I have known Christians I deeply admired. Rich Wekerle, the retired Boston firefighter, crossed the line of Fort Bragg’s notorious School of the Americas knowing that his protest would land him in a federal penitentiary. It did. For six months. He ascribed his decision to his Catholic faith.
For many years, Pastor Dean Stewart of Moscow’s Emmanuel Lutheran Church was one of the guiding lights of the Palouse Peace Coalition. A model of right-thinking and right action, wherever Dean battled injustice, his face always wore a smile.
Thinkers have long disputed Christianity by pointing a finger at the multitude of sins committed in the name of Christ. Think of the atrocities of the Crusaders, the horrors inflicted on nonbelievers by the Spanish Inquisition, and the Salem witchcraft trials. There are good men and bad men everywhere and such refutations are cheap shots and say nothing about the religion itself.
Thusly, I won’t grapple with Christianity by reciting the hypocrisies of its adherents. Instead, I go straight to the Bible to extract some of the reasons I reject that religion.
I can hear “progressive Christians” claiming foul. “We don’t stand by a literal reading of Scripture.”
Sorry folks. If the Bible is indeed the inspired word of God, that is the book in its entirety. To cherry pick a few passages in an effort to portray their religion as all about love, humility and forgiveness is insupportable. From the very moment you embrace certain passages and jettison others, you’re pulling the rug out from under the foundation of faith. If the Bible is not the inspired word of God and it’s up to our puny knowledge to choose what to believe and what not to believe, then what becomes of divine inspiration?
Let’s go to the Good Book and see what sort of God it portrayed. My methodology is simple. Since the Bible informs me that my knowledge is finite and limited, the best I can hope for is to navigate using human reason, however flawed.
Most folks agree that child abuse is a very bad thing, an evil thing. By this calculus, how does the Almighty Father stand up?
To begin at the beginning, God created Adam and Eve and placed them in the Garden of Eden. Their only commandment was no noshing from the tree of knowledge.
Of course, the pair, being children, did what children always do and ate the apple. Now God could have slapped their wrists or given them a second chance.
But no. He sentenced them to death. Now, given that Jehovah was all-knowing, he understood in advance they would disobey, so why play games? We have laws for fathers who kill children who disobey.
Same with the cruel trials of Job. God knew Job was a man of faith and strong resolve. He also knew the eventual outcome of all the torments he inflicted. What would we think of a human father who tortured his children just to see if they loved him no matter what?
Abraham and Isaac? God orders the patriarch to take his much loved son and stab a dagger through his heart. For reasons beyond my pusillanimous understanding, Abraham followed God’s dictates and — just as he raised the knife to plunge — God intervenes. “Hey, I just wanted to see if you’d do it.”
From these stories and countless others in the Old Testament, there appears a fearful God who is “wrathful,” “jealous,” “vengeful,” and rules with a twisted, sadistic edge.
The “New Testament” purports to serve up a more benign deity, one who would sacrifice “his only begotten son” so that our sinful race could be redeemed from eternal damnation. My problem? I can only believe in a redeemer who disavowed “original sin,” “lakes of fire,” “eternal damnation” and a hostile relationship between our physical and spiritual selves.
With the Bible as our source, Christ comes up short. At no point does Jesus repudiate any of the above precepts or the sadistic barbarity of the patriarch of the Old Testament. Instead, far from taking issue with this monomaniacal deity, Christ drank from the same cup. “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Jesus’ whole purpose was to die for humanity’s sins. It was clear that, on our own, a virtuous life was beyond such flawed, weak creatures. To Christ, we were all children and sheep.
One novel departure the “New Testament” did make was its obsession with eternity in hell as punishment for our sinful ways and refusal to accept Christ as savior.
Not for me, a religion so heavily freighted with shame, sinfulness and damnation. With Nietzsche, “I could only believe in a god who could dance.”
McGehee, a lifelong activist, settled here in 1973 and lives in Palouse with his wife, Katherine. His work life has varied from bartender to university instructor to wrecking yard owner.