The dark side of theology:
People persist in mixing up religion and God.  I shall not go so far as to say the two have nothing to do with each other.  After all, religion gets mixed up in everything.  But the connection is rather tenuous. 

I propose two things.  1) Most people are pretty decent.  2) The night sky is dark.  If you believe those two things, you have reason to suspect that the very worst thing about religion is theology, the teachings about God. 

God’s easy.  He’s what you sense when you sense God.  Theology, even secular theology that attempts to explain God away as a simple matter of chemistry, is anything but easy. 

First let me amplify my assumptions.  People are pretty decent.  People expect themselves to be good.  If they lose their self esteem they become depressed and start to consider suicide.  In fact that’s about the only time they consider it.  And were people not decent on average, society would cease.  Every society produces more than it needs to survive.  Even the most impecunious society will have some moments of leisure, of song and fellowship that are not absolutely essential to survival.  Societies do not fail because everybody is a crumb.  They fail because babies stop coming.  People are decent. 

The night sky is dark.  Were you to gaze into a forest, you might be able to see a goodly distance but not indefinitely.  Sooner or later any direction encounters a tree.  Were the universe infinitely old and infinitely extensive, every direction would encounter a star.  The night sky would be ablaze.  Newton pointed out that a bunch of stars scattered in space would collapse into a wad, and so it is.  Science tells us that instead the universe is expanding, and for the current purpose that is close enough to the truth. 

Since the universe expands, any day finds the same matter scattered in a larger space.  It takes more information to describe all the new possibilities.  So the present does not, even in theory, specify the future.  The future is inherently unpredictable.  Any attempt to describe reality will eventually fail.  This gives us some freedom.  It also presents an inconvenience. 

Being decent, people hold themselves to standards.  “I don’t do that because I don’t like it.”  That’s not always a problem.  “I don’t do that because I don’t have the opportunity.”  We can live with that.  “I don’t do that because it is wrong.”  Ahh.  Trouble.

You see standards, like any other description, will always fail.  If you hold yourself to a standard it is always, absolutely and inescapably, an impossible standard.  And being a decent person you will hold yourself to a standard.  So you will have to kick yourself from time to time.  It’s part of the game.  Live with it.

Not content with an experience of God, most societies hire specialists to explain Him.  An exception is the Society of Friends, the Quakers.  But most of us look to experts.  And then the experts started explaining right and wrong.  This was a case of mission creep.  It is beside the point.  Most people are decent anyway.  In most western religions we are taught the Ten Commandments.  As I have pointed out, they aren’t commandments at all.  It is a covenant.  But religion gets into everything and so we have doctrines that specify what is good.

And those doctrines are invented by – or revealed to if you like; it makes no difference – people.  You see the conflict of interest I trust.  People, all people, are burdened with regrets, with shame, with wishing they had done better.  Theologians are no different.  Else the night sky is afire or they are among the exceptional theoretical few who might be truly evil. 

So here are these people, hag ridden with remorse, interpreting for us what is right and what is wrong.  It seems to me, and I do not propose this is an infallible truth, but it seems to me that the pressure is to pronounce principles that justify their own actions, specifically to justify the rascalities haunting them at the moment.

So there you have it.  The driving force behind any institutional teaching about good and evil is evil itself.  (We learn about good and evil from those who bring us up, even if we are brought up in an institution.)  This is not to proclaim spiritual anarchy.  Freedom is good, but institutions have a function.  It is to proclaim that a large amount of tolerance is called for when dealing with a theology different from your own, even when dealing with your own theology.   

And should you ever undertake to follow my lead and try to tell the world that biology is real, that humans share functions with animals, and that keeping the gene pool tight is vital to survival, you will have to deal with such issues.  People will not want to believe you.  The sense of guilt would probably be very great.  But if we are to survive, then a quorum of us must take a deep breath and shoulder a bit of depression for a while. 

(I notice that a different slant is taken on the topic by Michael Shermer The Science of Right and Wrong SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN vol. 304 no. 1 January, 2011 page 83.  Were science actually objective there might be hope there, but scientists are people, so the whole effort faces the same problem with personal guilt.) 

There have been 8,747 visitors so far.

Home page.