Some weeks ago, I discussed, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, how atheists have no morals. This time we turn the other cheek to consider Christian morals in some detail. Shadia Drury published a response to the 9/11 attacks in the form of a frontal assault on religious morality and Christian morality in particular, a book that should have risen to the top of the Atheist cannon, but didn't, perhaps due to her obscurity, her gender, and the book's high price.
Her case is relentless as it is remorseful, about the opportunities lost in the West due to the twisted, irrational and inhumane doctrines that originate from the New Testament. At least the Old Testament god was understandable, if a little hot-tempered. The New one is positively terroristic. Nor does Jesus (assuming for the monent that he was a real person and that the scriptures about him are at least partly true) get off in this thorough indictment, for he brings us this new system which features carelessness about this world and its people, thought crime, eschetological selfishness, orignal sin, and eternal damnation.
Hell is, of course, one focus. Jews didn't have hell, really. That was Jesus's invention, though obviously stolen from the Zoroastrians. His doctrine is that mere belief in him is the main thing.. everything else is secondary, in any practical, moral, and eschatological sense. However, many are called and few are chosen, which is to say that even if you fulfill his need for faith, you could still end up in hell, which is painted in the most fiery colors, as endless suffering and eternal. This is pure psychological terror, obviously, and was stunningly effective against the other religions of the day, which were all more reasonable.
Jesus also introduced thought crime, since belief in him was the main criterion of salvation. He also deemed immoral thoughts as bad as immoral actions. Adultury in one's mind as bad as in the flesh, etc. So where was one to go for relief from such a regime? There is nowhere to hide. Many serious believers have been agonized by this, for example John Bunyan in Pilgrim's Progress, a despairing work full of terrors and sin.
The reason for the horrors of Bunyan's epic travellogue are that humans, in Jesus's system, are fallen and evil. They are sinners who have no right to salvation, who are saved (if at all) by grace granted in return for slavish faith. Drury makes the acute observation that Freud, that ostensible iconoclast and atheist, follows the Christian system in virtually every psychological particular, from the innate sinfulnes of man (the id), and the need for terror (repression) to keep the inner beast under control, to the therapeutic salve of confession (the couch, in place of the booth).
Nietzsche too comes in for a drubbing, in an even more profound way. The Christian morality is one of blind obedience, of faith in the unbelievable, and terrorism inner and outer. All for our own good, naturally. If one fails to reframe the basic parameters of this model of humanity, then revolt against this edifice of lies might take an ugly turn, to immorality and perverse delight in reversing every dictum of the reigning moral order, so as to return to one's "true" nature, which though sinful, is at least honest and alive. Thus the bathos about Dionysus and the amoral Übermensch.
This accepts a frame that is far from true, however. Humans are many bad things, but they are not fundamentally bad beings. We are basically good beings with complex and often conflicting needs and ideals. We are pro-social. We love and seek love in return. We are fiercely moral. Drury points out that it is our civilization and our highest ideals that are what is in some ways most dangerous about us- our ability to organize huge groups, spout ideological rhetoric about utopian ideals, not to mention creating modern technology, for warfare and totalitarianism on unimaginable scales. It is the beast within that required nurturing, and our better natures that required the most advanced instruments of repression, when one thinks of the rankest horrors of the twentieth century.
So it is time to relax. The work of civilizing ourselves remains great, and constant cultivation is certainly desirable. But it does not require terrors of religion, nor theories about how damnable we are. Nor should we leap to the other Rousseau-ian end of spectrum, where everything natural, native, and naive is all that is good. As the religiously and ideologically burned-out countries of Europe are showing, there is peace, prosperity, happiness, and not least, highly sensistive morality, in a post-Christian, moderate, and humane culture.
- Kansas is just fine ... steal from the poor, give to the rich is a winning, sustainable strategy, especially considering how damnable we are.
- The Devil and Mr. Scalia. At least one justice is a fossilized relic, and has either lost his marbles, or enjoys trolling interviewers.
- Over 100 jihadist training camps, thousands of trainees ... this is not a fringe phenomenon.
- California's sclerotic housing mess. Incumbent owners always win when new housing / zoning is killed. Especially with prop 13.
- Grexit is coming.
- Whom we feel for... white police edition.
- Another 1%. Or is it the same one?
- Enriching the 1% makes everyone poorer.