Premises, Premises

I’ve been musing about how religious people, who firmly believe they are good, so often do such monstrously evil things. I think maybe I have a handle on it. If you start with a few basic premises — and I think these are all premises that today’s religious adherents would agree with — you can dig yourself a deep hole quite easily.

Here is a list of what I see as the premises to which today’s religious would express allegiance. They’re all absurd premises, of course, but at the moment I’m not planning to wade into that debate. I simply want to set out the premises and see what they lead to.

  1. There exists a supremely powerful, conscious entity that we call “God.”
  2. God is good.
  3. God is aware of and cares about the human race and about individual humans.
  4. God cares enough about us to have provided a book containing clear instructions on how He would like us to comport ourselves. This book may require interpretation, but its origins were inspired directly by God, and thus it is free of outright error.
  5. God has endowed us each with free will, so that we can freely choose to do things that please him, or things that do not please him.
  6. God has prepared a paradise to which humans can expect, or hope, to be transported when they die, so death is not a reason for anxiety.
  7. Those who fail to follow the instructions in the book cause suffering here on Earth — because of course the instructions come directly from God and are therefore perfectly reliable. They may also expect not to be rewarded with paradise after death.

The first thing to note is that if you and your friends (probably your friends from church) all believe these things, you’re likely to be very happy! These beliefs have, that is, an immediate positive result. They produce good feelings. They also provide some guidance for steering a serene course among life’s inevitable difficulties. How could a set of beliefs that produces such good results possibly lead to hateful, destructive behavior?

The catch lies in the first significant word in the first premise: “supremely.” The assumption that God is supreme and perfect (and therefore unchanging) has a very unfortunate side effect. The side effect is that if questions are raised about any of the premises, the entire structure sways and totters like a skyscraper made of matchsticks.

Consider, for example, the current struggle over gay marriage. Several types of marriage are approved of in the Bible, including one man having several wives, one man having both wives and concubines, and so forth. But nowhere in the Bible is there a blessed word about two men marrying one another.

If you believe the premises above, then clearly gay marriage is one of the things God doesn’t approve of. If He had approved of it, He would have put it in the book! A believer who starts to think that maybe gay marriage isn’t so bad after all faces a powerful dilemma, because if gay marriage is okay with God, then Premise 4 is clearly wrong. The book is defective and unreliable. And if Premise 4 is wrong — if God didn’t give us humans a reliable guide to what he wants us to do — then Premises 2 and 3 start to look pretty darn shaky too.

Once a single plank of this platform is called into question, the whole thing starts flapping around like a tent in a hurricane. This is bound to produce deep anxiety on the part of anyone who is relying on those premises to generate good feelings and smooth social encounters with their like-minded friends.

The alternative is to believe that the premises are correct, and that gay marriage (or, indeed, being gay at all) is one of the not-okay things that people sometimes do under Premise 5. If the premises are correct, then being gay must be a choice — and a bad one.

The final nail in the coffin is this: If we let people freely make bad choices, and don’t do anything to correct or prevent their bad choices, then (a) the bad choices will inevitably cause suffering here on Earth, because God has told us how to be happy, and (b) people whom we care about may be led astray into making bad choices, and may as a result end up in Hell in accordance with Premise 7. This result is obviously one of the things that God wants us to guard against. (That probably qualifies as another premise.) So it’s our God-given duty to stand four-square against any sort of tolerance for homosexuality.

Have I missed anything in this analysis?

The practical result, as we can see in the news headlines every week, is that people who are basically kind and sincere rush around hurting anyone whose behavior is not approved of in the Bible (as their pastor interprets it). They hurt people by denying them legal rights afforded to others. They hurt people by denying them medical care. They sometimes hurt their own children by trying so hard to control non-gender-conforming behavior that the children run away, live on the street, become prostitutes and drug addicts, catch horrible diseases, and get beaten up by goons who enjoy hurting anybody who is perceived as different.

Kind, sincere people causing widespread and entirely needless human suffering — and all because they’ve accepted as unquestionable a set of premises that are seductive, yet toxic.

This is why I hate religion.

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13 Responses to Premises, Premises

  1. chicagoja says:

    Excellent portrayal. There are two things, however, that both believers and non-believers almost never consider. Namely,(1) that “evil” could be misdefined and, in reality, is a necessity in the evolution of the species and (2) that the god of religion is not God (i.e. God could exist, although defined completely differently from what the Church might say).

  2. Kord says:

    Jim knows I am a Christian, so that’s my transparency statement. πŸ™‚

    Thanks for this read, Jim. A constant issue/complaint with religions, which have tended to do some awful things through the years.

    It’s an interesting piece with some good points. #7 re: the suffering stuff I am not so sure about. It seems more of a “sometimes there is suffering as a result and sometimes not” types of thing. There is a lot in the Bible (for example) that when not observed does not explicitly cause the suffering of others. All the food laws, etc.

    In general, I do not think anyone can truly come to the Faith (in anything) via pure argument and discussion. Your house of cards is a similar statement. It’s not unlike an optimist/pessimist outlook on to the future. That “feel” thing.

    Re: people professing love doing bad things, it seems that regardless of a particular belief system, we humans will justify all kinds of evil and rationalize things to our liking. Some more, some less.

    Also re: all the marriage stuff. I think most of it is a result of the benefits allotted “married” folks by the government.

    It is my understanding that the concept of marriage is wide enough when seen in all the various belief systems/churches/etc. that it accommodates all kinds of combinations. “Marriage” really is not a fully standardized concept to me.

    But for some reason there was a blending on church and state in this regard which has caused a lot of trouble. That’s what bugs me. Our government should not care about marriage.

    They should strike the term “marriage” from all government docs and reframe it as “groups in some form of demonstratably committed relationship” or something and let everyone be equal regardless of how/what/whether marriage.

    • midiguru says:

      The issue of government sanction of marriage is of course important, and not simple to unravel. Historically, our government has often used laws and the tax code to promote social policies that are felt to be beneficial. Arguably this is the basis for the recognition of marriage as a legal institution. I wouldn’t oppose changing the law so that legal marriage was simply a type of contract, but this would have amusing social repercussions. For one thing, the Mormons could start practicing polygamy again! And the tax code would still need to take some sort of cognizance of the status of married couples in which one spouse stays at home and raises children … unless there’s no deduction for dependents. It gets messy.

      But I don’t think for a moment that that’s the real basis of fundamentalists’ objections to gay marriage. I don’t think they’re worried about changes in people’s tax status. I’m pretty sure they think being gay is (a) a choice and (b) a sin. This concerns them for precisely the reasons I outlined.

  3. I agree with your premises — until premise 7. The basis of Christianity is that man, in his imperfection and with his sinful nature, is INCAPABLE of keeping the commandments. Therefore, our loving God sent his own son to live the perfect life that we could not and to die the death that we deserve. Therefore, by trusting in and accepting the sacrifice of Christ, we are given what we do not deserve — eternal life. All humans in heaven are sinners.

    • midiguru says:

      Whatever. This particular blog post is not about debating the truth of falsity of any of these premises. We can do that another time, and I promise I will demolish you utterly. Today I’m concerned only with examining the results of the premises when people believe in them.

      • My point is that your premises do not encompass religious views which can have an effect on the rest of your post. Your belief in the premises or view of their truthfulness is not of my concern.

      • midiguru says:

        I think you’d have to be more specific, Shelby. I don’t understand how the things you’re saying relate to what I said. My premises were not intended to _encompass_ religious views, but rather to _articulate_ them. I did not imply at any point that any human being was capable of always doing only things that God finds pleasing.

        I find it really quite disturbing that you think human beings deserve death. That may be in the Bible — I wouldn’t know. But it’s a barbaric and ungenerous sentiment. The idea that a Divine Creator would create a species knowing full well that they were going to fuck up so badly that they deserve to die … dude, I would not worship such a monster. If you do, I feel very sorry for you.

  4. Ron Greenman says:

    Very Euclidian. And while I don’t wish to discuss agreement or disagreement with your premises here I would like to say that arguments, like experiments, fail or succeed based on the validity of their premises. Descartes proof of God was based on a faulty premise (freshman philosophy), but his methodology set the stage for from then until now and counting. The single point is that the belief in a god or gods, or the disbelief for that matter, rests on a “belief.” Since the existence of a god or gods, or the non-existence thereof, cannot be proved, but merely suspected, surmised, guessed at, believed–pick your term, the discussion rests on a foundation of nothing and is therefore nothing more than mental masturbation. And all “proofs” that follow, divinely inspired rules, gifts and/or punishments bestowed by a ethereal entity. etc. are even less than the initiating nothing. Idolators at least have their little powerless statues that they assuredly prove exist, but must believe are more than the inanimate artifacts that they appear to be. I’m not believing nor disbelieving because I can’t get any more succor from it than to “feel” good in my belief, pro or con, and can’t reconcile that as a proof of anything. I did spend years desirous of a “guy in the sky” that had a foolproof rule system that was just and fair, and somehow could be a comfort at the same time. Mom and Dad in one one really kick-ass entity that would let me stay out as late as I wanted, but sternly look down on me, making me feel guilty when I did bad, but then loving me so much that all would be forgiven if I just fessed up. Alas, instead I grew up.

    • midiguru says:

      Well, I’d be inclined to say that arguments are not what religious adherents engage in. Not in the sense you mean. (They get in arguments, to be sure.) This type of belief system is, I think, self-sealing. It doesn’t lead to rational argument. On the contrary, it’s impervious to rational argument. That’s the essence of the problem one has when one attempts to reason with religious people. Their minds slam shut — and I was trying to articulate, in this piece, the reason why. It’s because the whole structure has to hang together, or it all falls apart. And if it falls apart, they’re left feeling really, really bad. So, being human, they vehemently resist any line of argument that would force them to question any of the premises.

      • Ron Greenman says:

        That’s all true. And because it is so because there is no basis to argue about. It all has to be made up and completely believed without question to even have a chance to hold together.

  5. Bill L. says:

    You lost me on your first comma.

  6. Kord says:

    Well, re: marriage I understand your point, but I think that blaming the fundamentalists for having the “wrong” idea of marriage is not much different than blaming the Mormons for polygamy or saying someone else has the “right” idea of it. Usually it entails a religious ceremeny of some kind based on their own rules.

    And if one guy wants to support a dozen wives and a village of children they should be able to. Fortunately that’s not my gig πŸ˜‰ Even in Christianity there is division on exactly what constitutes marriage based on theoretically the same texts. Think of the convenient “annulments” permitted to the rich by certain churches.

    If your point is that if someone subscribes to ALL your conclusions, then they are dangerous. Then yes, they can be.

    But again, I am not sure that all would think of item 7 as a given, at
    least in terms of Christianity. It seems to indicate that those not ascribing to “the” belief system would be dangerous to all. Regardless of system, a proponent of that system that embraces item 7 would see that person/entity as life-threatening and want to expel or delete it. We have unfortunately seen this across many belief systems (western, eastern, organized crime, corporate, you name it). So yes, those people would do bad things to keep their society “safe”.

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