Saturday, January 30, 2010

"Stop Reading Anti-Religion Books!": A Religionist’s Demand for Tolerance of the Intolerable

Last week I read The God Virus by Dr. Darrel W. Ray. It’s an outstanding exposé of how religion infects all our lives and negatively impacts on civilization. It earned a five star amazon review from me.

One of the very few negative reviews was posted by someone who declares herself to be neither an atheist nor a Christian. Besides her simplistic dismissal of science as “arrogant,” and a complete misunderstanding of the term “God virus,” there was this gem:

"Let's have some more tolerance here. You should not need to constantly read books about how bad religion is if you are secure about who you are. You should not need this validation."

My reply to this fallacious comment follows:

Tolerance?! As in the tolerance carriers of the fundamentalist God Virus have for homosexuals' equal rights and happiness?

You mean like the tolerance extremist anti-abortionists have for OBGYN's who perform legal procedure but are killed for it, or their offices bombed? Or the tolerance that would disallow women control of their own bodies? Or that seeks to force raped women to bare her rapist's child?

You mean like the tolerance Catholics have for condom use while HIV runs rampant in 3rd World countries killing millions?

Perhaps you mean like the tolerance religionists have for scientific reality and those who seek to stem global warming's threat, while they turn a blind eye to it or deny it because Jesus is coming anyway?

Tolerance, such as Muslims have for apostates from Islam, or for "Kafirs" -- “truths” with which they infect each succeeding generation?

Tolerance Islamics have for free speech when that speech is deemed offensive to their inane belief?
We should have tolerance for using a god as justification for "crusade" aganist nations that did us no harm?
Tolerance for theistically inspired revisionist history?

We should tolerate those who want to set back the teaching of science in our class rooms three-hundred years?

We should tolerate obstacles to better health and the elimination devestating illnesses or crippling injuries because it supposedly offends their imaginary god?

We should tolerate those who want to transform the USA into a "Christian Nation," a theocracy?

Don't talk to me about having tolerance for those religionists whose world view is driven and controlled by a book that itself endorses hideous acts of immorality; that is rife with the lies, delusions, and thirst for control of an ancient patriarchal society whose infamous intolerance toward other beliefs was manifested by barbaric laws, tribal genocide and enslavement.

Reading books about the dangers inherent in radical fundamentalist religion, how it negatively impacts our lives and threatens our culture, isn't about how "secure" one is in their non-belief. It's about opening doors to understanding how supernaturalism in its most virulent, and even more benign forms, impacts us for the worse ... as a civilization and on an individual basis.

That you don't get it speaks to your own strain of religious mind virus. That you condemn reading such books is a manifestation of that illness.

Monday, January 25, 2010

"Believers are the Happiest" : Should we be surprised?

The Pew Forum in the US (2009) and Professor Andrew Clark and Dr Orsolya Lelkes in Europe (2008), respected researches all, report that the results of their studies indicate those with a strong belief in God tend to report being “Very Happy” with their lives more often than do atheists.

If you search through atheist / skeptic blogs that reported on these studies you’ll find a few that are quite angered by the results, or are skeptical about their veracity, and/or try to come up with various ways to either justify or explain away the result. They are wasting their time. in their excitement they lost sight of their scientific side. You see, by only reading about the result one isn’t getting the entire picture. The devil is in the details… that is the actual statistics..

I had some difficulty finding the raw stats from either study, but managed to find this chart which gives summary stats. Note that on the “0-10” axis “0” means “Dissatisfied” and 10 means “Very Happy” with ones life.

While the differences aren’t dramatic, indeed believers and the most religious do have a higher percentage (approx 42%) of people who say they are “Very happy” with their lives, the highest happiness range, than do those describing themselves as atheists (approx 37%).

You’ll also note the most religious also have the most (approx. 17%) who are in the “Dissatisfied with life” column compared to atheists (approx 15%); while in the middle ranges…the “Satisfied / Happy with life” ranges … approx 49% of atheists are represented versus only 42% of believers.

BUT, and here is the clincher, when you take the “Satisfied/Happy” and “Very Happy” combined stats, the most religious score 84% combined while atheists score 86% combined.

So what exactly does this mean? It means that while 5% more religionists report being “Very Happy” with their lives than do atheists, on an overall positive life scoring atheists are generally more satisfied with their lives. To corroborate these findings, here is the charted result of a World Values Survey which also gauged religiosity and happiness.

Once again, the most religious people (those saying religion is very important to them) report being “Very Happy” more frequently than do people who hold religion of no importance. But on the combined happiness scale of “Very” and “Quite” happy, the most religiously afflicted score 81% while least religious (which includes atheists, agnostics, skeptics and humanists) scored 86%.

Ok, so bottom line – the more religious one is the more frequently they consider themselves “Very Happy” than do non-religious/non-believers. But on an aggregate happiness / satisfaction quotient, they are not only NOT generally happier than atheists they are slightly less so.

Should we be surprised that religious fanatics report being ecstatic about their lives more frequently than secularists? Frequent church attendence, the group dynamic of a shared myth/ self induced spiritual experience, will have a positive effect on the sense of comfort and happiness of these dependent people. Additionally the less one is forced to focus on reality, and can ignore it; the less they feel in control of their lives because it is controlled for them by a Sky Daddy -- the less they worry about life. After all, belief that simply by praying -- “God will deliver [insert one or more] a new job / my next meal / a new car / a roof over my head.” -- tends to take a lot of stress out of ones life; never mind that invariably they are more likely to be chronically unemployed, impoverished, on foot and homeless than an atheist. The annual Pew Forum report on religiosity by state which consistently reports higher crime, teen pregnancy, poverty, unemployment, and the lowest education levels in the most religious states supports this contention.

Finally, when one puts their faith in a god who works in strange and mysterious ways, they are more inclined to accept their lot in life as “God’s Will” and be delighted with it, even if it puts them below the poverty line and their kid’s life span is negatively impacted by their diet or substandard healthcare.

Which brings us to George Bernard Shaw’s famous line: "The fact that a believer is happier than a skeptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one." I might also point out that the very happiest man in most towns is the village idiot.
[[[ thanks to Rachel h. for her email to me which prompted this article]]]

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Militant Atheist: “To be or not to be?” That is the question

I place myself in the Hitchens, Harris, Dawkins, Meyers school of aggressive anti-theist militant atheism. If not for people like them, and organizations that share their tact, we would not be seeing the surge in rational thought and outspoken opposition coming from previously closeted atheists and agnostics who are now “coming out.”

The contributions of scientists, the best of whom are non-believers of varying degrees, whose efforts have lead to medical advances, longer life spans for humanity, technology that just 100 years ago was unimagined, are rarely if ever praised by the religionists. They see science as the bulwark of anti-religious thought. So much for atheists gaining legitimacy in the eyes of religionists with gentility, reason, and contributions to their very existence. Theists will credit god instead.

Some say that engaging in aggressive debate using reason will never change the mind of those who are absolutists, who base their lives on supernaturalism to which they were exposed at an early age. I agree. It is as unlikely to yield fruit as religious proselytizing will cause a thinking person to suddenly abandon reason for supernaturalist belief. But what debate does do is give fence sitters something to think about, chew on. If they are prompted to question the unquestionable precepts of faith, something religions do not encourage, then by observing a realist in aggressive debate their curiosity may be piqued and their reasoning skills along with it.

Those who despise atheists, distrust them, see them as immoral and un-American, will not be swayed by a kinder gentler approach … my reference to scientists is one example. The fundamentalist theist mind, be it Christian or Muslim, are as firm in their dismissal of science and atheists as they are immersed in their supernaturalist beliefs. We’d be deceiving ourselves to think otherwise. The women’s suffrage movement didn’t win the right to vote by being kinder and gentler. Nor did blacks attain civil rights by just being good citizens and walking on tip toe to the back of the bus. Nor did the gay rights movement win any converts to full equality and tolerance by working in soup kitchens, or contributing to the Red Cross.

Every one of those movements realized that the kinder and gentler method of whispering their desire for equality was perceived as weakness, powerlessness, by the majority opposition. A strong front, challenging the religious right’s efforts; demanding that the Separation of Church and state be kept sacrosanct; fighting theist intrusions into our lives and schools and government; calling out the fakes, frauds and exposing the unbalanced words and deeds of religionists is how we will gain influence and retain our freedom. If they take offense, so what?

Islam continues to flood into Western society. With governmental and the media’s failure to stand firm against Muslim threats of violence if demands for the limitation of free speech where their religion is concerned isn’t observed, we are reinforcing their perception of us as the spineless “Kafir.” If the West doesn’t pull its head out of the sand, change its approach, Islamic Fundamentalists will continue to capitalize on it, the virus will spread, and Western culture will continue contributing to its own eventual demise.

So, if we are militant as atheists, if we push it to the wall and go toe to toe with theist ignorance, arrogance and intolerance what’s the worst that can happen? Muslims will riot, burn and threaten us with domination and death? They already do that. Christians will hate us, mistrust us, deny our patriotism and morality? They already do that too. We need to make it crystal clear that as freethinkers we are not door mats to mindless fanaticism; that the days of pretending to be theist are over; that expectations of respect for their mindless beliefs can be forgotten; that we won’t give an inch to their attempts at creeping theocracy. That there will be no appeasement, no compromise, no negotiating with ancient delusion.

I’m a militant atheist, I could be nothing else.

Friday, January 15, 2010

“Drive a spike through my hand … I'm feelin' Christ-like today.”

There’s nothing like religion to convince people to do crazy things that no sane person on the planet would otherwise do.

Many early religions had human sacrifice. It was practiced in proto-Hebraic religions, and throughout the Middle and far East, and in Europe by the Druids. In the New World the Aztecs and Mayans perfected it making it a high production spectator sport all the way until the Conquistadors wiped them out in the 16th century.

The Egyptian pharaohs and nobles had people, volunteers even, buried alive in their tombs to serve them in the afterlife. Wives of dead Hindu Brahmans threw themselves on their husband’s funeral pyres to join them in the great beyond.

Some American Indian tribes did the “sun dance” which included having barbs pierced through the flesh on ones back and hoisted up on a scaffold. Some plains tribes also shot arrows into a selected virgin, wounding her repeatedly until mercifully putting one through her heart.

Today Muslims in western India throw babies off of buildings and catch them (usually) in open sheets. Somehow this is supposed to insure good health. In many Muslim countries they practice Ashura blood letting, where the child’s head is cut with a knife and blood allowed to drip down all over him soaking his clothes as he screams. Naturally, in neither case is the child consulted beforehand.

Of course the Jews are famous for circumcision of male children on the eighth day after birth. The good news is it’s done with a scalpel now, having done away with the earlier flint knife.

Christians have some lovely rituals. In the Philippines on Easter men drag a full size crucifix across cobblestones until bloodied; and/or they are “scourged,” given the old forty-lashes just like Jesus. Some even volunteer to have nails driven through their palms into a cross and are briefly hung out to dry.

In fact, Christians have a long history of “mortification of the flesh.” Wearing a hair shirt; self-flagellation with chains or leather thongs with metal on the end; walking on their knees; and the wearing of a cilice, a leather or chain band with spikes that cut into the thigh of the voluntary wearer (the albino monk in the DaVinci Code wore one).

In the ancient religions these blood lettings were intended to placate the gods, give victory in war, or bring fertility to the tribe’s crops and the people. They were ignorant of science and their beliefs, their lives, were entirely controlled by shaman and the ruling authority, who often were one in the same.

But modern day practice of this kind of abuse in order to ensure health; mark ones special relationship to a god; or put to death the desires of the flesh is simply barbaric, bordering on insane. For what purpose is this pain and agony inflicted or endured? To show some supernatural sky buddy how much they love him? To be at one with a mythical man-god who may or may not have ever existed and who certainly isn’t going to applaud them? To be seen as more devout and devoted to this magical being than their neighbor?

Whatever the reason, it isn’t driven by reasoning. It’s a product of a mind virus called religion that prompts people to behave like pain inflicting, blood loving cultists. Only the deluded could possibly justify it, much less endure it.

Of course, if crucifying Christian fundies like Pat Robertson and his ilk would bring world peace, end starvation, insure tolerance and equality for all, drop the price of oil and get the stock market back up over 14k points, I’d fully endorse them all doing it on a daily basis. Heck, I’d even lend them my nail gun.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Christianity & Morality: Revelation or Evolution?

Christians will tell you that there is only one divinely revealed religion, and that theirs is it.

A number of religions claim revelation by god. Islam claims Allah revealed his word to Mohammed. Mormons claim that their doctrine was revealed to Joseph Smith by Moroni, and all subsequent doctrinal revisions were revealed to successive church presidents by God. Christians dismiss Islam as simply a fiction and its followers as dupes. They deride Mormon claims as nonsense and Mormonism as a cult at best, not even Christian at worst.

But what gives mainstream Christianity’s claim of revelation more validity than the Mormon or Muslim claims? What objective evidence can any of them offer? -- The New Testament, the Qur’an, the Book of Mormon … one a fairytale sequel to a bronze age book of cultist prophesy and myth; one the hate filled misogynistic ranting of a child molesting warlord; and the other the testimony of a convicted charlatan.

If Christianity was revealed and was not a result of religious evolution how is it that so many pre-Xtian pagan gods share some of the same characteristics and miraculous events as those attributed to Jesus? How is it that so many Christian holidays were co-opted from pagan festivals and observances? Why did the Reformation mutate from Catholicism giving birth to so many new denominations? And exactly which one of the 2800 denominations & sects of Christianity was revealed by God? With their varied rituals and interpretations of God’s words they can't all be revealed; else they'd all be in agreement.

The idea of revelation is just another aspect of man made religious delusion. It’s one religion’s desire to stake their claim to ownership of the ultimate “Truth.” Religious practices have evolved beyond human sacrifice, animal sacrifice, burnt offerings and temple prostitutes, just as technology has evolved from chariots to airplanes. We see it evolving right before our eyes as the Catholic Church accepts Evolutionary Theory, and liberal Christians reject biblical inerrancy and accept science.

If Judeo-Christian morality was revealed, why did God not reveal his condemnation of slavery in an 11th Commandment? Why didn’t Jesus condemn it 3000 years later? Why did it take 5000 years of Judeo-Christian morality for society to out law it? Was its final eradication in Western Civilization a matter of divine intervention / revelation, or the result of man’s naturally evolving mortality and ethics?

Judeo-Christian claims of being the moral beacon and holding the ethical high ground has been falsified many times and is hardly well represented in scripture. Morality evolved, and continues to evolve today -- equal rights for women, gays and minority races; and the gradual elimination of capitol punishment-- none of which were sanctioned by the Bible or revealed by a supreme being.

Religion’s evolution toward liberalism and reason, and morality’s evolution away from the static and bigoted precepts of scriptural declarations is unstoppable, just as evolution of species is unstoppable. Someday the unyielding grasp of religiously interpreted moral dictates will fall to the moral imperatives of a society evolving toward equality and acceptance.
Eventually religion will become extinct as it fails to compete with reason and reality. Much like natural selection it’s simply a matter of survival of the fittest.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Open-Minded VS the Empty Headed

“If you just were more open-minded you would see the truth and let Jesus into your heart.”

That sentence or its variations is a favorite of proselytizing theists. In essence they are saying unless you believe like they do clearly you must be close-minded. Or more succinctly, open your mind and let your brain fall out.

1. having or showing a mind receptive to new ideas or arguments.
2. unprejudiced; unbigoted; impartial.

Given the definition, it is irrational for theists to posit that unless one accepts the religionist’s belief once it has been fully explored, evaluated and discounted as irrational, that one is not open-minded. Most of us have been exposed to and/or explored religious supernaturalism; those of us who see no logical basis for it, no visible means of support, no evidence of its efficacy reject it. That’s not being close-minded, it's being discerning.

It would be akin to telling someone who tasted and disliked an exotic dish that they were “close minded” for not liking it like you do. They would only be close minded had they declared it not to their liking having not first sampled the dish.

911 and the Obama hating "Birther" conspiracy theorists continue to retain their hold on delusion and conspiratorial nonsense in the face of a preponderance of verifiable and testable evidence to the contrary. No amount of evidence that discredits their delusion will ever change their mind. That is close-minded absolutism.

Meanwhile those of us who have heard their conspiracy rants, read and evaluated their “proofs” and rejected them as tainted wishful (hateful) thinking; and examined the independent overwhelming genuine evidence for no conspiracy and accepted it unless and until objective evidence of conspiracy overwhelms the evidence of no conspiracy, we are accused by these nuts of lacking an open-mind.

One would lack an open-mind, if they rejected the conspiracy theories or religious precepts out of hand without having ever examined and explored them. I have examined them. I have explored them. In the case of religion I have done so in its many different flavors and varied perspectives. And using my powers of reason and ability to weigh evidence, I reject it as superstitious nonsense unless and until objective evidence of the divine is presented that will change my mind. What could be more open-minded than that?

Creationists / religious fanatics reject science having never actually read a genuine scientific source document. I’ll speculate that not one in twenty-five thousand Creationists have actually read Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, or Dawkins’ Greatest Show on Earth, yet reject Evolution and natural selection as fallacy. That is prejudiced, that is partisan, and that is non-receptivity to the input of new ideas or argument. That is close-minded. It exists because just to investigate (never mind accept) the voluminous scientifically corroborated evidence for Old Earth and Evolution from a vast array of disciplines would undermine the efficacy of their belief. It’s a denial reflex. It's the hallmark of the absolutist.

When you hear an Evangelical fundie pull the old “…if you were more open minded…” ploy, tell them which Biblical verse is among the most incredible and unbelievable to you and why. Then ask them which of Darwin’s specific detailed observations on the island variants of the Galapagos tortoise in support of natural selection is least credible to them and why. The open-minded will always vanquish the mindless absolutist.

Friday, January 1, 2010

The Obscenity of Christian Apologetics

I stumbled across an apologetics website ironically dubbed “Rational Christianity.” In it the writer sets up challenges to certain biblical passages from hypothetical believers who express their concern for the cruelty of the bible. He then commences to explain away these horrific acts in a manner that is meant to placate the concerns of the supposed questioning believer.

One particular set of questions and answers stunned me. In examining the genocidal destruction of a neighboring tribe by the Israelites, the straw man questioner asks: "What about the children --Why did they in their innocence have to die?"

Here is the “Rational Christian’s” explanation: “Why were the children killed, if they weren't guilty? Apparently, they were considered as morally neutral, since they weren't yet old enough to be held accountable or to have done much right or wrong. While not as corrupt as their parents, they were part of the society that was judged, and shared its earthly (though not its eternal) fate.” “… when a person or a society committed massive evil, that evil was punished by the destruction of the entire family or city; in such cases, only those who had actively demonstrated their integrity could be saved … “

So in a nut shell, the children were too young to be guilty or corrupt in the eyes of God. But, they were unlucky enough to have been born to parents and into a culture that offended God so he killed them all. But not to worry, the dead kids get to go to a fun afterlife versus their parents who will be punished even after death. So it’s all good.

This isn’t the worst of it. The next question was: Couldn't the children have died painlessly -- In fact couldn’t God have just taken them up to heaven and spared them from physical death?"

The “Rational Christian” answers: “Since the children lived in a world affected by sin, they faced its earthly consequences … only a few righteous people were translated into heaven, namely Enoch and Elijah. As noted above, since the children had not shown themselves to be righteous, they were not spared the common fate of death.”

“It's worth noting that being killed with a sword (perhaps beheaded) was at the time one of the quickest ways for the children to die as opposed to suffocation/strangulation, starvation, disease or being torn apart by wild animals…”

So there you have it. If only the infants and toddlers had done something, acted overtly, to demonstrate their righteousness, then God would have spared them. If instead of sucking dumbly at their mothers’ breasts and spending their days soiling their diapers they had just taken it upon themselves to worship the god of Abraham, or kept kosher, or hadn’t worn mixed fiber swaddling clothes, or perhaps if they had stoned a homosexual or two to death, then God would have deemed them worthy of being spared the death penalty. But no ... they didn’t rise to the occasion. They paid with their short lives.

But not to worry, it’s all good!! Chopping the head off of a baby after all was one of the quickest ways to kill it. Well, that and smashing its head against a stone wall. No muss, no fuss. I mean, isn’t it obvious how merciful God was? Heck, he could have sent bears to tear them apart and didn’t. (God has done that to children before, but only once and only 42 of them.)

Note the business like matter of fact replies. Note the absence of anything approaching horror, sadness, or wonderment at such callous inhuman treatment by a supposedly merciful loving god. Instead, we get a dispassionate justification for mass infanticide; a strident defense of an indefensible act that would disgust and horrify any normal, thinking, moral human being.
When Herod kills Jewish children it’s called “The Slaughter of the Innocents.” When their God kills pagan children it’s fully understandable and righteous. Obscene.

I can’t help but wonder if people like this actually believe their apologetics. Maybe they are just compelled to defend the faith no matter how grotesque and horrific it may be. That, or I underestimated the ability of the religious to delude themselves. I’m glad I lack that mental infirmity.