Friday, December 31, 2010

Why Do Manipulative Psychopaths Love Religion? II

Manipulative psychopaths love religion because it provides the perfect camouflage for them and their activities.  They recognize that all they have to do is talk the talk and most people will assume that they walk the walk.  (Given the immorality inherent in most religions, walking the walk is a very low standard of behavior to begin with.)

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Why Do Manipulative Psychopaths Love Religion?

"Manipulative psychopaths love religion because there they can be assured of finding a group of people who believe whatever they are told and who have been pre-formed into a self-righteous mob."

I have hinted at this in other posts, but I think it is useful to formulate it into a brief statement--both for purposes of making the point clear and for purposes of delivering it to others when the time is right.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Obedience to Authority

Obedience to authority is often infantile foolishness.  In my previous post I mentioned the centuries of following Galen with regard to bloodletting and the harm that resulted.  The following quotation may be apocryphal but it highlights another area in which mindless authoritarianism held back human progress for more than a thousand years at the insistence of religious leaders:

“The church says the earth is flat, but I know that it is round, for I have seen the shadow on the moon, and I have more faith in a shadow than in the church.”
— As attributed to Ferdinand Magellan (1480-1521), Portuguese navigator, by Robert G. Ingersoll. Source: The Great Quotations edited by George Seldes.

Obedience to authority is essentially the remnant of humanity's herding instinct.  This instinct is a harmful and archaic atavism--a remnant of billions of years of brutal evolution.  Its very early origins in human evolution, however, make it a pre-rational impulse--one that we often follow without thinking.  This makes it a perfect tool for those unscrupulous individuals who wish to manipulate us for their own ends.

In fact, I think it is not too much to say that authoritarianism is almost always a sign of evil in a person.  The individual who displays such a trait is probably either one of the unscrupulous psychopaths who wish to control others or one of the animalistic humans who follow them eagerly.  Indeed, it can be difficult at times to tell who is sheep and who is wolf.  Either way, such people are dangerous and immoral.

Is Obedience to Authority a Proper Measure of Morality?

"Unthinking respect for authority is the greatest enemy of truth."--Albert Einstein
I think Einstein's words sum up an essential problem with the religious mindset:  Excessive respect for authority.  Such excessive respect for authority undermines all respect for truth and therefore for justice.  I think his words can be re-phrased to make another point:  Unthinking respect for authority is the greatest enemy of morality.  Or, to re-use a quotation from an earlier post:
"Morality is doing what is right, no matter what you  are told.  Religion is doing what you are told, no matter what is right."
Recently I published a post that referred to an article by Stephen Pinker in the New Yorker a couple of years ago.  The article dealt with insights learned in recent studies of the parameters of inherent human morality.  The studies showed not only the presence of an inherent moral sense but consistent themes in that moral sense that transcended culture and training.

One of the themes that appear to run through man's natural moral sense and upon which many people measure morality, at least in part, is obedience to authority.  Researchers also found four other themes:  harm, fairness, community, and purity.  Pinker's article, and presumably the underlying research, laid out these themes without ordering them into any hierarchy, logical or otherwise.  I think it clear, however, that most people do arrange these themes in some order, though I suspect this is usually unconsciously done because the order often seems capricious or illogical.

One ordering principle that can be commonly observed is that of religion.  Religion usually makes the notion of obedience to authority preeminent.  The religious see it as more important that the other themes and even claim that all the others spring from it.

I think it is clear that this view is a perversion of our natural sense of morality and a perversion clearly meant to serve those in positions of authority.   (I think this is part of the reason for their pathological anal retentiveness--their fixation on obedience to authority combined with an obsession with controlling their private parts that I mentioned before--and explains why religious leaders try to keep the religious in this infantile state.)

The thought occurred to me after posting my thoughts on Pinker's article that this sort of morality is nothing but the Nuremberg defense:  "I was only following orders".  In fact, it is even worse.  Elevating obedience to authority over other natural moral considerations is to embrace the notion that the Nuremberg defense is not only a sufficient defense to any charge of immoral conduct but actually describes morally commendable behavior.  In other words, by this thinking--religious moral thinking--the Nuremberg defendants should have been given medals (religious ones, of course) and sent on their way.  Obviously such thinking turns all true morality on its head.

The situation presented at the Nuremberg trials is one of many that show that obedience to authority is not always a valid measure of morality--and certainly not the preeminent measure.  In fact, that situation shows that, sometimes, obedience to authority is precisely the opposite of what is moral in the particular situation.

All authority figures are only human and therefore fallible, including those who claim they are infallible or to speak for the morally infallible.  Relying on an authority in any circumstance can be a very risky proposition.  It was precisely such authoritarian thinking that led doctors to bleed their patients, killing many of them in the process, for more than a thousand years rather than seek to investigate the human body for themselves.

It is particularly dangerous to rely on authority in regard to moral matters because not all people possess the same moral sensibilities.  It has been clearly demonstrated that some people have little or no morality.  Such people usually happen to be the ones who seek positions of authority.  Thus making reliance on authority in moral matters even more troubling.

Furthermore, a person's moral sense of duty has been shown to vary with his or her distance from the moral quandary being presented.  The Nazis had trouble carrying out their genocidal plans because the men tasked with carrying it out found themselves unable to deal with the task morally and emotionally--in spite of a life time of being exposed to religious propaganda urging them to do such things.  Their proximity to the victims and the crimes overwhelmed their sense that obedience to authority was always moral.

One wonders how long the genocide would have continued if the Nazi leaders themselves had to carry out the executions.  Proximity to the horror and the responsibility for it would surely have gotten through to some of them on some level eventually--at least, that is what one would like to think.  Their distance from the crimes, however, allowed them to continue to give monstrous orders without personal qualms and made their moral judgments even more unreliable.

This is another of those little lessons that religious people seem to miss.  They hear the stories but can't seem to generalize the lesson contained therein.  The majority of history's great crimes and tragedies were perpetrated upon the orders of some authority figure.  Are those crimes therefore actually good things, even commendable?  Are the people who committed them moral because they obeyed authority?  Of course not. 

Of the five themes running through our natural morality that Pinker listed it is clear that in any hierarchical ordering harm must be considered paramount.  It is the need to avoid harm that motivates and underlies all the other themes.  The example of the Nuremburg trials again illustrates this:  It is the incredible harm that came from allegedly following authority that makes it clear that following authority was not the proper and thus not the preeminent measure of morality.  Harm clearly trumped it.

We value community because we are not sufficiently physically strong to be solitary animals.  We can survive only by living in groups.  In our evolution, fear of harm was probably one of the very first things we felt.  The comfort felt in the safety of a related community probably followed very soon thereafter.

We value fairness because of the fact that we need to maintain a peaceful and cohesive group in order for it to protect us and our loved ones and help us procure the necessities of life.

Likewise, we value authority because it allows our groups to act in a cohesive manner--without which ability they would not be groups but conglomerations of individuals.  In times of severe danger, cohesive unified action can make all the difference in preserving the lives of those in the group.

We value purity because of the potential for infection and disease in impure things.

Harm is, in effect, the superfactor that all the others exist to serve.  Placing one of the other factors higher than harm in that hierarchy effectively undermines the entire system.  It may have been sufficiently important at times in our history for the survival of the group to take precedence over the survival of the individual so that authority outweighed the harm to that one individual.  Times have changed, however.  Now, we represent a threat to ourselves--a threat to our very continued existence as a species.  This threat exists entirely because we insist on forming separate, hostile groups.

The desire to avoid harm, otherwise known as fear, therefore can be said to actually be the basis of all morality.  This is the source of much of the moral confusion of believers.  They can sense on some level that fear is the wellspring of moral thought but can't quite figure out what it is that they should be afraid of. 

What they should fear is the direct harm that can come form violating these instinctual moral feelings--not some imaginary agent of punishment.  The trouble is that the direct harm is often so distant and uncertain that people can't see it for what it is.  The goal then, in any moral training, should be to teach individuals to see the actual harm caused by immoral actions and to reinforce this insight with community pressure .  To the extent fear is necessary for learning this (or needs to be driven home to an individual), then fear of reciprocity and community disapproval are the appropriate forms it should take.

Substituting fear of an authority figure, especially a fantastical one who presents no real threat, stunts the moral growth of the individual and twists his morality into something that is not morality at all.  This is precisely the goal of religious moral instruction--to instill fear of an authority figure in place of any deeper understanding of the sources of morality.

There clearly exist those individuals who have little or no internal sense of morality and who must therefore be controlled by the use of fear.  Religion does not control such people; it unleashes them.  As often as not, it actually puts them in positions of authority.

To what end does religion insist on this infantile moral system?  Once again we must ask:  Cui bono?  Who benefits?  The obvious answer is that religion itself benefits by keeping people in an infantile state--under control and capable of anything:  A mob to be unleashed at the whim of religious leaders and their secular allies.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Real World Effect of Religion's Moral Teachings

Religious people regularly claim that religion is necessary for moral instruction.  But, they never focus on what that religious moral instruction really entails or what its likely effect will be in the real world.

According to the statements made by religious people and their holy writings, religious people take their moral instructions from an abusive, murderous, sadistic, narcissistic psychopath.  This alone should be enough to give anyone pause when considering whether religion has any value as a basis for morality.  If the "book" of moral tales used for instruction includes one horror story of immoral behavior after another and the primary character in the book behaves worse than Ghengis Khan, then one can legitimately question the value of the alleged "morality" being taught.

So, what do the religious learn in these moral lessons?

They learn that they are essentially psychopaths and that whether or not they will be punished for doing something is all that matters. They learn that serving the ego of god is more important than taking care of other people, even family members.  They learn that the supposed source of all morality is a racist and a misogynist who murders children over minor insults or being born into the wrong ethnic group and that he has committed genocide before and intends to do it again on a grander scale.  They are trained to think that it is right and proper to think and behave in a capricious, vindictive, violent, and unjust manner.  

They are taught to think that what makes god arbiter of right and wrong is his supremacy, not his goodness.  They are taught, in short, that might makes right.  And, they learn that lesson very well.

This is hardly a good basis for morality.   Especially when religions, in fact, turn out to be little more than clubs in which the members help each other and protect each other, which includes helping each other get away with doing bad things.  They call this "sticking together".  Continued membership in one's church requires loyalty to the church first and foremost.  This means that, in practice, these allegedly moral people will commit perjury, obstruct and pervert justice, and worse in order to protect each other.

If church members protect each other from the consequences of their illegal and immoral behavior (which they do), then the threat of punishment is removed for all practical purposes.  (I have already discussed the purely illusory nature of the threat of divine punishment.)  To a person taught that all morality is based on a threat of punishment, this can only mean that anything is moral, so long as the leaders of the church don't get mad at you for doing it.

Because their moral and political philosophy is based on authoritarianism, once they are in positions of authority, all the internal brakes are off--if any ever existed in the first place.  Having become the "authority", they see themselves as being almost godlike in terms of absolute power over those within their purview.  They literally feel that they answer to no one for what they do in such circumstances.  Their oft repeated claim that they are psychopaths who are controlled only by fear of god's punishment is proven true.

Many churches follow the bible in taking it as a given that all governments derive their powers from god--not the people as modern political philosophy holds.  This, of course, means that they are acting on behalf of a "higher" authority when they defy and break the law to aid and protect each other. That's the way they see it, even if they live in a country like the U.S. which explicitly does not base its government on such notions but on the notion that political power comes from the people.

Consequently, the real world effect of religion moral training is to train religious people to behave as if they have no morals at all and only have a duty to protect other members of their church and to advance the interests of that church. 

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Why Do the Religious Take Everything Personally?

"Great minds discuss ideas; Average minds discuss events; Small minds discuss people."
Eleanor Roosevelt

I have previously written here that non-believers should not allow believers to use ad hominem arguments and that non-believers should be careful about debating believers.  Implicit in those posts is the idea that non-believers also should not use ad hominems or even come close to using them.  Attack the idea and not the person.

The problem with debating believers, however, is that most of them can't tell the difference!  That's why they can be very dangerous.  Especially if you win the argument.  Their religion is completely intertwined with their egos.  Attacks on their religion, especially successful ones, can enrage them.

This is why they are so quick to resort to ad hominem arguments.  They can't discuss religion (or many other things) objectively.  They take your thoughts about religion as a personal attack, so they strike back in a way that they think is "in kind" with the way you are attacking.  Part of the problem is that they don't have any sound or valid arguments to make and have little choice but to resort to such things--except to admit they are wrong.  In addition, this inability to come up with a good argument makes them feel inadequate, thus making the issue a matter of personal pride for them even if it weren't already.

Once they do use an ad hominem attack, call them on it.  Tell them what it is and why it is not a valid argument.  You can say something like:

"Now you're just being insulting."

As I suggested before, you might add:

"If you have proof or logic, let's hear it."

Then, in most cases, you should just break off the discussion.   Once something becomes a matter of pride for a person who is completely driven by the needs of his ego--so much so that everything he sees or hears is interpreted in light of the needs of his ego--then you can't possibly make any headway and can only hurt your cause.

If it is safe to do so, you can follow it up with:

"I have read that when a person resorts to personal attacks in a debate it means he knows he has lost the debate."


"You are making it personal now, which I guess means you don't have any good arguments."

These last two have to be delivered right away or not at all and delivered in a relatively collegial way, as if you were gently pointing out a flaw or failure to a colleague or even a friend.  Don't wait until their emotions have become heated if you can help it.

The important thing to remember is that this inability to separate their religion from their egos is another sign that religion is often simply a form of Narcissistic Personality Disorder.  The more quickly the religious person shows signs of this, the more likely it is that you are dealing with someone who is not stable and who will also possess psychopathic traits.  Thus, it is a valuable early warning that you may be dealing with a believer who could become a danger to you.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Moment of Truth

A few days ago the comedian Ricky Gervais published a blog post in the Wall Street Journal's Speakeasy in which he describes the moment when, at 8 years of age, he realized there was no god.  Here is how he tells the story:

"One day when I was about 8 years old, I was drawing the crucifixion as part of my Bible studies homework. I loved art too. And nature. I loved how God made all the animals. They were also perfect. Unconditionally beautiful. It was an amazing world...

But anyway, there I was happily drawing my hero when my big brother Bob asked, “Why do you believe in God?” Just a simple question. But my mum panicked. “Bob,” she said in a tone that I knew meant, “Shut up.” Why was that a bad thing to ask? If there was a God and my faith was strong it didn’t matter what people said.

Oh…hang on. There is no God. He knows it, and she knows it deep down. It was as simple as that. I started thinking about it and asking more questions, and within an hour, I was an atheist."

I think most people have similar moments in their lives when they realize on some level that god is a myth.  The question is whether they are emotionally able to accept it.  Do they have the self-confidence to admit they were wrong, even duped?  Or does their emotional need to pretend they are perfect (or nearly so) prevent them from admitting it--perhaps even to themselves.

What separates people into categories such as believer or non-believer is how they react to this epiphany, which tells you a great deal about the person.  Non-believers accept it.  Their primary interest is knowing the truth.  It doesn't occur to them to reject something that is true--regardless of how they may feel about it or how it makes them feel about other things.  They may, at some point, decide just how certain they are and whether they think of themselves as atheist or agnostic and whether they should ever mention it to anyone else, but they accept, more or less, that it is true that god is literally myth.

Another category includes those I have mentioned before:  psychopaths and future "leaders".  They realize that religion is a tool they can use to control people and file that information away for later use.   They do NOT tell anyone because that would make it impossible for them to use this new insight to control others and they instantly recognize that telling would give someone else power over them--which is something they cannot abide.

Some ostensible believers come to this realization but decide to keep their new knowledge secret because they think religion is good for others and they don't want to undermine the system.  Many decide to keep quiet out of a well justified fear of how the religious will treat them if they are found out.

True believers refuse to accept it.

Why would they refuse to accept it when it is, for a moment, clear to them that there is no more evidence for their god than for any of the false gods?  When it is, for a moment, clear to them that many of their elders and authority figures know this is true on some level and are simply fooling them?

I think the most common reason is the inability to accept that they have been fooled or mistaken.  Their egos are too fragile to allow them to face this fact.  A second but related reason is their inability to accept that their loved ones and authority figures are wrong or dishonest.  This, too, is an ego-based refusal to accept reality.

The longer the parents and clergy can put off the moment of truth, the better--from their viewpoint.  Because the longer the charade has been played on the believer, the more difficult his ego finds it to accept that he has been fooled--sometimes to the point where the believer's ego becomes a willing participant in the charade.  If the believer's ego is already intricately connected with his religion or with a need to believe that he is intelligent (too intelligent to be fooled), then this epiphany will be quickly rejected.  In fact, the believer may not even be able to consciously contemplate it in any significant way.

I think there are a couple of other categories of believers:  First, those so completely ensconced in a cocoon of family and community that they are completely cloistered in a world where only their religion is present as a world view--except perhaps in a few books or on the world news.  Such people are becoming more and more rare as the internet and television have reached almost all corners of the globe, but I have met a couple of people in the past who seemed to actually fit this description.

Finally, there are those who literally lack the mental capacity to question what they are told.  I don't know how many such people there are.  I used to think they were legion, but I have learned that most people as they age will reach a stage sooner or later where the epiphany of reality occurs.

Believers in these last two categories, however, will also be motivated by a certain amount of egotism and thus may, for practical purposes, fall into the category of true believers in denial because their reaction to non-believers will be indistinguishable from that of ego driven believers.  Those who keep quiet out of fear and those who are part of the religious power structure will also react to atheists as they think they are expected to react.  Some of them may be well intentioned because of their false belief that religion is necessary for morality, but the end result is the same:  Whatever their internal thoughts on the matter, the majority of believers will act as if their religion is intrinsically bound up with their egos.  Their defense of it will not be based on reason but will be a matter of pride.

Friday, December 24, 2010

The Theocratic Agenda

Recently, Greta Christina published a blog post about the reactions of locals in Bryan/College Station, Texas, to having an atheist group in the holiday parade.  The atheist group did nothing "rude" or "insulting", yet the locals felt insulted by their very presence.  Greta made the point, which I believe to be totally accurate, that the comments of the locals indicate their true agenda:  Their "outrage" at the "rudeness" of atheists is really just a demand for theocracy.

Just to drive home her point:  Here is a link to a story about the state government of Tennessee listing the ACLU as a terrorist organization after it sent letters to school superintendents in the state reminding them that sectarian holiday celebrations were a violation of the Constitution.

What this shows, unfortunately, is that when believers achieve positions of power in our government, they quickly ignore "man's law" in order to follow "god's law".  I have personally experienced this phenomenon.  The more authoritarian their religious views are, the more certain is this result--and the more extreme.  I can also attest that the more moderate religious believers will usually do absolutely nothing to stop this sort of thing.

Also revealing is the way that state officials tried (and lied) to cover up what they did.  Every time the local paper pointed something out that tended to prove their unethical and un-Constitutional intent, they would make a change in their website and claim that the previous version had been an error.  Like I said before, the religious lie unashamedly, especially when it's about their religion and their efforts to force others to comply with it.

What else can you expect from people who have been taught that being caught and punished is the only basis for determining right and wrong?

Read the comments at the end of the story.  Some of them are scary, but revealing.  Others are actually sufficiently intelligent and tolerant that I am encouraged enough to think humanity might actually crawl out of the pit in which it is living.  Those surprised me.  Atheists and people who believe in freedom!  Living in Tennessee!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Do We Live in The Matrix?

I mentioned in a previous post that religion, in essence, is solipsism taken completely seriously--taken as the absolute truth.

By that reasoning, we all live in a world like that depicted in "The Matrix".  Our perceived reality is just an ephemeral dream but "true" reality is something we can't even sense--until this life ends.

So, next time someone tries to convince you to believe in god, just try to convince that person that he or she lives in "The Matrix".  Turn his reasoning back on him and force him to see that he is essentially saying that he seriously believes that he lives in a world like that depicted in the movie.  The only difference being that instead of machines, the one allegedly controlling us is a "spirit person" with magic powers.

Alternatively, rather than go through a charade with the believer, you could simply use the analogy.  Explain to him what his beliefs really amount to:  a delusion that our world isn't the "real" world--an escapist delusion.

Please read the post linked above and my earlier post on solipsism for more ideas and analysis.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Christians Aren't Perfect... II

The other day I mentioned the "Christians aren't perfect, just forgiven" bumper stickers and how they are really an implicit admission that the moral function of religion is to allow bad people to feel good about themselves.  Today, I want to point out another theme in these bumper stickers.  (There are also T-shirts and other merchandise with this slogan.)

This is classic example of a strawman argument.  Rarely, if ever, has a non-believer accused a religious person of "not being perfect".  Instead, what usually happens is that non-believers get tired of listening to the religious continually spouting their bigoted lies about their alleged moral superiority and point out that the claims are not true.  Usually non-believers point to anecdotal evidence but sometimes, especially in recent years, they point to statistical evidence that the claim is false.

As so often happens, the religious don't actually notice the point the non-believers are making.  All they hear is the emotional message that they are being criticized.  Their response shows clearly that their primary concern is the threat to their ego.  They respond with the slogan from the bumper sticker in an effort to re-assert their alleged moral superiority.

The issue isn't whether or not the religious are perfect; the issue is whether they are more moral than non-believers.  By claiming that the issue is whether or not they are perfect, they are not only avoiding the real issue.  They are avoiding it in a way that makes it seem like the non-believer's criticism is invalid as hyperbolic or excessive.  More important to their way of thinking, the response implicitly assumes that they are still better than us even if not perfect--thus re-asserting their status in the monkey troop and protecting their fragile egos.

As with all strawman arguments, don't follow them to the new battleground they are trying to shift to.  Pull them up short and force them to focus on your point--the very point they are trying to avoid because they know they can't win:

"The issue isn't whether you are perfect.  The issue is whether you are more moral than non-believers.  The evidence shows you are less moral, and your little slogan explains why.  You think your imaginary friend either condones your immorality or will forgive it simply because you asked."

Are Christians Oppressed?

Umm... no.  I don't think so.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Religion and Morality VIII

I recently came across a post on Think Atheist that I thought very neatly summed up the lack of any logical necessity for god in moral philosophy amongst sane, mature individuals.  The post on Think Atheist was so good it deserves to be repeated:

"If something is moral because God wills it, why does God will it?

Does he have a reason? If he has a reason, then the moral exists independent of God.

If he has no reason, then the moral exists at the whim of God and is totally arbitrary. "Thou shalt not kill" could just as easily have been, "Thou shalt not cover your bodies", or "Thou shalt not eat after sundown".

Logically, theistic morality can ONLY be arbitrary and spurious.  True morality has its reasons -- independent of God."

And therefore true morality exists independent of god.  What role is then left for god?  Only the threat of punishment--for those who appear to be unable to use empathy and reason and respond only to a threat (i.e., small children and psychopaths).  As I mentioned before, most religious people claim to be such people.

Someone else posted a similar inquiry on Yahoo Answers 4 years ago and received an insightful response that echos some of my own thinking:
"Because if morality "comes from god", then anyone who does not belong to that religion is immoral, or a criminal, or is someone deserving of a concentration camp.

Faith is how you treat "god".   Morality is how you treat people.

Theists don't want to admit this because it means they can't rationalize or legalize their hate and violence."

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Lie that Nazism Was an Atheistic Movement III

I just came across another excellent article from Luis Granado's blog, this time concerning the Nazis in particular.  The article contains details that I did not discuss in my posts on this subject.  I had seen this article before but I don't think I provided a link to it in my posts on this subject.  It is reprinted in Secular News Daily here. I recommend Luis, his blog, and Secular News Daily highly to all non-believers.

Among other things on Luis' blog, you will find this informative article, which compares the difficulties Israel has in defining who is a Jew with the same difficulties had by those Christians in Europe that used to persecute Jews.  One eye-opening little tidbit:

"The Jesuits, the most powerful of the Catholic clerical orders, refused admission to anyone of Jewish ancestry within the preceding five generations. This rule remained in force until 1946."
 Coincidence?  I think not.

Christians Aren't Perfect...

I have mentioned how religion serves as a way to empower the manipulative psychopaths among us and as a way for the immoral to feel good about themselves.  This morning I was reminded of a bumper sticker I had seen in the past and realized that this bumper sticker was essentially an admission that my observation was correct.  The bumper sticker states:

"Christians aren't perfect, just forgiven"

You can buy a similar bumper sticker at this website. Though I don't recommend it because it has a couple of grammatical mistakes. Here is what the bumper sticker at that site actually says:

"Christians aren't perfect were just forgiven" [sic]

Presumably, "were" is supposed to be "we're" and, of course, there should be a comma or semi-colon after "perfect".

(Once again, I have to ask how Christians can expect us to respect their intelligence when they say and do things like this? One of their primary "arguments" (in the "religion is useful--though it may be a delusion" category) is that a person can't be moral without a belief in god. They tell us this repeatedly and insistently both for the purpose of telling us how superior they are to us and how their persecution of us is justified. Then they turn right around and tell us that religion doesn't really work for that purpose, but they forgive themselves--and you can forgive yourself for your sins too! At the same time, they reveal that, as a group (because surely a whole group was involved in writing, printing and advertising these things) they couldn't pass a junior high school level English class.)

In fairness, however, I should note that the Christian who wrote this essay that I found on another website clearly got both the grammar and the moral quandary correct in his analysis of the statement.  Being a Christian, he tried to explain it away as merely a misunderstanding of Christian teachings.

Unfortunately, the implications of his essay are merely that Christians have to try much harder to be good and can't just feel good about themselves.  He failed to deal with the underlying real world problem of those who have done great wrong then go to church to go through some ritual of forgiveness but never suffer any real punishment or provide any meaningful reparation to their victims.

A mere admonishment (and an infrequent one at that) that this is not what the Christian church means by forgiveness is hardly sufficient.  Especially since the Christian church--and his essay--fail to make it clear just what believers should do to make proper amends if they do wrong.  His "explanation" is also rendered less effective by the "logic" taught in his church.  People who have been raised to accept the idea that facts and reality are determined by what you want them to be can hardly be swayed effectively by occasional admonitions from a few scriptural references.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Chris Hedges' Article in Truthdig

I encourage everyone to read Chris Hedges' article in Truthdig yesterday:  No Act of Rebellion Is Wasted.  Once again, he demonstrates that he has a fine mind and excellent moral character--for the most part.  His observations in this particular article, about things he learned and observed during the fall of the Iron Curtain, can be applied to the struggle of reason against religion.

Needless to say, he doesn't realize this and doesn't support our struggle.  The important point in his article for us is what it tells us about the way in which we carry out our struggle.  A mistake those who oppose religion have made in the past is trying to force change.  This is always a mistake because it results in a reaction that often makes the situation worse than it was before the attempt to force change.

Permanent change must always be based on sufficient popular support.  Once one realizes the evil and entrenched nature of religion, one can easily be tempted to lose patience with it and its supporters--especially the supporters who engage in unethical, immoral and criminal acts in support of their religion.  It is the actions of these very extremists, however, that instruct us.  They do these things in confidence that they will get away with them because they know they have popular support.  If by chance someone actually reports their actions to some governing authority, nothing will be done because either the necessary witnesses or members of that governing body will be sympathetic.

The reason for this popularity and the reason religion is so entrenched is that religion's first efforts always involve converting individuals and increasing the size of the flock.  It is the popular support that must be changed before any real change in our society can take place.  Fortunately the ideas of reason are so superior that this can be an easy task for us, if we simply remember to keep our efforts focused on it.

I think yesterday's article in Truthdig illustrates another point I have made before about Hedges himself and religion in general.  When this article and many of his other writings, such as his wonderful book "American Fascists", are juxtaposed with his comments on atheism, it highlights the way in which his religious training twisted his thinking.  He can clearly see evil in most cases even when clothed in religion, but not when it requires him to examine religion in general.  See footnote 1.

He, like so many people, can only see evil when it is right in front of him, not in the abstract.  Thanks to his education and travel as a reporter he has seen more of that evil in person than most and is motivated to write about it in order to tell us all what is happening.

Studies have shown that this is one of those common problems with humanity's natural moral instinct--its limited scope.  If someone is dying right in front of us, we feel a personal responsibility to do something about it; if people are dying far away, we usually won't lift a finger or contribute a penny to save them.  See footnote 2.  Practically speaking we cannot, of course, treat the two situations as equivalent or else we would spend all our time trying to solve the world's problems because they are never ending.  Could we not, however, find a happy medium between those two extremes and recognize some small responsibility for the world's problems?

One of the greatest problems with religion of course, is that it not only fails to address this failure of our moral instinct it actually exacerbates it.  See my various posts under the numbered headings "Religion and Morality", especially this one, this one, and this one.

In addition, like so many of religion's apologists, Hedges cannot seem to weigh the little bit of good that religion does against the horrors it creates.  World War II and the holocaust were caused entirely by religion.  Without religion there would have been no group of people called Jews living amongst a larger group called Christians.  Without this grouping, it is doubtful that the Nazis would have even existed, much less come to power.

The current conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians would not exist without religion.  Numerous DNA studies have shown that the two groups are very closely related genetically.  Essentially the Palestinians are the descendants of some of the Jews who remained in the middle East during the Jewish diaspora and converted to the religions of the various conquering groups and then intermarried with them.  Those who are Jews retained their identity through their religion, intermarried with other groups less often (and with different groups, depending on where they were).  It was the act of conversion or non-conversion by their ancestors that separated these cousins who now want to exterminate each other.

"Does the fact that religion helps some people feel better about themselves or life or give a little more money to charity justify any of this?  Does it justify the wanton murder of even a small fraction of the children who have been killed as a  result?"

"Whatever good religion does is vastly outweighed by the evil it causes."

ftnt. 1:  Here is a link interview with Hedges from three years ago about his book "American Fascists".

ftnt. 2:  Here is a link to a documentary on this subject.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Original Sin

I mentioned in a previous post Chris Hedges' fatuous statement that "the enlightenment made the mistake of dropping the wisdom of original sin".  I would like to return to that rather extraordinary viewpoint for a minute.

First, the doctrine of original sin, as many will undoubtedly already know, is the idea that ALL humans are born sinful because Adam and Eve ate of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  Only a mind poisoned by stewing for too long in the odious juices of religion could even conceive of calling such a notion wise.

It is wise only from the viewpoint of those who make their living peddling god's forgiveness.  It ensures that everyone will need their services--if they believe such nonsense, that is.  Thanks to this doctrine every human being is a sinner.  No matter how virtuous an individual is, he still needs priestly intervention with god, who, being the wrathful narcissistic psychopath the bible says he is, apparently intends to punish humanity to the nth generation for a couple of bites from a piece of fruit.  (This god character is worse than the craziest neighbor anyone has ever had to share a fence with.)

Notice, too, the nature of what was in the fruit and therefore in the sin:  Knowledge of good and evil.  Apparently, thinking for oneself, especially about matters of morality, is an extremely serious offense in the eyes of god--or, rather, those who claim to speak for him.  This is clearly part of the long term scheme by the clergy to set themselves up as the ultimate and only authority on matters of morality--a moral system in which authority is the only important parameter in any event.

As much as I like and admire Hedges and his other work, his book and statements about the "new atheists" are nothing less than an exhibit proving that even a little religion infecting a person's mind is too much.

Lessons From the Spanish Civil War

Many people today don't know much about the causes of the Spanish Civil War.  For decades, the truth was repressed by the Catholic Fascist government of Spain.  But after General Franco died, and King Juan Carlos both championed and protected a real return to democracy, the facts began to come out.  A recent two part article from Luis Granado's blog and reprinted in Secular New Daily is a real eye opener:

The war was caused by the fact that secular humanists won the national elections "despite the Church’s circulation of a catechism declaring it to be a mortal sin to vote for any candidate who supported freedom of religion, the press, or education".  Apparently, when the Spanish clergy says "god forbid that people should be free", it's in deadly earnest.

Now, think about what that means.  A freely elected government in a Western democracy tried to remove the Catholic Church from its favored position (nothing more--no persecution) and give greater freedoms to individual citizens, and the Catholics in the military found this so intolerable that they overthrew the government. 

The humanists didn't try to make religion illegal or impose communism, they merely tried to bring Spain into the 20th Century.  Here is another quote from the first part:

"The constitution Azaña helped produce pointedly refused to recognize Catholicism as the official religion of the state. On the contrary, it infuriated the Church by its explicit toleration of all varieties of religious belief. Control over marriage, cemeteries, and education was transferred from the Church to the civil government, and Church doctrine was further violated by allowing women full rights of citizenship, including the right to divorce. As Azaña put it on the floor of the Cortes: 'Spain has ceased to be Catholic.'”

"Explicit toleration of all varieties of religious belief"?  Full rights for women?  Government running education?  Obviously the church could not allow all that to happen.  At the urging of the church, conservative elements in the army (sound familiar?) began a war to overthrow their own government.

During the war an estimated 180,000 civilians were killed by the fascists, often on the mere suspicion of being a progressive.  At the end of the war at least another 500,000 Spaniards were executed by their countrymen for having the wrong opinions about religion and society--i.e., thinking progressively.

Another 400,000 were put into slave labor camps and another 400,000 beyond that were driven into exile.

Consider the following chilling thought in light of the current situation in the U.S. military, which is now firmly in the control of religious fanatics who see their duty to god as paramount even to their duty to their country:

"Why did a government that enjoyed majority support lose the war? The simple reason is that it was outgunned. Franco’s rebels received massive aid from Hitler and Mussolini. But the western democracies, including America, would not even sell weapons to the legitimate Spanish government. This was part of the larger strategy of appeasement; it is no coincidence that the Spanish war ended two weeks after Hitler consolidated his control over Czechoslovakia."

That paragraph and the ones following it contain yet another chilling bit of information:

"To a larger extent, though, western democracies refused to help Spain because of the political influence of the Catholic Church.

In the United States, Franco’s Catholic champion was Father Charles Coughlin, the powerful “Radio Priest” whose pro-Fascist broadcasts had to be silenced during World War II. In 1936, though, Franklin Roosevelt had no stomach for a fight with Father Coughlin. Roosevelt announced a “moral embargo” on arms sales to both sides, elevating the military rebels to the same moral plane as the democratically elected government. Enforcement was selective; the pro-Nazi President of Texaco, Thorkild Rieber, received a slap on the wrist fine for supplying the rebels with millions of dollars of oil on credit, while the Martin Aircraft Corporation was prevented from shipping planes and parts that had already been purchased by the Spanish government.

Harold Ickes wrote in his diary: 'He [Roosevelt] said frankly that to raise the embargo would mean the loss of every Catholic vote next fall. . . . This proves up to the hilt what so many people have been saying, namely, that the Catholic minorities in Great Britain and America have been dictating the international policy with respect to Spain.'”
If there is any doubt in anyone's mind that religion is the enemy of freedom and democracy, this story should lay those doubts to rest.

For all non-believers, this story should serve as a warning, and a chilling one at that.  Who is to say it can't happen again?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Why It Pays to Speak Up

Starting in the mid-1970's I began trying to explain to theists that their double standards made no sense.  I never got anywhere with them, of course, and eventually was bullied into silence about my thoughts on theism in general.  Today, I read that someone named Matt McCormick is writing an entire book on this notion.

Instead of letting myself be silenced, I should have done something similar.  I can only wonder how many others have let themselves be silenced over the years and where we would be today if they had not.

Religion and Morality VII

I have discussed previously the nonsensical proposition that one must believe in god to be moral.  Believers and those who merely believe in belief continually say this even though evidence and logic show that it is not true.  In part, I think they believe this because they fear their own sexuality.  Those who only believe in belief say such things because they fear the true believers.  For true believers, however, part of the reason they harbor this bigotry is that their own morality has been stunted--or even twisted--by religion so that they simply do not know what morality is; they think it is obedience to authority.

In Stephen Pinker's article in the New York Times in 2008 he wrote about recent research indicating that there exists in humans a discernible moral instinct.  Of course, this instinct isn't equally present in everyone.  Nor is it going to be sufficient by itself to endow us all with the necessary morals to allow us to live together in harmony.  But, its presence and the parameters of it revealed by the research give us an objective starting point for defining, measuring, and then building a morality that is both rational and useful.

The article tells how researchers were able to tease the parameters of this moral sense out of test subjects using carefully designed hypothetical questions.  The following is an excerpt from the article:

"The exact number of themes depends on whether you’re a lumper or a splitter, but Haidt counts five — harm, fairness, community (or group loyalty), authority and purity — and suggests that they are the primary colors of our moral sense. Not only do they keep reappearing in cross-cultural surveys, but each one tugs on the moral intuitions of people in our own culture. Haidt asks us to consider how much money someone would have to pay us to do hypothetical acts like the following:
Stick a pin into your palm.
Stick a pin into the palm of a child you don’t know. (Harm.)
Accept a wide-screen TV from a friend who received it at no charge because of a computer error.
Accept a wide-screen TV from a friend who received it from a thief who had stolen it from a wealthy family. (Fairness.)
Say something bad about your nation (which you don’t believe) on a talk-radio show in your nation.
Say something bad about your nation (which you don’t believe) on a talk-radio show in a foreign nation. (Community.)
Slap a friend in the face, with his permission, as part of a comedy skit.
Slap your minister in the face, with his permission, as part of a comedy skit. (Authority.)
Attend a performance-art piece in which the actors act like idiots for 30 minutes, including flubbing simple problems and falling down on stage.
Attend a performance-art piece in which the actors act like animals for 30 minutes, including crawling around naked and urinating on stage. (Purity.)
In each pair, the second action feels far more repugnant."

Many people can and will quibble with these themes (or the examples given to illustrate them) and their relative importance, but the fact remains that research across cultures shows that these themes appear consistently in the test subjects' sense of morals.  In particular, many non-believers will bridle at the use of a minister to show a respect for "authority", but the use of that particular example is telling because it illustrates the way in which religion uses (some might say abuses) these moral instincts to control people.

Not only has religion made a concerted effort over centuries to convince people to see it and its representatives as authority figures, it has successfully skewed the moral instincts of most believers to elevate the importance of authority as a moral theme over all the others.  Religion does this through the simple trick of maintaining that it is the ultimate and only authority with regard to morality itself.  (Also by playing on the last theme:  Purity.  By setting themselves up as more pure than others and emphasizing the "impurity" of all the things that are natural side effects of being human, such as sexuality and negative emotions like anger and jealousy, the clergy separate and elevate themselves from the rest of us.)

The end result is to give the clergy and their secular allies almost complete control over their flocks.  Given that most societies are dominated by religions of a certain stripe, this means that those who call the shots within those religions also call the shots in that society in general.

For the clergy, the obvious benefit of this arrangement is to increase the cohesiveness of the flock both by setting it apart from the great unwashed masses who don't believe the same things and by convincing the individual members that they need the church to save themselves from their own immorality.  In some cases this immorality is manifest and manifestly true and the parishioner feels a psychological need to cleanse himself of guilt over very real infractions.  In other cases the guilt feelings are merely those induced by the clergy who use their status as authority with regard to morality to convince people that even normal, harmless human traits are sins that require their intervention with god on behalf of the sinner.

This creates a barrier between the flock and those who would undermine the con game being played by the clergy, such as us "evil" non-believers who would clue the sheep in regarding the trick being played on them.  It also directly supports the con game (and the protection racket) being run by the clergy by causing non-believers to suffer adverse consequences from the flock, such as social and economic boycotts, etc.  Thus ensuring that not only do members of the flock shun non-believers, the non-believers themselves are often bullied into silence or even belief. 

This system leads inevitably to intolerance.  If a person thinks the only possible authority in moral matters is god, then it impossible to have obedience to authority by someone who thinks god doesn't exist or believes in the wrong version of god.  Thus, anyone outside the religious group is not merely suspect but necessarily guilty.

It also inevitably leads to intolerance by ensuring that there can be no development of any universal sense of morality.  Naturally, those who haven't had their morality stunted and twisted by the ridiculous moral and "factual" notions of religion are going to differ in their views on morality from the religious.  This inevitable difference makes it much easier for religions to label nonbelievers as immoral.  The perversion of church members' sense of morality makes the "immorality" of those outside the church a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Finally, this system leads to intolerance by elevating authority over the usual checks on intolerance and its ill effects to be found in the innate sense of morality that manifests itself as an aversion to harm, to unfairness, and to a sense that all of humanity can be one community.

The harm this system causes flows directly from another moral theme mentioned elsewhere in Pinker's article:

"The other hallmark is that people feel that those who commit immoral acts deserve to be punished. Not only is it allowable to inflict pain on a person who has broken a moral rule; it is wrong not to, to “let them get away with it.” People are thus untroubled in inviting divine retribution or the power of the state to harm other people they deem immoral. Bertrand Russell wrote, 'The infliction of cruelty with a good conscience is a delight to moralists — that is why they invented hell.'"
Convincing your flock that merely thinking of immoral temptations is just as bad as committing them may help keep them coming back to church to assuage their guilt feelings over being human, but when that sense that normal but negative human feelings are themselves horrible sins collides with the moral sense that those who do bad things must be punished we have a recipe for violent intolerance of anyone who doesn't conform eagerly and diligently.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The New All-Purpose Insult Used By Hate Groups

I have mentioned before the outrageous allegations made in recent years by the religious that Hitler and his followers were atheists.  As I explained, this is not just false but outrageously false--to the point where it insults the intelligence of those who hear or read it.

Apparently, alleging that the Nazis were actually secretly just like those you hate has become the new all-purpose insult used by hate groups.

Just recently I came across a reference to the Southern Poverty Law Center's list of anti-gay hate groups.  I couldn't help but notice a couple of things.  First, the groups are exclusively Christian (with one possible exception), and second, several of them have started accusing Hitler and his followers of being homosexuals.  Here is a taste of the incredible hyperbole (as if the mere allegation weren't incredible enough):

      "Taking a page from the anti-gay fabulist Scott Lively (see
   Abiding Truth Ministries, above), [the AFA's] Fischer claimed
   in a blog post last May 27 that '[h]omosexuality gave us
   Adolph Hitler, and homosexuals in the military gave us the
   Brown Shirts, the Nazi war machine and 6 million dead Jews.'
   (Ironically, the elder Wildmon was widely denounced as an
   anti-Semite after suggesting that Jews control the media, which
   the AFA says 'shows a genuine hostility towards Christians.')
   Fischer has described Hitler as 'an active homosexual' who
   sought out gays 'because he could not get straight soldiers to
   be savage and brutal and vicious enough.'”

This is so absurd and far-fetched that no sane person could have made it up or predicted that anyone would.  This a clear example of the delusional nature of religion, in which believers simply re-make reality in their own minds to suit their emotional needs.  It is also a clear example of projection and splitting--two reflexive defense mechanisms used by the emotionally disturbed.

The truth, of course, is that the vast majority of the Nazis were Christians who routinely shipped homosexuals to concentration camps for extermination.  In fact, the Nazis were Christian Nationalists, just like the people behind these latest lies.  (That is the origin of the word "Nazi".  It is short for "Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei" or National Socialist German Workers Party.  But, don't be fooled by the word "Socialist".  What they meant was that the "Reich" should have access to all the assets of the entire nation.)

Given, however, that the groups spouting this offensive tripe are part of the American fascist movement who want to re-enact the extermination program of the Nazis, it is not surprising that they would want to hide this fact and try to convince people that their intended victims are the evil ones.

This is a common tactic and should always be taken as a warning regarding the intentions of those making such ridiculous accusations with regard to their intended victims.  These people are the same ones who sometimes say that biblical law should be the law of the land in the U.S., and that under that law homosexuals should be executed.

Whenever you hear such blatantly bogus accusations, you can bet you are dealing with a hate group and that the people making the accusations want to exterminate those who are the subjects of the accusations.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Why Do the Religious Need Faith?

Religious beliefs violate the rules of logic.  They are neither logically sound nor logically valid.  There are no facts that support them, and the reasoning that is used to support them is always invalid--usually because it is circular logic.  That is why the religious need faith and that is why their beliefs are called beliefs and not facts. 

Faith is the patch the believer puts over the hole in the logic of his belief system.  Once that patch is put over the hole in the argument, the rest follows easily.  (In fact, anything follows easily once you swallow that whopper, which is why religion is so dangerous and why it is clearly a dangerous mental illness.)  The other "arguments" are nothing but bad rationalizations.

Point this out to them when appropriate:

"If religious beliefs did not violate the rules of logic, they would be facts and not beliefs."

"If religious beliefs did not violate the rules of logic, then you wouldn't need faith."

The Lie that Nazism Was an Atheistic Movement II

One often sees the following quotation attributed to Seneca the Younger:


“Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful.”  Seneca the Younger, Roman Philosopher, 1st century A.D.


Apparently, however, there is reason to believe that he may not have actually written or said those words.  The following quotation from Gibbon's "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire", however, were undoubtedly written by Gibbon:

"The various modes of worship, which prevailed in the Roman world, were all considered by the people, as equally true; by the philosopher, as equally false; and by the magistrate, as equally useful."  Edward Gibbon, 1776.


Regardless of who first expressed this idea, it is one often expressed these days on the internet and in other media.  I think it is so often repeated because so many people realize just how true it is and how succinctly it sums up a complicated situation.

One of the notions contained in this expression is the idea that the world is not divided up into believers and non-believers only.  There is at least one other class of persons who take an entirely different view of religion.  These are the ones I have mentioned before who are primarily interested in power rather than truth.  Such people may or may not actually believe in the truth of religion or some part of religion, but they do not usually reveal the truth of their actual beliefs to others.  They may not even know with certainty themselves what they believe.

Such people apparently see the world in a way that is difficult for believers and non-believers alike to truly grasp.  The truth or falsehood of religion is simply not important to them.  What is important to them is power and the means to achieve it. 

It can be argued that Hitler belonged, partially, to this third category of people who are at least as concerned with the usefulness of religion to them personally as they are with the truth or falsehood of the matter.  But, it is clear that he was not an atheist. 

The material to be found at this website make clear that Hitler's rejection of the current Christian churches was not based on atheism.  The material also makes quite clear that the lie being spread by numerous Christians in recent years that Hitler (or the Nazis) were atheists is patently false.  (As does the material on this website and those to which it provides links.)  See ftnt.

Among the many original documents reviewed and included in the first website is a voter guide distributed to Catholic voters in Germany before the vote on Nov. 12, 1933, telling them that they must vote for Hitler and his supporters.  Also included is a portion of a document prepared by a Nazi committee in 1943 and presented to Hitler outlining a plan to proclaim Hitler as the "new Messiah" after the war was "won".

This plan to replace Christianity is one of the reasons that so many Christians try to argue that Hitler was an atheist.  Obviously, however, this plan is consistent with what I mentioned before:  Hitler saw himself as the instrument of god.  He believed that Jesus was actually the illegitimate son of a Roman soldier (and therefore not completely Jewish) and that the Christian Church was the creation of a Jew--Saint Paul, otherwise known as Saul of Tarsus.  He thought of himself as the instrument of god sent to "correct" Saint Paul.

He appeared to think that Jesus' message had been garbled by a Jewish conspiracy--which is the way he saw the rest of the world as well.  He was certain, like most religious people, that god saw things the same way he did and that those who disagreed were just wrong about god's wishes.  This tendency to "personalize" the religious delusion exposes it as the personal delusion it is.

"[Y]ou can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out God hates all the same people you do.” -Anne Lamott from Bird by Bird.

Footnote:  This web page also contains numerous links to materials de-bunking the "Hitler was an atheist" lie.   A related web page contains pictures of numerous artifacts showing that Nazis were Christians.  At the bottom of the page are three paintings by Hitler--one of which is of the Virgin Mary and Jesus as a child.  That particular painting is very strong evidence of Hitler's continued belief in Jesus.  The owner of the page suggests that non-believers use the painting as a Christmas card to send to any believer who claims Hitler wasn't a Christian.  The suggestion is humorous, but be careful not to feed the lie that we atheists are Nazis if you do such a thing.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Opposing Religion

The following quotation is today's quotation of the day on the Freedom From Religion Foundation website (  If you don't know of their work or website, please visit it, read up on them, and contribute.  The quotation shows, yet again, that the obvious logical and moral flaws of religion have been noted and commented on, at length, for centuries.

“ . . . In all parts of our globe, fanatics have cut each other's throats, publicly burnt each other, committed without a scruple and even as a duty, the greatest crimes, and shed torrents of blood . . .

Savage and furious nations, perpetually at war, adore, under divers names, some God, conformable to their ideas, that is to say, cruel, carnivorous, selfish, blood-thirsty. We find, in all the religions, 'a God of armies,' a 'jealous God,' an 'avenging God,' a 'destroying God,' a 'God,' who is pleased with carnage, and whom his worshippers consider it a duty to serve. Lambs, bulls, children, men, and women, are sacrificed to him. Zealous servants of this barbarous God think themselves obliged even to offer up themselves as a sacrifice to him. Madmen may everywhere be seen, who, after meditating upon their terrible God, imagine that to please him they must inflict on themselves, the most exquisite torments. The gloomy ideas formed of the deity, far from consoling them, have every where disquieted their minds, and prejudiced follies destructive to happiness.

How could the human mind progress, while tormented with frightful phantoms, and guided by men, interested in perpetuating its ignorance and fears? Man has been forced to vegetate in his primitive stupidity: he has been taught stories about invisible powers upon whom his happiness was supposed to depend. Occupied solely by his fears, and by unintelligible reveries, he has always been at the mercy of priests, who have reserved to themselves the right of thinking for him, and of directing his actions.”
— Baron d'Holbach, Common Sense, 1772

Religion persists because of the fear it instills in people through its bullying.

There is good reason to be fearful, but that fear is also one of the many reasons that religion should be opposed.  It is an insane form of totalitarianism.  It intends to force all of us to not only do what it wants but even to think what it wants--even if what it wants you to think is insane.  It intends to do this based purely on the force of threats and whatever other use of force is necessary--based on its past performance in Western countries and current performance in certain other countries.  Of course, the religious are dangerous to those who oppose them, but opposing them is a moral duty to anyone who supports reason, decency, and the future of the human race. 

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Did Jesus Actually Exist?

Atheists and skeptics sometimes like to argue that Jesus never actually existed.  They base this argument in part on the fact that there is no reliable evidence that he did--no reliable physical evidence has ever been found, and no historical records mention him.

There is a brief mention in the historical works of Josephus, but many scholars believe that this was inserted centuries later by a Christian scribe.  There are no early copies of Josephus' work to compare it with, the passage doesn't fit well into the context, and the writing style seems different. Of course, Christian apologists argue strenuously that "some" of the passage was Josephus' own writing.

What the skeptics really base their case on, however, is the extent to which the Jesus story was obviously borrowed from earlier religious traditions circulating in that part of the world at that time in history.  Among others, biblical scholar Robert M. Price has written several books on this subject.  You can find a bibliography of works on this subject at this site.

You will find that the essential elements of the Christ myth are repetitive of things alleged to be true of Buddha, Horus, Mithra, Krishna, Osiris, and Dionysius--in other words, many of the competing religions around the Mediterranean and Asia Minor at the time of the founding of Christianity.  Virgin birth,  royal or divine father, 12 disciples, miracles, sacrificial death and resurrection can almost be described as required aspects of a man-god at that time.

The fact that the myths were borrowed from elsewhere, however, does not disprove the existence of an executed cult leader. 

Although the idea that Jesus never actually existed is not ridiculous by far, I don't think this is an argument that non-believers should use in any serious way.  That is, I don't recommend that anyone actually try to prove the point or maintain that Jesus absolutely did not exist.  Doing so will merely give ammunition to the other side of the debate.  Use it to introduce doubt into the believer's mind instead.

An example of the best use of this notion is Bertrand Russell's in his famous 1927 lecture, "Why I Am Not a Christian"—delivered to the National Secular Society in Battersea Town Hall, London.  He said that "historically it is quite doubtful that Jesus existed, and if he did we know nothing about him..."

That's it. Just a brief mention that there is no reliable evidence that Jesus even existed.  Then drop the subject and move on to other things in Christianity that are far from certain.  Doubts as to Jesus' actual existence is only one of many such things, like the veracity and authorship of the New Testament and the exclusion of numerous other "holy" writings from the bible.

The point of mentioning these things is that Christians haven't managed to prove that their earthly foundation myths are true, much less the alleged supernatural background.  There is absolutely no reason to think that Christianity wasn't just something someone made up.  Just another of many cults that existed in that time and place.

If you strenuously maintain that Jesus never existed, you will lose credibility in the eyes of any religious observers and maybe some skeptics.  Even if the members of your audience can't articulate why they no longer take you seriously, they will sense that there is something fatally wrong with maintaining this position.

They may say that the reason is that you can't prove it, and you may reply with burden of proof type arguments as if the debate were about whether god exists.  But, there is a fundamental difference between those two debates.

God is a supposed supernatural entity--an extraordinary proposition.  Jesus was a man--not extraordinary at all.  Disproving god's existence is literally impossible.  Any hypothesis involving sentient beings with magic powers is impossible to disprove and therefore the burden of proof must be on the proponent.  Disproving Jesus' existence as a historical human being may be practically impossible but not theoretically impossible as in the case of god.  Therefore the usual assumptions about assuming the burden of proof when proposing a hypothesis will apply.  You, the skeptic, will be implicitly assumed to bear that burden and you cannot meet it.

There is a better way to approach this issue.  We atheists like to whip out Occam's razor when arguing with the religious, and I would do so when analyzing whether Jesus actually existed.  Occam's razor is the name given to the logical principle that the simplest explanation for something is more likely to be true.

The simplest hypothesis is that there was a radical rabbi named Jesus, or something like that, who started his own sect and then got himself killed by the Romans for being uppity.  After which his stunned followers tried to put the best face on it that they could and started grafting all those other god myths on to Jesus' story and trying to fit him into the Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah.  His followers clearly went to a lot of trouble to try to make the actual facts of his life "fit" the prophecies he would need to have fulfilled to actually be the Messiah.

Trying to pretend that a person was actually a deity implies that there was a person to begin with.  There would be no reason to go to all that trouble if there weren't.  If there hadn't been an actual person, then it would have been possible to make sure that the "facts" about the life of the fictional founder of the religion fit the prophecies perfectly rather than very badly.

I think, too, that the reason they concocted for his death shows how desperate they were to make an actual event seem to make sense in their twisted world.  The idea that god was so mad at us for being human that he just had to kill somebody so he sent a part of himself to earth as a person and then killed that person is insane--yet not uncommon at that time.   Furthermore, the stories and quotations in the bible sound just like the stories of the leader of a small cult. 

The idea that a bunch of people just got together and decided to make him up doesn't fit the facts as well and requires more suppositions.  For instance, there seems to have been a whole group of followers.  Religions made up out of whole cloth are usually created by one person for various reasons (i.e., Joseph Smith).  Usually that one person is a twisted soul who wants power and wouldn't want to share it with co-conspirators.  Besides, complicated conspiracies are hard to pull off, and the greater the number of co-conspirators, the greater the likelihood of failure.  I can think of no reason that explains in a convincing way why a group of people would decide to make this particular story up--unless it were to make sense of real events that didn't fit their view of their recently deceased guru.

The conspiracy theory is more complicated than the idea that a radical rabbi started his own sect, got himself killed by the Romans, and then his followers tried to make the best of it by claiming his death was a "sacrifice" for them and added new "details" over the years to make him seem more wonderful.  That sort of thing was known to happen; this particular sect just happened to be the one to survive and prosper.

James Carroll in his book "Constantine's Sword" makes the case for this simpler scenario very well--along with a good exploration of violence and intolerance inspired by Christianity.

A documentary version of the book came out a couple of years ago:

Personally, I don't care whether he existed.  If he did, he was nothing more than the David Koresh of his day.  Koresh was born to an unwed 15 year old mother (virgin birth?) and never knew his father (holy ghost?).  He took an offshoot of an established religion and turned it into his personal cult.  His ego eventually caused him to run afoul of the authorities, who killed him.  The difference is that Jesus didn't get most of the others in his cult killed the way Koresh did.  Most important is that Koresh's life occurred very recently, which allows us to see him objectively.

Religion Is a Business--A Criminal One

It has often occurred to me that religion isn't just a business; it is a criminal activity--part con game, part protection racket.

Generally, the founders of religions are deeply disturbed individuals who want power, money, and sex in abundance and are willing to do or say anything to get them.  First, the founder of the religion (or cult, which is the special name given to new, small religions to indicate their lack of power) realizes the power religion has over its followers and that if he were in control of a religion then he could have almost anything he wanted.  His desire for these things is so great and his ethical standards so low that he determines that this is something he should try.  Then he seeks out those he can recruit to his group. 

He convinces a group of other people that he know things he cannot possibly know--the secrets of the universe.  He promise to share this knowledge and its benefits.  He is happy to accept a small token in return, then another, then another, until the new converts have nothing left and their investment in too great to walk away.

Of course, the converts are told that all such money and other types of wealth collected are to be used to help "spread the word" and thus "save" everyone on Earth from something--strife, ignorance, hellfire, etc.  The end result, however, is to enrich the founder (and, later, his closest supporters) and leave the convert with no way to regain his economic autonomy.  The convert can recoup his investment only by staying and becoming one of those close followers who get the goodies.

As the founders reel in their fish, they follow a formula designed to slowly strip away the autonomy of the individuals they have recruited, such as psychological manipulation, isolation from family and friends, deprivation of sleep and nutrition, thought control through "study" and constant monitoring by others, blackmail, etc.

Once a religion reaches sufficient size to become dominant, or relatively so, within its society, then it begins to take on the features of a protection racket.  It tells non-members that they really need to join for their own good.  Bad things will happen to them if they don't meet the church's current standards for acceptable levels of conformity.  You will go to a very bad place after you die.  But, just as with criminal protection rackets, the bad things that happen to those who resist seem to be perpetrated solely by the members of the organization demanding obedience and payment.

The real threat isn't that some invisible man in sky will punish you after you are dead.  The real threat is that you will be publicly labeled as a "bad person" by the members of the church.  Then the members and their friends and allies will find various ways to show their displeasure, such as de facto economic boycotts, shunning, ostracizing, insults, rudeness, constant attempts to upset you in order to pick a fight or otherwise get you into trouble, constant unjustified criticism of every aspect of your life, spreading of malicious rumors, etc.

Once the cult has sufficient dominance, then membership or obedience of some sort will become required to obtain the favor of its many members who by then will play so many economic and social roles in their society that they will seem to be everywhere.  Even those who don't belong to the church will begin to try to curry their favor and avoid their wrath.  Those who dare to incur the wrath of the church will find that things don't seem to go their way after that. Of course, the perpetrators find ways to shield themselves from prosecution or retaliation.  This is easy to do if you are a member of an organization that will shield you from criminal and civil liability for your wrongdoing--especially if you did it to help the organization, though that isn't a requirement.

Mature, organized religion is very much like a criminal organization such as the Mafia and behaves in a similar manner.  Religions have engaged in extortion, torture, murder, and intimidation throughout the ages in order to achieve their goals--the protection and expansion of their con game/protection racket.

Please read Andrew Sullivan's trenchant article about the pope's response to the ever-burgeoning child abuse scandal.  Particularly note his emphasis on the fact that the church chose to protect itself rather than the children. This is a phenomenon that is not limited to the catholic church, nor even to the hierarchy or clergy of various churches.  Large churches behave very much like the mafia--only using dishonesty and PR instead of guns (usually).  This is just an example of it.

Here is a link to an even better article on the subject:

Finally, these confidence swindlers and their "muscle", the congregation, will develop alliances with those in power. Then the con game becomes part of the power structure. This is religion at full maturity--a parasite intertwined with the vital organs of its host.  Once that point is reached, the con game serves the secular powers as well as the church.

The church promises a blessed, luxurious "afterlife" in "heaven" if you follow the principle expressed in "ora et labora" (pray and work), which means that you should work hard, do as you are told, don't ask any questions, and give your hard earned money to the church. Your reward will come after you have died!  (And if the carrot doesn't work, then the stick is waiting.)  What a perfect scheme for controlling large numbers of people! And all that when the priest caste never, ever provides any shred of evidence that God, Heaven and Hell actually exist.

If you haven't seen this website satirizing religion, I highly recommend it:

Send the link to all your friends, especially the religious ones so that they can get a glimpse of what religion really is through the lens of parody.

This scheme works only with an uneducated, ignorant population. As the general population in many countries becomes better educated and increasingly literate, these tricks no longer work as originally designed, which is why non-belief is on the increase today.  This is also why increasingly desperate attempts by religious groups to retain the privileged status of their religion, such as the continual fights over school prayer and prayer at government functions.  We are also seeing resurgent attempts to make questioning and criticizing religious superstitions a crime (blasphemy laws), supported by politicians who want to increase their power base and make personal gains, such as in Ireland and at the UN.

Non-believers need to understand the nature of religion:  It is a criminal enterprise that cares only for itself.   It will lead us all into the abyss of a new "dark ages" if we let it.  It is not enough simply to de-convert and engage in the occasional discussion or argument.

Religion must be fought in the same way that organized crime is fought.  That fight requires information, insight, planning and fortitude.  It is a long term battle.  It will take decades if not generations.  The battlefield lies in the minds of the public.  Religion could not engage in any of its unethical activities without a great deal of support from its members and members of the public who are either too disengaged to care or to afraid to get involved.  That is the thing that must be changed--the attitudes of those who do nothing.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Do They Really "Just Want to Pray"?

When the subject of school prayer or organized prayer at government functions comes up the religious repeatedly say that they "just want to pray" and ask why we object to that.  As I mentioned before, this is one of their many blatant lies.  The law doesn't prohibit them from praying and non-believers don't object to them praying.

What they want, what the law forbids, and what non-believers find objectionable is the intentional use of the power of government to give the impression that there is, in fact, a state religion and that everyone needs to conform or risk ostracism or worse.  Such "official" prayer sessions are meant to give that impression and also to give the impression that everyone believes and there is no dissent, that dissent is unacceptable and even criminal or insane.

The juxtaposition of the following news items makes this nefarious intent clear:

First, a recent survey of religious websites shows very clearly that prayer itself is not actually that important to the religious either as a ritual or a marketing tool.  Even though the religious give the impression that they need to pray the way a chain smoker needs a cigarette whenever the topic of government sponsored organized prayer comes up.  One would think that religious people need to pray before almost any activity.  In fact, it is the circumstances that cause this sudden alleged need for prayer.  Their own publications show that they don't really need to pray before every activity or even that often. 

As I pointed out before, the actual impetus behind the sudden need to pray just because the school day is starting is the desire to show unanimity and give the impression that the power of government supports religion.  Why is school prayer so important?  Because it is an essential part of the brainwashing process.  The comments of an Illinois state representative (Ms. Monique Davis) to an atheist witness who appeared before her committee make this clear.

In addition to repeatedly telling him he had no right to be there because he was an atheist and repeatedly ordering him to get out of his seat and leave, she dropped this revelatory little bomb:

"[I]t’s dangerous for our children to even know that your philosophy exists!"

There you have it.  An explicit statement of the real reason religious people fight so hard for school prayer:  To make sure their kids don't start thinking for themselves, to make sure that they only know of thoughts that support religion, to make sure their brainwashing is uninterrupted, to make sure they don't start asking questions that their parents, teachers, and clergy can't answer.

She is half right.  It is dangerous--but not to the children.  It's dangerous to the profits of that huge criminal business called religion.  If the brainwashing process is interrupted, a huge number of potential tithers will leave the church before they ever start to earn money.

I can speak from personal experience that simply learning that not believing is a possibility can have the effect of causing a child to cease believing.  Once you know that it's possible to be a non-believer, you have to ask yourself why you should continue to believe.  The honest answer is that there is no good reason.  Many children will recognize this because they have received some training in skeptical thinking.  When their parents and clergymen explain why other religions are nonsense, they sometimes unwittingly give them tools that can apply with equal validity to all religions.

It is no coincidence that the comments of Ms. Davis precisely echo the rationale given for executing "heretics" back when the religious could get away with it:

"Theodore Beza argued in defense of burning Michael Servetus that when a heretic committed blasphemy and impiety, scorning God’s Word and resisting all attempts at correction, the death penalty was fully justified.  Indeed, it was required, so as to stop heresy from 'infecting' other people and destroying the church from within."