Do this or you will die

If someone were to say this to you, and you replied “do what?” – what you would expect, no, demand – as a reply?

If you are going to ask someone to act as if their life depended on it, or perhaps even change their entire lifestyle, isn’t it fair that you be damn sure what you’re talking about – and even more sure about the criteria required?

When performing brain surgery, a surgeon doesn’t play ip-dip as to where to start the incision – or follow the vague direction “cut into the head”; if the operation was on me I’d like him to be a little more specific than that. A successful businessman when negotiating with traders doesn’t guess the lowest price he can go to, or rely on gut feeling; he calculates his entire margin taking into account all available factors and works out the variables. These two examples demonstrate how, in the real world, reality is uncompromising and makes certain demands on human beings, such as: specificity, accuracy, logic. Most normal people tend to demand these standards in their everyday life, whether they realise it or not. For example, we don’t cross the road without looking both ways; we don’t jump a wall without knowing what’s on the other side; we don’t drink unlabelled bottles without being reasonably sure they’re safe.

Imagine a less mundane situation, like a hostage crisis; a criminal leaves a message iterating his demands. If the demands aren’t met he will kill a room full of people in one hour. Worse, imagine that the message he left was garbled and barely decipherable; you are able to discern demands for some exact amount of money – but how much you don’t know. He wants a helicopter from a specific location – but you can’t tell where – he wants you to forward on a political statement, only he forgot to include the statement in the message. Worse still, you have no way to get back in touch with him. Imagine the frustration and panic you would feel as the minutes tick away.

Bare this in mind, and consider that earlier today I had a conversation with a fundamentalist Christian who was unable to give me a list of criteria required for approval by God, and therefore acceptance by him and survival when The End comes. Think about that… these people who preach repentance to and belief in God, who are asking you, on behalf of this God, to change your entire lifestyle and become a member of this particular belief system that has hundreds of thousands of competing systems in the world, because your life depends on it – cannot even tell you the exact requirements. I was able to dissect this person’s beliefs and assertions to the point they admitted that it wasn’t necessary to be a member of their sect, it wasn’t necessary to read the bible, and it wasn’t even necessary to believe in god… so then, what is the point of belonging to any religion? What extra “good” would I gain by being part of a faith, as opposed to being a good person but not being part of the faith? If the end came today would I die? Staggeringly, no answer was forthcoming. I was told “I don’t have the right to judge.” Which opens up another gaping contradiction in this faith: if you know what is right and wrong, how can you not evaluate something to determine whether it is good or bad? If you cannot judge right from wrong, you cannot know that you yourself are on the right track! How are these people, presumably the ones to be saved come The End, to know they not forgetting something themselves? They either don’t know what it takes, in which it makes no sense to identify yourself as part of a specific faith – i.e. this particular thing and not that, or they do know but have been brainwashed and conditioned through doubletalk and faith that it’s not acceptable to talk about or acknowledge the grim truth that is too horrific to mention yet is tacitly believed: if you are not part of this particular faith, you can’t be saved.

Of course, that would mean that “being good” isn’t enough. It’s not enough to be good or live by an objective moral code – no, you must add on all this extra stuff to it – like meeting several times a week during which point it is never clarified why you are there. You must knock door to door and talk to people about your faith, whilst never being able to specify the most basic tenets of it. Live a strict, self-effacing, and conservative lifestyle, yet not acknowledging nor identifying exactly what this lifestyle should and shouldn’t consist of. On top of all this, you want other people to do the same as you, because you believe their life depends on it!

Of course, the reason all this extra stuff is tacked onto the notion of simply “being good” is because without all that extra stuff, cults and sects and religions wouldn’t exist. After all, as this person and I managed to agree on: if just “being good” was enough to be saved, what would be the entire point of the faith? The irony was lost on them. And when I asked why all this extra stuff was necessary or whether I could have a complete list of this extra stuff, I couldn’t get an answer.

And this is the mental harmony and peace of mind that we are often told religious people have? This is the stuff that “keeps them happy”? This is what gives believers “meaning”?

As I closed in saying to this person, if you are going to hold beliefs and act on them – and integrate them fully into your life, and also ask or expect that others do the same – and insist that not only your life depends on it, but the lives of every member of the human race – it is not just reasonable, but necessary for your own intellectual honesty, respect, self-confidence, reputation and credulity, that you can back these words up. We expect it from doctors, businessmen, hell – even terrorists – so why not the loving all-powerful creator of the universe and his most privileged spokesmen on earth?

We all know the answer.

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