Addendum to Religiosis
I received some comments on my earlier post on religion and the Mumbai attacks, and rather than pour time into comment replies, I’ll publish my response here. It’s a good reason to talk about this stuff, and I plan to write much more about this topic as time permits.
As Tristan notes, any discussion of religion and its role in society is a long discussion.
A very long discussion indeed, but a welcome one, as long as certain rules apply. At least on my blog, where I get to set the rules… and hope to live up to them. Those rules start with no weasel words, no hemming and hawing about definitions, and no hiding behind logical fallacies. Given those rules, I doubt a discussion of the existence of gods would take very long. This isn’t personal, it’s objective. I actually intend to write much more about this, so please forgive the brief reply here.
My short version is that I see no evidence whatsoever that there are all-powerful beings of any kind controlling anything that happens, under any circumstances, anywhere. I appreciate that an abstract feeling of oneness with the cosmos can arise in the human brain, and it’s a great feeling when that happens. Enjoy it. But there is no objective evidence that such feelings are anything other than imagination, psychosomatic. Like being on drugs, being on socialization endorphins can be a rush, but it’s literally all in our heads.
The claim that there are gods is a factual claim, about the existence and intent of large, powerful, alien creatures. Such beings either exist or they don’t, and if one makes a positive claim about their existence one really does need to justify that claim with objective evidence beyond personal imaginary experiences. That’s kind of a basic rule of detective work, either in the lab or at the crime scene.
As far as the good religion does… if I were a historian I could claim expert knowledge, but I’m not, so I can’t. I’ll gladly step aside and let others do that dirty work. Nevertheless… I’m sorry, but there is really no way to look at human history and not see religion as anything other than a force of pure malevolence. Religion claims knowledge about things for which there is no evidence, claims positive certainty about things that are literally impossible and fictional, and tells people to behave in ways that do wonders for reinforcing the tribe but do terrible things to other tribes. Religion is exclusionary… you are either with us or you are against us. Religion cares nothing about suffering, and instead presumes there are powerful agents from beyond the stars whose offense we are continuously preoccupied with avoiding, no matter the human cost.
Yes, sometimes there were religious social groups who took upon themselves to do good works, and to preserve the written records of prior years. But why did they need to do that? Because religious people destroyed every book they found that didn’t fit their dogma. Kings would likewise destroy records of prior kings, to squelch public sentiment toward better times past… and both derive from the same root: Argument from Authority.
Religion is evil because it descends directly from the ultimate Argument from Authority. If I am a holy man, and I claim to speak for the Creator of All Things, I cannot be questioned by definition. I can order the death of millions, I can command – as does the Bible – to gut pregnant women and kill all the livestock of those who oppose me, no matter the suffering, no matter the waste of precious resources. I can command – literally – anything.
That is the problem with religion. It is a systematic social order based on the Argument from Authority, no better than the so-called Divine Right of Kings… worse, in fact, because the claim is not only to temporal power but to ultimate, infinite power. Religion is not god – assuming for argument’s sake there are gods – it is a power hierarchy among humans, designed to rule by terror.
If there were gods, they’d sometimes do obvious things to make themselves known… things that would leave no question they are in charge… things for which there are no other plausible explanations. Please be clear: those kinds of things have never been reliably observed to happen. Not once. Ever. There can be no logic supporting a positive, assertive claim for a god or gods, because there is no evidence supporting such existence. And be clear…. positive claims do require evidence. The burden of proof is always on the person making the positive claim… otherwise I could claim that no one has ever disproven the existence of the god Thor, therefore Thor exists. Or Baron Samedhi, or Anubis, or Puff the Magic Dragon.
The antithesis of religion is free inquiry, free thought, examination of evidence and basing actions on that evidence. Religion doesn’t have to stipulate a god, only a god-like source of unimpeachable, unquestionable truth…. such as Stalin, who did a pretty respectable god-impersonation for the Soviet people, at least for a while. Science questions everything, at every moment, and bases decisions on what can be demonstrated. And please don’t counter with arguments about individual scientists who didn’t do that. That doesn’t matter, because Pons and Fleischmann failed as scientists, as did others who got blinded at some point by personal needs and desires. The aim of science is bigger than the faulty people who practice it… to figure things the hell out, for real.
Why do I lump mild religionists with fundamentalists? I do so in only one way…. both claim positively that something big, bad and interested in us is living here, feeding on our thoughts, obsessed with everything we do, and cares deeply about very particular and detailed things that mattered a lot to Bronze Age people…. and who is willing to punish the human species in horrid, perverse ways if we don’t go along with Its or Their agenda.
If a person wants to go through life with a personal attitude that Something is out there… fine. That’s what freedom is all about. I might believe in faeries, and have wonderful thoughts about how cool it would be to meet faeries (actually I don’t). But when I go in front of others and say that the faeries want us to do things… things such as denying informative sex education to starving throngs, because the faeries want people to reproduce infinitely no matter the consequences…. or things such as blowing up ourselves and our enemies in their name…. others would be right to call me out, and either ignore me as a psychopath or put me away. Personal emotional meanderings are part of human nature…. organized, assertive religion is a lethal disease.