In Their Own Words:
Humanists Discuss Their Paths to Humanism
I WAS SIX YEARS OLD and stricken with grief over the recent death of my dearly beloved dog. Our minister dropped by to visit my mother, and I asked him to tell me how I would meet my dog again in heaven. He said I would not meet my dog in heaven, because animals have no souls and God does not allow them in. I would, however, meet all my dear relatives in heaven, and wasn’t that nice?
I was horrified. I tried to negotiate. I said I’d be willing to trade a couple of aunts and uncles for my dog, if God could perhaps make an exception for me. The minister said no. God would never haggle. At last I stamped my foot and said I thought God was mean, and I didn’t want to go to his nasty old petless heaven anyway, and I ran away crying.
My embarrassed mother made me come back and apologize, but my heart wasn’t in it. I detested the minister from that day onward. Furthermore, what I learned about God in Sunday school did little to improve my opinion of him. For instance, why would a purportedly loving and all-powerful father have to make his son die a cruel death before he got willing to forgive people? Why didn’t he just forgive them right off? And if he did agree to forgive them after the son’s death, why was he still sending people to his super-sadistic hell to suffer for all eternity? (I had a Catholic playmate who informed me that everybody in my family would go to hell anyway, because we went to the wrong church. Her parochial-school “sister” said so.)
I was a nuisance in Sunday school. I asked the teacher many questions, but I got no answers, only scoldings. I learned that questioning was evil, and that I must simply believe everything I was told, because that was God’s rule. Worst of all, I would be expected to become a cannibal and consume the actual flesh and blood of poor dead Jesus, whose gory demise was shown to us children in a life-size painting. The whole idea gave me an uncomfortable feeling of nausea.
Later, as an adolescent, I decided to find the answers on my own. I would go to the source, and read the Bible for myself, carefully, cover to cover. I didn’t expect to find God so completely demonized by his own “holy word,” yet the biblical stories gave him so evil a character that I was astonished that anyone could call it the “Good Book.”
The divine monster of the original old King James version has been whitewashed to some extent by later editing and revising, but he’s still bad enough that perhaps the greatest miracle of modern Christianity is how he can appear good to the Bible-reading fundies. He played a very cruel trick on Abraham, for example, ordering him to kill his son (there was a lot of eldest-child sacrifice in Old Testament times, apparently). I despised Abraham for caving in. If God ordered me to kill my child, wouldn’t I simply tell God to go to hell?
Then there was the story of Job, which everybody seemed to think a valuable moral lesson. On a whim, God slaughtered all of Job’s relatives, servants, and domestic animals, apparently to win a bet. Readers were supposed to feel infinitely sorry for poor Job, but neither God nor anyone else seemed to feel the least pity for all those murdered innocents.
God certainly didn’t mean it when he said “Thou shalt not kill.” Again and again in all the Old Testament books, God ordered gigantic slaughters of men, women, children, babies, and all domestic animals, excepting only virgin girls, who were to be taken prisoner and raped by God’s warriors. God commanded the murders of witches, wizards, homosexuals, adulterers, blasphemers, false prophets, any family members who failed to worship him properly, and any person who worked on a Sunday (Ex. 31), which condemned pretty much everybody except the lucky nine-to-five weekday folks. Since the term used was “Sabbath,” it seemed that Jews who worked on Saturday were also at risk.
God had forty-two children torn to pieces by bears because they made fun of Elisha’s bald head. He killed poor Uzzah for touching the Ark, though Uzzah was only trying to save it from falling off its oxcart. He slaughtered all the firstborn children in Egypt. He killed thousands with his punitive lightning, plagues, famine, blasting, consumption, and other ills (Deuteronomy 28). He told his warriors to slash open the bellies of pregnant women (Hosea 13) and bragged that he had destroyed many nations (Zephania 3). As a female, too, I took exception to his insulting and injurious attitude toward women.
God condoned slavery, rape, and torture. Men were allowed to sell their daughters into slavery, or to beat a slave nearly to death without punishment if the victim managed to survive for a few days (Exodus 21). Jesus also said it was permissible to whip slaves (Luke 12). Jesus said a lot of other foolish things, such as a man who wishes to be sure of getting into heaven should have himself castrated (Matthew 19). He promised that anyone who believes in him can drink poison and play with venomous snakes without harm (Mark 16). Such demonstrations of faith have been tried, unfortunately with disappointing results.
To my adolescent self, this biblical brute called God was terrifying. If he could do such awful things to innocent people, what would he do to me, with all my taboo questions? Eventually, though, I got tired of being scared and began to be angry. With a desperate cornered-rat sort of courage, I undertook to challenge the God who probably knew already how much I disliked him. One night during a violent thunderstorm, I dared him to blast me with his lightning, figuring that my parents would think it a natural accident and not know that it was my own fault. I lay in my bed and spoke to the ceiling: “I hate you, God. I think you stink.”
Then I gritted my teeth, squeezed my eyes shut, clenched my fists, and waited for the deadly stroke. It didn’t come. I issued my declarations again, but there was no response. Gradually I came to the conclusion that I spoke into a celestial telephone with no one at the other end. All those fears had been put into me for nothing. He wasn’t there at all!
The next morning I woke up and went to school feeling free and light as air. All alone, I had been born again in reverse: liberated forever from that dismal sense of oppression, newly convinced that my disapproval of God was entirely justified. Never again would I be mentally or emotionally enslaved by a cruel mythology. I was converted to truth.