Melbourne just hosted the Global Atheist Convention. While I have not been a keen follower of these events, I have the distinct impression that the discussion has been a whole lot more constructive than previously. Of course that may reflect the sources of information I gravitate towards.
One stream of comment in the New Atheism is the ridicule of religion. Much of the ridicule, unfortunately, holds dearly to a false premise: that atheists the only ones to ridicule religion.
Nothing could be further from the truth. The greatest mocker of religion is God. The strongest words against religion are in the Bible. The human heart longs for religion – and it is a terrifyingly simple move to twist real life with the real God into religious life with a ridiculous god.
Before looking at some of the Bible verses that prove this, here’s my very brief take on the nature of religion. Religion is untrue and irrational (comparing the real God with imagined gods is farcical). Religion is human-centred (what we can do, not what God has done). Religion is, ironically, dehumanising (allowing ritual or idols to overrule human dignity). Religion is enslaving (the demands of ritual never end, for achievement is never guaranteed).
God’s ridicule includes:
Their [the nations’] idols are silver and gold,
the work of human hands.
They have mouths, but do not speak;
eyes, but do not see.
They have ears, but do not hear;
noses, but do not smell.
They have hands, but do not feel;
feet, but do not walk;
and they do not make a sound in their throat.
He plants a cedar and the rain nourishes it. Then it becomes fuel for a man. He takes a part of it and warms himself; he kindles a fire and bakes bread. Also he makes a god and worships it; he makes it an idol and falls down before it. Half of it he burns in the fire. Over the half he eats meat; he roasts it and is satisfied. Also he warms himself and says, “Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire!” And the rest of it he makes into a god, his idol, and falls down to it and worships it. He prays to it and says, “Deliver me, for you are my god!”
I also think of Elijah’s ridicule of the prophets of Baal in their religious frenzy. “Surely he is a god! Rave harder, that will get him out of the toilet to answer your prayer” (1 Kings 18:27).
God is not comfortable with religion. He does not tolerate it. He is not generous or welcoming to religious ideas. These things offend him, and belittle all of his creation. In consequence, God moves beyond mockery to judgement. He acts against religion. God’s searing indictment strikes fear into the heart of the religious:
Those who make them [idols] become like them;
so do all who trust in them.
It’s a most fitting and most awful prospect – to follow a false god is to become like that false god. This process, and God’s active part in it, is seen in Romans 1.
Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
Therefore God gave them up …
For this reason God gave them up …
And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.
Galatians trumpets the view that religion is slavery and deadly. To insist upon non-essentials (in Galatia, it was circumcision) is astonishingly against the grace of Jesus Christ. Religion is anathema, accursed by God (Galatians 1:8-9). Paul knew what he wanted for those who peddle religion as a way to God. I can assure you what he wanted was not tolerance (Galatians 5:12.)
Religion’s biggest enemy? It’s God.