I seem to be on a roll lately when it comes to ticking people off. My June 16th post, Judaism and Christianity are Incompatible, was in response to people who were angry about a previous post (Baha’is in Danger, June 15, 2008). Now this post is in response to people who are angry about that post.
The problem seems to be the last paragraph, or rather that last sentence of that paragraph:
Does this mean that individual Jews and Christians cannot invent variations of their respective faiths that make room for some of the teachings of the other? No. Individuals can do lots of things, but unless and until their private innovations become the norm for masses of people they cannot pretend that what they do is what God intended them to do. And even if their innovations catch on it is still a matter of pretend, because all religion is pretend.
It seems that lots of people who read this blog do not agree that religion is pretend, and want me to explain what I mean when I say it is pretend. So here goes…
To pretend is to give one the feeling that something is true when in fact it is not. Judaism, for example, pretends that God chose the Jews and gave them the one true revelation, the Torah, by which they are to establish the perfect kingdom (Israel) and become a “light unto the nations.” It is a wonderful fiction, but it is still fiction; we made it up.
Christianity understands this and thus denies the Jewish story in favor of its own: God sent His Son to die for our sins and thereby provide believers with a ticket to Heaven. Islam denies both stories, and offers a third: Allah through the angel Gabriel revealed the perfect revelation (the Qur’an) to Muhammad (Peace be upon him). Baha’is deny these stories and offer one of their own, as do Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, and Scientologists.
The only thing that religions prove is that people love to create religions.
I have no problem with people choosing to believe any of these stories. I do have a problem when they think their story gives them the right (even the obligation) to murder those who believe a different story (or no story at all), and I do have a problem with those who want to rewrite the stories so they all say the same thing. I like the stories. I like that they differ. I like that they clash. We don’t have to agree on matters of religion. We just have to agree not to oppress or kill those with whom we disagree.
I believe that religion is a story, a matter of pretend. There is nothing wrong with this. When we pretend we invent worlds that might be better than our own, and which might give us insight into how best to improve our own as well. This is the beauty of the Bible at its best and most moral. It is also the beauty of great sci-fi writers. In fact it is the power and beauty of all great fiction. Knowing religion is a story doesn’t denigrate religion, it liberates it.
At least that’s my story.