This is my second part of responses I have towards the collection of essays from Bertrand Russell, Why I am Not a Christian. It was titled, My Problem with Bertrand Russell and Faith-based Religion.
“To this day conventional Christians think an adulterer more wicked than a politician who takes bribes” (p.33)
Russell comes to one of my biggest issues with Christianity. Let me give you an example. I have recently read a small book on Lying by Sam Harris, it deals with some of the psychological and moral problems with telling lies and what it does to the human psyche. Before that I read A Very Short Introduction to Derrida and A Very Short Introduction to Globalization, both parts of the Oxford collection of books that describe difficult issues in very concise books. Now if I was a Christian — I know — that I would not have read these books. This could be very personal. But it is no coincidence that NONE — and I repeat NONE — of my Christian friends have read Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Bertrand Russell, Peter Atkins etc. etc., we could go on and on. Why is this? I can think of one elder from my former church that was reading The God Delusion, but I can’t remember if he finished it or if he was reading it with an open mind. I do remember that it was more meant to ridicule the book, which is somewhat understandable if we are defensive about our beliefs. But we shouldn’t be. Especially not in a purely faith-based religion where grace is the primary power that saves. What is the point in being frustrated with Atheists if it is God that made them that way: “Does not the potter have the right to make out the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use?” (Romans 9:21).
As a Christian I would spend more time thinking about the implications of the Fruits of the Spirit. How do I want them to be more embedded within my life? I would not think about Globalization, or Climate Change, or making a vegan diet a more crucial part of my lifestyle. Why? Because I focus on more ridiculous things, such as prayer. When I can actually be reading on how to be an effective friend, or how to be the best employee possible or best member of society to benefit all people. My primary focus is not the salvation of souls — because there is no such thing — but as Peter Singer has defended, my primary focus is on global poverty and how to end it, for example; how to produce less waste, etc. This is the end game. This is the meaning of life for an atheist. It is not self-indulgence, because evolutionarily we were not evolved to be individualistic creatures, we were evolved to live within communities.
That is what Russell is trying to say. Christians focus too much on what is irrelevant in today’s world. There is much more emphasis on ridding ourselves of our sexual impulses than on cheating, especially in serious cases such as politics. I agree. We get more outraged by Bill Clinton’s incident than by the Afghanistan war in many cases!
But it must be pointed out that Jesus would not find this the case. He would clarify that both are bad and different sins that need to be dealt with in unique ways. But I can trace Russell’s train of thought and it is good to give him that much. There is a lot to agree with in that statement, it just misses the mark.
“The world, we are told, was created by a God who is both good and omnipotent. Before he created the world He foresaw all the pain and misery that it would contain; He is therefore, responsible for all of it. It is useless to argue that the pain in the world is due to sin. In the first place, this is not true; it is not sin that causes rivers to overflow their banks or volcanoes to erupt. But even if it were true, it would make no difference, If I were going to beget a child knowing that the child was going to be a homicidal maniac, I should be responsible for his crimes” (29)
This is a beautiful argument I would say. There is not an argument in the Bible, to my knowledge, explaining how sin caused volcanoes and rivers overflowing, or any other natural disaster. One argument against could be used that the Garden of Eden was the place of paradise and once sin was introduced into the story of Genesis, Adam and Eve were forced out of the Garden and into this “normal” world that God had created outside of the Garden (?). For what reason he created this other world is unknown to me. It is possible that it was to make Adam and Eve suffer for their rebellion(?). But then that goes against the gracious account of Jesus in the New Testament. It is as if God was very much aware that they would fall into sin if he created this separate world, or was ready to create it. Which forces the question, why did you not tell them to avoid that tree more desperately. We do not know exactly how God tried to persuade them. It is left quite ambiguously, which is very frustrating. Mainly because this is the central point in the biblical narrative. It is not redemption from the fall, but the fall. The fall is the most interesting and has the most questions raised against it. Why was Satan in the garden? Why was he in the form of a snake? Where was God? Is he all-knowing, omnipotent in this setting? Or is he walking around the garden not knowing that they would taste the fruit that particular day (and yes there was time in Genesis 1–3). These are all just a couple of questions that I would raise myself.
It remains a mystery. Why build a religion based off of this mystery?
“Monks have always regarded Woman primarily as the temptress; they have thought of her mainly as the inspirer of impure lusts.” (p.27)
I need to repeat the fact that this is the monks. This is not Jesus. Russell like to do this a lot, he takes a teaching of the church, or opinion of the church and imposes it on the founders of that religion. But what if it wasn’t Jesus’ intent to demonize women? However, as was argued in the first blog, My Problem With Bertrand Russell and Faith-Based Religion (you can read it below), if we take the opinion that there are no God-given laws and that all is constructed by man, you can argue that Jesus does not fit in a special category and it is precisely his fault that he did not communicate these clarifications to doctrines effectively. If you are God you know the problems that will be raised in the future. If you know how much problems the virginity of Mary will raise for centuries to come, why not point out that acceptance is not found in chastity, but rather in the eye of the beholder, in this case God? If it is indeed a grace-based and faith-based religion, this would be true. But it most likely and unfortunately is not.
So back to the point, if we are arguing against Christianity as an institution, particularly Roman Catholic monks than I would say yes indeed, I agree. Jesus is only to blame for not expanding on this during his reported 30 years on planet Earth.
I will now expand on the Christian position on woman-hood and try to argue why I respect much of what Christianity has proposed, but failed to apply for centuries.
CHRISTIANITY AND WOMEN
It is interesting to see that Jesus was first to appear to Mary Magdalene once resurrected. And not to a male. She was to bring the testimony of Jesus’ resurrection. Anyone who knows a little bit of background on the value of the voice of a woman had in Roman-conquered Israel 2000 years ago would be able to say that this would not be the wisest business plan.
Also very interestingly, the closest circle of Jesus consisted of 3 different women, Mary (Jesus’ mother), Mary Magdalene, and Mary Salome, wife of Zebedee. Jesus let women sit at his feet (Luke 10:39). And of course you had other such women in his closest circles. Paul’s close financial supporter on his missionary journeys was Lydia, a female that had a business with fabric, her own clothing line. Then of course there were other such women in the New Testament and prominent characters in the Old Testament that were very instrumental to the redemption story of Jesus. Such as Esther, Ruth, Rachel, Rebekah, etc.
It is not a Christian doctrine that women are “primarily” the temptress of impure lusts. Originally, it could be argued, that it was not the intention of Jesus to demonize women. Maybe of Paul, yes, for some do argue that. But not the intention of the founder.