Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Vivisectus, a personal transition

Hi guys. Long time no see!

These days, when people ask me about my religious beliefs, I describe myself as a stark raving Atheist, and that I believe that religion is bad for you. Originally I didn’t want to have this point of view, but I started a discussion on this site months ago (a year ago? Has it really been that long?) and after a while I ran out of objections to the idea that religion is bad. When I look at it good and hard, I simply cannot escape the conclusion that religion is, at its best, slowing our progress as enlightened, rational human beings. At its worst, it is actually killing us. In return we get a little bit of solace, some social clubs and a bit of charity, although the charities tend to have some missionary strings attached.

One of the objections Theists have to this point of view is that they feel we cannot be moral without a God. However, we do not actually base our morality on holy books – we simply pick and choose from them the bits that seem moral to us. There are few Christians who feel it would be moral to offer their daughters to be raped in stead of a guest, for instance. In stead they focus on the bits that sound nicer, and claim that the ones they don’t like are allegorical. But if it is people doing the choosing, then that means that the morality is in the people, not in the book. If you took bible-morality at face value, you would (1) have to develop multiple personality disorder, because it regularly contradicts itself and (2) be considered a dangerous maniac, and certainly unfit to raise children. The only other option is for a human being to choose how to interpret it, and which bits to take seriously and literally, and which bits to treat as allegorical fairytales. This means the moral choice is made by people, in spite of what the bible says.

Another objection is that everyone has a right to believe what they want. This is true, but within limits. Unfortunately, almost every religion teaches intolerance that is not compatible with modern morals. The religious take on homosexuality is a great example of this. Few people these days believe that you should be treated differently for being gay, yet almost all religions teach that it is in fact a sin, and most even go on to say that homosexuals should be put to death, or that they will suffer terrible punishments for their sexuality in the afterlife. The attitude towards women in the Torah, Quran and Bible is another such example – even the most current is still from the dark ages, and has a  dark ages attitude that it still supports today.

Does someone have the right to express the belief that, lets say, gay people expressing their love in a physical way is inherently evil? If so, how far are they allowed to go? Even if they have the right to freedom of expression, should we tolerate intolerance on the grounds that intolerance is wrong? If so, why is religious intolerance more tolerable than ordinary household racism, or bigotry, or anti-Semitism? And what about the fact that because so many people keep the world safe for religion and/or support religion actively, they are keeping a set of divisive, intolerant and regularly homicidal systems in place? Could open criticism or even active resistance to religion not be seen as an act of self-defense by someone like me, who does not want to see his children blown to bits by people who believe in an invisible man in the sky? Anyone who says that this is an exaggeration should remember I live in Ireland – over here, being blown up over what brand of Christianity is dominant in your neighborhood is
not unthinkable at all – it is recent history and living memory. It is real, and deadly.

To state that in order to believe something, you need a reason to believe it to be true is decried as Scientism, as just another fundamentalist stance. But this is simply not the case – it is a mere common-sense approach. If you show an atheist proof that God exists, that atheist will immediately say he or she was wrong, because atheism it is not an absolute position. It merely states that there is no reason to believe otherwise, and that since we have far more elegant and useful models to explain things than “God did it” we see no reason to think a god exists. If proof would be forthcoming, we would change our minds immediately. The fact that god remains undetectable by any means at our disposal is the real reason that we seem so staunchly entrenched in our point if view. Show me proof of god, and I will believe. But I have never seen any, and frankly I think if there was any we would have found it by now. Plenty of people have searched for it. In the end, who knows? But I doubt it severely. In the meantime I cannot help but notice that religion without proof tends to lead to very little good and a whole lot of bad.

Another thing I notice is that Theists love to point at a small gap in any theory, and then cram God into it without any justification as to why THEIR god should go there, or any god at all, and not, say, the invisible unicorn or the flying spaghetti monster. This is a double standard – first they require that the naturalist view explains everything to incredibly exacting standards, and then they inject a supernatural entity with no more justification that “this is what we have always thought” or “because the bible says so”.

All these objections – scientism, counter-fundamentalism, God is in the Gaps – are not really objections at all. Religion gives no other answer than “It Is Done By Magic”, which is the same as no answer at all. Religion does not have the answers it claims it has. It does not teach us how to live. It does not explain how our world works. It merely says “It’s Magic” or "Because God Said So" and leaves it at that. In return, we are expected to revere it, fund it, allow it to corrupt scientific education, exempt it from taxation and generally refrain from openly criticizing it.

The need for an impenetrable mystery that is somehow accessible though irrational actions, where you can gain status and importance through competitive self-denial and exaggerated obsession with guilt and ritual cleanliness seems to run deep in my culture. Being human simply doesn’t seem to be enough. People feel a need to be a part of something bigger than humanity, or even reality. Perhaps the need to control the uncontrollable, to see subjective shapes in an objective universe is simply too strong to be kept at bay by rationality. Religion gives you power over people, it makes you feel like you are part of the select few that are really in the know, it divides the world into the righteous and the depraved, and handily puts you in the bracket you want to be in. That is a tough act to compete with, if all you have to offer in return is sober rationalism. So to a degree it is understandable that religion is still clouding the judgment of so many people.

And yet it is strange if you consider how magical the world is, how full of wonderful mysteries for us to ponder, how brave and inventive we are – and all this without the need of the supernatural. We all have a lifetime of wonder and curiosity to look forward to. Religion has nothing to offer that comes even close to it. Why is it so hard for us to stop pretending that it does?

by Vivisectus of AvC

1 comment:

abandonedtoJesus24-7 said...

A very interesting post to say the least. Yet it raises several questions. If there is no God, then where do morals come from? Now you may say they have evolved, over time. Yet from the very beginning of civilization we see morals existing. Even today the most ardent atheist, of his wallet is stolen, or if he is cut while waiting in line for something, will appeal to a standard of right, declaring this is not fair what you have done. Also if there is no Intelligence behind life, how do you explain the intelligence contained within a cell, the intelligence contained within DNA for example? How do you explain these things, by naturalistic means?
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