Completed: June 28, 1997
Last updated: June 27, 2000
The contents of this essay may extremely offend those readers with deeply held spiritual and religious beliefs. It is not my intent to cause insult, but if such insult is felt by a reader, please understand that it is not the objective of this essay. I wrote this as a personal analysis of religion; not for the benefit of others, but for my own benefit. It is thus that I disclaim all responsibility for any harm caused by my writings. If some crazed theist burns down an atheist family's home in response for my blasphemy, it only adds to my conviction and case. So, please take this essay with an analytical and introspective approach.
This, most likely, will not be the most scientific piece you'll ever read, but I tried to fill it with things that are generally apparent to those who are willing to consider things with open-minds, even things they abhor. I apologize if some of my writing seems more emotional than logical-- understand that this topic is of a very dear nature, and I may occasionally be less objective than I perhaps should. So, if you can appreciate my position, and are willing to see how I come to me conclusions, I think you'll find this essay to be beneficial. If I have a goal for the reader it is not necessarily to convert you, but to improve the tolerance and acceptance of atheists, who can feel very alone in the world of theists.
But, I will say this bluntly for those who only wish to beat me into spiritual submission: if you don't have an open-mind, GET LOST!! (or remain lost)
TABLE OF CONTENTS
- Acceptance & "For The Record"
- Atheism Defined
- Purpose Of God & Coercion
- Faith, The Unvalidated, & The Dangers Of Blind Acceptance
- God's Will?
- Archaic Prejudice & Resistance To Change
- Human Evolution & The Human-God Relationship
- DIY: Do It Yourself!
- Abuses Of Power & "How They Ran Things"
- A Sampling Of Religious Warfare
- Nationalism & Assimilation
- Political Slander, Tolerance, & Secularism
- Rote & Conformity
- Extinct Objectives & KnowledgeInheriting Faith
- Religious Supremacy & "The Fracturing Process"
- Unrealistic Demands, The "One-Up" Mentality, & Self-Righteousness
- My Personal History Of Skepticism & Doubt
- In "Defense" Of ReligionAfterlife
- Conclusions, Explanations, & A Plea For Acceptance
- Inspiration & References
- Additional References
"a the ism (a'the-iz'em) n. Disbelief in or denial of the existence of God."
- American Heritage Dictionary
I have mentally reflected in the past that declaring myself an atheist would be rather similar to a homosexual declaring his sexuality to the world. One is afraid of losing friends and family member's friendship and support in your identity. One does it for themselves-- for no one else. One does it because they know that by hiding something that is so important about who they are from the ones they love, they go crazy. "Coming-out" is probably the scariest and most liberating experiences an atheist or a homosexual could experience. I say "probably" because I don't know for sure-- I haven't officially and publicly told everyone my "un-faith". But, when I do, I'm going to be ready.
ACCEPTANCE & "FOR THE RECORD"
Before I discuss my reasons, I will just assume that all is already known, and I ask to be taken at face value. Am I any less a person because I am an atheist? In the eyes of most religions (especially monotheistic religions), I am. To the US government I am lawfully not, but my chances of obtaining office and other positions are lessened because such things are awarded by popular vote by a populace, which for the most part, is theistic. But, to the average person I bump into on the street, does my religious status matter? To some it would. But for many, if I treat others with respect and carry myself honorably, there is no reason to question my humanity, and adherence to religion.
So, why does religion argue that there is something lacking in my morality as a non-believer? If I act politely when I bump into someone on the sidewalk and apologize, does my paganess mean I'm not truly sorry? Of course not. If I thank people for doing a favor for me, am I lying? Of course not; if I express gratitude, I am gracious. When I wish someone a good day or tell them to take care, do I secretly wish harm upon them? Nonsense! Common sense (even within religion) dictates that there is no moral standard being compromised by my faith status.
Yet, common sense is not something practiced by religion. The non-believer is generally looked upon as less human than a believer is because, politically, they must in order to keep everyone "in their place". Imagine religion announcing to the world that there were good atheists living today, and that one could still be a good human without believing in a god. The ranks of religion would FALL AWAY! So many people participate in religion because of its claim to good intent and humanity; yet, opening the door to atheism would undermine such ideas and set them back upon simple matters of belief in a god. It is no different that what businesses did a century ago within their industries: black-list everyone who was a trouble-maker. Except now people are black-listed not just because of their "trouble-maker" status, but just because they are atheist. This is, by every label possible, prejudice.
I do not wish to be looked upon differently because of my non-existent faith. I am human; I am just as human as any other human being. And why shouldn't I be? To argue that I am less a human due to my atheism is to admit that humanity is an exclusive club of believers. Along that line of thinking, wouldn't certain religions be composed of better humans than others? This is a constant theme that is ignored by religion since it causes too much debate. For example, if one religion was to exclude the other 97% of humanity from the title of "human", what exactly would that mean? At face value, that means that those people obviously have severe delusions of grandeur, and with such statements are insulting themselves and their humanity by not being compassionate and civil enough to see different viewpoints.
If any of my previous statements have been ignored or simply misunderstood, allow me to clarify them now: as an atheist I do not worship Satan and I do not think believers should burn in effigy (even though turn-around should be fair play). I do not molest children, eat pets, burn crosses, desecrate temples, kill people, or partake in rituals that are morally-"degrading". Any actions or statements that claim otherwise merely because I am atheist are slanderous and/or libelous.
This is a good time to clarify how I consider myself atheist, and how I construe my place among others. An attempt to codify the definition of "atheism" into a more philosophically useful tool is also a good idea for me to do here.
As I see it, as many others would accept, "theism" is the belief in a religion and/or the adherence to religious doctrine. "Agnosticism" is seen (although not by me) as the "neutral" ground where an agnostic sees no evidence to believe in theism, but is willing to consider changing their mind when the time comes that evidence should become available. Obviously, many agnostics resign themselves to be so for their entire lives.
Agnostics argue that theism (that a god exists) and that atheism (that a god does not exist) is not provable beyond a doubt. This, at first, seems rather satisfactory reasoning, yet I argue that atheism is the default option on the existence clause; that to believe in something, one must have motivation to do so, or else that belief never comes into being in someone's belief system.
Consequently, it is my view that atheism is the neutral ground. Theists bear the burden of responsibility to introduce any belief in a god's existence. They have the burden of proof to convince me of anything. It is not the atheist's responsibility to prove that a god does not exist, since it is unreasonable to ask that they disprove something they don't believe.
Perhaps a simplified analogy would be helpful: a dragonist (one who believes in the existence of dragons) is required to prove the existence of dragons, which he cannot satisfactorily do. An adragonist (one who does not believe in the existence of dragons) should not be required to prove the non-existence of dragons especially because it cannot be satisfactorily done. It is logical that the dragonist bear the responsibility to prove dragon's existence. If an adragonist or a similar disbeliever (i.e. an atheist) was required to disprove every infinite possibility (which is infinitely impossible to do, due to the nature and size of the world/universe and time allowed), one could believe in an infinite number of things concurrently, of which each's existence could contradict the others. It is perfectly acceptable for a dragonist to think that dragons exist, but for them to get others to accept this viewpoint, they are going to have to prove it.
Some people argue that this is true except with the god idea. And I ask "why is that not questionable?" If that is the one thing in out minds which is involuntary, that we should start out believing in a god's existence even though no evidence can be given. This is ludicrous: there is no reason to suspect the existence of "at least" a god any more than there is reason to suspect the existence of a dragon, angel, Martian, or elf.
Thus, I take the position that an atheist is one who holds the default position that no god exists until it is proved otherwise. The other definition I see for atheism, is also the simplest and easiest to understand. If "theism" is defined as: "belief in the existence of a god or gods" (American Heritage), then a lack of that belief can be described as "atheism". Agnosticism is simply a term used to clarify more descriptively the crossover between the two. Agnosticism is declared by one who "does not know yet", so this does include me, yet I think this a poor attempt to make amends to people by saying, "I just don't know yet, I haven't decided". I have heard a humorous definition of "agnosticism" as "one who would be a theist at the first good evidence of it". Technically, I fall under agnosticism, yet I feel it is most accurately and useful to say that I am not theistic, but atheistic, untheistic, and non-theistic. In my view (using the definitions available), everyone is technically "agnostic", since, like it or not, they don't have the ultimate knowledge on the existance of a god. Therefore, with the knowledge I do have, I don't see evidence for a god. Others, with the knowledge they have, do see evidence.
PURPOSE OF GOD & COERCION
To progress in thinking, I ask why does one need a god if one is already good? If I am already a good person, how does the existence or non-existence of a god affect me? Or why should it affect me? I am an independent, self-functioning, sentient life form. Even if a god exists that controls me or my surroundings, its existence is of irrelevance to me, because I choose to act "good" anyway, regardless of its influence. If the god is at all intelligent, it will understand my willingness to be "good", and put bluntly, leave me the hell alone.
I've often wonder how many people in this world claim to be believers and make that claim out of fear? Do some people actually believe in a god out of fear? Yes. Do I need a god to make me by good? Of course I don't. But, are there people in this world who act certain ways simply because they fear retaliation from a god? Not to say, of course, that if it wasn't for a god, they'd be out burning, raping, and robbing 24-7. But, maybe that they would approach their lives differently? Perhaps less timidly? More self-assured? Does the threat of a god waiting in the wings coerce them to be something else? I'd say yes. I'm sure not every believer is this way, but I argue that there is more than just a handful of "believers" out there who, whether or not they admit it, claim to believe because they do not want to "piss god off" (god, of course, would have the authority to get pissed-off).
True believers will claim that these people don't really count, that they aren't good worshiper material. Or are they? It has been my personal experience and a result of my observations to assume that people who are fearful of authority (such as a god) that they will go to far extremes to satisfy that authority, less they be punished (this goes for parents, bullies, bosses too). Often it is the threat of tyranny, rather than tyranny itself that keeps people "in line".
Imagine a church full of church-goers, everyone is there because they think that although their conviction isn't true enough everyone else's is? A "1984"-scene arises in my mind. A church full of pseudo-believers is a very opposing force to the weak-minded, especially if the composition is not fully realized. They would feel socially threatened to conform and worship. What if they were just following everyone else's example, which was not any deeper felt than their own? The repercussions of this possibility, even on a small scale, are massive and the thought is so repugnant that it brings fire to eyes and makes me want to spit.
As I continue with my arguments I will be using heavily influenced Christian (and specifically Catholic) scenarios and arguments; I apologize. My up-bringing is in such an environment and it has led me my current decisions and conclusions. Such scenarios and arguments are obviously relevant.
FAITH, THE UNVALIDATED, & THE DANGERS OF BLIND ACCEPTANCE
Faith is a very difficult thing for me to possess. I'll explain. From everything I've heard, read, witnessed, done, seen, and said in my life I have a hard time putting a totally optimistic mind to anything. I do not see this as a hamper, but as a benefit and a filtering device. I must analyze what I'm told with an open-mind-- yet a critical and pessimistic one. I must consider the intent, the message itself, receiver, sender, delivery, channel, details, etc. of the information I'm receiving. I must evaluate it for actual information content. Is it information? Is it dogma? Is it emotional speech? Is it opinion? Why was it said to me? Why was it said to me in this way? What was the intent of it? How many mouths and ears has this passed through before it got to me? And why?
Cynicism is a very useful weapon to have. Or maybe it would be better to say that pessimism and doubt are very useful tools. Such things lend themselves to be welded for the purpose of finding truth. If truth can be blindly accepted without merit and reason, then there is little reason to call it truth. Using cynicism, pessimism, and doubt one can approach things hesitantly. You can watch arguments form. New points and ideas must be proven before they can be accepted, and these tools force the mind to be convinced by logic, and not by emotion. By being able to analyze new things detachedly and honestly we can avoid falling into the trap of illogical behavior. This ability is what can be truthfully called freedom, as a Latin proverb states, "where there is doubt, there is freedom".
Questions must always precede acceptance. I don't care if you are a scientist, construction worker, soldier, priest, or child. You must know before you file data away in your brain. You must store all that information with the actual data, and use the information to evaluate the data, and its importance, relevance, honesty, validity, and worth. Then remember it in that respect.
When one believes in something on faith, he has no personal data to go on, second-hand information is what is primarily relied upon. He has not seen, heard, smelled, touched, or tasted with his own faculties. He does so through another medium that is not his own. This is dangerous, because such mediums can be compromised in so many ways it seems ridiculous to even mention any, especially in the way that religion works. Faith is something that is taken in, and accepted without dispute, simply because of what it is supposed to be: faith. Faith is an acceptance of data without proper validation, of something that can never be properly validated.
If someone was to tell me, "Jesus died for your sins", I could accept that perhaps I have sinned (by Christian standards), and that he knew about these sins, and that, yes, he did in fact die. But there is absolutely no way I will accept that he died for my sins, because even if Jesus really did tell this person that he died for my sins, how do I know this is what he really died for? How do I know that this person didn't simply create this story? Can I ever ask Jesus to re-iterate this dedication for me? No, not in this life I can't. Thus, I must either accept this person's testimony or ignore it as not being substantially validated enough to deserve my acceptance.
Does this perhaps seem too cynical? People say that I cannot be that questioning of faith; why not? They say it is not right to question faith; I say wrong! If things hadn't been questioned excessively in the past, if dogma hadn't been constantly tested, we would still live on a flat planet, hunting and gathering, and men like Hitler and Stalin would have us all believing that ________ (fill in the blank) are the superior race, and all other races should be eliminated.
Still too harsh? Think of it this way. Pretend you had an ancestor who lived some two-thousand years ago. He lived in a different country then, and along the way many different cultures and races were mated together to reach you. During that time, countless different empires ruled the earth. They marched over the earth proclaiming their causes and such. They controlled records, birth records, and citizenry records. They all had their own political agendas. They all had their own propaganda systems. They all had misinformation campaigns running. Along the way, some of your ancestors (in between you and this other ancestor) got into marital problems, and disgraced one side of the family or divorced or separated, or worse, killed the other. They changed how the stories and histories were handed down. Even three generations after this one ancestor never knew the ancestor. They only heard stories of them, and then wrote the histories! Every time the paper grew old, they rewrote the stories again on new paper. After a while the nationality and language of the re-writer changed, and they had to be translated, and meanings might have gotten changed over time (due to fluctuations of society, culture, and politics). Take all this into consideration. Is it too much to consider perhaps? For me it is. I couldn't even be sure if my ancestor was a man or woman, let alone what he had done in his life. Ever heard of a fish-story? Time is truth's greatest enemy.
My trust in the inconsistencies of chaotic and complex systems and the possibilities stemming from them is too great for me to ignore. The fallibility of human nature and the susceptibility for corruption lies heavily in such considerations. History is in the eye of the story-teller. It shouldn't be this way, but reality says otherwise.
I now argue that religion is an extension of human power. When I say this, I mean that although people act in the name of a god or religion they are influenced by their own feelings, ideas, emotions, and by cultural and societal norms and stereotypes. When someone is in a position of authority and control they must not exhibit such tainted influences in their decisions. If they say this comes from the mouth of god, it better damn well come from the mouth of god-- totally unadulterated! And I think this is rarely the case.
When decisions are made by organized religions, the leaders must consider many things: effect of the decision, perception from followers and non- followers (read: enemies), eventual outcome, and image. They know what orders to followers will do. They recognize their own ideas and standards and it is inescapable for the average person (especially a leader with POWER) to separate personal ideas and standards when making decisions. They ultimately blend together and become indistinguishable to the point where, in order to accept anything, all must be accepted by default.
For example: when the Pope in Rome declares that only men can be priest, he does so in a very patriarchal society where women only have standing in the home, as housewives: they maintain the house, cook, and raise the children. The Pope who said that this was the will of god grew up in such a society and knowingly perpetuated a situation where that society would continue by his decree. He knew only what he had experienced in his life. He didn't know of feminism, equal rights, a "working-woman", or of the possibility of a woman doing anything beneficial for society or the church. He didn't consider that a god wouldn't care about gender when it demanded worship from its subjects. He read from the Bible that all men were created in his image-- it didn't say anything about woman being created in god's image; just that woman was created from a man's bone. (I'll ignore and hold my tongue on the ridiculous and insulting nature of such fables for the meanwhile). What he read coincided with what he had experienced in his life, and so he figured that that's what god wants-- no women running the church.
Slightly off-topic of "god's will", but very relevant to sexism, not only the Pope perpetuated discrimination against women: Martin Luther decreed, "If a woman grows weary and at last dies from child bearing, it matters not. Let her die from bearing, she is there to do it." This is from the man who started the revolution against the teachings of the Pope! I'm sure that makes all the Christian women reading this essay proud of their lineage, be it Catholic or some off-shoot of Lutheranism to know they follow the teachings and in the footsteps of women-haters.
It is generally acknowledged in the annals of historical analysis that we shouldn't hold past generations responsible for acting within their own societal norms. So, that said, we should re-evaluate the status of women in leadership roles in the church. But, religion (especially Catholicism) ignores such doctrines of historical analysis and says that the will of god does not change. But the will of god was "interpreted" by a human acting within his societal norms! This hypocrisy is astounding!
ARCHAIC PREJUDICE & RESISTANCE TO CHANGE
Along similar lines of discussion with no women leaders, what of the consistently oppressing dialogue (or lack of) regarding homosexuality and birth control? If we applied current societal norms to these items, we should have no problem seeing them in a 20th Century light, not the Dark Ages. These things would also be much more accepted if the church and other Christian religions acknowledged the short-comings of Biblical interpretations and relied more on scientific insights into anatomy, human biology, sociology, and psychology. I'm not saying more people would be announcing their homosexuality, and having abortions, but the atmosphere in the world would allow such coming-outs and procedures to be done with less abrasiveness and a lot less hatred.
Regarding homosexuality, almost the only rejections of acknowledgment of homosexuality on a moral basis reside in Christianity; and almost all come explicitly Biblical passages which appear to apply to it. Fiery rhetoric from those who have read the Bible inflicts virgin ears with hate. These people quote brief references that could apply to homosexuality, and then interpret these passages in their own words (taking into consideration their own prejudices (disgust and abhorrence), and come up with what they claim to be the word of god denouncing homosexuality). It's pointless to go into who actually wrote those words in the Bible-- it could have been a Jerusalem janitor, a "disciple/cultist", a prophet, a schizophrenic, a lunatic and an alcoholic, pathological liar, etc. Regardless of any of this, it all boils down to personal feelings of homosexuality. One who does not hate homosexuality, does not quote the Bible, and one who does hate homosexuality does quote the Bible because it supports their belief. I feel that most people who use the Bible as an excuse to say that "god hates fags" is only using god as a "reference" in their personal diatribe against homosexuals (don't believe me? Visit the website: www.godhatesfags.com from the Westboro Baptist Church-- and yes, it's a private "business" site)! We, as a people, as the human race, can only advance when we accept all people regardless of their actions which do not affect us, and we eliminate all hateful, destructive, divisive, and arrogant influences. A higher understanding comes from ignoring the hate, not from blindly following words that "could have" been written by someone who lived next to a guy who might have written a passage in the Bible two millennia ago.
The really funny thing in this debate over the biblical morality of homosexuality is that the references to it lie in the Old Testament, which was written (or "compiled") before the alleged birth of Christ. Christ's emergence in the Middle East sparked a revolution, that was uniquely pacifistic, loving, and understanding. The main following of Christ was the "undesirables" of society, such as the diseased, bastards, homeless, poor, women, and, most likely, the despised homosexual. All of these groups had been (and even to this day, in all cultures) ostracized and hated, even though all are into their situations or are genetically determined as such. It amuses me to no end how some Christians will casually forgo the love and understanding doctrines preached by Christ and jump back to close-minded and ancient hatred that Christ had rebelled against.
(To digress slightly, I feel it would be a good time to remark on the nature of the Bible. The books of the Old Testament were written centuries apart from each other, from so many different points of view, such that one can see elements of poetry in the verses of Psalms all the way to the harshness of reality and war, including a rape manual found in the book of Deutoronomy. The fact that the Bible has been translated numerous times, does not aid in its accuracy. Nor does the fact that there are so many contradictions not just in stories, but in the actual word of god, that one must question if all of the books actually were inspired by the same divine inspiration. Taking the Bible out of context has been almost an art form in the past, which serves me no more purpose than the average Christian. So, without pointing out blaring inconsistencies, which can be found in academic studies of biblical lineage, I'd like to offer up a few intellectual, yet common-sense real-life explanations for biblical "miracles": Some historians say that the Ten Commandments are merely a summary of Hammurabi's Code of Laws, from Mesopotamia, which is the first recorded compilation of laws. The Star of Bethlehem can be proven to be a rare astronomical alignment of three stars. The idea of Mary's virgin birth of Christ is now viewed as a mistranslation in which a word was a word for "young girl" was transcribed as "virgin" instead. And Noah's great apocalyptic flood can be seen as the yearly rise and fall of the fertile river valleys of the Middle East area, which, one year, just happened to get really bad. I apology for such a far-from-subject topic, but I thought I might as well get it out of the way, sooner rather than later.)
As far as birth control goes, and steering as far away from the abortion issue as possible, one must recognize the need for birth control in a society and world where, like it or not, PEOPLE HAVE SEX! It is a programmed instinct in animals to procreate in order to continue the respective race. Even religion should see that, and understand such predetermined nature cannot always be merely ignored, regardless of how "civilized" and knowledgeable we've become. It is for this very reason that such measures make sense. In order to protect oneself, loved ones, and those we will care for in the future, we must have the ability to do so without harassment by "moral authorities", which, in my opinion, should not exist.
Thus, I offer forth that many doctrines that exist inside Christianity, and specifically Catholicism (but also in other monotheistic religions) is nothing more than the morals of the church leaders themselves, not a god. The god that religion talks of is an understanding, loving, and "just" god and obviously (at least by human conception) would be able to see the fallible tendency of human nature and permit such "impurities", since the god allegedly created humans that way in the first place. If the god does not like the way humans act, why did it create humans that way? Simple: a god did not create us. We evolved from lower forms of animals.
HUMAN EVOLUTION & THE HUMAN-GOD RELATIONSHIP
Truthfully, I don't care whether the debate about evolution is over with or not-- for my purposes it is. There is overwhelming information in science that supports the hypothesis that humans evolved from lower forms of mammals, such as apes. Our civility did not come from a god; it came from trial and error. Natural selection eliminated humans who were not strong and those who were not civil. Our intelligence is not endowed from a god. Smart humans have simply been able to out-think and thus out-survive stupid humans. We are not any more important than other creatures-- only in our own minds we are. No god gave us the authority to graze among the plants of the earth or to hunt the animals of the earth, any more than a god gave other animals the right to kill to survive themselves.
Anyone who has a "higher" idea of where humans came from is suffering from the most self-insulting illusion available to us humans. Even the person inflicted with the most infectious case of hominoid-pride shouldn't be able to ignore carbon-testing, evolution studies, genetic testing, geology, comparative anatomy studies, animal behavior studies, and paleontology. Sure, people can avoid these ideas, they can claim that science is witch-craft, and can suppose that everything is held together by magic and not atoms. But, what do I care? I'm a thinking person, not an avoider of things I can witness, test, explore, and intelligently figure through.
So, if we eliminate the possibility that we were created in a god's image and that we have some right to reign supreme on the earth, what are we left with? Well, we immediately see that many of religion's claims fall away. If we take away the possibility that we were instantaneously created, all of our behaviors immediately intact, culture already existing, and such, then we must suppose that no god made us. So, if it didn't make us, and we evolved, to whom are we all talking? A more supreme life form maybe? Sure, why not? But, then we are not worshiping our creator, our loving god, but something that we are afraid of, because we are inferior to it. This is comparable to squirrels in respect to humans. You don't see squirrels offering up sacrifices to humans, do you? They don't pray to us, they don't ask for good nut harvests, they don't ask to win their ball game, they don't plead for their mother squirrel not to die. Purely ridiculous!
Now, let's assume that a god is not just a superior life form and did not create us, but yet it still is a "god". Why should we worship it? This is comparable to Roman and Greek worship of their gods. They worshiped them because they thought they had to and they thought they could get something from the gods. So, what are we trying to get from god? Life? We've got it. You get it once, and that's it. A better harvest? Is it its fault there was a drought this summer? Nope. It's called the weather (which should be more respected than any god, in my opinion). How about its forgiveness for our sins? Why would a god care whether we sin? Even if it did care, why does it care? If humans don't repent their "sins", is it going to be insulted or something (can gods get insulted by puny humans?) Does it have some stake in the world-- like if every one in the world does not repent for their sins, is it not going to get something? Why must we assume that this god has some "higher" standards that it holds to its "children"? It's only in our attempts to raise our view of god to a higher level that we find we must also undermine our own shortcomings. Why can't we, as a people, undermine those short-comings ourselves, and skip this wasteful god step?
DIY: DO IT YOURSELF!
I'll tell you why it's wasteful to spend our time asking the sky for help to our problems: I firmly believe that only we can save ourselves. God is not going to do it. Have you ever prayed? I have. And I'm not sure I was doing it "right". There are always people praying. These people, of course, don't always get what they are praying for, but they occasionally do. They think that since they have, occasionally, gotten what they've prayed for before, that it'll work in the future, at least some of the time. It's like playing solitaire: you win every now and then, and it has nothing to do with some higher power watching over your shoulder, it has to do only with the randomness of the cards, and to an extent, your own common sense at playing the game. I propose that people should use that common sense and use their own abilities to get things done. These people never seem to consider that everything is in either their own capacity to accomplish or in the hands of chance. For many people, chance is god. How inane a thing it is to not recognize randomness.
All the time people spend praying and such can be used to exercise their own abilities to save the human race. Instead of cowering in fear behind society's problems and asking for some "all-powerful" god to intervene, we should take matters into our own hands and get it done!
Now that I have taken my life out of god's care, I control my own destiny. I am my own keeper. If I want to protect the planet from deforestation I don't pray to god to stop it (or to kill all loggers (it's funny how people think god will violate its own morals for them)). I go out and promote alternative uses of the environment. I teach understanding of the environment. I become an activist. It is so simple, yet many people are so overwhelmed by everything that they think that the only way to make change or improve their lives is through an entity that must be superior to them.
Instead of saying "Well, god willing", and throwing caution to the wind (literally), use the brain in your head and make it happen. No god is up there granting permissions to some people's ideas and not other's! I find it amusing that the most intelligent and self-aware creatures on planet Earth are the ones who feel most out of control with their lives.
How arrogant can the Christian be to think that he is made in the image of a god? A bit ego-centric aren't we? I don't mean to be sarcastic, but really! I think that if the thought ever crossed his mind that he was created, the most obvious thing that he would think was that someone or something wanted him to look like that. Thus, using his excessively large mind (?), he thinks that if god were ever to create some creatures, it'd make them look like humans, since he likes how humans look. Does this seem unrealistic? No. He merely put himself in god's shoes (a dangerous thing to do), and thought of what it would have done. Arrogance brought him to that conclusion, as it brought him to many other weakly-thought-through conclusions.
So many things exist within Christianity that appear to be merely what a human would decide, not an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving deity. Many things are written in the Bible that are so obviously from a human's mind-- a human's mind unmolested by a higher-being. It contains many things that would constitute good guidelines for living, but for the most part it's bunk. Not only is it bunk, it's dangerous bunk: "The Bible is one of the most genocidal books in history", writes Noam Chomksy, noted linguist and dissenter. So much of the Bible is merely stories, fables, traditions, legends, or whatnot passed along from generation to generation. Sorry, but I don't want to get off on that track again; the Bible simply cannot be respected as an authoritative source for anything. Thus using it to promote one's own ends are laughable and horridly flawed in reasoning. Yet, ego-centrism doesn't really employ reasoning, does it?
ABUSES OF POWER & "HOW THEY RAN THINGS"
I now wish to state my displeasure at the amount of control that I feel the church and other religious institutions have over people. Without digressing too much on the subject of leaders claiming to speak for a god, I wish to explain how these leaders abuse such power.
I accept that god does not exist, yet for many people a god does exist and a common way that they interact with that god is by other humans. These humans have an enormous amount of responsibility and should be very careful not to become negligent in their roles. For many of these leaders they actually believe in the role they play, and they feel that they are catalysts for communicating with a god. I am not going to say that these leaders are automatically crazy (most are not), they are simply believing under false pretense and as far as they know, are acting honestly. Even so, I want to illustrate how leaders continually and inexcusably abuse their roles as spiritual advisors, leaders, etc. Try to convince me that Jerry Falwell, Randall Terry, Pat Robertson, and Billy Graham have not abused their power for their own personal benefit and enrichment.
The history of the church is replete with abuses by Popes, who not only claim to speak for god, but are supposedly chosen by god. So, why is it that countless of Popes through the history of the Roman Catholic Church were no better than fascist dictators? And I don't mean in puny ways, like holding down the advancement of women, attempting to convert "infidels" by force, or other "minor" crimes. Over 33% of Western Europe was church land and yet it was rarely taxed. In church courts, canon law was followed, and in many scandalous cases, priests were killed. All the popes were Italian (how did that happen? Does god only like Italians?!) Indulgences were pardons or retrieves given to forgive one of sins-- for a price, of course. This is all before the time of Luther's reforms. Before the reforms Papal authority reigned supreme, not any god. So, did the Popes still abuse power after the reforms? Well, indulgences didn't take place. Many things were challenged by Luther and his followers, yet the church (read: the Pope) didn't accept them.
After the time of these reforms, war ensued in Europe. Calvinists, Catholics, and Lutherans all duked it out. Why? Who knows why? All I know and care is that most of it was all out of arrogance. All three Christian groups couldn't stand the idea of someone not believing in a god and Jesus Christ the same way they did. That, a lot of political reasons (that always got blown out of proportion), and money. Money to be earned by followers. The more followers, the more income to that church sect. Simple and common goal: get more followers, and the leaders will have more wealth. People would argue that the leaders of the sects (at least Luther, Zwingli, Calvin) had more divine goals; yet I argue that in the back of their minds, they had egos. Egos fueled by more followers and more power. Power corrupts, I don't care how divine someone thinks they are.
Paul III started something called Sacred Congregation. In which was the Holy Office (popular name: Roman Inquisition), and it was designed to torture and/or coerce Lutherans in papal states to return to church. Missionaries to the world were dispatched to poorer regions of the world. The people in these lands were "educated" in the ways of Christianity, and specifically Catholicism. Ever wonder why all of Central and South America is Roman Catholic (or basically all of it)? I have, numerous times. Yet, it's not too tough to figure out why (I guarantee you that all the indigenous Indians weren't sitting around reading the Bible and were suddenly "enlightened"). They were beaten in to utter submission by army after army. These missionaries eventually broke the will and spirit of the peoples (after millions were executed). Christianity becomes their religion. Ever wonder why so many black-Americans are devout Christians? Don't try to tell my that the West Indies of Africa were Christian-- because they weren't. Religion is rarely assimilated-- most often it is inflicted. And in the case of African-Americans (and their slave ancestors) religion was a tool of the white slave master to keep the thoughts of the slave elsewhere, so they couldn't focus their attention (and, most importantly, energy) against their present, horrific situations here on Earth. Those slave masters knew that keeping their slaves directed towards things that would not free them from enslavement on this planet was possibly the most important shackle; religion suited this purpose beautifully, and has worked for the greater part of 500 years.
When religion ruled the world they called it the Dark Ages.
A SAMPLING OF EUROPEAN RELIGIOUS WARFARE
How about the three major religious wars in Europe from the 1500's to the mid 1600's? The Holy Roman Empire (HRE) was constantly at war with the Lutherans. Why? Who knows? They worshiped the same god. That fact alone to most should make even the thought of war idiotic. In France, up to the 1530's, France fought the Kaiser (the leader of the HRE), and in the Netherlands, from 1568 to 1648 (wars of religion and independence). But, why should we stop with that small time frame? Later on, in the 1930's and 1940's Europe had a little problem with some Germans and Austrians calling themselves the Third Reich. Sure they killed some people for purely unreligious reasons: gypsies, blacks, and communists. But they also killed 6 million Jews. Hmm. A whole nation superficially went along with those actions and along with one madman. But, was he mad? Or was he a skillful manipulator of German fervor over getting humiliated after WWI? Or was he just a racist with too much power? We'll never know. Even so, I am comparing his genocide to all other forms of genocide committed for religious reasons. No matter how many people try to distance Hitler's actions from religion, they still circle back. Another name for genocide is the polished term "ethnic cleansing", which is practiced in the 1990's in areas of the former Yugoslavia. Serbs, Croats, Bosnians, Muslims, Christians,.... what's the common link? They're humans-- despite how civil they acted.
Getting out of Europe (yet not out of European responsibility) the Crusades were nothing more than trying to force Christianity upon Muslims. They were plain and simple aggression. Totally and completely supported, planned, and carried out by the Roman Catholic church. Somehow it was god's will to kill innocent people whose only crime was resisting foreign, unjust aggression. The Muslims deterred the invaders, eventually.
An interesting side note is that many crusaders headed for the Middle East never made it because they easily concluded that "why should they travel so far to kill non-Christians when there were already many non-Christians (Jews) in Europe?" So, the crusades also included an unofficial and unremembered holocaust of Jews long before WWII. At that time the Jews were only allowed by the religious authorities to be the money-lenders and bankers (things that were considered un-Christian), and thus became very despised due to hard times in Europe. They became easy prey. Also, many crusaders would demand food from farmers along their travels in order to get fed (if denied, they would kill the farmers and take the food anyway). Needless to say the crusaders caused as much havoc in Europe as they did in the Middle East, all in the name of god.
However the indigenous peoples of the Americas (not to mention nearly all of Africa) were not able to deter their invaders. Eventually all were overcome. Of course, not all were brainwashed into Christianity. Many kept their native ways (with much struggle and blood-shed). Even so, their land was taken from them by invading armies under the flag of a higher morality and under the pretense of a god. Under this pretense millions were beaten, tortured, killed, and raped. Their civilizations, cultures, societies, and villages were burned to the ground literally and metaphorically. I believe that nearly every pre-Industrial-world war, and the majority of post-Industrial world wars were highly, if not directly, influenced by religious agitation and disagreement. And that is why I will never forgive religion-- any religion. Yet, religion is an inanimate thing and it doesn't feel sorry. And all the softly spoken words by present-day leaders, condemning actions of the past, do nothing to relieve religion's collective conscience, and all the guilt that those leaders have inherited.
NATIONALISM & ASSIMILATION
I would like to reflect upon how nation states have consistently used religion for their own purposes. Please excuse the fact that I only use England and the United States as examples; I lack sufficient knowledge and insight to properly comment on other nation states except to say that similar things happen all over the globe. Religion is used for keeping the people in line and decisions are made into holy decisions.
Even Britain's past I do not wish to comment much on, except from the time of declared American independence. That was a very tormenting time in Britain's history, where many things, including religious liberties were being restricted. Making one religion for the state only caused dissension. Either dissension or conformity, of course. By creating a one religion system, any ideas or beliefs falling outside the realm of that one official religion could be condemned on the grounds of national security, national pride, national religion, or the social welfare of the people. Thus, England experienced a very totalitarian and monarchical rule during the 1700's (I know that it had been continuing from centuries before, but that's another story). It also experienced a decrease in the content that was generated within the "marketplace of ideas". When someone interjected an idea that may contradict or merely question the official religion, the state was allowed, by its own authority, to squelch such a voice.
America by comparison is similar, yet different. America claims to have freedom of expression and religious practice. Yet, the hypocrisy lies in the reality of how things appear and how things are said. Look at coins and bills in the currency. They all read "IN GOD WE TRUST". What the hell does that mean? That we trust god not to let our economy fall to shambles? That we trust god not to let our empire crumble? That we trust god not to let the dreaded communists into the country? I think that the first regarding the economy is the most likely meaning, yet how does one know for sure? Maybe it means that we trust in god to be just and swift with our enemies abroad. Or perhaps with our enemies at home. Or maybe not the communists, but those who do not believe in the aforementioned god. To me, "IN GOD WE TRUST" means we trust money, and we trust it more than everything except god. Yet, it is an entirely subjective phrase, and the fact that it appears at all indicated sanctioned theism and endorsement.
What can Muslims say regarding our money? The call their god Allah, not God. What about followers of Hinduism, Buddhism, Shinto, Confucianism, Baha'is, Jainism, Sikhism, Taoism, and Zoroastrianism? Are they all supposed to simply ignore this blatant declaration of America's religion? How are they supposed to feel confident and assured in their private worship when even the currency tries to impose itself and its god upon them?
Most predominantly Muslim countries have their religions so closely tied to or integrated into the government that it is nearly impossible to tell where the government stops and the religion begins. The courts are religious, the leaders are religious, the laws are religious laws. Iran and Afghanistan are examples of countries like this where there is no separation of church and state.
In the United States, even though secularism is inscribed into the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights, I think it is dishonest to claim that the Founding Fathers actually subscribed to many of the rights they proclaimed. The religion clause exists more due to freak chance and circumstance than the open-mindedness of the Fathers. While many had initially fled from religious persecution of their belief's, they felt content in inflicting those beliefs upon others in the New World. Many states, early on, still had official state religions. It should be noted, however, that three premiere figures of this time, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin were deists, meaning they believed in a creator, yet not in a god that watched over humans, held any interest in them, and assisted in them. Such a creator is basically the typically Judeo-Christian god who took the 7th Day (a day of rest) off for good. Despite this relatively non-conformist status, Washington and Jefferson both were aristocrats who held slaves; Jefferson never released his.
When the president asks the country to pray some night for something (a peaceful outcome in a conflict-- or victory), isn't that a violation of America's secularist past and free speech of religion? Or when in a speech he declares, "god willing", "god's gift", "god bless", or "thanks be to god"? This may unsettle others not aligned with the Christian and Judaist faiths, but think about agnostics and atheists (read: pagans!) I have little personal quarrel with this. I understand the reasons and do not deny that this country was created and born out of (among other things) Christian ideals of the time. Even so, it irks me that we are all so content to exist in such a religious atmosphere, where my default status as a non-believer equates to a bad citizen. Don't try to down play this; it's true and everyone can recognize it. It's evident in the military (click here if you're a member of the military), community life, the public school system (yes!), political life, etc. It is almost an immediate conclusion in the US that someone is Christian, and thus would like to and can sympathize with religion in these places.
In America the use of religion and god in political life is almost as natural as pouring coffee to wake oneself in the morning. We rely on that presence, as has every other empire before ours, to justify our actions. Religion is used as the great equalizers of gray-colored discourse. When a nation lifts its goals to the lofty status of being deity-endowed, the people feel they must follow, less they displease the previously spoken deity. So, what is the best way to get an army to march bravely into death? Tell them god is on their side. But wait! Isn't god on their side, too? But, who can tell? Only the political priesthood can. It is funny how so many conflicts claim god on their side, yet lose regardless-- what is this saying?
POLITICAL SLANDER, TOLERANCE, & SECULARISM
All of this would almost be bearable if that was the extent of it. Yet, religion and god pervade every corner of American life. We envision prayer in school. We use of the words "god" in our anthem. We rely on god in all branches of the military (duty to country, fellow soldier, god, etc.). We litter our speeches with words that we wish to appease god and we want to thank god. We want god to do this and that. And on and on. Secularism is lost amongst my country because those in power believe in god and they are smart enough to know that religious integration is the perfect way to keep us following their decisions. It is almost a form of extortion. They use leverage of god against us every day. We ask for secularism, knowing that was what the founding fathers intended. Yet, the political are cunning enough to guilt us into saying, "how can we ignore god when it is its laws that we follow, even before our own laws?" Obviously, the dilemma is visible. And few in the political arena are strong enough to fight this misuse of a "higher authority". But, we don't even have the authority to speak for such a deity in the first place. It's like blasphemy. And the media would exert control over any secularistic situation and destroy all intent and effect such actions could generate by slanting them from a "heretic" or "pagan" source since media is generally theistic.
A phenomenon happening in America presently is the rise of the "new right", an ultra-conservative, highly religious (and missionary!) Christian sect of society whose activism in politics is very high, and increasing every day. In the forefront of this movement is a group called the Christian Coalition, which both major political parties have been catering to, specifically because its membership is large and politically active (read: it votes). Since the group (and the individual members as well) are very missionary they try to lobby for "moral" laws to enforce Christian values and mores on a population that is more and more recognizably non-Christian. They see themselves as doing "god's work" in America, therefore they don't back down, do not compromise, dedicate insane amounts of funds to causes, and play the game of politics far too well. I fear for America's future, but I must put my faith (the little I have) in the open-mindedness and good sense of humanity-- whether or not such a thing exists.
We all, believers and non-believers alike, need to understand that we should (and must) live in peace together. And those who would have the state and the church joined at the hip must find a way to accept the idea that others have had all along: leave religion out of government and public affairs, since not all of us serve the same gods. I choose secularism, since it is the most open-minded solution. It is improper, in not only my mind, but the minds of those who created this great experiment in democracy more than two centuries ago, to keep tolerance, peace, and acceptance above all forms of oppression, manipulation, and assimilation. We cannot afford to choose one religion above another. We cannot afford to, as a society, to tell our citizens who do not believe the dogma theology, that we shall base our laws around what they see to be false. We dare not force the ranks of Americans into the same thinking as the majority simply because they feel it is for the best. By comparison that is to say that the Republicans or Democrats (or should I say "Republicrats"?) deem it necessary that the entire state become what the majority is, and to force it on the other party. That is the start of fascism. It is the start of assimilation of mass proportions. Soon afterwards I could see that other opinions could not be possessed: the sexual orientation of the majority must be correct or the race of the majority must be correct. Yes, these are things that can't be changed, and religious belief can be changed. But, is there any difference in the inherent nature of these identifying classifications? No, and one cannot accept the majority as being correct simply because it is the majority. If that was the case, slavery would still exist, women would still be in the kitchen, and everyone would follow mob rule. Hell, we wouldn't have been able to evolve into humans hadn't some distant ancestor of ours challenged the troop-held belief that we should walk on all fours.
I think it is important that we recognize and tolerant other religions, and not try to force some standard on a nation, let alone one that is as free as the United States. This nation was born out of the notion that state official religions were wrong, and we shouldn't ignore history. I see the drive of trying to blend the state and church as another attempt for those with power to exploit and control the people. What has it ever been, though? STATE AND CHURCH SEPARATE!
ROTE & CONFORMITY
One distinct reason I have so much to distrust about religion is its reliance on rote. If there is one thing that characterizes nearly all religions, it is its uncanny ability to keep its followers in like frames of mind.
Think of yourself saying a prayer in a group. You don't have time to consider its meaning or reflect deeply upon the words-- you simply try to get the words right and not make a fool of yourself in the presence of others. Rote, to me, is one of the scariest things about institutions, religion included. I shudder, more than I ever have, when I hear the Pledge of Allegiance, the Scout Oath, or the Lord's Prayer. The people who repeat these slogans and sayings have, at one point in their lives, memorized the words. At that time, they could have considered the words, but now they don't. Whenever it is said, one almost never reconsiders the words, even though such things should be constantly reconsidered, if only to reinforce one's convictions.
I can't remember how many times I've mindlessly joined along in the aforementioned sayings. I remember how I never considered their meanings. I was taught all three at a young age, when I didn't have the mental capacity to consider what I was saying, and the consequences of how I was aligning myself with America, god, etc. Since I was young at the time, I grew up simply repeating the words. This is the way it is with most people, yet most never do question, as I did one day. After awhile, people just believe what they are saying, regardless of whether or not they would in a clearer and more honest state of mind. This is called indoctrination. I could attempt to recall the instances in which such practices have happened, but I'll just bring up a popular one: Germany, 1930's and 1940's. If one feels brave enough to argue that such hatred and such horrible war could not have been avoided by never having the propaganda and indoctrination systems of Nazi Germany, I hereby renounce them fools. They, as all religious and Americans, are taught at a young age to say certain things; later they couldn't question what they were saying, because they had never considered them in the first place.
I'm not saying that codes, oaths, prayers, and other prose are inherently wrong, but I am saying the rote memorization and blind, questionless recall of such words is morally transparent, conformist, dishonest, closed-minded, and very, very dangerous. If you ever start repeating something, make sure you believe in it from the start-- all of it! And continuously ask yourself if you still feel as strong as you did originally and should you still repeat it? If not, please stop, before you become a less sentient being without reasoning capabilities.
EXTINCT OBJECTIVES & KNOWLEDGE
I claim that perhaps religion once had an important role to play in the world, but now its place is gone. Imagine yourself in a world, long ago, where nothing was known of biology, anatomy, chemistry, meteorology, or astronomy. Picture yourself in the midst of a society that has no knowledge of the fundamental workings of the planet. Nothing is known of geology, geothermics, plate- tectonics, or volcanism. Yet, in your world and in the environment occurs thunder storms, volcanoes, tornadoes, floods, earthquakes, droughts, windstorms, brush fires, etc. (you get the picture). You know nothing of how these natural phenomena exist or occur. They scare you. No, they scare the hell out of you! Maybe it's the fact that you don't understand them that scares you so much. You seem to think that they exist only because something more powerful is making them happen, not simply because they happen under explicit scientific situations and variables. So, you begin to create a complex (and arrogant) understanding of your world.
If these phenomena occur, you think it's because something bad has been done to displease this force (you naturally assume it has human intentions like displeasure, because your thinking is egocentric). When good things happen, this force is happy, so you praise it, not knowing any more about it than you know about atmospheric science. The natural progression of things results in someone or a group of people steps forward with "insight" into this force. They claim to speak to or for it. Maybe they are delusional or maybe they truly believe themselves. It doesn't matter.
More complexity is added to this system of praise and punishment. Doctrines are established, ethics are created, rules are instantiated. This system is passed on to the next generation, all the while gaining influence, gaining in complexity, gaining more stories, gaining more speed. It becomes impossible to stop, if anyone would want to. This could be how religion started. I think, however, it was a gradual thing that occurred ever since our primordial ancestor's brain cases increased in size. The more curious we became, the more we searched for answers, but we didn't have enough knowledge to get the answers that were correct, so we did what we do best: make something up. Or perhaps, it would be a better guess to postulate that our ancestors simply solved their questions as best they could, with their existing faculties. The answers suited their curiosity and the situation. Yet, as they grew smarter in the ways of the world, the answers had to match the questions in complexity. That's why we see such complicated religions today such as Christianity and Islam. These religions tried to keep up with the times, and found out they could not, but somehow they struggled against humanity's intuition to question. But, it was too late; the near perfect system of indoctrination and fear was already established. Only now in the late 20th century (A.D.) is this system starting to deal with resistance again. I think it's a highly appropriate time.
We now know of black holes, atoms, electrons, quarks, plate tectonics, advanced sorting algorithms for computers, the double-helix, g-forces, and virii. We understand economic systems, ego and id (or at least suspect they exist), propaganda systems, political maneuvering, highly sophisticated techniques of war, brainwashing, chaos theory, and we, in America, claim to speak of the important liberties of speech, press, assembly, petition, and of religion. We are more advanced than our ancestors of millions of years ago, who one day decided to walk erect. And rightfully so, we should have a deeper respect for the world that surrounds us, and not inhibits us. It does not shroud us in ignorance-- it screams its reality. We need only listen.
There is something about religion that agitates, yet it is something that I see few ways around: the way that people seem to "inherit" the religion of their parents. Usually the faith is kept in the bloodline by teaching the children the parent's religion. This, of course, is the logical thing for the parent to do: while teaching the child the proper way to act in society and the morals to follow, religion, by definition, goes hand in hand with these lessons in life.
This is natural behavior, yet from my perspective, it is very disconcerting to watch a child grow up questioning everything in the world around them, except religion, because it is not meant to be questioned-- it is too institutionalized. It happens, though, and nothing can be done to disrupt this conformity, unless the mind is attuned to curiosity and is made to question authority. Without these characteristics, the mind remains closed, and faith is passed on (with the mind still closed) to the next generation.
I wish there was a way for people to raise their children with their traditions, yet still leave them open enough to choose for themselves what they wish to believe. Some parents are strong enough to do that, but most give a good "starter shove" in the direction that they themselves reside. Thus, in most situations, the shove causes a downward spiral toward that set of beliefs. It's so much easier for the child that way. But, fortunately, some children abhor this coercion as much as I do, and make up their own minds. Even if it is not atheism or the like, I applaud them for finding their own voice amongst the shouts and pressure of society. Yet, I know those shouts influenced them partially. Otherwise, they would have created their own religion, since nothing would work perfectly for just them.
Ignorance, close-mindedness, roboticism, self-adamancy, and other disgusting things are propagated from this "passing of the torch". But everyone reading along knows I'm beating a dead horse. Little can influence parents to raise their children differently than from how they feel. Paternalistic nature is too strong. It resists governments, society, and other human influences. This nature does not resist religion; it conforms to it.
RELIGIOUS SUPREMACY & THE "FRACTURING PROCESS"
I have a bone to pick with something that I think everyone has wondered at one point in their lives, but most have shrugged off as unimportant. Take a look at the plethora of religions. Inside Christianity itself there are nearly (if not more than) a hundred different religions. All assume to be The Religion. Yes, of course, few actually say, "I am right" and "you are wrong", but why do they have to, when they do things differently? If they felt that everyone was doing things right, everyone would try congregating into a larger religion, not smashing like a mirror (like Christianity has done). By the mere example that they set forth, they are representing competition for god's time. They all speak of a similar god, yet they can't all find the same way to conceive of it, worship it, live by its example, or whatever.
Consider the importance of worshiping a god correctly. So many religions do this act differently, and refuse to accept that there is any other proper way to achieve the objective of worship. So many religions find different ways of interpreting sacred texts. Be it the Bible (which version?), Koran, the Vedas, Talmud, Tora, Ramayana, Mahabharata, or Bhagavad-Gita. How about the different ways they organize their hierarchy of rule? They all have different conceptions of an after-life, doctrines to live their lives according to, and different goals that, as a religion, they try to reach. Such differences, in my mind, are too intense and overbearing to admit any compromise. Think of a Baptist pastor saying one day, "You know what Mr. Muslim? You've been right all along! The Koran is really the holy script! But, I still believe everything else that a Baptist believes." Such a statement would be contradictory, even if we substituted something other than a sacred text as the variable. There is, nothing to compromise on, within or outside major religion classifications. The only thing that religion can do is fragment. That I believe will be the downfall of religion; it will fragment beyond the point of control-- people will be so divided on what to believe that they will just give up believing all together. Either religion will fall, or else human kind will fall, and truthfully, I'd prefer it be religion.
UNREALISTIC DEMANDS, THE "ONE-UP" MENTALITY, & SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS
Here is an interesting thought that a friend proposed to me once: in the view of a Christian and his faith he will admit two facts. One: "God is all knowing". Simple-- he'll admit it. And two: "God created the world". Another easy one. Then I ask the question, "Why did this all knowing god willingly create a world in which the majority of people are going to Hell, since they do not believe in it? I don't want to believe in such a god. That is not only wrong, but it would be unjust, immoral (by its OWN standards!), and cruel to do such a thing. Thus, I feel that both of those two statements cannot be true." Perhaps one of them may be accurate, but no way could both be true-- on the strength of the previous question and logical association.
Consider the complexity of this world. How could all the people on this earth, consecutively believe in different things, and by one religion's standards, still be born with a fair chance at being "saved"? It is conceivable to think that a Buddhist from India could be born and somehow become Christian in time before he dies in order to save his soul. But, how likely is that? Or, perhaps an orthodox Jew, finding his way through the religious gobbly-guck, and finding Confucianism? Highly unlikely. Yet, that's what all religions imply must happen, in order to reach Nirvana, Heaven, Enlightenment, Salvation, etc. The scales are tipped against everyone from birth. (side thought: wouldn't it be a curious thing to see someone attempt all religions, and still not see the hypocrisy in split-allegiance? But, split-allegiance really is ridiculous, isn't it? No religion allows for extraneous factors to influence it.) Religion is an institution of dictionary definition standards. Hypocrisy? Tolerance and respect? Compromise? Basic acknowledgment? Religion does not take such things into consideration. It only cares for "its own". It only sees things relevant to its believers. So, inevitably, religion does say, "I'm right, you are wrong!"
Think of the claim of any particular religion. Even if they do not vocalize the opinion that they are the only correct religion or the best religion, all religions still hold this arrogant belief that they are right. Of course, why wouldn't they? Otherwise why would they belong to and follow a religion if they did not feel it to be correct (or most accurate)? Most people believe that what they are doing is best. Wouldn't it follow that, to these people, that they are worshiping in the "ideal" way? Yes, that is the natural progression of thought. Yet, some would not readily admit thinking they are "ideal"; many are too proud, so they play the humble role. But, they still think that they are doing a better job of worship that someone of differing faith.
So, if one is of the belief that their religion is "#1", all other religions must be "#2" or less. Some people do not try to rate religion, but this is the underlying pecking order that religions see. Now, imagine a world full of people who think their religion is "#1". Ridiculous, isn't it? What would make Christianity more valid to a Christian than Islam is to a Muslim? Nothing. In their own minds, they are correct, the other is wrong. Consequently, what we have is hundreds of gods and sub-gods, all being worshiped as adamantly as the next. From my perspective (one of neutrality), I see that every believer is delusional-- they are under the influence of the same drug that everyone else is under: self- righteousness. I submit that if one religion might be the one true religion, they might all as well be the correct religions. And they might as well all be wrong, since all are different, yet claim the same thing. It would be to say that all baseball teams claim that they are the best team, and in the end finding out that that is not possible. One team may win this year, but next year a different team might win then. I'd rather be one of the people who are disinterested in the whole sport and ignore it on the grounds that it is a boring game, it's a waste of time, and that I have more important things to do.
The only alternative explanation to how a god could exist and yet satisfy every individual religion and person's expectations is a god that appears to someone as they wish it. Not necessarily a "shape-shifting" god, but a "personal" god is the way that this could be solved. But, this is not the type of god referred to in any religion, now is it? In fact, this idea totally clashes with an actual embodiment of faith and belief that everyone can worship-- it wouldn't be possible because it is so different for every individual person that there could be no consistency. This explanation only seems to allow one possible conclusion: we are each our own gods. God exists within our own brains. If we are to accept that, where the hell does that leave all of us? (no pun intended)
MY PERSONAL HISTORY OF SKEPTICISM & DOUBT
I was raised in a Christian home, specifically a Roman Catholic one. Many people will say, "Ah, that says it all. It was the strictness that broke your back." That's not true at all. Even though my family followed all the guidelines of Catholicism they never were too forcefully with many things. For instance, they rejected some of the more "traditional" ideas of Catholicism, such as "the place" of the woman in society and church, acceptance of homosexuals, and biology/evolution (both are wonderful physical and life science teachers). Looking back, I see the main things that were emphasized were "being good". I say "being good" not as in the religious sense of being good, but the good humanistic, polite, respectful, and caring sense that I believe humans should conduct themselves with.
I was in bed one night when I was six years old. My parents were out doing something together and a college student baby sitter was watching me and my brother at our apartment. I was laying in bed, and just thinking (the way normal six year olds do), and then I had a very un-six year oldish thought (and a very disconcerting one for me, even now): the idea of "eternal life". I thought of life continuing for an infinite period of time. It scared me so badly I started crying. I couldn't fathom the idea of forever and ever. Then, I thought of what the other alternative was: dying, and not living any more, ever. And that scared me just as badly. It was the first time in my life I felt true fear. I didn't know how to deal with these ideas of infinity or "forever". And today, I don't think other religious do, either-- I think it's used as a catch-all phrase.
Later, in second grade, I went through First Communion (when a member can first accept the bread and wine that "is"/represents the body and blood of Jesus). I wondered why they let us, a class full of eight year olds, drink wine. In the US the consumption of alcohol (such as wine) is illegal until the age of 21. It confused me how this church was above the law. It didn't seem to correspond with what I was taught every where else, to follow the laws of our country; here I could drink alcohol. Regardless of whether or not it really is Jesus' blood or not, it still was the act of drinking alcohol before the age of legality that made me question the action I was doing. It also, more importantly, made me question the power the church welded in society. The police officer sitting four pews back was not going to arrest me for a minor consumption of alcohol charge in church. And I wondered why.
I made a friend when I was in sixth grade who was four years older than me. He was an American born Indian. His casual attitude towards a mainly Christian society inspired me. His "faith" in Hinduism never really bothered him or anyone else who knew him. It was not a point of discussion or conflict. He was a highly intelligent, motivated, athletic, and friendly person. This all made me question how an individual who believed in many gods actually succeeded at being a better human than even I, a Christian who believed in the one, true god.
If the reader still questions whether or not the strictness of Catholicism lead to my "downfall", I will concede and admit that perhaps it contributed. Yet, my parents belong to one of the most progressive Catholic churches I know of, the Newman Centers. They are found usually on college campuses (thus the "progressive" nature they possess). A few years ago, at the church that my parents still attend, there was a situation that to this day still disgusts me. There was at this time two priests, and one was quite active in the community-- sort of in an activism role. At one point he was even arrested for civil disobedience. When he stood up against homophobia and for rights for homosexuals, half of the people who attended the church left. This was told to me by my parents (I was too young at the time to understand), and even if my Mother was exaggerating and only a few hundred people left, it still makes me queasy. I can't fathom how progressive Christians, who claim to love their neighbor as their own brother, can be so cruel to disown their fellow human beings. What an act of small-minded, hypocritical bigotry! In my eyes, Christianity and all of its teachings have failed for them.
IN "DEFENSE" OF RELIGION
Recently modified: 08.23.98
I think that I need to say that I'm glad that religion exists-- for those who need direction and guidance and can't get it on their own. I do not mean that as an insult to anyone or as to say that people who believe are stupid idiots. What I am implying is that it is beneficial to aid in structuring consistency for people, reliability when they see none around them.
I can only imagine a world filled with fearless, uncaring people roaming around causing havoc and destruction without worry of anything happening to them in another life. In addition to providing law and order, religion also creates a wonderful buffer between reality and fantasy. It links the two (as if they could actually be related) and tells believers that by following rules, the two can be lived intertwined. Religion fills a void that asks "why are we here?" Humans are curious creatures, and the possibility that it all is just dumb luck that we exist, would be too much for some. Yet, for me, I can accept that there is not greater, hidden meaning; except the meaning that we make for ourselves as a species.
Even though I acknowledge religion's "usefulness", I do not appreciate what it does to people. Even though the world might be better off with some people seeing greater, religious meaning to their lives, I do not enjoy what their faith in such things causes them to inflict upon me. I am constantly bombarded with religious propaganda of all kinds: poems, stories, drawings, murals, quotations, and such. I am also harassed by the morals of religion: morals that the religious think I should possess. I am approached constantly by people (always Christians) trying to recruit me and take me into the fold. It annoys me that they see me as close-minded and believing as they are. When they find I am not like-minded, they are angered. "Ah, sweet conformity-- it hardens the heart."
I am told by these people that I am a sinner, I am told to repent, I am told I am going to hell, I am told I should give thanks to god, I am told to bow down and worship in front of god. None of this is asked of me-- it is ordered. Why is religion so forceful? Why does religion hate the non-religious so much? Doesn't their own faith in forgiveness and kindness lead to understanding? Not if their "understanding" is based upon half-truths, irrationality, power, and deception. My open and critical mind is their greatest threat to existence.
Even if the person who tries so hard to convince me of his beliefs is really well and honestly intended (no manipulative, power, or status intent), I still have always questioned why religion (Christianity in particular) must recruit followers? Ambitions of saving the world from sin seem rather unlikely when I think of all the common-followers who have tried to sell me on religion. I often have suspected (this is an unvalidated idea) that one of the main reasons Christians try to draft others into their ranks (whether they will admit it, or are even consciously aware of it) is because they feel safer in numbers. Allow me to expound: they feel more confident in their beliefs when there are more people believing in what they believe. Seem unrealistic? Think about it. People are the most notorious conformists in the animal kingdom. Our behavior is so enraptured in social formations that we find it difficult to be sure of ourselves in anything when enough people oppose us. If you've got this great idea about the meaning of life doesn't it become better when more people believe that idea as well? Well, no. But, it does make us feel a lot more confident about our idea.
So, is all of religion bad, in my eyes? Not at all!! I find many ideas and beliefs held in many faiths to be very admirable. For example the vast majority of quotes from Jesus in the Bible I think are very wise ways for living one's life: forgiveness, caring for those lesser fortunate, pacifism, etc. Buddhism inspires on different levels of self-improvement, as does Wicca's ideas of inter-connectedness in the environment. I find myself borrowing ideas from many different disciplines and religions and using the best ideas to form a better way to live my life. I also think there are good concepts inside socialism, anarchism, feminism, humanism, existentialism, libertarianism, altruism, and definitely empiricism. It's when people start to restrict ideas into concrete structures that brand deviation as heresy, which leads to coersive and authoritarian power control, that they also limit the potential of other ideologies. And so it goes: I think that it is completely acceptable to use ideas from a religion that are good and apply them to your life and your own philosophies; not only is it acceptable, but a very efficient and open-minded way to live your life.
I've thought long and hard about the reasons for religion. I've pondered endlessly the purpose of religion. I've mentioned many of these reasons in previous sections, yet one of the most important and pulling one remains to be mentioned.
Death. The word itself even looks scary, let alone all the connotations it provokes in our active minds. Humans, ever since they have been able to grasp at their own self-awareness, have worried about death. They try to cheat it, to ignore it, to plead for it to ignore them, to resist it, to dismiss that it effects them, and most importantly, they try to convince themselves that death isn't final.
Most of the non-Judeo-Christian world sees life in a very cyclic nature. Judeo-Christian philosophy views life in a linear fashion (i.e. with a beginning and end). From Hindus to Muslims, from Egyptians to the Ancient Mayans, life is viewed as a cyclic process that ranges from life to death and then repeats. The days, the seasons, and life itself is a series of births and deaths, each blending into each other in a pattern that never ends. So, it is easy to see how Judeo-Christian philosophy, which judges life so linearily, to search hard for a deeper continuation that other philosophies have already found.
Isn't it convenient to ignore those suffering in this world if you know that those suffering will be rewarded with an eternal life of joy in another world? Isn't it convenient to forget your own disparity and pitiful existence in this world if you know that you will get to have another shot in another life free of class, nationality, and racial inhibitors in place? Isn't it a great way to let this world fall into disrepair and apathy with the assurance that there will be a second chance for all of us-- one that is perfect and free of pain? Sure it is. I would never argue otherwise.
Isn't the promise (a promise from whom, though?) of an afterlife a beautiful way to deal with death? Isn't much better to refer to your grandparents as happy and satisfied in a place called Heaven or Nirvana or whatever, than to refer to them buried in the ground, rotting away, totally indistinguishably? Of course it is. Can't we all accept this whole "life" thing a lot easier if we think that death is just another step in life, and not the final act? Who wouldn't want to die happily thinking that something more important lay in store for them after they breathed their last breath? No one wouldn't, including me.
Yet, despite how much closure this whole "afterlife" concept gives people, and despite how it allows people to accept death, I feel that we are making critical errors in our reasoning, which is emotionally influenced, and not rational, and are resulting in a detrimental effect on humanity and society in general.
First of all, we have absolutely no proof of an afterlife. Even testimonies of ghosts, spirits, demons, zombies, vampires, etc. never amount to anything that can substantial force us to approach the possibility of life after death. There has never been a case of a person dead (completely) coming to life and telling us about the cool stuff he did in Heaven before he came back to earth here for another round. No testimony exists for an afterlife, and for obvious reasons.
Secondly, we all, if we try hard enough, and with an open enough mind, can imagine the reasons that such an idea would come into existence. Try: all across the world since "modern man", historic man, and any human semi-sentient lived, people have suffered. They have starved, have been killed in accidents, have been killed in war, have died from disease, have been enslaved by foreign powers, have been inflicted by their rulers, etc. The people themselves want to believe there is someplace where life is easy, good, and free of care. They want to believe this, because for the most part, and for the average human, life sucks-- it's just not that much fun. They want to have something to look forward to by believing in an afterlife. But, why should they believe in an afterlife? Because someone tells them that god(s) promise afterlives to people (sometimes with conditions, sometimes not).
Then there are the reasons of the people who rule "the people". These are the leaders, the ones in power. They have most of the money, most of the land, most of the luxuries, and least of the worries about general survival. It is in their very best interests to keep the people underneath them working away blissfully (miserable, yet hopeful) and not trying to do anything to remedy their current situation (e.g. overthrow the dictator, king, extremely rich man, slave master, etc.). They understand (and have always understood) that if something gives the people reason to continue living and serving the ruler, that they should allow it, and even encourage it, since it serves their purpose, continued luxury, and keeps everyone in "their place".
Third, an afterlife prevents people from focusing on the present. If some reckless person thinks they can just screw around in life and then get into Heaven just for being good, they never focus on their present situations, about the people they hurt, the damage they do, and the pain they cause themselves, because it's irrelevant to the gift they get in Heaven. If people thought that this was it, that life is totally done with after they die, would people live their lives differently? You bet they would. They would value life more, they would be much more hesitant to engage in warfare, they would be more willing to help those in need (to improve the lives of others), to do things that are productive, beneficial, and good for themselves, their loved ones, the environment, and the human race because this is the only chance they've got!
I've seen so many people blaze along in life, being selfish, being mean, being rude, raping and polluting the environment, destroying where and what they please, and not thinking about much save themselves. They just throw good sense and humility to the wind as if to call out, "my life is all about me, I don't care about others, and I don't give a fuck about anything else, 'cause I'm going to get another chance since I believe in god!" And there is nothing I can say to these people. There is no way for me to make them care. They are so centered on themselves, and what they need that they don't care what or who they walk over to get it. This makes me sick, and it makes me feel very, very defeated.
There are also many, many thoughtful and caring people who are not like this, that take caution in what they do and act generously with others. They are not centered on that "second chance": they're working hard to improve their lives right now, and everyone else's. Yet, they still choose to believe in god and heaven. Their reason: "I'd rather take the chance and be right, then not believe and be wrong." For many people this logic is flawless.
For me, I couldn't believe in something of such an important issue on hearsay or, should I say, "myth"? I don't wish to waste even a little bit of time in idle worship or subservience for the possibility of reward. It's always the hint of reward, the faint scent of cheese that makes the mouse race furiously around the maze in pursuit (usually in vain). I don't like to play the odds, especially when they are stacked against me in the first place. Odds are deceiving things that make people imagine, instead of trying to prove or work for something. It's an attractive idea to gamble away your money instead of investing it in beneficial things, but almost always, you get no return for all the money you offer up. No matter how much you want to believe in "getting something for nothing", the idea is still morally and economically flawed. I am of the firm believe that it is just plain wrong to believe in something simply because you want to, and not for any good reason.
Atheism (having no belief in a god or goddess)
Two of five topics to put Atheism in perspective:
1. Atheism is ambiguous & difficult to discuss.
2. Would the U.S. accept an Atheist president?
1. Atheism is a difficult topic to discuss:First of all: some definitions related to deity/deities:
- A deity is a supernatural being whose powers greatly exceed those of humans. For those who believe in the existence of only a single deity, that being is often regarded as having created the universe.
- A god is a male deity. However, among those who believe that a particular god is a spirit without a physical body, the concept of gender as applied to such a deity is not necessarily obvious.
- A goddess is a female deity.
- We are unaware of a term that refers to a gender-neutral deity.
Some definitions related to Atheist and Atheism:
- Most people, at least in the U.S., appear to define "Atheist" as a person who absolutely rejects the existence of all deities -- that is, gods, all goddesses, and all gender-neutral deities.
- However, most Atheists appear to describe themselves as persons who have no knowledge of a god and/or a goddess. Some might draw an analogy with Bertrand Russell's famous teacup (a.k.a. the celestial teapot or cosmic teapot). According to Wikipedia:
"Russell wrote that if he claims that a teapot orbits the Sun somewhere in space between the Earth and Mars, it is nonsensical for him to expect others to believe him on the grounds that they cannot prove him wrong. Russell's teapot is still referred to in discussions concerning the existence of God." 1
Similarly, it is just as impossible to prove that no deity exists then it is to prove that the celestial teacup doesn't exist. To do so, would mean that one would have to know everything there is to know about the universe. Therefore theists -- people who believe in one or more deities -- should not expect an atheist to have to prove that no god exists.
- Some people define Atheism to be a religion because:
- it refers to specific beliefs concerning deities, humanity and the rest of the universe.
- Most Atheists have developed a moral code to accompany their Atheism. Almost all religions also have moral codes.
- If one asks most people, who regard themselves as atheists, what their religion is, they will often respond "Atheist."
- it refers to specific beliefs concerning deities, humanity and the rest of the universe.
Others disagree. American Atheists take the position that Atheism is neither a belief system nor a religion. They state:
"While there are some religions that are atheistic (certain sects of Buddhism, for example), that does not mean that atheism is a religion. Two commonly used retorts to the nonsense that atheism is a religion are:
1) If atheism is a religion then bald is a hair color, and
2) If atheism is a religion then health is a disease."
A new one introduced in 2012 by Bill Maher is, 'If atheism is a religion, then abstinence is a sexual position'." 2
- Others reject classification of Atheism as a religion simply because they require the term "religion" to include a belief in at least one deity. When this web site went online in 1995, the Government of Canada would not allow the organization behind the web site to qualify as a registered charity. That is because the site deals with religion, and the Government required that such groups teach that least one deity exists before they could register as a non-profit. So we had no option but to register as a for-profit group. Similarly, the Government of Ontario refused our original choice of name which was "Ontario Center for Religious Tolerance." They argued that the term "center" is restricted to non-profit groups. Because we had already use the acronym "OCRT" frequently on our web site, we adopted the rather awkward name "Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance."
- People have used terms like strong Atheism, negative Atheism, soft Atheism, implicit Atheism, Apatheism, etc. to refer to various sub-groups among Atheists.
- Some consider Agnostics as being within the Atheism fold, because the former also have no firm belief in the existence of God.
- Some Agnostics consider themselves to be Atheists because -- in the unlikely event that they have to made a personal decision based on the existence of God -- they would assume that God does not exist.
It is doubtful that the terminology involving the terms Atheist and Agnostic will be clarified any time soon.
One attempt at clarification was made by Richard Dawkins in 2012. 3 He measures belief about God on a scale from 0.0 to 7.0 where:
- 0.0 refers to an theist who is absolutely convinced that one or more gods exists.
- 7.0 is for strong Atheist who is equally certain that no god exists.
- A person holding a value greater than 0.0 and less than 7.0 is an Agnostic.
Dawkins, who is often regarded as the most famous Atheist in the world, describes himself as a 6.9 Agnostic.
2. Atheists are distrusted intensely in the U.S.:
Gallup has been asking American adults since the year 1937 whether they would vote for a member of various groups to be president. In mid-2015, they asked the question:
"Between now and the 2016 political conventions, there will be discussion about the qualifications of presidential candidates -- their education, age, religion, race, and so on. If your party nominated a generally well-qualified person for president who happened to be ----------- would you vote for that person?" 4
For many years, Atheists trailed the pack as the least acceptable as president.
In the 2015-JUN-04 poll: