Sunday, January 30, 2011

How the Catholic Church Survives Scandals

While this post focuses on the Catholic Church and its recent troubles, you will find that the general principles are applicable to all churches.  The Catholic Church has much more experience using these tactics, however, and uses them almost as a matter of habit (no pun intended).

My observations have led me to think that there is something truly rotten at the heart of the Catholic Church.  This is really not surprising.  As Lord Acton said with regard to the decision to assert Papal Infallibility in 1870 (just as the Church was losing its lands and thus its status as a truly independent principality):

"Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."

The Catholic Church has possessed incredible power for more than a millennium.  Even Kings were forced to obey it.  Such a history can only result in corruption.

I have not reached any kind of judgment based solely on news reports of priest pedophilia.  Likewise, I do not reach these conclusions based on my disagreements with the church over political and religious matters.  I can and do disagree with people and institutions without coming to negative conclusions about their character--though I have noticed that many religious people can't seem to do the same.

I do not think that all Catholics are bad.  I have numerous friends and relatives who are Catholic.  I have gotten to know a number of Catholics both in my personal life and at work.  I have met Catholics who seem very decent people.  Like any large group of people, some are good and some aren't.

Unfortunately, I have met a number of others who could teach Machiavelli a thing or two.  I don't think that is an accident.  I think they are taught, both explicitly and implicitly, to be that way.  I think that is the very nature of the Church, and its character is passed on to its members, many of whom are completely educated by the Church.

I have also read a great deal about the Church's official attitudes on things like free speech and free thought.  The Church is against both--officially and publicly--though it doesn't say so in such blunt terms.  But, what can you expect from such an avowedly authoritarian, totalitarian organization?

In fact, there are so many indisputable facts about the Church, such as its complicity in the actions of the Nazis, that are shocking and repulsive, that those seemingly decent Catholics I have met leave me wondering if they know the truth about the organization.  Are they just deluding themselves, like they delude themselves about the priest pedophilia?  Or worse, are they fully aware of these things and choose to remain in the Church?  Personally, any of these things would be enough to make me want to leave any organization to which I belonged.

Like many dark things in the Church's character and history, the pedophilia scandal has been covered up for decades or even centuries.  The prevalence of pedophiles amongst the priesthood has been common knowledge for a very long time.  Only those who could not face the truth denied it.  The "recent" scandals are only recent in the sense that the public and the authorities are no longer willing to let the Church cover it up.

The Church can no longer cover it up because of a confluence of several factors with the internet and mass media playing a large role.  We now live in a global village. It is no longer possible for the Church to simply ship the miscreants somewhere else and keep it quiet.  In the current situation, that is comparable to sending the offending priest to a church across the street and expecting people in the neighborhood not to notice.

Combine that with increased knowledge of the nonsensical, immoral and intolerant nature of religion and you have a much larger group of people who are no longer willing to be bullied into silence.  It all comes down to power. The Church (all churches) is losing it.  They can't victimize people and then hide from justice anymore.

The Catholic Church, like many religions, uses some very basic, tried and true tactics to maintain its membership.  First, convince as many members as possible that they are threatened by outside forces.  External threats are perhaps the most classic way to improve group cohesion. 

How does one accomplish that?  Well, simply lying to your members is one way.  Tell them things that are pure lies such as the allegations that the Nazis were atheists who persecuted Catholics.  Then tell them about any real or imagined slight and twist all such "incidents" into egregious examples of "persecution" or "intolerance" by exaggerating and re-interpreting what was done.

Like so many religions, their definition of tolerance incorporates the notion that we atheists are not allowed to criticize their beliefs or their churches.  In other words, they accuse us of intolerance simply for disagreeing with them.  (One of the first things fascist movements do is convince their rank and file that they are being persecuted--even when this allegation is objectively ludicrous.  Psychologists call this projection.  It has the effect of arousing the passion and anger of the believer while simultaneously justifying--in his mind, that is--"retaliation" against the "persecutors".)

Second, protect the reputation of the Church at all costs.  All conflicts are to be "interpreted" and presented as persecution.  Never tell the congregation (or anyone, for that matter) about anything that the Church or its members might have done to provoke an incident.  If such knowledge comes to light, then explain it away.  This should be easy to do because the church members are more than ready to believe that no Catholic would do anything bad and if he did, then he must have been the one who was provoked.  Dig up dirt on the victim to "prove" this provocation or at least prove that he deserved it--whether the person who victimized him knew it at the time or not.

Convincing your members that they are being persecuted is very effective because it becomes a type of self-fulfilling prophecy.  Once the members have become sufficiently paranoid and hostile (and nothing beats cloistering them during their formative years in parochial schools for this purpose), they will go out and persecute others in "self-defense".  This, of course, will result in a great deal of long-term hostility in the hearts and minds of those outsiders, which will seem like prejudice to members of the church because they have been blinded by deliberate misinformation to the real causes of such hostility.

Then, when a real scandal comes along, like the pedophilia scandal, it will be easy to pass the whole thing off to true believers as "prejudice" based on objections to the Church's moral teachings, which is exactly what the Church is now trying to do.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Bias Against Believers

As far as being biased against theists goes, I most certainly am.  I have every right to be.  I have had decades of observing them and suffering from their vile stupidity, meanness, hatred and intolerance.  I have tried very hard to get along with them, and I have discovered that the only atheist they can really tolerate is one that is completely in the closet.

I know that some non-believers say this is not true, but it has been my experience that it is.  We each have unique experiences and lead unique lives.  Perhaps even more important than our unique experiences is our unique perceptions of them.  I do not know how some non-believers have come to see religion and religious people as benign.  I suspect these non-believers are in denial or have simply structured their lives in a way that protects them and then use a combination of denial and accommodation to "get along".  In some cases, I think they have simply resigned themselves to repeated abuse. 

Having an open mind is a virtue only if you haven't seen the evidence.  After that, it becomes synonymous with having an empty head.  I know that some religious people are better than the others, but I have learned that the only way to protect myself is to assume that they are every bit as crazy as they seem to be and, worse, claim to be.

As Bill Maher pointed out in one of his comedy routines critical of Islam:  This is not prejudice.   Prejudice is pre-judging, which is to say judging before seeing the evidence.  It is unfair because it doesn't give the object of the prejudice a chance to stand or fall on his or her own merits.  Judging, on the other hand, occurs after one has seen the evidence.  It is something we all do and it is, at times, a moral necessity.  It is also, at times, a practical necessity--necessary for self-defense.

Usually these days, when one hears the term "prejudice" one thinks of racial or sex based prejudice.  That is because of the historically recent struggles to overcome such prejudices.  That sort of prejudice is always a bad thing in large part because it is based on congenital and superficial characteristics.  A person is born with a certain gender and skin color and cannot change it without extensive medical intervention.  Furthermore, such things are superficial--in the case of skin color, literally so.  The person's character is not determined by those particular characteristics.  (Admittedly, his or her character may be deeply affected by those things as he or she grows and matures, but that is a result of the prejudice of others as much as anything else and is not a fair basis for any prejudice--only an awareness that the person may have had negative experiences in the past.)

Religions, however, are not superficial or immutable.  Although childhood brainwashing may doom many people to a lifetime of slavishly following their parents' religion, it is possible for a person to reject such religion--without any medical procedures.  If a person's character is such that he finds the religion he was raised in to be objectionable, he can simply leave it.  He can choose another set of beliefs--beliefs more suited to his character.  (This may not be true all over the world, but it is true in civilized countries.)

In addition, religion affects a person's entire worldview--everything from his choice of which clothes to wear to his choice of morals is affected by his religion.  The religion a person chooses (even if it is just a choice to remain with his or her parents' religion) tells the world something about how that person thinks and the content of his or her character.  It is not prejudice to assume that a person who has chosen a particular all-pervasive worldview as his own will, in fact, have the sort of character that is inherent in that worldview.

The Deliberate Efforts of the Religious to Undermine the Marketplace of Ideas II

The Freedom From Religion Foundation's Freethought of the day for today includes a great quotation  that describes some of the ways in which religion has, over centuries, sought to manipulate the marketplace of ideas and impede it's function:

“The merits and services of Christianity have been industriously extolled by its hired advocates.  Every Sunday its praises are sounded from myriads of pulpits.  It enjoys the prestige of an ancient establishment and the comprehensive support of the State.  It has the ear of rulers and the control of education.  Every generation is suborned in its favor.  Those who dissent from it are losers, those who oppose it are ostracised; while in the past, for century after century, it has replied to criticism with imprisonment, and to scepticism with the dungeon and the stake.  By such means it has induced a general tendency to allow its pretensions without inquiry and its beneficence without proof. ”
— Preface, Crimes of Christianity, by G.W. Foote and J.M. Wheeler

This book, Crimes of Christianity, was published in in 1887, providing further evidence that the lies and evil nature of religion were long know before any of us were born,  yet still it persists.  Why?  Because of its deliberate manipulation of the marketplace of ideas and the minds of children, as I have pointed out before.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Without Objective Standards, Anything Is Permissible

Dostoevsky's character Ivan Karamazov said that without god, "everything is permitted".  He was wrong.  Without objective standards, anything is permitted.  In fact, without objective standards, it could even be required.

If a believer brings up this particular quotation from Dostoevsky, then you should point this out.

Once one swallows the idea that there is an invisible magic man in the sky who made everything and who makes the rules according to his mysterious ways and who metes out huge rewards and punishments, then it is clear that whatever this invisible magic man says must be obeyed.

If the invisible magic man says you must kill your daughter for having a crush on an infidel and, worse, speaking to him in public, then you must do it.  And, it is right and honorable for you to do so.  And if your daughter runs off and marries an infidel, then you must trick her into coming home so you can kill her.  After killing her you can tell the press and police:  "[I] killed [her] because [she] brought shame to our community. How could [she] elope with [an infidel]? [She] deserved to die. [I] have no remorse,""

If the invisible magic man says you must watch your child die of a treatable disease, then that is what you must do.  You are only following god's plan.

If the invisible magic man says you must stone people to death or burn them at the stake for disagreeing with his spokesmen, then that is what you must do.  You must protect others from ideas that god considers "wrong" so that they aren't "tricked" and end up in hell.

If the invisible magic man says that it is better for little girls to burn to death rather than appear in public momentarily without being covered from head to foot, then you should force them to burn to death.

If a book written by people who claim to speak for the invisible magic mans says true believers shall take up serpents without fear, then that is what you must do, even if your wife was already killed doing the same thing and your death orphans your five children, the oldest of whom is only 12.  Doing what god wants is much more important that what your children need.  After all, if they are good Christians, too, then they will have eternal bliss and who cares how miserable their short, earthly lives are?

If the invisible magic man says you should beat your two month old baby for being "emotional", then that is what you must do.

I could go on, but I think the point is clear.  It isn't just that religion has caused great harm; it is that religion will inevitably lead to great harm because it divorces believers from objective reality.

(See later post on this subject also.)

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Pat Condell on "Respect" for Religion

This is a great video by Pat Condell.  Pat can be caustic with regard to religion, and this video gives some of his reasons for that.  The point he is making is that faith doesn't deserve respect.  Implicit is the notion that when the religious demand non-believers show respect what they usually mean is that we need to fear them. 

They don't really know the difference.  They have no way of earning the former and will happily settle for the latter.  Fear and bullying they understand because that is how their god operates as well.

The best line in the video (and the one that explains why religion can never actually deserve true respect):  "Faith transcends reason the way a criminal transcends the law."

The Insanity of Religion IV

Some years ago, you would have been considered insane if you suggested the Earth was a big ball hurtling through empty space and that people could not fall off the Earth only because of an invisible force that wasn't mentioned in the bible.

Not too long ago--indeed even now in some circles--a person would have been considered insane for suggesting that mankind is just an animal and that the universe was not created for us by an invisible magic man in the sky.  Yet, the only objective evidence we have regarding our origins suggests exactly that.  The essential question is:  Which of these incompatible and competing views is the delusion?

Currently the handbook for mental health professionals, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, IVth edition, or DSM-IV, defines delusion as follows:  "A false belief based on incorrect inference about external reality that is firmly sustained despite what almost everyone else believes and despite what constitutes incontrovertible and obvious proof or evidence to the contrary.  The belief is not one ordinarily accepted by other members of the person's culture or subculture (e.g., it is not an article of religious faith).  When a false belief involves a value judgment, it is regarded as a delusion only when the judgment is so extreme as to defy credibility."  See this webpage.

Breaking the definition down into its parts, you have 1. false belief, 2. incorrect inference about external reality, 3. persists despite evidence to the contrary and finally 4. the beliefs are NOT ordinarily accepted by other members of the person's culture.  If a belief does not meet all of these criteria, then it is not considered a delusion by mental health professionals.

The most notable part of this definition, for me, is the last part:  So long as a belief IS ordinarily accepted by members of the person's culture, then DSM-IV would not classify it as a delusion--no matter how obviously false.

If your culture maintains that eating the flesh of another human being will endow you with that person's attributes, that is not delusional according to DSM-IV.  If your culture maintains that cutting off one's legs will enable one to fly, that would not be delusional according to DSM-IV.  Yet, is there any doubt that such beliefs are delusional?  Clearly, something is wrong here.

The first three parts of the definition of delusion in DSM-IV are based on notions of objective reality--falseness, incorrect inference, and evidence to the contrary.  These seem like very good criteria because the essence of a delusion is its falseness.  One has to wonder why there should ever be ANY acceptable beliefs that meet the first three criteria.

Delusions are subjective; reality is objective.  Objective reality does not change based on the number of people who believe in it.  (Argumentum ad Populum is a logical fallacy.)  Objective reality does not change based on what the authority figures believe.  (Argumentum ad Potentium is a logical fallacy.)  If a belief is false, based on incorrect factual inference, and there is evidence to the contrary, then it should be considered a delusion regardless of whether others have the same delusion--even if there many of them and even if they are considered authorities.  See, e.g., this webpage.  So, why would the authors of DSM-IV include such a criterion?

It is easy to see that the fourth criterion was meant to prevent the diagnosis of religious people as delusionalThe definition itself admits this.  It is clear that without it the religious would have to be diagnosed as delusional.

To the extent that mental health is defined as the ability to conform with the population in which one lives, then this notion has some validity.  I don't think, however, that conformity is the sole or even primary criterion by which sanity should be judged.  More important, I don't think it should be on a par with the objective criteria.

If sanity is to be judged by any set of standards, then I think a lack of delusions must be one of those standards, regardless of their prevalence in the general population.  Other criteria should include a well balanced emotional life--no emotions that are out of control or excessive or which are so unacknowledged or suppressed that they cause the person to behave or think in an irrational or dangerous manner.

These criteria and others are difficult to judge and amorphous--changing with the situation and in relation to each other.  Although psychology and psychiatry aspire to scientific objectivity, they are hampered by a lack of precision in their subjects and therefor their data.  They are, and perhaps will forever remain, subjective in part.

Psychology and psychiatry like other fields that may never be considered "hard" sciences do not operate in a universe devoid of objective data however.  The criteria they use may be thematic to an extent, but they operate in a universe of objective fact and thus should be effected by the objective facts of that universe.

It is difficult to quantify the extent to which sanity should be objectively defined and the extent to which it should be subjective--based on the prevalent habits of thought in the general population.  I think it is clear, however, that the fourth criterion in the definition of delusion in DSM-IV should not be co-equal with the first three but should be subordinate to them in most cases.  If a large number of people make factual claims that are not supported by evidence and thus appear to be delusions, the sheer number of people making the claim should not effect its classification as a delusion.

Some level of conformity may be a sign of sanity, but mindless conformity shouldn't be considered a sign of sanity.  Conforming to the expectations of others may yield many benefits to the individual in human society, but at some point those benefits will be outweighed by the costs.  For example, if suicide became a wildly popular fad, clearly mindless conformity would not be considered a sign of sanity.

(In a simpler world, the costs of believing in invisible magic men may have been tolerable, but after centuries of fighting insanely over them it is clear that the costs long ago began to exceed the benefits.  And, now that such wars could conceivably bring about the extermination of humanity, it is no longer morally defensible to maintain that religion provides a net benefit.)

The question then becomes the level of absurdity necessary to trump the popularity of a notion and justify labeling it a delusion in spite of its popularity.

If an idea doesn't meet the objective criteria, but is still widely held within a culture, then one must wonder what force is impelling its popularity and thus the mindless conformity.  If the particular belief has been inculcated in the population by centuries of heinous, brutal persecution of dissenters, as is the case with religion, then its delusional nature should be judged solely based on objective evidence.  Such tactics clearly undermine or even pervert the marketplace of ideas and belie any notion that a culture or subculture can somehow act as a "sanity filter" and keep out insane notions.

Just how irrational does an idea have to be before the mindless conformity itself starts to become a sign of insanity?

Irrationality is not, unfortunately, subject to objective classification and measurement.  I would suggest, however, that an unacceptable level of irrationality has been reached whenever the arguments used to support a notion are objectively invalid or unsound.  

This objective standard can be tested by presenting the same arguments to the supporters of that notion but in a different context.  If those supporters recognize the arguments as invalid or unsound when they are presented with the same arguments in a different context, then one can conclude that the notion itself is not sane.   

(This also indicates that the supporters adhere to it for reasons not contained in the arguments, or, worse, that they are incapable of even recognizing the irrationality of what they are doing.  This inability serves to further bring their sanity into question, whether it is the result of bias or simple mental inability to think properly.)

I have tried this test with believers on occasion and I have spoken to other non-believers who have done the same.  The results are always the same.  When religious arguments are presented to religious people in support of other notions, they see them as the obvious nonsense that they are.   In other words, it is clear that the arguments themselves are invalid or unsound and the notion they are being used to support is not a sane one.

Holding that an insane notion is true should not, by itself, indicate that a person is not sane.  The notion could be only a very small part of the person's mental and emotional character.  It would not be possible to insist that humans be perfectly rational.  On the other hand, if the notion is sufficiently important to the adherent's mental and emotional character that it affects much of his behavior and defines a large part of his identity, then it can be argued that it is the person that is irrational or insane and not just the notion.

Religion is not just a minor fancy; religion is an entire worldview--a universal view actually.  It affects virtually everything the believer thinks to some extent, no matter what the subject matter.   In fact, the more important the subject matter, the greater the effect.  

Thus, religion is an objectively false notion that permeates the believer's entire mental and emotional character.  I think religion is sufficiently irrational and sufficiently broad in scope and effect that it can properly be considered insanity and not merely an insane notion.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Religion and Sex

The religious are positively obsessed with sex.  It seems to matter to them more than almost anything.  Not just their own sex lives but everyone else's as well.  They are intensely interested in who is doing what to whom even when they are neither who nor whom.  More specifically, they are quite concerned with limiting it as much as possible both in type and frequency.

Many of the religious are opposed to birth control.  The ostensible reason for this is that birth control is unnatural and would encourage people to have sex just for fun.  Following that logic, however, would mean that we should never have sex until we are certain procreation would result.

Of course, that is not what people actually do.  In reality the sex drive is so strong and the pleasure is so great that people have sex for fun just about every time they have sex.  In fact, the longer they put it off, the greater the pleasure experienced when they finally give in to their urges.

Part of the problem is the sheer simple mindedness of the religious.  Subtlety and nuance escape them.  They can't understand that humans are complex beings and that our behaviors reflect this complexity.  Reproduction may be the most important biological purpose of sex but that is hardly it's only purpose.  One of the most important functions it serves is psychological.

It gives comfort and validation to the individuals engaged in it.  In bonded pairs it strengthens the pair bond, which is extremely important for maintaining a stable family environment during child rearing.  The importance and naturalness of these secondary psychological functions is amply demonstrated by the fact that humans are nearly unique in the extent to which both male and female desire sex throughout their adult lives, even when procreation is not a possibility.

Those opposed to birth control are not really opposed to all birth control.  They are only opposed to artificial birth control.  (You know, the kind that actually works).   They encourage "natural" family planning, by which they mean that the faithful should try to abstain from sex until they think the female isn't fertile.  The permission that their religion gives for this type of "planning" is, of course, implicit permission to have sex for fun.  The reason that natural family planning is allowed is that it gives "god" an opportunity to make the actual decision regarding whether or not the female gets pregnant and that by using effective birth control people are "playing god."

But the very same religions often encourage their members to play god in other ways.  For instance, they are allowed to play god with regard to many of the particulars of raising the child.  People are allowed to choose not to have sex, not to marry, to marry someone they know is infertile, etc.  Religious people are even allowed to go to war and kill other human beings, which seems like a similar version of "playing god" only worse because of the harm involved.  One could even argue that people are allowed to choose to exercise their free will and decide for themselves that they don't believe in god.

It seems strange that only on this one thing narrow thing are they suddenly to be deprived of control.  Going to war for your country and killing your fellow man is permissible, but putting on a condom and preventing pregnancy is a sin that must be stopped.  (This realization has led more than a few people to abandon their religion.  See ftnt.)  In fact, many of the religious believe that even non-believers should be stopped from doing this.

One wonders why god should have such a huge say in this matter.  After all, god is not the one who will have to endure the risk of pregnancy or bear the costs of raising the child.

The reason is both stunningly simple and startlingly twisted.  The religious see the threat of pregnancy as a way of preventing people from having sex.  This is literally the truth; I am not making this up.  I had one Catholic woman actually say to me:  "You've got to pay to play."  She said this in reference to the possibility of pregnancy--she wasn't saying that she expected her husband to buy her dinner first.

This sort of thinking is moral insanity.  The person is saying it is better to bring unwanted children into the world than to have sex just for fun or just because it is a biological compulsion.  The harm inflicted upon an unwanted child brought into this world is immense, even if no one is actively hostile toward him or her.  Children are hardwired to need their parent's love and attention in order to develop normally.  Unwanted children simply will not get that and will not be able to develop normally.  More often than not, their lives will be filled with neglect and abuse, and the resulting emotional dysfunction will make it difficult for them to have happy and healthy social lives outside the home.

Some will say that this isn't always true.  They are right, sometimes the parents are affected by the birth of the child in a way that brings out their better natures.  I don't think that happens in the majority of cases, but, in any event, it doesn't refute the point that bringing an unwanted child into the world is morally worse than using birth control because in those cases the child is no longer unwanted.

Furthermore, in many cases the child may not actually be unwanted but may simply be too much of a responsibility for the parents at that time.  Raising a child is a huge responsibility.  It takes an enormous amount of time and resources.  Many people simply don't have the necessary time and resources.  This can be true because the parents are too young, too poor, or maybe even already have too many children.

But, it is not surprising that religious people think this way.  One also hears the same sick, twisted reasoning applied to the threat of HIV/AIDS or cervical cancer.  Religious people often openly argue in favor of using the threat of contracting such fatal illnesses as a way of discouraging sexual activity.  These situations make the moral insanity in this type of thinking crystal clear:  Apparently, it is better in the minds of the religious that someone get a fatal illness than have sex even once--because that is all it takes for a person to contract a fatal illness.

This is another situation where fear of the authority figure rather than fear of actual harm has twisted morality into a pretzel and stood it on its head.  The reason people should be hesitant about sexual activity isn't because god doesn't approve; the reason is that it can lead to harmful, long term consequences such as pregnancy or disease.  If the threat of real harm is removed, there is no longer any rational reason for the authority figures to be so concerned.

This is not to say that birth control gives people sexual license, only that the moral restrictions should be understood and applied properly.  The risk of the things I have mentioned cannot currently be removed completely and there are other issues besides those that make sex problematic--particularly psychological reasons.

We are hardwired to bond with our sexual partners, at least for a number of years.  At the same time our bodies mature much faster than our brains.  Consequently, what frequently happens is that we pick the wrong person as a partner because the person was not suitable for the long term.

The problem, of course, is that it is a biological compulsion--one that cannot be denied without consequences that are potentially as serious, if not more so, than giving in to it.  Denial can result in feelings of alienation and hostility, seeking inappropriate sex objects, or, if sublimated, acting out in strange and bizarre ways--even violent ways.

Not only is sex a biological compulsion, it is one related to the private parts.  Controlling biological compulsions related to the private parts in order to please an authority figure is one of the first things most people experience and remember in life.  The Church uses this very early experience (and the resulting anal retentive complex) as a hook onto which it can attach a new but nearly identical false complex.  This new complex replaces controlling urination and defecation in order to win approval of the parental figure with controlling sexual urges in order to win approval of the parental figure.  What makes this useful to religion is the replacement of the actual parent in the mind of the believer with god.

This is why the religious have such a conflicted attitude toward sex and pleasure.  Religious thinking confuses the sexual functions of the private parts with the waste elimination functions.  Consequently, religion teaches that sex is a filthy, disgusting act that you save for the one person you truly love.

If it's filthy and disgusting why would you save it for the one person you truly love? And, why would that person want it?  That is a contradiction. It's a little like saying you should save your bowel movements in a jar to show them to your spouse once you find him or her.

It would make a lot more sense to say that sex is a wonderful thing but should be saved for someone special otherwise you cheapen it or even ruin it.  There would actually be some truth to thinking of it in that way.

Religion's attitude toward sex is just not a healthy one because they see sex as something bad that can't be prevented, like bowel movements only worse, and must therefore be "dealt with" in some fashion. The problem is religion's black and white thinking, the lack of subtlety and nuance, and the lack of recognition of the complexity of the human mind.  (This is yet another symptom of Narcissistic Personality Disorder.)

Sex is a wonderful thing, yet the drive can be so powerful and the consequences so far reaching, that it must be approached intelligently. If one can't do that, then I suppose simply trying to avoid or control it might seem like the next best thing.  Unfortunately, that approach actually backfires and causes worse consequences as the pressures--and unnecessary guilt--will erupt in unintended ways and places.

The religious attitude that sex is for reproduction only is an example.  Unable to control their impulses, they rationalize in a way consistent with the god meme planted in their brain and pretend that their desires are a commandment from god.  A commandment to procreate.  Because if that is what they have to do in order to be allowed to have sex, then that is what they will do.

If they took the naturalistic approach and treated their impulses as nature's way of urging reproduction, then they could find less consequential outlets for their desires until truly ready to  reproduce, recognizing the responsibility it entails.  They could also be more tolerant of those who find non-reproductive outlets for their biological urges.

The general fear and loathing that the religious feel for sex and their own sexuality is, in all likelihood, partially a result of their fear of their inability to control it.  As I mentioned in another post, I suspect this is because they are afraid of their inherent bi-sexual or homosexual urges.  I think this is also one of the reasons they oppose birth control.  If having sex just for fun is permissible, then it is more difficult to justify proscribing homosexual sex.  After all, homosexual sex is the epitome of sex just for fun (assuming one is so inclined in the first place, that is).

I think it is this obsession with trying to control their sex drives when combined with their conflicted attitudes toward sex (seeing it as something disgusting rather than beautiful but wanting it all the same) the reveals why the religious are so obsessed and why they have such unhealthy attitudes toward sex.  I think this is the inevitable byproduct of the fact that religion deliberately traps people in their emotional infancy.  As I mentioned before, the religious are pathologically anal retentive.  In Freudian terms, they are stuck in a very early stage of development where they are still trying to please the authority figure by controlling their private parts.

Their disgust comes from the confusion in their minds between the evacuation of bodily wastes and sex.  Both of these things occur in the same regions of the body, both have been made an issue of control and decency (i.e., approval) by authority figures, both involve urges that everyone has and no one can stop except by giving in to them.

As I mentioned above, this early training in controlling one's bodily urges give religion and its leaders an easy gateway into the infantile part of the minds of others--the part that is gullible by nature and easy to control.  More important in the long run, however, is the extent to which this gives religious leaders and their allies power and control over others.

By making natural functions shameful and the subject of extreme moral disapproval, religious leaders (including members of the congregation) have an easy way to whip up the congregation into a frenzy of unthinking disapproval toward those who displease them.  This allows the leaders to control the congregation directly and those outside the congregation indirectly through threats of bullying by the congregation.  Thus, once again, we see that religion is primarily designed to benefit the religious leaders at the expense of the congregation and the community.

This unhealthy attitude also harms the individuals in the congregation.  This particular phenomenon is closely tied to the development of sado-masochism and the cruelty so often demonstrated by the religious.  Religion doesn't just trap religious people in their infancy, it traps them in their infancy with an insane and abusive father figure who can be placated only by abnegation and denial of all forms of pleasure and, in extreme cases, the embrace of suffering as an act of love toward the father figure.

Suffering usually comes a close second to the desire to control the urges of one's private parts in the minds of such people because that is the only way to make the "father figure" happy--at least in their minds.  How could someone think like that?  The only explanation is that they had domineering, perfectionist, abusive parents.  The parent needed to get the anger out of his system (just like god needed to kill somebody to get the anger out of his system).  So, learning to see suffering as a gift of love and the way to show your love to god is the natural progression.  As is, unfortunately, the notion that cruelty is also a way to show love.

Ftnt.:  James Carroll in the documentary companion to his wonderful book "Constantine's Sword" mentions this as one of the reasons he decided to leave the priesthood.  He was ordained in 1969 but had already developed strong opposition to the Vietnam war.  One day in the early 1970's as he was wondering why his church didn't oppose the war, which he thought of as extremely and clearly immoral, he realized that if the American planes dropping napalm on Vietnamese villages had been dropping birth control instead, then the church would have been vehemently opposed and probably would have used its influence to stop the war.)

Monday, January 17, 2011

Give Them an Inch...

And they will take a mile.

A recent news item illustrates the extent to which the religious have an inherent disrespect for the rights of others, particularly those who don't agree with them.  The religious believe that they live under a totalitarian dictator and that this is right and good.  They believe that those of us who do not share their thinking in this regard are simply perverse and evil.  Unfortunately, they also believe that they have a mandate from the imaginary dictator in their minds to bring the rest of us to heel--by any means necessary.  I have mentioned this aspect of their personalities in passing in past posts.

The recent news item concerns a pharmacist who refused to dispense medication to a woman to stop bleeding because she believed that the woman needed the medication because she had just had an abortion.  The pharmacist invoked the so-called "conscience clause" in state law that allowed her to refuse to dispense emergency contraception or drugs that would cause abortion if she had a personal moral objection.  The law requires that the pharmacist refer the patient elsewhere if that is the case.

The pharmacist in this case called the nurse practitioner who prescribed the anti-bleeding drug and demanded to know if the patient had recently had an abortion.  If the information had been supplied, it would have been a direct violation of Federal law.  When the request for information was refused, the pharmacist hung up on the nurse practitioner and refused to dispense the medication or refer the woman elsewhere.

There are several salient points here that should be separately and clearly stated:  First, if the woman was bleeding because she had an abortion, that means the abortion had already occurred and that it was impossible at that point in time to prevent it.  Second, the pharmacist showed utter disregard for the law by invoking the "conscience clause" when it clearly didn't apply, demanding information that was forbidden to her by law, and refusing to follow the requirements of the same "conscience clause" that she invoked.  Third, the patient had dangerous uterine bleeding--anti-bleeding drugs are not prescribed unless the bleeding is serious--meaning a potential threat to the patient's life.

As one news article dealing with this incident put it:

"Essentially, the pharmacist was saying that, while her conscience was just dandy with letting a woman bleed out, it would have a problem saving her life if it was even a possibility that the blood loss was connected to an abortion.  The pharmacist's conscience being so fickle, apparently also prevented her from even referring the woman to a pharmacy who would fill her prescription, leaving her alone, bleeding, and lost. Someone care to explain to me how this qualifies as pro-life?"

In other words, this pharmacist took it on herself to pass a potential death sentence on this woman simply because she may have had an abortion.

This incident, like others, shows very clearly that the "pro-life" movement is not pro-life:  It is pro-authoritarianism and anti-sex--just like the religion that is using it to manipulate voters to gain power and wealth.

This incident reveals the extent to which the religious are mindless authoritarians who do not believe that they are bound by "earthly" laws but only by the "laws" of their religion--as defined by the leaders of that religion, of course.  This aspect of their personality is precisely why church and state must be kept separate, even to the point of keeping religious people out of positions of power unless they are able to execute their duties with reference to the laws of man and not those they believe are the laws of god.  This is also why there can be no compromise with them on this principle:  No moment of silence in schools, no conscience clauses for pharmacists.  Any attempt to compromise our principles regarding this turns them into petty tyrants intent on forcing their religion on the rest of us.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Are People "Basically" Good?

"Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."--Lord Acton.

Lord Acton wrote these words in a letter to Mandell Creighton in 1887 expressing his opposition to the adoption by the Catholic Church in 1870 of the doctrine of Papal Infallibility.  The observation and its context are worthy of a separate post--at a later time.

Lord Acton's words very quickly became a universally quoted aphorism because they encapsulated so succinctly a truth that was almost universally recognized as accurate.  More to the point of today's post, his words could only be accurate if another often heard saying was completely inaccurate:  "People are basically good."

If people are basically good, then how could power corrupt?  That's a rhetorical question.  It couldn't.  Power corrupts by removing the fear of retribution and responsibility.   That can only mean that power corrupts by allowing a person to show who he is deep down--to act on his most basic impulses.

One occasionally meets people on both sides of the religion question who make statements about believing that people are "basically" good.   Some non-believers embrace this notion as part of their non-belief.  They reject religion, in part, because they find the idea that people are "born in sin" and psychopaths in need of the threat of divine punishment to be objectionable.

While it is true that the notion that humans are "born in sin" is objectionable on just about every measurement of truth and wisdom, rejecting it in such a visceral manner that one adopts an equally false notion is not a wise thing to do.  Accepting falsehoods because of their emotional appeal is what religious people do.  It is what deluded people do.

Given that the sinful nature of mankind is such a common tenet of religion, one might be surprised to find believers who think and say the exact same thing.  But they exist--in large numbers.  Religious people who believe this are often the type who have led sheltered lives in small towns, where they attended private religious schools, public schools where everyone was from the same background, or were home schooled.  They were fully immersed in the fantasy that school prayer is meant to foment:  The notion that everyone in the U.S. is a Christian just like them.  Having spent their whole lives feeling like they were in a cocoon of like minded people, where everyone was a brother or a sister, they have no emotional grasp of the hostility people show toward those outside their perceived group (and sometimes in the group).

I grew up in a heavily protestant area, where man's sinful nature was a given.  It was taken for granted that we were all psychopaths held in check only by the threat of god's punishment.  Frankly, it was clear to me that the part about inherent evil was true.  It was, and is, clear to me that people have bad impulses that they must keep in check using their higher critical faculties.  My experiences with humanity in general have left little doubt in my mind about that.  I haven't seen or experienced a lot of "goodness" from others, and I don't think my experiences are all that out of the ordinary.

The first few times I heard someone make the assertion that "people are basically good", I was just as astounded as if the person had asserted that people aren't animals.  Oh, wait, bad example.  People actually do assert that idiotic notion in all seriousness.

Maybe a better example would be comparing it to the assertion that people are immortal or have "real" invisible friends...  Wait, those don't work either.  I am getting nowhere with this attempt at an analogy because no matter how crazy a notion might be there are people who believe it.  Suffice it to say that I thought, and still think, that the notion is patently false.  These days, though, I think I have a better understanding of what people mean when they say such things.

The "people are basically good" statements are classic examples of people saying something because of the emotional message inherent in it.  In this case, the focus is so completely on the emotional content that the speaker seems to be completely oblivious to the semantic content.

People are basically animals.  That is our origin.  That is where our most basic impulses come from.  It is only in recent evolutionary history that we have developed the capacity to be more.  This capacity, however, did not replace our basic animal natures, it merely rests upon that nature and has only a limited capacity to control it.

Among those basic impulses is the instinct for herd behavior.  This instinct was necessary for survival during our evolutionary history.  It ensured that the individual stayed with those like him and feared (disliked) those not like him.  It is in the nature of man to find those different from him to be discomforting--even threatening.  Those with sufficient intelligence and character can recognize this phenomenon and overcome it.  Others act on it.

It is also in the evolutionary nature of man to strive for status and the rewards it brings.  If the core beliefs of your group are questioned--thought to be completely untrue--by another group, that is a threat to the status of your group.  A threat to one's status engages the most primitive of our animal instincts and invariably leads to conflict or even violence.  That is the reason atheists are targeted for abuse, discrimination and violence.

(I will say this again:  If atheists are cantankerous, it is because of the way we have been treated.  The mere admission of one's atheism is enough to cause one to be targeted for discriminatory acts that exceed all bounds of decency.  I have lived through this personally.)

Another problem with the "people are basically good" nonsense is that those who say it don't really mean it.  First, many people seem to take everything personally and when they speak of "people", they seem to really be talking about themselves.  But, that is not what the word means.  The issue isn't whether "you" are good or not, but whether human nature can be described as good.  (Frankly, I have found this to be a warning sign that the person may be pathologically narcissistic.  There is no other reason to take everything personally.  Inevitably, those who do this turn out to be religious--precisely because they can't separate their ego from the ideas in their head.)

Likewise, the word "basically" is used to mean something other than its literal meaning.  It literally means the basic nature of the creature, which in the case of humans means our most nonrational, animalistic urges.  Those urges are not, on the whole, good by my morality.  If they are by yours, then your morality leaves something to be desired to my way of thinking.  What people often mean, however, when they use the word "basically" in this context is:  "on the whole" or "underneath it all".  Obviously, there is an implicit acknowledgment of evidence to the contrary in the use of such a phrase--or a single word in its place. 

So, usually what someone means when he or she says "people are basically good" is:  "I am good, underneath it all."  This statement, to me, smacks of a guilty conscience trying to defend itself in the face of evidence to the contrary.  First, the person felt a need to defend him or herself when there had been no accusation--a clear sign of a guilty conscience.  Second, the addition of "underneath it all" implied by the term "basically" is revealing.  Obviously this is a reference to some sort of evidence to the contrary--probably the source of that guilty conscience.

An inevitable and perhaps subconsciously intended result of embracing the "people are basically good" philosophy is to implicitly embrace a "blame the victim" philosophy.  The (non)thinking goes this way:  If a person is good, then when he does a bad thing, it must be because he was provoked or otherwise influenced by external events.

This is, I think, the flip side of believing the idea as a defense mechanism against guilt feelings, just like religion.  Believing that "people are basically good" allows the person not only to feel good about himself in spite of the evidence to the contrary.  It also allows him to place the blame for his misdeeds on others.  In that way, it is often similar to the "motivation equals justification" rationale one often hears from the morally and philosophically challenged and it is likewise a clue regarding the person's internal moral character--or lack thereof.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Meaning of Life II

I mentioned before that I think the meaning of our lives can be found in our basic identity as human beings--all the meaning we need can be found there.  We are members of a species, a unique species.  What more do we really need than to be part of that species?  What more do we really need than each other?

I am happy to report that recent research supports my thoughts on the meaning of our lives.

One recent study found that the purported happiness of churchgoers was directly tied to the amount of social support they got from their church attendance.

Another study found that atheists with adequate social support had just as much or more satisfaction with their lives as religious people from the same community.  This second study also found a correlation between the certainty of one's view of the universe and life satisfaction--regardless of what that view is.   Epiphenom also has a nice summary of this second study.

This supports another idea that I have often advanced:  People don't need religion; the only thing they need is a coherent worldview.  Our minds demand an understandable framework for thinking about the world in which we live and are unsettled by uncertainty.

Putting these two observations into a short soundbite that can be delivered to believers preaching the need for religion:

"People don't need religion; the only thing they need is a coherent worldview and each other."

To which can be added:

"Religion often deprives people of each other by dividing them without reason, and it uses the threat of social isolation to force people to go along with the pretense."

Childhood Brainwashing II

Epiphenom summed up its articles for 2010 in a post the other day that contained this paragraph about studies published concerning children and religion:
"[E]ven young children understand the difference between science and religion. They have to be taught the concept of an ominpotent god - not a problem because they are biased to believe what they are told.  Unfortunately kids with the strongest religious beliefs are the most likely to be emotionally disturbed."
 This research validates the views I have expressed that people are born atheists and are brainwashed as gullible, vulnerable children to believe in god, and the more heavy the brainwashing, the greater the damage to the child.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Inside the Human Heart

Shakespeare wrote that pride goeth before a fall.  It is not too much to say that when one sees an insane level of pride, then one can be assured the insanity in general is right behind it.

Today, Jan. 7, 2011, the Associate Press reported a story about the furor caused amongst senior Nazis by a dog in Finland that became known for giving the Hitler salute.  Apparently, the Nazis went to a great deal of trouble to "put a stop" to this mockery.  They even considered bringing court action and using their ties to German industry to ruin the business of the dog's owner.

What does this have to do with religion and atheism, you ask?

It illustrates how deeply flawed the human psyche can be and the insane lengths to which people will go to protect their egos.  Religion and its continued existence likewise illustrate the same phenomenon.

The Duality of Human Nature

"The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.” - Friedrich Nietzsche
Humans have two basic identities or natures.  We are herd animals but at the same time we have developed sufficient intelligence to see ourselves as individuals and to begin to think and act like individuals.  These two conflicting identities flow directly from the fact that evolution has essentially given us two brains--one on top of the other--attempting to work as a whole

For the vast majority of our evolution, we were simply animals living in a herd.  (Or, perhaps, as primates, we should be said to have lived in troops.  But, it should never be forgotten that the portion of our evolutionary history in which we were primates is quite small compared to the whole of it.)  A great deal of our innate behavior and thinking still reflects that history of living as herd animals for our own protection.

As we achieved higher cognitive functioning, language, the ability to manipulate and make tools with our hands, we began to see ourselves as individuals--whose interests were not always the same as that of the group.  Yet, because evolution did this by slowly adding more layers to our brains, we did not shed those more basic and instinctual behaviors even though the new thoughts and behaviors were often directly at odds with the old ones.

This conflict between our more basic instincts and behaviors and our more intelligent selves is our curse and explains much of the tragedy that we call human history.  Of particular note are the tragedies caused by individuals who have learned to use the herd instinct of the majority to control others and use them to further his or her selfish interests.  This is religion in a nutshell.  Such heinous actions are at the heart of any great human tragedy--whether religion was the vehicle used to control the herd or not.

I suspect that divergent attitudes and abilities in the human species are there largely because nature doesn't make us all the same both by "design" and by pure happenstance.  Our reproductive process contains a significant element of randomization.  This process results in a more varied population, which is an advantage in terms of ensuring that the species will survive in the face of unknown future changes in its environment.

Consequently, one sees both extreme conformists and extreme non-conformists in the same population.  Each group has characteristics that help its members overcome some of life's obstacles but can cause it to stumble over others. 

As herd animals, many of us conform mindlessly.  Many even consider nonconformity as a form of stupidity.  From their perspective, they are often correct on that score.

As a sentient species, we also have individuals who are on the cutting edge in terms of advancing the knowledge and thinking of the species--our greatest gift, which has made our global dominance possible.  Such individuals often see conformity as a form of stupidity.  Again, from their perspective, they have a point.  If we all conformed, mankind would still be living in caves (if not extinct).  All traits can be valuable in one circumstance and deadly in another.

This dichotomy between our more primitive selves and our higher brain functions is probably the most important thing to keep in mind when attempting to understand religion and its interplay with our politics and society.  Likewise the divide between those of our species who are examples of the more primitive man and those who seem to be dominated by higher brain functions.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Christian Right in America Want "Special" Treatment

In an article published January 3rd on, Paul Rosenburg wrote about the Christian right's delusions of persecution.  First, he pointed out that the only way the Christian right could think they are being persecuted in the U.S. is if they think most Christians aren't really Christians.  In other words, Christian dominance of America in most ways is so obvious that he can feel marginalized only by thinking that other Christians aren't really Christian.  There may be some truth to that, but I think there is a more insidious explanation.  Rosenburg comes close to what I think is going on when he points out that the pervasive dominance of Christianity in American life doesn't make the Christian right feel "special" enough.  They want more.

Rosenburg is right that their complaints are all about the needs of their egos, but he misses the point that, even though their religion is clearly dominant in the U.S., they are deeply disturbed by the fact that it isn't dominant enough.  What they want is theocracy with blasphemy laws and the usual accoutrements that come with it.  In fact, Rosenburg was responding to an article written by one of the most far right Christian nationalists, Gary Bauer, otherwise known as "scary Gary" because of his extreme views, who was lamenting the fact that Christians don't get the "respect" in the U.S. that Muslims get.

Bauer's point is a bit laughable and reveals an incredible obtuseness--or, rather, an incredible self-centeredness.  The U.S. is dominated by Christians--constantly bullying any other Americans who don't agree with them.  Muslims who come here are like guests in our homes--we make an extra effort to be polite because of that dynamic.  Bauer thinks this is because of their religion rather than their status as guests.  He also thinks that his religion should elevate him to a higher status even in his own country.  Apparently, it's not enough to simply be dominant; he wants "special" treatment, too.

One of the most insightful observations made by Rosenburg was this:
"Thus, for example, we have a "Christian right" that revolves around two issues about which Christ never spoke a recorded word--abortion and homosexuality--while being intensely hostile to the welfare of the "least among these", about whom Christ spoke constantly.  The more deeply self-contradictory their "Christianity" becomes, the more tightly the cling to it, and the more they distrust other Christians who may not see things their way. This is what tribes do.  It is how they reshape whatever comes to hand--the Bible, the Constitution, American history, whatever--to serve the purposes of the tribe."
There are a couple of very good points in this observation.  First, Rosenburg has noticed the extent to which religion, especially Christianity, is an expression of the believers' Freudian anal retentive complexes.  They are obsessed with power, authority, and controlling their private parts--and everyone else's.  That is why Christianity today is so obsessed with abortion and homosexuality--to the exclusion of Christ's actual message.  In fact, they are actually hostile to Christ's actual message because actually following his teachings would require them to give up power.

Second, he is pointing out the extent to which their delusion becomes all pervasive, not only touching upon everything in their lives but twisting their perception of everything so that it serves their need for power and dominance--even their religion itself.  The fact that the needs of their egos causes believers to twist their own religion is not surprising, given that it exists for that purpose in the first place.  The problem, as Rosenburg points out, is the extent to which the religious will twist objective facts to serve the same purpose.

A person who will twist the facts to serve his ego and ambition is a person capable of anything because, as I pointed out before, at least twice, a willingness to be dishonest undermines all morality.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Hell Is the Absence of Reason

At the beginning of the movie "Platoon", the character played by Charlie Sheen said: 
"Somebody once wrote: 'Hell is the impossibility of reason.' That's what this place feels like.  Hell."
A related saying "hell is the absence of reason" is often attributed to Nietzsche, though it is unclear if he ever wrote those words.

Likewise, I don't know if I was the first one to write "faith is the rejection of reason", but I think it is clearly and absolutely true. 

When juxtaposed, these sayings can be seen to form a sort of extended syllogism:

Hell is the impossibility of reason; faith is the rejection of reason; the rejection of reason makes reason impossible; therefore faith is the impossibility of reason and therefore faith is hell.

I would add one more step:  What is hell?  It is the ultimate evil--an insane and tortuous existence that never ends.  Hell is something only a very sick mind could dream up, much less embrace.  Likewise faith.

The notion that we should all base our entire worldview on something for which there is no evidence is an insane and evil notion because it can only lead to insane and evil results.  Perhaps it was not such a bad principle for ordering human society during the early days of human history before we discovered notions of objectivity and rationality, but now that we know better it would clearly be insane to continue to adhere to it.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Tolerant of the Intolerant?

One often hears the term "intolerant" bandied about by the religious.  They like to use this word as an epithet against anyone who dares to disagree with them.  In other words, as I explained before, they don't seem to know what it really means. 

Intolerance is refusing to accept the other person's right to disagree and be left alone--it is not disagreement itself.  History shows that the religious are and always have been the intolerant ones.  By calling non-believers intolerant for simply disagreeing with them, they are proving that they are still the intolerant ones.  Disagree with their ideas or beliefs and they start name calling. 

The religious have, throughout history, tried to exterminate every atheist they could find. In many countries they still do so today. Furthermore, they didn't simply hang us from a nearby tree; they burned us at the stake, tortured us, etc.

Even in places where the religious have stopped doing that sort of thing, they are still attempting to persecute us to the fullest extent they can get away with--regardless of law, ethics, morality, and decency.  I can attest to this from firsthand experience.  The religious have proved their intolerance to me over and over again, starting almost the very moment I realized that religion was literally myth.

For the religious to accuse non-believers of intolerance for disagreeing with them is the most clear example of psychological projection I have ever encountered.  By calling us intolerant for disagreeing with them, they are letting us know, in no uncertain terms, that they intend to be intolerant of us for disagreeing with them.  They know that we have a right to disagree but not to be intolerant.  By labeling our disagreement as intolerance, they are attempting to set the stage for--justifying--taking action against us that will cause us to "shut up and conform".

There are really two issues here that have been confused by the religious and treated as one:  Intolerance of people and intolerance of ideas.  The fact that they confuse the two and act as if the two notions are the same thing indicates that there is no difference in their minds between themselves as individuals and their religion.  This clearly shows the extent to which a religious person's ego is tied up in his religion and helps explain why religious people have always been so intolerant of those who don't belong to their religion.

Furthermore, this deliberate confusion results in an implicit threat to the non-believer.  By making it clear that he intends to take the disagreement personally, the believer is saying "shut up, or else".  The "or else" depends on the particular believer's nature but it's clearly a threat.  Such a person is on the same moral and intellectual level as a schoolyard bully.  Given religion's history as little more than a violent, intolerant mob, this is no surprise.  Given that their god is a violent, intolerant bully, a change in their nature would be a great surprise.

These sorts of implicit threats are one of the many ways in which the religious poison and undermine the marketplace of ideas--which they then pretend to rely on as "proof" of religion's reasonableness by saying "a lot of people believe".  As I mentioned before, implicit in the assertion that "a lot of people believe" as an argument for belief is a threat of mob violence because the number of people who believe a thing is not proof of its truth.  It is proof, however, of the fact that disagreeing will make one unpopular.

Ideas, especially important ones that effect the course of people's lives and the course of history, should be examined vigorously.  In fact, I would argue that we all have a moral duty to do so rather than leave ourselves and our fellow humans to suffer the negative effect of incorrect ideas.

I am not intolerant of any person solely because of his or her beliefs.  Not once have I ever treated anyone unfairly or done them any harm because of their beliefs.  I am, however, intolerant of conclusions reached without proper evidence or logic. 

I am also intolerant of those who would not only defend such non-thinking but actually try to force me to accept it--believe me, they have tried--and then seek to harm me for refusing to do so and for refusing to pretend that their belief makes any sense.

If one man has a belief in a supernatural being, he is insane, if ten people do, it's a cult, if a hundred million or more do, it's a respected religion.  The only thing that has changed in those scenarios is the literal power of the believers to punish those who dare to speak up about their lack of logic and evidence.  In short, religion and the idea that it deserves any respect at all is entirely based on the fallacy that might makes right.  It is bullying, pure and simple.  Bullying in support of the irrational, which I think is evil or, at least, bound to result in evil.

Religion is so ludicrous and so evil (and I use that word with deliberate intent) that it is difficult to discuss it without sounding like you are using invective.  It is, at best, morally indistinguishable from racism of the worst sort.

Furthermore, given the way in which atheists have been treated by the religious and the way I, personally, have been treated, I think we have every right to use a bit of invective.  Some things and some people deserve a name and, in fact, require a name as a part of our moral judgment.  A person convicted of a felony is called a felon.  A person who believes in the invisible magic man in the sky and believes the rest of us should be forced to adhere to what the invisible magic man's earthly representatives say that "He" has dictated deserve a name.

They deserve every bit of ridicule and invective we can heap upon them--and more.

They are intolerant bullies and they have no right to be.  We non-believers have every right to defend ourselves against them.  Defending yourself against those who would harm you, who would take away your freedom and force you live in accordance with their beliefs upon threat of physical or economic violence, is not intolerance.  It is the most basic of human rights.

If believers were willing to mind their own business and keep their religion to themselves, I would have no problem with them or their religion.  Religious people who consider their religion a private matter and who do not think it should be forced on others receive only my pity.  I see them as victims of a massive con game.  But, such people seem too rare in my experience.  The majority have no doubt that their views should be forced on us all--even if they have learned not to say so openly.

My personal experience, current events, and history show, however, that they are always seeking to force their superstitions on others.  They want to remake the world based on their religion because they simply can't comprehend that their fantasies are not realities--which is the very definition of delusion.  Their intolerance is inevitable and inherent in the fact that their entire worldview is an ego driven delusion that they have an emotional need to maintain--an emotional need that supersedes virtually all of their other needs and most definitely supersedes any feeling they might have that they owe a duty to respect others.

For most of my adult life I have given the religious more tolerance than they have given me--by far.  They have repaid me by showing me extreme intolerance while at the same time daring to accuse me of intolerance.  My experience is typical.  Historically and morally, their behavior is the equivalent of Nazis accusing liberal Jews of intolerance--and, then, using that bogus accusation as an excuse to be intolerant.  Such behavior is a clear sign of the extent of their outrageous intentions:  They will go to any lengths to rationalize their desire to "do away" with us by whatever means necessary.

I have no duty to be tolerant of the intolerant.  Nor does any other civilized person.  Anyone who is tolerant of the intolerant is simply setting himself, and civilization, up for destruction.  Such a person has forfeited his right to self-defense and failed in his moral duty to protect others from injustice and other harm.

God: Narcissistic Psychopath?*KfKioRqQQzCfpMZfR8u-xBcBn2h*NfyqGg/lovemeorelse.jpg

Frankly, this god character sounds a lot like an ex-boyfriend who should be subject to a restraining order.  He stalks those who reject him, punishes them all out of proportion to any actual offense, and says it's all their fault because they rejected his "love". What kind of source of morality could such a person be?

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Summary of Creationist Thinking

Fundamentalist Atheists?

Sometimes one hears believers and even other non-believers calling some atheists "fundamentalists".  I think the use of that term with regard to atheists is not only inaccurate but offensive on several levels.

Here is the definition from
 1. (sometimes initial capital letter) a movement in American Protestantism that arose in the early part of the 20th century in reaction to modernism and that stresses the infallibility of the Bible not only in matters of faith and morals but also as a literal historical record, holding as essential to Christian faith belief in such doctrines as the creation of the world, the virgin birth, physical resurrection, atonement by the sacrificial death of Christ, and the Second Coming.
 2. the beliefs held by those in this movement.
 3. strict adherence to any set of basic ideas or principles: the fundamentalism of the extreme conservatives.

The first two definitions clearly have no application to atheists in any way shape or form.  They do tell us, however, where this particular term came from:  A religious movement of extreme rigidity in its numerous doctrines and principles.

Given that atheism doesn't have a set of doctrines and principles (and thus doesn't fit even the third definition of fundamentalism from but rather has only one principle, then the use of such term regarding an atheist must always be inaccurate.  Thus, one possible reply would be:

"Atheists can't be fundamentalists because, there are no atheist 'fundamentals' for us to adhere toWe simply don't believe in a god."

If atheists strictly adhere to one principle--that we think there is no god--that does not make us "fundamentalists"; it makes us atheists.  But, what else could we possibly do?  If we don't strictly adhere to that one principle, then we would not be atheists, we would be agnostics.  Thus, at best, the use of "fundamentalist" is simply redundant.

We are being chastised for not having an "open mind" in circumstances where the evidence (or lack thereof) is in.  As I have explained before, this can only be based on some sort of implicit assumption that we have to have absolute positive proof of god's nonexistence in order to be atheists and that we have to take seriously the possibility that solipsism is reality (that we live in a universe comparable to the one in "The Matrix" only with an invisible magic man rather than machines pulling our strings).

This is one of many reasons I find the use of the term with regard to atheists offensive.  We simply can't win.  Merely being atheists makes us fundamentalists by that "logic".  You can say:

"If not being agnostic makes me an atheist fundamentalist, then you are saying that simply being an atheist makes me an atheist fundamentalist.  That makes 'fundamentalist' redundant and therefore mere name calling."

In addition, having spent a great deal of time among true fundamentalists and having suffered at their hands, I find such name-calling highly offensive.  Some atheists may find it amusing because most of them are smart enough to see that the term has no application to them.

"Sorry, fundamentalism is a christian religious movement.  Simply insisting on a rational approach to the world doesn't begin to resemble the depth and breadth of their rigidity."

I also find it offensive because, when theists say that atheists are fundamentalists they are using that term incorrectly, which indicates they are simply trying to be offensive.  Oftentimes trying to be offensive is enough to actually be offensive, even if you look a fool in the process.  You can make that point by saying:

"You know that term doesn't apply; you are just trying to be offensive."

Such inaccurate name calling does not add anything to the discussion.  At best, it is simply the spewing of venom.  At worst, it is a deliberate attempt to shout the other person down--to cow him with the threat of being labeled with an epithet that carries a social stigma.

This is the most common purpose with which the "atheist fundamentalist" label is wielded.  It is yet another attempt to protect religion from critical analysis through the use of social pressure--otherwise known as bullying.  Thus, use of that term is little better than censorship, with a hint of a threat of social ostracism or worse for the person on the receiving end.  For that reason alone, I would think that most atheists would find it offensive.

Furthermore, given that logically the only conclusion one can reach is that god doesn't exist, using a term like "atheist fundamentalist" is a bit like calling a chemist a "chemistry fundamentalist" because he thinks the notions of medieval alchemy were ridiculous.  Or calling a psychiatrist a "sanity fundamentalist" because he thinks that people who think they are receiving message from outer space aliens through the fillings in their teeth are mentally ill. You can use these analogies to make that point:

"Is a chemist a 'chemistry fundamentalist' because he ridicules notions of alchemy?"

The principles that brought me to atheism are the same ones that drive science: Objectivity and rationality.  If adhering to those makes me a "fundamentalist", then so be it.  So far as I am concerned, that would be the same as calling me fundamentally sane.  Once again, you can use this idea to drive the point home:

"Adhering to notions of objectivity and rationality make me a 'fundamentalist'?  That's like calling me fundamentally sane."

Sometimes the epithet is meant to imply that atheists are at fault for not examining the "evidence" for theism, then I can only point out that there is no evidence to examine (other than the mountain of evidence tending to prove that religions are man made).   I can also point out that atheists, along with many others, have been diligently searching for evidence to support theism and will continue to do so.  Those same principles of objectivity and rationality require that this search continue for the indefinite future, but they do not require that we reserve judgment in the meantime.

Calling atheists fundamentalists is really just a euphemism for calling us intolerant.  Like most instances of "name calling", such as calling us "intolerant", calling us fundamentalist is just another way of trying to pressure us into shutting up or adopting the idea that we have to have absolute proof that god doesn't exist.