My best bud at age six was a proud Jewish girl, and she delighted in telling me stories from the Old Testament. I really enjoyed it, too! They were thrilling, and she was a gifted storyteller. She told me the tales of Solomon and the two women with the baby, David and Goliath, Joshua at Jericho, Noah and the ark, the legend of the first Hanukkah, Moses and the Pharaoh and the ten plagues and the flight out of Egypt, Joseph and his dreams... engaging, suspense-filled tales, all!
At regular intervals during the narrative, my friend routinely noted how "you Christians" had oppressed and enslaved her people. "Ooh!" I nodded seriously, sympathetically, mentally resolving never to oppress or enslave any Jews as long as I lived!
Every night I would go home and repeat these tales to my dad, whose response was always an exasperated, "Tell her we're not Christians, we're Qabbalists." This passed right over my head; I thought "Christian" was the default term for "anyone not a Jew." (Only recently did I think to wonder whether my friend had thought so, too, as the ancient Egyptians seemed to fall into her "Christian" category as well!)
With an intro to the Bible like this, it's perhaps not surprising that I grew up equating it with stories told in Greek and Norse myths. It was a holy book to some people, but clearly one of many, and I didn't see how anyone could really BELIEVE the stuff in it. Well, I sort of believed stuff like that could happen a long, long time ago, in the same way I believed in Egyptian mummy curses and that dragons and unicorns roamed Europe in fairy tale days of old. (I was six. Gimme a break.)
Imagine my surprise when I discovered there were people, some in my close family, who believed it literally.
I was shocked. How could anyone really believe in this god, believe in this god's benevolence, when the whole book is packed with stories illustrating god's cruelty??? I mean, come ON!!!
Growing up in the Bible Belt, I all-too-often heard phrases along the lines of, "If God had wanted man to fly, we would have been born with wings!" To which I always wanted to reply, "Then why were we born with brains and hands to build an airplane?" To me it seems so silly, whether you believe in God or not, to think that we weren't meant to use our brains to understand creation! That's why the current political power of fundamentalists really scares me-- so many of them want people to accept the Bible as truth, which cuts off so many areas of scientific inquiry that could actually help make the world a better place. Perhaps they want to force people to think of Heaven as the only hope.
Another great shocker was gifted me many years later by my post-college roommate. I remarked in an offhanded manner that no one but fundamentalists really believes in the literal "virgin birth" of Jesus, and she declared, "Actually, I do." This was probably the most intelligent person I've ever met speaking, and I was flabbergasted. I asked how she could possibly rationalize that, and she said, "It's called faith."
See, that's a conversational brick wall. There's no way to talk someone out of that, and in a way, I don't care to. It's not my business what people believe, as long as that belief harms no one. But on the other hand, I wonder why people even feel the need to believe in stuff like virgin births? Why is faith in the irrational that great in God's eyes, this God who according to this very myth created Man in His own image... and gave us the brains with which to think? Why is it so many people feel God gets upset when we use our brains?
Well, here it comes, 'round to the Old Testament again. Yes, Original Sin. Eve's choosing the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. The loss of innocence, the expulsion from the Garden. Some people receive the impression from their religious teachings that knowledge is evil and only by blindly believing can grace be restored. And, you know what? I choose to use my brain. I choose knowledge, curiosity, and learning. I would rather incur any Hell in a putative afterlife than worship a deity on those terms.
But I think I won't be burning in Hell, because I see no evidence it exists. There's simply no more reason to believe in Hell than in Niflheim, Orcus, Hades, or any of the other mythological Lands of the Dead. Or that a crocopantherpotamus will eat my disembodied heart post-mortem... which at least would be kind of cool to watch. Because when it comes right down to it, they're all just stories that we're being asked to take on faith.
So thanks, Lisa, for giving me a good foundation in Biblical skepticism at such an early age! :)
Memorial Day redux
11 months ago