The Emperor’s New Clothes
by Bob Morris
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When we’re young, we learn about Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, Jesus, the Tooth Fairy and God. When we’re old enough to learn the truth (or when we’re too old to hide the truth from us) we learn that Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy are really our parents and other people playing roles. This doesn’t make them any less real; it just changes our understanding of their true nature. Some people continue believing what they’ve been taught about Jesus and God, but some see the analogy and conclude they are both just more people playing more roles. A significant difference is that our parents really can fulfill the promises of Christmas presents, Easter eggs and a dime under a pillow, but nobody can fulfill the promises of eternal life and forgiveness of sins. A particularly nasty bit of logic creates the illusion that We are told that we can ask God to give us things through prayer. If we get them, God gets the credit. If we don’t, we shoulder the blame ourselves. When we collect, they tell us it’s proof not only of God’s existence, but also His abundant love and grace. When we don’t collect, it’s because God knows it’s bad for us to grant that particular wish, or because we’re not praying hard enough, or believe strongly enough, or are deficient in some other way.
Instead of being like the Easter Bunny, the story of God is more like the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes. When I heard the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes as a small child, I thought it was about another small child, like me, who spoke the truth and awakened the consciousness of his community. Now I have come to realize the story is a just a part of the process to get everyone to believe, or to act as if they believe. The moral of the story is that the child wasn’t mature enough to keep his mouth shut, and revealed himself to be inferior in some way as a result. He didn’t awaken the community; they silenced him.
Everybody knows that Jesus isn’t going to take us up to heaven with him when we die, but nobody is willing to say it out loud. Try it some time. Just say, “The religion you call Christianity was made up by people years after Jesus died,” or just “Sex isn’t a sin.” Say anything that’s not the mainline teaching and see what kind of reaction you get. True believers will fight you, ostracize you, even kill you. But the remarkable reaction is the nonbelievers. They’ll look at you slightly askance, then quietly slip away as if you have a contagious disease. And why? Because you said out loud what they were thinking to themselves. They don’t say anything because they know the consequences. Through their fear of becoming the victim of the conspiracy of silence, they become conspirators.
When we realize most religions that claim to be Christian are just frauds, we discard them along with the Tooth Fairy. But is this the best approach to understanding the lies we’ve been told? Is the best we can do to recover is to reject religion completely? When I realized the cosmic magicians that have been promised to us aren’t real, I thought I was an atheist for a while. But now I’m beginning to realize that spirituality is real, very real, but it’s also completely different from what we have been told. I’m no longer pondering whether or not God exists, but rather, what is the nature of God? God isn’t the personified vending machine who gives us stuff we don’t need, don’t want, and can’t even tell if it we got it. It’s not so easy to understand what God is, and the constant barrage of well-meaning but ignorant Christian proselytizers just makes it harder. They do a grave disservice to spiritual growth not only by teachings devoid of spirituality, but they also prevent people from seeking the truth by telling them they already have it.