“The notion that truths external to the mind may be known by intuition or consciousness, independently of observation and experience, is, I am persuaded, in these times, the great intellectual support of false doctrines and bad institutions. By the aid of this theory, every inveterate belief and every intense feeling, of which the origin is not remembered, is enabled to dispense with the obligation of justifying itself by reason, and is erected into its own all-sufficient voucher and justification. There never was such an instrument devised for consecrating all deep seated prejudices.”
Autobiography, John Stuart Mill
To free the mind of a man who’s nailed himself fast to an idea or precept is probably the most impossible task that another person can undertake. If they are someone you love they may well be lost in hell’s inferno and that hurts. I have previously assumed that exposure to the refreshing effects of reason will undoubtedly free these lost souls, naively relying on Jesus’ words that Ye shall know the truth and the truth will set you free (John 8:32). However two incidents yesterday are working to shew me that Jesus may not always have known what he was talking about.
The first incident was at the abode of a friend with whom I was to sup. Somewhere during our meal the discussion drifted to religion. My friend is of the Church of England sleeve and from previous discussions I knew that his rampart fornication did not stand in the way of his held-fast beliefs. Sometime during our banter he morphed into the cat that no matter how hard you throw from a great height always lands on its feet. When I said Christianity just happened to be the lucky result of a Roman Emperor who believed God had helped him win a battle my friend replied that maybe Christianity is the summit of the natural evolution of religions. I reminded him Islam came later and he replied that maybe that is a false religion. When I said that other cultures had had their own gods, for example the Greeks, my friend countered that he had thought the Greeks did not really believe in their gods (news to me).
Yet I kept prodding. I pointed to the inconsistencies in the Bible or the fantastic miracles and he’d say oh that was meant to be metaphorical. How does he know which parts are real and which metaphorical? Oh people have to apply their brains. What convinced me that my mission was hopeless was when he linked belief to personal experience. His: he’d placed a copy of the Koran, the Bible and Richard Dawkins’ book ‘The God Delusion’ together and one day rain had slipped through the cracks and dripped onto one book – the Bible. His interpretation: that was God’s sign that the Bible is the real deal.
The second incident happened after I returned home to find a comment to one of my blog postings in which I had quoted John Stewart Mill who’d said that the idea of God is nonsense since if things were created by God then it begs the question who created God. A commenter started with the words “Since God existed before time and space …” therefore the question who created God is nonsense. My natural reaction was “whoa, wait a minute, where did this starting premise that God exists come from?’ I wrote a lengthy response to which the commenter came back that God exists as a matter of reason and that the proof of God is simple. What this simpleton failed to say was how it is that God exists as a matter of reason and if the proof is simple why not prove it?
What is beyond reason is that both my friend and the commenter had certainly not thought deeply or carefully about their faith. They had examined no alternate viewpoints nor had they read any history or philosophy nor understood the tenets of the scientific method nor had a sufficient appreciation of the workings of the human brain and its susceptibility to error and of the human capacity to fashion magical stories out of its nebulous imagination. They had been taught most probably by their parents that there is a God and that was that. Mind set in concrete and nothing short of dynamite will move that conviction.
While continuing to read the aforementioned J.S Mill, he commented on one of his acquaintances, Frederick Denison Maurice, who was one of the finest and best read intellects he’d come across. Maurice later became a religious minister and wrote extensively on religious matters. He was also the founder of a movement called Christian Socialism that fought against oppression and the conditions of the poor and underprivileged. Now that’s a christian I can respect; someone who retained his faith but at least had done his homework.
Unfortunately today’s Christians as a class (obviously not every individual) are the biggest hypocrites in the western world; preaching, from their terrible book, a divisive concoction of myth, lies, a smidgen of history and pure hatred (jealous God, Hell etc). If God exists He should be ashamed of Himself for the world He’s created and the children of hate He’s spawned. If God exists. But since God doesn’t exist what are we to do with religion?
The question ‘Who made me?’ cannot be answered, because we have no experience or authentic information from which to answer it; and that any answer only throws the difficulty a step further back, since the question immediately presents itself, Who made God?
– Autobiography, John Stuart Mill. First published 1873.