Never before did I feel so much resentment and contempt as I watched and listened to the little old man explaining to us kids of seven or eight years old how some biblical figure - I've long forgotten who - came to believe in God and did whatever he did because of his belief and that this should matter to us in our lives; that it should matter to me. Who is this strange man to tell me that I should believe or do something because some ancient sheep-herder in a far-away desert did so? Why should I care about this, I thought. What kind of guidance is that from an adult to a curious and wondering little kid who has to learn about life? I looked around the small classroom at the other kids' faces to see how they reacted to this. Do any of them think and feel as I do? Most seemed interested; some did not seem to care. I spent most of his little lecture staring at the desktop and wishing I could go home so I could then stop feeling all this contempt for someone. I thought Christianity's control over people's lives is repulsive and wasteful, as the lecture of the little old man made even clearer to me. Instead, after he finished some minutes later, we were taken to another room in the Catholic church to listen to another "teacher."
"Do any of them think and feel as I do?" I think that was a fascinating question I asked myself then, and it is a good question to re-ask today when there is a resurgence of religious belief. When confronted with a similar circumstance, does anybody now think and feel as I then did?
It is not that one has nothing to learn from the lives of others or should not have role models. One should learn from people who do great things and live great lives, be they statesmen. businessmen, scientists, composers, or one's parents.One's life on earth has a nature - and the nature of the lives on earth of biblical figures (real or imagined) are constraints and impediments to learning what that nature is and fulfilling it. Look at what religion teaches: one should imitate Jesus, emulate the faith of Job and Abraham, live like Daniel and Esther, etc. In Islam, the Muslims' ideal is to live and be like Mohammad. Their lives based on imaginary supernaturalism are not relevant to realistic matters of being all one can: creating, discovering, producing, leading, etc. (Biblical figures did much of those kinds of things, right?) Such are the things one must do with one's life to live it well. That is the reality we are in. Mimicking a biblical figure is not a plausible substitute.
What about the matter of how does one - especially as a child - best develop and become one's true and real self? Religion is no help there. Why were those other kids in the classroom not also insulted by the little old Catholic man imploring them to "be like somebody else" - which, at that young age I realized, means to surrender one's mind to that somebody else - a somebody else who lived long ago, who believed in a God who is as real as a comic book character? Just because this little old man and others like him merely say so. How, when they have their lives ahead of them to form, did they not take offense at such a cheap and phony substitute for genuine, intelligent, adult guidance?
People are often confronted by religionists saying, "you should live like/think like/be like/do like so-and-so in the Bible," and that is something with philosophic-like importance to one's life and outlook on it. The bad thing is, that really means one should not look at reality for oneself, think for oneself, act for oneself, be oneself. Instead, says the religionist, be Abraham; be Jesus. Neglect your mind, neglect the requirements of your life in reality, look to what they did and be a second-hander imitating ancient, superstitious peasants. You are better off that way.
Why are people not immensely insulted by such exhortations, especially adults who are better able to think about such matters than are little kids? Is it because most people have a mystical metaphysics to begin with? Are their minds that lacking in independence? Do they care that little about what they, as individuals, are? Or is it something else?