Guilt. And why we should do good things

Some years ago I saw an interview with a Jewish (or lapsed Jew to be more specific) professor where he talked about why he became an Atheist. He came from a very strict Jewish household, I think his father was a cantor at the local synagogue, but questioned his faith when he was 13 — around the time of his Bar Mitzvah. In order to ‘disprove’ the existence of God he decided that on Yom Kippur, which is a fasting time for strict Jews, he would sit on the steps of the local synagogue whilst eating a ham sandwich. So not only was he not fasting, but also eating pork which is forbidden to Jews.

When he did this there was no apparent retribution from the Divine: no lightning or storm from heaven nor was he struck down. So when he finished his sandwich he decided that God did not exist.

Like many Atheists, having made his mind up at the age of 13 he never went back to question the assumptions that he made, but that’s a different issue to the main one I want to highlight here.

If he had gone to the local doctor and been advised to not eat unhealthy foods, to exercise more and to not smoke, would he have sat on the steps of the local doctor’s surgery or hospital eating greasy chips and smoking, and then when he is not struck down with a heart attack or stroke then declare the doctor to be a fraud?

For the most part the advise given in holy books is designed so that people become healthy in body and mind. In general, people who lead their lives according to religious principles, whether they are religious or not, will be healthier and happier. Many religious people don’t follow the rules of their own religion of course, and some Atheists follow what appear to be religious precepts even whist denying that God exists.

There’s a hypocritical way of thinking. Different values are applied to religious advice than to, say, medical advice. What’s more when people give advice that is deemed to be religious (for example, avoid being sexually promiscuous or avoid anger and pride), they are often accused of using guilt. People shouldn’t sleep around with many sex partners because in the long term it leads to dissatisfaction and unhappiness. But if we tell people that we are accused of using guilt. Should we not tell people not to smoke because it will make them feel guilty? Some religious groups use guilt as a way of controlling their followers. This is not the fault of the religion per se, but the way its followers use the religion for power or prestige. In fact many people who purport to follow what they call ‘science’, which is often only vaguely associated with real science, use guilt and ridicule when people don’t subscribe to their views.

By Philip Braham on .



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