First, I decided just to be upfront about who I am. After all these years, no more hiding. If this blog is simply a meeting place for all of us to discuss our thoughts and beliefs about religion and God, then I should be free to reveal my identity–and you should, too. My family and friends call me Deborah, Deb, Debbie. Call me what you like. I’m even changing my avatar. It’s the real me.
Second, make no mistake. Belief in God does make a parent’s job easier. It just does. Not better, just easier. You defer punishment to an imagined power that is mightier than you, and you harness the fear of this imaginary deity. I remember, to mold my behavior, my grandmother used to tell me, “God is watching you!,” and the trepidation that those words brought. Would he slap the sh*t out of me with his giant hand or was he making a list of all my naughty thoughts and behaviors, which would then be read on judgment day?
Then, like many of you, I grew up and out of my belief. And I realize now that religion is the lazy man’s way of child-rearing. There is a pre-existing moral structure in place. Honor your father and mother. Do not lie. Do not steal. Do not commit adultery. Of course we know these dictates don’t work for sh*t because the person you’re answering to isn’t a real person. It’s God, the figment created in a child’s head and nurtured through childhood by the consumers of religion. When these consumers grow older and become adult shareholders, the savvy, manipulative ones, stretch and pull and fit that God to their individual needs.
If you read the article on CNN this morning about Mark Sanford, you know that he’s proof that the god-system of child rearing is ineffectual. He makes a mockery of the whole business. He said,
I want to acknowledge a God not just of second chances but third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth chances, because that is the reality of our shared humanity,” Sanford said at his victory celebration after defeating his Democratic opponent, Elizabeth Colbert Busch. “I am one imperfect man saved by God’s grace.”
How convenient. His god forgives him. Again. And again. Like many folks, Sanford’s an addict and his god, the enabler. That’s the reality. Sanford knows that he’ll be forgiven as many times as he needs it. And God doesn’t even exact a punishment. Instead, he rewards him. “Saves” him, whatever the heck that means. How does Sanford know that he’s been saved? Did God tattoo a stamp on his derriere ‘SAVED!”? Or does he just know he’s saved because he’s won the race and he’s in his happy place? (The answer is the latter.)
I’m curious. What kind of God or parent or judge or half-decent role model would lay down a law, and then allow a man to commit the same offense over and over and over, walking on others, breaking hearts, lying to and deceiving those who trust him? Saved by God’s grace? Hell, Sanford is laughing all the way to the seat he won in the House. You’ve got to think that a man who is capable of running for office and winning in spite of his offenses, is also capable of seeing the ruse of religion. He must know that painting an image of himself as a weak man humbled by the almighty will only endear him to his slumbering, god-fearing voters.
Let’s imagine for a minute that you or I were God. I would not forgive people like Sanford so quickly. In this sense, I am more judgmental than a Christian. Sanford broke his promises, he misrepresented himself. He didn’t just lie once. He proved he was a liar. He didn’t just cheat once. He proved he was a cheater–in and out of the bedroom. Imagine the time and energy it took to deceive his wife, his family and every other person who trusted him. Can he be rehabilitated? Maybe, but he’d have to show signs of improvement (not breaking the law again and trespass on his ex-wife’s property). He’d have to do the hard work of making amends with the people he has betrayed–not with the imaginary characters living in his head, which costs him nothing in time, energy or money.
Being honest and faithful takes a bit of work. You have to say no temptation. You have to give up what you want for the greater good or for ideals. We all have to do it. And we know all of this when we decide to make a commitment and hunker down with one person. We give our word. Not God’s word. Not the word of some imaginary wizard living in the forest. If we break our word, we betray ourselves, and that should be one of the worst offenses of all because we have no way of making an honest connection with anyone. This is what nonbelievers know. We are accountable only to the people who live and breathe on this planet, to others and ourselves–not to an imaginary father figure.
I’m not trying to pick on one person. I’m only trying to show how religion and belief in God doesn’t make us better as a people. In raising our kids without religion, we teach them right from wrong. We teach them to internalize their morality. Do the right thing. Be your word. Keep your promises. This takes more effort. We have to stay on our kids. Watch them. Talk to them. Make them pay for their offenses. Go behind and check up on them. We don’t just round them up and take them to church for their lessons in morality once or twice a week. We don’t just tell them, “God forgives you” when they’ve done something wrong. We tell them, you have to be forgiven by those you’ve offended. You have to pay. Sometimes you will never be forgiven. Sometimes, you will not be able to forgive yourself. You will fall, but you must get back up and take a different path. Learn from your mistakes. Try, as best you can, to change. Otherwise, you’re no better than the religious, on their knees, asking for god’s forgiveness once again, for the same offense.
We are free to make own choices, but that freedom comes with costs and responsibilities. For nonbelievers, no imaginary man will forgive our offenses and wipe our conscious’ clean. We have to live with our consequences. The reality of our shared humanity is that, we are all imperfect. No one saves us but ourselves.