Patricia Pearson’s article over at The Daily Beast about Karen Armstrong’s new book Fields of Blood says some weird things right up front.
Hitchens…never really bothered to acquaint himself with the great and nuanced theologians of Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, and Islam. If he had, he wouldn’t have asked the audience whether it was a good thing “for the world to worship a deity that takes sides in wars.”
(Spoiler alert: the entirety of human religious history has entailed finely-tuned musings on divine exhortation to unity and peace, and whether there are loop holes.)
All of those finely-tuned musings and still the Bible very clearly portrays a God picking sides in wars. Repeatedly.
1 Samuel 15:3 “Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’ ”
How can one thousand plus years of reading that passage make it mean anything other than God told “his people” to go to war and kill other people? Sounds like God picked a side…. and you know this isn’t the only instance of it in the Bible, let alone nearly every soldiers belief since the creation of religion that God was on their side.
As far as I can tell, Theologians exist only to justify and wriggle out of the awkward things written in these religious books. If you want to change the Bible, then too bloody bad. It very clearly says in it that God is outside of time, all knowing and perfect, and that the bible is his words, and you can’t change it. So stop trying to change the meanings of things clearly written in them!
She then follows up that nonsense with:
Nor would Hitchens have made this statement: “Religion forces nice people to do unkind things.” Meaning, one was left to discern, that religion is self-evidently a coercive force for ill.
I remember thinking, really? All those innately tender-hearted Catholic priests were obliged by the Ten Commandments to molest children? Oh dear. How, then, to explain Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, and Hitler’s brutal minions? They were just bornto be mean?
Ugh. So inane. His comment had nothing to do with Catholic priests molesting boys. Nothing in the bible tells people to do that. That is an indirect consequence of people following the bible against their nature, as opposed to what Hitchens was actually talking about, all of the people stoned to death over the years and burned at the stake, because, you know, the Bible tells them to:
Leviticus 21:9 “And the daughter of any priest, if she profane herself by playing the whore, she profaneth her father: she shall be burnt with fire.”
Leviticus 24:16″And he that blasphemeth the name of the LORD, he shall surely be put to death, and all the congregation shall certainly stone him.”
Please go ahead and show us how the “finely-tuned musings” change the meanings of those sentences. Let me guess – Jesus. Jesus made all the bad stuff go away. Well, for many hundreds of years how many thousand people were stoned to death and burnt at the stake anyway? Always justified with these sorts of bible passages.
Actually, sorry, I was wrong. Hitchens didn’t mean stonings and burnings at the stake – they are horrific acts. Hitchens only said that religions force people to do “unkind things”. So, lets look at all of the families who disown homosexual children because of the ‘abomination’ that homosexuality is? Jesus didn’t really die and change the meaning or intention of that line. He certainly didn’t disavow it. Sure, ‘love they neighbour’ and all that – but still, homosexuality is an abomination unto the lord… so what do you do? Many people err on the side of caution and don’t tolerate the abomination. Pretty reasonable position to take really, since loving your neighbour doesn’t actually require you to do anything, so you can ‘love them’ from a distance.
Besides, it is the more Jesus like thing to do, just break the family up, rather than what is actually recommended in the Old Testament – killing them.
And then there are the ‘harlot‘ references and wives obeying husbands, and directions for slaves to obey their masters.
How amazingly magical are these Theologians that they can make all of this shit just magically disappear out of the bible so that people like Patricia Pearson can’t even think of them when it is pointed out that the bible makes good people do unkind things???
Have you seen the Westboro Baptist church? You know that everything they do is actually based on words in the Bible right? They aren’t making that shit up. Don’t blame them for taking things as they are actually written, rather than how we wish they were written.
After Hitchens died, the debate continued with celebrity pundits like Bill Maher and star intellectuals like Richard Dawkins, a biologist, and Sam Harris, a neuroscientist, none of whom appear to have an infant’s weak grasp of why thinking human beings would come to believe in a meaningful universe.
Oh, they understand. They actually talk about it pretty clearly – but don’t bother familiarising yourself with the work you are criticising, just assume the highly regarded well read intellectuals you are criticising are stupid morons. It is much easier that way.
No, they understand why humans believe in a meaningful universe – it is because our brains are evolved to do so in order to avoid death. There is quite a lot of literature on the subject if you cared to familiarise yourself with the fields of Neuroscience and Biology…oh look, these two individuals with an “infant’s weak grasp” of the subject just happen to be world renowned experts in those fields. How amazing that they don’t understand it and you do.
From here the article quickly moves through anger at Islam and into the main point of the article, the book. I personally wouldn’t try very hard to defend the claim that Religion has caused more wars than anything else, so I won’t bother arguing against that point, but the idea that secularists somehow don’t understand what religion is drives me crazy. And then this:
To say that spiritual engagement somehow causes humanity to become violent is to ignore the obvious pressures on all human societies throughout history to accrue scarce resources, to shore up status and power, and to impose order on chaos.
It isn’t spiritual engagement that anyone is saying causes violence, it are the direct lines from the creator of the universe telling his followers to murder people who don’t follow his rules which is what people like Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens get angry about.
Sure, I’d be happy to accept that “every new religion emerged at least in part as a protest against violence and oppression” – which is probably why violence features so prominently in their religious texts. The problem is that these books aren’t positioned as just historical texts describing a revolution. They are positioned as works of God himself, outside of time, perfect, absolute, moral, all knowing, telling people what to do. And those directions include a lot of violent actions.
And then we get puff pieces like this making out like atheists and secularists are upset at the ‘spiritual engagement’ of believers. FFS. Is it that hard to understand? When ISIS members go on murderous rampages against non-believers, they aren’t doing it because they are feeling particularly religious. They do it (amongst many other complicated emotional and political reasons) because they have direct quotes from God himself telling them to do it. When you have a direct commandment from God Almighty to kill people, why would you doubt your murderous desires?
The disgust felt by the non-religious of the religious isn’t about religious people (necessarily), nor is it even about religious extremists (necessarily). What it is about is the fact that there is a book claiming to be the unalterable and perfect account of the creator of the universe and it is a book full of violence bigotry and hatred – and for some reason, against and sense, otherwise sane and intelligent people keep defending it.