"Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil;
For thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me." (Psalm 23.4)
Such hand-holding words of comfort can be found throughout the Bible. They satisfy one of the chief functions of religion, that of providing individuals with support in this uncertain and emotionally draining world. It helps people during the major events of their life cycles: births, marriage, and death with religious rites of baptism, circumcision, weddings and funerals.
Jews and Christian have a personal God who supposedly gives solace, especially when a terrible event makes no sense to them. Take a typical case, one where a family of two kids and a husband and wife — all living and worshiping happily together, with hardly a whisper of sin, doing what the local cleric says their God requires of them. Then, on a ride home from their Sabbath celebration, they are struck by a truck, which kills the one child and the husband, a most senseless act. „Thank God!" says the dazed wife, „God has saved my child." To which the whole religious community adds their hosannas.
Do these good people ever switch their sentiments and curse their God for his Hitler-like behavior? Hardly ever - even though they can find a warrant to do so because biblical texts assign to God the evil found in the world. Merely refer to Exodus 4.11-12 to see that this is true: "Then the Lord said to him [Moses], 'Who has made man's mouth? Who makes him dumb, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?'"
How many evils can a person take without falling apart, without chucking the God-concept? For not many are like Job who, we read, had lost everything, but was rewarded manifold over for undergoing his terrible ordeals. Why, we ask, should God-fearing people all too often suffer while rascals and religious carpetbaggers live the good life? The answer is that all will be compensated in heaven and hell. At least this is the Christian's answer to why good things happen to bad people.
Another puzzle remains. Why do people who thank God for saving them from terrible happenings, often ignore the morality that necessarily issues from that same God? Is not the God who „saved" them entitled to have his moral precepts obeyed? Yet, those who are saved tend to forget the covenant between them and their spiritual savior. What kind of a God is it who tests Abraham, making him almost sacrifice his child Isaac; who destroys whole communities in holocausts and Inquisitions; who propels various prophets to castigate their fellow Jews and who destroys the prophets of the enemies of his Chosen people; who sprinkles guilt on his children like confetti on a parade; who straightjackets his followers with harmful sexual dogmas and a myriad of other spiritual boils; who causes his own son to be crucified to atone for the sins of others; and who threatens damnation to all those who do not believe that Jesus is the Christ?
Does history support a belief in God? If by God we mean the traditional intelligent benevolent deity of the Jews, Christians and Muslims, and not the creative vitality of nature, the answer is a resounding No! Like Darwin's evolution in biology, the evolution of civilization basically is a natural selection of the fittest individuals and groups where goodness receives no benefits, misfortunes abound, and the final test is the ability to survive. Add to the crimes, cruelties and wars of man the earthquakes, storms, pestilence, tidal waves, and other "acts of God," the total evidence suggests either a blind or impartial fatality.
Better to become an atheist. The lack of belief in a God clears the mind, increases the ability to think straight, and puts the burden of responsibility where it belongs — on the individual himself. There is no God in this life to pray to, or to blame when things go wrong. Forget the supposed comfort that religion supplies — people are better off when left to their own resources and awards.
Published in the 2001 September/October issue of the American Rationalist ©.
(Last change: 21-09-2003)