Friday, October 1, 2010

The Religion Switch

I have a smart friend, who is quite religious. I'm not quite sure how we ended up friends, but I will attempt to surmise the form that our religious convictions (and lack thereof) play in our relationship: he is a devout Christian, accepting the scripture as not just a form of morality, but morality itself. I, on the other hand, if labels must be applied, am a nihilistic militant atheist. Our conversations tend to be quite interesting as a result. He disowns organized religion, for the most part, but carries the evils of religion along with him: discrimination against homosexuals, is a 610k, and insists that adaptation does occur, but gradual change that can be demonstrated in an organism is not evolution(!).

Now, talking to him about religion and morality is quite odd; it's not the first time that I have observed this phenomenon, but in him it is particularly pronounced. An example of a fairly standard conversation between the two of us is as follows:

Me: Well, what about homosexuality, do you honestly think that it's a sin, or any such garbage?

Him: Yes, the bible says that a man shall not lie with another man.

Me: What about women? Can a woman lie with another women?

Him: No, you have to actually consider the meaning of it, not just the actual words.

Me: Yea, we seem to have to do that a lot, don't we? Well, why is homosexuality immoral?

Him: Well, the bible says that a man shall not lie with another man.

Me: Yes, I know, but why is it a sin?

Him: Because the bible says-

Me: Yes, I'm quite aware of what it says, but do you think it's a sin?

Him: Of course.

Me: Why?

Him: Because the bible says-

Me: I know, but why do you, independently of the bible, consider homosexuality to be a "sin".

Him: But the god is the source of all morality, and the bible is his word.

Me: How do we know that the bible is the word of god?

Him: Well, the bible was written over many years by many different people, and the message is all the same, and there is not a single contradiction in the whole thing.

Me: Yes, there are... well over a hundred, at my last count, and I'm sure that there are many that I've missed.

Him: If god isn't the source of morality, then what is?

I could go on, but I feel quite sure that you get the point. I'm sure that any skeptic of religious dogma has experienced this disconnect before: you're talking to a quite sane person, who seems to look at the world in a way that supports rational thought and scientific inquiry.... and then religion is brought up.

That's when the indoctrination and isolation from alternative points of view and an actual education kicks in. I personally call this "The Religion Switch", as I imagine it as a switch that flips whenever religion is mentioned, which temporarily disables the part of the brain responsible for any actual thought.


  1. I'm a religious individual who used to be quite similar to your friend here. Explain the connection of the New Testament and Old Testament, where Jesus mentions the law or Paul does in one of his letters. Matthew 5:17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.” Galatians 2:21 “I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing.”

    Go on to explain an instance where the Bible was mathematically proved to be wrong in at least one case. 1 Kings 7:23 “The sea was then cast; it was made with a circular rim, and measured ten cubits across, five in height, and thirty in circumference.” Use that as a starting point to flow into the rather ridiculous verses of Levitivus (the same book that "condemns" homosexuality):
    -Leviticus 18:22 “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; such a thing is an abomination.”
    -Leviticus 20:13 “If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them shall be put to death for their abominable deed; they have forfeited their lives”
    -Leviticus 10:6 “Moses said to Aaron and his sons Eleazar and Ithamar, "Do not bare your heads or tear your garments, lest you bring not only death on yourselves but God's wrath also on the whole community. Your kinsmen, the rest of the house of Israel, shall mourn for those whom the LORD'S fire has smitten;”
    -Leviticus 19:27 “Do not clip your hair at the temples, nor trim the edges of your beard.”
    -Leviticus 11:6-8 “…and the pig, which does indeed have hoofs and is cloven-footed, but does not chew the cud and is therefore unclean for you. Their flesh you shall not eat, and their dead bodies you shall not touch; they are unclean for you.”
    -Leviticus 11:34 “Any solid food that was in contact with water, and any liquid that men drink, in any such vessel become unclean.”
    -Leviticus 19:19 “…do not put on a garment woven with two different kinds of thread.”

    Explain that he can't pick and choose which ones to follow or not. If he's still not convinced, explain that Jesus wouldn't want him, at least, to discriminate against homosexuals: John 13:34-35 "I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."

    Regarding evolution and creation, explain that at the time written, that the creation story was the best explanation of the beginning. However, as science progressed, new discoveries were made. Be sure to mention that God could have easily used the Big Bang/evolution as part of his grand scheme (regardless of if you believe so or not), and how that could have been what the Bible was, in fact, talking about, presented in a primitive scientific form.

    Hope this helps.

  2. I made a typo in that, in which case I meant to say, he should NOT discriminate. Sorry, about that.

  3. Thank you, that will be very helpful.

    My priority is convincing him that the bible is not perfect, and that not everything should be taken from it. If he decides to not eat pork, or not wear garments woven from two colours of thread, I could care less. Religiously supported discrimination is altogether matter altogether, though.

    Once again, thanks for such a thorough and detailed comment: really, that alone should be enough to turn any sane person away from the bible.

  4. Well, it wasn't meant to turn him away from the Bible altogether, but that's no business of mine. As a Catholic, we place a strong emphasis on interpreting the scripture rather than taking it word for word (with the understanding that none of the scripture writers were infallible). I'm assuming your friend is a fundamentalist, in which case he probably uses the poorly translated King James Version of the Bible, so he most likely won't have the same wording of the scriptures that I provided you.

    We had to write a paper for biology last year (Catholic school), before we started our unit on evolution. I don't know if this may help or not but:

    “Evolution and the Catholic Church”

    Whether or not the world was created as it says in Genesis or as it says in text books has been a long-debated issue. As recently as last year, I was an avid creationist, so I am familiar with both sides of the issue. In fact, it was the Church’s view on the subject that changed my mind overall. Most specifically, it was what Pope John Paul II had to say. “If the origin of the human body is sought in living matter which existed before it, the spiritual soul is directly created by God.”1
    The Church’s view on evolution is essentially that God utilized it to perfect his creations. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (section 283) states “The question about the origins of the world and of man has been the object of many scientific studies... These discoveries invite us to even greater admiration for the greatness of the Creator.”2 The Church was in a similar conundrum centuries earlier with Galileo, and I believe they are attempting to make up for it now. Instead of denying scientific facts, the Church has chosen to embrace evolution as a tool that God used/uses.
    My views on the subject are more diverse than others’. As previously stated, I used to be a creationist, so my view are somewhat of a scientific-religious hybrid. While I would prefer to leave out the details of this matter, I can sum it up as follows: God created everything and uses evolution as a means of perfecting/improving what He has made. It’s not that He didn’t create them well originally, but the environment in which they live in is constantly changing. They need to evolve to be able to live, survive, and reproduce. I have since become apathetic, at best, about the issue, because it doesn’t really matter whether or not God used evolution.

    The Book of Genesis is a controversial book that is often taken out of context. The book specifies that God created everything in seven days. We see throughout the Bible that the number seven is used as a symbol for perfection. One can deduce that this means God created everything in the perfect amount of time. That “perfect amount of time” may still be going on today through evolution. Under this assumption, we can infer that the entire book is symbolic – to teach a lesson – not to present factual history. There is no reason that God and evolution cannot coexist.
    As opposed to other denominations, the Catholic Church is open to new scientific ideas because we understand that God and science have no problems coexisting. “…methodical research in all branches of knowledge… can never conflict with the faith, because the things of the world and the things of faith derive from the same God. [CCC 159]”3 The Church’s stance on evolution is clear. Earthly things and faith derive from the same God. If all members of our faith were open to this, we would all be able to appreciate God’s work so much more.



  5. I agree with you completely. I have a friend like that, perfectly fine but when religion is out, its "I dislike gay people, no abortions it is murder and against the bible etc."

    Before I found out he was religious I was quite sure he was gay.