Archives for posts with tag: atheism

To qualify what makes a religion, we must first attempt to describe what a religion actually is. It’s not actually all that easy, and if you’ve ever taken a religious studies course, you know you always spend the first week going over what makes a religion, and the whole point of the exercise is to prove to the students that you basically can’t describe religion, because it’s so varied across the globe that to narrow it down to a single descriptive phrase is pretty much impossible. For example, saying that to be religious means to believe in a transcendant, all-powerful God or gods means you’re neglecting Buddhism, Taoism, and many native religions.

However, the point of this little write-up isn’t to convince you that describing things is hard, but to rag on douche-y Atheists, so let’s get on with it. I’ll give a few examples of what I believe to be the key points of what makes a religion a religion before we move on to the good stuff.

Community: religion offers a home base where like-minded individuals can come and feel welcome. This community supports each other, helps through grief and hard times, and is there for guidance whenever one of their congregation needs it. Humans are social creatures, and religion offers one of the easiest means to be a part of a group. Atheists may have a tight knit circle of friends, or a sports team, or any number of groups that offer the exact same benefits, but atheism on its own is not something that offers that kind of social relationship.

Mythos: Basically, stories. Stories that offer a truth. Not necessarily the literal truth, as many fundamentalists would like to believe, but a different truth. A truth that transcends objective reality and offers something more. A different way of looking at life. The story of Job isn’t the historical telling of a guy who has a really bad day, but it does offer a way of looking at life when things are rough. Have faith that things will get better. Become Job when things are bleak. You don’t watch Die Hard and think that it’s a depiction of true events, but if you were ever locked in an office building full of terrorists led by Alan Rickman, you’d certainly want to aspire to be just like John McClane.

Meaning: The Whys and the Oughts of the universe. Science can give a very convincing How, but does not even bother with Why things are, or whether or not we Ought to do one thing or another. I’m not saying that How isn’t a very important question we should be asking, but Why and Ought are equally important. Many of the mythos discussed earlier are attempts to answer those two questions.

I could go on, and even a list like this is debatable, but now it’s time for the nastier aspects  of religion that for some reason Atheists want to emulate.

Dependency on others for salvation: the same way that church goers rely on God, or the Pope, or their priests to decide what’s best for them, Atheists will rely on Scientists to save them. I capitalize Scientists because it’s never physicists, or chemists, or botanists who will save us with their carbon-reducing plants, but just Scientists, like there is a group of people in lab coats with bad haircuts hiding in an underground lab using Science to make a machine that will hack the God damned planet and magically fix everything.

What they fail to understand is that Scientists are people just like you and me, who need jobs to support their families. So that guy in the lab coat isn’t sweating over a population-control-but-somehow-not-genocidal machine, he’s working for McDonald’s too but instead of flipping burgers he’s making a better tasting McNugget. Or the Pentagon, or wherever will pay him the most money. Because that is how the world works. For every scientist working on cold fusion, there are thousands more working on how to extract oil from the earth in a more profitable manner. If you honestly want the world to be a better place, and this goes for everyone, do it yourself because nobody else is going to do it for you. Don’t assume that simply because your ideology is different that somehow this makes you responsible for the world becoming a better place (it’s not and you aren’t).

You might say, “Oh but Danny, Science relies on this little thing called The Scientific Method, and that makes it infinitely superior in every way to any other way of thinking!” First of all, the coolest science of all, theoretical physics, is literally really smart dudes MAKING SHIT UP. Science, at least in that field, has gotten to the point where the scientific method isn’t even valid anymore. Soft sciences are far too complex for it to truly work, chemistry will either poison us or blow us all up before it saves us, and the medical sciences are just a bandage for the world’s woes. Nobody cares about math. Join an activist group or start handing out pamphlets calling for a violent revolution; anything but sit on your ass feeling smug about your choices in belief.

Utopianism: Now this probably made up word refers to the idea that since your ideology is obviously right, if everyone just embraced it, the world would become perfect in every way; rivers would run honey, birds would chirp in tune to Lynyrd Skynyrd songs, and everyone would be having one long continuous orgasm. This is a commonly held view among religions, hence why conversion and a rather mild dislike of infidels are often major themes. Similarly with atheism, the view is that if everyone would just stop taking their crazy pills and embrace glorious reason, then we could all start with that wonderful sounding orgasm and get on with our lives.

This line of thinking brings up the whole Us versus Them mentality, and how They must be eliminated. Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, two very prominent Atheist philosophers, openly advocate waging bloody warfare on religious peoples, and how even moderates shouldn’t be tolerated on the path towards illuminated reason. That is obviously an extreme example (however prominent), but there are many seemingly minor disallowances as well that are debated frequently in the secular world. Burkhas, turbans, building an Islamic community centre within 10 miles of the 9/11 rubble… This alienation leads only to more aggression, and problems escalate.

You have to keep in mind that everyone is a different human being, with different experiences and different cultures. No one will ever agree fully on anything; that’s just not how people work. If people were able to agree on the simplest of facts, then we wouldn’t have so many different sects of Christianity, now would we? On the secular side of that coin, you could look at the old grandfatherly wisdom that states, “if everyone wanted the same thing, they’d all be after your grandma.” Getting everyone to agree on one thing, especially something huge like religious belief (or lack thereof), is impossible. Even if you genocided your way to the top, there would never be an accord. If there is going to be any hope of harmony on this forsaken planet, it’ll be through a form of subjective acceptance, not absolutist dogma.

Intolerance: This ties in slightly with the previous rant, but is distinguishable enough that I’ll give it its own section. Atheists love to point out that the Bible is explicitly in favour of slavery, is opposed to homosexuality, and denounces a great many things, upsetting many socially conscious folks. However, not to be outdone, Atheists have found their own secular reasons for disliking those who are different, or even for no reason at all. There are the bio-truths out there that suggest women belong in the kitchen because they used to be the gatherers during the hunter/gatherer stage of our evolution, or the statistician that concluded that blacks were dumber than whites based on collections of test scores, without looking at the structural disparities that very likely contributed to those numbers. Then there is of course the person who calls someone else a “faggot” simply to put him down.

It’s not because homosexuality is denounced in the Bible that homophobia is so rampant, because otherwise we’d see equal protesting of shellfish and tattoos which are denounced in the very same chapter (Leviticus 11:9, 18:22, and 19:28, if you were wondering). So really, people are just assholes. If you want to come down on intolerance, good for you, but remember it’s not due to any ideology, but more that the person is just… kind of a twat. Well not even that, really, we just live in a culture where ostracization is an important form of social control. Come down on that, maybe.

Illogic: The term “Invisible Sky Wizard” makes me want to die. The whole Pastafarianism parody of religion also makes me want to die. There are a good many things on this planet that make me want to die. We get it. There are things in the Bible that don’t make literal sense. Go ahead and completely dismiss a few thousand year old paradigm because it’s not possible for two of every animal to fit onto a boat. Then go ahead and kill yourself. That’s like going to a fancy restaurant, having this fabulous meal, and then dismissing the whole experience as a waste of time because you went to the washroom and found that somebody had forgotten to flush after dropping a slimy deuce. I mentioned earlier that the stories in the Bible don’t actually have to make sense because that’s not the point of them. So get over yourself and pay attention to what actually is important in there, and maybe come up with an opinion on that instead.

People are illogical all the time. This article even goes so far as to suggest that we’re just flat out wrong about everything:

We frequently do the stupidest shit. You ever leave the twist tie on before using the microwave? You ever step on a burning bag that was left on your porch?

I’ve just started reading a book that suggests we have two types of thinking. Fast thinking and slow thinking. Slow thinking is when we actually stop to ponder for a bit before we do something, and fast thinking is what we basically do the rest of the time. Read: all the time. And fast thinking is supremely biased based on our experiences and preconceived notions. So we see that bag and we think “Fire!” and our fast thinking tells us to stomp it out, whereas the slow thinking might have suggested we check for poop first. But slow thinking rarely happens in day to day activities, so most people are acting illogically the majority of the time. It’s how life works. Maybe you might think that if people were to slow think about religion, they would see how ridiculous it is, and that does occasionally happen. That’s how moderates or apologists are born. But I’m sure if you slow thunk about some of your own firmly held beliefs, you’d come to some pretty shocking conclusions yourself. Like have you ever stopped to think about why you believe your life is going to turn out okay? What proof do you have of that? You work hard and take your vitamins? Well, have fun with your BRAIN ANEURYSM. That kind of thing happens all the time. One is probably building in your head as you read this.

Violence: All the world’s violent outbreaks are quite obviously the fault of a belief in something beyond the empirical universe. Oh wait, shut up. Here is a comprehensive list of religious violence compared to secular violence.Religious: The Crusades – Secular: The 100 year war.Religious: The Inquisition – Secular: The Holocaust.Religious: 9/11 – Secular: The Atomic bomb.Secular: the Rwandan Genocide, the Chinese Cultural Revolution, anyone that looked at Stalin the wrong way, the list goes on and on.

For every violent act commited in the name of religion, there is one in the secular realm as well. It’s almost as if it’s not actually religion that causes violence at all, but hate, power and greed.

Perhaps you’ve noticed my point that maybe it’s not actually religion that is all that terrible when it comes to the most common complaints about it. If these problems are arising outside of religion, maybe it’s just that human nature is just… garbage. Maybe when you start being more proactive in actually trying to make the world a better place, you can start not being a douchebag as well. I honestly believe that Ted Theodore Logan, and  Bill S. Preston, Esq. will save the world because they have the simplest philosophy that is nearly impossible to fuck up.

“Be excellent to each other, and party on, dudes!”

Readings which influenced this essay, in no particular order because fuck legitimate bibliographies:

The Case for God – Karen Armstrong

I Don’t Believe in Atheists – Chris Hedges

Thinking, Fast and Slow – Daneil Kahneman (I still haven’t finished reading this one, so maybe when I do I’ll do a complete 180 on my opinions)

The End of Faith – Sam Harris

I just finished watching Religulous starring Bill Maher, and I started to consider whether or not the world would be a better place without religion. Bill Maher is pretty adamant that it would, and he cites the violence, intolerance, and ignorance that has been perpetrated and perpetuated by organized religion over the thousands of years it has been in existence. John Lennon asks us that same question by telling us to imagine a world with no religion, citing the same examples of using religion as an excuse to kill or die for.

So let us do exactly that.

I’m going to follow the main complaints by Bill Maher because I just watched the movie and his points are still fresh in my mind. The first of Bill Maher’s gripes is the biggest problem and that is the over-zealousness leading to violence. I don’t believe religion is the cause of people being violent in defense of, or as an attack of, their belief. If you disagree, look at European soccer hooligans, or Guns’n’Roses fans who would riot when Axl Rose doesn’t show up to perform in Vancouver. People will always latch on to something that they hold dear, and lash out irrationally at things that do not coincide with their belief set. Xenophobia, competitiveness, and mob-mentality extend far beyond the realm of religiousness.

One might argue that the scale in which violence accumulated around religious ideologies is vastly greater than a soccer riot or a bar fight over which is the hottest Charlie’s Angel. Well it’s true, but we’re imagining a world without religion, and if that were the case, people would obsess over something else in order to beat up somebody who doesn’t agree with them. It might be nationalism, which even today bears a striking resemblance to religious zealotry in some instances. However, if we are starting right from the beginning of humanity’s existence, then I believe that we, as a species, would have come up with an alternative to divine leadership. Religion is life philosophy with stories to go with it, so perhaps people would, in lieu of following the doctrine given from on high, follow particular philosophers with whom they happen to agree.

Followers of Immanuel Kant might hold their own inquisition over followers of Aristotle, completing forgetting that the Categorical Imperative forbids them from doing exactly that.

One might also argue that religion preaches intolerance and ignorance. Bill Maher argues the treatment of homosexuals as a point against religion. Using the previous example of followers of philosophers in our world without religion, those following Renée Descartes might be seen as monstrous in modern society, based on their views surrounding the treatment of animals as unfeeling machines. People would have to understand that these philosophies were written in different social circumstances, and what may have been permissible in Renée Descartes’ time might not stand against current, presumably more civilized, social standards.

If you don’t believe me that people would pollute the ideals put forth by the Categorical Imperative, or would cling to dated social norms for the sake of tradition, then you simply have to look at modern day religion, where people commit violence in the name of peace, and hinder social progress with a regressive mindset.

If you don’t believe me that people would adopt alternative philosophies in lieu of religious ones, then, if you believe that the world would be a better place without religion, you likely believe religion to be a man-made construct. If that is the case, then why would humanity create religion if people did not require some form of philosophy, spiritual or otherwise, to guide their lifestyles? If you are religious, then it might be tougher to imagine a world without religion, but think of it like this: people would have their faith, but nowhere to place it save for other, non-religious ideologies that they would cling to just as strongly.

People require faith. Americans have faith in America; optimists have faith that the world will get better; atheists have faith that there is no divinity outside of the empirical realm. Faith is believing something when there is no proof. It is completely irrational, making the only reasonable religious outlook agnosticism, but humanity is not a reasonable species, so we as a species would invariably have come up with some way of guiding our lives, be it religious or otherwise. To quote Voltaire, “If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent Him.”

Another problem Bill Maher had with religion was the “silly” stories that go along with them. I apologize to those who would take offense to having their scripture referred to as silly, but in regards to a virgin birth, a talking burning bush, and various other stories, one can safely say that by today’s standards of sanity, these would not fly as actual events. I’m also sorry for sticking strictly to western traditions, but they are the ones Bill Maher is complaining about and the ones that seem to be in the news all the time, so my mind is somewhat western-centric right now.

Anyway, Bill Maher believed that these stories were somehow dumbing down the population who believed in them, so let’s go back to our world without religion. Let’s look at a completely non-religious story, say the cautionary tale of Hansel and Gretel, two German children who have a penchant for winding up in an oven after trying to eat a house. This teaches us all about not eating candy you find in the woods, and instead of having biblical tales to teach us morality, we might adopt something similar to this one. Let’s presume for a minute that a long time ago, German parents and authoritative figures would tell children that this story was true, in order to keep them from going out into the woods and eating candy they find there, which no good parent would ever allow their child to do. Let’s say that these children were never told that this story was false, and when they grew up, they still believed this story was true, because people in authority would consistently enforce its legitimacy. They would likely continue to believe this story to be true, and would tell their children that it was true, and enforce that belief in them as well. They might think in the back of their minds that it doesn’t quite match up with their logic and reason, but it doesn’t really occur to them because it is a comfortable story they grew up with, everyone else seems to believe it to be true, they are told that it is true, so why would it be false? It’s not that these people are stupid; it’s that they have been taught a certain way, and their beliefs reflect that teaching.

Later on in that family’s genealogical line, someone might believe they have found themselves a witch, and throw her in an oven in order to garner some form of justice for poor Hansel and Gretel. By this point, people would be so indoctrinated into believing the story, that they would forget what it was initially intended for, which was a cautionary tale about not eating candy you find in the woods.

Basically, my point is shut up Bill Maher; your movie was only okay. Preaching intolerance and telling people to rise up against the religious is the same thing as calling for another inquisition. It is turning non-religion into a religion, and adopts all of the wrong things without any of the goodwill or faith. It would be nice if people would stop killing each other over their differing beliefs, sure, but it is difficult to blame the religious catalyst that sparks these battles, for, if religion were non-existent, humanity would simply find another excuse to hate, fear, and kill.