I was about thirteen or fourteen, I believe, when an uber-religious friend talked me into attending the summer camp his church recommended, with assurances of countless activities including water-skiing and nature hikes, the kind of stuff all summer camps promise. There was almost none of this, even less than most camps produce, and instead there were numerous christian indoctrination sessions – this came as no surprise to me even at that age, and I willingly admit I was ridiculously naïve when younger (save the comments until the end, please.) But I will credit it for something crucial to my outlook now, something that they certainly didn’t intend.
In one of their evening bible sessions, the counselor was discussing the story of David and Goliath, and at one point provided this little gem: “It is said that David took three stones with him, [it was five, but bear with me] and many take this to mean that David was unsure of himself, that he had extras in case he missed. But David had absolute faith, because god was with him – he knew he only needed one stone. The reason he took three was that Goliath had two brothers, who David would have to slay as well, and so he had a stone for each.”
Now, this church was adamant that the only true, correct bible was the King James version, and so that was the only one we all had in our possession – and it’s pretty clear that no such brothers are mentioned in the slightest. It even trashes the narrative, since Goliath was the Philistines’ champion, and his death caused a rout – David wasn’t about to go find any brothers in the circumstances, nor would there be the slightest need. I remember suddenly thinking: Hey, wait. We all have the same book, and that isn’t in here. So where is the counselor getting this information from? They don’t make a Teacher’s Edition bible. And with that, I knew he was making it up.
In the same camp, we had a campfire story of some nice christian dude who worked at a railroad yard, who brought his young son into work with him one day. Like all good parents, he was paying no attention to his kid and discovered, to his chagrin, that his child was playing on the tracks right smack in the path of an oncoming passenger line. Switching the passenger train to another track would derail it, but letting it go would kill his son. With faith in salvation and god’s plan and all that horseshit, he allowed the train to plow over his son and thus spared all of the passengers, some of which were undoubtedly unsaved heathens, but so it goes. The point, I believe, was that faith in god meant you could kill your son without misgivings.
While the story had a profound effect on me as an adolescent, mostly horror, it only took a few days or so before I realized it was nonsense too – and this was long before I heard about the Trolley Problems, the well-known psychological examination of moral decisions using fictional scenarios, to which the counselor’s story bore a remarkable resemblance. Once again, these fine, upstanding baptists were lying their asses off to the kids in their
control care – and, I have no doubt, knowingly as well. And that started a very long observation, still taking place, of how often religious folk exuberantly and hypocritically lie in their efforts to “spread the good word.” I always thought it was satan that was supposed to be the Prince of Lies, but maybe I missed the subtle nuances of scripture in that regard.
The worst thing is, this is rampant, and not just in brainwashing camps. It takes no effort whatsoever to find wild interpretations of scripture provided as doctrine, much less the countless instances of things just made up out of, if you’ll pardon the expression, whole cloth. Just about every time I hear some respected religious leader speak, and in almost every written article, I find something that is clearly not from any established source.
Now, one could argue that these might actually be examples of divine revelation, god expressing his thoughts through individuals – the kind of blanket statement that provides a nice counterpoint to cynicism, or so it would seem. The curious thing about open-mindedness, however, is that it does not go only one way; there is also the possibility that the person is outright lying, that the person is delusional, and even that some other non-corporeal being is using this person as a relay, for any variety of purposes. Most people urging objectivity manage to halt inquiry entirely at the option they most favor, hard as that may be to imagine, and it should be noted that this is no way resembles having an open mind – precisely the opposite, in fact. But even when practiced with rigor, having an open mind doesn’t actually lead anywhere, since there are thousands of possibilities to be considered. The counselor might have been telling the truth, and if so, David was confident in god’s existence – perhaps. It still remains a story, after all, its authenticity impossible to establish. Or the counselor might have been lying, which means he was trying to propel his agenda by imparting falsehoods to impressionable adolescents – the ability to recognize such, by the way, will certainly come in quite useful later on in life.
Such speculations about divine revelation falls flat when it comes up against the clearly fictional stories passed along as fact, endlessly forwarded through e-mail, such as this list. Whoever first kicks off any of these chains quite clearly knows they’re fabrications, while indisputably geared towards a religious agenda. This entire resource was created to counteract the pervasive attempts to subvert, denigrate, and deny established science – take a look at the list of creationist claims being addressed there (and for preference some of the sources cited within,) and try to fathom how much effort has been poured into the act of, as it is occasionally known, “lying for jesus.”
I don’t have to belabor the fact that not just all major religions, but all societies we know, are pretty dead set against lying, dishonesty, falsehoods, and so on. But what’s most stunning about this is how often we are all assured that religion is responsible for inspiring, instilling, and maintaining moral behavior in people – many people even insist we would be savages without it. This moral guidance is quite possibly the biggest lie of them all – and the competition is stiff.
There are a lot of avenues of examination that can be followed with this, and some of them will come up in later posts. Right now, I’m going to come back to the personal angle, which is the effect it had on me – and, I doubt I’m alone in this regard. Seeing the amount of intentional deceit perpetrated in the guise of ‘moral superiority,’ I realized at a young age that trust was actually a stupid thing – it invites abuse. The edifice of respectability that has been built up around religion (and, indeed, many other things discovered later on) is an elaborate disguise, hiding the true nature if we’re gullible enough to fall for it all. You could call this an epiphany if you like irony – it’s certainly not the kind those counselors were hoping to provoke. But, sometimes, it’s the conniving little shits that provide the best lessons.