By Julio Chang —
What causes great minds to be held ransom by irrational beliefs? Or small minds, for that matter?
As I continue to research my doctoral dissertation on “Interpersonal Conflict of Pastors Who Have Lost Their Faith”, I realize that many religious people have not overcome their childhood indoctrination because they (1) find comfort in those beliefs, (2) fear the truth will expose the fallacy of their beliefs, or (3) their ego prevents them from admitting they have been wrong.
Their irrationality often turns into defensiveness and belligerence even when confronted with scientific truths that debunk their long-held belief in mythology.
Let’s use the Book of Genesis as an example. The first book of the Christian bible describes the creation of the world and humanity, followed by its destruction. What rational person really believes that the earth was created in five days approximately 6000 years ago, populated by two people, one of whom was created from the rib cage of her partner, manipulated by a talking serpent to disobey their creator, and there was a 40 day flood that destroyed most of the earth except for two of all animals and eight people?
Four in ten Americans believe that god created the earth less than 10,000 years ago. Most of these people are probably highly educated and clear thinking. However, when presented with the clear inconsistencies of the story, they often become like delusional children unable to let go of their favorite toy.
A few days ago, a friend and I were watching a documentary on the 50th anniversary of the Apollo mission. My friend is a smart woman who has reached the pinnacle of success in her career through competence, skill, and an incredible work ethic. She holds bachelors and graduate degrees from one of the top universities in South Florida. She is what I consider a lukewarm Christian devotee whose “situational” faith often tiptoes on the outskirts of religious doubt.
We both watched in amazement the scientific and technological advances which allowed Neil Armstrong and his crew to accomplish unparalleled human achievement. The conversation veered into religion and the bible. I expressed doubts that the writers and editors of a Bronze Age relic of barbarism and superstition would be able to expand the frontiers of science and reason as we had done in the past 50 years.
I questioned the fanatical reliance of millions of Christians on a “sacred text” that is filled with nonsensical ideas, especially the Book of Genesis. I had recently finished writing a couple of critical blog posts on this subject, and I asked her if she believed the Genesis story of creation, Adam & Eve, the talking serpent, and Noah’s Ark.
My friend paused before answering and hesitantly declared her belief that the Genesis fable was true. “Is she serious?” I thought. “This conversation is over.” I knew that she was being dishonest. She knew the story couldn’t possibly be true but was still holding on to an embedded belief that was giving her some sort of spiritual comfort even though she knew it was a lie. Why couldn’t she tell the truth when it came to the falsehoods in her religion?
The American writer Lemuel K. Washburn (1846-1927) was quoted as saying “Most men would kill the truth if the truth would kill their religion.” At that moment, it saddened me seeing in my good friend her surrendering to religious conformity and how it deadened the human desire for growth and exploration, but more importantly for seeking the truth.
Had she taken the time to do a critical analysis of the creation story rather than taking as gospel the foolish falsehoods spewed by those who stand on the Christian pulpit, demanding reverence to a book with mythical stories, she would have learned about the writings by one of the most important theologians and biblical scholars of the early Christian church named Origen of Alexandria (185-254).
A prolific Christian writer, thinker, and scholar who was purported to have written some 6000 works from commentaries on Genesis and John to his well-known texts On First Principles and Against Celsus.
Origen discussed Genesis in his writings On First Principles Book 4: “For who that has understanding will suppose that the first, and second, and third day, and the evening and the morning, existed without a sun, and moon, and stars? and that the first day was, as it were, also without a sky? And who is so foolish as to suppose that God, after the manner of a husbandman, planted a paradise in Eden, towards the east, and placed in it a tree of life, visible and palpable, so that one tasting of the fruit by the bodily teeth obtained life? and again, that one was a partaker of good and evil by masticating what was taken from the tree? And if God is said to walk in the paradise in the evening, and Adam to hide himself under a tree, I do not suppose that anyone doubts that these things figuratively indicate certain mysteries, the history having taken place in appearance, and not literally.”
Even John Calvin, one of the leading figures of the Protestant Reformation, cautioned us in the literal interpretation of the bible. Calvin said that when God speaks to us, he “lisps with us as nurses are wont to do with little children” In other words, the bible was written by men who speaks to us in baby talk. The parables were created to help simple minded humans understand how something that cannot be comprehended was created.
A biblical canon presupposes its adherents are incapable of critical thinking. Like children, they must be kept in the dark or spoken to in dictatorial and monosyllabic chants. They become hypnotized by the unfulfilled promises of a book of false ideas, bad ideas, absurd ideas.
Why do these people become prisoners of their own irrational beliefs? They have immersed themselves in a false credulity; the only thing that gives meaning to their lives. “But to those who delight in actions of sincerity, it affords the greatest encouragement, for it promises to the world a day when intelligence and integrity will be respected more than ignorance and hypocrisy.”