Imagine if you went to a lawyer with a legal question and he consulted the laws of Rome or the laws of the Goths from 2000 years or more ago to see what your legal rights are. Would that be what you would expect a professional lawyer to do?
Imagine someone standing for election as your representative in government and she was advocating a return to the tribal laws of, say, fifth century BCE China or Zimbabwe, or at least making them the basis of your legal system. Would she earn your vote and be taken seriously as a professional legislator?
Imagine if you went to university to study history and were taught nothing of the last 2000 years, concentrating only on what was thought of as history in the Mediterranean area at the time of Julius Caesar – nothing of China, South-east Asia, Africa south of the Sahara, India or the New World. Would you think you were receiving a worthwhile education from professional historians?
Imagine you wanted to study geography but the only books available only had very inaccurate maps of the Mediterranean area, the Middle-east and Northern Europe and showed earth to be flat. Do you think learning that would make you a professional geographer?
And imagine you wanted to study science but the only science books were 2000 years old, had nothing of atoms, chemistry, the laws of motion, energy, the germ theory of illness, cells and cell biology, genetics or electricity and said that earth was at the centre of the universe, the sun and moon were lamps hanging from a dome over it and that rain came through holes in the dome. Do you think that would be enough for you to earn your living as a professional scientist?
Of course, no one in their right minds would think 2000 year old information and thinking were adequate for today’s purposes. No one would believe that nothing of value had been learned or discovered about the world; that society had not changed or progressed in that time.
And yet every religious person takes it for granted that their old book contains all the information that they will need and that will ever be needed to understand their faith and to derive their idea of morals from it. Professional religious apologists and moral philosophers have no worries about consulting 2000 year old texts, and the opinions of people writing then from their consultation of even older texts. You only need ask yourself why all the ‘great’ books of all religions were written in the early days of that religion and have never been revised, and may never be revised, but instead are regarded dogmatically as definitive gospels.
Contrast that to science, history, law, geography, technology and sociology, where books go out of date almost as soon as they are printed, where whole libraries are devoted to books detailing the latest discoveries, ideas and developments and a major problem for professionals is keeping up to date.
"The class did not delve deeply into the ancient documents. We recited the roster of early historians and read some of the church fathers, and then promptly forgot them all. I figured that Christian scholars had already done the homework and that our faith rested on a firm historical foundation, and that if I ever needed to look it up I could turn to some book somewhere for the facts. I just never needed to look it up."Not so for theologians, where academic activity is confined to learning the opinions of earlier theologians and finding novel ways to interpret the old texts and present the same old arguments in slightly different formats whilst ensuring that the old ideas are defended by whatever means are available. In many cases, as with the assumed ‘historicity’ of Jesus, as Dan Barker pointed out from his experience at Bible college, you learn the list of sources but no one ever really checks them because it’s just assumed someone else has done that and there is a book somewhere with the details in, should you ever need it, which of course you don’t because everyone else is assuming the same thing and not actually questioning any of the assumptions. You become an expert theologian by learning the opinions of earlier theologians, who became expert theologians by learning those of earlier theologians....
All religions based on sacred texts are, in reality, bibliolatries, worshipping not gods but books and the authors of those books. This makes it impossible for religions, and for the ‘morals’ they purport to provide, to keep pace with change in human cultures. We now have a vastly different society, politically, economically and technologically to that of 2000 years ago, and yet the religious underpinnings of our laws have remained virtually unchanged from those of low-tech, town-based autocracies and tribal subsistence farming which themselves were virtually unchanged from those of nomadic pastoralists to whom wheels and iron represented high-tech and magic was assumed to make things work.
Religions are able to survive, at least for a short while over the historical time-scale, without any adaptation or change because religions are actually irrelevant to normal, everyday human endeavour. However, in areas of social life where they do influence things, such as law, and legal constraints on such things such as scientific and technological progress in human biology, medicine and human rights, religions act as a drag, making these things increasingly inadequate and unfit for purpose, until, of course, the religion holding society back becomes a complete irrelevance and, together with its gods, it is consigned to the dustbin of history along with all the other redundant superstitions and long-dead gods.
This is the stage Christianity has now reached in much of the developed world, especially Europe, where a superstition which inflicted misery on millions and tried to restrict the rights of women and the 'lower classes' and interfere in all aspects of our private and public lives is being cast aside and people are reclaiming their basic human rights back and building egalitarian societies more suited to the twenty-first century rather than the first.
How idiotic than that in some areas of the world, even in those who regard themselves as democracies, many people still almost insist that those they elect should at least pay lip-service to religions – the very things causing so many of today’s problems and preventing their solution. In some unfortunate areas, theologians actually demand, and get, the right to be consulted in all matters political, legal and scientific, and even the right to rule over the people and to control all aspects of their lives.
These tend to be primitive, backward societies with a very poorly educated population, showing how religiosity, ignorance and poverty form a mutually beneficial supporting triangle, with religion keeping the people poor and ignorant, and the ignorant poor turning to religion for the only hope for a better future.
The day surely can't be far off when people finally cut the shackles and free themselves from the dead weight of religious superstition. Yet another imaginary god is heading inexorably towards that great dumping ground of accumulated detritus - myth and legend, the graveyard of dead gods.