Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Another Implicit Admission

It is difficult these days to find a religious apologist who doesn't rely on the idea that reason, logic, and objective evidence are not reliable.  By doing this they are implicitly admitting that their viewpoint is not supported by those things. 

When a group of people who represent a particular viewpoint spend a lot of their time advocating the position that reason, logic, and objective evidence are not reliable, then one can rest assured that the viewpoint they represent isn't supported by those things and you should simply point out that they are admitting this is true.

"You are admitting that your viewpoint is not supported by logic or evidence."

Monday, March 28, 2011

Bias Against Non-believers II

A wonderful video was recently put on youtube.  It illustrates the sorts of biases and prejudices that atheists face as they go through their lives in a religious society like the U.S.  After watching it, ask yourself whether it is any wonder that some atheists seem a bit angry.  Those who have had to endure this sort of thing for any extended period of time are bound to be a bit angry.

Bias Against Non-believers

The Moral Insanity of Religion V

"The only thing necessary for the triumph [of evil] is for good men to do nothing."--Edmund Burke

One of the most insidious ways in which belief in god destroys the morality of the believer is that it teaches the believer to sit by passively when he or she observes injustice.  After all, this is what god does.  Horrific evil happens in the world and god, if he exists, apparently does nothing to stop it.  (This is known as theodicy:  the topic of attempting to reconcile the fact of evil with the alleged existence of god.)

Not only is the believer following god's example, the believer is taught to think that the matter is "in god's hands".  If god doesn't see fit to intervene, then why should the believer be so arrogant as to question his decision?

I have mentioned before the many ways in which religion is useful for controlling others by unscrupulous, manipulative types.  It allows them to convince believers that they should suffer injustice without complaint.  It allows them to hide in plain sight.  It allows them to use the believers as their personal lynch mob.

Those members of the congregation who are not entirely comfortable with being part of a lynch mob are able to quiet their consciences by telling themselves that "it's not up to them" to do something about injustice that god chooses to allow.

Previous related posts:

The Moral Insanity of Religion IV

The Moral Insanity of Religion III

The Moral Insanity of Religion II

The Moral Insanity of Religion 

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Free Will

Whether free will, as that term is usually understood, really exists is problematic.  From the perspective of the individual, it can certainly seem like we have free will.  We go about our business unaware of the future or how we will act in future situations.  Then, when those future situations arise, we think about them, choose a course of action and act--seemingly without restraint and based only on our own decisions.

The problem is that the independence of our decision making process cannot be established.  The mind that is trying to exercise free will is the same mind that was shaped by genetics and early environment--by factors completely outside the individual's control.  Thus, by the time a person can hope to begin thinking for himself the vast majority (if not the entirety) of the factors that will determine what he thinks are already in place and irremovable.  Thus, it can be difficult to see how the individual can "choose" to make a decision other than the one he actually makes.

Taking physics into account, one has to wonder how free will fits in with the notion that time is simply another dimension. If time is just another dimension, then the future, in all its detail, is already out there somewhere just as surely as the wall behind my computer right now. The only problem--and the reason for the debate--is that we lack the equipment to perceive it.

On the other hand, there is no doubt that changing the relevant factors, incentives and disincentives, has been shown conclusively to affect human behavior. Thus, from a social policy standpoint, free will should be treated as a legitimate factor.  It should be assumed, when making political judgments that individuals possess some free will and that the choices made politically will effect the choices made individually.

The same thing can be said about the forces of nature and nurture that shape our minds. They, too, have been shown beyond any doubt to affect human behavior. Any decently thought out social policy initiatives should take them into account as well.  Individuals do not possess total free will; they should be judged accordingly--as individuals.  Furthermore, we as a society can make policy choices that help individual members of our society attain the necessary mental development to be good citizens.

This debate is often couched in terms of morality--moral responsibility versus moral innocence.  What the debate really should be about is how best to make ourselves and our society better through social policy decisions.

Most people have a basic, implicit assumption that free will and predestination are like matter and anti-matter--completely irreconcilable and unable to co-exist.  And, if one focuses solely on the definition of each, then that is understandable.  I prefer to think of them as descriptions of parts (and only parts) of a larger reality.  When one focuses only on part of a thing--and only from one perspective--then one is missing the complete picture.

I believe they both exist--and that neither exists.  The partisans on either side seem to me to be a bit blinkered.  The nascent intelligence of the human species advances the cause of that species by giving it the perspective of free will, thus enabling it to behave in a flexible manner and thus survive to pass on its genes.  But, the free will model that many believe in, where people are seen to be completely in control of themselves and their lives, is obviously false because each decision will be largely determined by factors outside of the person's control.

I think this debate, like many others, is one driven by emotions of the debaters.  The proponents of the opposing sides are probably driven, in part, by a desire to either take or avoid responsibility for their lives.

There's an old saying that victory has 100 fathers and defeat is an orphan.
[1961 J. F. Kennedy News Conference 21 Apr. in Public Papers of Presidents of U.S. (1962) 312]

Unfortunately, the free will partisans are usually the religious, who wish to take credit for their decisions because they are so sure they have made admirable decisions.  They have tried to make their decisions in a way that pleases god.  This is what they think god wants and what they think they try to do.  They fail to see, of course, that the god they are pleasing, like all invisible friends, is just a reflection of themselves and that pleasing themselves does not make them or their decisions good. 

This type of thinking leads to moral condemnation of those who make different choices and, worse, to the belief that the moral condemnation is required by the universe's highest authority.  This inevitably leads to intolerance and acts of violence and cruelty as "god's partisans" seek to impose moral "justice" on the others without regard to reality or effective policy choices.

Unfortunately, likewise those who deny free will and argue for determinism often seem to be motivated by a desire to avoid responsibility for mistakes they or others have made.  Usually, these partisans are non-believers.  To any who read this, I would encourage them to desist because they do a disservice to the cause of atheism.  I understand that you see the high moral dudgeon of the religious to be offensive, cruel, and insensitive.  But, don't let your emotional reaction cause you to adopt the wrong side of the argument.  Remember that this is really about proper public policy--not morality.  Make this point explicitly, if need be, in order to keep the discussion civil and on point.  Furthermore, as long as it is about public policy, then you know which side to argue.

The evidence that various punishments and incentives will alter the behavior of the vast majority of people is overwhelming.  In fact, the evidence that the right punishments and incentives will alter the behavior of everyone who is conscious and aware is overwhelming.  If you doubt this, ask yourself how many people will touch a red hot stove eye.  The answer is none--absent some huge, hypothetical incentive needed to counterbalance the obvious, huge negative reinforcement awaiting those who do.  If you still doubt it, simply research what happens when laws are changed.  What happens is that most people change their behavior.

Thus, from a public policy standpoint, it is usually best to take the position that people have enough free will to respond in predictable ways to changes in their environment--including changes in the law.

Arguing for determinism usually involves making a fallacious argument (implicitly or explicitly) that such incentives and punishments should not be used.  This sort of thing ignores the evidence and fuels the religious bigotry against non-believers because it provides them with "evidence" of our lack of morality.  Such arguments also usually involve the implicit assumption that motivation equals justification, which is often an intellectual sin of the believers.  Who will often argue that their desire to believe is itself a "reason" for believing.  We should not join them in that intellectual gutter.

Burden of Proof V

The next time a theist demands that you prove god doesn't exist or claims that the burden of proof is on you, try saying this:

"Show me how you prove Zeus and Ra don't exist, and I'll use your method."

I wish I could take credit for this, but it was the brainchild of a very smart woman on Think Atheist and Twitter.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Threat of Theocracy

American Family Association blogger and radio "personality" Bryan Fischer has declared that the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was only meant to protect the religious liberties of Christians.

On previous occasions, when I have tried to point out the insane things the religious right say, many people who support freedom and democracy have told me that I shouldn't take it seriously.  They will tell me that the rantings of one lunatic are nothing to be concerned about, but I think a closer look is needed.  I think Mr. Fischer is just the tip of a larger iceberg.

Having grown up in the worst of the bible belt, I can attest from personal experience that many Christians say such things in private.  I think that it is significant that Mr. Fischer makes his living spouting such crazy things.  This can only mean that there are a large number of people who will pay to hear it or who will listen in such significant numbers that advertisers will pay for commercial air time during his broadcasts.  If Mr. Fischer were truly by himself, or almost so, on some lunatic fringe, none of this would be true.

Non-believers need to wake up to this threat.  It has not been that long since the believers burned us at the stake.  There are still entire countries where atheism is punishable by death--in the 21st century.  The practice of burning people at the stake for things such as heresy and witchcraft continued in "Christian" countries up until little more than 200 years ago.  In some places, it continues to this day--though the stake appears to be optional.  (Click on the link in the previous sentence and you will find video of a very recent incident in Kenya, which is 78% Christian.)

As I have pointed out before, the Civil War in Spain as well as the coups in Argentina and Chile were motivated by religion, specifically the Catholic Church persecuting secularists who tried to make those countries secular.  Hundreds of thousands of secularists were killed--though on those occasions the Christians did it in private so as to avoid the bad publicity.

There are a large number of people in the U.S. who want to do the same sort of thing.  The career of Mr. Fischer and other such wingnuts proves this.  They can't do it right now, but they are perfectly willing to do as much as they can without suffering punishment.  Non-believers need to take this threat seriously and exercise constant vigilance in both the public and private spheres of their lives.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Christian Hatred

Here is a video of Christopher Hitchens debating a Christian, Frank Turek, who engages in what I think is clearly hate speech by making the false assertion that Hitler was a secularist.  (See also this post rebutting this lie.)  Hitchens responds angrily that only an ignoramus would make such an assertion.  He is correct, and his anger is justified.  What I can't understand, however, is the extent to which both Christians and some non-believers don't understand the full implications of Turek's remarks.

Only someone completely insane would make such a demonstrably false allegation, and only someone completely filled with hate would make such vile and false accusation in such a public forum.  Such a person is either completely out of touch with reality or so consumed with hatred that he doesn't care if he is accurate or how foolish he might look to those who know better.

Unfortunately, I can attest from personal experience that Mr. Turek is not some crank from the lunatic fringe of Christianity.  He represents the mainstream of Christianity.  In fact, he represents the cream of the crop of the christian intelligentsia.  He makes his living peddling these sorts of lies, hatred, and misinformation and wrote a successful and well known book about the "faith" it takes to be an atheist.  (See my post rebutting this nonsense.)

Like most Christians in the U.S. these days, he has learned not to say what he really thinks.  He can't come right out and say that he thinks secularists should be exterminated.  So, he tries to label them as being identical with the one group that most people think should be persecuted.  In private, however, I have heard Christians say what they think, and others have reported to me that they have heard the same thing.  They think we shouldn't exist.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Moral Insanity of Religion IV

Today's "Freethought of the Day" from the Freedom From Religion Foundation is this insightful little quotation from Blaise Pascal:

“Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.”
Blaise Pascal, French philosopher, Pensees (1623-1662)

I have pointed out (here, here, here, and here) that, far from being a source of morality, religion is actually a source of moral insanity.  It causes believers to do things that are morally insane because their morality has been twisted to serve the charlatans who sell religious "services".  As usual, my observations are mere echoes of those made in the past.  Pascal is usually known as a religious apologist, but apparently even he could not help but notice that the alleged fount of morality often seemed to have the direct opposite effect from that advertised.  It is too bad he didn't give that observation more thought; he might have begun to wonder whether he should ever defend religion.

Put It in Neutral

In the debates about school prayer, the pledge of allegiance, the national motto, and other areas where theocrats have tried and often succeeded in putting religion in Government one often hears the ridiculous notion that removing these official theocratic acknowledgments of god somehow is the same thing as making the U.S. Government atheistic.  This is obviously absurd.

For the Government to be atheistic, there would have to be explicit denials of god's existence in similar contexts.  For example a pledge of allegiance that say "under no god" instead of under god would be atheistic.

The theocrats would have us believe that the pledge was atheistic when first written and remained so up until 1954.  Given that the original version was written by a Baptist minister, I think we can assume that the omission of god was not an expression of atheism.  It was simply consistent with the author's understanding that the pledge was a political statement and not a religious one.  Somehow that particular Baptist minister could understand what so many today cannot:  that politics and religion can and should be separate.

I have found that pointing out that removing the words "under god", etc., does not make the Government atheistic (such as in the paragraph in bold above) seems to fly right over the heads of the religious.  To be honest, anyone who makes such ridiculous statements may be beyond reach, but if you decide to try, then I suggest using a more concrete example to illustrate your point.  When you hear them make this sort of assertion, you can try saying:

"That's like saying that putting your car in neutral is the same as putting it in reverse."

This is a real world analogy that anyone should be able to understand.  If this doesn't get through to the person, nothing will.  As usual, I suggest dropping this little thought barb and then walking away.  Also, as usual, remember to keep close tabs on your non-verbal signals.  Confidence is very convincing to those social creatures who pick their opinions based on what others think, and the confidence to drop the subject as if you are speaking to someone who is clearly being irrational speaks volumes.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The God of Abraham

One thing that many Christians do not know is that the god they worship is also the god of the Jews and the Muslims.  Many do know that the god of the Jews is also their god, but the number who don't know that the god of the Muslims is the same as theirs is astounding.  And, they can become quite upset when you try to tell them.  In fact, they can become downright insistent, angry and belligerent.

One can't blame them too much for this ignorance, however.  Each of the three religions gives god their own flavor.  But he remains a psychopath in each case.

To the Jews, he is a genocidal racist who favors them over all other ethnic groups.

To the Christians, he is an abusive, narcissistic father figure.

To the Muslims, he is willing to do anything to achieve his goal of world domination.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Characteristics of a Cult

Members of mainstream religions spend a considerable amount of time worrying about "cults" and the possibility that their children or someone they care about will be "lured" into joining a cult.  They are not quite sure how to define the word but what they usually mean is a religious group that is small and "strange" to their thinking.

Occasionally, members of the large, mainstream groups will use that label when referring to other large mainstream groups.  Fundamentalists often refer to the Catholic Church as a cult because of its deviance from scripture and its penchant for saints and graven images, which strike the Fundies as nothing but idolatry.  The Catholics often consider all protestant churches to be cults because they have left "the one true church".  Almost all Christians consider Islam to be similar to a cult because the Christians don't accept Mohamed as a prophet, and the Muslims return the compliment because they do accept Mohamed as a prophet.  And, of course, the Jews consider all other religions to be futile attempts to curry favor with the god who has chosen them above all others.  (How they can still believe this I don't know, because it appears that this god has chosen them above all others for persecution, not favor.)

Needless to say, the Abrahamic religions consider the religions of the far East to be cults and the attitude in those cases is quite revealing.  There may be millions of people who believe in Krishna or the Buddha, but their religions are still considered cults in the eyes of many in the West simply because they are rather new and small there.

The International Cultic Studies Association publishes a list of characteristics that are common to cults on its website.  The list is reproduced below. A quick perusal of the list by anyone who has any significant experience with one or more of the main Western religions (and who is honest) will reveal that the list describes them as well.  The ICSA website cautions that the list is only an analytical tool, but I think the insight is revealing.  What it reveals is that all religions are cults; some are just larger and older and thus more accepted.

The List is as follows:

1. The group displays excessively zealous and unquestioning commitment to its leader and (whether he is alive or dead) regards his belief system, ideology, and practices as the Truth, as law.

‪2. Questioning, doubt, and dissent are discouraged or even punished.

‪3. Mind-altering practices (such as meditation, chanting, speaking in tongues, denunciation sessions, and debilitating work routines) are used in excess and serve to suppress doubts about the group and its leader(s).

‪4. The leadership dictates, sometimes in great detail, how members should think, act, and feel (for example, members must get permission to date, change jobs, marry—or leaders prescribe what types of clothes to wear, where to live, whether or not to have children, how to discipline children, and so forth).

5. The group is elitist, claiming a special, exalted status for itself, its leader(s) and members (for example, the leader is considered the Messiah, a special being, an avatar—or the group and/or the leader is on a special mission to save humanity).

‪6. The group has a polarized us-versus-them mentality, which may cause conflict with the wider society.

7. The leader is not accountable to any authorities (unlike, for example, teachers, military commanders or ministers, priests, monks, and rabbis of mainstream religious denominations).

8. The group teaches or implies that its supposedly exalted ends justify whatever means it deems necessary. This may result in members' participating in behaviors or activities they would have considered reprehensible or unethical before joining the group (for example, lying to family or friends, or collecting money for bogus charities).

9. The leadership induces feelings of shame and/or guilt in order to influence and/or control members. Often, this is done through peer pressure and subtle forms of persuasion.

‪10. Subservience to the leader or group requires members to cut ties with family and friends, and radically alter the personal goals and activities they had before joining the group.

11. The group is preoccupied with bringing in new members.

12. The group is preoccupied with making money.

13. Members are expected to devote inordinate amounts of time to the group and group-related activities.

‪14. Members are encouraged or required to live and/or socialize only with other group members.

15. The most loyal members (the “true believers”) feel there can be no life outside the context of the group. They believe there is no other way to be, and often fear reprisals to themselves or others if they leave (or even consider leaving) the group.

At various points the list tries to make distinctions between cults and mainstream churches as if such distinctions can be taken for granted. The parenthetical at the end of number 7 is particularly revealing.  In it, the authors claim that "ministers, priests, monks, and rabbis of mainstream religious denominations" are accountable to "authorities" in a way that a cult leader would not be.  This statement is so obviously untrue that it borders on the bizarre and seems to be an example of the truth being spoken via an obvious lie that is its opposite, which is a phenomenon one sees so often when observing the religious.

Mainstream denominations dominate their communities.  The "authorities' are usually made up of members of those denominations and they are usually hostile toward smaller, newer religions that they usually call "cults".  Those authorities are much more likely to investigate any hint of wrongdoing within or by one of these disfavored "cults".  In many cases, the authorities appear to be actively hostile to them.  At the same time, the authorities are much more likely to use their inherent discretion to overlook transgressions by leaders of "mainstream religious denominations". 

As was the case with the definition of delusion in DSM-IV, it appears that the religious have deliberately skewed this checklist so as to make it appear that their own religions do not meet its criteria.  But, the things it says describe those religions just as well as it does smaller religions, and the obvious attempt to exclude those mainstream groups only makes that more clear.

The religious who hear this sort of thing protest that this is simply untrue and they point to some of the devious and manipulative ways that "cults" recruit and the "strong-arm" methods used by "cults" to keep members from leaving.  What these arguments fail to take into account is that mainstream religions don't need to be so aggressive in recruiting or retention simply because they are dominant.

Once a group becomes a dominant social and economic force in a community, people will seek to join it and members will try to stay simply because of its dominance.  Failure to belong to the dominant religion can result in loss of social status and economic loss without the religion or its members taking any sort of extraordinary action against those who don't join or who leave.  The only "trick" they have to use is withholding their "love", just like their god allegedly does, from the apostate.  Thus, the alleged differences between mainstream religions and cults evaporate under the light of reality.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The "America, Love It or Leave It" Types

One sometimes hears from members of the religious right:  "America, love it or leave it!"  Sometimes you even see this offensive nonsense on their bumper stickers.  This is not quite so prevalent these days as it was in my youth.  Back then, the Vietnam war had led to a lot of protests and criticism of the U.S. Government and society.  The authoritarian types responded with this little authoritarian gem of a slogan.

"America, love it or leave it!" is probably the most un-American thing a person can say.  America's central ideal is freedom, both political and religious.  Freedom of speech is the essence of that, and political speech--criticism of the government or society--is the essence of free speech.

What this really means is that this person doesn't believe that U.S. citizens have the right to criticize their Government or society (even in thought, apparently).  Criticism of Government or society is exactly the type of speech that the First Amendment to the Constitution was meant to protect.

No democracy can function unless the voters are informed and are allowed to debate the issues facing that society.  Imagine if Congress were not allowed to say anything critical of current conditions during debate of proposed laws.  Every law would seem like a pointless proposal because no one could ever say why a change was needed.

American voters need the same sort of information.  How else could they make informed choices when voting?  Anyone who says this sort of thing is expressing hostility not just toward freedom of speech but toward democracy itself.  Such a person really has no idea what America is about, how it works, why it was formed, why it is better than most countries.

Such a person knows only that they identify themselves and their ego with America and take any criticism as an insult not to be tolerated.  Such a person usually blindly supports whatever the authority figures say, and becomes like a vicious little child engaged in a deadly sibling rivalry over the insufficient love of a demanding parent when the authority figures are questioned.

Such a person does not believe in freedom of speech (or, apparently, thought).  A person who does not believe in freedom of speech is un-American in the extreme.

Such a person really doesn't care about his country.  There was a bumper sticker during the "W" years that said "Blind Faith in Bad Leadership is not Patriotism".  I love that bumper sticker and couldn't agree with it more. But, it is an understatement.  Only the pathologically anal retentive, blinded by need for the authority figure's approval, would watch his or her country go off a cliff rather than risk offense by criticizing its course.

As an American, I think anyone who questions my patriotism because of my politics is obviously someone who doesn't believe in freedom of thought or speech and is therefore not a true American (in addition to being a stupid asshole).

Finally, you may well ask what this has to do with atheism.  As I mentioned in the first sentence above, this saying is one of those things one hears from the religious right.  I think this is something revealing about the religious mindset.  Religious people tend to say this sort of thing, and be on the right wing, because they are authoritarian.  Obedience to authority is their highest value (indeed, sometimes their only value).  This particular slogan of theirs reveals this mindset and the extent of it.  They simply do not believe in freedom of speech or thought--not for themselves, and most ominously, not for you or me either.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Bible: A Manual for Psychopaths

This is just a quick post to tie a couple of thoughts together into a single revealing notion.  That notion is that the bible is nothing more than a manual of psychopathy.  Others have written extensively about the incredible immorality in the bible.  Much of this criticism focuses on the more blatant examples of overt evil mentioned with approval in the bible, such as genocide, aggressive wars of conquest, racism, slavery, etc.  But, just as important are the lessons concerning honesty.

Story after story depicts "god's favored" people doing atrocious and dishonest things.  Yet these people are still held up as "righteous" heroes.  Why?  Because of their loyalty to god or their membership by birth in a favored group.  Examples include the story of David, Uriah, and Bathsheba, the story of Jacob and Esau (even Jacob's name means "deceiver"),  Lot offering his virgin daughters up to a rape gang to curry favor with god, and the story of what god and the devil did to Job just to settle a bet.

The bible makes it quite clear that these sorts of dishonest, harmful activities are perfectly permissible for the "righteous".  Who are they?  The ones who are loyal to god, that's who.  These loyalists have to obey some rudimentary rules in their dealings with other loyalists, but those not in the group can be used and abused as much as you like.  In fact, those not in the group apparently should be thankful that the loyalists don't kill them and steal their property.

To a believer, there is absolutely nothing wrong with this thinking or this conduct because the "absolute" arbiter of morality has told them it is permissible or even required on occasion.  This is what comes of elevating obedience to authority over all other moral considerations.

The bible is nothing but a "How to" manual for psychopaths.  The bible tells believers how to be manipulative and dishonest and why it's permissible to be that way.  It also provides them with a way to fool themselves into believing that they have done nothing wrong.  This allows them to quiet the voice of conscience, should they have one, that might be whispering to them.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Holy Scripture

There are certain basic facts one has to remember about the bible.  First, the writings included were chosen by church leaders in the fourth century from many alleged holy writings.  Many of those not chosen survive to this day.  When you read them, you realize that they all were probably equally valid and were all part of a deliberate effort at myth-making by early church leaders.  In other words, they were written in order to give those early leaders a story to tell that would help them market their church to potential converts.

One sometimes hears that the books of the bible were chosen at the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D.  To the best of my knowledge, however, this is not true.  Instead the Council of Nicea was convened to determine whether Christian churches should be teaching that Jesus was god or not.  At that time, this was still a hotly contested issue even among the highest church leaders.  Emperor Constantine called the Council to force the leaders to agree on this point.  I suspect he leaned toward teaching that Jesus was divine.  That is certainly what the council decided, which has been known since then as the "Nicene Creed".

This is something that many modern Christians don't know.  Informing them of it is a good idea.  It won't de-convert them, but it is one of those little "thought barbs" that I recommend tossing into their brains.

"Did you know that for 300 years after Christ's death, church leaders disagreed over whether Jesus was just a man, the son of god, or god?"

"If the early church leaders, who lived much more close in time to Jesus, didn't know whether he was divine or not, how could anyone alive today know?"

Apparently a few years later, Constantine ordered a compilation of holy writings into book form.  The writings chosen, of course, were those that reflected the Nicene Creed by depicting Jesus as divine.  Those that did not were rejected.  Even the books chosen for inclusion are often ambiguous on the issue of Jesus' divinity.  It can be useful to point this out to believers:

"Both the bible and the idea that Jesus was divine really date to the 4th Century--300 years after Jesus died."

Those first bibles have all been lost to history, though fragments of copies survive.  One, the Codex Sinaiticus (found at a monastery in the Sinai), is said to contain the complete "New Testament".  Again, you can point this out as a "thought barb":

"Not only was the bible not put together until centuries after Jesus died, none of the early copies survives intact."

I strongly recommend that non-believers read as much of the bible and other holy writings as they can--though I know it can be quite boring--because it reveals so much about the way the religious think.  Much of what it actually says and stands for are things many of the religious would find disagreeable if plainly stated.  Non-believers need to be aware of these parts because what they imply about religion is very negative and they can be used to remind us what we are fighting against and why it must be fought as well as awakening the brainwashed to the evil in which they have unwittingly been taking part.

Reading the bible alone would be enough to turn any intelligent, compassionate person away from religion.  That is one reason so few true believers actually read it and so many of the clergy and experts in theology are secretly atheists.  Church leaders knew this could happen, which was why it kept the actual text to itself, in Latin, for so long.  People who translated it into the local languages were actually burned at the stake for their trouble.

In modern times, religious apologists have actually started to deny that translations were banned.  They say that only "unauthorized" translations were banned.  Well, how many were authorized?  Zero.  Furthermore, private ownership was banned by the Synod of Toulouse in 1229.  So, the issue of translations was moot because only those who couldn't read Latin would need a translation and those who couldn't read Latin were, for the most part, not allowed to own a copy of the bible at all.  This dishonest subterfuge that religious apologists are trying to use to avoid admitting the totalitarian nature of their church deserves its own post but also needs to be briefly mentioned here.

For a long time, the dominant version in the English speaking West, including the U.S., was the King James translation.  The prose in that version has a beautiful rhythm to it, but that same rhythm combined with the archaic vocabulary used render it hypnotic to the point of being soporific.  It's no wonder so many believers have never actually read their holy bible.  They can't really understand what it is saying and find themselves becoming bored and sleepy when they try to read large portions.  When they do read any of it, they only read little bits taken out of context--usually only those selected and interpreted by their clergyman.

That hypnotic rhythm combined with the archaic language also helped the churches in their subtle use of mild hypnotism as a method of reinforcing their control over the flock.  I will write a post about this later, but there is scientific evidence that the perception many skeptics have of mass hypnosis when watching certain religious events is based on fact.

The best thing about the King James version (and other versions are often not much more readable) from the perspective of the clergy is  that it is so archaic that the shocking parts sound respectable--or almost indecipherable.

The language of the King James version makes everything sound like a distant fairy tale.  It usually is a distant fairy tale, but, considering how seriously it is taken by so many, I think it is better to read it in an unvarnished, straightforward translation in order to grasp what is actually being said.  Reading it as a fairy tale somehow takes the horror out of it--it makes the horror unreal.  It is this distant fairy tale quality, along with the pathological respect for authority that so many religious people have, that explains why they are unable to see that what they are reading is a tale of a murderous, racist, narcissistic psychopath.

Nevertheless, keep in mind that the believer sees the stories of the bible in that way:  half fairy tale, half real.  They are just real enough to infect his mind with some horrific notions, but if he is forced to consider the tales told in the bible, he will shy away from them, call them parables, etc., rather than admit to taking such horrors seriously to heart.

Once again, however, it is a very good idea to be familiar with the most horrible stories, so that one can throw them in the conversations as "though barbs".  I recommend following them with a plain spoken statement of what they imply about god and religion.  Of course, you shouldn't expect this work immediately.  Like all thought barbs, you just have to throw them in and walk away.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011


Whether one wishes to believe it or not, there has been a concerted effort on the part of the religious right over the past 60 or more years to slowly turn the United States into a theocracy.  Anyone who doubts that this is true should simply research the subject.  A good place to start is theocracywatch.org.

In fact, as I pointed out before, the current version of the pledge of allegiance is the most blatant example imaginable of a statement of intent to impose theocracy.  There is no other meaning that can be ascribed to the addition of the words "under god" to the pledge in 1954.  It is an expression of the notion that the U.S. Government is subordinate to god.  The U.S. Constitution, however, is based on the notion that our Government is, to use Lincoln's wonderful phrase, "of the people, by the people, and for the people".  Whatever relationship individuals may have with their god or gods is not relevant to that Government.  God is not relevant to that Government.  Under the U.S. Constitution, religion is a private matter.

Many religious people, including sitting Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia have expressed a belief that all governments derive their authority from god.  This notion directly contradicts one of the most basic notions on which the U.S. Government, and most modern political philosophy, is based, which is that the authority of government is derived from the governed.  The idea that governments derive their authority from god is consistent only with the view that governments are ordained by god and therefore must obey god.  This notion is consistent only with theocracy.

If there were no efforts to slowly turn the U.S. into a theocracy, why would such a blatantly un-Constitutional phrase have been inserted into the pledge of allegiance?  And, how could such a blatantly theocratic person become a Supreme Court Justice, and worse, say such a thing during oral argument at the Court concerning a separation of church and state issue without even noticing that he was expressing a notion that is blatantly at odds with the U.S. Constitution?

There are those who try to minimize the implications of the amendment to the pledge of allegiance by asserting that it was done to "distinguish the U.S. from the communists".  But, this explanation makes no sense.  It isn't even an explanation; merely a statement of the zeitgeist that was the motivating factor in making such a blatantly un-Constitutional act.

The U.S. Government was not in any sense "under god".  It was a secular government, which is not the same as an avowedly atheistic government such as the communist countries had.  If Congress wanted to distinguish the U.S. from the communists, then it would have been much better, both more accurate and more persuasive, to insert the word "Free".

During most of my life, I always heard from other Americans, uniformly, that the U.S. was a "Free Country".  My reading of U.S. history, and the documents defining the U.S. Government confirmed this characterization.  Freedom was America's defining characteristic.  Only in the last 20 or so years have I begun to hear people refer to the U.S. as "Christian Nation".  I think this development is quite significant and quite ominous.  It shows that the theocracy movement has grown and is no longer the ignored lunatic fringe.

Many people don't want to believe this and many others don't really understand what it means.  I often hear people say, "what's the worst that could happen?"  These people seem to think that the theocrats simply want to put organized prayer back in schools and ban abortion.  Personally I think that would be bad enough.  I don't need to know any thing else to know that there will be serious negative consequences.

Putting prayer back in public schools and securing tax dollars to run religious schools would result in a nearly uniform brainwashing of our youth.  Recent trends toward disbelief in the populace of the U.S. have often been attributed to the effect of the internet.  While I believe that to be true, I think (as do the theocrats) that the lack of organized prayer sessions in public schools plays a role.  The religious know that brainwashing children is essential to the survival of their religions.  In a democracy (even a republic like ours), the power to control the way the voters think is the ultimate power.  If you cede that power, you have ceded everything.

Those changes alone will cause a great deal of harm, but they are the tip of the iceberg.  Once religion controls how people think and vote, then it is only a matter of time until the extent of the theocracy grows to encompass things we would never believe could happen in the U.S.  It would only be a matter of time until the U.S. Government was indistinguishable from that of Iran, with the leaders of the dominant religion calling the shots and making the rules.  The Christians are sure this will be their leaders, but they shouldn't be so sure.  Once the door of theocracy is open, then there is no guarantee that any one particular religion--or even one particular sect of that religion will be or remain dominant.

The biggest single danger from the religious right is the political, economic, and social discrimination that they would allow or even
enforce against nonbelievers.  (Religious people of non-Christian faiths would often support this. Hatred of atheists and agnostics is
the one thing many of them have in common.)  In other words, non-believers might be forced to pretend to be a believer to keep their jobs, their relationships, and even the right to vote and live in peace.

Many non-believers are already in that position in an America where such things are usually illegal--or, at least, unethical.  I can only imagine how much worse it would be if such discrimination were legal or even enforced by the Government.

That is the most immediate threat: Non-believers will have to pretend to believe in order to have a semblance of a normal life and full citizenship.  Furthermore, something similar will happen to those believers who don't belong to the dominant religion.  They probably won't be forced to convert or pretend to convert to the dominant religion, but they will find that members of the dominant religion will enjoy dominance over them (and us non-believers) in other ways.  As I pointed out before, being a member of one of the dominant religions gives one near immunity from prosecution for wrongdoing for all practical purposes.  And, if that is the case even now in a country which doesn't officially allow such favoritism, I can only imagine how much more privileged members of those religions will be if the wall of separation between church and state is completely torn down.

Other things will, of course, happen.  Perhaps only in the "red states" at first but I don't doubt that the goal is to have those changes effective throughout the country.  Abortion will be banned--and with it other forms of birth control, because if there is no right to privacy in this matter, then Griswold v. Connecticut will no longer be the law.  As a recent news item indicated, which I wrote about in another post, it might not even be too far fetched to think that criminal penalties, perhaps even the death penalty (as indicated by the facts of that case), will be enacted for those who have had abortions.

We will certainly see the end of any debate about gay marriage.  Sodomy laws will be re-enacted, strengthened and enforced, perhaps even against heterosexuals and perhaps even against married heterosexuals.  Criminal sanctions for pre-marital or extra-marital sex are a distinct possibility.  People have forgotten that most of these things were, in fact, the law until very recently.  Americans alive today can remember when it was illegal for a husband and wife to use birth control or give each other oral sex in many states.  We should think long and hard before doing nothing while people who support such laws, and worse, seek high office in this country.

School prayer would certainly became uniform practice if not the law, perhaps even with criminal punishments being attached for failure to comply, of course corporal punishment will be the norm for failure to comply.  There would be regular religious indoctrination in schools.

Certain types of research will be banned, and I can only guess how far that will go: Will they ban research on evolution? Paleontology?  Certainly, stem cell research will be banned, more completely than now, and perhaps the fruits of such research from other countries.  How about the right not to recite the pledge of allegiance?  I doubt that right would be free from attack. How about attempts to start nuclear war in the middle east in order to fulfill prophecy and bring about Armageddon and bring sweet baby jeebus back to earth?

There are even a few religious fanatics on the fringe who think non-believers should all be killed.  Not likely to happen, you say?  I am sure many German Jews thought the same thing in 1931 and the Spanish nationalists in 1936.  Even now in the U.S. many non-believers don't dare speak the truth about their thoughts for fear of losing jobs, etc.  Non-believers are already treated on a frequent basis to exhortations to "leave, if you don't like" the idea that America is a "Christian Nation" and a nation that is "under god".  This is exactly what the Nazis told the Jews when they came to power--they told them to leave.  It was only after the German army's success in the early phases of the invasion of the Soviet Union that plans were made to kill the Jews.  Furthermore, for a number of years now, Christian children have been consuming books and video games that involve killing atheists.

The answers to all these questions depends on which faction wins the battle for control.  Make no mistake, once the theocracy door is open, there will be a battle for control between the various religions.  They are all making ecumenical claims and brotherly noises now because they have to, but once they know they can seize power, they will move to do so.  We know this because that is precisely what they are doing now in their battle to overcome the decidedly secular United States' Constitution and because it is what they have done at every opportunity in the past.

When it comes right down to it, this will mean war.  The religions have all rejected reason when it comes to their primary views on the world, and those views are irreconcilable.  Conflict is inevitable and only force can settle a dispute where reason has been rejected.

I could go on, but I think you get my drift.  Take the most crazy political notions you hear the religious mutter when they think they
are not being recorded or overheard, and you can bet that quite of few of them are thinking the same thing and wouldn't mind seeing those ideas become law or fact.  I know I have heard some very crazy stuff from the religious right.  Crazy enough for me to be very concerned.  I believe in the America that Jefferson and Madison created.  I am not sure it still exists but I am sure we are being pushed further and further away from it.