Tiger in the Grass, Good, Thu, Feb 07 2013 #(1887)

Feb 7, 2013

I have only recently read The God Delusion. I had until now been put off reading it by your allying yourself with the cringeworthy Bright movement, which I am pleased to learn you are now uncomfortable with. Mostly, though, I was convinced that I would not learn anything new, that you would be preaching to the pulpit.

It’s ironic, then, that a book about atheism should cast some light on a few unanswered questions about Christianity that no-one has been able to answer for me satisfactorily before. Most notable of these is Original Sin. My understanding, taught to me by the Church. had hitherto been that the original sin of our birth was the sin of our parents having to do “it”, do that beastly thing that god gave us soft body parts for. I could not understand, also, how it was that Jesus died for our sins, for sins which surely would be committed after his death. I have never been comfortable with the idea of Christ’s death being honoured to a greater degree than anyone else’s, all the other hundreds of thousands of brutal and pointless deaths throughout all of history: how were they any different? But now I know. It’s an answer, even though it’s one that makes absolutely no sense whichever way you look at it. I’m actually now a little bit embarrassed for anyone who believes this.

Your book does not mention superstition as a basis of religion. Our biology surely makes us a superstitious species as a misfiring of our essential self-preservation instinct. If we hear a rustling in the grass, we run because it may be a tiger. The mechanism in our thinking which makes us react this way makes us see patterns in random events where none actually exist. Which is how I can see how praying arose: we pray for someone who is sick, they happen to get well, ergo praying works; our crops were poor last year, so let’s pray for a better season, which by chance it is. If it isn’t, well, of course, it means the tiger wasn’t in the grass. But next time it might be.

There’s a study to be made of how this primitive psychology applies to Premier League football in relation to how clubs which regularly sack and replace their managers will never be as successful as those which retain theirs. Statistical evidence bears this out, but in the superstitious world of soccer there’s no convincing anyone otherwise. Funny how teams change their managers when they start losing, but retain their mascot. But religion and footy: there’s not much difference, is there?

I am very comfortable with my atheism, even more so after reading your book. I do not aspire to immortality, as so many faiths promise us, especially if it means continuing to live within the constraints of my rapidly failing body which makes me less able to engage with the world. My wings are clipped bu there’s plenty I can do and enjoy without needing to search for any higher purpose. I will marvel some more at the Architeuthis, then enjoy a nice lunch. As Kurt Vonnegut once said, “We are put on this earth to fart around. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!”

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