A while ago I wrote an Open Letter to God. Needless to say, I had nothing but snarkiness for that most illustrious of fictional characters. A fellow writer (for whom I have the utmost respect and who I consider a friend), having read my irreverent letter, took it upon herself to attempt to pick apart my letter. I say attempt, because I notice only nit-picky reactionary comments that do not truly address my – and indeed most of the enlightened world’s – problems with religion and the concept of a god of any kind.
Here, I will take her comments and address them point by point. I will try to strip them down for ease of understanding before I rebut, inline commentary is generally a hatred of mine. I will hereby refer to my worthy nemesis directly, because this truly is a dialog, public as it is.
You start by attacking my choice of medium, a letter.
Hark? What’s this “Dear God” stuff?? I thought you didn’t believe in God! Doesn’t that sorta undermine your entire argument?
As a fellow writer, I’m sure you understand that we sometimes take some liberties with ideas (we are not always literal, are we? we are barely literate) in order to make our pieces sound good rhetorically. I didn’t need to write this thing in first person, but I thought it would be more entertaining as such. I clearly do not expect a response from God, much like children writing to Santa Claus asking for gifts, well aware that the gifts are actually coming from relatives, do not expect a response from Santa. This of course begs the comparison of devout “believers” to overgrown children – adults who cling desperately to their childhood. And, as with a child who believes in Santa Claus and really thinks that presents are hand-delivered from a jolly bearded rosy-cheeked picture of obesity clad in crimson, believing it does not make it so!
Next, you question my megalomaniacal portrayal of your lord, and explain the necessity of free will. Then some stuff about morality and keeping the world’s cogs turning. There are a lot of points in this first inline comment, you jump around a lot, but I will try to create some semblance of structure and respond.
1) You poke holes at my caricature of a self-indulgent supreme being, citing that “If this was true, wouldn’t your version of this megalomaniac of a deity theoretically have kept us in the blissfully ignorant Garden of Eden, dumb beings following their every instinct with no need to agonize or choose. […] Free-will and opposable thumbs are what separates us from animals, ultimately.”
Of course I believe in free will. That is not the point of my god-taunting. I start by assuming (for argument’s sake) that a) god exists, and b) he is the one who blessed us with free will. The question I pose (and I’ve never received a sufficient answer from anyone on this) is why did god give you free will? I contend that the idea of giving free will to some puny creatures and then turning around and demanding attention (or even acknowledgment) is silly. You created this world for them and set them free – let them play. Who cares what they do? Humans will be humans.
Oh, I know. You will come back to me and say: “Only god knows why he gave us free will. It’s all part of his plan.” Oh, really? First of all, if everything is going to happen according to his plan anyway, how is this charade free will at all? Free will, my ass. Secondly, if only God knows and he won’t tell (sunofabitch loves keeping secrets, eh?), who cares what he knows? Knowledge is a shared phenomenon. If only one person knows something, he’s just a sniveling schizophrenic sitting in a corner mumbling to himself. The phrase “only god knows” is sheer drivel. Whenever I hear it my eyeballs liquify and ooze into my brain.
2) You then delve into areas of morality. With some simplification (but not overly so), you imply that Atheists are generally evil and view the world as a cruel, dark place. You then somehow magically attribute the good things man has created (traffic laws, box office queues, and other organization phenomena) to a man in the sky. Your point here is that religion provides a moral compass and guidelines for living life that would otherwise be absent (if the world was composed of only Atheists).
First off, I think the world is a beautiful place. Every day as I drive to work or take the train I marvel at the world’s natural beauty, the bay and surrounding mountains, and the innovation that man has driven – everything from airplanes to paper clips. While I may sometimes sound dark and brooding (it’s simply part of the writer’s persona, I assure you), I live optimistically. I believe that all of the world’s problems can be solved by man, and I do not wait for some mythical being in the sky, a glorified cheat code, to swoop in and fix things.
At one point, you use rape as an example of divine law and the need for rules from above. You say that Atheists (or Hedonists), “don’t go around ravishing every attractive person they see because that’s called “rape,” which we can all acknowledge is reprehensible in any way, shape or form.” Correct. Rape is reprehensible, but not because a divine power told me so. Rape is reprehensible to me because my parents told me so – and also because, shoot me, but I like to at least imagine the girl is enjoying herself as well. This knowledge has come from shared experience; at one point it became clear that men fucking everything that moves was, indeed, not good for the growth of the species. This knowledge was then passed down, generation by generation, until it reached us. We could say the same for many other common morally reprehensible behavious: killing, stealing, etc. The problem is that, over time, this common knowledge has somehow become entangled with religious dogma. It has reached the point that some misguided souls believe that these laws actually originate from religion, whereas the truth is that they already existed. Religion just took what was already known, added some bunk about not worshiping other gods, and put a nice leather cover on it.
You state that it is amazing, even miraculous, that the majority of the world lives by some form of moral standards. Similarly, you think that some common codes we live by somehow have a divine source. I’m happy to burst your bubble when I say that these moral codes and common behaviors are man-made. More to the point, they have evolved over time. You need only look at different parts of the world to see varying levels of social development. White and yellow paint to separate lanes does not exist in many parts of the world and, yes, chaos ensues. The concept of lines, and waiting, does not exist in many cultures. We, as humans, have developed these measures because we, as humans, have figured out, over time, that it doesn’t work as well otherwise. We humans are clever creatures and I think it’s presumptuous and downright unfair of you to attribute this innovation (what you call “codes”) to a higher power.
3) You say that he doesn’t manifest himself in obvious ways because then it would require no effort on the part of us fallible humans. You say that belief in god is not just about lip service, but is about living your life as a “good” person. At some point, backed into a corner, you say what all other god-lovers say: (paraphrased) “God is testing me.”
Oh, is he? Well this brings me back to my first point (see (1) above): why is he testing you? Because it would be too easy otherwise? Well… what of it? So what if it’s easy? If he really, truly, loved us, he would make life bearable for all humans, instead of just the wealthy minority. An interesting observation is that religion is much more prevalent amongst very poor, uneducated populations as compared to richer, more informed ones. If this does not make it clear that religion is a manifestation of the human condition, rather than the other way around, I don’t know what does.
So if religion is what you describe it as, above (living life as a good person, etc.), what is the point of all the other stuff? If you are otherwise good, compassionate, wise, and just, who cares what you believe? On the flipside, if you live your life as a ruthless murderer and nogoodnik, caring for nothing but yourself, and then suddenly “accept your lord and saviour” on your deathbed – you are suddenly a good person? This seems awfully backwards.
You said this, verbatim, in a G-chat conversation, as I was writing this (hey, nothing is off the record – I think I would make a good reporter): “I don’t imagine I can truly speak for God but…you’re a good person. I think you give your badness too much credit.” Well the, what difference does it make to you, or anyone else, what I believe in. Live and let live. Don’t try to convince me otherwise. Of course, I’m not referring to you specifically, just the religious world in general.
I propose the following equation: Religious do-gooder – ulterior motives + a better set of hair = me
4) You say that the fact that four monotheistic religions can survive through thousands of years of war (caused by religion, mind you), bigotry (caused by religion, mind you), and general “he said, she said” hatred (caused by religion, mind you) proves something.
Well, what exactly does it prove? You keep making these rhetorically rich, colourful, seemingly loaded statements that end in… nothing. Well – something, which is almost worse than nothing because you think there is something there, but really your just grasping nothing – clawing at air.
5) Judaism 101: a bunch of schismatic factions (readers should refer to the end of the rebuttal).
Two scenarios here:
- If it is acceptable to question and alter divine law, what makes it so divine? Why could not the laws be written by man (as of course they were, in reality)? “Alternative paths of interpretation” seems like it gives full freedom to alter however you want, even to the point of blurring the lines of, what I believe to be, most important of “divine laws”: don’t kill! How do these laws hold any credibility, as such?
- If it is not acceptable to alter divine law (as with some cults), what is the purpose these drawn out discussions on religious traditions if we always end up at the same pace: “Well that’s all well and good, but what god says we must do. Hey, quit eating shrimp.”
That’s all I have right now. My Scotch is empty and it’s time to go to sleep. I now defer to a my favourite comedian, George Carlin:
Joe bless you,