This is what organized religion means for most people. This is what would happen if God actually answered people’s prayers. The response would be even worse if Jesus came back in the flesh. There is a reason he was crucified the first time. Some things never change.
“He had faith in us, and even if his faith turns out to have been misplaced, even if we have abandoned him, he somehow endures, standing between us and our electrified antipathies and recriminations like the Tank Man of Tiananmen Square in a red sweater.”
~Tom Junod, My Friend Mister Rogers
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is an inspiring and, in the end, a challenging portrayal of Fred Rogers, AKA ‘Mister Rogers’. It took some suspension of disbelief, though. Tom Hanks does as good of a job as is possible, but no one can replace the real thing. Mr. Rogers was distinctive in appearance and behavior. The production team could have used expensive CGI to make Hanks look more like the real man, but that was not necessary. It wasn’t a face that made the children’s tv show host so well respected and widely influential. A few minutes in, I was able to forget I was watching an actor playing a role and became immersed in the personality and the moral character that was cast upon the screen of imagination, the movie presented as if a new episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood had just been released.
The way the movie was done was highly effective. It was based on an Esquire article, Can You Say … Hero? by Tom Junod. It was jarring at first in taking a roundabout approach, but it might have been the only way to go about it for the intended purpose. Fred Rogers appears to have been a person who was genuinely and fully focused on other people, not on himself. So a biopic that captures his essence requires demonstrating this concern for others, which makes him a secondary character in the very movie that is supposedly about him. We explore his world by experiencing the profound impact he had on specific people, in this case not only Junod but also his family, while there are other scenes showing the personable moments of Mr. Rogers meeting with children. The story arc is about Junod’s change of heart, whereas Mr. Rogers remains who he was from the start.
This leaves Mr. Rogers himself as an unknown to viewers not already familiar with the biographical details. We are shown little about his personal life and nothing about his past, but the narrow focus helps to get at something essential. We already were given a good documentary about him from last year. This movie was serving a different purpose. It offers a window to peer through, to see how he related and what it meant for those who experienced it. Part of the hidden background was his Christianity, as he was an ordained Presbyterian minister. Yet even as Christianity inspired him, he never put his faith out in the public view. As Jesus taught to pray in secret, Fred Rogers took it one step further by keeping his faith almost entirely hidden. He didn’t want to force his beliefs onto others. The purpose of religion is not dogma or outward forms. If religion matters at all, it’s about how it transforms people. That is what Mr. Rogers, as a man and a media personality, was all about.
Some people don’t understand this and so don’t grasp what made him so special. Armond White at National Review wrote that, “Heller and screenwriters Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster don’t show enough faith in Rogers’ remedies—and not enough interest in their religious origins. In short, the movie seems wary of faith (it briefly mentions that Rogers was an ordained minister) and settles for secular sentimentality to account for his sensibility and behavior. This not only weakens the film, but it also hobbles Hanks’s characterization” (Christian Faith Is the Missing Ingredient in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood). That misses the entire message being conveyed, not only the message of the movie but, more importantly, the message of Mr. Rogers himself. As Greg Forster subtly puts it, “that is of course the whole goddamned point here” (Pass the Popcorn: Anything Mentionable Is Managable).
To have put Mr. Roger’s Christianity front and center would be to do what Mr. Rogers himself intentionally avoided. He met people where they were at, rather than trying to force or coerce others into his belief system, not that he would have thought of his moral concern as a belief system. He was not an evangelical missionary seeking to preach and proselytize, much less attempting to save the lost souls of heathenish children or make Christian America great again. In his way of being present to others, he was being more Christ-like than most Christians, as Jesus never went around trying to convert people. Jesus wasn’t a ‘good Christian’ and, by being vulnerable in his humanity, neither was Fred Rogers. Rather, his sole purpose was just to be kind to others. Religion, in its highest form, is about how one relates to others and to the world. Thomas Paine voiced his own radical faith with the words, “The World is my country, all mankind are my brethren, and to do good is my religion.” I suspect Mr. Rogers would have agreed. It really is that simple or it should be.
That childlike directness of his message, the simplicity of being fully present and relating well, that was the magical quality of the show, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. I didn’t appreciate it when I was a kid. It was a fixture of my childhood, a show I watched and that was all. But looking back on it, I can sense what made it unique. Like the man himself, the show was extremely simple, one might call it basic, demonstrated by the same ragged puppets he used his entire career. This was no fancy Jim Henson muppet production. What made it real and compelling to a child was what the people involved put into it, not only Fred Rogers but so many others who were dedicated to the show. Along with the simplicity, there was a heartfelt sincerity to it all. The scenes with the puppets, Daniel Striped Tiger most of all, were often more emotionally raw and real than what is typically done by professional actors in Hollywood movies.
That is what stands out about Tom Hank’s performance in bringing this to life. He is one of the few actors who could come close to pulling it off and even his attempt was imperfect. But I have to give Hanks credit for getting the essence right. The emotional truth came through. Sincerity is no small thing, in this age of superficiality and cynicism. To call it a breath of fresh air is a criminal understatement. Mr. Rogers was entirely committed to being human and acknowledging the humanity in others. That is such a rare thing. I’m not sure how many people understood that about him, what exactly made him so fascinating to children and what created a cult-like following among the generations who grew up watching his show. As a character says about the drug D in A Scanner Darkly, “You’re either on it or you’ve never tried it.”
Some people claim that “sincerity is bullshit” (Harry Frankfurt), a sentiment I understand in feeling jaded about the world. But I must admit that Fred Rogers’ sincerity most definitely and deeply resonates for me, based on my own experience in the New Thought worldview I was raised in, a touchy-feel form of Christianity where emotional authenticity trumps outward form, basically Protestantism pushed to its most extreme endpoint. Seeing the emotional rawness in Mr. Rogers’ life, although coming from a different religious background than my own, reminded me of the sincerity that I’ve struggled with in myself. I’ve always been an overly sincere person and often overly serious, that is how I think of myself… but can anyone really ever be too sincere? The message of Mr. Rogers is that we all once were emotionally honest when children and only later forgot this birthright. It remains in all of us and that core of our humanity is what he sought to touch upon, and indeed many people responded to this and felt genuinely touched. The many testimonies of ordinary people to Mr. Rogers’ legacy are inspiring.
This worldview of authenticity was made clear in one particular scene in the movie. “Vogel says he believes his dining companion likes “people like me … broken people.” Rogers is having none of it. “I don’t think you are broken,” Rogers begins, speaking slowly and deliberately. “I know you are a man of conviction, a person who knows the difference between what is wrong and what is right. Try to remember that your relationship with your father also helped to shape those parts. He helped you become what you are”” (Cathleen Falsani, Meditating On Love and Connection with Mr. Rogers and C.S. Lewis). That dialogue was not pulled from real life, according to Tom Junod in his latest piece My Friend Mister Rogers, but even Junod found himself emotionally moved when watching the scene. The point is that what mattered to Fred Rogers was conviction and he lived his life through his own conviction, maybe a moral obligation even. The man was exacting in his discipline and extremely intentional in everything he did, maybe even obsessive-compulsive, as seen in how he maintained his weight at exactly 143 lbs throughout his adult life and in how he kept FBI-style files on all of his friends and correspondents. He had so little interest in himself that even his wife of 50 years knew little about his personal experience and memories that he rarely talked about. His entire life, his entire being apparently was focused laser-like on other people.
He was not a normal human. How does someone become like that? One gets the sense that Mr. Rogers in the flesh would have, with humility, downplayed such an inquiry. He let on that he too was merely human, that he worried and struggled like anyone else. The point, as he saw it, was that he was not a saint or a hero. He was just a man who felt deeply and passionately moved to take action. But where did that powerful current of empathy and compassion come from? He probably would have given all credit to God, as his softspoken and often unspoken faith appears to have been unwavering. Like the Blues Brothers, he was a man on a mission from God. He was not lacking in earnestness. And for those of us not so fully earnest, it can seem incomprehensible that such a mortal human could exist: “He was a genius,” Junod wrote, “he had superpowers; he might as well have been a friendly alien, thrown upon the rocks of our planet to help us find our way to the impossible possibility that we are loved” (My Friend Mister Rogers). Yet for all the easy ways it would be to idolize him or dismiss him, he continues to speak to the child in all of us. Maybe ‘Mister Rogers’ was not a mystery, but instead maybe we are making it too complicated. We need to step back and, as he so often advised, remember what it was like to be a child.
Fred Rogers was a simple man who spoke simply and that is what made him so radically challenging. “Indeed, what makes measuring Fred’s legacy so difficult is that Fred’s legacy is so clear.” Junod goes on to say, “It isn’t that he is revered but not followed; so much as he is revered because he is not followed—because remembering him as a nice man is easier than thinking of him as a demanding one. He spoke most clearly through his example, but our culture consoles itself with the simple fact that he once existed. There is no use asking further questions of him, only of ourselves. We know what Mister Rogers would do, but even now we don’t know what to do with the lessons of Mister Rogers.” He might as well have been talking about Jesus Christ, the divine made flesh. But if there was spiritual truth in Fred Rogers, he taught that it was a spiritual truth in all of us, that we are children of God. Rather than what would Mister Rogers do, what will we do in remembering him?
I noticed the article Has Fiction Lost Its Faith? by Paul Elie in The New York Times. It initially interested me, but the more I thought about it I felt irritated by it. I did like the idea about making belief believable, as Flannery O’Connor originally explained it.
What irritated me was the simplistic conclusion. It reminded me of the articles I constantly come across about the world coming to an end in some way or another. Books will disappear and along with it reading. Before that, people worried books would make oral culture disappear. Before that, people worried oral culture would make cave paintings disappear. People used to fear-monger about how the first land-line telephones would destroy American society and corrupt the youth. Then they said that about the television, and then cable, and then the internet.
It just goes on and on endlessly. The world is always ending and yet it never ends. The world of faith, of miracles, of gods ruling on earth, of humans and animals as a brotherhood, of the fairyland still being accessible, etc; all of it is always in the past, always declining, always disappearing. For as long as civilization has existed, there have been prophets of doom proclaiming the decline of civilization or some particular tradition. It has been millennia of failed predictions and disproven criticisms.
This article expresses a related kind of rhetoric. The hypothesis stated as fact is that faith is disappearing from literature and that this somehow implies a deeper problem or malaise, a societal corruption or moral decline or weakening of serious thought, or something like that. People have been worrying about the loss of faith at least since the Protestant Reformation and probably long before that. This obsession is particularly strong in America where religion has had some of the strongest roots in all the world. If faith truly was weakening, no one would even write an article like this or want to read it because no one would give a flying fuck.
I don’t have a dog in this fight. I’m neither religious nor anti-religious. It’s not the substance of the argument that annoys me, rather the style and structure of it. It’s so simplistic and predictable, so tired and cliché. If society is collapsing from internal decay, it is weak journalism like this that is a sign of the coming apocalypse… except journalism has always been this way, as long as journalism has existed… so, I guess no apocalypse for the time being. I’ve always thought that if and when civilization finally collapses or modern Western society declines to a point of no return, it probably would come from a confluence of events and conditions that no one would or could foresee.
I doubt that there are fewer authors of faith. A better query might be: Have the literary gatekeepers lost their faith? If the great Christian writers of the past were writing today, would they be published by the major publishing companies, would the mainstream critics review their works, and would they make it on Oprah’s book club list?
Then again, I don’t even know that those are good questions. This article, after all, was published in the mainstream media. It is a literary gatekeeper who, in his dual role as journalist and fiction writer, is complaining about this literary loss of faith. It’s like Republicans claiming other Republicans are secret Democrats for not being right-wing enough or nationally viewed MSM pundits complaining about the MSM being liberally biased. It’s a rhetorical trick to manipulate one’s audience.
In this case, the critic of literary loss of faith is setting the stage for his upcoming novel about faith. This means he is offering the solution to the problem he portrays as a threat. How convenient.
In criticism of the article, the following are two good responses.
D.G. Myers writes in The Novel of Belief:
It is not immediately clear why a setting in the past should disqualify any novel from the category “of belief.” Perhaps the greatest religious novel ever written by an American—Willa Cather’s Death Comes for the Archbishop—is also set in the past. [ . . . ] There have been enough historical novels of religious faith written by Americans that Elie’s demand for contemporaneity begins to seem arbitrary.
[ . . . ] Elie also stipulates that the novel of belief be a novel of Christian belief, which leaves out of account the remarkable turn toward religion on the part of Jewish novelists [ . . . ]
There is no possible stipulation, however, which can explain Elie’s neglect of Christopher R. Beha’s extraordinary What Happened to Sophie Wilder. I’ve called the novel a modern saint’s life. It has everything Elie is looking for—the living language of religious faith, a distinct and conclusive personal transformation under the influence of the Holy Spirit, the acceptance of religion’s explanatory power, a commitment to the established Church instead of the Do-It-Yourself religiosity that so many Americans seem to prefer, an ethical quandary that is directly caused by Christian faith, an emphatic and unembarrassed Roman Catholic character, and best of all, it is entirely contemporary in its setting—but its author is young and not yet famous (he will be), his publisher is a small house (not like Elie’s own Farrar, Straus & Giroux), and it does nothing whatever to confirm the trend away from novelistic belief which Elie is at such pains to illustrate. Even worse, Beha’s novel may be part of a countervailing trend toward anew Catholic fiction, which rejects the literary Catholicism of Flannery O’Connor for predecessors like Graham Greene and Evelyn Waugh instead.
Abe Rosenzweig comments (from an article by Dominic Preziosi):
To be honest, this is the sort of “trend piece” one expects from the Times. He sort of takes a James Woodsian tour of recent fiction (Delillo! McCarthy!), meaning that he seems stuck on Big House publications, and his dismissal of Robinson seems wholly contrived along the rather arbitrary parameter that works set in the past must be dismissed (seriously, Robinson is one of the most lauded of contemporary authors, and her work is driven by Christianity; his rejection of her is just silly). Also, of course, is the simple fact that he’s not actually interested in works dealing with faith, but rather works that deal with (and are motivated by) Christian faith (equating “faith” with “Christian” is, of course, a typically Christian move).
I also find myself wondering what the point of the piece is. I don’t see how it could really be part of a program (reinvigorating Christian literature?); it seems to just be another soft lament for the fact that the Sikhs are next door.
God and freewill, two things that will forever perplex me.
I see them as basically on the same level, theological concepts. God is the faith of the theists. And freewill is the faith of the atheists.
I don’t mean this in a necessarily dismissive way. I actually am affirming the notion of faith. We humans aren’t as rational as we think. Whether theist or atheist, most people are always looking to rationalize. It might not be as obvious with theism, but apologetics is just an attempt (typically a very bad attempt) at rationalizing theism and apologetics is big business these days. Atheists aren’t off the hook, though. It is atheists, more than theists, who usually find it difficult to admit the irrational/nonrational components of life.
I say this as an agnostic who is hard put to take sides in most theist vs atheist debates, although I tend to go with the atheists when it comes to respecting intellect and science. Despite my sharing certain values with many atheists, I can’t follow atheists all the way down the path of rationality. The world is too strange and humans too complex.
Consider freewill. I’ve come to see the atheist’s focus on freewill as a substitute for the theistic soul.
Anyone who has studied psychological research enough knows that most things humans do aren’t rational or often even conscious. We really don’t know why we are the way we are or why we do what we do, but through science we can observe correlations and make predictions. If you know enough about a person, they can be fairly predictable. If humans weren’t predictable, insurance companies wouldn’t be able to make profits. Still, prediction isn’t the same thing as insight and understanding.
There is no rational reason to believe in freewill and yet most people believe in it. It is our shared cultural bias. Even most theists accept freewill, albeit a human will subordinated to the Will of God and/or a human will limited to a morally weak human nature (depending on the theology in question). We believe in freewill because our entire culture is based on this belief and so confirms it and supports it. Still, it is just a belief, one that doesn’t perfectly conform to reality.
Here is where I’m coming from. I’m not religious, but I am spiritual… a statement that most atheists don’t understand, although one could be a spiritual atheist (such as a Buddhist)… a statement maybe that even most theists don’t understand. On the other hand, my not being religious doesn’t imply that I’m anti-religious. I’m simply non-religious, but informally I’m attracted to certain religious practices such as meditation and even prayer (not that I ever feel clear about what I may or may not be praying to). My faith is more Jungian than anything. So, theological ideas such as God and freewill are only meaningful to me in terms of possible underlying archetypes that hold sway deep within the human psyche, if not also in the world at large.
My experiences and observations, my understandings and intuitions have made it hard for me to find a place in any particular Western tradition. Beyond the Jungian, I suppose I could put myself in the very general category of radical skeptic (i.e., zetetic) which I’ve at times identified as agnostic gnosticism or else as Fortean. I’m defined by endless curiosity, greater than any belief or reason.
The religous and philosophical traditions that I have been most drawn to are those of the East, whether the Gnosticism born out of the Middle East or the Hinduism, Buddhism and Taoism of the Far East. In this instance, I was thinking about Hinduism. I often contemplate Saraswati, the goddess of creativitiy and intellect, the ultimate artist’s muse. Do I believe in Saraswati? I don’t know. It seems like a silly question. I’m tempted to respond as Jung in saying I don’t believe, I know… but that still leaves such ‘knowing’ unexplained. There is an archetypal truth to Saraswati and I feel no need nor ability to further explain what that might be.
I was thinking about all of this in terms of vision and inspiration. In my own way, I have a visionary sense of Saraswati and this inspires me. But the name ‘Saraswati’ doesn’t matter nor does the religious accoutrements. I’m not a Hindu nor do I want to be. Saraswati is just a reference point for a deeper truth that is otherwise hard to articulate. I don’t believe in God and yet I have this intuitive sense of the divine, for lack of better words. I don’t believe in freewill and yet I have this intuitive sense of a creative ‘will’ that drives me and inspires me.
There was another aspect of Hinduism that was on my mind. The idea of willpower is symbolized and embodied by the god Ganesha. I feel no particular attraction to Ganesha, but I like the idea of willpower as a god rather than as a mere psychological attribute or mere personal expression. This seems to get closer to what willpower means on the archetypal level.
We each are diven and inspired by some vision of reality. This is our faith, typically unquestioned and often unconscious. We simply know it as our ‘reality’ and as such it forms our reality tunnel. There is a Hindu belief that a god resides in or is expressed through each person’s secret heart, the Hridaya chakra. I interpret this in Jungian terms. We each are ruled by some core truth or essence or pattern, whatever you want to call it, however you want to explain it.
We can have a vision of God or a god and we can be ruled by it. But if we explore it more deeply, we might discover a greater truth to why we are drawn to such a vision. We can have a vision of freewill and we can be ruled by it. But we can seek to make this faith conscious, thus seeing will as something greater than a personal possession, control for the sake of control (in the words of William S. Burroughs, “is control controlled by our need to control?”).
Whatever your god or vision, is what is ruling you worthy of your faith? If your faith is blind and your being ruled is unconscious, where does that leave you?
In Faith Under Fire, a memoir about Benimoff’s life as an Army chaplain in Iraq, Benimoff and co-author Eve Conant describe his return from Iraq to his family in Colorado and subsequent assignment to Walter Reed Army Medical Center. He retreated deep into himself, spending hours on the computer and racking up ten thousand dollars in debt on eBay. Above all, he was angry and jittery, scared even of his young sons, and barely able to make it through the day. He was eventually admitted to Coatesville’s “Psych Ward.” For a while the lock-down facility was his home. He wondered where God was in all of this, and was not alone in that bewilderment and pain.
In a 2004 study of approximately 1,400 Vietnam veterans, almost 90 percent Christian, researchers at Yale found that nearly one-third said the war had shaken their faith in God and that their religion no longer provided comfort for them. The Yale study found that these soldiers were more likely than others to seek mental health treatment through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) when they came home. It was not that these veterans had unusually high confidence in government or especially good information about services at VA hospitals. Instead, they had fallen into a spiritual abyss and were desperate to find a way out. The trauma of war seems to be especially acute for men and women whose faith in a benevolent God is challenged by the carnage they have witnessed.
Of course, not all veterans with mental health concerns are led to VA hospitals by a loss of faith: many simply want to get a night’s sleep without being terrorized by nightmares. Whatever kind of assistance they are seeking, it has been in increasingly short supply. The decline in resources for veterans’ mental health services started in the 1980s, as part of a nationwide effort to move psychiatric patients into outpatient treatment. The number of inpatient psychiatric beds fell from 9,000 in the late ’80s to 3,000 by 2008.
During the Iraq war, however, the great difficulty veterans experienced in getting psychiatric care—greater than before—was not a product of cost-cutting, but of conviction: many Bush administration officials believed that soldiers who supported the war would not face psychological problems, and if they did, they would find comfort in faith. In a resigned tone, one prominent researcher who worked for the VA, and asked that he not be identified because he was not authorized to speak to the press, explained that high-ranking officials believed that “Jesus fixes everything.” Benimoff and the others who returned with devastating psychological injuries found a faith-based bureau within the VA. At veterans’ hospitals, chaplains were conducting spirituality assessments of patients.
The story of the mistreatment of returning veterans from Iraq is well known and shocking. But the role of religious ideology in that mistreatment—how, inside the government, it was a potent tool in the betrayal of an overwhelmingly Christian Army—is much less known.
“I couldn’t stand to hear that phrase any longer—‘God was watching over me,’” Benimoff wrote.
He wasn’t watching over the good men I knew in Iraq. Faith was the center of my life yet it failed to explain why I came home and those soldiers did not. The phrase was a Christian nicety, a cliché that when put to the test didn’t fit reality.
Here is a concluding speech from the BBC movie “God on Trial” where a Rabbi finally speaks only to explain why God isn’t good.
It appears that the whole movie is available on Youtube and I highly recommend it. “God on Trial” is probably the best movie I’ve seen about the Nazi concentration camps. I think the reason is because the subject is suffering and doubt which are universal to all humans. The script writer, Frank Cottrell Boyce, wrote about this in The Guardian article Losing my Religion.
Although the subject of the guilt of God is universal, when it came to writing I confined myself to imagining this particular trial: the problems of setting up a court in a blockhouse, the kind of arguments that those men might have advanced. I focused on the Covenant, God’s special deal with the Jewish people. I thought I was doing this to keep faith with the story – but maybe I was also doing it to distance it from my own spiritual life. The magic of stories, though, is that the more specific you are, the more universal they seem to get. The Covenant turned out to be a really good way of talking about anyone who expects anything from God.
The script writer is a Christian and if you pay close attention you can notice some subtle apologetics. This would’ve been a different speech if written by a Jew. Even so, it’s very powerful and I think it applies to Christianity as much as to Judaism. The script writer says that the research he did challenged his faith, but it became stronger in the end and he remains a Catholic. I feel that he didn’t take his own speech seriously enough. Here is what he wrote:
After they find God guilty, one of the rabbis says: “So what do we do now?” The reply is: “Let us pray.” Is this a wry story about Jewish stoicism? Is it about a failure of moral courage? Or what? For me, it’s about faith. Faith has had a bad press of late. It’s been used by politicians as a rationale for going to war without reason, because it “feels right”. That is not faith – that’s a hunch, plus vanity.
I’d argue that almost all organized religion is “a hunch, plus vanity.” If faith is genuine, religion is superfluous. Religion is fine as a social institution for comfort and reassurance, for companionship and sense of belonging, for reinforcement of cultural mores and social order… but those are only at best indirectly related to faith. What I mean is that faith isn’t dependent on those factors, and organized religion is portentially a danger to faith.
Here is where the apologetics comes in. The script writer talks about a Monotheistic God as being a good idea that the Jews came up with, but then the Christians came up with an even better idea. Implicit in this argument is the fact that some group will always come along with another better idea that helps organize people in an even more effective manner. But the goodness of such ideas doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with moral goodness.
Monotheism is good because it justifies the oppression of a large group of people by a centralized government. As the Rabbi points out, this leads to atrocious results. Power isn’t the same thing as goodness. According to Jewish history, God made a covenant with the Jews and the Jews committed genocide against the people God deemed unworthy. But if genocide is then being committed against the Jews, what became of the covenant? By the logic of Jewish scripture, God has broken his covenant with the Jews and decided to side with the Nazis.
This is an ancient idea that claims that God sides with the victorious or that the side that won did so because they sided with the correct God (righteous morality and ruthless power being identified with eachother). As a theological explanation, it’s a blatant form of self-righteous power-mongering. As a moral justification, it’s just plain sad and pathetic. It represents a deeply cynical view of life. It’s basically a religious form of social darwinism. Even so, it’s the very starting point of the entire Judeo-Christian tradition and represents the Judeo-Christian God’s most primal nature. Many Jews and Christians today still believe in this tyrranical God.
As such, the supposedly better idea that the Christians had was at best only marginally better. But, in actuality, it wasn’t all that different. Anyone who wants to follow the rules, can become either a Jew or a Christian as neither are closed religions. That is what a covenant means (replace the word covenant with whatever cultural term is appropriate such as “being saved” or whatever). And God only likes those who follows his rules, but which are his rules? Does it matter? Any covenant is as bad as the next. Covenants aren’t about belonging but about excluding.
It all comes down to my God is bigger than your god. My God can kick your god’s ass. Bow down to the meanest, toughest divine tyrant or else! I’d love to have front row seats to watch these deities fight it out, but it doesn’t matter which one wins. They’re all bullies who aren’t worthy of worship. If your God doesn’t threaten you with punishment and torture, there is absolutely no reason to create an organized religion. Without fear, all of the world would be a church and every church would be a blasphemy. But if you want to worship a god of fear, then at least be honest about it.
Let me conclude with a response to the screen writers own conclusion of faith, of a faith that transcends reason. I can accept that, but as I see it anyone who belongs to an organized religion doesn’t fully accept such a faith. All organized religions are based on the claim that a specific group has God figured out. They have the answer. They hold the key to heaven. I say bullshit. They can’t have it both ways. If they have God figured out, then they have to accept that God is a cruel tyrant. If they wish to have faith in a God who is inscrutible to the human mind, then they can’t claim to have God figured out and they certainly can’t claim to have the market cornered. Organized religion is a fraud.
So, if you want to follow the example of Jesus Christ, then do so. But please realize that the main example Jesus set was that he came to challenge organized religion. Jesus preached outside of all organized religions and he preached about kingdom being in heaven, not on earth. For this reason, of all organized religions, Christianity is the most fraudulent of them all.
Acharya S (aka D.M. Murdock), The Christ Conspiracy
Indeed, the story of Jesus as presented in the gospels, mass of impossibilities and contradictions that it is, has been so difficult to believe that even the fanatic Christian “doctor” and saint, Augustine (384- 430), admitted, “I should not believe in the truth of the Gospels unless the authority of the Catholic Church forced me to do so.” Nevertheless, the “monumentally superstitious and credulous Child of faith” Augustine must not have been too resistant, because he already accepted “as historic truth the fabulous founding of Rome by Romulus and Remus, their virgin birth by the god Mars, and their nursing by a she-wolf…”
Apparently unable to convince himself rationally of the validity of his faith, early Church Father Tertullian (c. 160-200) made the notorious statement “Credo quia incredibilis — I believe because it is unbelievable.” An “ex-Pagan,” Tertullian vehemently and irrationally defendedhis new faith, considered fabricated by other Pagans, by acknowledging that Christianity was a “shameful thing” and “monstrously absurd”:
“… I mean that the Son of God was born; why am I not ashamed of maintaining such a thing? Why! but because it is itself a shameful thing. I maintain that the Son of God died; well, that is wholly credible because it is monstrously absurd. I maintain that after having been buried, he rose again; and that I take to be absolutely true, because it was manifestly impossible.”
A major reason I blog now is because apologists annoy me. I used to post on discussion boards, but the discussions tend to get dragged down to the lowest common denominator.
Apologists are annoying in that they can often be anti-intellectual, but not always. Sometimes they’re quite intellectually capable even when their focus is very narrow. It can even take a while to realize you’re dealing with an apologist because many believers prefer to not express their beliefs openly. That is even more annoying because I can sense that the person is filtering everything they think, but it takes effort to realize they’re not actually open to new viewpoints. The most intelligent apologists have a knack for creating convoluted arguments and false herrrings.
What is even worse is when they demand you defend your argument when they can’t defend their own. I’ve spent years studying religion, and it’s a complex field. Why would I want to deal with people who’ve only read very narrowly? Why would want to try to spoonfeed information to those who have no respect for knowledge? And apologists can be persistent, going around and around with the same tired ploys.
Beyond all of that, what really annoys me is that apologists are very talented at perverting the truth. To me, truth is my faith. When someone uses rational logic falsely or deceptively, then it pisses me off. I just don’t understand how someone can act rationally while at the same time having little respect for rationality.
I’m not criticizing faith. I’m all for faith, but faith and rationality are not the same thing. Rationality limited by unquestioned beliefs is not rational at all. Certainly, it’s acceptable for one’s faith to inform one’s rationality, but one is no longer in the realm of rationality when one’s rationality is limited to one’s faith. As such, rationality should also inform one’s faith. No belief should be held back from the gaze of curiosity, questioning, doubt and general intellectual inquiry. Also, I’d even go so far to say that faith without doubt is no faith at all.
Apologetics has been a major component of our society for centuries that so much of our culture has been limited to the context of Christian assumptions. It’s so subtle that we usually don’t even notice it.
A simple example is a reference work such as a dictionary. I have a Sharp electronic dictionary that uses the New Oxford American Dictionary. It doesn’t have entries for Basilides, Valentinius, or Marcion. These three were the earliest Christians to write commentaries on New Testament scriptures. All of them had all or most of their works destroyed by later Christians, and the latter two were labelled heretics some decades after they left the Catholic Church. On the other hand, there are entries for all of the later apologists and heresiologists. Irenaeus has an entry and he was the very one who called Marcion and Valentinius heretics.
So, why is a mainstream scholarly dictionary limiting the information shown to the public according to the decrees of Catholic orthodoxy? How did the Catholic Church gain such influence over secular scholarship? Why would a scholar choose to follow Church orthodoxy? Was there a Christian majority in the committee that decided what made it into the dictionary?
This is the same with all other references. When you do an internet search about Christianity, some of the best sources of info get buried beneath the numerous apologetic sites. When you go to Wikipedia, many of the articles have very clear religious biases.
Here are some discussions with and articles about apologists: