God’s forgiveness = self-forgiveness

From the world of phony sports — to which I customarily pay zero attention — comes this grisly tale of professional wrestler Chris Benoit, who murdered his wife and child and then killed himself. After killing his family, he placed a Bible next to their bodies.

This isn’t going to be another of those posts full of “religion kills” bromides. In this case, the possible reason for Benoit’s rampage may be linked to his use of too much of what the bodybuilding world calls Vitamin S. But the role the Bible plays here is interesting. Having no expertise in the mental health field at all, my built-in atheist’s “skepdar” (a wonderful term someone on the ACA’s Yahoo group came up with) tells me that Benoit was using religion as many people do in life: a forgiveness quick-fix, the moral equivalent of using Fix-a-Flat to pump up a punctured tire.

While Christians go on about how no one without religion can possibly have a moral compass to follow, what they never talk about is the way in which people who do embrace religion, however fervently or casually, typically behave no better than unbelievers, and oftimes worse. And when they do behave worse, they use religion as a convenient thing to fall back upon, either to justify their actions, or to showboat a fake display of remorse.

Many Christians will respond to this by agreeing wholeheartedly, then by attacking those people for moral hypocrisy and not being “true” Christians. This misses the point. I think Christianity unintentionally sets itself up to be used in this way by giving people a poor understanding of morality, and of the difference between right and wrong in the first place. As Stephen has pointed out here, Christianity paradoxically wants people to be good, then gives them bad reasons to do so. Christian morality is entirely tied in to how well one obeys divine rules and commandments. One should not kill or steal because it will anger God (except in those cases where it’s okay) and could doom you to hell. That killing takes a life, which is in and of itself bad, and that stealing involves taking something that isn’t yours and that you haven’t earned from someone who has earned it, which is in and of itself bad, is significantly less relevant to Christian thought. The only consequence to be feared is the displeasure of God. All of us have heard (and if you haven’t yet, it’s quite sobering to hear it for the first time) some Christians say that if there were no God, then they’d see no reason whatsoever not to just go off on a wild murder rampage, wreaking merciless havoc with gleeful impunity. Whether or not they actually would if presented with the chance, or whether it’s all just talk, is immaterial. That a Christian would even say such a thing with a straight face underscores the darkly ironic fact that many of the people who consider themselves to be the world’s poster children for all things righteous and moral simply do not comprehend what the terms “right” and “wrong” even mean.

But what of the believer who does go off on that rampage. Well, then, there’s God’s “forgiveness”. Since praying is really nothing other than glorified talking-to-yourself, how easy it must be for a person who does something really horrible to tell themselves, “Hey, it’s not that big a deal after all,” simply by praying, and enjoying a little delusional exchange in which they themselves, playing the role of creator and ruler of the universe, bestow instant “forgiveness”. Occasionally, the display is brazen, as in Kent Hovind’s bizarre dialogue with God in which Kent reinforces his belief in his own martyrdom and heroism to a degree that bespeaks genuine mental illness.

But other times, the self-forgiveness is more subtle and cynical. Benoit’s is a perfect example. I suspect he placed the Bible next to his murdered family either in the effort to convince himself that it wasn’t such a bad thing, what he did and all, because his wife and child were in Heaven now, or simply to assuage his own sense of guilt about the murders through a feeble gesture that he hoped would placate his invisible friend. Or both.

Either way, religion made it easier for him to carry out his crime, rather than giving him the intellectual and moral tools to stop himself from carrying it out. Because Benoit lacked the ability to make rational decisions in life — perhaps a combination of steroid use, religion, and too many blows to the head — he and his family are now dead. And all the little gestures of piety in the world don’t change that.

The cause of violence: evolution or religion?

Care to guess?

Heads up to PZ for this one. In the wake of the Viriginia Tech massacre, when deranged student Seung Hui Cho mowed down 32 people, right-wing commentators wasted no time in laying the blame on liberalism, secularism, and the teaching of evolution. Among the more brainless remarks was this one from — surprise surprise! — professional idiot Ken Ham.

We live in an era when public high schools and colleges have all but banned God from science classes. In these classrooms, students are taught that the whole universe, including plants and animals–and humans–arose by natural processes. Naturalism (in essence, atheism) has become the religion of the day and has become the foundation of the education system (and Western culture as a whole). The more such a philosophy permeates the culture, the more we would expect to see a sense of purposelessness and hopelessness that pervades people’s thinking. In fact, the more a culture allows the killing of the unborn, the more we will see people treating life in general as “cheap.”

Blah blah blah. Well, guess what it turns out was really on the mind of the VT killer? (Emphasis added.)

Agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives also think Cho mentally and physically tried to transform himself into an alter ego he called “Ax Ishmael” before his rampage…. Investigators think “Ax Ishmael” is based on the biblical figure Ishmael, the son of Hagar, a maidservant to Sarah, and the prophet Abraham. Ishmael lived as an outcast, and his brother Isaac was favored. Writings that Cho left in his dorm room, sent to the Virginia Tech English Department and mailed to NBC reveal twisted references to religion as part of his identity.

Cho, 23, of Centreville, whose family was religious and had sought help for him from a Woodbridge church, repeatedly made religious references. He said that he had been “crucified” and that, as with Jesus, his actions would set people free. He called himself a “martyr” who would “sacrifice” his life. He wrote that he would go down in history as the “Jesus Christ of the Weak and Defenseless.” He thought his actions would inspire others to fight back and get even.

Ah, so! Lessee here. References to the Holy Babble and Jeebus: lots and lots! References to Charles Darwin: zippo!

Now, I confess, the title of this post has a high snark level. For me to say that religion was the “cause” of Cho’s rampage would be every bit as stupid as the claims of uneducated creationists who say it’s the fault of teaching proper science and of not forcing religion down the throats of students every day. Mental health is a complex issue, and there are numerous factors that lead to madness.

However, it’s telling that we have frequently had accounts of all-out acts of wanton violence in society in which fanatical religious delusions reared their frazzled heads, and none in which science and evolution did. It’s also telling that religious mania is a known psychological disorder, whereas no one has ever been diagnosed with “evo-mania”. Possessing knowledge about how the world really works simply does not move a person to violence. Indeed, violence is most frequently perpetrated by people who are angry that the world isn’t working the way they feel it should, and the way they feel it should is most often dictated by a religious or political ideology.

Also disgusting is the way in which especially fanatical religionists make heroes and martyrs out of those who kill for their interests, all the while rushing to vilify science and “Darwinism” when people kill for reasons that don’t support extremist agendas. The most egregious display of pro-murder religiosity lately has been the announcement of “Paul Hill Days,” sponsored by the anti-abortion terrorist organization (that’s not hyperbole, people) Army of God, to whom I refuse to link. This repugnant farce, scheduled to be inflicted upon the citizens of Milwaukee, will celebrate executed murderer Paul Hill, who gunned down abortion provider John Britton and his clinic escort James Barrett. Hill also wounded Britton’s wife in the attack. Here’s how the sick minds sponsoring this “memorial tour” &#151 during which they plan to re-enact Hill’s murders — distort the situation: “On July 29th, 1994, Paul Hill boldly defended 31 babies from unspeakable violence by killing a paid assassin and his bodyguard. He was arrested, given a sham trial, and executed as a martyr.”

One simply does not have the warped view of reality presented here, and in the case of Cho, unless one has bizarre beliefs dictating that you have the right to kill and wreak havoc if reality isn’t flattering those beliefs. It’s no different than what motivates Islamist suicide bombers. And it doesn’t happen in the minds of atheists and rationalists with good educations in science and a firm grasp, not only on reality, but on the fact that reality isn’t obligated to revolve around them.