I read an article in my local paper yesterday about a village in India where five young people had mysteriously died over a period of just a few months. The villagers figured that they must have done something to upset their local god, Khera, so they tried praying, and abstaining from meat and alcohol. And guess what happened? The deaths stopped. The really interesting thing about this article was the spin that was put on it. You can read it here, but the gist of it is that India is a land of contradictions considering that they're rocketing toward the future while still holding on to primitive superstitions. Yeah, 'cause that's just so totally different from America where over half the population doesn't believe in evolution but does believe in angels. Oh, those silly Indians.
I couldn't help but think of a debate I got into with one of my Facebook friends. I'm going to be deliberately vague here out of respect to her, but she was stricken with a debilitating illness only to get better after praying to Jesus. Of course, she credits the whole thing to Jesus, one of the chief reasons being that her recovery is essentially unexplainable. (Keep in mind, it was unexplainable how those young, seemingly healthy Indians were dying too.) Anyway, she wrote a status update about it and how "good" God was for what he did.
Most people wrote words of encouragement and agreement, but of course, I have to be the lone voice of dissent sometimes. I'm sure that there might be some people reading this who would wonder why I'd feel the need to raise an objection to this. After all, why can't I just let her have her belief and shut the hell up? Well, that could be an entire blog topic unto itself, and I believe that I have addressed the harm that I think religious thinking can bring. Sure, perhaps it's a Quixotic task for me to undertake, but I guess I'm a Quixotic guy. So, let me just briefly state that I think that this kind of thinking sends us backward as a society. After all, if we can count on Jesus to heal us, then why should we seek any answers to what ails us? Also, if this Jesus is so "good" then why does he let a million people (mostly children) die of malaria every year? And why didn't he cure that one girl of diabetes when her parents wanted to pray instead of take her to the doctor? (Okay, that's enough.)
So, I wrote that I found this very notion to be offensive. I was careful to sound as respectful as I could, as my point wasn't to try and take away from the profound experience, both the good and the bad of it, away from her. To her credit, she debated calmly and respectfully right back with me. I must admit that I was expecting her friends to come at me with pitchforks and torches, but most of them were pretty civil in their objections to my objections. Of course, I did get a few typical responses like how I'm supposedly angry with god and how maybe I just wasn't seeing God's overall plan, to which I gave the standard rebuttals. Overall though, the conversation was more constructive than not, and I was even complimented on how I handled myself.
Did I accomplish anything? I don't know. One thing that I do know about the Internet is that for every person who comments, chances are good that there are a lot of people out there who are simply lurking and don't write anything. The thing is, there are some people who are only exposed to a religious viewpoint but have their doubts without ever expressing them. Perhaps my comments gave somebody the words that they have been looking for. At the very least, I know that there are some Christians out there who now have a better understanding of the atheist viewpoint.
The thing is, I don't believe that Khera was responsible for stopping the killings any more than I believe that Jesus was responsible for healing a person's illness. With that said though, the Khera story at least makes more sense. The villagers view Khera as being an "angry" god who needs to be appeased. While that's an ultimately useless way to interpret events, at least it matches with what they're experiencing. The problem that modern-day Christians have is that no matter what happens, Jesus has to be a good guy. When good things happen, he's good. When bad things happen, he's still good. If you look at the beauty of the world, that's proof of his goodness. When you look at the misery and suffering, you're just not seeing the big picture.
Honestly, this viewpoint reminds me of a battered wife who continues to defend her abusive husband. I've heard Christians say that the reason why Jesus lets bad things happen is because of the fact that we've turned away from God. In other words, malaria, earthquakes, and hippopotomus attacks are all OUR fault. Either that, or they're the fault of our great-great-etcetera grandparents.
More and more, I find Christianity to be a completely misanthropic religion. Believers talk about their god as a god of love the way an enabler defends an alcoholic. What can I expect though from a philosophy that demands its followers to think of themselves as sheep?