This is the second of a series of fictional dialogues between my friend Al, who is a devout Christian, and me. The first one is called “A Question of Faith.”
We were starting our second beer, which is usually when the serious discussions begin. The first beer covers family news, how the Dodgers, Lakers, UCLA, USC and other local teams are doing.
Al fired the first shot as he sipped from the newly chilled glass.
“If we didn’t have religion, how would we know right from wrong?” It was a rhetorical question. Al knows that I am not a believer in any religion.
“Don’t you think I am a moral person who knows right from wrong?” I asked.
“Sure,” he answered, “but you grew up in a country that was dominated by Christian beliefs, so you really had no choice. You had to conform to traditional Christian morals, even though you weren’t a believer.”
I had to admit this was true. But where did these “Christian morals” come from? I asked Al that question.
“Scripture,” he replied. It’s all spelled out in the Bible. The Ten Commandments, the Golden Rule.”
“The Bible is full of all sorts of moral advice,” I said. Like how to treat homosexuals…put them to death. Or how to treat family members who blaspheme the Lord…kill them. Do you want me to go on? I’ve got a whole list of these.”
“That’s Old Testament. Nobody with a brain takes that stuff literally any more.”
This was getting interesting. “So you do not believe, as some Christians do, that everything in the Bible is the inerrant word of God and is literally true?” I asked.
“I think the original intent is there, but some of it, especially the Old Testament, has to be interpreted in a modern context.”
“But if believers are free to interpret the Bible, accept this, reject that, how can you say that it provides absolute moral definitions of right and wrong?” I asked. “I read somewhere that this is called ‘selective literalism.’ That sounds like an oxymoron to me.”
“Let me explain it this way,” Al replied. “If you don’t believe in God, you don’t believe that there are any absolute standards of morality. Only religion can provide the ultimate standards of good and evil. Without religion, you have to make it up as you go along. That’s called moral relativism or pragmatism. I don’t believe that the definitions of good and evil change over time, or in different places.”
“Okay,” I said. Tell me where your absolute moral standards come from. Surely, not literally from the Bible.”
“It’s called the Judeo-Christian ethic. It’s based on the Bible, but there is no doubt that it has been interpreted over the centuries. Still, it represents the best set of standards for right and wrong that the world has ever known.”
“Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and a lot of others might disagree with that,” I said.
“Their standards may work just as well in most cases,” Al responded, “but Christianity has had a greater impact on mankind than any other religion over the last two thousand years.”
“It’s had an impact, that’s for sure,” I replied. “Religion in general, and Christianity in particular, have been the cause of more misery, more oppression of human rights and more brutal atrocities and loss of innocent life than any other cause you can name.”
“I won’t deny that there have been horrible things done in the name of religion,” Al responded. “The Crusades, the Inquisition…even the Holocaust. It was based on anti-Semitism that had its roots in Christian beliefs. People get carried away with their religious zeal and do bad things. That doesn’t make religion bad. It makes the people who malpractice it bad.”
This was where I was hoping this discussion would go.
“Let’s talk about the guys who flew the airliners into the WTC,” I said. “Everyone who knows anything about them says that they truly believed that by martyring themselves, they would get an immediate ticket into Paradise and each of them would have seventy two virgins to screw. They had been brought up since childhood to believe this. Can you blame them for doing it? No! You have to blame the religion and its practitioners who brainwashed them when they were little kids into believing such garbage. There are probably hundreds of thousands of kids being similarly brainwashed as we speak. A lot of them will be willing and ready to do the same thing in the name of Allah.”
Al was nodding. “That is why we have to go after Al Qaeda and all the other terrorist organizations. We have to destroy them before they destroy us.”
And then I dropped the bomb on him. “Christian fundamentalists are just as bad as Muslim jihadists.”
He looked at me and blinked. “Are we running terrorist operations that I don’t know about? Do we have suicide bombers operating in Teheran or the West Bank?”
“No, of course not. But they do exactly the same thing. They brainwash their children to believe these religious myths, and they tell them, over and over, that these are things they must accept without thinking. Just believe. Faith. No logic. No reason. Jesus was born from a virgin. He did miracles, died on a cross and was miraculously resurrected. He’s gonna come back one of these days and take all the people who believe in him off to sit on a cloud and strum harps. The rest of us can just rot…or fry…in Hell.
“A lot of people really believe all that stuff, and they think anybody who doesn’t believe it is a heathen who needs to be saved. People who believe in other religions don’t want to be saved. In fact, they feel insulted and threatened by these ideas. Especially when we make war on them to ‘save’ them. Is it any wonder that they want to destroy us?”
Al was shaking his head. “That’s not what Christianity is all about at all. It’s true that we are aggressive evangelists. We want everybody on earth to be saved! But it is their decision to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord. We can only present the evidence and witness for the Lord. If they choose to ignore us, at least we have done our best to show them the way.
“That may well be the intent of most Christians,” I replied, “but let me ask you this: If you did away with Christianity and Islam, would we have terrorism today?”
Al thought about it. “Maybe not, but we might have utter chaos, people stealing, raping, murdering…it would be far worse than what we have.”
The beers were gone, and two was the limit. Al is serious about the dangers of drinking and driving…and so am I. It is damned expensive to get caught! I guess it’s kinda like sinning if you’re a Christian…only God doesn’t drive a patrol car.