Lady Goosepelt
Ramblings of an Ornamental Hermit

Leave the Mormons Alone

As an atheist, I think we should leave the Mormons alone. They cop a lot of flak for being racist, ridiculous, gullible, and basically mad as a bag of clams. But if you are religious or “spiritual” in any way, whether you’re a Christian, Jew, Hindu, or Muslim, you’ve already bought into your own barrel full of crazy. And if you’re going to believe any old nonsense, why not go for broke? Shoot the moon, I say! Have Jesus go to America. Why not? The Garden of Eden is in Missouri. Course it is. But don’t stop there — let’s have Jesus flying spaceships and Moses riding on the back of a dinosaur. If you’re going to be properly nuts, at least have some imagination about it.

The alternative is, of course, to hold all religions to the same skepticism we reserve for the crazy ones like Mormonism and Scientology. Because if Mormonism and Scientology are ridiculous, so are all the rest. You can’t tell me that talking animals and ritual circumcision are any more sensible than sticking your head in a hat and reading gold tablets.

I’m not an angry atheist. I don’t believe in attacking others for their religion, but I do form opinions about people based on what they think. Religion is part of how people present themselves to others. It’s hard to have respect for blind faith because that is the definition of madness — believing in something regardless of what evidence is presented to you. A madman might believe the government is watching him through his TV, and he won’t change his mind even if you dismantle the TV and show him the parts. Religious people are similarly impervious to logic. It always comes down to “I believe it because I have faith.”

It’s not necessary to read every holy text in order to reject the mad claims that are presented to us every day by one religion or another. It’s common to hear Christians say you have to read the Bible (and other theological texts) before you can reject them. Nonsense. If you are a Christian, you probably didn’t read every Hindu text before deciding that Hinduism was a bunch of codswallop. But that said, I’ve always felt a certain gap in my knowledge around the Bible. Although I’m an atheist, the culture I live in has deep roots in Christianity and modern America is still a strongly Judaeo-Christian world. I decided to read the Bible for the sake of my own education and to discover to my own satisfaction how the book presents itself.

For the past few months I have been reading one chapter a day (and live-tweeting the experience as @BreakingBible). It will take over three years to read the whole thing, but then I always was a slow reader.

The thing that has struck me so far is all the stuff that religious people conveniently leave out. According to the Bible, Noah’s Flood was only 22.5 feet deep — and it covered all the mountains in the world1. The Bible hints (and later Christian dogma confirms) that Nero Caesar will come back from the dead as the Antichrist in the End of Days2. We’re always told to keep the Ten Commandments, but which ones? The Commandments are printed twice in Exodus alone and they’re different each time3. One of the Commandments actually tells us to keep Passover, the festival of unleavened bread, and eat no leavened bread for a week each year. How many Christians do that? And yet it is a Commandment. You’re not getting into Heaven at this rate.

The best I can do for Christians is suspect that most of them do not accept the Bible as literal truth, even the people who do claim to take it literally. It’s the most generous benefit of the doubt I can give to religious people of all stripes — that they are not mad enough to believe things that are obviously wrong, but simply appreciate the moral and emotional guidance their religion gives them.

But if you know it’s not true, why be religious at all? Why claim to be Christian or Jewish or anything else if the book you chose to live by could have been any book? Harry Potter presents the same kinds of moral code that you might extract from the Bible — don’t be cruel, don’t kill, don’t bear false witness… It’s all in there. I know someone who lectured on the mythology of J.R.R. Tolkien, and he claimed the same thing was true of Tolkien’s Silmarillion. If people are already picking and choosing which bits of their religion they want to believe, why not read a book that doesn’t have the divinely endorsed murder, genocide, rape, and incest? The moral guidance and emotional support you can get from a work of fiction is just as powerful as those you can get from something you “believe”.

I’ll keep reading the Bible. To be Francis I’m enjoying it, in the same way that I enjoy settling in for the night with an Indiana Jones movie and a bottle of wine. Actually reading a religious text is one of the best arguments for atheism I can imagine.

Notes

  1. Genesis 7:20. 

  2. I’ve written about this previously in Zombie Nero

  3. Exodus 20 and Exodus 34. 

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by thundara 761 days ago  ·  link

I'm not normally one to actively hate on religion.

But people might be more inclined to leave them alone if they left others alone. In 2008, California had a bill to repeal same-sex marriage, proposition 8. 33% of donations (About $13 million) in support of it came from the Mormon church[1][2], a group not even based in the state. Coupled with that, the campaign put out downright insulting and lying videos[3][4].

And that shit passed.

So yeah...we're still bitter here.

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/California_Proposition_8#Campa... [2]: http://ballotpedia.org/wiki/index.php/California_Proposition... [3]: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0PgjcgqFYP4 [4]: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A-jc4ujp9Ok

by steve 548 days ago  ·  link

    support of it came from the Mormon church[1][2], a group not even based in the state.

The reference you cite [2] is important:

"contributions to the pro-Proposition 8 campaign from individuals who belong to the Mormon church. Contributions from Mormons were said to amount to between 33%-40% of the total amount raised in support of Proposition 8."

I don't know if the church, as an organization, officially gave any money or didn't.

Not every mormon in California supported prop 8. Just a bunch of them. It's worth noting that (the last time I looked) there were more mormons in California than there are in Utah.

Look - for me, as an actively practicing mormon, those were dark days. I hate it every time a moral issue hits the ballots. The church is officially usually very good about being neutral. They will, through channels, very clearly state something like "Please be active in the democratic process and vote according to your conscience". Not living in California at the time, I can't say what was said officially over the pulpit on Sunday.

And I just realized this post is 200+ days old. whoops. Chalk up another example of a dumb mormon.

by StJohn 761 days ago  ·  link

Unfortunately that's true. I would hope, at least, that a lot fewer people would think such incredible nonsense (such as opposing gay marriage) if they didn't have certain books pounded into them as divine and unquestionable truth. One of the best things an education can do is teach critical thinking, and that's really what people need to distinguish the good from the bad in any context, whether it's the Bible or an election or simply how to treat other people.

by thenewgreen 761 days ago  ·  link

From my new favorite twitter stream:

    God claims to have carried the Israelites on eagles' wings. When the hell did that happen? GOD IS NOT GANDALF.
Breaking Bible

I enjoyed this piece StJohn

    The best I can do for Christians is suspect that most of them do not accept the Bible as literal truth, even the people who do claim to take it literally. It’s the most generous benefit of the doubt I can give to religious people of all stripes — that they are not mad enough to believe things that are obviously wrong, but simply appreciate the moral and emotional guidance their religion gives them.
-I know some Christians that would fit this description and they're FAR more interesting to have religious conversations with than those that take it "literally" but really only take it "literally" where it suits them.

I found myself being a staunch agnostic, arguing that christianity was full of hypocrisy, false claims and bizarre magical feats, which of course it is. But I had only vague knowledge of the bible from my time in catholic school. -I had done everything I could to not let the text sink in.

Therefore, as an adult I decided to take a year long bible study class. We met every Wednesday night in the upstairs of a United Methodist Church in Ann Arbor MI. There were 12 of us in the class ranging from age 18 to about 55. I was the one skeptic and I will say that the rest of the group was so kind to me. They heard my responses to the passages and text and attempted to address my "concerns". I made some life long friends from that class, it was a lovely experience.

One of my favorite moments is when I was speaking with Pastor Tracey about the nature of God. She mentioned that God was "truth". I said, there are many paths to the "truth", why should Christianity be the "one"? She said that the key in life was not to pick a certain path, but to pick a path. What she was trying to say was that everyone needs a compass. Whether that compass is the Silmarillion, the Quran or the Bible, the key is to pick one. -Her advice. Admittedly, this was a very liberal church :)

It sounds like you are still in the Old Testament, which can be a bear to get through at times. Good luck. I will say that Jesus sort of changes everything regarding the bible. The New Testament literally meant a "new covenant" between man and God. The way I saw it, it was like erasing the chalk board and starting over. Oh God, did we really say the flood was only 20 some odd feet deep... let's just start all over. Cue Jesus please.

Then Christ comes and his teachings are pretty amazing. From that entire year, what really resonated with me were the teachings of Christ. What really, really resonated with me was how off base most christians seem to be considering what it is he taught and said.

I left the year long bible study course with a greater understanding of the bible. I left with a sense of great respect and awe for what Jesus taught, so much so that it pisses me off to see christians misrepresent it. While I still remain largely agnostic, I do think as far as a "path" goes, the teachings of Christ are a good way to go. Just ignore the rest of that crazy-bizarre chalk board. -including the resurrection etc. Stick to the teachings as a moral compass.

So, be careful. You might just leave your reading of the bible with a bit more affection for Jesus. -He was a good fella.

I've mentioned this before, but my favorite christian quote (and I'm paraphrasing) comes from St. Francis

At all times preach the gospel, and when necessary use words. -If only more people were like this, regardless of their "path".

Related post TJ -my kind of bible.

by AlderaanDuran 760 days ago  ·  link

    than those that take it "literally" but really only take it "literally" where it suits them.

That's the only time religion bothers me. I'm an agnostic person myself, and align myself more with Buddhism more than anything else, but consider that more of a belief and philosophy than a religion. Every time I have discussions of people who take the bible literally it reminds me of this scene from the West Wing. Keep in mind the President's character in this show IS religious, he's just not someone who takes the bible literally, and he destroys those that do.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DSXJzybEeJM

But other than people who take the bible literally to use it to cut down others, I'm open minded and understanding of religious people. The only thing worse than someone who takes the bible literally is a militant Atheist who feels it's their life duty to cut down anyone who is religious or goes to church. That does nothing for anyone but create and stir vitriol, and it certainly won't bring those religious people across the line into atheism. People just need to be accepting of whatever works for everyone else. It's really that simple.

by thenewgreen 760 days ago  ·  link

I've never watched the West Wing, but if that scene is indicative of the shows quality, I think I'll check it out.

Thanks.

by steve 548 days ago  ·  link

you need to watch the west wing. [edit - I see now that you are...]

by thenewgreen 548 days ago  ·  link

I've since finished it. Damn, that sucked a lot of time out of my life. -Enjoyed it though. Now we are watching "Lost". -Another time suck, but interesting.

by AlderaanDuran 760 days ago  ·  link

Yeah, completely unrelated, but in my humble opinion it's the best television show that's ever been made. It's witty, political, powerful, and the cast is phenomenal. If you enjoy "smart" and political stuff, it's definitely a watch. Just watch a couple episodes and you'll be hooked.

It's on Netflix streaming if you do that.

by thenewgreen 752 days ago  ·  link

Just started Season 1 episode 2

So far, so good.

Edit: just started 4th episode. It's 2am. It's good

by AlderaanDuran 752 days ago  ·  link

Hah, good to know. If you stick it through the finale of season one you'll be even more hooked, and the season two finale's last five minutes are probably the greatest thing I've ever seen on television.

It really is a terrific show and all of the characters are so likeable. Glad you are enjoying it so far!

by thenewgreen 750 days ago  ·  link

I see a weekend marathon in my future.

by thenewgreen 760 days ago  ·  link

I do that. Ill likely start tonight. Thanks.

by StJohn 761 days ago  ·  link

Thanks for the kind words, and for sharing your own experiences. I'm really glad you've had much the same experience as me. I haven't met many really crazy religious types. Most religious people are intelligent and willing to talk about their religion . They're some of the best conversations I've had because they always show me something new about how people think. It's far better to talk to someone about their opinions than to attack or deride them.

The New vs. Old Testament comparison is an interesting one. Jesus definitely had many better things to say than the Old Testament did, and I'm inclined to think that Jesus was a real (non-divine) person who had some very good ideas that were ahead of his time. I don't think he wipes the slate clean, though. He did say to keep the Ten Commandments, which include some very arbitrary and questionable things. I haven't got there yet, but I also gather that he's the one who introduced the idea of Hell, which is a very disturbing idea, especially when it's pounded into the heads of small children. That kind of thing can really screw people up.

by thenewgreen 761 days ago  ·  link

You ought to check out the Jeffersonian Bible and the history behind it, if you've not already. You can't make this sort of stuff up.

by StJohn 761 days ago  ·  link

I'm checking it out now! Deism is the one model of God that I think is defensible. It's very possible that someone designed the laws of the universe and set the thing in motion. It's not a self-contained solution - it still raises the question of who God is and what he was doing - but it's a start.

The Deist "God" doesn't even have to be supernatural, which is one of the things I like about it. There's a possible, if far-fetched, idea that we're all running inside a simulation of the universe, which means that "God" is some kind of a computer programmer.

by dublinben 760 days ago  ·  link

Deism also has the convenience of being unfalsifiable. It's the ultimate sanctuary for charlatans who want to make unsupported claims.