Yesterday, I tried to demonstrate how the essence of the Christian message is abhorrent when it is stripped of fluff and psychological manipulation. Today I want to explore an objection I received via Facebook. (If you aren’t my friend on Facebook, it’s Hamby Dammit. ) In a nutshell, it goes like this: The Christian message is not about a literal reading of the salvation plan. It’s a metaphor for love and sacrifice. “True Christianity™” is about interpreting the Bible in a way that focuses on the love of God.
I know it’s tempting to just toss this aside, but let’s think critically about the possibility that the heart of this objection is valid. Maybe the Christian message is only abhorrent when it’s taken literally. Maybe the correct metaphorical understanding of the salvation story creates the holy grail — a story that offers good moral guidance and is easily understood as “good” without any fluff or manipulation.
Where do we start? Let’s take the basics of the story:
- God became human
- God was killed by humans
- God came back from the dead
- If anyone believes this story, they get to go to a happy place forever.
- If anyone doesn’t believe this story, they get sent to a horrific torture chamber forever.
Hmmm. I admit that I’m not the smartest person on the planet, but I’m no dummy, either. I’m having a very hard time coming up with what this might represent that is an obvious good and moral instruction. What might God becoming human represent in terms of moral concepts? Identifying with lesser life forms? It’s not that, because God claims to be all knowing. He already knows what we’re like. Being willing to live in a less than perfect form? To experience pain? Well, I suppose that’s nice, but the literal story is that God created earth and that it was exactly the way he wanted it. So what’s great about creating an environment full of pain and then experiencing it for an eyeblink while the creation is stuck in it for its entire lifetime? I can’t think of a good moral lesson there.
Maybe I’m trying too hard. Let’s just put it in the form of a moral lesson. If someone has power over you, and lets you hurt him, but survives the hurt, then goes away, you should ummm… believe that he did it, and then good things will happen to you. How’s that?
Not especially morally uplifting in my book. Let’s try again, with something even simpler. If someone sacrifices something for you, you should love them for it, and then good things will happen to you. Well… it’s not bad. Sacrifice for the good of others is generally regarded as a good moral act. Being grateful for sacrifice is also a good thing. But can we say it’s an “ultimate truth?” Is being grateful for sacrifice important enough to justify an entire religion?
Ugh. I need to tell you that I’m not being snarky here. I’m honesty trying very hard to think of a good moral message from the salvation story. This is a big deal. Hitchens and Harris claim that there’s nothing in Christianity worth keeping. They catch a lot of shit for saying so. But if they’re wrong, we should be able to produce evidence that they’re wrong… right?
There’s a huge fundamental problem with this exercise. Whatever good moral message we come up with, we’ve got to overcome a Brobdingnagian obstacle — the literal story itself. The literal reading of the salvation story is abhorrent. So whatever good moral message we derive from a metaphorical reading of it has to be so obviously and monumentally good that it justifies hiding it in such an awful story.
Is that even possible? Beyond that, what can we say about a god who chooses to convey his monumentally good message in a story that gets used for centuries of oppression, repression, and abuse? Is the act of disguising such a beautiful message in any way good? Is there anything beneficial in hiding the message instead of making it obvious?
Ok… we’re really digging a deep pit. I’ve got one more idea. Since we’re treating anything as open to metaphorical interpretation, perhaps God himself is a metaphor. Can we make this into a good thing if we treat literally everything as metaphorical? If there is no god, and there is a great moral message in Christianity, does that save it as a religion?
I really don’t think so. What possible benefit is there in hiding a moral message? Actually, that’s the crux of the matter. Moral instruction is there to make us better people, right? So anytime we have the ability to tell people something morally wonderful, and we hide it, that’s bad, right?
Seems obvious to me. Can anyone think of a problem with this reasoning?