Essay:The Word Of The Lord Should Not Be Static

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Many religious people, particularly fundamentalists, use the idea of dogma — a rigid and inflexible set of beliefs — to justify the notion that their current worldview is the only correct one and it should never ever change, and they justify this dogma by stating that it was given to them by their omniscient and omnibenevolent god whose knowledge of morality and everything is absolutely perfect and who always acts and speaks in humanity's best interest, and therefore whatever they say should be followed to the letter without question. To a rational person, this is a steaming load of bullshit. In fact, this should be a steaming load of bullshit even to an irrational person, because it fails to hold up to scrutiny on any conceivable level.

First of all, the "omni" qualities commonly ascribed to the god of a monotheistic religion do not make sense. Ascribing an infinite quality to a being means that said quality is highly susceptible to refutation through paradoxes. Omnipotence begs questions such as "Can an omnipotent being create a rock that it cannot lift?" Omniscience, in its most literal form, includes knowledge that does not actually exist, as some knowledge (such as the current location of any given physical entity) may only exist for a limited period of time, and by including prescience (knowledge of the future), a ponderer opens up headaches about subjects such as free will. Combining "omni" qualities opens up even more paradoxes, such as the interaction between omnipotence and omniscience (an omniscient being with perfect knowledge of the entire future has no free will and no omnipotence because it cannot alter its actions to create a new future without changing that future to something it does not know, and an omnipotent being cannot be omniscient because actions with free will that change a "predetermined" future will change that future to something unknown) or the problem of evil (the headache that results from trying to reconcile a combination of omnipotence, omnibenevolence, omniscience, and omnipresence with the empirically-verifiable fact that unfortunate things happen to people). In short, the existence of a deity with "omni" qualities is inconsistent with the universe that we actually live in; such claims encoded in holy text must be hyperbole written by people who didn't bother to think through all the implications of what they were saying (and may or may not have had any clue how critical thinking or rationality work). Ascribing unfathomable qualities to a deity avoids all of these paradoxes because the qualities in question do, in fact, have limits and/or flaws — the limits are simply unknown and possibly unknowable. But even if a perfect being could and did exist, a perfect being cannot share perfection with imperfect beings, because imperfection has flaws that are incompatible with perfection and would therefore reject any artificial attempts to impose it. (This does ignore the question of why a perfect being would create imperfect beings to begin with, which is further evidence that even God cannot be perfect.)

Imagine that you're a math teacher tasked with teaching calculusWikipedia to a toddler. No matter how good of a teacher you are, this job is completely impossible — not because of your deficiencies, but because of your student's. Toddlers' brains are highly undeveloped, and they cannot grasp complex concepts. Even if they could, calculus is an exceedingly poor choice for a first math lesson because it requires a lot of knowledge of simpler mathematics in order to grasp, and someone who is less than 4 years old almost certainly does not have that required background knowledge. Also, toddlers tend to have poor attention spans and one of their main ways of investigating new things is to put them in their mouths, so you would need to keep a close eye on your textbooks lest they get eaten. This is essentially the same position that a perfect being would find itself in when trying to send a perfect message to imperfect beings such as humans.

Imagine that you are God, and you are omniscient and omnibenevolent and omnipotent and you created everything. Some time ago, you either directly created a race of beings in your own image — a race that you have dubbed "humans" — or you have somehow guided the natural laws that you have created, such as the process of evolution, into begetting this species. Because you are love and justice incarnate, you wish to have a paternal relationship with this race of beings and to help them prosper, and thus you want to give them a moral code — your moral code — so that they don't give in to their nastier instincts and tear each other apart for petty gain. (We will, for now, ignore the question of why you put those nasty instincts there to begin with. Heck, maybe it wasn't actually you who put them there.) The problem is that those "nastier instincts" include a notable stubborn streak, a somewhat excessive degree of self-interest for a species whose best interests are served through cooperation, biased and prejudiced modes of thinking, and a tendency to be scared shitless of anything that is unfamiliar to them. These traits can be useful adaptations for dealing with a hostile environment, but they are making your job of sharing your perfect morality with these beings very difficult. In fact, they make your task impossible, as your perfect moral code is completely alien to everything they think they know about each other and their world and society; if you tried to share what you had to say with them, they would find it incomprehensible and terrifying and would therefore promptly disregard it and try to pretend that you didn't tell them anything (and that's one of the better reactions you could hope for; you could very well get your prophets lynched by trying to challenge people's prejudices too harshly). You could remove their free will or rain down fire and brimstone so that they have to listen to you, but you refuse to do that because you love them and want the best for them and you want their love for you to be freely given lest it be meaningless. Thus, your only option is to not share your perfect morals with them, but instead share a watered-down version that panders to the biases and prejudices of your audience. You don't really want to speak in support of shit like homophobia, slavery, misogyny, and xenophobia because those hurt people and are therefore wrong, but you don't have any better options right now, because those are attitudes that are strongly held by the people of the time because they do currently serve somewhat useful functions for those people. Danger and hardship are everywhere, and a society that accepts inefficiency in its breeding is vulnerable to conquest by its neighbors or erasure through high mortality; homosexual relationships that produce no offspring are one such inefficiency. Slavery is a legitimate boon to the economy of a society with poor-quality-at-best labor-saving technology. DNA has not yet been discovered and paternity tests are not yet a thing, so a man's only surefire refuge against the threat that cuckoldryWikipedia poses to his contribution to future generations is to take full ownership of a woman's reproductive functions. Finally, many nations are located in areas that are poorly-suited for agriculture, and have resorted to raiding and conquering their neighbors in order to eke out a living; it's hard for someone to "love thy neighbor" when they can't trust their neighbor not to slit their throat and loot their corpse at the earliest opportunity, and sometimes the only way to survive is to strike first. So, when you give your chosen people their Ten Commandments and the associated laws, you have to pander to their biases a bit and endorse their own morals — even the ones that future generations will hardly be able to consider "moral". Thankfully, you know full well that humans have a penchant for examining the attitudes of their predecessors, which can lead to a society slowly changing its mind about things over time as oppressed people protest their oppression, technological advances make necessary evils unnecessary, and young people rebel against rules that they perceive as unfair (among other drivers of the moral evolution of humanity). It shouldn't matter in the long run that the laws you had written in your holy text aren't actually perfect; given enough time, people should spot the imperfections and correct them. …And then those idiots use your perfection as an excuse to take everything you shared with their ancestors completely literally and refuse to accept any evidence to the contrary. OH, FOR YOUR SAKE-

This is why the very concept of dogma is stupid. The very perfection of God that fundamentalists use to support their dogma and defy all modifications and challenges actually undermines that dogma. A perfect God would not want us to refuse to question Him, because He would know that He can't tell us anything that shouldn't be questioned without us questioning it anyways. That's just how we are.

See also[edit]

  • MaimonedesWikipedia — A medieval Jewish rationalist who made a similar argument about God needing to set His own standards aside to some extent in order to make His Word more palatable to people in Biblical times