A slightly different take on the question of gods and religions 103



View Profile

Here’s a slightly different take on the question of gods and religions. Mostly the debate is a little shrill. Atheists smugly pointing out the logical contradictions in faith, the faithful closing ranks and gloating about how they will be in heaven and those damned atheists will be a far worse place. Personally, I’d like to see a new civilisation, based entirely on reason with a morality based on secular humanism, but I know this isn’t going to happen. Unfortunately, humans being weak creatures (as the Bible is fond of reminding us) many will always need the support of a faith structure of some kind. Even atheists in fact, rejecting the structures provided by religions, put in place their own structure, based on secular humanism. Hitherto it has been supposed that reason, the modus operandi of atheists, could have no discourse with faith. But I question that. I am convinced that all believers, even suicide bombers, have some repressed ability to reason, and I believe it should be possible for believers to interpret their faith in the light of reason. So let’s look at faith, not with the objective of debunking it, but to see how faith might be combined with reason to produce a new kind of religious practice where the welfare of humans is as important as the believer’s place in heaven. Looking at all religions is beyond the scope of a 1000 word essay, so let’s stick with the one we know best, Christianity. I believe most of the points I am about to make will apply equally to all religions.

The problem for believers, or should be, is how to know what God really wants. The Bible itself is full of factual errors and contradictions. You can use it to justify stoning adulterers to death, or keeping slaves, or you can look at the condensed version of Moses’ tablets and recognise in the Ten Commandments a workable, indeed, an inspired moral guide. The problem is God doesn’t speak directly to anyone anymore. Some of the faithful claim that they get guidance from something they call “the Holy Spirit”, which might be nothing more than a whisper of assent or dissent from the believer’s own unconscious mind, in other words, the person’s own conscience, or his own prejudices telling him the answer he wanted to hear all along. The reason I believe the “Holy Spirit” is not an actual external force is that different believers often claim contradictory epiphanies from the same source.

So we’ are back to the only supposed documentary record of God’s will, for Christians, the old and new testaments, for Muslims, the Koran, for Jews, the Torah and so on. Scholars spend lifetimes studying these often abstruse, sometimes, cryptic texts, and doing their best to interpret them. What’s an ordinary man like you or me to do? Well, if you’re like those men who flew the planes into the World Trade Towers, you accept the interpretation of your own ministers and you act without thought or hesitation. Allah Akbar! Or if you have an existing prejudice, like a visceral dislike of homosexuals, you seize on those parts of the Old Testament that call for those men to be burned and stoned to death, and you ignore those parts of the same holy texts that contradict the bits you like.

“Truth” is not really definable, and “good” and “evil” are very slippery concepts. For me, given the contradictions of various religions, and the horrors inflicted on humanity in the name of one god or another, I prefer a humanistic approach that measures the worth of human actions by their effect on others. Does this action help another human being in some way? To that extent, it is good. Does it harm others? To that extent, it is evil. I realise this is simplistic, but I believe it points us in the right direction.

Now surely we can all agree on this as a bedrock principle, for non-believers, in determining how we should act, for believers, in determining what God really wants them to do. After all, the scriptures are fallible, written, as they were, by men. I anticipate some objections to this. One article of faith is that God dictated every word of the Old and New Testaments. But reason tells us this can’t be true. God, being omniscient, is incapable of error, yet the moral precepts of the bible change over time. Is it possible that God was wrong in the time of Moses but right now? It’s far more likely that those old monks did their best to interpret the will of God. Some of them no doubt were in a kind of transcendental state of inspiration, a condition not unknown to poets and artists, and this might have felt like the hand of God on their shoulder. But we can’t know, even if we do believe in God, we can’t know when the words were from God and when they came from the clever mind of an inspired monk. If you are a believer, you must see that reason is the highest gift your god gave you. Why would He give you this if not to use it?

So I close this little essay with a plea to all men and women of faith: keep your God, keep your salvation, but please, for the sake of humanity, don’t abandon your reason. You can, you really can, have both.

Share your thoughts below.

Dymocks Blogger Rewards

To write for Starts at 60 and potentially win a $20 voucher, send your articles to our Community Editor here.

Cliff Bernard

I’m, 67, have run through a variety of jobs. First published short fiction in the Bulletin Lit Supplement on the 100 year Anniversary of Henry Lawson’s first publication. No publications since. Honours degree in English Lit from UNSW, Master of Science print journalism from Boston University, Graduate Diploma of TESOL UTS. Lecturer at Boston University from 1991 to 1999, at UTS from 2000 to 2005. Then part time English teacher and IELTS examiner until now. Interests, photography, history, debating, exploring the neighbourhood with my granddaughter.

  1. There is only one God.

    2 REPLY
    • Actually Rob they don’t all worship the same God because if they did they then would know the truth of who God is and follow him. This is the God who created the heavens and earth that u can find in the bible. Not someone’s idea or statue that makes u feel good.

  2. Religion has always started wars

    5 REPLY
    • Religious people Karen!

      1 REPLY
      • I have never particularly thought of Hitler as a religious person and he started the worst war the planet has ever seen!

    • Religion might be held as a reason but, it is about greed, power, land, resources and in some cases just bloody mindedness.

      1 REPLY
      • Isn’t a remarkable coincidence that almost most people have the same religion as their parents!

  3. Look where secular humanism has got us. .in a mess!! Mans reason is limited to human but God given capacity. You can only understand the guidance of Gods Holy spirit when you surrender your self to God by forgiveness & acceptance of His salvation. The bible can be hard at times to understand but it is the truth. God is truth, the way the life. He brings peace to those who trust Him & offers unconditional love that no one else offers. He is everything to me.

    7 REPLY
    • No war has been fought in the name of secular humanism. No one has been tortured or put to death in the name of secular humanism. No one has found reason to harm others in the name of secular humanisn

    • Faith and belief, in my view, is often simply a chosen state of mind. Sometimes it gives someone a reason to keep living or to hide behind if need be. The mind is a very powerful tool.

    • Sheryl. They do indeed! Where is your evidence? I see evidence of the damage religion can cause everywhere. Like Rob McGrath I see little evidence of secular humanism in the world. I would like to see more. I have no objection to religion after all to each his own but your reasoning is not right. Maybe you need to pull your head out of the sand and use your religious beliefs to try to improve things rather than attacking others’ ideas.

    • I believe this world and human beings are miraculous and they could not have happened by accident only by design. I also believe we have a body mind and spirit (soul) These things cannot be explained away.

    • Nita..where am I ‘attacking’ ? Wouldn’t you agree that when assessed by the criterion of behavioural standards, society is becoming more humanistic. Fir example…Human life has become devalued, ‘morality’ is now defined by individual opinion rather than a moral compass. This behaviour or attitude had been around through the ages but it is now increasing at an alarming rate. This a huge subject isnt it. Healthy debate is good. My intent wasn’t to offend. Perhaps best to agree to disagree:-)

  4. I found that interesting, I was bought up in a Christian household but I am Atheist, I have all the patience and tolerance in the world for those who have religion , no matter what that religion is. Mainly because I understand that each of these people according to their belief’s try to be good people in order to go to heaven. But sitting on the fence gives you a different view , from my perspective one faith is no better than another. What I feel seems to be lacking is tolerance for those who practice different beliefs, all people no matter what faith or lack of faith should have one basic principle, to love your fellow man, because all of this hatred only brings massive problems

    6 REPLY
    • How true, love one another as GOD has loved you. His preaching is also a history of him being here on earth. The old testimony is a time of the Jewish old times, the New Testament is what all Christine’s believe in . Jesus preached love .and he died doing so.

    • Libby Elliot I am thing of being an atheist why do such rotten things happen to so many people and little children torture murder rape and the disgusting things people do to animals they can’t be all Atheists I bet a lot of them have a certain religion no offence meant that’s just me

    • Well, of course hatred brings problems and Love is the answer. Because people say they are religious doesn’t make it so.

    • Marjorie Vandamme sweetie most of these terrible things are done by very sick people and illness can strike anyone

  5. My mother told us there were two things in life sure to cause trouble even war and that is Religion and Politics, and she is not wrong because everyone has their own interpretation on both subjects and they all believe their right.

  6. The writer seems to have totally failed to understand why anyone would become a suicide bomber. Put aside the stupid concept that the person is insane and then imagine a situation where such an action would make sense.

    1 REPLY
    • Gregory in WW2 the kamikaze flew into allied ships and blew them up, this is not something new, however for those of us that value our lives it is something very strange and hard to comprehend

  7. God is my life n soul, he brings me peace as I trust him with all my heart and I believe that religion/ politics/colours/race n cultures should not be discuss nor debate as it is individual n everyone has their own belief and it needs to be respected whether ones agrees or not because that’s the way it is .

  8. I am a Christian but it does not mean that I believe that it is the only religion. I have always tried to learn and understand what other religions offer to their followers. My wish is that we could all live peacefully and harmoniously together to respect one and others differences.
    Religion has killed too many in the word of God.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *