On the Necessity of Apostasy

On one of the “atheists vs. Christians” Facebook pages that I occasionally haunt, one of the contributors recently raised an earnest question that deserves a sincere, considered response. I’ll begin by quoting him:

“You are asking this generation of Believers to put aside their beliefs in their Savior, after 2,000+ years of dedication Believers gave their lives to pass the legacy to each generation, per the Christ’s request?”

 

Garbled though it may be, this is one of the better questions I’ve seen raised in that forum. Without making it crystal clear, he seems to have broached two issues, one of which I responded to briefly with an observation about “throwing good money after bad” but now would like to address at slightly greater length: Yes, it’s true that the history of Christianity is strewn with martyrs who died for their convictions. And on some level, I’ll admit that’s impressive – just as it’s impressive when a Muslim fanatic dies for his beliefs, whether he’s put to death by the zealous defender of a rival faith or blows himself up in a crowded marketplace imagining it to be the will of Allah. But that doesn’t make his religion true, any more than being martyred for the Christian faith makes that religion true. All it means is that some people are willing to die for their opinions, and that others are willing to kill those who hold what they imagine to be the wrong opinions. No matter how many people die for a faith, the faith is not thereby validated.

 

Consider the violent end of that unfortunate first-century Palestinian prophet around whom the Christian religion is built. For the sake of argument, I’ll assume that such a figure as Jesus of Nazareth actually existed and was put to death by the Roman Procurator for inciting rebellion. That doesn’t make him the Son of God: it makes him the victim – one of many such victims – of an empire that wasn’t keen on having its prerogatives questioned. It happens all the time, and doesn’t make Jesus or any other martyr divine. For that matter, it doesn’t even place the stamp of validity on his message: his message – assuming we can find it somewhere within the opacities of the Gospels – stands or falls on its own merits.

 

I mourn for those who, like Jesus, are executed unfairly. I mourn the unjust death of Martin Luther King, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ethyl Rosenberg, Joe Hill and Mohandas Gandhi for the same reason. But that martyrdom doesn’t make them special: their lives made them special. Like Jesus, the five martyrs I named died for causes that I can get behind, but the thing that makes their message “true” and their causes worth fighting for is not the martyrdom of the messengers.
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Season’s Greetings!

It’s that time of year when the sun approaches its southernmost track across the northern hemisphere’s sky and people of various religious persuasions celebrate the winter solstice without actually knowing that that’s what they’re doing. Predictably, some of the Christian commentators who make their living defiling the airwaves and manipulating public opinion are doing their damnedest to ramp up paranoia about a wholly hallucinated “war on Xmas.” Crèches on public property and holiday greetings at retail outlets are being shoved to the forefront of national attention in the midst of an existential crisis that’s never even mentioned because that’s something only “liberals” talk about. It’s comic and tiresome simultaneously. If the promises of the Enlightenment held any water, you’d think that by now western civilization would have grown beyond that kind of thing.
 

By the time this post goes public I’ll have undergone cataract surgery and will probably have a great deal of vision restored to me. I thank science for that. For all the early 21st century’s horrors, I’m glad to be living in a time when the healing arts reflect the scientific understanding of the human body, not the shamanistic one. A surgeon armed with lasers and an artificial lens is going to do for me what Jesus of Nazareth is reputed to have done with a little clay on which he spat.

 

The prospect of that restored vision has me in an expansive mood, and I guess it’s for that reason that I want to couch this post as a kind of seasonal greeting to Christians – not that I think any of them will read it here. (But if anyone who does read it finds merit in the thought experiment I propose, please feel free to appropriate it and use it as you like. Who knows: in some rare cases, it might have an effect.)

 

I probably should say that as I write the following, I very much have certain members of my family in mind. This is the letter that I will not write to them because I know what kind of reception it would get and how much rancor would ensue. I’ve tried something like it before and learned my lesson. For whatever it’s worth, and for the benefit of whomever, here’s my letter:

 

Dear Christians:
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