Religion does no good to society

Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich

Napoleon Bonaparte

Hold on to your horses before you attack me. I know you are likely to charge me with sweeping with a large brush and ask maybe that I retract or use a smaller brush or maybe change the undertones in the pigment to somewhat light grey, but I will not.

Religion, as I understand it, is the belief in the supernatural. Before we continue, I contend that Buddhism stripped of its supernatural associations is not a religion in the real sense of the word. Many people use religion to mean many things. Some have gone so far to say doing good is their religion. I will only say in passing that has nothing to do with religion per se.

You may ask me now what about missionary schools, hospitals and charities run by the religious and I will tell you they have nothing to do with religion. On the other hand, for religion to continue to hold its sway among people, it had to, over time, associate itself with those things that we value and are important to us.

It is for the above reason that religion associated itself with morality. Our ancestors having created gods have them issue forth moral edicts in the hope they would be obeyed if they came from a god. It is no wonder, while reading the Hebrew fairy tale, anyone who goes a-killing has support of god.

Next, it may be argued that religious people have been at the forefront in the struggle for reformation and justice. And I will say yes but further add that Calvin was tolerant as long as you agreed with him. Servetus who didn’t agree with him ended up at the stake. The same is to be said of Martin Luther and so many other of the reformation leaders. As men they were intolerant of dissent and as religious people, they had support of their gods to treat others with disdain and even burn them.

This is my sketch, Christopher Hitchens wrote a whole book I think on the same. I haven’t read his book. Maybe I should go off and read it now.

Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false and by the rulers as useful.

Lucius Seneca

Chronicles of YHWH 39: Drunk Noah

Drunk Noah

 

The story goes that after the great flood, Noah made wine from his vineyard, got drunk from it, and shed all his clothes. He then run around and danced naked. YHWH spotted him, and got pissed off:

 

YHWH (In a thundering voice): NOAH! Wear some clothes, you idiot!

Noah (Running away, stark naked): No! I will not!

YHWH (Running after Noah): Come on, Noah. Out of the entire human race, I chose you as the most sane, and spared your life. Behave like a sane person.

Noah: I don’t wanna!

YHWH: I’ll curse you and your descendants to the 25th generation if you don’t wear some clothes right now, Noah!

Noah (Prancing around): Ha ha! The curses will wash off my naked, sweaty body!

YHWH: I regret saving you from the flood, Noah. I should have chosen a different family!

Noah (Rolling in a muddy puddle): Come, let’s roll in this mud together! I feel like a filthy swine right now, and I like it!

YHWH: You are such a filthy person, Noah.

Noah (Clapping muddy hands together): Yes! Yes! I am! Most filthy!

YHWH: Please wear your clothes. Your sons will see your shame if you don’t, Noah.

Noah (Jumping up and down): My shame is completely shameless! Look at it, dancing around as I jump! Dance, my gorgeous shame, Dance!

 

N/B: For access to all anecdotes in this series, check out List of all “Chronicles of YHWH” notes.

On the importance of miracles to the Christian faith

However skillfully the modern ingenuity of semi-belief may have tampered with supernatural interpositions, it is clear to every honest and unsophisticated mind that, if miracles be incredible, christianity is false. If Christ wrought no miracles, then the gospels are untrustworthy… If the resurrection be merely a spiritual idea, or a mythicized hallucination, then our religion has been founded on an error.
Dr. Farrar

On freewill and god

man is his own work before all knowledge and knowledge is merely added to it to enlighten it. Therefore he cannot resolve to be this or that, nor can he become other than he is; but he is once for all, and he knows in the course of experience what he is.

Arthur Schopenhauer

In my last post on freewill, I did point out that the biggest problem lies in misunderstanding especially by the freewillers on what they mean. I can confidently say most of those who argue for freewill don’t know what they are talking about. They regurgitate what others have said and go on from one absurdity to the next and that I contend is what James does in god’s sovereignty and freewill.

He starts by creating a false dilemma. He writes

If we surrender free will, life becomes bleak and hopeless. If God possesses exclusive control over our destinies, why should we do anything? What difference does anything make if life is all mapped out? If we surrender divine sovereignty, life loses transcendent meaning and purpose. We exist and then we die.

which I contend is not the case. That our actions are determined wouldn’t stop us from acting. Why shouldn’t we not act? In fact, the trouble arises if the theist proposes a god with plans for us. Why should we do anything while god has a plan? What if we go against his perfect and holy plan?

It is in describing the nature of will that James goes of the rails completely. He writes

The will expresses our heart’s desire. Whatever we want most, we do. The will surveys the motives in the heart and always, always acts upon them.

and a causal reading of the statement implies that we are separate from the will. I must wonder whether the will takes long walks and only returns when we want to act to do a survey and present its results?

He makes an erroneous conclusion from an analogy he presents about being forced to empty your wallet to a mugger. He writes

[..]The thief tells you that if you don’t empty your entire account and give it to him, he will take your life. You really want your money—and you still want that TV—but you decide to give it all to him so you can live.

and then concludes thus

In that instance, were you prevented from exercising free will? Not at all. You simply did what you desired most. Being an ever-so-smart person, you desired to live more than you wanted a full bank account or a new TV. Whatever you desire most, your will acts on.

which isn’t evidence for freewill but for determinism in the sense that all our actions are caused. In this case, the cause is easily identifiable as a thief. In other instances the causes are not so obvious.

In the next instance, he is equivocating. We would say a country is free if it is not under siege or a person is free if they aren’t slaves and this is appropriate in sociology. But when it comes to human action, to want to apply the same meaning for freedom is misleading and erroneous.

And how he doesn’t see it as a contradiction when he on the one hand writes

Apart from gracious divine intervention, we simply don’t make God the north star of our life.

and shortly after blame us for not being divine. It is either we can do it on our own or we depend on god’s graces but not both.

And as a final note to my good friend Barry; as we pointed out with Jeff, the Christian apologist doesn’t argue for any other god but his own. James writes

Jesus is the only person who did this perfectly. His heart was pure. He chose to follow the Father’s will, even when it meant suffering and death. He did it for us—for stubborn, short-sighted people who insist on their own way.

a position that a Muslim wouldn’t accept, a Buddhist may not accept, a Jansenist will find ridiculous and I am guessing you are likely to reject.

And I agree with Messlier, quoted below, that if a god were to exist, even it would not have freewill.

The world is a necessary agent; all the beings which compose it are united to each other, and can not do otherwise than they do, so long as they are moved by the same causes and possessed of the same qualities. If they lose these qualities, they will act necessarily in a different way. God Himself (admitting His existence a moment) can not be regarded as a free agent; if there existed a God, His manner of acting would necessarily be determined by the qualities inherent in His nature; nothing would be able to alter or to oppose His wishes. This considered, neither our actions nor our prayers nor our sacrifices could suspend or change His invariable progress and His immutable designs, from which we are compelled to conclude that all religion would be entirely useless.

Jean Messlier

 

On natural theology

Philalethes. That is certainly the strong point of religion. If it is a fraud, it is a pious fraud; that is undeniable. But this makes priests something between deceivers and teachers of morality; they daren’t teach the real truth, as you have quite rightly explained, even if they knew it, which is not the case. A true philosophy, then, can always exist, but not a true religion; true, I mean, in the proper understanding of the word, not merely in that flowery or allegorical sense which you have described; a sense in which all religions would be true, only in various degrees. It is quite in keeping with the inextricable mixture of weal and woe, honesty and deceit, good and evil, nobility and baseness, which is the average characteristic of the world everywhere, that the most important, the most lofty, the most sacred truths can make their appearance only in combination with a lie, can even borrow strength from a lie as from something that works more powerfully on mankind; and, as revelation, must be ushered in by a lie. This might, indeed, be regarded as the cachet of the moral world. However, we won’t give up the hope that mankind will eventually reach a point of maturity and education at which it can on the one side produce, and on the other receive, the true philosophy. Simplex sigillum veri: the naked truth must be so simple and intelligible that it can be imparted to all in its true form, without any admixture of myth and fable, without disguising it in the form of religion.

Demopheles. You’ve no notion how stupid most people are.  [ emphasis by me]

Arthur Schopenhauer

John asked in the open thread one of the challenging questions. The silliness of natural religion. To talk about natural religion, I will have to tell you what it is  and while at it tell you also about its associate revealed theology.

Natural theology  is the program for inquiring by the light of natural reason alone into whatever truths of natural reason human beings might be able to find about God.

Revealed theology on the other hand is the program for inquiring by the light of faith into what one believes by faith to be truths beyond reason that are revealed by God, that is, based on scripture.

Now that you know what we are talking about, in answer to John’s question, I would say simply that natural theology/ religion developed later as a means to give belief in god some rational or intellectual basis. It should be noted that natural theology predates the Abrahamic religions and whereas there have been theologians and pseudo philosophers who have tried to justify their belief in god, it is not possible, without a leap of faith to come from the god of philosophy to the god of scripture.

The first people who conceived of a god, I contend did not arrive at their god through dialectics. Our ancestors were practical people and whether the belief in god arose out of fear, dreams or animism or tribal leaders being deified, the thesis is not affected in any bit. They conceived of their gods for their utility.

They had gods for rain, good health, death and what not. It was what these gods would do.

And if I digress a bit, even the god of the Jews, Yahweh is conceived for its utility, a god of war, a conquering god. It is the utility of gods that primitive man was concerned with and not with dialectics. Dialectics arose because human beings could no longer, with the development of knowledge, continue to believe in such gods of revelation.

Arguments such as the Ontological argument, teleological argument or even Aristotle’s theory of motion  can all be shown to be invalid. That at the very least they do not bring us any closer to knowing why god is necessary, what god is not it’s nature and that the gods they argue for cannot in any rational way be reconciled by god of scripture which it is their function to show exists or that it is reasonable for intelligent people to believe in.

For those interested in reading more on natural religion, Hume wrote a dialogue with the same title and which I wrote a review sometime back.

Divine command theory

James has written a comment on his blog to clear any questions I might have with DCT.  Unfortunately, I find his attempt unsuccessful and if you can bear with me, I will explain in a minute. In order that he doesn’t claim I have misrepresented him, I will use his definition of DCT and work from there.

He writes

The Divine Command Theory (DCT) essentially teaches that a thing (i.e., action, behavior, choice, etc.) is good because God commands it to be done or evil because God forbids it from being done. Thus, to say that it is good to love our neighbors is semantically equivalent to saying God commands us to love our neighbors. Similarly, it is evil to commit murder because God forbids murder.

My contention is that man doesn’t conceive his god as good or bad. The god idea, originating from our primitive past and from people mainly practical isn’t conceived as good or bad. The primitive person has her/ his god answering to a particular purpose. Either it is the community preserver, avenger among others but never as a good or bad god. The idea that god is good is, I contend, a recent idea. I think it is a christian idea.

The god of the Jews, the one we find in the old testament is not anything close to good but is practical. If the Israelites want to grab land, they have him support it with Thus says the lord.. when Joshua wants to justify rapine, he has his god endorse it. When Abraham wanted to sacrifice his son, he had his god command it. There is nowhere in this instances god being conceived as a moral agent.

It seems to James is ignoring the very basis of morality, human association. To keep insisting god this or that doesn’t bring us any closer to resolving how it is we should act. Our only guide is reason and not revelation.

The rest of his post is what I can only describe as balderdash, an attempt to make sense of the absurd. And if there is any difference between TB’s position and James, it is one of degree not of kind. They both believe, god is good. God commands good. They both have no way of showing what god has commanded isn’t good. TB is consistent and honest.

Where are the honest atheists?

Atheism is more than just the knowledge that gods do not exist, and that religion is either a mistake or a fraud. Atheism is an attitude, a frame of mind that looks at the world objectively, fearlessly, always trying to understand all things as a part of nature. Emmett F. Fields

They are everywhere.

I am not able to tell if Damon Linker is religious or not. Not that this is important to my thesis, but one gets tired with writers who think there is a right way to be atheistic. They behave as if they have a divine right in telling us how to live our godless lives. At such times I say stick it up.

Having said that, Linker writes, in part

It’s quite another to claim, as these authors also invariably do, that godlessness is not only true but also unambiguously good for human beings. It quite obviously is not

and I will gladly tell him that a thing isn’t obvious doesn’t make it wrong. The world has progressed simply because some men and women have dared to be different, to challenge what was believed as true. It is not to be construed as a weakness that the majority have not found atheism as true. It is to be blamed on their education and state of mind.

I disagree when he writes

If atheism is true, it is far from being good news. Learning that we’re alone in the universe, that no one hears or answers our prayers, that humanity is entirely the product of random events, that we have no more intrinsic dignity than non-human and even non-animate clumps of matter, that we face certain annihilation in death, that our sufferings are ultimately pointless, that our lives and loves do not at all matter in a larger sense, that those who commit horrific evils and elude human punishment get away with their crimes scot free — all of this (and much more) is utterly tragic.

on the contrary it isn’t tragic if atheism is true because it is only on the recognition that we are alone that men and women will work towards building healthier societies here. It has to be borne in mind that not many people have the capacity or the wherewithal to commit horrific evils, whatever this maybe. Sad as it may seem, such people don’t last long and they are not many. And what does Linker mean when he says random events? Isn’t this another way of saying events he is ignorant of? And why is Linker involved in this ego trip? Why should our lives matter in a larger sense? Is it not enough that it matters to us?

And I find it ridiculous that he mentions Nietzsche and goes ahead to say he is the rank and file of the few honest atheists. But Nietzsche the sham smasher held that we should kill gods so humanity could prosper. That the love of gods and by extension faith is the antithesis in the search of truth and in all cases is opposed to progress. Belief in gods require that man surrenders everything to god. To tell us the death of god presents a bleak picture for humanity is not to have read Nietzsche and to undervalue human initiative.

That some atheists are nostalgic about the glory of god doesn’t in any way make god belief true. All we can deduce from it is they wish for a god to be, not that a god is or even that a god is necessary.

When Linker writes

To reject religion does not merely entail facing our finitude without comforting illusions. It also involves the denial of something noble. It is perfectly fitting, Larkin seems to say, for an atheist to lament his lack of belief in a God who bestows metaphysical meaning on the full range of human desires and experiences.

I must ask, how does getting rid of a delusion or a lie be less than noble. Why should we pretend that there is something noble in a lie, even if the lie is 2000 years old? There is nothing for the atheist to lament and if he must lament, then it should be for the lost time believing in ghosts. That is worth lament and sorrow, but the freedom from delusion, nay. That deserves celebration. Man can now raise themselves high knowing they having no overbearing overlord to fear and it is all up to them to build their kingdom.

And I contend, there is no truth that religion conceals as Linker wants us to believe when he writes

It is a striking image, capturing at once the dignified beauty of religious ritual and its capacity to conceal the truth under a layer of intricate artifice: The whole point of the liturgy performed on the church altar, Larkin implies, is to seduce us with the beautiful and supremely fulfilling illusion that our worldly compulsions have cosmological meaning and significance.

I contend that Linker is stretching the truth when he says

It is a need, a hunger that never can be permanently satiated. But religion tries, understanding and responding to this crucially important aspect of humanity perhaps more fully than any other institution or practice.

for in the contrary, all religion does and manages to achieve is blind obedience to absurdities. And if in its dealings it appears to eschew any such qualities, it is to be remembered that it is not religion per se but that it wants to associate with such human qualities. It is this association with the greatest of human needs that has enabled religion to last so long.

I contend that Linker has failed in his attempt to demonstrate atheists, new atheists as he refers to them, are dishonest. What he has managed to demonstrate by an about way is that many people are not ready to accept the truth of atheism and its tidings. This I say has nothing to do with atheism itself.

Where are the honest atheists

what are my everyday experiences with the religious

I probably have mentioned it before that I live in a country where the religious are everywhere. Almost everything is deferred to god. When there is bad traffic snarl-up, people are praying on twitter, when the government fails in its duties there are prayers said and those in government also pray for god to help them. I have also mentioned that there is a church right at the gate to my flat and the next church is less than 50m away. Am not kidding.

That gives you a bit of background of how religion is embedded in my society.

My friends are of two groups. I have godless friends and goddites. I meet my godless friends rarely as compared to the goddites. Hell. I work with goddites. Almost everyone in the office is a goddite except the CEO. It is common knowledge in the office am godless. It is not an issue except for those who are privately praying for me to rejoin them.

I have had a few of my friends say they are praying for me but in general, they have left it as a matter of choice which I do my best to always try and dissuade them from. And if you are wondering whether I tell them religious belief in bonkers in their face as I do on the internet, yes I do. You see am a honest guy and I don’t like to hide. I tell those in school to decide on one course of action; either you are praying to pass exams or you are studying but not both because on the final analysis, one seems to me to be redundant. It is like over reinforcing a house. You end up with redundant members.

My immediate family is an interest case. They are almost all religious. They know am irreligious. No one asks me to pray nor do they insist I join them in talking to themselves. There is a lot of respect between us.

The only group of friends that piss me off are those religious ones who tell me they have become closer to their god since they met me. How would a person become more religious by interacting with a sham smasher! And of course the church at our gate. They make so much noise on Sundays I want to burn it down.

In general though I know the great influence religion has in my society, the people around me behave in a way that isn’t far from living like there is no god. No one bothers my peace and anytime someone brings gods in discussion I make it clear am godless.