, by the way, is the best proof that most self-proclaimed Christians haven’t read the bible at all, as they would otherwise know what kind of (in)justice this would mean. Let’s take an example that Dawkins gives, Sodom and Gomorrha, where he also mentions that Lot’s wife was turned into a pillar of salt when she turned back to the city that was just about to be destroyed – looking back can mean a death sentence. BTW: I am sure victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki will see some similarities here. However, there was another story that troubled me years back to which all of the religious people I consulted, had the same answer: it was a “test”. The “test” was when the Ark of the Covenant was about to be transported. Sadly the stubborn oxes couldn’t behave so that Uzzah – not a priest by profession – who wanted to make sure that the ark doesn’t “go over board”, tried to hold it. Too bad for him, the anger of the god of the bible struck him and he was dead. Ooopsie, shit happens if you try to help, right?! Now that’s something were you can derive your morals from (and seemingly most Westerners tend to do exactly this)!
6 And when they came to Nachon’ threshingfloor, Uzzah put forth his hand to the ark of God, and took hold of it; for the oxen shook it . 7 And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Uzzah; and God smote him there for his error; and there he died by the ark of God. 8 And David was displeased, because the LORD had made a breach upon Uzzah: and he called the name of the place Perezuzzah to this day. (source: King James bible)
Well, this is certainly not the only questionable part in the bible. As an English reference, I refer to Dawkins’s book. Stoning, killing people because of their sexual orientation and so forth. Well but let’s only take some of the ten commandments. The first one tells us in one version that we deal with a jealous god, nothing bad about jealousy, right? Monopolists in nowadays economy certainly have a similar point of view. The commandments also say something about not stealing, yet many of those high profile managers are self-proclaimed Christians – probably of a confession that’s yet to be defined and based on the antagonist roles in the bible?!
This Christian god has more resemblances of the bad guy also mentioned in the bible. While you would expect such an omnipotent being (that also created humor) to be humorous among other things, (s)he’s jealous, kill’s for minor misdeeds and so on and so on. Multiple genocide is probably the best proof of the “humor” of this alleged omnipotent being. Certainly an idol for our modern times. Oh, and now that I am at it, there was a part in the Tora (Old Testament) that said you shouldn’t make an image of anything with a face … goodbye TV preachers! If I was omnipotent, what would actually drive me to have others worship me? Oh and why exactly would I need that clause in the commandments saying that I am the only one and that I am really jealous. Excuse me? Sounds like an admission to me. And admission that there are actually other omnipotent beings … bye bye monotheism.
I could go on and on, but then again it’s so pointless. So instead finally a joke: A jew dies and arrives in heaven where St. Peter awaits him and gives him a warm welcome. The jew, being so happy to have arrived in heaven starts singing and dancing out of happiness. Peter stops him and says: “Shh shh, not so loud, you see that big wall over there? Behind that one are the Christians, they still think they are alone here.” 😉
Nah, let’s have another one: An atheist dies. To his surprise he finds himself in a long tunnel with a light at the other end. He walks towards the light and reaches a door. Hesitant he opens the door and finds himself on a beach with a bar. The barkeeper looks a bit strange, because he has horns and a hoof. He makes an inviting gesture and mixes a drink for the newly arrived and says: “… look around and have a walk”. With his Piña Colada, the atheist takes a walk and after a long time reaches an abyss where he hears screaming, sees tortured people, fire and generally other unpleasant things. He hurries back to the barkeeper and arrives short of breath and asks with a worried face: “There there … the fire, the screams …” … the barkeeper smiles and responds: “Don’t worry my friend, that’s for the Christians – that’s how they like it!”
PS: I am sure some of my readers visited this blog for the last time, because there are regions on Earth were being an atheist has a similar implications as being a jew in 1930s Germany – however, without concentration camps, yet.