Doing Harm With A Smile… The Good Of Religious Belief

First, Do No Harm…

This maxim has questionable origin yet its value is beyond mere origin. No cure is acceptable if it causes more harm. We could discuss this at length if desired but I simply want to state it as a premise for the rest of this piece. This maxim does not specify how much harm, only that doing harm is not the method or manner to a cure in its usage generally.

One might rightly ask ‘what is harm’ when evaluating this. It’s common sense to know that cutting off a foot to cure an in-grown toe nail is not in keeping with the maxim, even if it relieves the pain of the toe nail. Clearly, long term harm is not acceptable as a cure for short term ills. I think most or all of us will find this as an acceptable maxim or a kind of truth for every day life.

With that premise fairly stated, let’s jump right in to the discussion here.

There are a great many people who blog or write on the Internet that think they are doing good for people. Mind you, the good they think they are doing is a subjective opinion not shared by all of humanity, rather it is an opinion shared by a very small portion of humanity. Still, they believe they are doing good so spread their ‘knowledge’ of how things work in order to spread good among the world. Many even offer advice or suggestions for how to make life better, how to live a better life, or simply how to enjoy life better.

Is their subjective opinion useful? Some think so. Is it beneficial on more than one level? Some think so. How do we judge good from harm? This is a subjective (even if it seems universal) process for good does not mean the same things in all circles. There are some that think they know what objective good is but can’t show evidence of such a thing as absolute objective good. So what can it mean then to ‘first do no harm’ ?

Thus begins a series of analytical looks at well intentioned religious posts from around the WP blogosphere. I’m going to start with a post that seems to be promoting a policy or ethic which I’m not familiar with: Doctrine of Vocation?

We start off with a valid question and a scripture quote. All things in the holy book are true is the premise for such a beginning. This one is reminiscent of a divine teddy bear picnic. Let’s see what it says:


“Now no shrub had yet appeared on the earth and no plant had yet sprung up, for the Lord God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no one to work the ground, but streams came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground.Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground – trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food.” (Genesis 2:5-9, NIV)

All believers who believe the holy text to be completely true will draw conclusions from this. They are not necessarily correct conclusions, but this is their interpretation:

God created Utopia from nothing. He created a world which was pure, clean, and beautiful and gave it to man to take care of. God was a worker. He created man in His own image – to work the land and care for His new world. God saw a vision of men and women working in harmony, worshiping Him and glorifying Him in everything they did. He saw a peaceful world filled with love and beauty.

Here we have the unabashed statement that something can come from nothing, but it requires magic. Some how we are to believe that this god worked hard, even though he simply speaks things into existence and nothing that exists is not his creation. Further there is an assumption about this god’s intent which bends the understanding toward the writer’s intent for the lesson. “men and women working in harmony” is not what religion brings us today, no, far from it. But let’s skip reality here, there is a lesson to preach. Wait, I know you want to understand what this has to do with truth or honest understanding of the world… well, nothing that I can discern. Still, it is the premise of the lesson so let’s bear with it.

So why has that which God designed to be so majestic often become so mundane – so meaningless? Why all the confusion  about our work? Why can’t we relax and enjoy our jobs? Whatever our jobs are, no matter how ordinary they seem, they can be extraordinary and brimming with God-honoring importance and significance if they are done well and for the glory of God.

So the lesson comes as resultant from the premise that the writer understands the mind of a god. Right here we see damage and harm being done. The hapless reader is to assume and adjust their thinking that it is possible to know the mind of a god, that gods are real, and that the purpose in life has been set down in an ancient book. So what are we learning here:

  1. Gods are real
  2. We are here through the use of magic
  3. There is a purpose to life because it says so in a book
  4. This writer knows that purpose because he knows the mind of a god

These rules for life are dangerous. No matter that they might make some folk feel good, they are dangerous. The authors of Interactive Philosophy blog have nailed down why this is harmful. If we base our understanding of the world on a rule such as ‘magic works’ we can make all kinds of bad decisions. If we believe simply because we are told to then anything that perverts the course of the god’s plan is counter to survival and this will cause us to make very bad decisions. Check out “The Dazzle of Convictions” post.

If we are discovering the rich and robust doctrine of vocation for the first time, we might be tempted to see it as a passing Christian fad. In our more cynical moments, we might wonder whether all this talk about work is merely the latest hype in an often shallow, populist Christian faith. Though this kind of thinking about work may be new to you, let me assure you that the language and doctrine of Christian vocation is not faddish but foundational to an integral Christian faith. A right understanding of vocation has been a transforming truth in the day-to-day ordinary lives of faithful followers of Jesus for many centuries. Vocation is a robust theology of ordinary, everyday life.

Just because people have been ‘apparently’ following this doctrine for a long time does not make it true, correct, useful, or harmless. An appeal to popularity or authority is nothing but an attempt to manipulate the reader. It says that the lesson is true and to be trusted because other people have used it. This is harmful because it urges the reader to abandon evidence based judgement and this is harmful as it will encourage further ignorance of evidence based judgement in other areas of life.

What can you do to bring a little excitement back into you job? Try praying. Try studying the word of God. Quit complaining. Do your very best in everything you do. Make sure the path you are taking is a path that honors God and not one that turns you further away from Him.

Here we see the real harm done. Do not seek actual methods of finding happiness or contentment. Turn toward your imaginary friend and ignore the facts of life. Persevere in unhappiness to glorify the god. Be content as slaves and glorify the god. Do not seek to change your life or job or do anything which would alter your situation, simply internalize this unhappiness and situation as your fault and pray to the god to help you feel better about your shitty life. Why should the reader do this?

Happiness and contentment come when we find ourselves living closer to our Father and further from those things that bring us down.

Enjoy your day, “Working for Christ!”

Support the church, believe in magic, pay your tithes, quit complaining, be a good slave. More than that, be a happy slave. Never do anything to improve your own little piece of the world never mind the parts of the world that are outside your reach. Suffer in silence and let the god take care of the rest of the world, it’s not your problem for you are broken and can’t even fix your own world. Shhhhhh do as I say.

If you tell a child they are worthless and stupid often enough that child will believe it is true. This type of lesson we see in this post is the equivalent of that constant derision. How can we expect those that believe they are broke and must trust their church leaders for wisdom to make good decisions. They know nothing of fixing the world’s problems nor of taking responsibility for their culpability in them.

This simple feel good happy shiny lesson is harmful to those that believe it. That in turn is harmful to the rest of us because those people will be the weak link in the chain of society, they will hold the rest of us back. Be certain, this message is not a positive message. It does not lift the spirits of those reading it. It tells the reader they are powerless to change things and so must simply smile and be a good slave. Those slaves vote. They are everywhere around us making changes to the lives the rest of us live. They would take away your rights to ensure their god’s apparent wishes are met. Slaves serve their masters and these masters do not want you to have the life you want unless the life you want is that of slave to their god.

  1. If the working assumption is a god exists and the bible his word and Jesus his son and messenger, all problems even those that any rational person would say were caused by this god, the solution the believer will offer will start by asking you to be on your knees and close your mind.

    • Yes, and those same people claim their god has a plan for their lives yet will not admit part of that plan was for me to find them and ask questions…. sigh… so many holes to poke it seems an unending task

      • There is a hole whenever you look. One only needs to see the first one and there will be no end to these!

        • Indeed, I often go to religious posts to see if there is new information or a better defence than ‘it’s what I believe’ …. there never is

          • I think sometimes you are just too ambitious. Maybe you should pay Debilis a visit, there is a discussion they are having with JZ and he insists his questions haven’t been answered.

  2. Wow, oh wow! I saw you follow my blog, so I came to check on yours (naturally). It took me quite a bit to read this and absorb it, as it surely needs much thought and contemplation. Which I simply adore doing. I could… write an essay of a comment in reply, but we’ve just met so I shan’t bore you.

    However… I’ll be brief in my reflections:

    What can it mean, indeed to do no harm? Furthermore, this simply cannot be a universal objective ethic. There are situations where there is a choice between, what we call: “A rock and a hard place.” Where harm must be done to prevent harm. If one followed the maxim to the letter, would would be forced to abstain from action? But… wouldn’t that abstinence, then, be doing the most harm by allowing both harms to occur, rather than one? Hmmm…..

    I stagger at the later observations, the religious ones. I’m not too sure, yet, how to react to them. Myself being an Atheist… am also a, ex-Christian and B.A. Bible…. so I come with personal experience in the realm of faith and such ridiculousness.

    I came to a full stop, especially, at this, and I share my reaction to it not as a critique, but just as a “these are my thoughts”:

    ” (A) All believers who believe the holy text to be completely true will draw conclusions from this. They are not necessarily correct conclusions, (B) but this is their interpretation:”

    (A) is true, (B) is not. The following is ONE of their interpretations. Yes, understanding religion is… bewildering. Understanding one interpretation can be mind-blowing as it is. Seeing that one passage can have an unlimited amount of interpretations is…. well, I’m not sure there is a word for it.

    The following I could… well ramble on and on. But that would be rude.

    I am beyond glad that you graced my blog with a follow, I will be following you and if you don’t mind… perhaps engaging in some philosophy in the future?

    • Welcome nikeyo and thank you for commenting.
      You are not the only one with some sweat in this game of being formerly religious and studying theology.

      The wording I used tripped you. I should have said ‘a common interpretation among christian fundamentalists’ .. mea culpa and thanks for catching that.

      I’m glad you found this post interesting. I’m going to follow it up with others along the same design as time permits.

      • Wonderful, then I shall be watching for them!!

        I have the (bad?) habit of pointing out the need to restrict generalizations like that, so I’m glad you took it well. It just opens one up very easily to an unnecessary flame attack from butthurt people lumped into a group. Putting the clarifying “common interpretation of some….” or similar words tends to prevent that headache.

        • Indeed. I’m not averse to admitting a mistake. I make them though at times it might be difficult to get me to see them right away :0

          One that is made too often is to say ‘religion’ when we mean a specific religion or monotheism or Abrahamic faiths instead. I’m bad about that one at times.

          Glad to have your follow.

  3. Religious harm in a sentence: Create an imaginary illness, then sell an imaginary cure.

    Great piece MAL.

  4. “There are a great many people who blog or write on the Internet that think they are doing good for people. Mind you, the good they think they are doing is a subjective opinion not shared by all of humanity, rather it is an opinion shared by a very small portion of humanity. Still, they believe they are doing good so spread their ‘knowledge’ of how things work in order to spread good among the world. Many even offer advice or suggestions for how to make life better, how to live a better life, or simply how to enjoy life better.”

    When I read this I thought maybe you decided you were going to stop blogging. 😉

    But then, of course, I realized it was yet another atheist applying standards to Christians’ actions and beliefs that they don’t apply to themselves.

    Not to say Christians don’t do the same thing. But bashing people for expressing their views (even if you think they are wrong) IMO is not a reasonable reaction.

    • Welcome trueandreasonable to my blog,
      I don’t plan on quitting but do not think that I did not turn that post inward on what I’m doing when I write here. I think there is a fine but important difference between the blog I critiqued and what I write though I don’t expect others to find it obvious.

      It is a goal to be less negative in how I communicate here saving such sentiments for where they are truly warranted. Please note that I did not denigrate the author but the message conveyed; not the intent of the message but the unintended message chinked in amongst the words.

      I am not bashing people for expressing their views, I’m bashing their views and the negative message they are sending to others and the damage that message does to society and persons over time. I don’t expect that believers will see it that way, but a careful reading will show what I wrote to match what I’ve said here in this reply.

      Such reaction to the messages of faith need to be heard. To deny this is the kind of gentle oppression-with-a-smile that we’ve suffered through for a very long time. When we give such negative messages a free ride and treat them as well intentioned good mannered cheer-you-up kind of stuff we do harm to ourselves and society, and that is the point of this piece.

      I am glad that you came by here and commented. Welcome.

  5. As an ex-Christian I will pay them this compliment – it does teach the graceful life philosophy part of which is a good work ethic. Neither, however, requires divine inspiration. As usual God is inserted into the narrative. They quite simply cannot think outside of the God box.

    I like the bit about how presumptuous those are who feel that they “know the mind of God”. One word: anthropomorphism. Along that same line of thought, I did a post in my own blog called “Faith, After a Fashion” where I commented about how incredibly pleasing it is to one’s vanity (and dangerous) to believe that God endorses your worldview and actions (“if God be for us, who can be against us?”)

    • Thanks for commenting. I agree with you and further that a good work ethic does not guarantee you will be happy in your work. I’ll be following your blog. Welcome to MAL

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