God and morality

sent in by Alex

I came to my sister's house for dinner and she insisted that I post here. She did a couple of weeks ago and it was fascinating to read the discussion her testimony provoked.

I was raised as a devout Catholic. I seriously considered joining the priesthood. My leaving Christianity was the result of a series of fortunate events.

A new employee Simon joined my department at work. He was an evangelical. I live in the LA area. You don't have a whole lot of evangelicals here. Anyway, we really hit it off. We loved discussing religion. I knew he believed I was headed for Hell but I didn't care because I knew that Catholicism was the one true faith and all the rest were apostates. Simon volunteered at a youth camp every Summer. He taught the kids at the camp the importance of abstinence before marriage and gave lectures on the subject in Sunday school classes. I thought this was great even though I hadn't exactly followed the abstinence thing myself.

One day we got into a discussion about atheists. We both agreed that atheists can't be truly moral because you can't have morality without God. Anyone who doesn't believe in God must establish their own idea of right and wrong. Therefore, right and wrong is whatever they determine it to be. I believed that Christianity was the foundation of western law, conveniently ignoring the fact that most of the things the 10 commandments says we shouldn't do are legal.

I had another coworker Jess who came in at 7am every Tuesday and Thursday and left at 2:30pm. During the summer she came in at 9am. I jokingly mentioned to another coworker that Jess finally got sense and stopped coming to work so early. My coworker told me it was because school was out. Jess helps disadvantaged kids with their homework at an afterschool program. She had done this since she was in college. I was really blown away by this. Jess came from a very secular family. She had an openly hostile attitude toward religion, which is why I had never bothered to have a conversation with her. Yet, she went out of her way to help people in need. Despite my strong faith, I did charitable work only a few times a year. The same was true for Simon.

A few days later, I told Simon that it was my birthday but I didn't have any plans to celebrate. I had broken up with my girlfriend a month before and my parents were out of town. Simon said he would take me out. Simon picked me up around 7pm. I assumed that he would take me to dinner but he actually took me to a nightclub. I was surprised because I thought evangelicals would think nightclubs are sinful. I was even more surprised when Simon approached me a few hours later with a hot girl by his side and asked if I could find my own way home. He was going to take the girl home. I was outraged, especially after I paid the $45 taxi fare. It turned out that Simon was quite a womanizer.

Afterwards, I asked him how he could preach abstinence to teenagers, when he obviously wasn't himself. He told me God wants us to aim for perfection but he knows we can never achieve perfection. This is why Jesus' sacrifice was necessary. I realised something I had never realised before. Religious people also establish their own morality. They pick and choose which parts of the Bible they will and won't follow. I could no longer accept the idea that religion was a necessary precursor to morality. I realised that laws and morals are based on the need for survival, on instinct, not on the whims of an invisible creator. We could not survive as a species without laws and rules.

About a month later I read an article about the hisorical evidence for Jesus. The article mentioned that the Jewish historian Josephus had written about Jesus. I did some research and was surprised to find out that Josephus was born around the time Jesus died. I had assumed when reading the article that Josephus was one of Jesus' contemporaries. I asked myself is this really the only external "proof" for Jesus. When you read the gospels it really seems as if Jesus is a major figure of his time. He attracts large crowds, the sick come to him from miles around to be healed. Crowds attended his trial and demanded his execution. Crowds lined the streets while he made the trek to his execution site. Yet no Roman or Jewish historian bothered to mention him. I couldn't help but conclude that the gospels were exaggerating.

I mentioned this to an ex-believing friend. He told me that the virgin birth and the Christmas story did not appear in the earlier gospels. This was all made up later on. This was very painful for me to admit but I knew there was no way the early gospel writers would carelessly omit such important facts. It was obvious that none of it happened. My friend also said there was no Roman census anytime close to when Jesus was born. Even if there had been Jesus' family would not have been required to go to the town of their birth. I realised that much of the Jesus story was fabricated. At first it was hard to accept that what I had truly believed for years had no factual basis. I also felt like an idiot for being suckered into believing it to begin with.

For a while after rejecting his divinity I believed that Jesus was a prophet or moral philosopher. I then rejected this belief after I concluded that I had no way of knowing what he really said or what words were attributed to him after the fact. Also, I was troubled by some things. The cursing of the fig tree for not bearing fruit out of season. The initial refusal to cure a woman's daughter because she wasn't Jewish and essentially calling them both dogs. The whole thing about not coming to bring peace but a sword and turning family members against each other. He definitely has done that. So much for Christianity promoting family values.

I married Jess, who is nicer and kinder than any Christian girl (of any sect) I've ever known. I also feel that I have become a better person. People have told me I used to be so uptight, preachy and judgmental that they didn't feel comfortable being around me. It's true that I no longer condemn people for being human. I no longer look at the specks in other people's eyes, while ignoring the mote in my own (something Jesus supposedly said). So, I can say without a doubt that you can be moral without belief.

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