By Sarah Braasch
I think I destroyed someone’s faith yesterday. Or, in truth, I think I may have struck the definitive blow. This doesn’t bother me. Unlike what many atheists espouse, for fear of being labeled evangelical proselytizers of disbelief, I actively seek the de-conversion of humanity. I actively seek to destroy religion. Not spirituality, but organized religion. I believe that if we do not destroy it, it will destroy us.
And, when I say de-conversion I mean just that. I mean de-conversion, not conversion to an atheist creed or dogma or doctrine, because none exists. Atheism is simply the absence of faith. It is not a similarly blind faith in science or logic or reason or philosophy or individualism or liberal constitutional democracy or anything.
But, I admit, I am feeling some qualms since yesterday. I am struggling through some pangs of conscience since egging on a crisis of conscience.
In order to protect the innocent, I have altered all identifying characteristics.
Amina is a beautiful black French Muslim girl. She is a French citizen, but her family hails from Guinea in West Africa – a former French colony. She speaks Mandinka. She is Mandinka. She also speaks fluent French, decent Arabic, and very little English. She is very proud. She is very religious. She is also very sweet and loving. She would never wish to hurt anyone’s feelings, but she does not hesitate to defend her faith, even from the mildest of chastisements. She does not wear the hijab or headscarf. She looks like a typical French teenager in her blue-jeans and t-shirts.
Amina was struggling with the burqa question. She supports women’s rights, but she feels the possible ban in France as an attack on her religion and her culture. She doesn’t want to think about Islam as inherently misogynistic. She still believes that Islam is God’s (Allah’s) final revelation to man. She still believes that the Quran is the infallible word of Allah. If Islam is inherently misogynistic, then that means that Allah hates her, because she is a woman. She cannot cope with the dissonance that this creates in her head. She asserts that women absolutely do freely choose to don both the niqab and the burqa as expressions of their love for Allah. She avers that women absolutely do freely choose to fulfill their God given roles as women in Islam according to the Quran.
She asked me what I thought about the potential burqa ban in France. I paused and sighed deeply. She said that it is a difficult question. I agreed.
I told her many things. I told her that I am an atheist. I told her that I abhor all religions as the sexual slavery of women and the psychological torture of children. I told her that I do not believe any of them to be true. I told her that I have read all of the so-called holy books, and that I was not convinced that any of them could have been divinely inspired or dictated. Not in the least. I told her that I think religion must be destroyed in order for humanity to survive.
She told me many things. She told me that she does not think that religion is the problem. She told me that she thinks men pervert and misapply and manipulate religion for their own aims, sometimes knowingly, sometimes unknowingly, and sometimes disingenuously.
We looked upon one another with the same vaguely supercilious, rather patronizing pity. We felt sorry for one another. I pitied her ignorance and inculcation, and she pitied my ignorance and inculcation. The difference being that I had escaped the iron grasp of a cult through years of struggle and effort. I could fully demonstrate my knowing choice to be free of dogma and superstition.
She told me that she had not read the Bible, but that when she reads the Quran, she knows that she is reading the words of Allah. She spoke of so many of the same arguments one hears by Christians defending the Bible. The alleged way-ahead-of-its-time science in the Quran, including something about salty seawater and fresh ground water, and something about the earth being round, and something about embryology. She spoke of the evil and dissolution of the surrounding societies during Mohammed’s time and how Mohammed introduced an as yet unheard of morality. And, she spoke of women’s rights. She told me that the Quran lists right after right for women. She told me about the entire chapter on Mary, the mother of Jesus. She told me that men pervert the message of the Quran, but that the Quran itself is perfect.
Needless to say, I was hardly won over by these arguments.
And, even after having told me that she had never read the Bible, she began to compare the Quran to the Bible and disparage the biblical text. Of course, this is neither here nor there to me, as I find both texts equally unconvincing.
She told me that the Bible contradicts itself and is incoherent. I agreed. She then told me that the Quran has a single, singular and coherent message from beginning to end. I was silent.
She told me that the Bible was written and assembled by the clergy. This is why there are so many perversions and errors and mistranslations of God’s intended revelation. She told me that there is no clergy in Islam to muddy the waters of the direct conduit between Allah and man, as, originally, there were no intermediaries between Allah and Mohammed (save Gabriel). She proudly proclaimed Mohammed’s illiteracy as ostensible proof of the Quran’s greater authenticity.
This claim has always left me perplexed. First of all, there is most assuredly a clergy class in Islam. It just isn’t referred to as such. (Much in the same way that Muslims do in fact worship Mohammed; they just say that they don’t.) In fact I have seen very little evidence of the vaunted ijtihad in Islam, which is individual study and reflection and interpretation. In my opinion, Islamic scholars have a stranglehold on Quranic exegesis and doctrinal interpretation, including the hadiths, Sharia and issuing fatwas. Second of all, the fact that the Quran is allegedly the secondhand account of a series of direct revelations to an illiterate peasant doesn’t seem to be much of an improvement over the Bible’s divinely inspired theory.
I told her that the Bible is ridiculous. She nodded fervently. I told her that the Bible contradicts itself relentlessly. She nodded and smiled assiduously. I told her that the Bible excludes many apocryphal texts, which were left out for this or that reason by men. She nodded and smirked avidly. I told her that the Bible was obviously written by and for men in the pursuit of their earthly preoccupations, namely conquering lands and raping and enslaving women. She nodded forcefully. She beamed. I understood.
I moved on to Jesus. I spoke of the seemingly limitless number of almost identical Sun God myths floating around the Mediterranean and the Middle East for thousands of years before Jesus Christ showed up. She concurred. I spoke of all of the ways in which Jesus’ story matches these other Sun God tales of virgin birth, crucifixion and resurrection. She agreed.
I rattled on about the Nicene Creed and the Council of Nicaea and Constantine and the Roman Empire. I spoke of Constantine’s desire to unify his empire under a single Christian creed. I spoke of how the divinity of Jesus was brought to a vote at the Council of Nicaea, along with other doctrinal elements of this new religion. And she nodded approvingly and encouraged me.
I spoke about how the gospels were written at the very least 3 or 4 decades after the supposed death of Jesus Christ. How they conflict with one another. How they are plagiarisms of one another. I spoke about how Paul and the other earlier, but still not contemporaneous, biblical authors, wrote not of an earthly man who had been born, lived, performed miracles, preached, and died, but of the same Mediterranean and Middle Eastern Sun God as heavenly archetype as everyone else had done.
Then, I hit her with the punch line. Given all of this information, all of these facts, many, not all, but many scholars do not believe that there is any evidence at all that anyone by the name of Jesus, as described in the Christian Bible, ever existed. Jesus was an archetype. He was an amalgamation of the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern Sun God myths. Not a single contemporaneous historian ever speaks a word about anyone named Jesus who even comes close to matching the Jesus in the Christian Bible. First century Palestine is a very well documented era and geographic location. Had someone actually been walking around performing miracles, causing turmoil for the Jewish and Roman leadership, been crucified, and, finally, been resurrected, in front of eyewitnesses, someone would have recorded it. Someone. Anyone. But, no one ever did. He never existed at all. No man. No rabbi. No preacher. No traveling salesman. No prophet. No farmer. No leader. There was no Jesus. No one at all.
Her beautiful, proud eyes that had flickered with the fire of her religious conviction fell into a momentary downward glance as she grappled with a fleeting spasm of doubt. I read the doubt on her face, clear as day.
She caught herself after just a moment, just as she was about to fall off the edge of her flat earth. One of her flailing hands caught a shrub, and she was able to pull herself back up to a more secure footing. She became an automaton. She fell back into her rote, prepared spiel. She said, “Me, I believe that he existed. But, he was just a man. I do not believe that he was the Son of God. He was a great teacher.”
But the hairline crack of doubt remained in the slight, barely visible furrow of her brow.
I decided to lessen some of her pain. I explained to her that, for the most part, the scholars who believe that there might have been an actual Jesus believe so for a single reason. This reason is the great labors and pains taken to match Jesus’ personal history with the Messianic prophecies of the Old Testament. If there hadn’t been an actual Jesus, there would not have been any need to go to such arduous lengths to get him to Bethlehem, for instance, and into the house of David.
I suddenly felt a spasm of guilt. What had I done? Had I tricked her? I knew what I was doing. I had manipulated her. I argued my point in such a way as to lure her into a boxed-in corner. I wasn’t upset, because I had caused her to doubt her faith. On the contrary, that was a victory. But, I was upset, because of my methods. I felt slimy and smarmy and unctuous. I felt like a Jehovah’s Witness. I was reminded of all of my childhood witnessing tricks of the trade – the specious and disingenuous arguments, the rhetoric gymnastics of semantics and semiotics, the fatuous and fallacious non-logic. I was a little bit disgusted with myself.
But, I hadn’t said anything untrue. My only sin was the fact that I knew where my argument was heading, and she did not. Predestination in microcosm. I think I just empathized with her emotional pain. I know it. I knew it. Leaving one’s faith can feel like tearing one’s self in two.
Then, something occurred to me, which I am sure is no great revelation to anyone else, but it was a tremendous personal revelation.
Jesus is the key. Jesus is the key to destroying the three great monotheisms. Judaism is out of luck. The Messianic ship has sailed. No one in their right mind could ever be made to believe that someone yet to come is the Messiah. Anyone from here on out claiming to be the Anointed One will be sent straight to the loony bin. Unless, of course, some as yet unknown alien civilization attempts to take advantage of our credulity and shows up in a space ship more advanced than our wildest sci-fi fantasies. Islam is a very poorly cobbled together plagiarism of both Judaism and Christianity. Despite their seeming antipathy for one another, Islam is wholly reliant upon the other two. Islam is discredited the second that either or both Christianity and Judaism are discredited. Jesus’ existence is the easiest to discredit. There isn’t a shred of evidence that he ever existed at all, while there is a mountain of evidence that he was merely a knock off Egyptian Osiris. While Mohammed may have been a bloodthirsty pedophile warlord, he was also an actual flesh and blood human being who managed to hold sway over the minds of thousands upon thousands of credulous souls. But Jesus probably didn’t exist at all. Muslims want desperately to concur with all of the criticisms of Jesus, every single one, right up to the point where you say that he didn’t exist at all, not even as a lowly man. And, the Quran lives and dies with Jesus. Every word of the Quran is supposedly the infallible word of Allah. The Quran is all about Jesus. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.
Thank you Jesus.