Sunday, August 24, 2008

Between a rock and a hard place

You know, if I were a Christian, I’d be an obnoxious jerk.

There. Contentious statement out of the way, let me explain what I actually mean by that. It seems that belief brings out different qualities in different people. Some people seem able to speak of a compassion motivated by their love of their saviour Jesus Christ, while other people seem to thrive on the vilest, basest forms of hatred, prejudice and snobbery, equally motivated by Jesus Christ.

Of course, both of them have their pertinent Bible verses to back them up. The frustration of the Bible is not how in contradicts itself in details but how it contradicts itself in tone. The notion that fire-and-brimstone wrath God and love-thy-neighbour compassion God are meant to be the same entity is and remains a leap of intuitive logic up there with the best of Sherlock Holmes.

I know that not all Christians grapple with that dichotomy equally. Some, perhaps most, give very little thought to the apparent conflicts in the Bible. Others constantly struggle with it, whether or not they’ll admit it.

Which is a sense brings me to my point. If I were a Christian, given the choice between the sexist homophobes and bullies and the thoughtful, compassionate caregivers, I’d be the bully any day. It’s just so much easier.

Despite all the rubbish out there about how the 10 Commandments are the source of our morals and how, without the Bible, we’ve got nothing to go on ethically, we as a society have a pretty decent sense of ethics. Yes, kinks to be ironed out, but by and large okay.

I say despite the Bible because the fact is that society doesn’t really use the Bible as a ‘moral compass’ (whatever the hell that is) at all. And with good reason too – in every debate for the past few generations about questions of social policy, where the Bible is mentioned at all it’s invariably mentioned by the regressive side of the argument. Based on the people who cling to it as they launch into speeches at least, the Bible consistently runs counter to our social progress. And I do believe that it is progress; I’m much too optimistic a person to give into ‘hell-in-a-handbasket’ style fear-mongering. We now live in a world that, I believe, behaves to others with more dignity and respect than at any other time in history.

The thing is that in light of these changes, where modernity and dogma clash, it seems that you have to either embrace progress and reject the Bible, or reject progress and embrace the Bible. For me, it’s easy. I can, for example, advocate marriage equality and the right to choose without fear that it conflicts any particular book and threatens the salvation that such a book offers.

I’ve seen people who have a natural inclination towards moderation, who seem naturally compelled to advocate every individual’s right to live as they choose in dignity and yet who also have a dedication to this particular book. It’s heart-rending to see the mental gymnastics they perform in an attempt to make the Bible say what they want it to say: to say that their god does not condemn gay people and non-believers to eternal torture and has not committed all nature of gruesome slaughters throughout history. These people see love in the world, want to believe in a god of love, and yet have a book in front of them that appears to contradict that on every other page.

Their convictions and compassion contradict the book they see as a guide to their salvation; they’re stuck between the rights of man and the word of God. It’s a hell of a place to be in – one that I don’t envy at all. I respect the compassionate Christian more than I understand him. Those are shoes I don’t think I could walk that mile in.

That’s why I say it’s easier to be the small-town preacher thundering down God’s wrath on idolaters, deviants and abominations left, right and centre. If you can give in to the basest of prejudices, you can feel at peace in the comfort of your own perceived salvation without any true conflict of interest. You can picket abortion clinics, harangue homosexuals, protest scientists and artists, demonise Muslims and non-believers, and wail on and on about how the world has become a worse place because schools no longer force Christian prayers on children. You never have to worry about contradicting the Bible: it stands behind you 100%.

I can’t be bothered to undergo the intellectual rigours involved in making the Bible a source of positivity and goodness. That’s why I say that if I had to be a Christian, I wouldn’t force myself into the dilemma of believing both in humanity and in the divine origin of the Bible. The radicals who make Christianity look like a hate group have it easier: spew hatred and spout Bible quotes. It’s as easy as taking candy from a baby.

No comments: