Sunday, June 10, 2012

What Making a Point about the Harm of Religion Sounds Like

By Gary Berg-Cross
I felt a point was made when I read a HufPo article by lawyer & "liberal Christian," "liberal Christian" Mark Osler called When the Atheists are Right.
Osler got to the point he had sadly learned about the harm that religious belief may promote with this:

“But then, last week, I received a letter that truly broke my heart. It did so, in part, because I know well the claims of atheists that religion does more harm than good in the world, and have often responded in the defense of faith. But there are some times that the harm done by religion is so clear that I doubt myself. A letter I received this week from "Kevin" presented me with one of those moments of doubt.”

The letter was by a Kevin responded to one of Osler’s article (which itself was filled with numerous references to the Bible or at least the New Testabment) but which accused Osler of ignoring the Bible. Kevin interprets that book (perhaps from sections of the older,  Jewish testament) to “REQUIRE condemnation by all of us of those who sin (at least so long as the sin is homosexuality). “

Olsler quotes from Kevin’s letter discussing "the homosexual agenda" and "lifestyle choices," but then comes to an upsetting section where Kevin’s personal tragedy is conflated and mixed into the Old Testament God’s demand of punishment for sin:

Lastly, I can speak on this subject very clearly as I am the Father of a child that has chosen the homosexual lifestyle. Even now as I'm writing you this email, my son is lying in a hospital bed dying from his acts of homosexuality. His Mother and I raised him to know Christ, but as a young man he took up this lifestyle against our counsel. Because of his lifestyle and nothing else, he is now facing death. Just know that our sins are forgivable and God is a gracious and loving God, but he is very, very clear about the penalties, especially homosexuality. We are saddened and heart broken that our baby son is going to die such a horrible death and is suffering because of his decision to live the homosexual lifestyle. But we also know and knew what God say's about the wages of sin. The wages of sin are DEATH.

I don't know if this is enough to claim hypocrisy in some Biblical message believers but it does point out the conflicting messages and interpretation that sacred writing can produce, It was enough for Prof. Osler to speculate that atheists can be right about religion, or at least about the idea that Religion's prophetic book allow people to “twist the truth.” To Osler the Gospel  are stories of love and leave no place for an expression of hatred, especially to one’ own dying child. It is perhaps a conflict of the older religious stories with the more liberal, progressive stories found in the New Testament.

A liberal Osler would hope that a proper lesson comes from something like the story of the prodigal son Jesus tells found in the Book of Luke.  I take this story as a general human, moral tale about a father’s unquestioning love for his sons as wells as learning lessons about one’s self, and not one in which there is a God role. The prodigal son demanded inheritance and then squandered it through "dissolute living" (wine, women and song?) When the son hits bottom, the story has him learning a lesson and starting off to return to his father and repent. However, when he arrives and before screw his courage up to repent, his father, filled in unquestioning love runs to him, puts his arms around him and kisses him. Not exactly an old testament,  tough love stance, but a more humanistic one that I can like. It’s a rationalization that Christ is the one that has to direct us to such love. I find fatherly (and now grandfatherly) love natural and would believe that fatherly love for children is an ancient part of human nature shaped by evolutionary processes that work to help the species survive. It’s great that cultures have progressively shaped and institutionalized (including stories) what nature has given us to work with.
As for religious culture, I can agree with Olser  when he says of the dilemma  posed by Kevin’s  interpretation of Godly demands for punishment, “ I despair of that religion”.

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