Religion as a backward boomerang

Religious Icons - main ones anyway

I guess all this stuff about burqas and my searching out some history on the wearing of them has led me again to think about religion per se. I have difficulty with religious superstition and the necessary dogma(s) that belief in religion entails. It leaves me cold to my bones; at the same time I can get quite incensed about it.

Religion is the weirdest concept to have become over-developed in our species. I don’t have a problem seeing an original animism, tribal cohesion and the recognition of environmental danger in the genesis of these types of superstition. I can understand that offspring look to their elders for guidance and rules of engagement with the strange, large world about them and their relative vulnerability.

That makes enough sense to me to nod my head at Richard Dawkins and other evolutionary biologists and philosophers and other thoughtful thinkers who postulate this behaviour and agree that it is evolutionarily sound in primitive man.

Ahem – this is the 21st century. We now know all that rustling in the bushes is not a supernatural manifestation sent to test us by some god or another – of which there are thousands anyway – gods that is, not bush rustles.

We have identified our sun as a star and our planet as one of many that revolve around it. We know that our planet is not the centre of the universe. Right?

The universe is a BIG place. Right?

Geocentricity has lost favour to greater, evidenced knowledge and cosmological understanding. Right?

This is us as Voyager saw us. Tiny!!

Then why do we behave as though we are the most important beings in the universe and believe there’s a god up in the sky (now don’t pick on this primitive description of a god)  who watches every move you make and holds you to account on some far off (but apparently getting closer) judgement day?

I don’t understand the obviously puny nature of this (these) god(s) that can only relate to our wee planet and us. I was going to say, forgive the sarcasm, but I won’t.

I have lost count (even if I ever knew) how many times religite ‘leaders’ have predicted dates for the end of the world as we know it – and they mean the universe, folks, not just earth. The latest craze is for death, destruction and other mayhems at the end of 2012 with the supposed cessation of the Mayan calendar presaging the demise of everything. Whew!!

Then there’s the Armageddon of that lunatic John writing his mushroom-soaked scribbling in a cave on Patmos. For that to come about, there are so many preconditions to be filled involving Jews, gold, oil and land with re-builds of temples etc. I don’t claim to have misused my time researching these things ad nauseum but others have and get quite excited by the prospect of our annihilation. Bizarre.

No prediction has ever made any sense let alone even uttered a cosmic cough but the excuses are always forthcoming as to why predictive errors were made. So why do people still predict and think that their predictions have any credibility? Why are their followers so credulous as to believe, fervently, that man’s invented gods have any more presence than individual neurological twitterings?

As a species, it is long past the time for us to put away childish things. This phrase is quoted far and wide but how many of us know that it is biblically founded?

The childish things Paul of Tarsus referred to were the base emotions to which we fall prey, not toy trains. Paul further begs the Corinthians to develop an adult understanding and eschew malice.

Paul of Tarsus maybe!

At least, that is sort of what his letters to the Corinthians appear to say. After all, these writings have been translated, re-translated, interpreted and re-interpreted until it is not surprising the religites have to come out and publish yet another version. But the story is basically the same, depending on which religious tract, holy book and etc you read. No one takes any notice of course. We still exhibit the basest of human behaviour and make the lamest of excuses for our piss poor behaviour to each other and other species in general.

Anyway, Paul of Tarsus was a little mad (these days he’s fingered as an epileptic) and claimed his visions as the supernatural made manifest. He’s the one who had a conversion on the road to Damascus and claimed god spoke to him. Well ….

Well, so did my great-aunt Mary. She saw visions of Jesus standing at the end of her bed or so we (as kids) were told. She was harmless enough to my knowledge (probably schizophrenic) and she wrote screed after screed to my father exhorting him to turn to religion so he could be ‘saved’. He didn’t.

I still have some of the pleading letters she sent him. She was part of that whacky cult The Plymouth Brethren. The cult started in Ireland and spread to Plymouth in England, surprise!! Anyway the cult were religious separatists so it was not surprising when there was a schism, some split and left for the New World having to sojourn in The Netherlands for some four years before they arrived in New York.

I guess that goes quite a long way to explain America, really. No wonder the initial drafters laboured to keep religious dogma of any one type out of their newly minted Constitution. Hasn’t helped all that much has it? The Americans still encourage religious adherence, at least it seems that way.

The most recent Gallup poll I could find was conducted in 2004. The discussion I read was published here and it appears that since 1997:

… belief in heaven has ranged between 72% and 83%. According to Gallup’s most recent May 2004 Values and Beliefs poll*, 81% of Americans currently say they believe in heaven, 10% are unsure, and 8% do not believe. As expected, regular churchgoers are more likely than others to say they believe: Virtually all (98%) of those who attend church weekly do so versus 89% who attend “nearly weekly” and 64% of those who say they attend church seldom or never.

Probably the most worrying trends in the poll are the increases in belief in angels up from 54% in 1978 to 78% in 2004 and belief in the devil up from 55% in 1990 to 70% in 2004.

What is disturbing in all this, and the poll discussion is worth reading, is that despite the overall secularisation of the western world the population of the largest and (at least on paper) wealthiest post-industrial nation increasingly believes in fairies at the bottom of the garden!

It appears that the American Christian extremists are a burgeoning minority. And the majority of Americans seem unable to self-identify without aligning themselves to some religious cult.

It is getting worse, just quietly. We now have the Muslims hell-bent on out-extreming the Christian extremists in rhetoric. The only thing they have in spades over the Christian camp is a predilection for violence and self immolation while taking as many others with them as possible. Nice!!

The problem for the rest of us is that we have hitherto stood by while these groups and their members became increasingly more certifiable. Then, when a number of us come to the notice of the media, write books and undertake lecture tours to try and point out the folly of all this superstitious way of thinking and behaving, we are called militant, divisive and strident.

I (and many others, I’ll warrant) wonder what can be more militant, divisive and strident than Pastor Phelps and his little banner waving picket who seem able to insult everyone.

A Phelps' daughter smiling!!

Even though I am well aware that there is no profitable discussion to be had between those who choose belief with faith and those who prefer their knowledge well tempered with evidence, the battle rages on.

Intellectual dissonance is not really something that should be encouraged in this (maybe our last) century. We can see where religious fervour could about-turn us to the ignorance and backwardness of centuries past. This is not a value judgement; I am stating a fact that must be obvious to anyone who cares to view our history dispassionately.

As always, I welcome and appreciate comments and discussion and look forward to hearing from you.

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22 comments on “Religion as a backward boomerang

  1. Michelle B says:

    A clever poster at one of the rational/skeptic websites mused that end-of-the-world predictions are the acute versions of the chronic societal malaise of dissatisfaction with reality and change. A milder style is that of one generation berating the younger one, that the world is going to pot, etc. This is just another example of how religion hijacks our existing traits to do its bidding.

    In addition to the bad habit of so many of us singing the catchy global tune of goddidit, there is also the brain-dead deference to religious beliefs, that they are somehow beyond criticism. Instead of focusing on these very solid criticisms, they are pooed pooed away while the messenger is labeled as being strident or that the message is impossible to listen to as religion will always be with us and therefore it is useless to challenge it (where have these folks been in the last couple of centuries, have not noticed that irreligion is on the increase?)

    Essentially, faith which is simply belief without evidence, is considered a virtue. It is not, it is a vice, an awful way of confronting and learning about reality, and we don’t tolerate that approach in any other sphere except the religious. It is a vicious circle of respect on demand enabling the very concept of belief without evidence to remain unchallenged because the religious and their apologists demand deference, on and on and on.

    Belief without evidence is poison, and to the apologists who claim that a little poison is okay, think again.

    • Veronique says:

      ‘Essentially faith, which is simply belief without evidence, is considered a virtue.’ You are right of course, Michelle but still…

      I wonder about this. Sure it seems to be touted as a virtue with haloes appearing everywhere over the heads of the faithful.

      However I tend to see faith as a form of despair, with no one owning up to the despair.

      It appears much easier to grab at whatever crazy end-of-the-world prediction is in vogue at any one time!

      The big problem with the John of Patmos scenario is that there are rich (as in having loads of money) people investing money in finding whatever it is in the desert to fulfil the predictive conditions. Some American oil billionaire is digging for oil in the desert right now.

      Another person, a Jew is trying to obtain permission to trundle rocks up to the Temple on the Mount in Jerusalem do that some other predictive condition can be met.

      To my mind these people are seriously nuts but there they are, doing these nutty things written by another nut high on mushrooms centuries ago.

      Maybe it goes someway to explain the on-going dangerous and poisonous behaviour exhibited by the Israelis in trying to exile (by genocide, it needs to be added) the Palestinians in case there is oil in ‘them thar’ desert sands!!!

  2. Dod says:

    I cannot resist appending my personal thoughts on faith here.

    Faith is a belief in that for which there is no evidence. Faith is something you never get from within yourself. Faith in yourself is not faith, it’s knowledge of your own abilities. Faith – when it comes to instilling confidence – is nowhere near as powerful as knowledge. Faith in fact, is something that someone else wants you to have based entirely upon their say so, they expect you to believe what must only be their opinion otherwise it would be verifiable and be a fact that did not require faith!

    Faith is very confusing and best avoided.

  3. […] all readers of this blog understand how I view organised religion and especially the RCC. I have written before and will undubitably do so […]

  4. […] have said elsewhere, and together with a lot of people with large profiles and journalistic status that I have ceased […]

  5. altonwoods says:

    Hello Veronica! I’ve enjoyed reading your blog a great deal, it’s obvious you’re quite intelligent as are all (from what I’ve read) your commentators, and so in light of that I’ll do my utmost to appear likewise and to not embarrass myself here. My reason for speaking up has to do with what I perceive as being a misunderstanding of what faith actually is. Firstly, it’s not based on nothing (forgive the double negative, that was quick huh?) It is rather the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things unseen. A Christian persons so called “faith” is based on their observation of the presence of a loving God in and through the circumstances of their lives, and their “knowledge” of not only their own broken nature, but of their personal inability to control or to steer these aforementioned circumstances in such a manner as to sustain themselves. In no way is this perception meant to be only applied to the good times in a believers life but most importantly it’s the application of it under adverse conditions that it’s power is truly seen.

    In conclusion, faith is finding peace or rest today and for all of our tomorrows based on the awareness of the loving arms that have held us all along.

    To me it is simple,but then I’m quite a simple man…

    • Veronique says:

      Well altonwoods. Thank you for commenting and as you know I will disagree with your take on faith. Faith is based on faith, nothing else.

      There is and can never be an ‘observation of the presence of a loving god’. This perception is in the mind of the perceiver nothing more.

      My Great Aunt Mary was a rather more extreme example of the fevered religite mind, but she certainly doesn’t lack wacky compatriots.

      You appear to me to be one of those who has ‘a personal relationship with Jesus’, or, at least your comment seems to indicate this.

      You have to understand that I have no belief in any god, past, present or future (unless there is some concrete and physical evidence – not so much as a physical hiccup in 150,000 to 200,000 of our Homo sapiens having evolved on this (and only this) planet.

      I have had people ask me if I believe in god. I ask them which one? Flummoxed, they leave me alone. If they try to tell me that their god is the one then seriously, I have to walk away.

      Christians are christians belonging to as many sects as there are christians. Muslims are much the same. The Jews are also split amongst differing sects.

      Adverse conditions? That is surely a comment on temporal conditions. I cope pretty well by myself and with my close associates. Jesus is not one of them. Nor do I cherry pick those conditions and their resolution and apply anything supernatural.

      I find joy, pleasure, laughter, intellectual companionship, music and gardening with my friends; sometimes cooking as well. My husband is my helpmeet, I have never needed a supernatural god, idea, concept or whatever you may want to call it to get me through the night.

      You may be a simple man. Don’t be simplistic is all I am saying. And don’t ever assume I can be flattered by being called ‘quite intelligent’.

      Thank you for your comment. You are more than welcome to respond.

      • altonwoods says:

        Veronique, I apologize if my referring to you as I did seemed patronizing, I didn’t intend it to sound that way at all. I very much respect yours and anyone else’s beliefs or lack thereof. Thank you for your response!

  6. Gerrard says:

    Thanks for your blog. I have stumbled upon it by accident.

    Allow me to present a few ideas for your perusal. I’ll suggest that these ideas are based in an appropriate Christian biblical theology. I present them for dialogue, not to condemn. The beauty of claiming to be a Christian is that I serve a God who extends grace, mercy, and love to me. Therefore, as I seek to reflect that God, all I can do is ALSO extend grace, mercy, and love.

    1) “Faith” in Christian and non-Christian circles is often misrepresented. “Faith” is not a currency, it is not positive-thinking (“I think I can”), and it is not a guarantor for happiness.

    2) Christian “faith” is partly about me, but not really. There is an aspect of intellectual assent in faith: I “believe” things to be true. However…

    3) Christian “faith” is really about God’s faithfulness and trustworthiness. It’s not about me, it’s about God. It is because God is and does that “faith” exists. “Faith” is faith and trust in God’s faithfulness and trustworthiness (if you have a Bible sitting around, check out Psalm 89. It was written during a time when the nation of Israel was in exile. Check out how they speak of God in the midst of a time when it feels like God has NOT been faithful or trustworthy). “Faith,” then, is actually a response to God. “Faith” is a lifestyle based on the character and actions of God.

    @Dod. You’re right. “Faith” is confusing (see Psalm 89). I’d like to think that just because something is confusing doesn’t mean it’s worth attempting to figure out.

    @All. I agree. Faith without evidence is silly. Though it would seem that several billion people around the world have some sort of “evidence” in their lives that prompts “faith” — a lifestyle (discussing what these “lifestyles” look like is another matter all together). And not everyone is a “great-aunt Mary.” 🙂

    Anywho, just some thoughts.

    -AG

    • Veronique says:

      Well, Gerrard,

      You make the assumption that I haven’t heard all these arguments before. I am 67. Yes, I have heard them all before.

      So, what would you like me to say? That I am overwhelmed by your points? I have to say that I am not.

      1) So? Your point?

      2) Your faith is all about you. No intellect required.

      3) It actually is about you. Who is god? Which one? Who ‘spoke’ to you? Reading some words written by human beings saying they are inspired by god leaves me shaking my head. Are you guys in need of medication or what? Why do you believe everything you read?

      Faith is a lifestyle you have chosen, nothing in it attracts me at all. I am a self determining adult in the 21st century. Middle Eastern goat herders are passé.

      I hope Dod answers you. Several billion people believing as you do does not make it all real. That argument from populism is of no consequence. Can you not stand on your own two feet? Why do you need a congregation of people to make you feel secure in some arcane belief structure that defies physics and chemistry?

      End point – faith is the antithesis of evidence. Evidence is observable phenomena. Faith relies only on the individual (and his agreeing cohorts) to believe in some commonly held superstition. That does not make it real.

      You stumbled on this blog by accident? Well, well found. There is a very good website that you may well enjoy: http://www.asktheatheists.com/

      Give them my regards

  7. Michelle B says:

    The comfort some get in supporting superstitions (no matter how much they rationalize it by using logical fallacies to do so, like argument ad populum, etc.) is way too high a price for me to pay anymore. There is nothing that one can do with religion that one cannot do without it — except irrational faith. It is excess baggage, baggage that adds to our already burgeoning heap of problems.

    Honestly, you can’t do this caring attitude and feeling OK unless you believe in superstitions? A decent reply that religious believers can give is that yes, they want to believe because they believe they need to. But an even better reply would be if they admitted that they are giving support and credence to belief without evidence. And that is what faith is, no matter, how subjectively gussied up it is by the believer.

  8. Michelle B says:

    Using a baloney detection kit is a very good tool in assessing the substantial nature of evidence:

    http://users.tpg.com.au/users/tps-seti/baloney.html

  9. Michelle B says:

    Keep in mind, that atheism is lack of god belief. Most atheists are agnostics, they do not know if there is a god or gods, but because of the glaring lack of evidence, they just don’t bother with the god hypothesis, as it is a failed one–it has no predicting or explanatory potency at all.

  10. Dod says:

    Gerrard said: “Who gets to define “evidence?”

    What do you mean? Evidence is a word which I’m sure most of us know the meaning of, it needs no other definition than the one given in a dictionary e.g. that which upon knowledge is based, that which furnishes proof. etc etc.

    When applied to the existence of gods there is clearly not a shred of evidence for any of them. Some people seem to confuse belief with knowledge and/or facts and fail to understand the irrelevance of belief. I paraphrase it thusly:

    “Facts are meaningful to all, belief is meaningless to all but the believer.”

    With regards to your faith, I contend you have faith because someone initially told you to and you found their argument convincing or appealing; it filled a need in you. Most likely this happened during childhood and you still have the need to cling to it. Personally, I try not to “believe” things, much better to not know than believe when there is no or inconclusive evidence.

  11. Michelle B says:

    Adults can certainly convert to religion or change their brand, which according to American statistics, is a very big group. The framework of respect on demand for religious beliefs and the inane touting of faith as a virtue is alluring for many adults looking for sky hooks instead of sky cranes (knowledge based on evidence that has real predicting and explanatory power via Daniel Dennet’s terminology).

  12. Michelle B says:

    Another way of saying what I had said regarding evidence, is that there is no who in evidence, just how. How we collect evidence. Religious believers would never collect evidence for life and death situations, like choosing the best medical treatment for themselves and their loved ones (excluding the nutty religious believers that reject all medical treatment) like the way they collect their ‘evidence’ for their unfounded beliefs. Their evidence-less faith is a case of disgusting special pleading.

  13. Gerrard says:

    @Michelle. You sound mad. If your willing, what is it that your mad at? Feel free to disregard the question if you like. I apologize for making any assumptions; however, I assure you that it was not my intention to belittle your intelligence. I was attempting to add to the conversation, not debate. I was simply attempting to clarify a Christian p.o.v. of “faith.” You disagree. Cool.

    Just out of curiosity, how’s that 21st century “we’re enlightened” thing going for the world? Sorry, that was sarcastic. My point is, that argument doesn’t do much to convince me of anything. There’s not much in a secular humanist lifestyle that attracts me — what’s the point of it? What is the ultimate end of your life? Happiness? Love? _______ ? I honestly care about your answer(s). These are not meant to “shots” fired at you either. Seriously. I’d like to know why your (non) faith would be a better option for me to embrace? Don’t convince me of why I’m wrong, convince me of why your life is a better way to live?

    As for people of faith not “collecting” evidence in a scientific, prudent, or trustworthy fashion…well…you have a valid point; many do not. 7-day literal creation theorists, world-wide floods, etc. I get you. It’s sad, frustrating, and at times quite maddening. It’s a problem of hermeneutics. One of the frequent mistakes made in Christianity is the practice of preaching, teaching, and believing things that the Bible’s authors never intended to propose. When exegeting Scripture one must be very careful to get as close to the original authorial intent as possible (granted, a difficult thing to do when working with some of the Bible’s 6000 year-old texts).

    I’m curious, does something being old make it irrelevant or inherently incorrect? If so, there are many more things than just the Bible that are in trouble. 🙂

    @Dod. You know that I will contend with your assertion that “there is not a shred of evidence.” 🙂 But there’s no point in that, at least not here. Also, just as a point of clarity, your assumption about how I “came to faith” is incorrect. 🙂

    @All. So if evidence is what is needed to “convince” you of a God or “faith,” what do you need to see/experience? I ask because there are two types of agnostics: 1) Those who actually want to explore the “evidence,” and 2) Those who really aren’t interested in any type of conversation; instead, they’re on a “mission” to create a “faith” of no faith — they’re missionaries of a religion of anti-faith. (And make no mistake, it’s a religion in the same way any religion is — it has practices, “beliefs,” and “ways of doing things” that are deemed to be the best ways of doing things).

    Thanks for the dialogue; I’m praying about it (an action that, if you’re correct, is futile anyways…so I wouldn’t worry about it). 🙂

    -AG

    • Veronique says:

      I wouldn’t worry about it either Gerrard. You have to believe what you do; I have to disparage BS when I see it.

      Ridicule seems to me the best way to address such nonsense as a virgin birth, a ressurectible death into everlasting life and miracles on the Sea of Galilee.

      I have to ask you – how gullible do you take us for?? Huh?? Not a group of simplistic people living anywhere all over the land. Surely not!! I hope not. Mind you, it does show you up as not-very-smart. And in need of a life-long dummy.

  14. Gerrard says:

    Well Veronique, with those kind words or retort, I guess that’s that. Grace & peace,

    -AG

  15. Gerrard says:

    @Michelle. Sorry…I got messed up. I was confusing some of your posts with Veronique’s.

  16. Dod says:

    @Gerrard

    So, by what means did you “come to faith”? Dreamed it by yourself did you, or did the invisible man himself speak to you directly? It’s highly unlikely that anything other than simple indoctrination or self delusion is the reason for your faith, nothing else is plausible.

    The whole idea of wasting one’s life in the “service” (or is it slavery) of some pathetically vengeful and worship-demanding god is demeaning to a thinking person. I will admit however, a slight wish there was a god who might have the gall to judge me, I’d love to tell him what I think of his useless work and horrific record of incompetence! What a prat!!

    Finally, I like Jonathon Miller’s thoughts about your god:

    “The notion of a god is so trivial as to be not worth even considering.”

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