Wednesday, April 27, 2011


Has a religious acquaintance ever told you that you are "over-thinking" religion?  It certainly has been said to many non-believers.  This objection is akin to the arguments religious apologists sometimes make regarding the flaws inherent in reason and evidence:  It is an admission that their beliefs don't really make sense.  Here are some suggested replies:

"Shouldn't a person think long and hard about important questions such as his belief system?"


"It's better to over-think important matters than to under-think them."

Or, if you want to be a little more aggressive, you can say:

"It's better to over-think than not to think at all."

The Moral Insanity of Religion VI

The Freedom From Religion Foundation publishes a "Freethought of the Day" on its website.  Today, there are several notable quotations.  One, however, stands out for its summation of why it is impossible for religion to be anything but a source of moral insanity:

“. . . the being cannot be termed rational or virtuous who obeys any authority but that of reason.”  — Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792)

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Evidence of God

In my experience, believers continually assert that the evidence of god's existence is "overwhelming" and "everywhere".  Inevitably, this "evidence" turns out to be yet another version of their circular reasoning based on the assumption that god exists and that there is no other explanation for the existence of the universe.

Not too long ago I came across a theist's attempt to lay out the "evidence" he saw for god's existence.  In a nutshell, the arguments he thought were telling were as follows:

1) Evidence for God is found in the beginning of the universe (Big Bang Cosmology).   2) Evidence for God is found in the fine-tuning of the initial constants and conditions found in the Big Bang itself for the allowance of intelligent life. 3) God best explains the existence of objective moral values and duties. 4) Evidence for God is found in the historical life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. Keep in mind these are summations.

I have been asking believers for nearly 40 years to show me some evidence and they never have been able to.  Every bit of evidence boils down to a theist saying some version of "I can't believe the universe or some part of it exists without having been created".  And, in fact, that is all that is offered here.

Most of them simply engage in name-calling and tell me to read some authority.  (Dinesh D'Souza is a classic example.)  Well, if they are so sure that this authority is worth my time, then tell me why I should bother to waste my time reading one more version of the argument from personal incredulity intertwined with god of the gaps argument.  That's all they've got:  They can't come close to explaining the universe, therefore god exists.  I inevitably find that if I make any effort to read their authority, I will find only this sort of "reasoning", or else an attack on reason itself.

Why can't they just admit that they don't know where the universe came from?  It's the truth.

Non-believers should ask them exactly that question in these situations, in addition to my suggestion that one should point out that anyone who claims to know is a liar, a fool, or a madman.

The existence of the universe or any part of it proves absolutely NOTHING about where it came from. To say that it does is to engage in the purest circular reasoning possible.  The existence of the universe is the very question that they are trying to answer with the god hypothesis.  To say that the existence of the question proves your answer only shows that you had already assumed your answer was the right one--or only one.  Frankly, they haven't even shown that their answer deserves to be included in the list of possible answers.

"'An invisible magic man in the sky did it' is not a respectable theory of cosmology."

The fact that they or any other theist can't imagine another explanation isn't even relevant to the question.  The beginnings of the universe do not depend on our ability to imagine them any more than the existence of gravity depended on the imagination of those who believed in the flat earth held up by a god theory.

The debunking of the flat earth held up by a god theory showed clearly that all such "I can't explain it, therefore god" arguments are invalid.  Though I think that point should have been obvious long before that.

Their reasoning fails because they are trying to apply their earthly assumptions to a situation that is completely different.  Just like those who assumed their knowledge of falling objects must apply to the Earth as an object.

The second point that the theist made about the "fine-tuning" of the universe is a popular one these days.  It is, however, just another way of saying that the universe is "just right" for us.

The universe seems just right for us because we evolved here.  If it were different, we would have evolved differently or not at all.  The universe wasn't made for us--it made us, we are part of it.  How could it not be "just right" for us?

They think this point is telling only because of their habit of circular reasoning.  They implicitly assume god made the universe with us in mind--otherwise this "argument" would make no sense at all--which means that the "argument" is based on an assumption that the conclusion is true.  Circular reasoning.

The idea that "god best explains" morality is also based on circular reasoning, in addition to willful ignorance and willful failure to think.  It is incredibly obvious that no group of creatures could live together as a group without some sort of implicit or explicit behavioral guidelines.  The more complex the behaviors of the individual group members, the more complex the guidelines will have to be.  And, in fact, scientific inquiry has shown this to be quite true of humans as well as lower animals.  Reason best explains morality.

The final bit of "evidence" offered, personal belief in the Jesus myth, is not even evidence--except with regard to the fact that the person is a believer.  First, there's no evidence that these myths are facts.  Just because someone chooses to believe it doesn't make it fact.  Though the fact that he would include it in that list proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that he is engaging in circular reasoning--he is essentially arguing that his religion proves his religion.  In fact, it shows that he is so firmly in the habit of circular reasoning that he is completely unaware of it.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Happy Eostre?

Well, today is Easter--as it is called in the English speaking world.  The day on which Christians celebrate the supposed resurrection of Jesus.  The day on which they dress up in brightly colored clothes, eat chocolate bunnies and hide brightly colored eggs for their children to find.  What?!!  What does all that have to do with Christ's resurrection, you ask?

Good question.

The truth is those things have nothing to do with Christianity.  They are fertility symbols that were retained by some Christians who had formerly worshiped the Germanic Goddess Eostre or Easter.  Easter was the Germanic Goddess of the dawn (which is why we English speakers refer to the direction of the rising sun as the East) and of fertility.  Her yearly festival was celebrated at the time of the Spring Equinox.

That, however, is all we know about Easter the Germanic Goddess.  Why don't we know more?  Because her religion was eradicated by Christianity--not merely supplanted, deliberately eradicated.

One of the reasons that Karl the Great (or Charlemagne) was called "great" was because he championed Christianity and set about eradicating the pagan religions in areas within his reach.  He had 4,500 Germanic tribal leaders beheaded for refusing to cease worshiping their pagan gods.  In that particular case, it is interesting to note that the Germans were Saxons--the same people who would somehow keep the name and some of the traditions of Easter alive even until the present day.

This nasty incident is also significant because of the extent to which it proves that Europe was converted to Christianity by the sword.  This is something that Christians often lie about, in part because they don't know the truth.  The truth was hidden from them by previous generations--deliberately so, and for political reasons.  Just as modern Christians are trying to have textbook authors and school boards adopt a false history of the U.S., there has been a startling prevalence of false history taught in U.S. public schools regarding the history of Christianity.

I personally witnessed this deliberate teaching of lies.  Attending U.S. public schools, I was taught that Islam converted Arabia, much of Africa and the Middle East by the sword.  This was deliberately compared with the conversion of Europe to Christianity by virtue of persuasion.  The implicit lesson was clear:  Christianity was civilized; Islam was not.  Christianity was true; Islam was not.  (After all, forcing people to believe is only necessary if the belief is false--n'est ce pas?)  The lesson was also a deliberate lie.

Consequently, I celebrate Easter for much the same reason that I celebrate what the Christians call Christmas.  These aren't really Christian holidays; they are pagan festivals designed to mark the passage of significant points in the solar year.  Spring is here.  Why shouldn't we celebrate the renewal of life?  I would prefer to celebrate it closer to the Vernal Equinox, but I am willing to follow the new tradition to this small extent in order to blend in better with the lynch mobs, er, I mean Christians surrounding me.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Libertarians Atheists as "Co-travelers" With the Theocrats

Just as there are different types of believers, there are also different types of atheists.  One type that has perplexed me for some time are those who are also libertarians.  Specifically, I am confounded by the fact that they usually place their libertarianism at the forefront of all their decision making.  This is especially confounding when it causes them to give political support to politicians who are unabashed theocrats.

These theocratic politicians are almost always Republicans, and the libertarian atheists are seduced by their promises of lower taxes and "fiscal responsibility".  As anyone who has been paying attention to the political scene in the U.S. in the last thirty years knows, these promises are lies.  The Republican strategy since Reagan has been to spend profligately, increase the national debt, and then leave the problem for the next Democrat in office to fix.

When a politician incurs debt on behalf of the voting public, he is raising taxes.  The fact that he doesn't explicitly raise taxes to cover the debt during his administration just means he is playing a dishonest shell game in which he shifts the blame to the more responsible politicians who will follow him and have to deal with the mess he made.

Such a politician has effectively raised taxes without most people noticing.  This is true for three reasons:  1. He has incurred a debt that the voter must repay but didn't give the borrowed money to the voter; 2. by borrowing money he has caused interest rates to be higher; and 3. he has caused the amount of money in circulation to increase, which makes the rest of the money (i.e., the money in the voters' pockets) less valuable.

The question of whether or not to support such politicians is not just a question of whether we have more economic liberty.  This is a question of the direction of humanity:  Do we roll back the enlightenment and just pretend it was all a mistake? (Except for the advances in weapons technology, of course.)  Then crawl into a new dark age with better weapons?  That is where voting for theocrats will lead.

Make no mistake, the current alleged incarnation of libertarianism, the Tea Party, is just the religious right in disguise.  The fact that they are disguising themselves speaks volumes about what type of people they are and their agenda.

The right wing in America today is trying to re-create the conditions of the dark ages--though probably without realizing that is what they are doing.  They are trying to destroy the middle class economically and return control of education to the church.

I am going to say this as nicely as I can:  Those atheists with a libertarian bent seem so obsessed with the fact that they have to pay income taxes and wear seat belts that they have completely lost sight of the bigger picture. Paying taxes and wearing seat belts will seem like anarchy compared to what the religious right want to make you do.

For atheists in the U.S., I don't think there really is any place to go.  There are some societies right now that are better in some ways, but each one has its drawbacks that offset the improvements. And, given that the U.S. has a huge thermonuclear arsenal, moving away and letting the lunatics take control could kill you no matter where you go.

For the moment I would say support any effort to fight the religious right and their current political arm, the Republican party.  The best thing to do is to become as politically active as possible, including dropping hints in the ears of those who are already freethinkers, just as we might drop a hint or ask the right question of a believer who is beginning to see through the veil. One of our biggest problems is that we are very independent by nature and our opponents are the opposite.  They compulsively organize; we don't even like the suggestion.  But we have little choice.

In short, help shape opinions, vote, join organizations, give money or time, and don't be afraid to speak up in a judicious and effective manner. And, my personal opinion is that we should not be obsessed with ideological purity.  If my choice at the polls is between two candidates who are more theocratic than I like, I will vote for the less theocratic.

Finally, I would like to say this to those libertarian atheists who vote for Republicans:  If a person votes for people who would strip him of everything, even his most basic rights, and who may even harbor secret desires to kill that person, just to avoid paying a little more in taxes, then I think that person has simply adopted a different "religion" and needs to re-evaluate his priorities--quickly.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

"Just Right"

Many of you may have heard of the absurd argument made by Mr. Ray Comfort that the fact that the bananas we can buy in the store fit our hands so well is proof that god exists.  The most obvious problem with this argument is that it proves nothing but that there might be a coincidence.  The most conclusive argument against it, however, is that the modern grocery store banana is the result of artificial selection by human farmers over thousands of years and is just one of many varieties that exist in the wild.

If by chance, someone actually tries this argument with you, you can respond:

"The bananas in the stores don't fit our hands because god made them that way.  They fit our hands because we humans made them that way and they are in our stores because of the fact that they were made for us by us."

I remember reading one response to the "banana man" that another thing that nature naturally made just the right size for human hands is a mature rattlesnake--does that prove god exists?  And, if it does, does that mean he wants us all to die?  Or, maybe, it's just a coincidence.

"You know what else is "just right" for the human hand?  A mature rattlesnake."

More to the point, however, is the following response:

"You know what else is "just right" for the human hand?  Tree branches."

Finally, if you hear someone start talking about how the universe is "just right" for us, I find this response to be very useful:

"Yeah, it's almost as if we evolved to fit the environment."

(See my previous post on this, known as the anthropic principle.)

Friday, April 15, 2011

Illegitimi Non Carborundum

The title of this post is a mock Latin phrase meaning "don't let the bastards grind you down".   It is not true Latin because, at least in part, "carborundum" is actually an abrasive material used to grind other substances in various industrial processes and was first discovered in the 19th century.  (Those with greater knowledge of Latin may find other things about the phrase to be less than genuine.)

It is a phrase one often hears when speaking with other atheists, especially those that live in highly religious places.  These poor people are subjected to a daily bombardment of abuse that is difficult for others to believe.  The religious people who do the grinding either don't see what they are doing or simply believe that it is deserved.

Other non-believers from more tolerant places simply can't imagine what it feels like.  They don't seem to want to believe that people can actually be so petty and cruel, so they assume that the non-believers in question are either rude and bring it on themselves or are overly sensitive.

This attitude can be quite annoying, especially the notion that non-believers who are subjected to abuse have somehow brought it upon themselves.  Non-believers who think this are either clueless about the facts (and about believers) or have bought in to the idea that atheists should stay in the closet.  As I pointed out before, the notion that atheists should stay in the closet is tantamount to accepting the notion that we don't really have the right to be atheists.  If a person can't speak freely about what he believes, then he is really not free to believe it.

What the religious and these non-believers from more tolerant environments don't understand is that the religious are supremely nosy about the beliefs of others.  They will simply not let others keep their beliefs private.   Worse, once they do find out, they will be hostile and confrontational on some level.  Perhaps they won't bring up the subject of religion, but they will seek out or create conflict with the non-believer because they feel personally insulted by his rejection of religion.  Remember, they can't separate the abstract from the personal.

Often the conflict they create will have nothing to do with religion.  They will simply find some other, more socially acceptable avenue--at least more socially acceptable in the U.S.  In countries where it is still legal to kill apostates, then they don't need to gin up a controversy.  They can just go stone the "damned atheist" to death.

This sort of thing has happened to me personally on repeated occasions--not the stoning but the ginned up confrontations.  One person literally went out of his way and sought me out just to tell me that he hated the type of coffee I drank.  If there is an area of endeavor in which the theist thinks he is better than the atheist, regardless of what it is or why he thinks he is better (they are often wrong on that score), then he will try to use that as a cudgel to beat the atheist over the head.  The result for atheists who live in heavily theistic areas is that they can barely leave their homes without some jerk trying his best to make them feel bad about themselves.

All of this, of course, is to say nothing about the overt prejudice that is aimed our way.  The religious cheerfully and publicly admit that they think we are evil people who have simply rebelled against god because his rules block our evil intentions.  They think we are an evil and pernicious influence.  They do everything they can to keep us from living normal fulfilling lives, such as trying to prevent us from having social lives or dating, oftentimes they will prevent us from pursuing our chosen careers or even from being employed at all.  Again, all of these things have happened to me personally.

Those atheists in such bad situations have to find ways to keep their spirits up and move forward in life without the usual sorts of social support systems that they should be surrounded by.  It is helpful to find other non-believers to talk to, associate with, and have relationships with, but you cannot depend on them to give you the same sort of support the religious give each other.  Many of them will have bought into the idea that atheists should stay in the closet and will blame any discrimination on you (this will be the topic of a later post).  Although this can be maddening, be understanding--to a point--because they are afraid they will be targeted themselves if they do anything to help.

For now, because our numbers are still relatively small, we can't get too upset over this state of affairs.  What we can do, however, is tell other atheists that they need to speak up and, eventually, stand up for what they think and the rights of others who think the same.  Most of all, what we can do is never let the bastards grind us down because, make no mistake, that is what they are consciously trying to do.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Self-fulfilling Prophecies

I have often noted how the religious are the masters of the self-fulfilling prophecy.  They repeatedly create the very conditions that they claim to be seeking to avoid.  Nowhere is this more evident than in the realm of morality.  They claim that everyone needs god to be moral, then proceed to make sure this is true, as much as possible, by teaching their children that there is no other basis for morality.

Thus, they create entire generations whose moral philosophy consists of no more than "god said so".

As I have pointed out before, this is the philosophy of a small child or a psychopath.  Anyone with a modicum of intelligence should be able to see that there is more to moral philosophy than this--anyone who hasn't been programmed from early childhood not to think about the subject in depth, that is.

One of the calumnies the religious heap upon non-believers is that we have "rejected" god because we want to ignore his moral laws.  The thinking goes that we have a desire to do things that are immoral and simply reject the "source" of morality (in their minds, at least) in order to do those things and not feel guilty.

If one spends much time around non-believers (especially those who have only recently embraced non-belief) you will find evidence that could be interpreted to support this theory.  Rather than being proof of the theory, however, it is proof that religion is the enemy of true morality.

New non-believers must decide how they should view the world and the issues it presents to them once they realize that the worldview they were raised with is false.  This process can take years--both to figure out the truth and to expunge the vestiges of their false indoctrination.

They are particularly perplexed by questions of morality.  Having been brought up as believers--by believers--they have always been taught that God is the only possible source of morality.  Deeper thinking about the rules and sources of morality is completely outside the scope of their usual thought patterns.

Consequently, when one hears an atheist claiming that some basic rule of morality is solely based on religion, you can rest assured that the atheist is probably quite new to atheism--and often quite young.  There may be times when this assertion is true, such as notions that the clergy deserve more respect than ordinary folk.  But, there are other times when it is manifestly false, such as rules governing sexual behavior or the use of violence.

Those types of behaviors necessarily have long term and potentially harmful consequences and thus every society must have rules about them in order to be able to function.  And, every individual, who is not mentally ill or misled by the mentally ill, implicitly understands this and has the capacity to see that such rules would be necessary regardless of whether not obtained from a god.

The modern methods of birth control have added a layer of ambiguity to what was once a clear cut set of considerations regarding sexual behavior and this has caused some young atheists to come to the erroneous conclusion that sexual behavior is harmless or nearly so.  What they often don't yet understand is that their sexuality and feelings about sex evolved during a very long period when birth control was almost non-existent and that history has left its mark.

Sex is a very important biological function; so important that evolution has hard wired us to care a great deal about the sex lives of our partners.  For the, hopefully, obvious reason that not caring could effectively rob us of our chance to successfully reproduce.  I discuss this in my post on the twisted attitudes of religion toward sex.

All morals worth having exist because of our nature and the nature of our world.  Religion claims them because it claims to speak for the source of everything.  As usual, however, religion is simply coming along behind developments and taking credit for things it didn't do.

So, if you hear a believer making the false statement that non-believers simply don't want to believe because they want to be bad, point out that this is just bigoted nonsense borne of the believer's ignorance of moral philosophy.  If he points to non-believers who raise questions about whether morals really exist, explain to him the process these non-believers have to go through as a result of centuries of  poison being dumped into the well of public discourse on the topic by religion and religious indoctrination.  If you are a new non-believer, think twice before making such assertions, because you are only feeding the stereotypes in the minds of religious bigots.  

In addition, many non-believers have come to their non-belief as a result of being "different".  This "difference" causes the person to be able to see the religious beliefs of his group objectively because his ego doesn't identify with the identity of the group.  This is one of the reasons that gay people often reject religion and one of the reasons that the religious insist that homosexuality is a choice in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Monday, April 11, 2011


The religious are always talking about how they are "saved", how Christ died for their sins and now their God will save them from going to Hell.  But, who was going to put them in Hell in the first place?  The very God who saved them.  What they never seem to get is that they are saying God went through this elaborate ruse in order to save them from Himself.

The next time you hear one of them go into their diatribe about being saved, try to get them to think this through.

Believer:  "I am saved."

Atheist:  "Saved from what?"

Believer:  "Saved from going to Hell."

Atheist:  "Who would put you in Hell in the first place?"

Believer:  "God."

Atheist:  "Who is going to save you from Hell?"

Believer:  "God."

Atheist:  "So, God is saving you from... Himself?"

Of course, the believer might see where you are going and try to weasel out by trying to claim that the sinner is responsible or that Satan is responsible, but this is easily countered for the obvious reason that God allegedly made everything, including Hell and the supposed cosmic justice system that would send you there for eternity.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Categorizing Believers

It is important to remember that not all believers are the same.  There are many different types.  Each type presents its own particular difficulties to non-believers faced with them.

The first distinction to be made is based on age.  In general, there is usually no point in trying to discuss religion with the aged or the very young.  I mention this category first because in such cases there is often little point in making any effort to discern which of the other categories fit the person and because any attempt to point out the absurdity of religion will be seen as rudeness even by many other non-believers.

Elderly believers have virtually every emotional investment in religion possible.  To stop believing at their advanced age would mean admitting they had been fooled for decades and wasted most of their lives and that their fast approaching deaths will not be doorways to heaven where they can see their loved ones again. 

If someone has been a believer all of his or her life, religious thinking can be extremely entrenched.  There is quite a bit of data showing that older people have a harder time accepting new paradigms.  Furthermore, an older believer is inevitably closer to his own demise and may well be feeling fear at the prospect.  This fear can actually drive some non-believers to become believers as they approach the end of their days.  It is a powerful force.

Finally, older believers often have had to cope with the death of loved ones, perhaps recently.  They have spent a lifetime using this fantasy to deal with death; do not expect them to be willing to consider its falsehood in the Winter of their years.

There are no more understandable motives for religious belief than the death of loved ones.  No matter how much a non-believer may think religion is a bad thing, those motivated by the death of loved ones should be handled with special care.  None more so than people who have lost children, especially if the children were young when they died.  In fact, this group deserves a special category of its own, in addition to whatever category the believer otherwise might fit.  

Of course, everyone has to deal with loss from time to time, so it will always be a judgment call concerning whether or not to put on the kid gloves and remain silent.  A couple of examples should illustrate the opposite ends of the spectrum.  Someone has lost a child recently, especially if he feels guilty about it, is clearly not someone whose belief one should challenge.  However, if a believer tears up over the death of an acquaintance from high school, then it is probably safe to say that he or she is really crying at the thought of his or her own death and the death of the acquaintance is probably just an excuse.
Young believers are not responsible for their beliefs and cannot change them.  Young children are hard-wired by evolution to believe what their parents tell them--even in the face of contrary evidence.  They do not usually possess the independence of mind to doubt what they have been taught to believe.  Furthermore, young believers probably do not yet possess the intellect to understand the logical arguments relating to the existence of god.  There is no harm in dropping a factual hint or two that might take root later, but otherwise there is no point in trying to engage them on the issue.

Once a person has reached the age of reason, however, then it may be possible to discuss religion with him or her in an intelligible manner--and without angering his or her parents.

Unfortunately, the "age of reason" varies from individual to individual.  In general, a person should begin to have some ability to reason independently by the time of early adolescence.  A lack of intelligence or education, however, can delay the age of reason--or even prevent it from arriving altogether.  Believers who are clearly mentally deficient for some reason should be treated in the same manner as young children for largely the same reasons.

The distinction is between the educated and the uneducated is an important distinction when dealing with believers who have passed what should have been the age of reason.  In my own experience, a lack of educational opportunities (broadly defined) can delay this age.  By the time believers are in high school, however, they should be held somewhat responsible for their religious beliefs.  Those who are adults should be held completely responsible.  (As much as anyone can be held responsible.  It's a sad fact, that most people are simply adhering to what their parents taught them and thus are rarely completely responsible.)

If the believer is an adult with a basic level of education, then one must ascertain whether the person truly believes.  (Do not be fooled by education, however.  Our education and economic systems have inherent discriminatory aspects that tend to discourage or even force out non-believers.  Believers are over-represented amongst the ranks of the educated.)

Perhaps the most important distinction is between those who truly believe and those who only believe in belief.  I have mentioned this in passing in the past, but it is a point that bears emphasizing.  This is a categorization that a non-believer needs to make as quickly as possible when dealing with believers.

Believers can all be dangerous to us because we non-believers are the "other"--the members of the out-group who are seen as a threat and less than human.  True believers are especially dangerous to us, however, because of the extent to which they are lost in their delusion and the extent to which their views differ from ours.  Those factors will cause them to view us with a particularly jaundiced eye.  We will not only seem to be out of the group but far, far outside--and far more dangerous.

You may think that you don't mean them any harm and therefore they couldn't really see you as dangerous.  Or you may think that they will only think that way until they get to know you and realize you aren't a threat.  But, if you do think that way, then you really don't understand who you are dealing with and how they think.

You have to realize that they see your very existence as a threat.  Their belief system has taught them that this life is not important and that all that matters is the next life.  They think that it is very important to maintain their own belief and that of their children and other church members intact.  They implicitly understand that the perception of unanimity is crucial to achieving this goal (though they don't understand that this is an implicit admission that the belief is a delusion).  This type makes up the core of the theocratic movement.  They wish to impose a totalitarian tyranny over all of us.  Just read up on what life was like in John Calvin's Geneva for an example.

They will also be the type of people who believe in conformity for its own sake and will have a very strong authoritarian streak.  They will be the type who sees disobedience to authority as morally evil--more so than any other moral transgression.  And, you as a non-believer will be seen as completely guilty of this most serious (in their minds) moral sin.

If the believer is an adult with a basic education or better and still a true believer, then, in my opinion, the only possible explanations are a lack of intelligence or a lack of sanity.  This is an important distinction because those who believe because they can't think for themselves are not as dangerous as those who believe because their emotional needs are out of control.  They will both usually present the same threat to the non-believer (they will try to set the "mob" on you), but the ones who have invested their insanity in religion will be much quicker to take offense and will be much more implacable.  This is because, as I have mentioned, they are usually driven by some form of narcissistic personality disorder, which almost always includes psychopathic traits.

Adults who claim to be religious but who appear to only believe in belief, however, are almost never a threat.  In fact, there is often very little difference between them and closeted non-believers.  Except in one very special type of case:  manipulative psychopaths.

The manipulative psychopath is the most dangerous of all the categories.  As I mentioned before, such people may or may not actually believe.  The truth is that they don't care about the truth.  They care only about the usefulness of religion as a power base.  This type differs from the narcissistic believer because his church membership is not based on a pathological inability to admit he was ever wrong--even as a child--or an inability to admit he doesn't know the answer to an important question (where the universe came from).  It is based solely on a cold-blooded calculation that membership will help reach his or her goals.  It is this ambition that will make such types easier to identify.

It is very important to spot this type of person because he or she should be avoided like the plague and handled in a very superficial but pleasant manner when unavoidable.  Under no circumstances should you give such a person any information about yourself or your loved ones, once you have identified him or her.  To such a person, all information is simply a tool to be used for his or her own benefit--regardless of the effect on others.  In addition, they are not at all adverse to "altering" or even fabricating information about you in order to achieve their ends.  If you spot one of these types, run.

Because religion is just a means to an end for such types, they will usually not display a great deal of fervor--just enough to be accepted and respected in the congregation.  They may even say the types of "usefulness of belief" things that are the hallmarks of those who only believe in belief.  This makes them deceptive and dangerous to non-believers because you can mistake them for this usually harmless type of "almost" non-believer.

To sum up these points, believers can usually be categorized along certain axes:  How much do they really believe this nonsense?  How dangerous are they to you, the non-believer, and how much should you try to avoid bringing up the subject of religion or your non-belief in particular.  In addition, there are certain specific types that must be of particular concern to you as a non-believer, such as the manipulative psychopath and the narcissistic true believer.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Religion and Homosexuality III

A reader recently left a comment regarding an earlier post on religious attitudes toward homosexuality.  She pointed out that "choosing" to be homosexual doesn't make much sense given the level of animosity that homosexuals face in our society.  She makes a very valid point.

Many years ago I first heard this point made while watching an episode of the television show "60 Minutes".  I don't fully remember the storyline (I think it dealt with a case where a man was murdered for being gay), but I vividly remember the comment of one of the man's gay friends.  He said something like:  "Why would I choose to be this way?  Why would I choose to be hated and threatened?"

Although I never harbored the sort of homophobic prejudice that many people do, I was not, at that time, as accepting as I should have been.  The man's words, however, resonated with me.  I realized that he had spoken "Truth" with a capital "T".  His argument was virtually irrefutable.  No one would want to live like that.  If a person was truly able to choose, he would choose a life acceptable to the other members of society--one in which he wasn't hated, threatened and subject to discrimination.

In other words, a person would not only have to be less than completely heterosexual, he or she would have to be sufficiently compelled toward homosexual behavior that he or she was willing to risk extreme social disapproval--often risking even life or livelihood.  Homosexuality is not just a "bit of fun" in our society.

Homophobia ties in with several themes underlying religion.  It is part of the anal retentive complex inherent in religion, because it involves controlling one's private parts to please the authority figure.  It is part of religion's hostility toward pleasure.  Most important, however, it is part of religion's emphasis on conformity.

The maintenance of a herdlike mentality is important for religion--perhaps more important than anything else.  That requires strong disapproval of anyone who is different.  Homophobia is a symptom of religion's deep animosity toward individualism.  A tendency that should scare us all, because we are all unique individuals.

Previous related posts:

Religion and Homosexuality II
Religion and Homosexuality

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Are Atheists Deluded?

You will hear at times the allegation that atheists are "just as deluded" as anyone else--or some variation of that theme.  First and foremost, remember that this is usually a variation of the "atheism is just another religion" canard and is subject to the same refutations.  (See also this post.)  The best way to approach someone who makes this type of assertion is first to get him to explain what he means because he may not even realize the implications himself.

The speaker is probably motivated by one of two underlying assumptions.  The first is the idea that solipsism can be taken seriously and that atheism is necessarily an assertion of 100% certainty about the existence of god.  In that case, the person is almost certainly making the "atheism is just another religion" argument.  Read my posts on that, which are linked above.

The second is that human nature is such that we all delude ourselves more or less to the same extent and that religion is just one of those delusions.  (The second category may overlap the first because the person who makes that assertion may tell you that atheists replace religious delusion with the delusion that they are more rational than the religious, which probably means that he thinks atheism requires 100% certainty and that we are deluded for thinking we can ever have that.)

While I agree that atheists can be deluded, I do not agree that we can be just as deluded as the religious.  No matter what our foibles we have at least one great delusion less than the religious.  We do not believe that we have an invisible friend with magic powers who bends the rules for us and helps us smite our enemies and who will give us immortality.  Or, more generally, we do not believe that the existence of a celestial magician is a serious theory of cosmology.

For atheists to be "just as deluded as the religious", one or more of the following false statements would have to be true:

1. All delusions are the same: equally illogical, harmful and far reaching in their effect on the deluded and his actions.

This one is patently untrue.  Not all delusions are equal.  Some are more illogical than others, some are more harmful than others, and some are more far reaching in their implications than others.  Some, such as most religions, are all three.

2. Any person who manages to rid himself of a delusion will replace it immediately with another of equal quality.

Undoubtedly, atheists can have delusions, new and old.  For the most part, I have never heard of or noticed atheists immediately adopting a new grand delusion once they dropped the delusion of religion, except in those instances where atheism and communism were adopted as a package deal.

I consider communism, because of its false assumptions about human nature (i.e., that we are altruistic angels at heart, or can be taught to be such) to be similar to religion.  It is not, however, of the same order of magnitude as religion.  Religion also often makes false assumptions about human nature, along with many other, sometimes grander, false assumptions.

Sometimes people make the assertion that atheists are deluded because atheists think they are more decent and rational than the religious.

Almost everyone makes the assumption that he or she is good, thoughtful or rational. That assumption applies to the religious and atheists alike, so I see no reason to believe that atheists are in a class by themselves in this regard.  I am sure some atheists are a bit deluded on that point, but atheists as a group are trying to be rational and objective, even to the point of questioning themselves and not just others--which is a the best deterrent to delusional thinking.

This is diametrically opposed to the attitude of the religious, who usually see irrational thought as something to be embraced and attempts at rational, objective thinking as literally sinful. The fact that atheists are imperfect at their objectivity is simply a reflection of their imperfect nature as humans--an imperfection shared at least equally with the religious, not a justification for equating them with the avowedly delusional religious folk.

3. A person who is deluded about anything, even a small thing, is effected (in his thoughts and actions) in the same degree by his
delusion as all other deluded people, even those with multiple delusions or multifaceted delusions. (A person with x delusions, some
of which differ in quality from the others, is just as deluded as a person with x - 1 delusions, where the one delusion removed is
obviously the grandest of all those in the set "x".)

What this means is that one of the possible implicit assumptions that might cause you to make the ridiculous statement that "atheists are just as deluded as the religious" is that regardless of the number or quality of a person's delusions, being deluded in any respect renders one "fully deluded" such that the comparison you asserted could be made.  Specifically, an atheist's delusion that he is more rational than he actually is would render him "just as deluded" as someone who thinks he is immortal and that he has an invisible friend with magic powers who will bend the laws of the universe to favor him and punish his enemies.

A person who tries to be objective and rational will almost always be less deluded than one who makes no such attempt, so I don't think the comparison is valid as long as one is comparing individuals who are roughly comparable in terms of their overall cognitive abilities.  Even assuming that atheist are somewhat deluded as to their rationality, the idea that this is comparable to religious delusions is nearly as ridiculous as the notion that all delusions are equal. 

4. All thought is delusional and it is pointless to try to improve oneself and one's world view by trying to train one's mind to be objective.

Our imperfections of perception and cognition do not amount to delusions. We are using the best tool we have in the best way we can. Delusions occur when we cease trying to do that and embrace flights of fancy that are not based on perception.  If you meet a person who thinks that all thought is delusion and that we can't get past it to "true" reality, challenge him or her to go jump off a tall bridge or building to test the theory and get back to you with "proof".  After all, it's just a delusion.

Some assert that the irrational and violent part of our nature controls us.  I happen to agree with this to an extent, but not with those who take an absolute approach to it.  People are not all equal in this regard.  (I have never heard of a trait, especially a mental one, that all humans have in precisely the same degree.)  Are we all the same height?  It makes as much sense as insisting that we all have precisely the same level of intelligence or that we all have equally good reflexes.

There are numerous studies that show that some individuals have greater powers of rational thought than others and that some individuals have greater objective powers of observation and assessment.  (Oddly enough, I remember reading of one such study that found that depressed people were more likely to have an objectively accurate view of the world and their lives than people who weren't depressed.  In other words, ignorance--or delusion--really can be bliss in the short run.  In the long run, however, it can be a disaster.  See also this post and this post concerning the harm caused by religion.)  In fact, this is so well established that it is often an unspoken assumption in any study involving the cognitive abilities of a group of study subjects.

This last possible assumption of those who maintain that atheists are "just as deluded" grows, often directly, from the mistake made by those who take solipsism seriously, which I have previously discussed.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

An Excess of Virtue

Vices are sometimes only virtues carried to excess!--Charles Dickens

One of the many things that motivates the horrific mob behavior of the religious is a human tendency to compete with each other for status within our group.  Once the group decides that a certain behavior or attitude is a virtue, group members will start to compete with each other over who best exemplifies this attribute.

The religious are particularly prone to this behavior because of the extent to which they are motivated by conformity, egotism, and narcissism.  Religion is so intertwined with the egos of the religious that they will compulsively engage in this sort of competitiveness with regard to it and its precepts.  This "holier than thou" behavior will inevitably start to spiral out of control because their world view is based on the idea that they are followers of the ultimate being.  There is no outside influence that can temper this competition because all other influences are considered to be far less important.

The result is that, in their attempt to be the most virtuous, the religious continually outdo each other until they pass the point of diminishing returns for their virtuous behavior and then pass the point of any returns for their behavior and the behavior itself becomes more harmful than the evil the virtue was meant to remedy.

For example:  Gluttony is a sin?  Well, then don't be a glutton.  Everyone else is trying to deny themselves extra food, too?  So much so that you can't stand out from the crowd and show everyone how virtuous you are?  Well, then, obviously it is time to starve yourself until your emaciated frame proves to everyone who sees you that you are completely unconcerned with the needs of the flesh.  Your cadaverous appearance shows everyone that you care only for the next life.  Skip a few more meals and you'll get there!

Pleasure is wrong?  Celibacy isn't sufficient proof of the fact that you are more virtuous than everyone else?  Well, how about a little self-flagellation?  That ought to prove just how little you want pleasure.

These two examples illustrate this phenomenon very well because they seem to appear in almost every, if not every, religion with a large number of adherents.  Even religions that are as different from each other as Catholicism and Buddhism provide ample examples (no pun intended) of this type of behavior.

Why should anyone care if some zealots starve and flagellate themselves?  Because, unfortunately, people don't simply compete through individual performance.  They also compete by trying to tear the competition down, sometimes using methods that are unethical, unkind, and unfair.

Combining that tendency with the fact that many of these "sins" that the religious seek to avoid are simply side effects of being human (such as a desire for plenty to eat and a satisfying sexual relationship) can have some rather nasty and unfair results.  So nasty and unfair that they outweigh any harm caused by the "sin" that the "competition" is accused of.  People can lose their reputations, their jobs, their families and even their lives when this sort of competition rears its ugly head.

When I wrote that churches are simply "standing lynch mobs", I wasn't speaking entirely metaphorically.  They are often ready not only to pounce on the alleged enemy of one of their members, they will quite readily pounce on one of their own.  One might be tempted to think that this is some sort of  twisted practice, but in reality it is the nature of the system religion creates.  That system is one of sometimes vicious competition to be "holier than thou" in a "moral" system that declares virtually everyone to be immoral simply because they are human and which makes more than frequent use of the natural moral instinct to punish the wicked.

Every church member is the church's potential next mobbing victim because they are all guilty simply for being human.  So, how is the victim chosen?  Well, the same way mobbing victims have always been chosen:  by being unpopular with the wrong people.

Friday, April 1, 2011

The Threat of Theocracy II

Below is a video showing recent and future presidential candidate Mike Huckabee stating that Americans should be forced to listen to David Barton's insane revised history lessons--at gunpoint if necessary.  Please send a link to this video to every sane, intelligent person you know--and maybe even some who aren't so sane.  This man could be President some day soon.

He has made of habit of expressing notions that can only be seen as threatening to impose theocracy on the U.S.  This one is just the latest, and maybe the greatest.

The threat is real, folks.  I don't know why so many people, even non-believers, can't see it.  Anyone and everyone who believes in freedom, democracy, and the republican form of government needs to become aware of this and vow to defeat this movement and all it's candidates--many of whom operate in stealth mode, especially during the general election.  Fortunately, however, they can't get the nomination of the Republican Party unless they say crazy things like this during the Republican primaries.