The hiss of religious obscurantism 15

Has anything caused as much human suffering as religion? You might say disease, but religion itself is a disease, of the human race and of individual minds. Persecution, war, torture, terror, bodily pain, mental anguish, profound misery, wasted lives are the chief products of religion.

Religion should have been wrecked beyond repair by science. If science were properly taught to children, and all god-stories classed with fairy-tales as they should be, religion as a force in public life would soon come to an end. We doubt there is an innate need in the human psyche to believe in the supernatural. We doubt that religion arises naturally, fulfilling some evolutionary function. It arose in history because it is natural to homo sapiens to seek knowledge of his world. Religious answers were guesses. Science now provides real answers, more than enough of them to expose the old religious explanations as childish fantasy. It is past time for humanity to give up its religions.

Yesterday we posted an essay on the man whose death inspired the invention of Christianity which argues that he was a lunatic. A reader, Troy, commented that the Christian writer C. S. Lewis “famously said Jesus was either the Son of God or a lunatic”. C. S. Lewis himself apparently weighed up these alternatives – surely with some organ other than his brain – and came to the conclusion that he was the Son of God. In our book that makes C. S. Lewis a lunatic too. In most believers, religious belief is a compartmentalized lunacy. Millions of people continue to believe in the mad ideas of ancient religions while remaining sane in all other respects.

There are even scientists who believe in a supernatural creator of nature. Some scientists who are themselves atheists maintain that there is “something feckless and foolhardy, even indecent, about criticizing religious belief”, as Sam Harris writes in his book The Moral Landscape. He heard some of them “ give voice to the alien hiss of religious obscurantism at the slightest prodding.”

Many scientists and public intellectuals … believe that the great masses of humanity are best kept sedated by pious delusions.  Many assert that … most human beings will always need to believe in God. … People holding this opinion never seem to notice how condescending, unimaginative, and pessimistic a view it is of the rest of humanity – and of generations to come.

He analyses the arguments of scientists who try – and fail – to reconcile science and religion in a chapter titled Religion which he concludes with this:

It can be difficult to think like a scientist (even, we have begun to see, when one is a scientist). But it would seem that few things make thinking like a scientist more difficult than an attachment to religion.

And we continue to be astonished that any sane, adult, educated, intelligent person can believe in the supernatural.

*

Concerning religious belief and lunacy, here’s another quotation from The Moral Landscape by Sam Harris. It’s a horrifying story.

The boundary between mental illness and respectable religious belief can be difficult to discern. This was made especially vivid in a recent court case involving a small group of very committed Christians accused of murdering an eighteen-month-old infant. The trouble began when the boy ceased to say “Amen” before meals. Believing that he had developed “a spirit of rebellion”, the group, which included the boy’s mother, deprived him of food and water until he died. Upon being indicted, the mother accepted an unusual plea agreement: she vowed to cooperate in the prosecution of her codefendants under the condition that all charges be dropped if her son were resurrected. The prosecutor accepted the plea provided that that resurrection was “Jesus-like” and did not include reincarnation as another person or animal. Despite the fact that this band of lunatics carried the boy’s corpse around in a green suitcase for over a year, awaiting his reanimation, there is no [other] reason to believe that any of them suffer from mental illness. It is obvious, however, that they suffer from religion.

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  • Burke and Hobbes

    I agree with most of Mr. Harris here but this:

    “People holding this opinion never seem to notice how condescending,
    unimaginative, and pessimistic a view it is of the rest of humanity –
    and of generations to come.”

    isn’t really any more than an ad hominem. If the opinion is “condescending, unimaginative and pessimistic,” does that make it any less true?

    Harris is an able deconstructionist, but his logic falls sadly short when he attempts to build up a replacement system.

    Personally, I find secular humanist platitudes about human nature almost as baseless and dogma-driven as religion itself. Human nature is a vile, vicious, irrational little thing with occasional flashes of genius. The task of any proper political philosopher is to find a system that neutralizes the evil against itself while allowing the genius to flourish as far as it can. Liberal capitalism works very well on that count, but it will always collapse into class warfare (people being the short-term thinking envious blighters they are) unless the people bind themselves into a transcendent unifying value system.

    Until some secularist finds a rational value as simple and transcendentally meaningful as God to bind society together, I fear we will be stuck in an unending war between cultural Marxists and their identity-politician fellow travelers and dogmatic religious conservatives. The honest, freethinking libertarian conservative will always drift between the two, between epistemology and praxis. Always to remain an ineffective gadfly. Alas.

    • George

                   In reply to Burke and Hobbes  :

      The  principle that you assert also applies in reverse . If I may add , just because YOU two have a particular viewpoint or perception of something or someone doesn’t necessarily make you two right .   I like Mr. Harris testicular fortitude to boldly stand up to the overwhelming religious forces against him ( or rather us ).  Now , having said that doesn’t mean as well that I per se agree with every singular thing that he may expouse.
                            I was once a member of three secular humanist groups and now I am a member of NONE because from my own personal experience and observations , I found that secular  humanists as a whole are just as dogmatic as the religionists that they rail against and are nothing but radical leftist liberals hiding behind secular freethought . I got attacked viciously as a conswervative secularist because I didn’t fall in “lockstep” with their left-wing liberal agendas and philosophies.    I am an honest freethinking libertarian conservative  ( although I do not embrace any of these concepts 100 %  ) and having said that , as much as I can understand your position , I must  also ackinowledge some things that  some people don’t like to hear  ( because of their egotistical false pride ) and you have pointed out a few yourself.   I have considered myself rather conservative  ( but NOT fully ) and I will tell you why.    There are some things that I would NOT want to conserve. I certainly would not want to conserve slavery , Jim Crow segregation , the subjugation of women and the denial of women to have the right to vote , hold public office , serve in the military , etc etc etc —-the list is endless.    There are some attitudes and positions of even conservatives that I find to be highly bigoted.
                        SOME conservatives actually believe that EVERYTHING conservative is automatically good——- ( it’s not )   ,  and I have witnessed this myself . There are a  FEW  things that I have heard liberals expouse that I agree with. I have to analyze each situation and cause to rationally decipher what is deemed just , fair, sensible, logical , rational , and beneficial.     If I emotionally jump to conclusions based upon my “feelings” I will most certainly err which could be tragic.
                           You stated — ” Until some secularist finds a rational value as simple and  transcendentally meaningful as God to bind society together ,  I fear we will be stuck in an unending war between cultural Marxists  , and their identity -politician fellow travelers and dogmatic religious conservatives “.    When I first read this statement from you I must admit I misinterpreted it and then I read it over and over and “openly”  —“picked it apart ” to get the real meaning and then “BINGO ”   you nailed it.  I have in the past in my younger years attended Christian churches and the people there were all nice , sociable and polite ( whether it’s from  selfish reasons or not ) but I have attended secular meetings ( atheists /agnostic/secular freethinkers/secular humanists ) and have been exposed to some of the most rude, arrogant , offensive, narcissistic, conceited, mean-spirited individuals imaginable .  And yet NO ONE listens when I call them out on it.    As an ethnic minority , I have been treated a million times better in the church in the past than currently at secular meetings and gatherings .  Humans are mostly a “pack species ”  and thrive as  group entities.  This has been human nature and the fraternal  tennants of religious groups sustain ( even though it is based on superstition and mythology )  and we as secularists have been so prone to dwell to so much to the  extreme on individualism that it has made us “cold hearted , anti-social , and isolated recluse people to a great extent. When you have SOME people who think they know everything and refuse to listen truly openly, therein is the problem. For the most part I agree with you. 

    • Liz

      I hate to think you’re right, but you probably are.   Maybe this is why so many of our forefathers, even thought they were atheists or deists, resigned themselves to the idea that people were always going to need religion in order to be moral.  I can’t concede to that myself, but I can’t really see it playing out any other way, either, at this point.

  • Harold

    “We doubt there is an innate need in the human psyche to believe in the supernatural. We doubt that religion arises naturally, fulfilling some evolutionary function.”

    I think there is quite a bit of evidence that humans do naturally believe in the supernatural, and that religion can fulfil an evolutiomnary role.  This does not make it any more right, but it does helo to explain its ubiquity.

    Very young humans differentiate between “agents” and other things – i.e. those things that act on the world.  It is a very useful distinction, and allows us to very quickly recognise and avoid tigers etc.  This tendency to attribute agency on things that appear to act on the world could very easily lead humans to naturally attribute supernatural causes to natural happenings.  This property would not entirely lose its function as we grow up.   Thus supernatural belief could well be innate.

    As to fulfilling an evolutionary role, there is also a case to be made here.  Humans exist in cooperative groups.  Those that do not cooperate – the cheaters – can flourish individually, to the detriment of the group.   In small groups, cheaters can be detected and punished.  Their identity can be spread to all members.  In larger groups this is difficult.  Religion provides a method for cheaters to be kept in check.  Those groups with a cohesive religion can grow bigger than those without, and compete better.  There is a credible hypothesis that without religion we would not have emerged from the stone-age.

    • George

      Harold check out the book titled —  ” The GOD Part Of The Brain ” by Matthew  Alper . I heard him once on a late night radio talk show  and he was very interesting and scientific. While I don’t believe that we have any “god gene ” that instructs us to worship any deity , I do believe that humans always naturally sought answers for our existence and of natural phenomena and as such invented gods and devils as a simple  explanation for the mysteries of our existence . Check out the book reviews on the internet . The author is an atheist by the way. Check out  godpart  . com 

  • Mommyof5

    I am curious as to your thoughts on Humanist groups such as the one I belong to – The Society for Humanistic Judaism.  Greg Epstein, who is an ordained rabbi for the SHJ wrote a book “Good Without God” in which he points out that there are SOME good things about religion- when the theism is taken out of it.  It does provide a sense of community and freethinking like-mindedness for those who are humanists.  Our group was present at the Reason Rally and I was proud to be a member.   

    • Liz

      That’s an interesting concept, although it seems pretty pointless to call it a religion, or Judaism, if it does not include the concept of theism in it.
      Of course a sense of community and like-mindedness is always good.
      Do the members of your community tend to agree along political lines also?  That always seems to be the dividing point among atheists. 

    • George

      I have read that book and I was once a member of two humanist groups .  I left both groups because they were so radically left-wing liberal which was their politically driven agenda.    I must admit that there are indeed SOME good things about religion and I will explain by a few examples if  I may. I was raised in the Christian church in my youth and I began to ask questions and demand answers and the more I asked and sought answers the more I found that the supernatural drivel that I was being taught was pure mythological  BS.   
                        Most religious groups are very fraternal and show a great deal of social camaraderie among their members but NOT with atheists.  Atheists in general are so staunchly into the “individual” thing that they become very anti-social which I hate to admit but this is something I have observed for decades. Personally speaking if I had an emergency and needed some help to assist me such as my car breaking down or I need a ride to the hospital I know a number of Christian friends that I could immediately depend on to assist or help me but not one singular atheist that I could depend on.  When I was a member of the Christian church , I noticed that as the church services ended , the pastor would stand at the entrance door and thank the guests and members for coming and a door person would greet guests at the door but not at atheists group meetings at any time.  When I was admitted to the hospital emergency room I called just as many atheist  friends as Christian friends and two Christian friends came to the emergency room  before I was even admitted but the atheists  [ so-called friends ]  did not bother but they will try to make people believe that they are so concerned about people.
                             At one atheist/humanist group , I tried to organize a local soup kitchen at my expense and I was going to foot the bill and I asked for volunteers to help when we had a meeting at the public library and not one atheist/humanist would volunteer for even a few hours on the weekend. If that had been a church meeting I’m sure a large number of volunteers would have gladly helped .
                         My Christian friends would occassionally visit me at my residence just to be sociable but not once have I ever had an atheist/agnostic/humanist/freethinker come by to visit me even if they were in the local area and knew where I resided.  So here I am again “airing dirty laundry” and if this embarrases fellow atheists then good—– I’m glad , I hope so.    Christains are very closely family oriented but from my personal experiences I have seen atheists ( primarily liberal but a few conservatives as well ) who couldn’t give a damn. Nearly all ( but not exclusively ) the atheist women that I have met have been radical feminists  and have a very anti-male attitude and I wouldn’t date any of them to save my life with their attitudes . I would rather date a Christian woman anytime even if our beliefs are vastly different. I have gone to atheist/humanist meetings and have been treated like crap because  I don’t follow ther liberal agendas but I have been guests in the past at both liberal and conservative churchs and they were ALWAYS nice and polite to me . These are MY experiences and I found myself ostracized and also as an ethnic minority none of them were reaching out to me or addressing issues that were indigineous to my ethnic group but they would always mouth off as if they care but they never showed it in their actions.  It was all lip-service and nothing else.  So Mommy of 5 , I have  to agree with you on that maam.  I observed that liberal atheists were pushing a socialist agenda and conservative atheists were pushing a Eurocentrist agenda and I was left out in between . If I complained then I would be made to feel as though I’m   ”  stirring up waves  “.
                               When we had a community anti-crime run and gathering in the minority poor community , we had members of the religious community ( Christians , Jews and Muslims  ) came out and gave support for the cause but I begged the local atheists/humanists to come out and give support with a couple hours on a Saturday once a year and NONE of the atheists/secularists would volunteer and a few told me outright that they were NOT interested. I hate to admit it but I would rather be around my Christian friends rather than my so-called atheist friends from my personal experiences but many atheists in general actually believe that being secular makes them automatically superior but they are all mouth  , talk  and lip-sevice.  Sure we are rational in the sense that we don’t embrace religious superstition but the anti-social behaviors that I have experienced from a number of fellow atheists and some with such arrogant, conceited , narcissistic, elitist atitudes that I feel more comfortable at at times among the religious as far as how I have been treated.
                         I missed the Reason Rally because of personal  matters and I would have loved to have attended and please tell us more about  the event.  As you stated —there are some good things about religion when the theism is taken out of it  , but then again it wouldn’t be religion—–just a philosophy or way of life. Perhaps we as atheists need to look within ourselves and begin to admit our own social flaws but that would be too much like RIGHT .

      • Liz

        George –  I agree with you that the attitudes of most of the atheists you have met is deplorable, but can you honestly say that you think the Christians are friendly and kind to you just because they value you as a fellow human?  You know as well as I do that their main – and maybe only – motivation for being nice to you is to “win your soul”.  The atheists may be selfish and arrogant, but at least their honest about it!
        Christians “love” others for entirely selfish reasons, and false humility is worse than arrogance, in my opinion.

        • George

                              Liz, I have friends that are religious (  Christians ) and  SOME don’t even know I’m an atheist.   So they are not in any sense trying to convert me and the subject of religion never comes up. I’m aware that Christians in general are acting the way they do generally to secure a place in their heaven and yes that is indeed in that sense selfish but on the other hand many are acting  out of a sense of family training upbringing having strong disciplinary and decent home training that has been passed on. I understand your point but the fact  is you have never stood in my shoes and have never experienced what I have over the decades  and instead of so many  atheists excusing or ignoring this social behavior of secular freethinkers  it  must change for the better . An atheist conservative friend of mine  ( one of two that I know in my geographical area ) stated to me that he has also acknowledged and observed that many atheists are rather “cold” and ‘distant”  and sort of “stand-offish” . He’s right .  Whether that’s being their honest selves or not , it needs to change .  
                         I use to have certain Christians make derogatory rematrks to me because of what they had been told about atheists.  When they observed me in the communities engaging in community activities, charity drives, mentoring  and tutoring the youth , and speaking up for decent values and patriotism , and acting moral , those same individuals became my biggest supporters and friends and the subject of religion or atheism was never an issue or was ever brought up. 
                            I was involved in a car accident in the adjacent county and I called a few atheists friends  to see if they would transport me to get my car and I offered to pay for the gas and I was turned down flat by each. I called a Christian friend of mine in the adjacent county who doesn’t know I am an atheist  and he’s conservative and he worked the night shift and I woke him up and he drove to my county , picked me up and never accepted my money . That’s a true friend and such had nothjng to do with religion or secularism ( he just happened to be a  Christian ).  Even a couple of retired atheists refused to help me.  The same atheists absolutely refused to do any good deeds in the community whatsoever  which  would have given us a good image in the community showing that  they (atheists ) cared for the community at large by their actions . I did and have always been welcomed and accepted even though I am secular and NONE of these people tried to convert me or even brought up the subject.   I have been saying for decades now that we a secularists  need to do more in general than just pay lip-service to the problems we face and get out of the closet and do good deeds  which  is what people observe and acknowledge  ( not just talk  or ranting & raving ). 
                                This has been one of my biggest “pet peeves” regarding my secular brethren that I have been trying to get across .  A woman secular humanist / atheist  friend of mine ( now deceased ) said to me that a Christian woman asked her —- ” What do secular humanists do ? ” and my secular humanist friend replied —-  ” We talk “.   I’m imagining that the Christian woman that asked the question is saying to herself —   ”  That’s it ? ” .   I understand your point entirely Liz but we must do more and start showing a positive social attitude and do good deeds publicly and we will be accepted by many.  This will make a big turn-around for us. I do it out of sincere concern for my community and the people know it , observe it  and appreciate it and as such it does indeed send a positive message to the religious community about us.

    • Jillian Becker

      Humanistic Judaism? Religion with the theism taken out of it? 

      Please, Mommyof5, tell us about it. 

  • Liz

    Yes, religion should have long since been consigned to the category of myth and fairytale by now, given the facts and evidence that science has to offer.  It is simply amazing, what a slippery, slimy fish the human mind is when it wants to escape from the grasp of reason, back into the security of its fantasies. 
    I like this observation of Hank Davis in “Caveman Logic”:
    “Religion is not an adaptation (of evolution), but rather the beneficiary of many cognitive and emotional traits that ARE adaptations.  It is in a sense a parasite. 
    It takes full advantage of how our minds perform… our inherited mental defects.
    Being religious is simply an easy, lazy use of our minds,which are capable of so much more…it is a sign of mental laziness.”

    • George

      Absolutely Liz.   I destest Marxist socialism but Marx was right when he said ” Religion is the opiate of the masses “.    Religion is just like opium —it deadens the senses and the ability to think rationally , reasonably, scientifically, sensibly, and independently.  Religion is like a drug , a mind numbing mental form of anasthesia  , or brain functioning psychological tranquilizer.   That was the whole purpose of instituting religion in the first place———–to control the masses.     Its is in every sense of the word  MENTAL  SLAVERY.     They start indoctrinating the youth while young to capture their minds and once the child has been totally mentally enshrouded or psychollogically  immersed  in this mythical , superstitious supernatural and paranormal mindset , they are ” hooked ” for life and the promulgators of these belief systems know it and that is by their design. These belief systems were devised for just that purpose —- to keep people in control and force people to behave and think in a specified manor like human sheep .
                                   These people are so brainwashed that they actually believe that  WE  are misguided and brainwashed because we do not embrace such fairy tale rubbish which they have been mentally programmed to accept blindly without question.  Atheists and scientific minded individuals are also to a degree contributing to the problem by our  public silence and our overall widespread refusal to come out of the closet publicly and stand up and speak up in the open public forum and society at large and fight back for our rational beliefs. Our widespread silence and complacency is very much our biggest flaw and hindrance. 

      • Liz

        Yes, ironically, its almost as if belief in religion (which rejects evolution) is proof itself of evolution!  That we evolved from a state that all other animals are still in – they don’t have to think much, they just act by instinct.  Religion – the opiate of the masses – gives people that same feeling – that they don’t have to think, just obey the rules laid out for them.  What a price to pay – (mental slavery, as you point out) for getting to return to our primitive roots, when all we had to do was blindly follow our instincts.

        • George

          Well Liz , I know a multitude of atheists who will attend monthly secular group meetings at a public library or a Unitarian Universalist Church and listen to some freakin’ speaker  ” preach to the choir ” so to speak but the same atheists are too damn cowardly and intimidated  to speak out publicly at a public meeting, or write a leter to the editor in a newspaper, or let their voices be heard  in a public assembly or even speak up for themselves to their friends, relatives or associates out of fear or intimidation.   I know I’ve said this a few times before but I’m going to reapeat it again and that is —-  around 1990 I called Madalyn  Murray O’Hair to her Austin, Texas office via phone and spoke with her on this issue . I told her how I was so frustrated at how atheists never speak out publicly but are so quick to stick their chests out standing behind  a podium behind closed doors talking to like minded secular individuals who are automatically going to agree with them and applaud them.  I told her they are simply ” preaching to the choir  ” so to speak but they never let their voices be heard in public “arena” and stand up to the religious zealots face to face .   Madalyn replied to me —–  ”   George , that’s because they’re cowards ! “.  How true !  My secular brethren hate it when I expose their own cowardice so openly.   I’m not going to “sugar coat ” anything but tell it like it is. This is our number one hindrance that  is holding us back.  The typical secular freethinker is still hiding in the proverbial “closet” . If other groups had taken this cowardly approach , then women, ethnic minorities and other groups would have never attained civil rights  as other majority groups if this cowardly approach  had been continued to be followed.  The truth hurts and it’s about time that we tell it bluntly and honestly.  We have crazed lunatic religious wavkos that want to kill us or convert us and yet the typical atheist only wants to chit-chat to one another instead of speaking out publicly.  Yes we should discuss these issues among ourselves but this alone is NOT enough if we want true change. Change comes about by people getting out and doing something and not by just ranting & ravbing among one another.      It drives me nuts when I have to  hammer this message home over and over and over and over and over again and again and again.  We as secular freethinkers may be rational in the sense that we do not embrace superstition or mythology but when it comes to standing up for ourselves openly and pragmatically , we fail miserably. At times  , I really don’t give a crap any more when I see so many atheists who do nothing but sit around whining with their “woe is me ” mindset and do nothing about it . I have tried for decades to encourage more and more atheists to speak up publicly only to be attacked and bashed by fellow atheists themselves who want to silence me for exposing their own cowardice and it’s true .  Sometimes Liz I get more ticked off at fellow atheists than the religious nut-cases who try to force their theological ideology upon us.