…and, for years, it was more a case of “I don’t think therefore I am not”.
I’m misunderstood these days so let me put the record straight.
Many years ago, I fell for religion hook, line and sinker. In hindsight, I was vulnerable, I was ‘easy game’. I was ready to fall, I was standing on the edge of the cliff and it was only going to take the slightest of winds to push me over the edge.
I was ‘in a bad place’, I wasn’t well, I was being dragged away by the black dog of depression and I guess I was reaching out for a lifeline. The sicker I got, the further I fell. I hit rock bottom and when I survived the ‘crash’, that was confirmation for me that God existed – he saved my life…and I owed him. Of course, I didn’t realise it at the time but I was suffering from another condition: delusion. I guess that journey is ‘textbook’.
I have another condition, unfortunately (I say ‘unfortunately’ but it’s not always a negative). OCD – obsessive, compulsive disorder. It won’t come as a shock to you to be told that religion and OCD are not good bedfellows. The OCD stripped me of my ability to see straight, stripped me of my ability to think rationally and logically. Any attempt to get through to me, all the science placed in front of me, all of it followed by the usual “how can you believe?!” was answered by me thus: “I just do”. I could not be part of a rational debate. I saw things that simply were not there, I had an imaginary friend, ‘God’, although as time went on, the ‘friend’ became my foe – I was motivated not by a love of/for a ‘friend’ but by an irrational fear, by superstition.
To cut a long story short (which, for me, is rare – I usually make a short story long!), I’ve broken free of the delusion. I guess there are many reasons as to how and why I can now see clearly but I do believe that one of the dynamics is my overpowering the black dog. I didn’t realise over the years that I needed religion. I was aware that it was a crutch, that, for instance, it was a comfort blanket, that it helped me to cope with frightening concepts such as death but I didn’t realise how reliant I was on god and religion. I now realise that I simply couldn’t stand unaided but I can now – quite simply, I don’t need my imaginary friend any more. I also realise now (as I touched upon earlier) that god was not a friend, that he was standing in the way of my living my life fully and completely, that he was blocking out the light. God was a straight jacket.
Dan Barker in his fantastic book, “Godless (How An Evangelical Preacher Became One Of America’s Leading Atheists)“*:
“One of the indications that mentally ill people are getting healthy is when their obsession with religion decreases. When they stop saying they are talking to Moses, or that they are Moses, we take it as a good sign. Those of us who do not talk with a god are not the ones with the problem. The charge that atheists are handicapped and that theists are the truly ‘complete’ human beings is unfounded and arrogant”.
Just over 3 years ago, I, and my family, made Aliyah (made our home in Israel). I might have already been drifting away from religion when we arrived but, if I was, I didn’t know it. I think I was still deep in it when we came here. We made our home in a “da’ati” community, a modern orthodox, kippah-wearing, shomer Shabbos/Shabbat kahilla, not ‘heavy, heavy’ but a community anchored socially, culturally and, observance-wise, in Judaism.
I think it’s fair to say that we, my family, all hit the ground running. Of course, there were teething pains, that was to be expected, a new life in a new country, but, on the whole, we became a part of our new community’s fabric easily and quickly. We conformed. We fitted into the way of life of those around us. We were accepted as one of them. If we had not been da’ati, it would have been more difficult. I don’t suppose that this would have been the right kahilla for us. You see, in religious communities/kahillas, there is a typical way of life. Life in our kahilla would not particularly suit secular Jews but nor, for the matter, would it suit ultra orthodox Jews.
I don’t conform now (I’m the black sheep of my family). I speak out. I openly question. I don’t speak the local lingo. I don’t just go with the flow. I’m a bit ‘persona non-grata’. I’m not one of them. I’m a bit (ok, a lot, ‘odd’). The irony of ironies is how I’m completely misunderstood. I have people coming up to me offering help, advice and guidance. Of course, they all mean well, I know that, but I’m not at all troubled nor confused. I can’t remember seeing so clearly! The irony is that people around me think it’s me who needs help but I think…..I won’t finish the sentence because it could be perceived as unfriendly and arrogant and that is absolutely not my intention. I repeat – I know that those around me mean well!! I’m just pointing out the irony, the misconception, the fact that many people around me think I need help to see clearly…
My only question is: why do billions of people not ‘get it’…it’s a massive topic, it fascinates me and, of course, the motivations and explanations, why people ‘believe’, it’s a massive subject area. The reasons are many and varied, so many and so varied that it’s nigh on impossible to sweep the irrational belief and, often, obsession, away from the world. I see religion like Professor Richard Dawkins does, that it doesn’t matter if people get comfort from their beliefs, if, in times of need and sorrow, they have the God comfort blanket, if it helps people cope with the big worries such as death, if they want to engage in some of the ‘life occasions’, e.g. Barmitzvahs, ok, that’s fine, of course, but there is a huge problem with religion, namely that it blinds people to rationale and it motivates them to do bad things. When people on both sides of an argument or something bigger, a battle or a war, think something is theirs, that they are right, because ‘God said so’, the gloves are off and, in the words of Irving Berlin, “There may be trouble ahead….” Case in point: Har Ha’Bayit (Temple Mount) / The Al-Aqsa Mosque. If ever there was a more religious boxing ring, a more stark example of religious war driven by the irrational belief in a supernatural being, it doesn’t immediately spring to mind.
(Acts 5:29) “We ought to obey God rather than man”. That, I believe, is frightening and dangerous.
Dan Barker in “Godless”:
“One of the most damaging ideas in the bible is the concept of a Lord and Master. The loftiest biblical principles are obedience, submission and faith, rather than reason, intelligence and human values. Worshippers become humble servants of a dictator, expected to kneel before the king, lord, master, god – giving adoring praise and taking orders. According to the bible, we all eventually will be forced to bow before Jesus (New Testament, Romans 14:11 “every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.”) The master/slave relationship has become so ingrained in the Jewish/Christian/Muslim world that independent thinkers are considered heretical, evil rebels. Prophets, popes and ayatollahs have capitalised on this dichotomy of abasement in order to manipulate gullible followers…..”
At this juncture, let me be clear – I am not saying that only religious people do bad things and that all irreligious people are good but I do believe that religion is/can be dangerous and that millions of people have been killed in the name of religion over the centuries. I can ‘hear’ people saying “hey, Hitler wasn’t religious and he was particularly evil”. As it happens, he was religious.
“I am convinced that I am acting as the agent of our Creator. By fighting off the Jews, I am doing the Lord’s work”.
‘In a 1926 Nazi Christmas celebration, he boasted, “Christ was the greatest early fighter in the battle against the world enemy, the Jews…The work that Christ started but could not finish, I – Adolf Hitler – will conclude.” The creationist Hitler shared a thirst for blood with the bombastic biblical God in whose “image” he thought he was created.
Also, but I guess of less importance to society but sadly for the individuals, it’s a complete waste of time and resources. Life is short and we only have one crack at it. It’s tragic if people don’t get to fully experience life because they can’t ‘free think’, because they have a blinkered deferential respect for an imaginary, supernatural being who they have been culturally brainwashed into following. The people around me who are offering me advice, saying that they hope it “helps” me to find answers to my questions, they think I’m confused. I’M not confused, I have never been so UN-confused. I’ve never seen so clearly, I’ve never felt so alive, I’ve never experienced or sensed so tangibly the opportunities that life has to offer. I’ve never felt so unrestricted. I so, so wish that I was younger, that I’d felt this ‘rush’ decades ago! I know that religion, e.g. keeping Shabbos, has its worth. I enjoy the family quality time afforded to me by keeping Shabbos – I’m not dissing everything to do with religion but, of course, quality family time is not a monopoly enjoyed only by Shomer Shabbos Jews! I’m sure that I could still enjoy quality family time without keeping Shabbos. I ‘get’ the cultural side of religion, in my case, of Judaism. I do feel culturally Jewish but the bottom line is I believe that the world would be a better place without theistic religion, a world with no religion – as John Lennon sung, “Imagine….”.
People of faith, people who see the Torah as the blueprint for a moral life, people who think that the ‘absolutes’ as laid out in the Bible are needed for a moral life, I certainly don’t buy that argument. I’m afraid the Bible screams immorality and violence throughout:
some examples as referred to in Dan Barker’s “Godless”:
(Exodus/Shemos 15:3) “He (G0d) is the Master of war”;
(Psalm 137:9) “Blessed is the one who grabs your little children and smashes them against a rock”;
(Hosea 13:16) “Samaria shall bear her guilt, because she has rebelled against her God; they shall fall by the sword; their little ones shall be dashed in pieces, and their pregnant women ripped open”.
(Kings 2:23-24) God sent bears to attack 42 children who teased a prophet:
“From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, some boys came out of the town and jeered at him. ‘Get out of here, baldy!’ they said. ‘Get out of here, baldy!’ He turned around, looked at them and called down a curse on them in the name of the Lord. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the boys”.
(Leviticus 21:18-23) God discriminated against the handicapped:
“For whatsoever man he be that hath a blemish, he shall not approach: a blind man, or a lame, or he that hath any thing maimed, or any thing too long, or a man that is broken-footed, or broken-handed, or crook-backed, or a dwarf, or that hath his eye over-spread, or is scabbed, or scurvy, or hath his stones crushed; no man of the seed of Aaron the priest, that hath a blemish, shall come nigh to offer the offerings of the Lord made by fire; he hath a blemish; he shall not come nigh to offer the bread of his God. He may eat the bread of his God, both of the most holy, and of the holy. Only he shall not go in unto the veil, nor come nigh unto the altar, because he hath a blemish; that he profane not My holy places; for I am the Lord who sanctify them”;
(Exodus 20:5) God punished innocent offspring to the fourth generation:
“thou shalt not bow down unto them, nor serve them; for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers unto the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate Me”.
Wow, wow, wow, scary stuff!!!
God, very intimidating, jealous, unforgiving, arrogant, not at all humble….but was he even omnipotent?
(Judges 1:19) “And the Lord was with Judah; and he drave out the inhabitants of the mountain; but could not drive out the inhabitants of the valley, because they had chariots of iron”.
Got to move on…
there are many definitions but I like this one:
“That man should show respect to man, irrespective of class, race or creed is fundamental to the humanist attitude to life. Among the fundamental moral principles, he would count those of freedom, justice, tolerance and happiness…the attitude that people can live an honest, meaningful life without following a formal religious creed” (Pears Cyclopaedia, 87th edition, 1978).
Humanism is the only way forward. Religion – the archaic superstition, the irrational beliefs – it belongs in the past. It’s an anachronism relative to the science, knowledge and reality of today. Religion stunts our growth, it limits our potential, it restricts our access to the incredible opportunities on offer in this, our one and only crack at life. I feel really strongly about it (as you might have sensed) and I must spread the word, I have a moral responsibility to share this message. Whether people listen or not, that is, of course, their prerogative but I feel that I must publicise the message and that if it only changes one person’s way of thinking for the better, if it only helps one person to experience life more fully than he/she would have done if I hadn’t spoken, then I’ll have been vindicated and it’ll have been worth it.
*I am about to post (on CARRY ON KOBY) a review of Dan’s book.