|« Outlook on life
Do We Need Religious Belief? Author of this text: Kim Ludvigsen
we developed the faculty to reflect over our own existence, we have asked three
fundamental questions: Where do we come from (Creation)? Why are we here (Meaning
of Life)?And where do we go (Death)?
Throughout history, religions have — with
various success — tried
to answer these questions. In the
Americas and Europe, Christianity is the most widespread religion; it has
influenced our society deeply and conditioned our value system and way of
thinking. Particularly the image of an external, but personal, all powerful and
all knowing benign, male god who watches us and interferes in human affairs is
well rooted in our consciousness, whether we like it or not.
an American, when asked the question: „Do you believe in God?" will always
proudly proclaim „Yes, of course!" a European will look slightly embarrassed
and either say no or answer „Depends on what you mean by god."
recall having to reject the traditional concept of God when I was about six
years old and my intellect sufficiently developed to deal with spiritual matters. I remember very well one day I walked over a graveyard holding my father's
hand, when I asked him: „Do you believe in God?" "No, I don't," he
said and looked at me with a caring smile. "But I do," I proclaimed very
proudly. "Well, that's very good," he said. The fact was, that I did
not believe. Why did I lie to my dad? Probably because I felt I had to say
what I thought people would expect a six-year-old kid to say. I used the terms
„believe in" and „god" in a very intuitive way and only much later did I learn that these words must be defined very precisely, if you want to use them
properly in discussions.
incident with my father happened shortly after I had given up believing that
Santa Claus really existed, and I felt very much the same way with the god
concept. The grown ups wanted me to believe in a fairy tale they did not believe
in themselves. For me it became a mystery — and
it still is today — why so many people in the world hang on to a story
which is so obviously easy to disguise and why so few dare to stand up and
reveal the hoax. I felt like being in the fairy tale „The Emperor's New
Clothes" by Hans Christian Andersen, one of my best-known countrymen. Everyone
knows the truth, but nobody — apart
from a little boy — dares to speak it out.
people use their intellect and mental faculties in everyday life, but when it
comes to religion, they suddenly become gullible and seem to switch off their
common sense. I am amazed every time I talk to born-again Christians who claim
that the Bible should be taken literally. They are not always ignorant but very
convinced of their case. However, they oversee — or
rather choose to ignore — that
the Bible contains many contradictions and unclear translations. The New
Testament is not an accurate testimony of Jesus' historic life but a gathering
of stories written by different authors in several languages, selected and put
together 300 years after Jesus' death by church leaders with a very clear
political goal. The Bible contains both profound insights on how we should live
our lives as well as justification for murder and brutal violence. This makes it
possible to derive practically any assertion from the Bible you might fancy,
hence my claim: „Bring me any statement, and I will find a quotation in the
Bible supporting it".
When I recently saw the film Harry Potter
and read the critics about it, I found the warnings that the film could be
harmful to children because of its dealing with wizardry and superstition
particularly amusing because they came from Christian fundamentalist groups. At
Christmas 2001, a Protestant minister in Alamogordo, New Mexico, arranged a public burning of the book. If a Church service is not wizardry, you tell me
what it is! The incantation used by conjurors: „Hocus pocus" derives from
the Latin mass, where the priest turns toward the altar with the wafer in his
hands saying, „Hoc est corpus" (This is the body).
and lecturing people turn me off, but if I encounter sincere religious feelings
or practices based on love and respect for others, I instinctively feel a deep
reverence and compassion, even if it has a foundation I cannot agree upon. The
importance of religion in public life has diminished a lot, particularly in
Europe, and it is therefore very odd for Europeans to watch American politicians
on television referring to god or emphasizing how much they pray. A European
politician doing the same would immediately lose his credibility and lay himself
open to ridicule.
have many times returned to Christianity and sometimes discovered new aspects
but never found the answers to „The three fundamental questions" plausible.
That Christianity as most other religions contains many admirable ideals does
not change the fact that we have to take a stand regarding the core message: God
sent his son to Earth and this son died on a cross for our sins and resurrected
three days later.
suffer from an incredible curiosity towards life; I want to know why. My approach is rational: what is explained needs to be
plausible in order for me to believe it. I suppose this attitude is probably
formed by my technical education as an engineer, and I am well aware that not
all people have the same need to comprehend logically what is explained to them.
Why do I feel obliged to reject the Christian model? Because I observe the world
around me, and what I see does not fit with what the model expresses. The world
was not created in six days 3761 BC, as claimed, and nobody can walk on water. I do not see God rewarding the good ones and punishing the bad ones.
Christianity's biggest dilemma is its explanation for God's nature. If He is
almighty, omniscient and benevolent, why does He allow suffering? I am well
aware of the fact that one needs not be an engineer to notice this inconsistency;
in fact all devoted and reflecting Christians struggle with this dilemma at some
stage in their lives.
Bertrand Russell, who was a self-proclaimed atheist, was asked at a lecture by a student how he would react, if he after his death he would ascend to Heaven and
be received by the Lord himself, he answered: "Well, I would say: 'I am
awfully sorry I didn't believe in you, why didn't you give me more evidence
about your existence?'" Russell hits a central point: There is just not
enough evidence that supports the Christian model. Since the renaissance,
religion has slowly but steadily lost ground to science and — what
is even more devastating — it
has been displayed as a human-made projection of our longings and imaginations,
created undoubtedly with the best intentions, but with the limited knowledge
available at the time of its formation. How the concept of god has developed
throughout history is brilliantly described in A
History of God written by Karen Armstrong, a former catholic nun who studied
religion in Oxford and now teaches rabbi students at Leo Baeck's College in
London. She has also written several books on Islam and is an honorary member of
the Association of Muslim Social Sciences.
come that Christianity has been so successful? How could the number of followers
increase from a handful to over one billion in less than 2000 years? Through
memes — opinions procreating and spreading in peoples'
minds according to the same laws as genes do it in the biology world. The main
driving force is also to survive and multiply. These are seven ingredients for
the creation of a successful religion:
some existing myths and legends and create a model explaining the Three
Fundamental Questions. Make sure it provides a „packet solution" with
easy-to-understand and satisfying answers.
the stories so the copying is not so obvious and gather them in a book. Do not
worry if the stories are inconsistent or incomplete; this will actually turn out
as an advantage. Avoid criticism by claiming the book has divine origin.
things everyone enjoys and call them bad and sinful. Find suitable
justifications in the Book. Give the followers rules to follow, which clearly
distinguish them in everyday life from their surroundings. The more absurd the
rules and the more ridiculous the followers appear, the better.
those who believe in the model a reward, like salvation or eternal life. Make
sure that whatever is promised, should not
Fan Club: Make a fan club with a strong hierarchy and make the reward exclusive for the members.
If somebody questions the model, say that it cannot be understood rationally,
only through unconditioned, blind faith.
the model by making it dogmatic: The Book cannot be discussed or doubted. In
case parts of the model lose their credibility or the hoax becomes too obvious,
give in a bit. Say it was a misunderstanding to understand the model literally, it is actually meant to be
that is important to convince others of the correctness of the model. Give bonus
points for recruiting new members. Most important of all, fight competition, if
necessary with violence.
do not think my proposed theory of religion-creation is unusual; many people in
the Western world find traditional religions do not give them satisfying
answers. They might turn to alternative religions such as Scientology or
Shamanism or to pseudo-religions such as astrology, aura reading, or even to
Communism as it was the case for many Europeans in the mid 20th
alternative does the reflecting modern person choose, who is not content with a package solution? Which god
concept do other religions have? Some religions have many gods, some one, some
get along without any at all. Some have a personal god, some an impersonal, some
locate god outside, some inside the human mind. Various symbols and images are
and Muslims are particularly proud of being monotheists and look down upon
„primitive" polytheism. The truth is that Judaism initially practised
monolatry (the recognition of many, but worshipping of only one) and only
gradually developed into monotheism. The 1st Commandment of the
Mosaic Laws says, „Thou shalt not have other gods before me." What is so
dangerous about the „other gods" that this commandment must be put in the
first place? It more looks like a contest where somebody wants to convince the
audience of the superiority of his
particular god over other competing gods. To believe that Yahweh will reward me
for having worshipped only him by supporting me and my tribe in the struggle
with neighbouring nations is a bit like making him the symbol of my football
club or Britannia, the goddess of the British, Helvetia (the lady on the Swiss
coins), the goddess of the Swiss, and Uncle Sam, the god of the USA. In my
opinion this reflects neither a particular spiritual nor civilised attitude.
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« Outlook on life (Published: 26-07-2003 Last change: 30-01-2011)
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