Moderate religion is flawed

The religious people I grew up with, indeed the sort of religious person I was, were very non-fundamentalist. These were enlightened educated people, they didn’t believe in superstition, or miracles. Nor did they believe in literal interpretation of the Bible or even accepting everything it said. They felt it was written by men and therefore fallible. It was written a long time ago, and therefore somewhat out-of-date (for instance Jesus was pretty tough on the idea of divorce). Indeed one priest once told my parents that the Bible was to be used like the manual to your dishwasher, something you consulted early on, and then once you had the gist of it you could largely leave it alone in a drawer to be consulted only rarely. My parents approved of this enlightened view.

These sorts of Christians look down their noses at fundamentalists as a bit ignorant. And they blame fundamentalism for religious terrorism.

These Christians and moderate of other faiths value scientific explanations of the world. They usually accept Darwin’s natural selection explanation for evolution, that dinosaurs and men never shared the planet at the same time, and that the universe is billions of years old, and wasn’t made in 7 days.

Such people respect logic and evidence, but say that faith requires no evidence. God doesn’t produce miracles so there is no point looking for evidence of His existance – it’s not needed, faith is just faith.

I used to think this was sensible, indeed the only sensible position, but now I realise it is deeply flawed.

Firstly, this sort of God (and this sort of religion) is very different from that in the Bible. Even if you ignore the old Testament (even though Jesus said not to) this is a different God. This is a new God, and a new religion. It exposes the fact that this sort of religion is made up according to what this particular cultural group in the early 21st Century want to believe. Well, what’s wrong with that – why can’t people create their own religion? After all they have been doing it over and over for thousands of years, it’s why even tiny little country Australian towns often have half a dozen different churches. Well the problem is that this exposes that it’s people who are doing the inventing of a god, not a god creating the people.

And there is another problem. The god I was brought up to believe isn’t logically possible. Lots of people accept their god as an article of blind faith that requires no evidence. This is why most scientists are not religious, because their work has made them realise that evidence is crucial, otherwise you can believe anything – why stop with god, I’d like to believe in dragons, faeries and klingons, but my wish doesn’t make them real. But, as I said, plenty of peope are willing to value and even demand scientific levels of empirical proof in other areas, but blindly believe in a god. But few would give up on logic, because to do so is to admit that you believe in a particular god because you’ve been indoctrinated. And that you are such a zealot that you keep believing without a logical explanation – that you’d believe that 2+2 = 7 if your guru told you too, or you just felt like it.

So the choice is either that you’re indoctrinated or mad. No one wants to say that’s the position they are in. So moderates in effect say that their belief in god doesn’t require empirical evidence but that it is a rational not logically inconsistent set of beliefs.

But it isn’t. I explain the logical impossibility of an almighty loving god here.

In contrast to the moderate position, there are some people I know who say that they do have empirical evidence of God’s existence. But they won’t/can’t show it to me (sometimes it’s 2nd hand stories of miracles cures in African villages) so I’m unconvinced, though I respect this position that their religion is not based on blind faith (just unreliable evidence).

There are others who say that they don’t believe in a super-natural god at all, that they just follow the teachings (or at least the ones they like) of Jesus or Muhammad. That’s fine but this is no longer a religion. Most people on the planet would agree with some of what Jesus and Muhammad said especially in advocating love and peace – which makes us just as much a follower of atheist John Lennon as it does Jesus.

And there are people who say that the Bible is the word of a supernatural being and we should try to follow it as closely as possible. This is religion, this is blind faith. It certainly doesn’t fit with much of what we’ve learnt about the world from science. But it doesn’t look like an invented religion with an illogical sort of god. Though this god, and this fundamentalist jewish/christian/muslim religion, looks pretty scary and weird to most civilised people – and it is.

About ByronSharp

Byron Sharp is Professor of Marketing Science, and director of the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute, University of South Australia
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