Sunday, July 28, 2013

Religion: Saving Humanity from Itself

I want to preface this little number by saying that my intent is, in no way, meant to suggest that those
who have faith in a particular set of religious values are somehow less intelligent for said faith.  The ideas I am proposing may sound elitist on the surface, but I ask that my readers keep an open mind.

For all of its faults--for all of the innocent blood that has been spilled on the battlefield of the lord, or in the torture chambers of the most ardent inquisitor--religion has actually been a good thing for humanity.

Humanity, as a whole, has not always possessed the capability to engage in complex philosophical abstractions.  In the state of nature, where early humans violently fought over scarce resources, someone had to stand up and ask the most burning question that is still hard to answer to this day: what makes an action "wrong"?  And one can only imagine the lone philosopher, standing amongst the stinking heaps of his fallen comrades, asking such a question in the midst of battle.  One has to wonder if anyone gave pause.

They probably didn't in the heat of the moment, but if that philosopher made it out alive, we have to imagine that he posed the question again in a more suitable setting.  Sitting arby the fire with his fellow cohorts, caring for their wounds and enjoying a victory meal, the philosopher had to ask again with a harsh frustration in his voice: isn't all of this wrong?  But what makes an action wrong?

No one had an answer.  What does it even mean to be moral?  Who gets to decide on morality?  How can we say that one action is "moral" while another is "immoral?"  Why do we have a right to be indignant?  This is where religion comes in.

Because they couldn't develop a concept of morality based on logic and reason--and because no one could bring themselves to trust the logic and reason of another man--they had to construct a universally agreed upon raison d'etre for morality, existence, and everything else: it is so because the gods say it's so.

Getting the masses to believe in such a thing is quite powerful as it provides an easy basis for law that is not arbitrary.  Why is it against the law to murder another human being?  Because God says that murder is wrong.

But what about actions that are immoral but cannot are not against the law?  It's not unlawful to lie to someone.  If the purpose of law is to establish punishments for breaking the social contract, what could they do to stop people from committing wrongs against each other that fell outside the purview of the law?  That is where divine punishment came in.

Go ahead, be an asshole to each other.  If the law doesn't get you, then God will send you to Hell where you will spend an eternity painfully atoning for your sins.  For a lot of people, that is enough to coerce them into moral compliance.

Many humans lack the capacity to reason the efficacy of moral goodness beyond the notion that the gods decide morality, but what about those who simply don't care or don't believe in divine judgment?  There are people who will murder, steal, and rape without pause, and those types generally drive down the morale of the people and their overall satisfaction with the justice system.  If a poeple feels as though its government is not regularly serving justice, they become restless.  No one likes a riot, but it's impossible to prevent evil actions and, let's face it, not everyone gets caught.

Enter divine reward.

If you stick to the moral precepts of your god, then you are rewarded in the afterlife with eternal bliss.  This actually turned out to be a dangerous concept, because it essentially gave the ruling classes license to do whatever they please.  Have you ever noticed that the more you suffer, the greater the reward?  That is the key to quelling the chaos, and it is essential to keep people working.

In my personal experience, when you determine that the traditional God probably does not exist, and when you face the very real possibility that there may not be an afterlife at all, you are at first filled with an intense sense of hopelessness.  The only way to overcome that is to realize that time is precious, and one should live his life to the fullest.  Few people are able to move beyond the hopelessness.  The hopeless don't work as hard.  They don't care about spending money, or getting married and having children, and some of them decide that living is altogether pointless.

"If an unexamined life is not worth living, then I patiently await the mass suicides."  Religion exists to keep moral order and to prevent mass suicides.  It gives people hope because they look forward to the reward due to those who suffer, and they also feel comforted by the promised punishment to those who sin.  It's not so much an "opiate for the masses," as it is a security blanket for those who rule and those who are ruled.

If tomorrow we discovered that God does not exist and that there is no afterlife, the world would fall into chaos.  There would be mass suicides because many people would not be able to bear the absurdity of life, and crime would assuredly rise since many people are only good because they fear punishment.  It has nothing to do with the absence of God's grace: it is because humanity has not yet evolved to sustain itself on intellect alone.

Humanity still requires superstition to hold itself together.  Religion saved us from self-extinction.


Silverfiddle said...

Ever notice how the #1 topic of conversation among people who do not believe in God is... God.

Kinda funny when you think about it.

A great atheist(?) song that I love is 'Dear God,' by XTC which deplores how horribly His believers behave.

The singer concludes that he doesn't believe in God, yet that is who he addresses his beautiful missive to.

It reminds me of a small child, hurt and stung, slapping a coddling parent on the face.

It's not his fault. He only created you.

Jack Camwell said...

I'm not an atheist. People like me are not content to simply believe a book written by men that somehow explain things that the human mind cannot comprehend.

Silverfiddle said...

I didn't say you were. My observations still stand.

Jersey McJones said...

If somehow we could prove there is no God to everyone's satisfaction, I do not think the world would fall to chaos. They just find something else to believe in. It doesn't really matter who the shepherd is, as far as the sheep are concerned.


Anonymous said...

With all due respect Silver...

Being raised catholic, having religion crammed into my brain, never given much of a say in it as a child...

I can tell you with absolute certainty that the religious invoke god quite a bit more than an agnostic or an atheist does in their daily lives.

You may not be a bible thumpin' rootin tootin go getter for the LORD... but believe you me I have met them, droves of them, more than I care to mention.

Other than the Atheist four horsemen, when have you seen a guy sunday morning preachin the good word of the flying spaghetti monster.

I get what you are saying, but you have to understand that to a skeptic like myself that the very idea of a christian styled creator is somewhat terrifying, and in my efforts talking with people about it I try and illuminate that fact.

When people don't think rationally about something I get upset.

I am not talking about the people who believe in God and worship and pray, like the vast majority. I am talking about the people who believe in creation despite no hard evidence to support it and overwhelmingly abundant slam dunk case closed go get bent evidence to the contrary.

The evangelists on TV need to go away, and the only way to do that is to stop lining their pockets.

"Would Jesus wear a Rolex?" - Ray Stevens

Silverfiddle said...

But what about actions that are immoral but cannot are not against the law? It's not unlawful to lie to someone. If the purpose of law is to establish punishments for breaking the social contract, what could they do to stop people from committing wrongs against each other that fell outside the purview of the law? That is where divine punishment came in.

In most societies besides the United States, religion came first, later, sometimes much later, codified law, so this point about why man fabricated divine punishment doesn't make much sense.

Is your point that man's law makes more sense than God's law?

Or man must step in and refine God's law? Sorting out the stupid stuff from the stuff we really need?

Anon: I cannot argue with your life experiences. And I know you weren't talking to me, but I've never been a fan of televangelists.

I take it your argument, like jack's appears to be, is more of an anti-religion one, rather than a 'there is no God' one?

Anonymous said...

Sort of... I am not qualified to denounce the existence of a creator. It is far beyond my knowledge to compete with such a force if in fact there is such a force.

I would hope however, if there is such a being/consciousness that it is above petty parlor tricks and toying with us like playthings.

From my perspective, the sheer audacity of some people who invoke the name of this being is staggering.

Again, I am not really talking about the average person who is private about it, I am talking about the people who go around and profess they know god spoke to them and how he told them that I am going to hell because I turned my back on Catholicism.

I understand the lure of religion. The notion that you can be alone, yet not truly alone and that there is someone/something you can talk to and will listen no matter what. The idea of heaven and eternal life according to my wishes is a good thing, the idea of heaven and eternal life according to Christianity is sheer terror.

Riddle me this:

What is the purpose of prayer?

My argument is thus; you cannot as a mere mortal usurp, modify, influence or even plead your case convincingly in the face of the overwhelming power of a supreme consciousness.

Furthermore, how can the Devil possibly stand against God? There are only three logical explanations.

1. The Devil is an equal being with equal power and equal strength of will.

2. God allows the Devil to do evil works for some reason, for instance if life is only possible when both sides of the coin are represented.

My conclusion. 3. There is no fucking devil because god could vanquish her/him/it and undo all it's bastard evil with a mere thought.

In my estimation if there is such a being, it would be so far outside the realm of our perception that to make real world decisions based upon clearly fallacious words is an absolute affront to the nature of this being.

I have more regard for the creator than to sit here and explain it's thoughts to you and what you need to do about it. All I can fathom about it is it is unfathomable.

Silverfiddle said...

All I can fathom about it is it is unfathomable.


The best criticism I have heard of organized Christianity in general, and Catholicism in particular, it that it puts too fine a point on things, and goes beyond what was taught and revealed.

I do believe Satan is very real, and I believe, as the Bible says, that he is the "god of this world."

It's our world, and God lets us play.

Jack Camwell said...

The notion of divine punishment took some time to develop. The ancient Greeks didn't believe in punishment for all, just for the few who directly defied the gods. Most people were just thought to be wandering around Hades for eternity as a shade.

At any rate, my point is that the notion of divine punishment in the afterlife is designed to get people to behave.

Anonymous said...

So are we satan or what are you implying silver? That a being capable of laying down this vast cosmos is incapable of manifesting or changing whatever?

Again, either the Devil is an equal, or there is some overriding purpose to the Devil, or there is no fucking Devil.


What about prayer?

Silverfiddle said...

I am not breaking any new ground. I subscribe to traditional Catholic beliefs:

God cast out from heaven satan and his band of rebel angels.

For some reason, God has allowed Satan to operate here on earth, but he cannot overcome a human without the human's consent.

God made us and gave us free will.

Prayer: How do you know that the sum total of all prayer said over the entire course of human history does not affect the arc of our human existance?

Consider this: God exists out of time and space. Time is an earthly concept. So God, standing outside of time and place, sees it all, not just physically but across the entire arc of all time on earth, alpha to omega.

But back to your original point, much of it is unfathomable.

Why the hostility? You seem angry.

Silverfiddle said...

@ Jack: "At any rate, my point is that the notion of divine punishment in the afterlife is designed to get people to behave."

So you believe it to be a purely human invention, and not something God revealed to man, or implanted upon our souls?

Silverfiddle said...

Here's a related discussion on the subject...

Jack Camwell said...

Yes, I believe it is a human invention.

The concept of an afterlife is a human invention. Humans created the concept because they couldn't cope with the notion that this is it.

It could very well be that there is some etherial plane beyond this mortal coil, but I highly doubt that it has anything to do with reward or punishment. If anything, the Greeks were probably closer to the truth in terms of the dead being wandering shades. But the notion of a fiery pit awaiting the sinful and pearly gates opened to the pious, I believe that is a human construct.

I think anon's point about the existence of Satan was that there seems to be a big contradiction in the traditional view of the nature of God.

Many Christians view God as being omnibenevolent, but an omnipotent being who is also omnibenevolent would not allow his creation to suffer, even if it was to "teach them a lesson." The logical conclusion is that either Satan does not exist, and evil is just random acts of immorality perpetrated by imperfect humans, or God simply doesn't care enough to save us from mortal suffering (it's actually probably a combination of both).

Just as well, the traditional view of Satan is not rooted in the bible. The bible does not ever refer to Satan as a fallen angel. That concept didn't come about until around the 15th century. That is a contradictory notion, because the general consensus of God's angels is that they are incapable of freedom of thought or action (which is why God supposedly created humans so that he could have beings who freely choose to love him).

Anyway, the point is that the way things are portrayed in Christianity and many religious traditions make the whole thing seem like a soap opera. Humans assume, way too much, that the gods are like humans. But that is only because we don't stop to think about what it would be like to be omni-everything.

Silverfiddle said...

"But the notion of a fiery pit awaiting the sinful and pearly gates opened to the pious, I believe that is a human construct."

Agreed, partially. Our modern-day concepts come from Dante, but Christ himself used some pretty vivid metaphors.

Biblically, Heaven and Hell are more conceptually either an eternity with God or an eternity separated from him (See the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man).

Isaiah 14 is believed to refer to the fall of Lucifer, who became the Satan that we see in the New Testament.

I understand that I cannot use the Bible to debate someone who does not believe in it, so I'm simply restating standard Christian belief.

The Bible, nor any Christian or Jewish theology, ever claimed God was omnibenevolent, so whoever proceeds from that premise is flawed from the start.

Good luck in your search for the truth.

Silverfiddle said...

Here are two links for you Jack.

I provide them not to convince you of anything, but for you to see what certain Christians believe.

Please don't take this as a personal attack, but sometimes you will mistate what the Bible does or does not say, or misstate clearly-available doctrine.

I am not attacking your right to say and belive what you will, but rather helping you properly characterize what you debate against.

Anonymous said...

Silver, I terse with you because you usually aren't one to dodge a question.

Whenever I debate one of these deeply religious people who get under my skin, I always ask them the question: "Why not Ra?" "Odin?" "Quetzalcoatl?" "Shiva?" and then I ask "Why not John Montagu?" People invariably don't know who he was, give me a funny look and then I say "Sliced Bread."

My point is, I want to get to the root cause of their delusion, why would they believe something that is patently and demonstrably false, then try to convince me it isn't false.

The was a book written about a fellow named the Grinch, yet I see no churches for him. Jackie should start the "First Church of Grinch" just as a gag, and then he can tend to his flock with stories of Western Monasticism.

You want to believe in a creator, I have no problem with that...

Just don't get upset when I don't. which is what I get from these people every time, and then I have to fight them back, and eventually I get weary from their infinite rationalizations. I have no problem with their personal beliefs, I have a problem when they try to push it on me... so I push back.

They want me to hate gays? They think I am going to hell because I don't believe in the Easter Human? I don't get their agenda.

Jack Camwell said...

I know you mean well, Silver. no offense taken.

I concede to your point on the bible and Satan's fall.

As for the omnibenevolence of God, here is what the all-knowing wikipedia has to say about that:

Note that it cites some verses from the bible and an excerpt from Vatican II.

But of course, even the great Thomas Aquinas said that it isn't possible to understand how an omnibenevolent God could use evil for the purpose of good.

Ultimately, my point is that there's nothing wrong with faith. In fact, my article suggests that religion has had an overall positive effect on humanity, but that's because I believe that humanity is mostly too stupid and too horrible to do the right thing on their own.

And again, that's not to say that believing in a religion is, in itself, stupid or indicative of intellectual short coming. But the LITTERAL word of the bible is meant for the soft-minded. That's why the Catholic Church generally does not preach the litteral word of the bible, and acknowledges that much of it is left open for interpretation. (And that is straight from the Catechism).

Silverfiddle said...

Jack: And I know you are going through a sincere intellectual exercise, and I respect that.

I also know you are not the type to deliberately mischaracterize someone else's point of view, so when I see something I assume it was an honest oversight on your part, not a cheap trick to gain a point.

Anon (AHB?)

I am probably not the typical believer you are thinking of.
I do hold my beliefs dearly, and I trust the word of God because it is based upon human testimony, much of which is independently corroborated by secular historical writings.

But I don't get upset with those who believe differently than me. My main goal in such situations is to 'set the record straigh' on what the Catholic Church or The Bible says if I see something that looks sketchy.

Also, being Catholic, I am not an absolutist, as Jack points out.

I believe that some of the Bible could be allegorical, but nonetheless express a fundamental truth about God.

Also, I believe we could have come from apes, or some kind of cave man.

My answer to that is, when did god infuse the beings with a human soul?

A baptist, fundamentalist or evangelical would cast me into the darkness for positing such a scenario, so I understand your frustration in arguing with believers.

I also believe there could be some divine purpose in the manifold gods you describe.

Who am I to say Vishnu is no good?

All I know is that I believe in Jesus Christ, and He is the way, the truth and the life.

How he chooses to save people is not for me to judge. I just know what my tradition teaches, my sould and mind believes it, and my conscience tells me to follow it.

Believe it or not, I have gone through more than one dark night of the soul, and I have intellectually scoured my belief. I continue asking questions and learning, which is what people of faith should do.

I have been to the point of unbelief more than once, which is why I usually do not criticize people who are doubting.

I also readily admit to not being an authority on theological questions, so sometimes I simply don't have a ready answer.

Why do I pray? Because Jesus and the Hebrew teachers said so.

Prayer is one subject I have not delved deeply into.

I'm not trying to sound like a smartass, but do you tear apart a commercial jet airliner and understand every piece of it before flying in it, or do you have faith that it can fly?

I know, we have anecdotal evidence. But we also have historical testimony for much of what is in the Bible.

Anonymous said...

I never lumped you in the category, it's the phrasing of your first comment about "#1 topic of conversation" led me down the path of defense.

The reason should be obvious, we are seeking answers that make sense, I personally can't come to very good answer that isn't some variation of "I don't know"

Aerodynamic flight is something that is not fully understood or explained even by the Bernoulli principle, so turboprops to you for that question.

The difference with an airplane vs religion is our experience directly indicates that lift is generated by an airfoil moving through the medium of the atmosphere, and I can reliably demonstrate that with a piece of paper. No one has direct indication that there is a creator, only indirect.

Furthermore, it is entirely possible to induce an airplane to be incapable of flight because of weight, drag, speed or various other modifiers that tell us "these conditions must be met to produce aerodynamic lift." I wouldn't set the spoiler airbrake on and set the flaps full and reverse thrust... and still maintain my faith the thing will fly.

I suppose my issue with organized religion is that they are setup with multiple contingencies to explain everything without being able to explain it.

That is like reading a blog which states that computers are really living organisms with little faeries flying around inside them to make the pretty pictures... and actually believing that without question.

Anonymous said...

Too sophomoric for my tastes. Sorry boys. Enjoy yourselves.

------------> Katharine Heartburn

Micky said...

Yeah, when I look around and see how nature works, humans being the centerpiece of it, absolutely incredible unbelievable creations, I have to figure theres more to this than any mental architecture could conceive.
So I'll give my life a purpose based on treating people with the same basic repects I'd expect.
Cant really say for sure what any kind of afterlife, heaven, might be like.
But I do know that one form of Hell would be to die with a lot of guilt and one form of Heaven would be to not have all that luggage.
I died, for a couple minutes, knew it was coming.
The worst part was knowing how many fucked up things I'd done and left behind unfinished, or amended.
So far it seems theres always a reaction to any action, and nine times out of ten bad begets bad.
Define bad ?
Even without Ten Commandments we were still as humans given the ability to draw basic paramrters of what levels of imposed pain were allowed to give others derived from most communities that just want acceptable function towards similar goals.
Without the various religions tried to be pounded into me growing up, be it my first encounter "Baptist", or Catholic, or Lutheran, ot even the higher power AA suggests, I still get this sense that I'm being monitored not so much to see that I'm adhering to any set of rules.
But instead being monitored/observed simply to see that I give enough of a shit to try and be better human.
Yeah, the nurses brought me back after a couple minutes, no white light, no tunnels or cosmic happenings.
Just really scared and pissed at the same time because I realized I'd almost blown the only thing I really know.
The purpose I've decided as the foundation for our existence is to instill a generational compounding of knowledge, virtues and morals until we finally get it right and everything is perfect.
The problem is that in achieving this collective utopia while still all being individuals we may just end up a dead species.. because its going to take a really fucking long time.