What’s a Smart Guy Like You Doing in a Religion Like That?

A commenter asks how an intelligent and literate guy like me could possibly believe in the nonsense of religion:

I am always somehow startled and baffled when I encounter intelligent and/or literate Christians (although obviously this is an absurd feeling to have given the sheer number of Christians in the world).

Does this mean you accept as objective truth God’s existence, the Eternal Soul, Heaven, Hell, the Trinity, the Resurrection and Ascent, the Second Coming, the Day of Judgment, etc., etc.?

After initial belief, I was an agnostic/atheist for decades and it sucked! I finally got sick and tired of being philosophically miserable. I was associating with a bunch of Arabs in 2001 during and after the Middle East Crisis, including the Palestinians taking shelter in the Church in Bethlehem. All of the Arabs were either Muslims or Christians. And these were the Marxists. Then I started reading a lot about the Middle East, and everyone there has a religion, pretty much. It’s like a badge of identity.

Then I went to see Mel Gibson’s movie and decided I was going to get back into Christianity, which I had believed in as a child.

As far as the details, I don’t think about them much. My philosophy is this: Jesus was sent down here by God. He transcended scientific laws by surviving death, but those laws can be transcended by someone with a tie-in to God. Guys like Jesus are floating down from the spiritual world all of the time. That’s what he was. He was just another in the endless string of guys that God sends down to the spiritual world.

I don’t think God plays much a role in this world. You can petition Him, but he may not answer. God is like this stoner guy who was real productive in his youth but now he’s this aging hippie, kicking it with a waterpipe. He made the Universe when he was young and energetic, but since then he hasn’t done much. He’s a Lazy God. He sits up there and takes bong hits all day. He plays little to no role in our lives, since he isn’t interested in us anymore. He just created the Universe, then he sat back and has not done much ever since.

Christianity has more history behind it than most other religions. There were lots of folks there at the time, many of the events were witnessed, and the witnesses never recanted, even under pain of death and torture. Over 900 people saw Jesus rise. Historians documented this soon after his death. Josephus for one.

The Virgin Birth is crap. Allegory. I throw out the whole Old Testament as Jewish. I’m not a Jew, so why should I believe in that. I’m a “Jesusist” and a strict NT guy. The NT replaces the OT anyway.

Christianity is a great way to live your life! Walk like Jesus! It’s a great step!

Heaven – not sure
Hell – dubious
Eternal Soul – sure
Trinity – dunno, maybe
Resurrection and Ascent – sure
Second Coming – dubious but possible
Judgment Day – dubious

Thing is, if you go and ask your typical person from a Catholic country this stuff, you often get a similar set of answers, especially from the men. Recall Mother Theresa was plagued by doubts her whole life – this means she was an agnostic? I’m similar.

But that’s Catholicism. The Catholic is supposed to question and investigate things his whole life. He’s not supposed to take things on faith. That’s the nature of the religion. If you go to Italy, Spain or Latin America, a lot of the people, especially the men, will say, “Sure I’m Catholic,” but then you ask them questions, and often they’re not even sure about God, forget the rest. It’s more of a form of identity and a culture and lifestyle.

Truth is, I don’t care if Christianity is true or not. If it’s not, what harm will come to me for believing in it anyway? Nothing. Atheism and agnosticism is cheerless, dreary and miserable. It’s no way to live. I’d rather believe gorgeous nonsense than believe in dark and dismal nothingness (basically nihilism) of atheism. And if there’s even 1% chance Christianity is true, I’m in like Flynn.*

*I’m like the most secular Christian on Earth. I’m so secular, that the fundamentalists usually say, “You’re not a Christian.”

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28 thoughts on “What’s a Smart Guy Like You Doing in a Religion Like That?”

  1. Ah! A hint of Pascal’s wager! And why not? I believe there’s an eternal soul. It’s about the only spiritual belief I hold. Love the bong god, reject the Church, love your neighbour (that’s not just the guy who lives next door), renounce evil, keep the commandments insofar as you’re able (that one about your parents is pretty hard), forgive transgressions against yourself, forgive yourself, know yourself, live in your heart, live your good intentions, care for yourself and others…what could possibly be wrong with that? Actually all this is hard. It’s easier to be a moral sloven and reside in the dungeon with the slime – the idea of original sin is an allegory of this, of recidivism. Lord, mnake me chaste, but not yet…
    “Can you walk on water? You have done no better than a straw.
    Can you fly through the air? You are no better than a gnat.
    Conquer your heart. Then you may become somebody.”

    Kwaja Abdullah Ansari of Herat (1005-1090)

  2. Only good thing to be said for catholics is that jews hate them. Funny you should mention Mel Gibson; just the other day I was reading an article about the jewish reaction to Passion of the Christ. Gibson’s film IS literally exactly the story in the bible. And they tried to censor it! Who the fuck do they think they are, telling Christians we’ve got to censor our religion according to their tastes? That is serious hubris and these bastards need to be jumped on! I’m almost tempted to take up Christianity again just to spite them.

  3. Interesting you should say “heretic.”

    The exoteric Church found fault with some of his teachings, which come closest to Neoplatonic, Santana Dharma i.e. Ultimate Truth.

  4. That’s how they were viewed, as heretics. Valentinus was denounced by Irenaeus, who tore his views to pieces. The Church was still hunting them down as late as the 12th Century in the shape of the Cathars. I like gnosticism, more than like: I self-identify as gnostic. It accords with what I see and feel. It doesn’t accord with the residual marxism very well, as the latter is definitely not a gnosis, but an intellectual construction (and in many modern forms, a shabby fraud).

    The gnostics were a mortal threat to the idea that a paid priesthood could intercede between you and God. Gnosticism’s lineage finds a pale reflection in today’s Quakerism. Coppe was a gnostic of sorts. Abiezer Coppe. Check out A Fiery Flying Rolle. Jesus was clearly a gnostic: The Gospel of St Thomas, and an Essene.

    The knowledge was suppressed. Organised religion is about the suppression of direct knowing, gnosis,
    blocking the link with the Divine and installing morality in its place. Why is Christ the redeemer? He comes into every heart to redeem the world from the grip of the demiurge. To make new, to change our perception.

    Read The Marriage of Heaven and Hell by William Blake. It is a gnostic text, and Blake clearly belongs to the gnostic lineage.

    from Blake’s Proverbs of Hell:
    Prisons are built with stones of law, Brothels with bricks of religion.

  5. Yes, that is the major intellectual problem I have with gnosticism. It’s barmy…the more one looks into it the barmier it gets. And there is no moral code; it’s anarchy. It cannot be what Christ lived as an Essene. something went missing – Reason.
    The church would not have survived had the gnostic heresy not been suppressed. The teaching had to be institutionalised, made exoteric. In mild forms such as Quakerism gnosticism is quite acceptable. It survives in the Biblical canon in the John gospel, the gospel I feel a direct connection with.

  6. Tried the Quakers Robert? May be hard to come by in Madera. Quakers are all over East Anglia where I live. Even in small towns. No theology, no priesthood, no hymns (I miss that bit), no proselytism, no evangelising…Christian minimalism…just the direct Light of God in the holy silence, ministry from the congregation itself. Outward looking socially, pro Peace, Cadbury’s chocolate anyone? As secular as you can get. Good people, too. Hell, they even welcome atheists. Or the United Reformed Church? They’re very close to secular, and also socially progressive, quite influenced by the 18th Century Enlightment, and by deism (the word that describes your bong god).

  7. This belong here: Jean Meslier (1678-1733), renegade priest, scourge of Catholicism, proto communist, philosopher of the Enlightenment well before the more timid Voltaire, Rousseau, Diderot et al, has an internet archive!
    http://marxists.org/history/france/revolution/meslier/index.htm. Test your Christian faith against the French Antichrist! Ultimately, as Robert hints, reason alone can’t explain Christian belief. It’s a pre-rational decision. It’s emotionally satisfying, even though intellectually it doesn’t stand up…

  8. Atheism and agnosticism is certainly not nihilistic and dreary. There are many happy, upbeat people that are atheist or agnostic. What believers seem to forget is that that people are born a-theist. Just like we are born without belief in Santa Claus. We become theist or political because we are conditioned by our parents and/or society and it is enforced by social rewards and punishments. So it’s not like the atheist has some hole in his heart or soul that must be filled. The atheist doesn’t feel he’s missing anything by being non-religious anymore than a kid in Burma feels he’s missing out on anything by not believing in Zeus or Athena.

    For the record, I began as Christian and have become agnostic over time though leaning somewhat more toward atheism. I’m entirely open on the subject though and I actually hope there is a God since it would take morality out of the realm of opinion and give it a foundation outside of human experience, making right and wrong universal truths. I also like the idea of universal justice. So for these reasons I hope he does exist. But I also think there’s a good chance that thousands of years from now people will look back at Christianity, Judaism and Islam the way we now look at Greek and Norse gods. As just ancient, dead religions that people have eventually cast aside as mythology and nothing more. They may visit crumbling temples like the Vatican and Notre Damn the way we now visit the Acropolis. I could completely see that happening.

    Have you ever listened to Carl Sagan? Does he sound nihilist to you? I think Sagan understood the nature of the universe and our place in it better than any public figure I know of. These videos left me in awe:


    1. Man that gives me goosebumps every time I watch it, R.I.P. Carl Sagan. I have always felt that European Paganism would be a fun religion, I mean if your going to believe in illogical myths you might as well be dancing around a fire naked sacrificing virgins. Pantheism is fun to think about too.

  9. If I sound a little angry just bear with me. Why does institutional Christianity lead so often to such crappy, shitty, judgemental and fear ridden behaviour? To fear of sexuality. Because it’s a bunch of lies.

    The priests buggering little boys in Ireland. The craven fear of one of our sources of joy: human sexuality. Read Michel Onfray on St Paul in The Atheist Manifesto. St Paul enlightened? Far from it. Religion is a matrix of fear and control and domination. Most of the time. Its purpose is to separate us from our knowledge of our own divine nature, to keep us separate and in ignorance. Most institutional spirituality sucks, including deracinated and naive new Age spirituality, Western Buddhism ((I’ve been into Protestantism, Western Buddhism (the Cheshire Cats from Alice in Wonderland) and Indian gurus on the make, plus the New Age – yeah all this and socialism and communism!)) and the gurus bearing gifts for thirsty Westerners from Mother India.

    It’s fake, most of it, and it doesn’t lead human beings to evolve.

    Most institutional spirituality just sets my bullshit detector in the “on” position. I never get very far with it. Vipassana meditation was Ok. It was a gnostic, experiential approach. I don’t judge people who try one thing after another because I’ve been there. I’ve done atheism too. If you find joy in something, then good.

    There’s beauty as well as madness in traditional religion. Everything and its opposite. I love religious music, negro spirituals always move me, and I love singing hymns. The Internationale is a hymn, too. When I joined the Communist Party at the age of 20 I discovered they were singing one of my favourite hymns, Jerusalem by Blake, at the close of every district meeting.

    Atheism liberates us from the matrix, liberates us from the fear of God but gives us no tools to wake up. Tulio you’ve grasped that liberatory quality of non-belief. I was alone on a huge beach in North Norfolk in the UK two evenings ago. It’s a very inaccessible beach and I was entirely without human company, just the company of wild seals and seagulls. After a while there my normally busy mind went quiet. My camera battery went dead so I had to stop taking photos as well, just be, not do. Do be do be do…In the face of beauty, the mind opens to awe. It sometimes happens with great art or music. You come away rejoicing. Like the hymn says, “Ransomed, healed, restored, deliver’d”.

    Religion tries to package that. It isn’t entirely unsuccessful. But it’s a halfway house in my view.
    And so is atheism. Stuff them both.

    There is no historical Jesus. The Life of Jesus is a pagan myth elaborated by a bunch of Greek speaking Jews in Alexandria. Jesus is you. Jesus is your potential. Jesus is everyman. Jesus is the perennial philosophy. The teachings are much older than Jesus. Like Johnny Cash sang in one of his last, great songs “I’ve got my own, personal Jesus”. Jesus is back, and this time he’s funny!

    See Lucid Living by Timothy Freke, British gnostic scholar. Gnosticism doesn’t require you to believe a bunch of lies. It’s experiential and it leads to joy.
    You can be an atheist if you want to. Compelling 29 minute interview with the author here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=orPuzjxU9gE&feature=related. I think he’s got it. Bugger all the dogmas of Pauline Christianity and bugger all the priests as well for the evil things they’ve done. They know no more than we do.

    Know thyself instead. It’s a life journey. I still make some of the same stupid mistakes, and exhibit the same insensitive behaviour as when I was 25. And some mistakes I don’t make anymore. So life goes on. Ciao!

    1. Great response. I think religion is a means to an end. People want order, they want comfort, they want to feel a part of something greater than themselves, they want peace of spirit, they want happiness, they want meaning in life.

      We must ask ourselves however if these same things can be attained outside the structure of religion. Many believers can’t imagine how an atheist could even be happy. They think only happiness can come from God. But I know very happy atheist and I know miserable religious people. Do we need religion in order to be happy, feel a part of something greater, or have meaning in our lives? These are things to ponder. If you get it from religion fine, I’m not going to tell anyone what they should believe, but religious people shouldn’t assume that religion is the only highway to attain these qualities.

  10. Anyone interested in a “pan Traditional Religious”
    site, go to http://www.gornahoor.net and immerse yourself.

    Between Plotinius, Sanatana Dharma emphasis
    Shankara….Erigena, Evola, Guenon and Coomeraswamy and the Where The Wild Boys Are blog of James J O’Meara….you can’t go wrong on your Spiritual/Racial Path.

  11. Ah, I see what you mean now (curiously enough from the comments rather than the original posting).

    In that case, consider me a fellow Christian (minus the Deism, the eternal soul, and minus belief in the Resurrection/Ascent (I’m a bit dubious on the actual historical Jesus as well)).


  12. I guess you are attempting glibness, but if so, first get your defintions right. Deism is by no means
    orthodox Christianity.

  13. This is a good post.

    I’ve been both religious and atheist in the past, though usually an agnostic as it seems the only purely logical belief on the subject, but now I’m a theist for some odd reason. I do suspect having an actual religion is nicer than just being a generalized theist, but I’m not sure I could bring myself to be even the kind of Christian you describe.

    On the other hand, I do feel warm and fuzzy towards Christianity, was raised that way, and know the Bible already– so that’s a plus.

    This post also reminded me of something else– a lot of intellectuals have a hard time believing that certain brilliant self described Christian men were “really,” religious– Wittgenstein comes to mind.

    I listened to an interview with John Searle in which he said he thought Wittgenstein was “basically an atheist,” and therefore some sort of insincere apologist and excuser of religion.

    They just don’t get it I guess. It seems Wittgenstein was a Christian in virtually the same way you are, and everyone seemed to think, “he can’t really believe that can he?”

  14. I am a your humble servant Jacob, and I was once, I believe, a Leicestershire shoemaker, recruited into Oliver Cromwell’s New Model Army. I am bewildered by the your time.

    Your world, too, is like a ship unmoored, drifting in a tempest, while the Beast roams free; neither does any one man know how to detain it, but the people united against it.

    I know not, truly, how I came to be here. Those people that call themselves Quakers do I recognise as my kin, and even some of the lineaments of this fair city of Norwich, but there is much that is eccentric, nay, irrevocably lunatic. I fear I shall never adapt, but no matter. It is a mad world, my masters, and I shall cognise it!

    This I wrote in an world equally unmoored (I wear a tongue stud from those times, after submitting to an injurious procedures of the courts when my tongue was bored clean through for the printing of religious sedition, and I am surprised to find here that there are others who do the same), long ago, in the year of our Lord sixteen hundred and fifty:

    “All the creatures in the world…are but one entire being…Not the least flower or herb in the field but there is the divine being by which it is that which it is; and as that departs out of it, so it comes to nothing, and so it is today clothed by God, and tomorrow cast into the oven…God as really and substantially dwells in the flesh of other men and creatures as well as in the man Christ, in man and beast, fish and fowl, and in every green thing, from the highest cedar to the ivy on the wall, in dog, cat, chair, stool…in this tobacco pipe..he is me and I am him.”

    Thus do I cleave to the realisation that, as all is one, I am as good as any man, or woman also, for God is in all, and animates all.

    This equalitie of beings thus given of God, I hold as a consequence that all should be held in common, and that there should be no great, nor lowly in the land, for some have too much, and some none at all.

    Know this: the cupidity of the rich produces the penury of the poor. Know this also: that though you do have an immortal soule, yet there is no heaven and no hell but here on this earth, and that priests are knaves for saying otherwise.

    I and my fellow Ranters, being of a ranting temper and informed with the breath of the master Jesus, believe all shall be levelled, yea, even the hills and the mountains, as my friend Abiezer Coppe writes, and the world made new; and this we name Jerusalem, though some now call it Communism: it is the same, and Comrade Jesus shall call us to the promised land where none shall want, and virtue shall reign among men.

  15. if you are a cultural christian fine; all the traditions are fun,after all most of the traditions of the world have a religious origin,there is almost no secular traditions (except halloween-valentine-secular christmas,only 3 western non theistic traditions) and i would like to join them,i finally realized 100% that now i am both a cultural hindu-shinto,cause of pure love to those cultures

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