Religion: A Rational Defense

[Caveat: All of my observations, or essays, however dubbed, are simply reflections on lessons that life has taught me, which I now pass along to my loved ones and to any others who choose to read them. I make no claim to prescience, wisdom or mastery of any of these life-lessons. They simply reflect ruminations and goals to which I still aspire.]

Religion has been defined as any belief system, but it is most commonly defined as worship of a God, gods or of the supernatural. Logic firmly supports all religions and all religious texts, to the extent that they promote kindness, love, patience, tolerance, understanding, forgiveness, charity, and, above all, peaceful and non-violent conduct. Happily, for the most part, most religions do the foregoing and, thus, for the record, with the non-violence caveat, long ago earned the unbridled support and encouragement of rational minds, even including those who are not religious themselves.

For many millennia, the plurality of mankind worshipped multiple gods, including some of the surviving faiths who now worship one God. Today, and for the past two-plus millennia, mankind’s major religions have worshipped one God. (The very loving Hindu faith is sometimes mistakenly accused of worshipping multiple gods, because it has so many different deities, but most Hindu scholars note that these are not multiple Gods but simply multiple attributes of the same, single loving God.) Whether God has many personalities, faces or distinct identities or simply one is hardly the point; the point, rather, is the effect that God, or Gods, has or have on our conduct. Again, for the most part, all the major religions have a most positive effect and, therefore, pass this important conduct-test.

“Different religions are different doors to the same house,” as Steve Jobs saw it.

Why shouldn’t we focus on those points on which we agree, rather than on those on which we don’t?

As Voltaire put it, “If God didn’t exist, we would have been forced to invent him,” clearly recognizing the importance of giving mankind a firm reason to believe in a Creator, an afterlife and even a Day of Judgment. If all of those things await us, we should have no reason to fear (as reasonable lives (my logic suggests) will lead to reasonable results), but, even if they don’t lead anywhere save unconsciousness, religion should have the same salutary effect on our conduct regardless, thus meriting everyone’s support. As to which faith, sect or cult we subscribe, it should make little difference to others.  As Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881, Prime Minister of Great Britain, renowned author) observed:

“All wise men have the same religion, but wise men never tell."

As noted elsewhere in my writings, and in the About section of my website (www.leelovett.info), I was raised in a devoutly Christian home, and I was required to study the Christian Bible assiduously. As an adult, I have enjoyed studying the primary scriptures of all of the major religions. When logic precluded me from subscribing to any one faith, my deeply troubled mother said, “Lee, why isn’t the faith of your family and your ancestors good enough for you?” I replied, “Mother, it has nothing to do with being “good enough”; you and dad are better than I will ever be, but I am a captive of my own logic (in a mind that I was given by some force other than myself); I must go where it leads me.” My parents were wonderful to me; without my mother, I would have failed to “get over Fool’s Hill” (the years of pubescence and early adulthood), and my father was simply the most loving soul I have ever known, never a preacher, always an exemplar. No parents could have tried harder or loved their children more. Regardless, I had to find my own way. As Emerson said in his essay on Self Reliance, until we erase the assumptions that we learned as children and form our own (whether identical or different), we will never really own our own convictions. Blind adherence to others’ views is not sustainable in the face of contrary reason. As Warren Buffett, sometimes America’s richest man, said, “Public opinion is no substitute for thought.”

While religion, in general, is worthy of our fervent support, accepting the literal wording of religious texts is more problematic, because they offer sometimes irrational, conflicting and even murderous admonitions, which we must reject. (See Note 1 below.) These aberrations seem likely to be the work of some latter day, rogue revisionist than of the original author.

Indeed, biblical scholars, in all faiths, fail to agree on the authorship of significant parts of many scriptures for many reasons: Most were “handed down” orally for many years, decades and even hundreds of years, before anyone reduced them to writing; no originals exist for such ancient texts; the Dead Sea Scrolls are but copies of copies of copies; papyrus and even longer-lasting parchment (animal skins) disintegrate or become illegible in time; moreover, they were written in ancient tongues (many devoid of vowels and punctuation, mere hieroglyphic-type or cuneiform or incomprehensible scratches about which the greatest scholars often disagree) and which defy precise interpretation much less agreement among the greatest linguists and thus negate literal reproduction.

The legibility of documents fades long before the paper disintegrates. While papyrus typically disintegrates in some 200 years unless maintained in ideally airtight conditions, the legibility of those documents will fade long before the paper dissolves. So, to maintain legible documents, they had to be constantly recopied. The later iterations of these texts were “copied” by scribes, many of whom were illiterate themselves and who simply copied strange marks from one paper to another; the prose styles attributed to the alleged same authors are far too different to emanate from the same pen, suggesting many revisionists; other iterations of the same books were clearly “edited” by revisionists, as copies vary in content, to say what the then religious leaders wanted them to say, which tended to vary widely over the centuries. Equally troubling, science and greater knowledge has made it clear that many of these texts were simply wrong about many things (such as when homo sapiens had their beginnings or when great floods swept the earth); other parts, logic suggests, are clearly allegorical or fanciful-wishful thinking, but what does it matter?

Whoever wrote what or how accurately or how much the revisionists rewrote the texts, is irrelevant to the key point: How do these texts and religions impact our conduct? For the most part, they clearly improve mankind’s conduct, and that, ipso facto, is reason sufficient to applaud them as loudly and persistently as we are capable of doing.

Thus, with the above, respectful caveats, logic seems to clearly support all religions and all of the non-violent portions of all religious scriptures, period. ______

Note 1. The above support does not extend to the Old Testament's many admonitions to “kill” others for things that aren’t even misdemeanors under today’s laws: For disobeying the priest or judge (Deut. 17:12); for falsely prophesying (Deut. 18:20); for inability to prove virginity (Deut. 22:20-21); for worshiping another Creator (Ex. 22:18); for blasphemy (Lev. 24:16-17); for insulting parents (Ex. 21:17); for cursing parents (Lev. 20:9); for cursing others (Lev. 24:13-14); for working on the Sabbath (Ex. 31:14 and 35:2); for adultery (Lev. 20); for idol worshiping (Ex. 32:27 and Num. 25:5); for practicing witchcraft (Lev. 20); for attempting to divert anyone from the Creator (Deut. 13:7-11, 17:12-13 and 13:12-16); for permitting “women to teach or have authority over a man.” (1 Tim. 2:12). Elsewhere, it authorizes killing children (Mark 7: 6-13). Even the loving Jesus is accused (falsely in my view) of urging violence; according to John 15:6, Jesus said, “If a man not abide in me…[he shall be] burned,” and, in Luke 19:17, “But those mine enemies, who would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me.”  Who among us could believe that the author of the kindly Sermon on the Mount ever said such things, or ever urged violence? Logic suggests that some editor or revisionist, rather than John and Luke, wrote those ludicrous words. Similarly, the Koran repeatedly admonishes its followers to “kill the infidels”, although I do not believe that Believers in Islam today, in general, accept those words any more than do Christians accept the above-cited examples of negativity from their texts. It seems better to look at religious texts as we do as well-intentioned teachers and profit from the positives, while ignoring obvious errors, allegories and well-intentioned wishful thinking.