Monthly Archives: September 2012
One could argue that religion is a negative force in our society, even that it’s bad for the world as a whole. In fact I have argued both of these things in the past, and I likely will again. Today however I want to address a different question, that question is this: Is religion good for believers? I personally don’t think that it is and I will endeavour in this post to lay out why. Aside from questions of mental health, personal responsibility, and critical examination of the world around us let’s look at it from a point of view of doctrine.
Even if you can accept the idea that A) there is a god B) it is interested in us and C) it has sent us instructions on the right and wrong ways to live you’re still left with the difficulty of which religion preaches the true teachings and instructions of god. Just dealing with the Abrahamic faiths alone there are an insuperable amount of contradictions and differences both between the three faiths and between the various interpretations inside each one. How is a person of faith to choose? The answer, more often than not, is that the faithful usually adopt whichever faith is most prevalent in their geographic, cultural and social area. If, however, there really is a god who has sent instructions to its people surely this method of choosing a faith is a little too risky.
The concept of religious exclusivism is a central doctrine of just about every religion and certainly it is central to the three abrahamic faiths. This doctrine states simply that each faith is itself the one true faith and that salvation is impossible outside of the church. For example, Joseph Ratzinger, the man known as Pope Benedict the 16th, has declared that the Roman Catholic Church is the only “true” church and that all other denominations are “defective” The Catholic doctrine “Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus” or “Outside the Church there is no Salvation” says it quite plainly, and it’s not a unique position.
Religion has always been an exclusivist proposition, in ancient Greece only the gods of Olympus were legal to worship and those who didn’t practice the EleusinianMysteries were relegated to prison or death in this world and Hades or Tartarus in the next. In Islam the oft repeated phrase “There is only Allah, and Mohammed is His messenger.” implies that only the teachings of the Quran will guide the faithful to salvation. The same can be said for the various Christian denominations which declare so readily that “ Christ is the only path to salvation.” The Jewish faith, by comparison offers a more inclusive point of view, it allows for all faiths that recognize the noahide laws, the seven laws given by god to Noah following the flood. Even so there is a measurable difference in their faith between a Jew and a “righteous gentile”.
What are the consequences of this Exclusivism? Well, if you accept that there is a god, and it has sent its message to the world then you have to accept that this doctrine of Exclusivism is god sent as well. In that case there is only one true faith and one true path to salvation. This means that right now, regardless of how you look at it, there are billions of people who are doomed to an afterlife of, if not fiery misery, at least separation from the promised paradise and glory of god.
There is another way, a way that is common to the three abrahamic faiths and which doesn’t require that a great majority of the world’s population be relegated to one version or another of hell. It is the principle of Inculpable Ignorance. This is yet another doctrine common to the three abrahamic faiths that teaches that those who are ignorant of the “word of god” through no fault of their own, those who have never heard the teachings of the Torah, the Bible or the Quaran, never been the subject of missionaries, are not doomed by this lack. The principle of Inculpable Ignorance says that these people will not be judged for their failure to choose the true church but will instead be judged by god on their own character and actions.
So wait, let’s really consider this. We, those of us who live in societies in which the various “truths” have been revealed are required by the simple fact of this revelation to not only choose one and devote ourselves to it utterly, but to choose the correct one or risk eternal damnation. At the same time a tribesman on an island so remote and primitive that it hasn’t yet received it’s contingent of Christian/Jewish,/Muslim missionaries isn’t punished by god for this lack but is allowed to live in whichever way he chooses and is judged upon his death by his conduct and character.
If Exclusivism is truth sent by god, and Inculpable Ignorance is also truth sent by god that means that a huge amount of the people who populate hell at this very moment aren’t there for their actions or their ignorance but for their having made the wrong choice of belief. It also means that a majority of the people living on the planet right now are practicing a belief system that isn’t the correct one, and so are doomed to whichever version of hell is the correct one.
Given all of these facts, if one assumes that god is real, that it has given us the codes by which to live, and that the doctrines of one of the three major faiths are “Truth” then one has to come to the conclusion that religion is not good for us. Not only that it is bad for us but also that every missionary, priest, rabbi and imam who has ever brought the teachings of their religion to a populace has endangered their souls, and cut their likelihood of acceptance into paradise by at least two thirds.
Inscription translates as “God is with us.”
If one has enough debates with theists one will eventually hear something to the effect of “Atheists are no better morally, just look at Adolf Hitler!” While I agree that Atheism is not necessarily morally superior to Theism this assertion that Hitler was an atheist always surprises and baffles me. Given the sheer weight and breadth of Hitler’s various theistic, and specifically Judeo-Christian, remarks where precisely do Theists get this impression? This first question doesn’t even mention his many condemnations of Atheism. I’ve chosen to look at this question by breaking it down into two sections, Hitler’s anti-atheist statements and his theistic pronouncements.
“We were convinced that the people needs and requires this faith. We have therefore undertaken the fight against the atheistic movement, and that not merely with a few theoretical declarations: we have stamped it out.” Adolf Hitler, Berlin October 1933
“There may have been a time when even parties founded on the ecclesiastical basis were a necessity. At that time Liberalism was opposed to the Church, while Marxism was anti-religious. But that time is past. National Socialism neither opposes the Church nor is it anti-religious, but on the contrary, it stands on the ground of a real Christianity. The Church’s interests cannot fail to coincide with ours alike in our fight against the symptoms of degeneracy in the world of today, in our fight against the Bolshevist culture, against an atheistic movement, against criminality, and in our struggle for the consciousness of a community in our national life, for the conquest of hatred and disunion between the classes, for the conquest of civil war and unrest, of strife and discord. These are not anti-Christian, these are Christian principles.”Adolf Hitler, Koblenz August 1934
“Secular schools can never be tolerated because such schools have no religious instruction, and a general moral instruction without a religious foundation is built on air; consequently, all character training and religion must be derived from faith.”Adolf Hitler during negotiations for the Nazi-Vatican Concordat (treaty) 1933
I think these statements represent a very clear picture of Hitler’s views on Atheism. It’s clear, to me at least, that he had no love at all for Atheists or secularists whatsoever. These are by no means all of his pronouncements against Atheism, but I think they’ll serve as a cross-section of his thoughts.
Theistic Statements and Pronouncements
In his notorious book “Mein Kampf” Hitler makes a number of clearly un-atheistic statements such as:
“Hence today I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord.”
“Once again the songs of the fatherland roared to the heavens along the endless marching columns, and for the last time the Lord’s grace smiled on His ungrateful children.”
“But if out of smugness, or even cowardice, this battle is not fought to its end, then take a look at the peoples five hundred years from now. I think you will find but few images of God, unless you want to profane the Almighty.”
“What we must fight for is to safeguard the existence and reproduction of our race and our people, the sustenance of our children and the purity of our blood, the freedom and independence of the fatherland, so that our people may mature for the fulfillment of the mission allotted it by the creator of the universe.”
These, it must be pointed out, are only a few of the statements made in the text that use theistic ideas of god and religious phrasing, there are a great many more. One can’t help but notice that Hitler doesn’t speak at all like an Atheist. Indeed he speaks as a man who not only believes in a directing and designing personal god, but as one who sees himself as doing the work of that god. Historian Richard Steigmann-Gall of Kent State University wrote in his 2003 book “The Holy Reich” “Hitler gave no indication of being an atheist or agnostic or of believing in only a remote, rationalist divinity. Indeed, he referred continually to a providential, active deity.”
Aside from “Mein Kampf” here are some quotes from various public speeches and remarks:
“In the Bible we find the text, ‘That which is neither hot nor cold will I spew out of my mouth.’ This utterance of the great Nazarene has kept its profound validity until the present day.” –Adolf Hitler, speech in Munich, 10 April 1923
“The fact that the Vatican is concluding a treaty with the new Germany means the acknowledgement of the National Socialist state by the Catholic Church. This treaty shows the whole world clearly and unequivocally that the assertion that National Socialism [Nazism] is hostile to religion is a lie.” –Adolf Hitler, 22 July 1933, writing to the Nazi Party
“We were convinced that the people needs and requires this faith. We have therefore undertaken the fight against the atheistic movement, and that not merely with a few theoretical declarations: we have stamped it out.” – Adolf Hitler, in a speech in Berlin on 24 Oct. 1933
Again, these are only a few examples of Hitler’s declarations of religious belief and support. There are many more, and they are not hard to find with even a little bit of looking.
In the interest of fairness I’ll state that a great many atheists’ assertions that examples such as those above point to the fact that Hitler was a Christian or a Catholic of some specific denomination also seem to be wrong and simplistic. Hitler had a great many negative things to say about Christianity, and often had not great things to say about Catholicism. (He was very careful about those statements however since Catholic support and sufferance were so important to his survival and success.) In the interest of fair play here are some:
“The heaviest blow which ever struck humanity was Christianity; Bolshevism is Christianity’s illegitimate child. Both are inventions of the Jew.” – Adolf Hitler, Table Talk pg. 7
“The best thing is to let Christianity die a natural death…. When understanding of the universe has become widespread… Christian doctrine will be convicted of absurdity…. Christianity has reached the peak of absurdity…. And that’s why someday its structure will collapse…. …the only way to get rid of Christianity is to allow it to die little by little…. Christianity the liar…. We’ll see to it that the Churches cannot spread abroad teachings in conflict with the interests of the State”. Adolf Hitler, Table Talk pg. 49-50.
“The reason why the ancient world was so pure, light and serene was that it knew nothing of the two great scourges: the pox and Christianity.” Adolf Hitler, Table Talk October 19th 1941
It must be noted that some English translations of the book “table talk” have been criticized as not being a true showing of the original German text and that some translators have in fact left out theistic elements such as “What man has over the animals, possibly the most marvelous proof of his superiority, is that he has understood there must be a Creative Power!” in order to paint Hitler as a disbeliever for propagandist purposes.
What this post goes the long way around toward demonstrating is that there is absolutely no basis for the idea that Hitler was an Atheist, or that the National Socialist (Nazi) Party was in any way an Atheistic movement. There is every reason to suspect that Hitler himself was a Theist of some description and perhaps even believed himself to be an instrument of the divine. However there is also reason to believe that Hitler would not have considered himself a Christian or even a Catholic. I would ask atheists this: When debating please stay away from this concept. There are more than enough genuine Judeo-Christian atrocities in history without having to reach for the questionable ones. For instance ask instead why the Vatican had a treaty with such a man for years, or why none of the nominally catholic leaders of the Nazi party was ever excommunicated. If we have right and reason on our side then there’s no reason to go for the cheap “Yeah? Well the monster was on YOUR side!!”
I know, not a title one expects to see on a page called “The AntiTheist” yet its true none the less. There are, I think, perfectly valid reasons why the bible and indeed all of the other “holy” books should make all non-theists happy.
The holy books, with all their nonsensical claims, factual inaccuracies, and historical half truths make me very happy, and very glad. I can say that for this reason: The nonsense of the various texts gives me comfort BECAUSE it is so patently untrue, so obviously fabricated by men in order to dominate and control other men. This comforts me because if the “holy” books were more credible we might actually have to consider as a feasible possibility that there might be an omni-powerful, omni-present overseer looking down on us and judging our smallest actions and most ethereal thoughts according to its own hidden, confusing, and often contradictory requirements.
If any of the books were more believable we’d have to take as a serious possibility the idea that perhaps we were in fact created to be the grateful slaves of an all-powerful master who designed us with no other purpose than to worship and adore it. We would have to consider the possibility that there is a force in the universe so grand and powerful that it could design and create all of existence from nothing at all, meticulous enough to see to the billions of calculations and various fine tunings necessary to make the universe happen, and yet insecure enough to need us to love it absolutely, without qualm or question, and petty enough to punish us eternally for our failure in said devotion.
“Properly read, the Bible is the most potent force for atheism ever conceived.”
There’s another aspect of the “holy” books that should make us non-theists very happy. It is engendered by the above quote from Isaac Asimov. How many of us came to our current lack of belief due to either a study of the text, or simply through considering the unlikelihood of the stories we’re told from those texts? Humanity is a more rational, logically minded people than it’s ever been in its history. That fact combined with the genuine knowledge we now possess about the realities of the world and the universe and the sheer superstitious mysticism throughout the ancient texts makes me hopeful. It gives me reason to believe that more and more people will be able reach past their tradition, culture and social conventions and actually consider what they profess to believe, to see their way free of the flower bedecked chain of theology.
The bible makes me happy because I honestly believe that an objective unemotional study of the text itself is the best case that can possibly be made against the veracity, morality or societal benefit of the claims it makes. This position is equally valid for the various other “holy” books as well. The books themselves are the best weapon atheists, antitheists and other non-theists could possibly have against theological preaching, moralizing and justification.
Dear Brothers and Sisters.
Please forgive the presumption of my writing to you as a group but there are just a few things I have to get off of my chest. I grow daily more concerned and alarmed with the state of our world and so I’ve decided to address myself to you, my fellow citizens of earth. It is my (likely misguided) hope that perhaps my single voice might generate a thoughtful pause, a calm moment of rational introspection in what appears to me to be a widespread and tumultuous orgy of self destructive, unreasoning, thoughtless chaos.
Right now, as I write this there are religious extremists in the Middle East rioting and killing people because another group of religious extremists here in North America made a video mocking the Muslims’ prophet. In retaliation for this “grave offense” these Muslim faithful have already had days of protests, angry riots, public violence and destruction of property. Here at home debates surge about what constitutes freedom of speech, whether people should be allowed to make this type of movie, and whether or not this movie constitutes a hate crime.
In Nigeria, Iraq, Libya, Egypt, Israel, and many other places around the world there is violence right now. Violence started, fueled, or at least exacerbated by religion in one form or another. Now, I’ll be the first to admit that a great deal of this conflict has roots other than religion, indeed religion and religious sentiment is often used for political and financial purposes but there’s a reason for that, and that reason is: BECAUSE IT WORKS! BECAUSE YOU LET THEM DO IT! The vast majority of you out there believe in a system with no objective basis, a system so open to interpretation and corruption that it can be used to justify anything at all!
I know, I know, a great many of you can’t read, and haven’t had any education whatsoever except in whatever your particular god demands of you. I understand your faith, you have nothing else, and no reason to believe thereis anything else. What about the rest of you? What about those who do have access to knowledge and information, the ones not forced by starvation and ignorance into the glorification of nonsense? What’s your excuse?
There are places in the western (so-called) civilized world right now where text books teach that the Loch Ness monster is real and what’s more that its reality “proves” the falsehood of the theory of evolution. There are educated people in my own part of our benighted globe that believe they have the right to deny basic human rights to a segment of our population because their stated sexual preference is in opposition to the teachings of ancient “holy” books. Important life-saving research in the area of stem cells is consistently blocked by religious groups because the material needed to do the research is judged by them to be life, regardless of the fact that said material is in no way viable as life. Contraception and abortion are anathema because only “god” gets to choose when life occurs or doesn’t. These issues are only the tip of a large and senseless iceberg.
I am an Atheist, but more importantly I’m a Humanist. I can’t prove absolutely that the deity you believe in doesn’t exist but ultimately that is immaterial. I think it’s apparent that your particular deity isn’t going to fix the massive problems of our world so I ask you this: Please, for your own sakes and indeed for all our sakes, put down the old books, get up off your kneelers and prayer mats, and let’s focus on the secular world for a little while. Let’s start acting as though we are one species, not many disparate enclaves composed of “the righteous” and everyone else. There are roughly seven billion of us on this tiny blue dot in the universe. We have capabilities and powers of creation and destruction undreamed of by the ancient prophets , perhaps it’s time to stop worrying about what happens in the “next world” and start concerning ourselves more seriously with this one. Who is really harmed by a movie maker’s opinion? Who is harmed by same sex couples? Who is harmed by allowing a woman to make her own choices about her body? No one!
I beg the following things of you: Please act as though this is the only world you’ve got. Turn your energies toward making it a more peaceful, more united, less divisive place to live. Act as if you yourself are responsible for the betterment of the world; don’t expect supernatural intervention or support. Forget what you think you know about the origins of the world and of life and find out what we can prove is true. Educate yourselves, fight for the education of others. Put the ghosts and spirits of yesterday from your mind and focus on tomorrow. Lets deal with what we know is real and true. I think you’ll find that once we put aside the divisions and prejudices and biases engendered by our various “faiths” we’ll be several steps closer to the paradise promised, but never delivered, by those systems.
Thank you for your attention.
Yours in Reason
While I had chosen a different subject for today’s post one of the pages I read regularly had a comment that I felt the need to respond to today so I thought I’d share the comment and my response. I apologize right off for the length of this post but the comment requires a lengthy response.
“I challenge the atheist community to a debate. Present your greatest, most informed, philosopher and address the prevailing definition among atheists regarding atheism. To the modern atheist, does it still mean the absence of belief in a god? Or does it mean a belief to the contrary, namely a belief that God doesn’t exist? And regarding these positions or definitions or assumptions, what of the implications? If we are the result of mere chance, then mustn’t the atheist conclude there is no reason or purpose to life beyond that which we imbue or ascribe to it? In which case, would this not mean there is no inherent good or evil, no right or wrong but what concensus and/or personal whim says is so, whereby conflicting views are no more valid or imperative than another? And if that’s the case, what ultimate purpose is served by spreading this news to the masses? For those who believe in God, will your arguments bring to them true enlightenment? And if so, to what end? After all, according to atheism, isn’t life itself inherently pointless apart from our own human imposition of meaning? How is humanity made better by abandoning a practical fiction (a God who gives their lives meaning and purpose) vs the atheist’s alleged truth (that faith is a lie, religion is a scam, life is meaningless apart from what we, the freethinkers, say it is)? I’d like to know how despair is more attractive than hope. I’m told the atheist is more rational than the theist. This is their primary reason to resist faith, that faith is for the weak, that faith requires one to abandon reason, that only the freethinker is logical, rational, and informed. Yet the average atheist refuses to discuss these things. So few seem willing, and even fewer seem familiar with the arguments for and against, to articulate their ideology. So again, I encourage you to consider the implications of your stance. I invite you to address my questions. I welcome you to think about those things that you may’ve simply taken for granted but never questioned or analysed. Thanks for your time.”
I make no claim to being the greatest, most informed philosopher in any group but since I see it as a duty to answer these types of inquiries and generally combat what I see as the dangers of theistic thinking wherever I find it I’ll make an attempt to answer your post. A few quick notes however. 1) I am a layman, not a scientist, I do not claim to have an in depth knowledge of the workings of the cosmos or biology. However my study is ongoing and what I do know is more than enough to convince me that a prime mover is not strictly necessary in order to explain the origins of A) the cosmos B) life C) morality. 2) I don’t claim to be fully cognizant of the proper form of structured debate but I will assure you of a couple of points, I will make every effort to stay away from inflammatory language or outright attacks. I will pose my arguments as reasonably and rationally as possible. This is the only form of conversation I’m interested in having. With that being said shall we begin?
First, the definition of “Atheism” This can vary, as can the definition of any group of individuals. The word will mean different things to different groups, strictly speaking however Atheism simply means a lack of belief in a deity. It does not pretend to “know” that there is no such deity; it is simply a statement of a lack of belief. I myself take this a step further and would term myself an anti-theist. Not only do I lack belief in a deity, I hold such a belief to be harmful on both an individual and societal level and I believe that theistic thinking should be combated whenever possible.
As to the second point:“If we are the result of mere chance, then mustn’t the atheist conclude there is no reason or purpose to life beyond that which we imbue or ascribe to it?”
While I also have some objection to the idea of the complex process of mutation, change and adaptation that is the theory of evolution by natural selection being termed “mere chance” I’ll leave that aside and answer the actual question. Quite simply: Yes. I would agree with that statement as it pertains to life. You’ll often hear this stated as “the universe must be pointless without design” that statement I would disagree with. The point of the universe, even without design, is observable and, at least to me, evident. Its point is creation, destruction, constant change and growth. As for life, I would agree that we have a duty as individuals and a community to ascribe purpose to life. Life has only one objective point, to sustain itself. Animals hunt and feed and find shelter and breed in order to ensure their individual survival and that of their species as a whole, which is their point and purpose. For humans it’s slightly, only very slightly, different. We have the same needs for sustenance and shelter and the same urge to pass on genes in order to keep the species going but we also have evolved large and cerebral and intellectual apparatus. As a result we have an understanding of ourselves and our place in the wider world that is unique (so far). The simple tasks of maintaining our survival are not enough to stimulate us and so we create. Humans build and imagine and compose and undertake all of the other aspects of what it is to be human beyond the mere survival level out of a need for intellectual stimulation and growth. The point of human life is much the same as the point I gave for the universe “creation, destruction, growth and change.”
“In which case, would this not mean there is no inherent good or evil, no right or wrong but what consensus and/or personal whim says is so, whereby conflicting views are no more valid or imperative than another?”
I agree with the statement given previously that the ideas of “Good” and “Evil” are cultural overlays. I would also agree with the statement that empathy is the basis of human morality. Empathy is a cerebral function, demonstrable and testable. It exists as part of the material world, and is in fact essential in a social animal such as man. However I won’t go as far as saying that all morality is instinctual. I believe the basis of morality to be just that, however I also believe that as creatures of intellect our morality has grown and changed (as if by selective mutation) as our intellect has grown. To demonstrate this point: the Judeo-Christian Theology had for long centuries absolutely no issues whatsoever with slavery, in spite of all of its moral teaching the bible has absolutely no bad word to say about the practice of some of god’s children owning others. It was only as our understanding and intellect grew that we came to acknowledge the practice of slavery as a reprehensible one and saw to its abolition. Injunctions against theft and murder are necessary in order to maintain a cohesive and productive social group, an instinct inborn in us in order to enhance our likelihood of survival. Yet opposing things like slavery, rape, child molestation, these are moral decisions made on the basis of empathy. While different cultural areas may have practices that would infringe on this inborn morality I would argue that they’re acting against this sense, not that theirs is different. I would argue that everyone, inside themselves, knows that rape is wrong. Cultural conditioning may allow the suppression of this truth, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there. As for the lack of objective right and wrong I’m personally of the opinion that “Right” is properly defined as “that which provides the greatest possible well being for all” and “Wrong” is defined as “that which detracts from the greatest possible wellbeing for all” I don’t see how any other definition is possible, and by these definitions I see the Theistic approach t life as fitting into the “Bad” category.
“And if that’s the case, what ultimate purpose is served by spreading this news to the masses? For those who believe in God, will your arguments bring to them true enlightenment? And if so, to what end? How is humanity made better by abandoning a practical fiction?”
Well in my personal view I think the purposes and benefits are manifold. First, from the moral standpoint the truth that we are material entities in a material universe of cause and effect leaves to us a responsibility to act as such. Theology, any theology, removes responsibility from us and places it in the hands of a supernatural overseer. All good, and all judgement of said good, or of bad comes from Yahweh or Allah or Vishnu or Thor. It’s the “I was just following orders” defense. We have no responsibility save to follow the edicts of whatever deity our cultural, societal, and political situation tells us is true. Without the “safety net” of theology each individual and society as a whole is forced to consider their actions in the light of their effect on the world around them. This goes back to the definition of good as “that which provides the greatest possible well being for all” Removing the divisive and elitist constructions of theology and the false distinctions of race, tribe fostered by these faiths can only enhance the ideal of human unity.
Second, the belief that this world, this existence is only some kind of preface or prelude to some vastly superior ultimate form of existence removes any imperative to care for this world or its inhabitants. By this I don’t intend to state that religious people have no interest in this world. Only that their focus is split, their energies unfocused. Imagine if all of the effort, intellect, wealth and time spent on the various theologies had instead been channeled into the betterment of the secular world. I contend that with more focus and effort spent on enhancing our secular world rather than advocating and promoting some theological system the very heaven/paradise/nirvana that nearly every Theology offers would be unnecessary. To paraphrase Marx:
“Criticism will pluck the imaginary flowers on the chain not in order that man shall continue to bear that chain without fantasy or consolation, but so that he shall throw off the chain and pluck the living flower.”
Third, “faith” the belief that you already know the reasons for everything, the cause of everything retards the exploration of important topics, and general progress. The discovery of truth, most often in our history, has been the result of skepticism. As a matter of fact a great many of the truths we hold today were discovered against the will of theology. It’s a stumbling block to progress and advancement, and once we discover something to be true the theology in question simply changes it’s position. Instead of the new idea being heresy or blasphemous it turns out that that discovery only heightens the truth of their position.
I’ll conclude in this way. While it is by no means certain that people would act better without theological influence it is, I think certain, that the removal of theology would remove one of the great excuses for ignorance, barbarism and prejudice. Theology, while providing no completely unique benefits does present completely unique problems. There are enough secular, real world problems that need solving without creating more which have no bearing on our day to day reality.
There’s a huge population of people in the world who don’t believe that the bible is the perfect word of god. They don’t believe that the teachings of any church are inviolate. They don’t except the truth of miracles without evidence or believe that just because a preacher or pontiff declares something that it immediately has the stamp of truth.
This sounds like a description of non-theists but that’s not the group I’m talking about. The group I’m referring to here is the species of theists generally referred to as “Religious Moderates” This particular brand of theist is by far the most numerous, they exist in all denominations, faiths and walks of life. Most of these accept that the world is far older than a few thousand years, believe in the value of medical science to combat illness, accept the basic truth of evolutionary theory, and have even been known to wear garments made of blended fabrics!
The religious moderate is in every way a rational thoughtful modern minded person, with the exception that they profess to have a belief in a god of some kind. These believers however aren’t necessarily constrained by their “holy” books, as a matter of fact they’ll often quickly admit that the bible or the quran, or whichever book you discuss with them is full of contradictions, inaccuracies, terrible atrocities, ridiculously severe laws, and bigoted judgements. They’ll tell you before you can even get it out that the “holy” book in question is the work of man, and is therefore not a true barometer of god’s will or his intent. The truly frustrating part of all of this is that they’ll still use pieces of that same “holy” book to defend their “faith”. A christian moderate will, for instance, disavow the entire old testament, talk about how the stories are metaphorical and not meant to be taken literally. They’ll explain how the grandiose claims made are just poetic language and then in the same sentence talk about the ministries and miracles of christ as though they’re from a distinct and more reputable source.
This seems, at least to me, like trying to have your cake and eat it too. “I accept that the book is flawed and wrong, and i don’t believe a whole lot of it, except for these parts here, they’re literal historical truth.” This seems like roughly the same thing as saying “All astrology is crap, except for MY horoscope, obviously that’s true.” A great many of these people will talk about how the supernatural aspects of the bible aren’t the most important part, how the message of brotherhood, charity and compassion, a message which is verifiably not unique or original to christianity, is the most important part. If that’s true, I would ask, why is that message contingent upon there being a supernatural creator? Why is it necessary that jesus have special abilities or superhuman powers in order for this message to have weight? Confucius, Gandhi and several other thinkers both before and after christ preached almost exactly the same things without the need of a claim of deity. There is no Temple of Gandhi, no Gospel of the Mahatma.
There are several other aspects of what I’m terming “The Moderate Problem” that equally flummox and irritate me in regards to theological argument, and ultimately the issue of whether or not the world is better off with or without the, in my view fallacious, belief in a supreme being. Those aspects of the problem will have to wait for another day and another post however.
Yesterday I published “The Myth of Religious Morality” which was written to answer the unavoidable argument of theists that without religion there would be no moral framework to guide humankind. The article demonstrates, I think, that the moralities of both the bible and the quran are at best confused and contradictory and at worst downright monstrous. My article did leave something out however: If not from a deity then from where did humanity develop it’s morals? Why do we have any moral concept whatsoever? How is it useful?
First off let me say I am not a biologist, or a sociologist. I’m just a layman who likes to question things and then try to find out the answers. For this reason there will be no heavy science in this article. If you want it it’s out there but while not totally incomprehensible to me it is a little dry for an article which was, after all, written for people like myself, interested thoughtful laymen.
So, where does our morality come from? What is it’s purpose? It’s really not all that much of a mystery. Many other species on this planet are also social animals. Dolphins, whales, and great apes like chimpanzees all demonstrate social traits similar to what we would define as “morality” Primatologists (people who study primates) note that chimpanzees and other great apes demonstrate a great many behaviours which are at least preliminary to human morality. Behaviours like attachment and bonding, cooperation, empathy, sense of community and adherence to the rules of that community are all observable. Dolphins demonstrate altruism, helping injured members of their pods to breathe by helping them to the surface, and even protecting swimmers from sharks by swimming in circles around them. These traits foster harmonious, productive communities which in turn allow the animals involved, in these cases apes and dolphins, a greater chance of survival than they would have on their own.
Whether or not you accept the theory of evolution as true it would be hard to make an argument against the statement that humans are social creatures. Archaeology shows that humans have gathered together into communities since our earliest days. We gathered together to enhance the odds of success in hunting and gathering, and to ensure greater security against predators. In order to ensure the successful maintenance of these communities common sense says that some rules would need to be put in place. A community where the members killed each other with impunity wouldn’t survive long. The same is true of a communal grouping in which constant fighting over thefts would reduce the population quickly. This would also explain the familial bond, the protection of our young, and the urge to defend and protect friends.
The great separator between humanity and other animals is of course intellect. As our intellect and understanding grows so too does our morality. Our sense of right and wrong is transitory. As we’ve grown as a species it too has grown. The simple strictures against theft and murder which early man put in place to ensure that our hunting and gathering groups would remain productive and harmonious have evolved. Human morality at its best today encapsulates a belief in freedom for all people, equality for women and people of diverse ethnicities, tolerance of alternate points of view and belief systems, an aversion to violence and slaughter, protection of children and innocents from harm, and a host of other values that primitive cultures would have dismissed as foolishness or even blasphemy. This growth of our intellect and therefore our morality is apparent even in religion. Not in it’s dogma or doctrine, which remain fiercely unchanging even in the face of monumental proof of scientific and ethical growth, but in the theist’s interpretation of their dogma. What once was literal fact becomes symbolism in need of expert interpretation. “Of course they don’t really mean kill all the women and babies! That would be immoral!!” shout the apologists.
Morality can be explained as a natural progression of social strictures designed to keep communities peaceful and thriving. This is a reasonable explanation of moral development even without taking into account the fact that evolutionary biology proves we share a common ancestor with chimpanzees and other great apes which demonstrate proto-moralities from early ages. This fact strongly points to some genetic basis for basic moral guidelines.
Isn’t the simple naturalistic progression from self-interested animals to an evolved free society which cares for the safety, health and wellbeing of it’s members a more life-affirming and uplifting prospect than the idea that we are simply rutting, murderous animals? That we are only capable of civilization through the grace and commandment of some almighty overseer? In a time when we face problems and conflicts without parallel in our history couldn’t the idea that we share much more than our holy books allow for, raise us up? If we accepted that we are evolved animals who have reached the high, if imperfect, peak of civilization we now occupy through determination, strength, tenacity and constant self reflection wouldn’t this idea unite us? Finally if we accepted that we had the power and responsibility to form our moral principles on our own rather than relying on ancient texts to give it to us wouldn’t that free us to build an ethical system where “good” meant good for everyone and “bad” meant anything contrary to the benefit of all?
One of the arguments that an atheist, agnostic, or other non-theist involved in theological debate will hear often is the concept that religion is the fount of human morality, that without the steadying and moderating influence of god humankind has no incentive to act morally. While each religion does have a very specific and binding morality I would argue that none of them are really the moralities that modern humans should aspire to. This concept that religion is necessary for moral behaviour would seem to stem from an ignorance of what these holy books actually have to say about human conduct. Let’s take a look at some of the moral teachings of the Christian Bible and the Muslim Quran.
Slavery is Ok
“When a slave owner strikes a male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies immediately, the owner shall be punished. But if the slave survives a day or two, there is no punishment; for the slave is the owner’s property.Exodus 21:20-21
“Slaves, obey your earthly masters with deep respect and fear. Serve them sincerely as you would serve Christ.” (Ephesians 6:5)
“The servant will be severely punished, for though he knew his duty, he refused to do it. “But people who are not aware that they are doing wrong will be punished only lightly. Much is required from those to whom much is given, and much more is required from those to whom much more is given.” (Luke 12:47-48 )
* These are only some of the verses in the bible that deal with slavery, some verses even lay out the proper pricing of Jewish and non – Jewish slaves.
“Prophet, We have made lawful to you the wives to whom you have granted dowries and the slave girls whom God has given you as booty.” Quran 33:50
“Blessed are the believers…who restrain their carnal desires (except with their wives and slave-girls, for these are lawful to them…)…” Quran 23:1
Neither the Bible or the Quran has any proscription against slavery. I would say that most people would agree that slavery is a moral abomination that should be stamped out wherever it is found and yet the Abrahamic religions not only have nothing bad to say about it but actually embrace it.
Intolerance is OK
“But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me..” Luke 19:27
“He that is not with me is against me.” Matthew 12: 30
“He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.” Mark 16:16
In the above examples Jesus makes it very clear that there is no room for tolerance of other beliefs. There is only his way, his interpretation. Anyone who isn’t prepared to accept Jesus as lord and master is worthy of death and damnation.
“Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not. But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Matthew 10: 5-6
“And, behold, a woman of Canaan came out of the same coasts, and cried unto him, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil. But he answered her not a word. And his disciples came and besought him, saying, Send her away; for she crieth after us. But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Then came she and worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me. But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs. And she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table. Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour.” Matthew 15: 22-28
These two examples show a blatant isolationism and racism on the part of Jesus. He says straight out that he is only interested in the welfare of Jewish people.
“But they who disbelieve, and deny Our revelations, such are rightful Peoples of the Fire. They will abide therein“ Quran 2:39.
“Believe ye in part of the Scripture and disbelieve ye in part thereof ? And what is the reward of those who do so save ignominy in the life of the world, and on the Day of Resurrection they will be consigned to the most grievous doom.” Quran 2:85
Again, no other belief or point of view is to be entertained or permitted. Not only do you have to believe what they believe, you have to believe all of what they believe or not only die but burn eternally.
Neither the Bible or the Quran set any store in tolerance as a moral value. As a matter of fact both of them state plainly that tolerance of other views is not an acceptable value of the “faithful”
Murder and Genocide are Ok.
“Thou shalt not consent unto him, nor hearken unto him; neither shall thine eye pity him, neither shalt thou spare, neither shalt thou conceal him: But thou shalt surely kill him; thine hand shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people.” (Deuteronomy 13:8-9)
“The righteous shall rejoice when he sees the vengeance. He shall wash his feet in the blood of the wicked.” Psalms 58:10)
“Ye shall utterly destroy all the places, wherein the nations which ye shall possess served their gods, upon the high mountains, and upon the hills, and under every green tree: And ye shall overthrow their altars, and break their pillars, and burn their groves with fire; and ye shall hew down the graven images of their gods, and destroy the names of them out of that place.” (Deuteronomy 12:2-3)
“Slay them wherever ye find them…Such is the reward of disbelievers.” Quran 2:191
“Fight them until persecution is no more, and religion is for Allah.” Quran 2: 193
“If they keep not aloof from you nor offer you peace nor hold their hands, then take them and kill them wherever ye find them. Against such We have given you clear warrant.” Quran 4:91
Both texts clearly say that it is more than ok to murder, maim and kill for God. Not only is it ok, as a matter of fact, it is demanded by God.
Without even going into the atrocious treatment of women by both faiths and both “holy” books I think we’ve seen that religious morality is at best dubious and more often than not atrocious. As for the argument that without religion we’d have no morality I’d say that our morality has long since surpassed the example of both these books. Most of us, religious or not, would say emphatically that slavery is wrong, cultural and racial tolerance is important and that murder, genocide and torture are negative things. Do we really need mythology and superstitious beliefs in celestial overseers to tell us that it’s wrong to hurt people, kill people, enslave people?
Radiometric dating of the sun tells us that it is roughly 5 billion years old.(http://solar-center.stanford.edu/FAQ/Qage.html) Therefore the sun is roughly half a billion years older than the earth.
Eratosthenes in 240 BC. The earth was generally considered to be spherical in both the Hellenistic and Roman periods of antiquity and yet the myth of the earth being flat was not entirely dispelled until Magellan’s circumnavigation of the globe (1519-1522) Proof the earth is round and pillar-less: http://visibleearth.nasa.gov/view_cat.php?categoryID=1484
and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven.”
Matthew Chapter 5.
In the beginning there was darkness, and the darkness frightened us. We huddled around our fires, looked off into the unknowable night and shuddered with dread at the terrifying cries of…who-knew-what… all around us. We understood nothing and had neither the knowledge or the tools to remedy that lack of understanding. Mankind, for all our faults and lacks however, is a creative animal and so the more enterprising (and dishonest) of this simple tribe laid out a pattern that would dog us for uncountable centuries. They went among their fellow animals and assured them that there was hope. This terrifying and unexplainable world was, they said, controlled and regulated by great and powerful beings. These beings were awesome in their power but not all that different from us ourselves, and, “Aren’t you lucky?” said these intrepid thinkers to their fellow-men “I’ve figured out how to commune with them! All you have to do is listen to me, I will tell you how to live, and even tell you what these forces demand in order to avoid their wrath and assure your prosperity. You’ll never have to be afraid again!” Such was the fear of the others that these declarations were met with frenzied joy and gratitude, an orgy of ecstatic surrender ensued that has lasted right up to today.
Humanity has grown to a point in our development where for the first time we truly have the ability to understand our world, ourselves and our place in the wider universe. The darkness has receded. The lights of exploration, study, and experimentation have brought forth a glorious dawn which could not have been dreamed of by centuries of scholar and philosophers who came before. Yet in many regards we remain the huddled frightened animal cowering in the cave.
We live in an age in which we have unlocked the wonders of DNA, witnessed the swirling perfection of far off galaxies, and discovered the breathtaking evidence of the interconnectivity of all lifeforms from the first primordial algae all the way up to modern mankind.
Yet, in spite of all of this there is still a large percentage of the world’s population who believe the ancient fairy tales devised to explain away the darkness. Still the hucksters draw their crowds promising cures and salvation if only you don’t ask too many questions or think too hard about it. You’re afraid to die? It’s ok, death is better than life because when you die you go to a place of perfect joy, but only if you do as you’re told. If you don’t do exactly as you’re told, or if you’re unlucky enough to live in a place that teaches the wrong things then you’re gonna burn forever. You have urges and feelings that are contrary to The Teachings? Yes, the Maker put those there to test you, be sure you handle them in the proscribed manner or you’ll be punished. That group of The Maker’s children has displeased Him, now go forth in His Holy name and kill every one of them you can find.
Ignorance, fear, shame, and atrocity are the sword and shield of religion. Weapons it wields exceptionally well after long millenia of practice. The time has come however to counter the misinformation, the suppression and the willful ignorance. The time has come to put aside the comforting fictions of superstition and look out into the world as it truly is. There is no magic, no cosmic judge just the majestic precision and beauty of an intricate system of growth and change, and endless system of trial and error that eventually saw us come to light. The shot we have now is the only one we get. Should we waste it on the stories we told ourselves in the night? Or should we embrace the light and take an honest look around?
This blog is dedicated to the principle that the time when mythology and superstition ruled us should be relegated to the past, that religion is harmful to the “soul” of the human animal, and contrary to the goals of human unity and progress.