At times it seems to me that apologists are actually very weak in their faith and that their arguments are designed more to convince themselves rather than others. Of course, the same could be same of me and my efforts. But I will say that I write, not so much to convince myself (I hope) as to correct what I see as some bad ideas that have been inflicted on people by religion.
One of the most dangerous to me is the notion that we humans need to be constrained in our behaviors by the threat of eternal justice and that we need to be “saved” in some way. I reject both ideas.
The Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy famously decribed Earth and its inhabitants as “mostly harmless.” I agree with this assessment. Don’t get me wrong, people are certainly prone to be evil to one another from time to time, but if you look at the vast majority of people the vast majority of the time they are just quietly going about their lives in a “mostly harmless” way.
Yes, there are defects, but one has to wonder how many people who cause major problems are actually some form of psychopath. It is often argued that people having a conscience is somehow proof of god, but it is also true that a signficant minority of people (usually men, oddly) seem to lack this social conscience. This lack of conscience certainly causes evil on a small scale (Ted Bundy) but also on massive scales (Hitler and Pol Pot.)
Seeming psychopaths are not restrained by religious philosophies and sometimes seem to highjack them for justtification, ISIS might be a current a current example of this phenomenon.
I don’t think for a moment that all human evil is caused by psychopathy, people certainly think of plenty of things to do that seem morally suspect. But it can also be said that many things that seem morally suspect do have explanations by those who do them.
For example, we humans do seem to have a tendency to lie. But many of the lies that are told are told with the best of intentions, according to the tellers. From little white lies that grease our social interactions to gross fibs that are designed to “protect the feelings of others,” many people claim to lying for a greater good. And maybe so.
But for the most part, most people live out their lives loving their children, working hard to put bread on the table and trying to make their corner of the world a little bit better place. And don’t say it is because they have absorbed the Christian or other religious message, as their are and have been plenty of societies that don’t have cosmic carrots and sticks in their religious traditions and people don’t seem to behave that much differently.
It really seems to me that the threat of eternal punishment is incredibly overblown for the kinds of sins that 95% of the human race commits. Eternal punishment for masturbating or stealing seems a bit extreme.
Currently, the incarceration rate in the United States is less than one percent of the population and many people consider this to be incredibly high and it must be admitted than many people who are there locked up for using drugs, which is possibly not even a sin.
Even if we allow for the idea that some things could be sinful, but are not criminal, we still have a very small percentage of people who do things bad enough for society to punish them. But god needs to threaten a greater number of us with even greater punishment to get us to do the right thing? How does that even make sense?
I could almost see a system where some small percentage of people did time in purgatory (equivalent to jail time) and a miniscule percentage of people subjected to hell (life imprisonment without parole).
But to hear many religionists speak of it, purgatory will be a full time business, pretty much everyone but the saints will stop there. And hell will also be pretty busy, so busy in fact that each of us every day should be made aware of its existence and how lucky we are to be “saved” from it.
If a society considered most of it’s people worthy of at least some jail time and most people were afraid that they might be sent to prison, even for a minor offense, we would rightly call that tryanny. And having the governor of such a state saying that he will gladly pardon any of those he considers “worthy” does not lessen the tryanny any.