My sister-in-law is an alien!
Matt Parker reflects on Christian morality
As an ardent atheist, it is often difficult to understand the workings of a religious mind. Especially a mind that thinks it is religious because of bizarre unsubstantiated claims of existential intervention. Such thinking is alien to most atheists.
Many of you may be familiar with this scenario. My sister-in-law is one of those ‘part-time’ religious folks who subscribes to the view that there is ‘likely to be something more to life than that of which we are aware; but who knows?’ She goes to church (as and when it suits), but her faith, as far as I can see, is based on a couple of events from her life, which she has trouble explaining.
The first, intriguingly, is an ‘event’ that happened when she was young, at an all girls church-camp. Sadly, and despite my best efforts to extricate the specifics of this ‘event’ she was less than forthcoming about it. However, the second event, about which she was far more candid, was something that we all may, once or twice, have experienced.
Picture the scene: you are diving up the motorway on a dark night. There are few other cars on the road, and so you drive in the middle lane. There is nothing to concentrate on, other than the dull roar of the road around you and the dulcet tones of ‘Pienaar’s Politics’. Suddenly, you catch something in your peripheral vision: what appears to be a bright light of a car approaching fast from the rear! Immediately, you pull over to the slow lane.
As you do so, you notice that the road ahead has been clumsily coned off, revealing a building site. You then come to the stark realisation that had you not seen that bright light behind you, you would surely have careered off the road to your doom!
Well what could possibly have caused this miracle to occur? It could, of course, be the intervention of a higher, intelligent being, so hell-bent on ensuring your survival that he took a well-earned break from saving African children dying of AIDS and decided to save you instead. It could also be that a car came up from behind that you had not previously noticed and then passed before you had a chance to register what was going on (being so fixated on your near-demise). Who knows?
Well, my sister-in-law apparently went for the first option, concluding that the reason for this was God picking her out for salvation.
I have no idea where to start complaining about this, but perhaps the sheer egocentricity of this kind of thought process would be as good a place as any. What makes you so special that any ‘higher being’ would see you as worthy of saving? Why are you more important than the thousands of people who die every day as a result of disease, war, famine or other ‘acts of God’?
Is this not the ultimate form of narcissism?
This whole scenario got me thinking: are all religions not simply a form of narcissism?
Let’s take Christianity as an example. Christians are resolute that our Western morals are based on the teachings of Jesus Christ.
Hang on a minute.
Let’s take the ‘morals’ of Christian teachings and deconstruct them.
If you follow the teachings of Jesus you will go to Heaven. If you fail to follow these teachings and do awful things (or collect sticks on the Sabbath) you will go to Hell.
However, does this mean that the only motivation for Christians choosing not to sin is the promise of reward (Heaven) or fear of punishment (Hell)?
Surely, an atheist who chooses to behave well displays more in the way of morals than a Christian who apparently does so either for fear of retribution or promise of great reward.
The moral of this story is a simple one: being religious does not mean that you are better than anyone else.