Monday, May 30, 2011

Dealing with the Nosy

People who are non-believers who happen to live in the more religious parts of the world have a serious problem.  Being part of a small and reviled minority, they must continually hide who they are.  This can be very difficult because the religious are often very nosy and gossipy.  In fact, those traits are an inherent part of the same narcissistic, social climbing personality that causes them to be religious.

Often these very same people will occupy positions in the non-believer's life such that he or she must maintain a good relationship.  The more nosy, gossipy, and narcissistic they are, the more likely this is to be true because such people in religious cultures tend to be the ones who end up in positions of power and influence.  Religion is just one of the political games they play to get into such positions and stay there.

The nosy ones are usually also the intolerant ones--no surprise there.  Many atheists have an honest streak, which is why they became atheists.  Turning off that honesty in the face of the intolerant is often a good idea purely for purposes of self-preservation.  Unfortunately, many of us rebel at the thought.  We feel like this is knuckling under to implicit bullying.  We understand that if we are not free to tell the truth about what we believe, then we are not free to believe it.  This bullying, we know, is a violation of our most basic human right.

Nevertheless, we have to deal with the real world.  Standing up for ourselves often means facing an unrelenting attack.  Unless we are prepared to lay the groundwork for a lawsuit and then follow through for years and perhaps have to move away even if we do win, then other strategies must be employed.

One of the best tactics is to pay enough attention to the conversation and circumstances to predict when the subject of religion might be about to come up, then either end the conversation or guide it away from the subject.  This can be difficult to do, however, especially in parts of the world where religion is a frequent topic.  If you can, have a ready list of topics that are bound to take the conversation off track, such as local college sports, or whatever else the person or persons you must deal with find eternally fascinating.

If you are not able to derail the conversation completely, then perhaps asking questions about the membership, politics, or gossip of the person's church might do.

If it comes down to it and you are asked point blank what your religion is, don't say atheist.  A person who would be so impolite as to ask directly is almost certainly a gossip and intolerant.  The best way to respond in such situations is to be evasive.

"I don't really feel comfortable with any of the organized religions."

"My body is my temple and I worship in my own way."

Just make sure that your evasive gambit implies that you believe in "something".  Don't simply say that you aren't religious; say or imply that you aren't very religious--at least not in the usual way.

If all else fails, lie.  Chances are that you will find this course of action repugnant for the same reason that you found the dishonesty inherent in religion repugnant.  Perhaps a better way to think of it is to see it as setting up the enemy through disinformation.  In order to get to this mindset, however, one must realize and accept the fact that such people are at war with us--and with truth.  You, unfortunately, have been forced into the role of spy behind enemy lines.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Christopher Hitchens on the Moral Insanity of Religion

 Here is a truly wonderful video that takes Christopher Hitchens' opening comments at a debate on the morality of religion and sets them to images. The video is posted on YouTube in two parts.  First, part one:

Then, part two:

Religion and Racism

Here is a link to a video of students in a biology class in Dayton, Tennessee, discussing why they think evolution is not true.  At the end of the clip, we hear from one young man who unknowingly reveals one of the reasons evolution is unacceptable to so many of the very religious.  He says that blacks couldn't have evolved from whites because they have different color skin.

(In my post Evidence of the Purpose of School Prayer, I included a video of students in Giles County, Virginia, protesting the removal of the Ten Commandments from the walls of their school.  This video and the one from Dayton, Tennessee, give a very good idea of what life is like for non-believers in the U.S. "bible belt".)

Not only does the young man's comment reveal an incredible lack of knowledge about evolution and the biological and genetic relationship between the so-called races, it reveals that for many the implications of evolution regarding racial matters are unacceptable.  That is to say, the implication that whites and blacks are members of the same group is not something they are willing to accept.

These racist believers find it unacceptable to the point of being unbelievable that blacks and whites are related.  They don't want to believe that blacks and whites evolved as part of the same race.  That would mean that they all have black relatives and perhaps even black ancestors--however distant.  They would much rather believe that god put the two groups here separately.  They would much rather believe that they were divinely ordained as separate and, of course, superior.

Although the rejection of evolution by so many religious people seems to be based more on an egotistical unwillingness to admit their holy writings are inaccurate (and a deliberate, willful ignorance of evolution) than on racism, the racial implications assuredly play a role.

Racism is the siamese twin of religion:  Born of the same source, nearly identical, in part inextricably intertwined, yet still distinct.  Religion and racism are both methods of defining one's identity in terms of group membership:  Are you white or are you black?  Are you protestant or are you catholic?  And, unfortunately, they are both also ways of defining others, which seems to always lead to seeing them as less and less entitled to equal and fair treatment.

One could even argue that this is the whole point of both ways of thinking.  That religion and racism are both merely rationalizations of the innate desire to treat those more closely related to you better than you treat those not of your group.  To free the predatory primitive brain from the constraints of the civilized cerebral cortex.

Not coincidentally, both seem to serve the function of bolstering the egos of those who believe in them.  They both allow believers to feel superior to large swaths of humanity without examining any further evidence regarding the individuals in other groups.

Consequently, this comparison is best used when someone argues that religion shouldn't be criticized because it makes so many people feel better about themselves or their lives. 

"The same justification could be used to support racism:  it lets people feel better about themselves by letting them believe they are members of the 'master race'."

In fact, in many cases, it is clear that this is exactly what attracts people to religion.  Especially so in the case of the more exclusive religions, such as the Jehovah's Witnesses who believe that only 144,000 people out of all that have ever lived will make it into heaven.  To make it, one must be one of the religious elite, which, of course, they all think they are.

Likewise with the Mormons who believe that they will each be demi-gods of a sort after death with their own world to rule over populated by members of their family and by those non-believers that they prayed for while still alive.  (That is, the Mormon was still alive.  The non-believer being prayed for and "saved" need not be still alive at the time he is "saved".  This is why the Mormons have built up such a huge database of names that genealogists go to their churches to do research.  The Mormons use these names to accept "salvation" on behalf of the deceased person, who will then end up a subordinate "subject" on the particular Mormon's eventual heavenly planet.)

Likewise with Calvinists, who believe god has already "chosen" his select few and that they will be visited with fortune and favor in this life and the next.

When someone is using the "religion lets people feel better" argument, you can also point out that it can be used to justify almost anything.  First, generalize it for them:

"You are saying, I believe, that religion isn't bad because it meets the emotional needs of some people."

Then tell them to step back and examine that argument and its precepts. 

Then you can point out that this is true of all delusions and is also true of racism.  Make it clear to them that their argument justifies racism and ask them if they really want to rely on such an argument.  Then make it clear that Incorporating false beliefs into one's logic is very harmful.  See also, this post.  Whatever internal emotional comfort the believer gets from these beliefs is outweighed, greatly in most cases, by the harm to themselves and others.

One will also occasionally hear justifications for religion based on the role it played in history.  The response can be the same:  It played a role similar to racism--it helped unify societies and served as a pretext for their imperialistic actions.  In fact, the two were usually inextricably intertwined in the definition of the identity of any group throughout history.

Even today, one sees examples of the confusion brought about by this intertwining on numerous occasions, especially when someone expresses vociferous criticism of Islam in Western countries.  On such occasions, there will almost always be someone who will speak up to accuse the person criticizing Islam of "racism" even though Islam is not a race but a religion.

One also sees this link between religion and racism in virtually every church in the U.S. every Sunday morning.  Sunday morning between 11:00 and 12:00 has been called the most segregated hour in America.  In the same town, churches with nearly identical beliefs will hold separate services in which the congregations will be either all white or all black.

Racism and religion are both the province of those whose training or intellect are not sufficient for them to feel like independent individuals.  For those who know they are still part of the herd--without any real separate identity.  Religion or racism or both defines the herd for them and increases their feelings of group identity. 

This study compared the data from numerous past studies and found that there is a correlation between devoutness and racism.  Those who were religious because they valued tradition and conformity were especially racist.  Only agnostics were found to be racially tolerant.  There was no data on atheists.  Here is a link to the original publication. 

Both religious and racial intolerance have undergone a transformation in the Western world during the last few centuries.  Three hundred years ago it was still considered acceptable to enslave people of other races.  Likewise, it was still acceptable to burn non-believers at the stake.  These extreme expressions of intolerance are no longer permitted.  This is another parallel between religion and racism:  The intolerance can no longer be expressed openly in polite society.  It has been driven underground and can now only be expressed in "code", just like racism.

Make no mistake, however, that primitive, animalistic part of of human nature has not gone away.  It is merely under control because human society currently demands a higher level of civilized behavior.  Should conditions change, it will manifest itself again.  In fact, as political and economic conditions have been changing in the U.S., one is able to see glimpses of the monster surging against the bars holding it in.

Tolerant of the Intolerant III

Religion depends on, insists on, and enjoys a double standard.  The religious can condemn everyone else in the strongest terms imaginable (immoral, evil, etc.), but religion survives only by enforcing a "rule" that it is not subject to ANY criticism.  In short, the religious maintain their right to be intolerant of us non-believers by being intolerant of freedom of speech as well.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Show a Little Respect

"Respect".  It is something one often hears the religious asking for and accusing us non-believers of not showing.  The trouble is that they don't know the difference between respect and fear.  As I and others have mentioned before, this demand for "respect" is just another euphemism for "shut up".  (See also, my school prayer post and those that followed.)  When you hear it, one possible reply is:

"You don't want respect.  What you want is fear.  If you wanted respect, you would show respect.  But, you don't.  What you show are bigotry, bullying and intimidation."

Monday, May 16, 2011

Religion Is Totalitarian Tyranny

Dictatorial governments are often divided into two basic categories:  Authoritarian and Totalitarian.  The difference between the two types is the level of intrusion into the lives of their citizens.

Authoritarian regimes are, as one might suspect from the name, ruled completely by the people in authority.  There is no true rule of law in such countries, just the naked exercise of power.  What happens to citizens is completely controlled by those in authority.  Citizens don't really have legal rights.

The government may go through the motions of "enacting" laws and paying lip service to the notion of legal rights for citizens but in practice those rights will not be honored unless the authorities decide to do so for their own purposes. 

The difference between authoritarian countries and totalitarian countries is that totalitarian governments try to have total control over their people.  Totalitarian regimes allow no institutions or individuals to have freedom from government oversight.  In such places, the government tries to prescribe every aspect of society down to the thoughts in the heads of its citizens.  Generally, authoritarian regimes are based on power alone while totalitarian regimes will have an official ideology and a charismatic leader who seems more than human.

During the Cold War many of America's right-wing cold warriors distinguished between totalitarian regimes and those that they called "authoritarian".   Somehow it was permissible to be allied with authoritarian regimes in order to fight the totalitarian regimes.  The trouble with this thinking is that usually the authoritarian regimes could be just as totalitarian as any other from the viewpoint of the individual citizen.  This was not immediately obvious because the functions of "total intrusion", official ideology,  and charismatic, more than human leader were usually handled by the regime's close ally, the church.

In countries without separation of church and state, government and the dominant religion are usually so intertwined that it is difficult to tell where one ends and the other begins.  Unfortunately, when push comes to shove, it becomes clear that it is the dominant religion that is actually calling the shots, as the histories of Spain, Chile, and Argentina prove.

This unfortunate reality merely supports the point I wish to make here.  In countries where there is not even a pretense of separation between church and state, theocracies, one sees regimes that clearly meet the definition of totalitarianism.

Any organization that wants to dictate to others what and how to think is totalitarian.  The human ability to think for ourselves is our greatest gift from nature.  Anything that prevents us from using that gift in a clear and straightforward search for the truth is a danger to us all.  The threat it presents is so grave, particularly at this juncture in our history when we have the power to destroy ourselves, that it cannot simply be ignored--swept under the carpet because it is old and many find it comfortable.  I can only call such a thing that threatens all that I value evil.

Monday, May 9, 2011

More Truth

A couple of days ago I posted a short piece on the importance of truth and how valuing truth defines most atheists--and how rejection of it defines most religious people.  Today I want to add a bit more on that topic.  Specifically, I would like to refer anyone who reads this to an excellent blog post by P.Z. Myers on the subject.  Here is a quotation from his post that sums up the feelings of many atheists on this point:

"I do not lie to myself, and other people lying to me under the delusion that it will make me happier I find unconscionable.
Seriously, it's worse than that. I despise people who try to swaddle truth with lies in the name of consolation. It kills ambition, the striving to make the world better in the future, and it can allow evil to lurk unchecked. Those child-raping priests persisted because people lied to themselves, telling themselves that no man of god could do something so heinous…and even when finally exposed and removed, they continued to live in denial, reassuring each other that the institution that protected those vipers really was a force for good, overall."

Greta Christina has also written a wonderful post on this topic in which she focuses on believers who admit that they don't care if their beliefs are true or not.  In my experience, such people are rare.  Usually believers will claim to care and insist that their beliefs are true.  They reveal their true (ha!) feelings, however, by the way in which they defend the "truth" of their beliefs.  They lie and deceive, they apply obviously biased standards, and they bully.

This is one point that believers simply can't seem to get their heads around:  For atheists, the issue isn't what we want to believe in order to feel better about something; the issue is the honest search for objective truth.

Saturday, May 7, 2011


In their seminal work "Atheists: A Groundbreaking Study of America's Non-believers" Bruce E. Hunsberger and Bob Altemeyer mentioned a smaller study they had done of those they called "amazing apostates" who had left the religious training they had received as children.  They found that those who had been raised in religious environments but who later became non-believers did so because, among other factors, they possessed a strong streak of honesty.  Finding and embracing the truth was, for them, more important than maintaining the pleasant fantasy of never having been wrong or maintaining the group and family ties inherent in religion.

Personally, I think this insight goes a long way toward explaining both religion and atheism.  For atheists, truth is the highest value; while for the religious felling good about oneself (and protecting your "reputation") is more important.  This is why one often hears the religious refer to their belief as "higher truth" (by which they mean something that, strictly speaking, isn't true).  Evidence for this distinction abounds--and is not simply found in the "higher truth" subterfuge used by the religious ("higher truth" is, of course, one of those things the religious say that is tantamount to an admission that the whole thing is a delusion).

An extreme example of this adherence to the search for truth can be found in the case of Giordano Bruno, who literally preferred being burned at the stake than to being forced to speak falsehood:

“Truth does not change because it is, or is not, believed by a majority of the people...
[you] dispute not in order to find or even seek Truth, but for victory...
you appear to me but as parrots in a cage, while I watch you dancing, turning, and hopping...
Perchance, you who pronounce my sentence are in greater fear than I who receive it..”
-- Giordano Bruno (just before being burned at the stake for the crime of being "Atheist")
“Then, he slowly turned his head away from the offered crucifix, and died in silence..” 
-- Santillana (Witness to Bruno's burning.)

Rarely have I seen or heard a more accurate description of the nature of the religious mind:  "[You] dispute not in order to find or even seek Truth, but for victory..."  What matters most to such people is winning--at any cost.  What matters most to such people is power.  This is also a hallmark of the mind of a narcissistic psychopath.  (See also this post and this one.)  Such people really don't care whether they are right or wrong; they only care about winning.

I find that this difference between the believer and the non-believer is something that believers not only cannot grasp but cannot even see.  The following quotation is an excerpt from article concerning Pat Tillman's death and its aftermath that repeats the comments of Lt. Col. Ralph Kauzlarich, one of the military investigators assigned to the case:

In an interview with, Kauzlarich said: "When you die, I mean, there is supposedly a better life, right? Well, if you are an atheist and you don't believe in anything, if you die, what is there to go to? Nothing. You are worm dirt. So for their son to die for nothing, and now he is no more — that is pretty hard to get your head around that. So I don't know how an atheist thinks. I can only imagine that that would be pretty tough."
Asked by whether the Tillmans' religious beliefs are a factor in the ongoing investigation, Kauzlarich said, "I think so. There is not a whole lot of trust in the system or faith in the system [by the Tillmans]. So that is my personal opinion, knowing what I know."

There are many things buried in Kauzlarich's words that cry out for examination and comment, but for now I would only like to point out how perplexed he is that people would be so upset about the fact that lies were told about their son, brother and husband.  After all, the lies were so laudatory and cast him in a very favorable light.  He literally can't understand why they are so upset.

It is obvious, however, that they are upset because what was said was a lie, even if a pleasant one.  They, like most atheists, understand that lies are evil and that they usually exist (especially pleasant ones) to cover up evil.  They also understand that the function of government is to do what is right and just even when it is not pleasant.  It is only a small step from telling lies to cover up a friendly fire incident in order to protect the reputation of the Army to telling lies to cover up crimes to protect the reputation of the Army.  (In fact, I think that is what actually happened here.  I will post more on what happened to Pat Tillman later.)

Unfortunately, there have been many cases in the news lately where this "cover it up to protect the institution" mentality has been demonstrated--and demonstrated to be largely a sign of a religious mindset, and a narcissistic one.  I am referring, obviously, to the many cases of child molestation that occur in churches and which are then covered up even if doing so results in the further victimization of the victim.  The religious are more worried about the reputation of their church than they are about the well-being of their own children.  If that isn't a form of pathological narcissism, then I don't know what is.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Without Objective Standards, Anything is Permissible II

As I wrote before, without objective standards, anything is permitted and, worse, it might even be required.

Believers continually harp on the notion that belief in god is necessary for morality, yet their actions and their statements continually prove otherwise.  In fact, they prove the opposite.  Belief in god leads to the ultimate perversion of morality.  That is, often, the point of belief apparently.

Recently, the atheist blogosphere has been abuzz over one religious apologist's attempt to justify immorality in the name of religion.  His justification, however, merely serves to prove my point and, more important, to prove the point that religion is inevitably a source of immorality--inevitably evil. 

William Lane Craig, a well known, "educated", evangelical, religious apologist recently wrote in his blog that genocide and infanticide, such as is described in the Bible, is moral when done in god's name.  His explanation was that if any innocent people were killed, then god would make sure they went to heaven.  If bad people were killed, well, they deserved it.

This is yet another one of those cases where believers say things that are simply breathtaking in their insanity, both moral and otherwise.  This sort of insanity is so breathtaking that one hardly knows where to begin rebutting it--other than first trying to pick one's jaw up off the floor.

First, why were the "bad" people considered bad?  Because of their idolatry and sin, apparently.  What does that mean?  Well, the use of the word "idolatry" tells us that they had a religion that differed from that of the Israelites.  So first and foremost, we learn that killing those with the "wrong" religion is morally justified in and of itself--at least according to Mr. Craig.

Presumably, they were following that religion and were sinning by their standards no more often than other groups.  But, because their religion was different, their actions were therefore sinful more often when judged by the standards of the Israelites--or so we are told.  We really don't know.

If they were truly "wicked", then one wonders how they held their society together and why they are not infamous for their behavior--outside of those who rely on the bible for information.

It could be that the Israelites simply exaggerated the actions of the Canaanites--or just plain lied--in order to make their own abominable actions seem justified.  That sort of thing has been known to happen from time to time.  In fact, the whole thing sounds eerily familiar to what happened to the descendants of the Israelites just last century.

Also, as I pointed out before, competing religions almost necessarily think each other's members are sinful.  How could they not be?  They are not following the orders of the true god, true church, etc.  So, we have yet another reason to think that killing those of the wrong religion is moral without further justification.

Second, if killing innocents is moral because god will take care of their "souls", then it seems like killing in general is morally permissible.  Even abortion, which Mr. Craig vehemently opposes, is permissible because god will make sure that the innocent "souls" of the fetuses go to heaven.

Mr. Craig, I am sure, would argue that such killing is permissible only when god "orders" it.  That leaves us, however, with the not inconsiderable problem of determining just when god ordered it.  The religious usually decide whether or not claims regarding what god wants are true by using their usual very biased test:  "What do I want to believe?"

The rest of us are left to wonder if this is not a delusion on the part of the killers and a manipulative trick played by their leaders.  As others have said, getting good people to do bad things requires religion.  I suspect that in his blog post Mr. Craig unwittingly explained how this works.

It also leaves us to wonder why god would take some innocent souls to heaven but, apparently, not others.  This seems quite unjust and capricious.  In either case, the innocent soul is the innocent victim of others.  Why should one suffer a horrible fate simply because his killer wasn't following orders from god?  The only purpose being served seems to be the easing of the conscience of the killer by letting him delude himself into believing he didn't really end the existence of his victim but merely sent him on to paradise.

Thus, again, Mr. Craig's defense of the indefensible proves my points about "religious morality":  First, that it is simply the Nuremburg defense writ large, and second, that is simply a delusional salve for the conscience of the guilty.