I have an embarrassing admission to make. Though I write a blog for a major atheist website, I don’t understand religion as well as most of my readers. Oh, I understand it intellectually and conceptually, but I don’t really get it.
That’s because I grew up without religion, unless you want to count the several years in my childhood I spent attending a Unitarian Sunday School. (While the Sunday school in Birmingham, Alabama featured liberal, humanistic moral lessons stripped of any religion–snooze!–my favorite was the one in Springfield, Illinois, which was a glorified daycare center. We did fun things like making donut holes and carving balsa wood boats (and, no, they weren’t supposed to be Noah’s ark). As a future paleontologist, my fav, however, was our fossil hunting trip. I still have the tiny shells embedded in shale I collected on that “expedition.”
But I digress. That lack of religion fuels my religious satire, but it also leaves me scratching my head over those same idiocies. Whereas, you, the readers who likely had religion crammed down your throats from early childhood on, at least understand where these deluded theists are coming from. (Another digression, the WordPress spellchecker thinks deluded theists should read deluded atheists. Anti-atheist bias, or am I being too sensitive?)
At any rate, this blind spot was highlighted by a discussion generated by one of my last posts for the Secular Spectrum. In Holy Moses, I wrote of a failed attempt to hold a secular Passover Seder with my mother when I was a teenager. You have to understand that my mother raised me as an agnostic, and since she felt no real connection to the vague Judaism she was raised in, I grew up with almost no sense of my Jewish heritage.
When I was 14, I realized I had lost any smidgen of doubt. I had already become an atheist; I just hadn’t realized it until then. But at the same time, I began to identify with my Jewish heritage. (The question of whether I can be ethnically and culturally Jewish while rejecting Judaism has been a subject of much debate, including in Holy Moses.)
The discussion began with a few defenders of the creamed pickled herring I dissed as a suitable emetic. Apparently, you have to grow up eating the stuff. My mother loved it. It continued into some geeky advice about natural history museums I should add to my bucket list. Then, a few theists invaded the sandbox. The comment count is now up to 206.
The war began because I had the temerity to suggest that Moses never existed, a fact attested by almost every biblical scholar. The first theist wondered, if Moses didn’t exist and he didn’t lead the Jews from slavery in Egypt into Israel, why are there Jews in the Middle East? Logic. (Answer: The Jews were actually a splinter group from the Canaanites they allegedly conquered.)
A bunch of atheists jumped in with informative links to historical facts that debunk the mythology. (I had provided quite a few links of my own in the post.) But the bullshit really hit the fan when a particularly ardent creationist jumped in. Though I had by this time moved on from the discussion, I couldn’t help commenting on the video she shared that showed a large rock with a split in it, claiming it was the rock Moses cleaved to provide water to the Israelites.
I have seen countless rocks like that on my rehab hikes. I know Moses was direction-challenged, but did he wander all the way to Southern California?
But the point is, I really don’t understand how someone can take something like this as evidence of Biblical inerrancy. I can’t conceive how so many people can read Genesis and think it’s a history book. How can someone think Eve was formed from Adam’s rib and the story of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and not see it as pure mythology? And God formed Adam from mud. That’s literally how humans came into existence–thrown like a pot. Really?
Even worse, I don’t truly understand mainstream theists, the ones who see these ridiculous stories as metaphors, but still believe in a Great Big Genie in the Sky. Or scientists like Francis Collins, who believe in evolution and also fervently believe God is putting his all-powerful thumb on the scale of natural selection. What part of natural doesn’t he understand?
I recognize that religion is like that noxious creamed pickled herring–you have to have it shoved down your throat from an early age. But I still don’t really get it. Help me out there, dear readers. How did you swallow religion back when you believed?