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Entry 42: God, Please Save Me From Your Followers

September 30, 2012
No, Chris Stevens probably never uttered those words, and this most certainly wasn’t a bumper sticker on his car riding around Libya (although, even as an Atheist, I really like this bumper sticker), but he just as easily could have said something akin to it after what happened nearly 3 weeks ago outside the U.S. embassy in Libya.  Mr. Stevens, U.S. Ambassador to Libya, lost his life during the circumstances surrounding protests of a particular video that surfaced back in July of this year disrespecting the prophet, Mohammed, of the Islamic faith.  The video is entitled, “Innocence of Muslims” and can be viewed by clicking on the link.My sister sent me a link to another video a few days after Mr. Stevens’s death highlighting the work he did for the U.S. Government in the Middle East.  It was published back in May just 5 months before Mr. Stevens’s death and is a touching tribute to this one man’s desire to help through a career of diplomacy and public service:<p>

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y_SIIxholL4&feature=player_embedded

Chris Stevens’s death for apparent religious reasons is ironic in that he was a Peace Corp volunteer who had served in Morocco, and had, from his own and others’s accounts, developed a great respect and admiration for the culture, people, and geography of the Middle East.  Mr. Stevens risked much being in Libya not only during ‘peacetime’ in the aftermath of the fall of Qudafi, but also during the entire uprising where the Libyan people, with help from NATO forces, overthrew their brutal dictator.
My sister, in sending me the above link, posed this poignant question…
“What’s the harm believing in God?”
I love this question because I think if we as a society of human beings are going to be able to cohabitate on this planet, believer and non-believer alike, all of us at some point really do NEED to spend some time to try and come up with some decent answers to this question.  Forming a more ‘perfect union’ as the framers of the U.S. Constitution used the two words, is I think a byproduct of grappling with this question.
Obviously, in light of the event of Mr. Stevens’s death, one can easily make the case that there is great harm in believing in God.  Believing in Allah, the God of the Islamic faith, was what made so many Muslims angry when they saw the video.  Don’t believe in Allah, probably not going to get too angry about a video that depicts the prophet Mohammed in a bad light.
But is it really that easy?
Alot of people might answer the question of what harm there is in believing in God by dodging it slightly, and saying that belief in God actually HELPS more than it HARMS.
Fair enough.
Yes, I will concede that religion does help some people.  I would even go so far as saying it helps a great number of people as evidenced by the billions of theists in the world today.
But saying that belief in God helps more than it harms doesn’t actually answer the question.
You can answer the question from a very specific personal standpoint.  There’s the familiar “Pascal’s Wager” that my Dad always loved to bring up when trying to persuade me to ‘come back to God’ (see earlier entry #2).  The wager goes something like this…If there is no God, and I die believing in Him/Her/It, then what I’ve wagered doesn’t come back to harm me.  I die and nothing happens.  But, if there is a God, and I die not believing in Him/Her/It, then my wager costs me dearly, at least if that God is from the Judeo-Christian or Islamic faiths.  When I die in this latter situation, I go to a most unpleasant place.  In fact, my unbelief leads to eternal torture in a secret prison called ‘Hell’.
So the harm is to yourself mainly if there ends up being a God.
But if the flip side is true, and the followers of the religions of the world are following something that is only based on a fairy tale guy/girl/it in the sky who doesn’t exist, then some of the practices of these religions can be quite counter productive to helping a society function well.  Case in point, one of Islam’s teachings is that those who don’t believe that there is only one true God named ‘Allah’ are infidels and can be killed for just such a lack of belief.  Not exactly a very tolerant stance to take in a world of 7 billion people where just under 6/7’s would fall into that category of ‘infidel’.
Or how about Christianity in terms of women’s and gay rights?  There are many in Congress who have stood on verses in the Bible to support their opposition to giving women suffrage and reproductive rights, and gay couples the right to get married.
And there are countless other examples of how religion gets involved in public policy with the Evolution/Creation/Intelligent Design debates of recent years, and the distant past.
Getting back to the quesiton of harm though…
It would be unfair to just blame belief in God on much of the violence that occurs in our societies.  There are many examples of people who hurt others in the name of their particular God, sure.  No question.  But, I think if we are completely being honest in our analysis of human beings doing bad things to each other, we can easily come up with just as many examples of people who hurt others in the name of nothing in particular except just a sociopathic desire to hurt others.
And even when you have those who do hurt others in the name of their particular God, an easy ‘out’ if you will is just to raise the specter of those folks not practicing the ‘true’ form of the religion.
So I think it’s a rather tired argument from both sides that like to point out examples of the Crusades in the Middle Ages as the ‘poster boy’ if you will for religion gone bad, and Hitler’s Nazi Germany as that same ‘poster boy’ for atheism/secular humanism/agnosticism gone equally bad.
I see and hear in many religious circles today, not just Islam, a culture of victimhood, where people take such great offense at their diety being offended.  Does an all-powerful, all-knowing God really get offended at someone making a cheesy, poorly made video about one of his prophets and portrays said prophet in a bad light.  Does He really have time to get offended at just such a thing?  I would like to think that a God that powerful would have the grown-up sense to ignore such people who put together such schlock for entertainment.  But, as is apparent in much of the Muslim world in the Middle East, not many share my sentiment about how this diety is feeling about this so called ‘offense’.
As one of my friends told me once when I was dealing with a tough situation at work with coworkers, he advised me, ‘Don’t get mad, get even!’.
Now ‘getting even’ can be construed in a violent way, surely.  But, he meant it in a peaceful, calm, and collected way.
Don’t let your emotions run high if someone insults you.  Believe in yourself, work hard, and get above the rancor of what someone may be saying about you behind your back.  Don’t resort to violence.  It never works.  The pen truly is mightier than the sword.
My wish for the people who are resorting to violence over the video aforementioned is that they could all take a deep breath and a step back before setting another building on fire, throwing another stone, firing another rifle, inflicting pain on another person who doesn’t share your particular world view, and realize that what you are doing is not productive in the slightest.
No what you are doing is wasting precious, limited energy on a film that, at best, was produced with some of the lowest quality standards for movie making and acting.  And at worst, is a complete hack job.  I don’t think anyone who actually watches the film in its entirety can come away with anything but wanting their 13 minutes and 50 some odd seconds of life spent on it back.  It truly is that poorly derived, and poorly thought out.
Instead of burning, looting, killing, maiming, and everything in between, the protesters of the film could be harnessing their energies for good, and for getting even if you will in an honorable way.  Instead of the violence, put that anger energy into educating your youth (including your girls and women) in your communities in science and mathematics, two languages that the cultures in the Middle East actually developed, and refined quite beautifully and shared with the rest of the world during the Dark Ages.  Build schools in your communities that produce Nobel Laureates and Rhode Scholars.
I don’t know if Chris Stevens was a believer in any particular religion.  I do know that he died doing something that he loved and believed in dearly, helping the people of the Middle East.  And if there was a God, I would like to think that he/she/it would have saved someone like Mr. Stevens from followers of the same said God.  But, because I don’t think there is a God, we’re left with you and me in terms of saving the Chris Stevenses of the world from the followers of various religions that would do harm to people that don’t share their same beliefs.  We actually don’t need a God to save people from followers, we just need you and me to be leaders.  If we lead by helping a follower see a different path, we’ve done the world a great service.
Here’s to leading!
Thanks for stopping by!
TRC
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