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The Reason Driven Life, chapter 3

April 14, 2011

It’s been too long since last I posted from this book, but I kept leaving it at school and didn’t have it with me in the evenings when I was in the mood to write.

In this chapter, Richard Price tackles the concepts of guilt and forgiveness. Christianity teaches us that God is omniscient and is always watching what we do, just waiting to punish those who transgress against any of the myriad laws He has decreed that we must live by. Christianity also teaches that when we commit an offense, the offense is really against God and it is God whom we must ask for forgiveness. Really? It would seem that this answer is shallow and lets transgressors off entirely too easily. If you’ve given offense, it is the victim you should seek out and offer restitution. God has nothing to do with it. It’s pretty easy to get forgiveness from your imaginary friend, but the real offense had nothing to do with Him.

This idea of an ever-vigilant God, who deals out punishment for those who transgress the law and harm others is one of the many reasons why Christianity (among other religions) leads to a stultification of moral and intellectual development. Some people may never be able to understand why some actions are wrong. If they require a belief in a magical sky-daddy who will give them a good whippin’ if they commit crimes, I hope they continue to believe in Him. As for those of us who’ve matured enought to understand right from wrong, such a belief isn’t necessary.

What’s more, preachers would have you believe that you cannot be forgiven unless you believe all sorts of mystical and doctrinal nonsense. You have to believe in the Trinity, the divinity of Jesus, the virgin birth, death and resurrection, talking bushes and many other fairy tales – or you can never be forgiven. It seems to be a lot of nonsense to put up with, if all you need to do is make good on a debt or apologize for causing harm to another. What’s more, if this belief is all that is needed, then you don’t actually have to make restitution to the one whom you’ve wronged. Afterall, the offense wasn’t against a human being – it was against God.

Forgiveness is a psychological and emotional process that has nothing to do with belief in the divinity of Jesus. The fact of the belief can even get in the way of the actual process of seeking and earning forgiveness. Not only does belief not lead to true forgiveness, it gets in the way of the process, making true forgiveness more difficult to attain.

The point of forgiveness is that it requires grace – actual grace. No one owes you forgiveness. If you’ve harmed someone, you’ve lost any claim to forgiveness from them. You have to work hard to earn it. And you have to work hard, without any guarantee that it will actually be forthcoming. If there’s divinely ordained shortcut, then it is more likely to inhibit the process than to aid it. Why bother actually striving to earn forgiveness, when it can be yours just by believing.

Richard Price also makes the point that very few people actually choose a religion. Instead, humans are imprinted with their religion by watching their parents in the same way that baby ducks imprint upon their mothers, following them around and doing whatever they do. Imprinting may work well for ducks and chicks, but human beings are supposedly sapient and able to learn and reason. Most religious folks are so encapsulated within their beliefs that they refuse to even consider another viewpoint. Furthermore, they fear to even listen. Afterall, listening to people who believe in a different god, or in no god at all, is an offense against God.

Real morality isn’t driven by fear of punishment, but rather by an understanding of the value and dignity of other living beings.

Richard Price make the point that we all have many goals and many purposes in our lives. Believing that there is only one purpose, or only one path our life should take, isn’t just simplifying our lives, it is oversimplifying them. This is the process of preventing a child from growing up. Adults take responsibility for their own lives. Adoloescents rely on their parents and their society to enforce the rules for them.

  • Point to Ponder: Becoming is better than being.

We are all in the process of becoming, every day. Tomorrow we will be different. We will have grown in some way. And each day, we are in the process of becoming that which we will be tomorrow.

  • Quote to Remember: “Why do you not judge for yourself what is right?” (Luke 12:57, RSV)

Even the authors of the Christian Bible understood this simple fact. All people should be able to determine for themselves what is right and what is wrong. We don’t need a set of rules crafted by bronze-age herdsmen, and interpreted by dogmatic fundamentalists, to tell us what to do. Adults can understand the principles (Be good to one another) and extrapolate their own rules for implementing them.

  • Question to Consider: What decisions have brought me to where I am today; whether I like that place or bemoan it? Was I even aware of making those decisions? Did I let others make them for me?

How did I get here? If it’s a good place, I want to keep doing the things that made it possible. If it’s a bad place, what can I do different next time? Did I follow my own path? Or did I allow someone else to make those decisions for me?

In Summation

This was one of my favorite chapters in the book because it summarizes the core of what I find distasteful about religion. It prevents people from growing up and learning to take responsibilities for their own beliefs and actions. It makes excuses (God is testing me) when the results of my own decisions lead to heartache. It lays forth a one-size-fits-all path that is supposed to lead anyone who follows it to happiness, even if it means denying the core of who they are.

It is my solemn belief that religion is the prime cause of human misery. So long as people continue to be infantilized by their belief in magical sky spirits and take life coaching from their imaginary friends, the world will be full of overgrown adolescents who are unable or unwilling to take responsiblity for their own actions. Robert Heinlein once compared religion to a crutch. A healthy person has no need of a crutch; he is fully capable of walking on his own two feet.

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From → Book Club, Reason

4 Comments
  1. tom rogers permalink

    “We are all in the process of becoming, every day.”

    This is a touchstone for Liberals, and is what makes us not-Conservative. (Though of course, many Lefties go a bit too far, in re: New Agey, “quantum” mumbo-jumbo, etc.)

    Thanks for taking the time to write about your take on this book. It sounds like a good way of describing why the Christian’s assertions of being morally superior to nonbelievers/heretics is nonsense. As others have laid it out, “My dog is obedient. He is not “morally upright”.

    Anyway, hello from a fellow leftwing Tucsonan( Actually a Green Valley grummite, now.) Looking at your “about” page, it looks like we align pretty close, politically. I describe myself as “Socialist-lite”, which allows me to enjoy my union pension without feeling guilty. 🙂

    • I know a lot of liberal Tucsonans, but I was a teenager in Phoenix – an entirely different sort of town. I think of blogging as narcissistic journaling that I share with anyone who wants to read it. My own daughter (age 11) reads my blog frequently. It gives us something to talk about on our morning walks. Thanks for stopping by.

  2. tom rogers permalink

    No need to post this one, as it’s just ruminating on RPGs. I wasted my youth and then some, being a stereotypical Irish drunken stewbum. So I missed out on the tabletop RPG scene, which I regret. Now, since I’m retired, I have loads of time, but no one to join with. Instead, I’ve gone whole-hog computer gaming, Fallout3, Borderlands, Dragon Age, etc. For a loner, these are…paradise. Especially Fallout3, with it’s breath-taking graphics, heart-breaking musical accompaniment, and exploration galore. I can’t imagine myself getting very excited in tabletop gaming, though I surely would have been an ardent fan back in the day. My loss.

  3. tom rogers permalink

    Sorry, one more. I followed the link from Ed Brayton’s joint, in case you worry I might be a stalker or sumpin’. hehehe. s

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