“A Reformation for the purpose of abolishing the Bible now would have a good deal more validity than Luther’s abolition of the Pope.”
“Christianity has long been in need of a religious hero who, in fear and trembling before God, had the courage to forbid people to read the Bible.”
~Soren Kierkegaard, Diary (1848)
Corresponding with a younger relative, who was, like me, raised on (read: saturated in) the Bible, I was startled by his perceptive and honest comment that we need to stop trying to define god. All the division and judgment has to go. Disgusted and exasperated with what he has seen and experienced with the bible-as-weapon mentality, he virtually yells through the email box: “Don’t use this book (bible) to do it [define god], don’t use any book to do it.” Some serious chewing is in order.
Kierkegaard had that radical honesty. Even in the Christianist college I attended it was clear: the Danish philosopher really “nailed the paradox” of religion and reason. His existential focus on the individual–the personal experience of the divine outside of religion and religion’s dark, sooty inner sanctums–made SK one of my heroes of faith that eventually led me out of faith. My young relative, who loves philosophy, has (thank Goodness) been “saved” from faith–at least the kind of faith that uses the Weapon Version of the Bible (sharp as a sword and twice as deadly) that ultimately kills reason–or so it believes; so it attempts. My relative identifies at least two dangers of the Weapon Bible (at the moment) that, along with many more we will rip into, necessitate the construction of this Sacred Shredder. He is horrified, rightfully, by the indoctrination of young minds with “biblical truth” and the injustices justified by “bible-believers” who point fingers of punishment and violence in the name of their god.
So, bring on the pious pages and the reams of religious texts. We’re plugged in and warmed up for grinding up the godly guns of faith.
1. Morality (ethics of personal responsibility)
We all know it’s true: God spoke thousands of years ago (to a small tribe of Hebrew-speaking people on a tiny patch of hot and salty terra firma) and has not spoken since. We know it. Fact. Don’t argue! Yes, let’s argue while we fire up the shredder. Each and every time we hear a believer attack another person or group of people for “moral” reasons, all we have to do is wait a moment or listen closer and the basis of the “morality” reveals itself: the bible (a “divinely-inspired” book). The mores, ethics, folkways and natural ways of people are based on either the sense of personal responsibility for their decisions and actions or based on an “authority” or authoritative source text. When the bible (or any book) takes the place of responsible decisions and practical ethics then that source is in-and-of-itself Immoral. More on this later. For now, start shredding.
2. Individual reason and conscience
Closely related to the Morality question, “authoritative” pieces of paper have to handle one great obstacle: the reasoning conscience. What if I “believe” one thing is right and you “believe” it is wrong? Who decides. If nothing else, this age-old dilemma must be faced head-on before any meaningful relationships in society or community can grow. To the extent that a “sacred scripture” usurps the individual conscience, that scribbling on paper becomes dangerous to the individual and the community. Page by page into the bin.
Also closely related to both 1 and 2, private, personal acts of intimacy and love are, by nature, beyond the reach of any authority human or divine. “Consenting adults” create their own morality through the act of (consensual) consenting to their mutual sensuality. Got that? Is this to say that “anything goes,” that there cannot be laws regulating certain behaviors? No. It is the responsibility of people in a pluralistic community or nation to be responsible, to create laws, not based on any “higher” authority than reason and common sense. Of course, this doesn’t stop self-appointed “overseers” (morality police) from trying to impose their will on free acts of free minds and free bodies. As soon as the imposition is sensed (smelled) the shredder goes into high speed and there is nothing left but waste paper.
Here’s a big one. Science investigates, explores, discovers and explores some more. It’s a never-ending, never finalized, process of probing into the questions, wonders, secrets, mysteries and realities of our world. Herein is the crux: even the best theory and the most universally accepted observations are always open to new knowledge and theory and further investigation. Not true of religious “truth” however. There are no “theories” only “orthodoxies” (literally, “right opinions”). Some may “investigate” and explore new theological thoughts–within the safety of supernatural “givens”–but the results are always the same, forever and ever, amen. God, Spirit, the Icons of the Religious Imagination, Faith itself–these are never open to the inquiring mind of the faithful. How could they be? Any texts written with the ink of irrationality, that deny the free exploration of science are by definition (our definition) ripe for the shredder.
Huge. Immense. Beautiful, mysterious, unending. The natural world and cosmos lie before us as an open book. Some could say a “sacred” book, but something to be read with the light of reason and the lamp of scientific inquiry. Nature, of which humans are an inseparable part, is the only home, the only reality we know. If any holy book presents a viewpoint not centered in the verifiable natural world of our experience it must be questioned, ignored or even, in the end, discarded. It may provide interest, entertainment or humorous conversation, but it is un-natural and ultimately has no value as “truth,” especially if claimed to be so. Being “revealed” is no argument for the truth of anything. As there is no evidential proof for such claims, this remains un-natural and literally non-sensical. As the revealing poet put it, “considering a curl of smoke or a hair on the back of my hand as curious as any revelation.” (Song of Myself, 41)
6. Other religions
Every “holy scripture” seeks to arrest, convict and execute any and all challengers presenting a variant view. Everyone wants to say they have the most truth, the best truth, the whole truth and that it all comes directly from the (invisible) lips of the creator of the universe. The appeal to authority again. Ends all serious discussion. As I have said of the Church I say of all religions: each and every one is talking to itself, like a mentally ill person whose only reality is in their head. The craziness of the my-truth-is-better-than-your-truth delusion must go. Clean out the shredder. Fill up the dumpster.
7. Government (society and the common good)
When religiously devoted people try to run governments it’s time to take a permanent vacation. Even Plato spoke of “Guardians” who were wise and virtuous, yet that was the point and makes the point: those with “godly agendas” who want to rule all the rest of us cannot be very wise or virtuous except in their own minds, according to their own standards of ethics and community. Any person or group that seeks to take over, to define and enforce their own (read: God’s own) morality and “justice” are after a theocracy unsustainable in a pluralistic nation based on secular (of this world) principles. When the bible (or qur’an, or sutras or whatever) is taken as the constitution or the legal authority–no question. . .it’s time for the shredding to begin.
8. God-images (twilight of the idols)
Once again, there are as many idols as there are religions (and human imaginations). Sorry, but Nietzsche was right: we need to do philosophy with a hammer–it is, now and forever, the nightfall, the twilight of the idols of every mind. An idol is a powerful image that can, if taken as literal and real, run our lives and run them into the ground. Because, you see, every idol hates all the other idols (even when “it” says it “loves them”). Like religion itself, the idols of our minds distract us off to a never-neverland above or behind our common experience. There is no better reason to crack them and pull them down than this. One of the largest and most powerful idols ever created by the human imagination is “The Scripture.” The shredder is over-heating, but the work must go on!
9. The Rights of Humans
Thomas Paine called for a revolution to restore the independence of free people. For Paine, and many “founders” and freethinkers of history, the revolution could not stop with political upheaval. Belief systems can be the most insidious and dangerous despotic rulers and tyrants we face. Human rights (and the rights of all species on the planet) depend on the free exercise of the common sense of reasonable people liberated from old prisons of mind and body. Large parts of the holy scriptures of the world are essentially manuals for the prisonkeepers, those who hold the keys to the locks and guard the weapons to control necessary to keep the masses of sheep in line, barring them from inherent rights (such as life, liberty, etc). These manuals for manipulation must be destroyed. Let’s work together to let them go, to clearly and decisively fight back, to abolish and even burn or shred them.
*A word on books–banning, burning and learning.
I am the last person to advocate censorship with any books including “holy books.” I have a strong commitment to free speech and freethought so it would not only be against everything I stand for but would undermine my dedication to the pursuit of truth to propose to eliminate all scriptures from the world. On the contrary, I have encouraged hundreds of people to read, study and question the authoritative texts for many years. So, how can I build and run a “Shredder?”
To an extent, the shredder is obviously figurative fiction. I am not arguing for a full ban and burning of all these books that contain a great deal of historical value (just as I would not argue for the destruction of archives and museums). However, and this is quite serious, I do not think societies, communities and even some governments (let alone families and individuals!) would be at all in a worse state if supernaturally-based books were at least highly discouraged. In other words, walking into a minefield here, I fully support public schools teaching critical thinking that includes rational comparisons of scientific and philosophical ideas and discoveries with “religious truths” in historic texts. Religious claims need to be met fearlessly by reasonable people in an educated society so that we all can live the truth of common sense (thank you Mr. Paine). So, let’s utilize these “museum specimens” to learn, understand, analyze and develop broader views that include what draws people to faith, how the brain produces “spiritual experiences” and why religion has been such a force in communities for millenia. Only by this rigorous research can we begin to dismantle the anti-rational, anti-scientific and anti-natural effects religious faith has driven into the human species.
This “shredder” is simply a graphic, contemporary metaphor for the munching of the manuscripts and thereby dis-mantling the machines of belief. If it is helpful and useful, let it be a tool that produces a thoughtful exchange of ideas and a healthier, happier community of freethinking individuals rather than a herd blindly following a book.
If it doesn’t serve a positive, constructive purpose. . .feed it to the lion. Better yet, shred it!