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03/18/2003 Archived Entry: "That Old Time Religion"
Posted by CKL @ 01:45 PM PST

"For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?"
-- Mark 8:36

Yes, I'm an atheist, but I don't have to believe that the Bible is the word of God to appreciate its meaning. The concepts of Good and Evil have been with humanity for a long time. Depending on your definition of "humanity," these ideas may even be essential to our nature. We must, however, distinguish between "Good and Evil" as moral judgments and "good and bad" as survival instincts.

I saw the above quotation in a review of "Release," last week's episode of Angel. I knew I'd heard it before, but couldn't remember where, so I looked it up. It's pretty powerful on its own, since it's subject to modern interpretation, but in context, it's a little more disturbing-- to me, anyway:

And when [Jesus] had called the people unto him with his disciples also, he said unto them, Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel's, the same shall save it. For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? [my emphasis -CKL] Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.
That darn Jesus! He was a real troublemaker, wasn't he?

Here's my basic problem with religion: the belief in an afterlife. Indeed, a number of religious practices are based upon the idea that the afterlife is more important than the here and now. And to me, that's a dangerous thing. If we can't agree that this life is the most important thing to protect, we've got a big problem.

I won't accept blind faith over the certainty of my own senses. When I choose Good over Evil, when I save my soul, it won't be for the next life; it'll be for this one, so I can live with myself and without remorse or regret. I don't know if I have an immortal soul, I don't buy Pascal's Wager, and there are too many things in this life that merit my attention for me to spend time worrying about an afterlife.

It all comes down to what you believe. I won't tell you what to believe, and I'll politely ask you to do the same for me. Oh yeah, it would also be a big plus if your beliefs don't require you to kill me in any way. Thanks.

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