Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Putting the Fox in Charge of the Hen House

You would never go to a pharmaceutical company that has the sole patent on a drug and who controls all of the information about its effectiveness to cure cancer and simply take their word for it about how good the cure is. You would never walk out of a room full of students taking a test who all have their notes and books sitting there in their backpacks and then just check with them about whether or not they cheating while you were gone. You would be foolish to get all of your information about how the war effort is going from the government who is waging the war and simply believe it without question. You don’t put a fox in charge of the henhouse and then go to the fox for a report on how the chickens are doing. Imagine if we simply accepted their claim of innocence every time an accused criminal passionately and sincerely denied his guilt.

For 2,000 years, committed, passionate, zealous believers have been the sole proprietors of almost the entire body of information we have about Jesus. Furthermore, they have openly and repeatedly made it clear that their goal is to do everything in their power to spread those stories and get everyone else to believe them to. In many cases they have killed, lied, cheated, stolen, extorted, and tortured in order to get people to profess belief. Does it make any sense to accept it when that same institution assures us that the stories are authentic?

"Oh but you are so suspicious and cynical, so distrustful!" will be the objection. "What a negative and pessimistic way to live. No one can live without some form of faith, without trusting others about something."

Fair enough. But I'm taking the claims that God exists and that Jesus is divine very seriously. If what believers would have us accept is true, it would simply be the most important single issue in human history. Nothing could matter more than what that would mean. The stakes are too high for the superficial, credulous attitude that so many people take about religion. At least the fundamentalists, the literalists, and I can agree about that much.


Yaab said...

Oddly enough, I think we (atheists) are much more concerned about the truth content of religious claims than are the religious. I've read a fair amount of Christian apologetics, Eastern mystical texts, as well as skeptical and atheistic literature, because I completely agree with you: if any of these supernatual claims could be substantiated, it would be hugely important.

However, my theistic friends (of whom I have many) wouldn't even consider cracking open a book by Dawkins, Harris, et. al., or even something by a former fundie like Bart Ehrman. It baffles me that they're not willing to diligently examine the claims that have such a profound impact upon their lives, and presumably their eternal afterlives, as well. But I'm often baffled.

Eric Sotnak said...

Would it be that important? I'm not so sure. I think the question of God's existence itself is not as important as some of the traditionally associated claims. Suppose God exists but doesn't care whether or not people worship him. What if Universalism is true and everyone goes to heaven -- then is it really so important that Jesus is divine (or rose from the dead, etc.)? I'm not saying it wouldn't be important or interesting that God existed, but what elevates this issue to such high prominence? It seems to me to be, primarily, the claim that without belief in God or acceptance of Jesus as one's personal Lord and Savior (whatever this means, exactly), one will be deprived of an eternal life that one can otherwise gain. But one can be a Theist, and perhaps even a kind of Christian, without embracing such an exclusivist attitude.