Doomsday religions – Christian/Mormons and Islamics – the offspring Abrahamics

click for the CSIS report

Second Time for Second Coming

It’s bad enough that people actually beleive that there’s an end of day reckoning and worse that anyone would claim to know the particular day.

But Harold Camping, not embarrassed enough for having declared May 21, 2011 the day and been proven wrong one, has declared October 21 – today – to be the day.

It’s not surprising that Camping’s followers “have dwindled since the failed May 21 prophecy — down to about 25 adults on a typical Sunday — plus about 20 youngsters attending Sunday school classes in conjunction with the prayer group.”

What’s surprising is that he as any left at all or that a man with so few followers has been able to maintain any media presence at all.

What’s boggling to me is that the Campings and Phelps of Christendom haven’t so undermined the concept, that religion still attracts people at all.

Seriously, I get why Christians like to claim that they are true believers and define belief in a way that excludes the fundies and the obvious nutters – but the reality is, that the only true beleivers are the fundies and the obvious nutters.

As one of my favorite columnists, Dan Gardner wrote:

For the glory of God

Gazing down from the 40th floor of a lower Manhattan skyscraper, Richard Dawkins shakes his head. “What a symbol,” he growls.

In the evening drizzle, the city is a jungle of glitz and twinkling lights but Dawkins’ attention is fixed on a flood-lit crater directly below us. It is Ground Zero, the footprint of the twin towers, still barren six years after the atrocity that made the world gasp. At the bottom of the vast hole, backhoes scrape into the night.

What does this symbolize, I ask? “Religious bigotry,” he answers crisply. Not a twisted version of Islam. Not Islam as a whole. No, for the Oxford professor, biologist, renowned science writer, and author of the notorious bestseller The God Delusion, the void below is what religion itself hath wrought.

“The people who did this terrible thing were sincere, deeply religious, believed they were right, believed they were doing the will of their god, firmly believed they were going straight to heaven for doing what they thought of as a wonderful deed,” Dawkins says. “They had just one thing wrong with them. They believed. They had faith. And it was their faith that drove them to it.”

In New York to attend a conference on secularism sponsored by the Center for Inquiry, Dawkins has slipped out of what must be an exhausting reception with several hundred enthusiastic atheists. This evening, the heretic is a prophet and everyone wants to see him, to shake his hand and give thanks unto him. A British television crew records his every smile and nod. He could be forgiven for being a little distracted this evening.

But whatever one may think of the man dubbed “Darwin’s Rottweiler,” there’s no denying the speed and precision of Dawkins’ mind. Even harried like a royal on holiday, the man talks like a scalpel cuts.

“I wouldn’t for a moment suggest the majority of people would do anything remotely so terrible, indeed anything terrible at all, but there is a logical pathway that leads from religious faith to doing the most appalling deeds.” Accept that there is a God. Accept that He is involved in the world’s affairs. Accept that the Bible or the Koran is His holy word. “Once you’ve got that in your head, then a reasonable person can progress step by step to the conclusion that the right thing to do, the righteous thing to do, is to destroy thousands of lives.”

The God Delusion has already sold 1.5 million copies, a particularly astonishing accomplishment given that the book market is crowded with broadsides on religion. Sam Harris was first out with The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation, while Christopher Hitchens’ God Is Not Great had a long run high on the New York Times best-seller list. The coincidence of these publishing successes has led the three men to be dubbed the “new atheists.” It has also generated the most sustained discussion of religion and its place in society for decades, including a flurry of counter-attacks against Dawkins and his fellow prophets.

Almost invariably, the first volley is aimed at style. These atheists are nasty, it is said. Their language is crude, even vicious. This is a particularly serious charge for Dawkins, as esteemed Oxford professors are simply not supposed to do that sort of thing.

Dawkins scoffs. “The bits of my book which are described as intemperate, ranting, strident or shrill, they’re moderate when compared to the sort of language any of us use, whether we’re talking about politics or a terrible play we’ve seen or a terrible piece of music. It’s just that religion has been accustomed to getting a free ride and therefore even moderate criticism sounds strident if it’s criticism of religion.”

Religion hasn’t always been exempt from scrutiny and even the briefest tour of commentary on the subject will turn up gems such as Friedrich Nietzsche complaining that “I find it necessary to wash my hands after I have come into contact with religious people,” and Émile Zola declaring the perfection of civilization will be at hand when “the last stone from the last church falls on the last priest!” Voltaire described Christianity as “the most ridiculous, the most absurd and bloody religion that has ever infected the world.” Tennessee Williams saw in the God of Western mythology a “senile delinquent.” David Hume called prevailing religious principles “sick men’s dreams.” Next to this litany of provocations and calumnies, Dawkins’ language is only a little more inflammatory than the Queen’s.

A more substantive response to the new atheists is somewhat related to the first. “When believers pick up Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens,” said Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, in a recent address, “we may feel as we turn the pages: ‘This is not it. Whatever the religion being attacked here, it’s not actually what I believe in’.”

The new atheists’ view of religion is far too crude, critics say. They ignore the fine and subtle thoughts of great theologians and dwell instead on literal readings of holy books, divine intervention, miracles, fundamentalism, televangelists, terrorists and other fringe elements. “Only religious nutcases take the Creation story literally,” wrote Salley Vickers in The Times of London. Most Christians are well aware that the Bible is “a miscellany of stories, letters, polemic, histories, fables and certainly some great moral teachings, as well as some outmoded and unacceptable social prejudices. Therefore it is perfectly reasonable to ‘pick and choose’ when reading the Bible, something that Dawkins takes Christians to task for.”

The odd thing about this criticism is that it is itself so out of touch with reality. In Gallup surveys asking Americans about the creationist account of human origins — that “God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years” — four in 10 said it was “definitely true,” while another one in four said it was “probably true.” Only 31 per cent thought it probably or definitely false.

Gallup also asked about the nature of the Bible, offering one of three possible responses: “the Bible is the actual word of God and is to be taken literally, word for word”; it is “the inspired word of God but not everything in it should be taken literally”; and, “the Bible is an ancient book of fables, legends, history and moral precepts recorded by man.”

Only 15 per cent of Americans agreed with that last statement. Almost half said the Bible is the inspired word of God, while one-third said every blessed word comes from the Lord’s own ballpoint pen. Given that the Bible condones genocide, slavery and a system of justice the Taliban would find a little harsh, one suspects that the Archbishop of Canterbury and the other theologians with fine and subtle thoughts are considerably outnumbered by those who prefer their religion to be a touch more old school.

And don’t think this is a uniquely American affliction. Gallup found that only 29 per cent of Canadians identified the Bible as a book of stories written by fellow humans. Half said it is divinely inspired, while 17 per cent said every word in the Bible is sacred and must be read literally.

And this, of course, is to say nothing of faith in the Muslim world, which we can reasonably assume tilts heavily to literalism, not least because, in many Muslim countries, asserting that the Koran is an “ancient book of fables, legends, history and moral precepts recorded by man” can get one killed.

Faith exists on a spectrum. At one end are atheists like Dawkins who say they’ll take a look at whatever evidence anyone cares to offer but they will not believe that which is not proven. A little further over are the folks who may see valuable moral instruction in religion but whose sense of reality is similar to what was called “deism” in the 18th century: There exists a creator of things but rather than a bearded old man on a throne who smites unbelievers, he is more like — to use the classic metaphor — the watchmaker who set his creation in motion and does not interfere with its operation.

Atheists don’t agree with deists, but Dawkins and the other new atheists have almost nothing to say about them. A god who does not intervene in the world does not write books — not even with the help of ghost writers — and cannot inspire mischief.

Further along the spectrum, we come to the many variations of an interventionist God. In moderate form, it typically involves a vague belief that God somehow inspired the Bible — although not the nasty bits about killing homosexuals, enslaving enemies, punishing sons for the sins of their fathers, or anything else that grates on the sensibilities of the moment. Miracles are possible, in this view, but only in the distant past — thus avoiding blatant contradiction between scientific observation and faith in the present.

And finally, there is the muscular version of the interventionist God, the one who penned the Bible — or the Koran, if you prefer — and who delights in fiddling with the world in ways that defy all reason. In a side street next to the hole in the ground that was the Twin Towers, there is a monument to this brand of faith.

It is, says a plaque, “The Cross at Ground Zero” — steel beams in the shape of a cross discovered amid the wreckage. Workers wept on discovering it. A miracle, they said. A Catholic priest blessed it. It is “a sign of comfort for all,” the plaque says.

Of course, if this claim is true, then God is a Christian God, which really can’t be such a comfort for billions of non-Christians, including the families of the many Jews, Muslims and atheists killed in the attacks. One might also think it strange that the omniscient and omnipotent God who thrust his hand into the collapsing tower to leave his calling card couldn’t be bothered to thrust it back in and save a life or two. And is it really impressive that a section of steel beam in the shape of a cross was found following the collapse of thousands of interconnected steel beams? A Star of David would have been quite impressive, but probability alone can explain crosses.

This sort of faith is little more than crude superstition and I suspect that it makes thoughtful believers like the Archbishop of Canterbury wince. But much as the archbishop and atheists alike may wish it to be fringe, it’s not. The sidewalk beside “The Cross of Ground Zero” is constantly filled with people gazing in awe at a hunk of scrap metal. This is what faith is for countless people.

They all stand on Richard Dawkins’ “logical pathway.” Accept that there is a God, that He intervenes in the world, and that a book speckled with cruelty and hatred is His doing, and it becomes possible to move along the spectrum, step by step, to ever-more extreme and irrational conclusions.

The Dalai Lama recently said that all religions teach compassion and belief only becomes a problem when believers are “not really serious, not sincere.” This, it seems to me, is exactly backwards. It is precisely those believers who are most sincere and most serious who travel furthest along religion’s logical pathway. One can say many unkind things about the men who flew airplanes into skyscrapers, but give them their due: They were profoundly serious and sincere.

Across from Ground Zero, in the tiny cemetery of St. Paul’s chapel, there is a bell given by the people of London on the first anniversary of 9/11. “For the greater glory of God,” the inscription begins. When I tell Dawkins this, he shakes his head and points to the ground far below.

“It was precisely for the greater glory of God that that terrible deed was done,” he says.

Dan Gardner writes Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.
E-mail: dgardner@thecitizen.canwest.com

© (c) CanWest MediaWorks Publications Inc.
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As a side note, after reading this back in November 2007, I wrote to Dan and asked how he had resisted the urge to call the article “God’s Glory Hole”.

Civil War 2.0

I believe that we are in a global civil war for our species survival – or at least for a longer survival than we will have if we don’t try to win – between rationalism and religion.

Religion retards scientific and social development – as religion seeks to put artificial and unnatural limits on our lives – and this is why we must fight back that dark ignorance and fear with everything we have.

We are killing ourselves with polluting industry, monocrop agriculture and in wars; all which is driven by religious ideologies. The idea that we can do as we please with the earth and everything on it because there’s a deity who will be along any of our lifetimes now and return the earth to it’s original pristine operational state and reward the faithful and punish everyone else.

While we will always find a reason to not like other groups of people, we can generally get along with each other and ignore differences until the introduction of an idea that says one group is somehow superior and the other is inferior – and this superior/inferior idea comes from one of two places – religious or political ideology.

The reality that  there is less than 1% genetic difference between you and any other person on the earth and this means that the differences between peoples is purely cosmetic acclimation to the climate zone they live in – darker skin near the equator to reduce sun absorption, lighter near the poles to maximize it, almond eye shape to help deflect more sunlight from sun/snow blinding you.

Body type, hair kinkiness, colour, facial features are all from cultural/sexual selection – so, knowing that, doesn’t racism seem pretty stupid?

There are no human subspecies so there’s no such thing as races within our species – and “race” is a bigoted and escalated term “breed” when we apply the concept to humans that we use to distinguish between types within a species of animals, say dogs and cats.

It is the idea of superior and inferior that permits the crimes against humanity from:

*     outright genocide of an entire group or category of people,

*     legalized or socialized discrimination (slavery, women and ethnic minorities getting to vote, civil rights, gay marriage, etc)

*     to interfering with the personal sovereignty of a person based on their affiliation with a larger group (women and abortion)

If human life really is valuable, then no human life is more valuable than any other life – and disliking people doesn’t mean that you believe you are better or worse than them – it takes a much stronger emotion to get a person to really mistreat another one – and it takes a huge investment emotionally to override our basic natures and feel not only deserving, but entitled, to own other people and expect to benefit from their labour and efforts – in fact, it takes seeing them as not only less than yourself, but less than people.

To get to that stage, it takes religious or political ideology to few whole groups of people as less than people and to be not only comfortable with that there are inferiors, but accepting and willingness – happiness even – to benefit from the inequality; especially inequalities so great as to include enslavement, abuse and torture.

Doesn’t this make it curious that the so called pro-life people are only concerned with the unborn or vegetative state people and not at all with the healthy young men and women in prime breeding age being sent off to wage war on other humans?

Even worse, when you push and probe a so called pro-lifer – you generally uncover that they are primarily concerned with women of their own ethnicity having abortions more than women of other ethnicities having them – racist fear of being outnumbered – and you generally uncover the attitude that the woman was a slut or whore who deserves punishment of the consequences or at least isn’t entitled to avoid consequences and so should have to have the baby and give it to deserving parents who can give it a good home to always live with the reminder that she couldn’t – yet, there is no social condemnation for the man for having sex or being a deadbeat dad – it’s almost expected so no excuse or retribution necessary.

It is curious that religion – Christianity in particular – is so anti-sex. Although there seems to be a correlation in religion with the idea of purity and cleanliness – which means being anti-contamination – and sex is the usual vector of contamination – so anti-sex makes a certain degree of sense – sex in moderation, with precautions is rational and reasonable.

But religion is not about rational and reasonable, it’s about extreme fears and it drives all the social phobias, religion is ritual expression of xenophobia, fear of difference and contamination.

So recognizing the fear of contamination, as represented by sex gives a very different view of the Christian Adam and Eve story – one that I have tripped over for decades, as far back as childhood, not understanding why adults were so nude adverse, when Adam and Eve were nude in the garden – nudists in the woods and wild was how their god had intended people to be – Eve and Adam ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge and learned the difference between good and evil – and they covered themselves.

Christians and other religions took this to mean nudity and sex was bad, dirty, evil – but they continued to insist that god was good and loving and pure – the religion is based on a cognitive dissonance – if god was good and pure and loving and made Adam and Even naked in the woods with no sexual and gender shame, then sex and our bodies are good and pure to start with – and it’s shame that is evil and dirty. Thinking we’re not good enough, just the way we are.

So either the religious folk got it wrong about sex and nudity and our bodies or they got their god all wrong.

Our bodies, sex, nudity and god were always on the same side – it was the covering up that earned the banishment – so Christians are still trying to cover up sex, like the leaves weren’t enough and if only they could get everyone to stop having sex, we could return to the garden – well, I guess that makes some sense – if humans stopped having sex, there’s soon be no humans and the earth would revert back to a garden state with no sentient life mucking it up.

So religion is basically there to eliminate humans either way – if we all followed it, we’d self-extinct for failure to reproduce and as long as we follow all kinds of religions, then we can’t get along with each other because there can be only one, like Highlander – the original movie, not the off cannon sequels and TV series.

 “hate the sin, not the sinner”

Christians and other religions, in an attempt to hide what they really feel, cling to this idea that you can separate a person from what they are or what they do; but when they use the word sin to define things that are personal identifiers – like being gay – you can’t separate the sin from the sinner.

Which is probably why they are so keen to prevent women from having abortions – they can’t get over the whole apple thing, so are doing whatever they can to be punitive to women when it comes to anything related to sex. That Adam ate too is blamed on Eve for making him or that he was too good natured to sell Eve out and stay in the garden – perhaps this is the basis for misogyny the resentment that women “cost” men the garden and ignoring that it was Adam’s choice to chow down and follow Eve instead of refusing and staying in god’s garden. Perhaps that’s why so many religious conservatives are so homophobic too staying in the garden with god is a little gay compared to getting to play with Eve’s garden of delights.

Getting on your knees to pray has a whole other connotation, too – religion really is the brain equivalent to sexual kinkiness.

Or you can just marry a girl that you can have fun with

Sex is too core to our identities to be separate from our identity – “sex” is used simultaneously to refer to (and includes) both gender and sexuality and gender sexuality, sexual preferences, and expression of all these things. Our gender and sexuality forms a major part of our relationship with the world and each other and there is much that is valued and devalued that informs and forms our sexuality. We judge others based on attractiveness which derived from sexual desire and preferences – often overriding other concerns – such as fairness, reason, morals.

Love the sinner and hate the sin is nonsense and yet another impossible standard to create and set up followers as failed people, because you can’t separate any identity aspect from the person identified.

The Zero Sum Game

It is because we come from such different frameworks of understanding the world that belief and non-belief is a zero sum game in America, given the majority of literalist believers in America and in the world generally.

Almost all religions have the mentality of expansion by the word or the sword, and no real religion will tolerate other religions when at their core, there can be only one truth, one path, one god or one pantheon, whichever is appropriate to the religion du jour.

Inter-faith committees insist that there’s one god and each religion is a path to said god is to admit that there’s not one truth, that there are many truths, they are all as good and bad as the other, and in doing so, is admitting that religion is a culture product and of no import or consideration whatsoever, other than to keep the masses occupied and manageable.

This Mr. Rodgers watering down of religion is to say that they are all equivalent, so one is as good as any other, which means that religion isn’t important at all, but rather, how we behave towards each other – and that is true – so why not behave well with and towards each other without adding religion to the mix – religion is like pouring gasoline on a fire. We need to stop adding fuel, stop keeping the flames burning and actually douse that fire and figure out some other form of energy to base our economies on – the dinosaurs died out and we will too as long as we rely on them for fuel.

Turning to how we behave with each other – religious people are upset at the idea that non-believers exist for we are living proof that you don’t need a god to be good. Non-believers generally have higher IQs, less criminal/anti-social behavior and  more education/knowledge (even religious knowledge) than believers. We may not be happier people than believers, but one truism is that ignorance is bliss – it’s easy to not worry and fret about things that you don’t understand or don’t know about. When you know things, especially state of the world, the nation, the inequality and the suffering, it is difficult to be happy when you understand the mechanisms of the suffering and the extent.

This is why I find it so disturbing that believers are pleased with the idea of going to heaven knowing that others will be suffering in hell, and that knowing makes heaven all the sweeter for them. Believers cope with the suffering in the world by rationalizing that it’s somehow earned and deserved by those who suffer, and that because they are not suffering, that they are somehow better and deserving of reward.

Believers seem to have gone from a mentality of  “me instead of you” to “me at the expense of you”.

Confronting the believer’s cognitive dissonance is difficult, because it runs deep. Believers have to reject reality in favour of a religious worldview. To maintain that worldview, they have to ignore, mis-characterize and demonize anything that explains reality and eliminates the need for “goddidit” explanations.

This was easier in the old days when few people could read and most people had a hard scrabble existence and didn’t have the leisure time to think and to revolt against the social order that discriminated and excluded them; when being actually different or labeled as different (a heretic, witch, ethnic minority, gay, etc) was a torture and death sentence. And still is in some part of the world – usually in the theocratic, dictatorships and tribal authorities.

America was founded on the principle that individuals matters, not their group affiliation, that the right to descent and have personal sovereignty to pursue your own liberty, freedom and happiness. It was a revolution that is still being fought today – for the idea is to overturn everything – including and especially religion – and those who have power do not gladly share, redistributed or give it up easily.

America has been hijacked by religion that has slowly wormed it’s way into the halls of government, adding itself to the pledge and on the money – “Under god” was not originally part or on it, where religious conservatives, longing to harken back to the old days where their families were the only land and slave owners, where they ruled over all they surveyed as gods and ruled unquestioningly as they pleased. Good for them, not so much for the rest of us.

This is why the battle lines are drawn between people who look to the past to justify their entitlements and to deny anyone else any sharing of entitlements – because there is a limited amount of freedom available – if I have freedom, then they aren’t free to do what they want to me. Their freedom to swing their arm is limited by where my nose begins.

Actually, a little father than where it begins, us North Americans like about 2 feet of empty space between us – other cultures “personal space” varies, depending on the size of the country and the population figures, we seem to have a formula of the country land mass size divided by the population determines how much personal space we like to leave physically between each other.

So making light and jokes is the kinder gentler way to point out the inconsistencies and ironic tension between religious belief and reality – and, since believers have categorically rejected reality in favour of religion, humour is the only nice way to get believers to start to listen to reason and reality.

Humour includes a range of humour types and it’s very interesting to note that one of the hallmarks of insanity is the inability to understand and be funny. Religion is generally intolerant to most if not all forms of humour. And, if you’ve read this far, you don’t need me to point out the obvious connection made in this paragraph.

There is an alternative to the American zero sum game between belief and non-belief, and the compromise is for the US to become Canada; while Canada needs to adopt more Scandinavian nations sensibilities.

In Canada, belief is a private matter, largely excluded from the public sphere, except for the retail celebration of holidays currently deemed Christian – however, if Canada really wants to be a global model for multiculturism, then we need to add a lot more statutory holidays based on non-Christian traditions or end all statutory holidays that are not purely secular and civic.

Canadian politicians who mention abortion are asking to not be elected, same for making mention of one’s religion as a basis for policy – Paul Martin, our Catholic PM, signed into legislation gay marriage, despite threats of excommunication and denial of the cookie, cracker, whatever that host thingy is made of that transubstantiates into literal body and blood – seriously people cannibalism is okay but pre-martial sex isn’t?

ritual, actual, transubstantially no different

In Canada, gays are allowed to marry who they want to or can get to marry them and churches are not sue-able for refusing to perform the ceremony – everyone is afforded the ability to be consistent between their beliefs and their actions. Churches who are willing can perform gay marriages and get to and those who aren’t, don’ t have to.

Personal sovereignty can be afforded to everyone, as long as everyone understand where their sovereignty ends and someone else’s begins. But, religious believers are rarely willing to allow other people their personal sovereignty and feel entitled to dictate to other people what they can and cannot do, with whom and how long, how kinky and with what consequences. None of which is anyone’s business who wasn’t invited to participate.

One major difference between the US and Canada is that while Canada’s Charter of Rights includes freedom of religion,  the right to gender (including includes gender identity and sexuality explicitly) equality overrides all other rights, including religion. Gender equality isn’t part of the US rights.

The US is terrified of Canada style health care where care is universally provided – and, the idea that illness and disaster is god’s punishment for bad behaviour and seriously, we don’t need to waste any more virgins to the volcano gods – that it’s deserved is what’s driving the fear and resistance, because what good is life liberty and happiness if you do not have security of health?

There simply is no god that did it, who could or will do it. There’s just us, and we’re good enough the way we are, but only if we use our best fitness attribute  – our adaptive, pattern seeking, meaning making and symbolic capable and critical thinking brains.

Cognitive dissonance unravels very quickly when you apply meaning to the words and don’t let them float there as uncontested bumper sticker philosophies – as if you can support the troops, but not the war – which makes no sense, since not supporting the war is to not support why the troops are there and if you don’t support why they are there, you aren’t supporting the troops; who believe in why they are there or have accepted that it’s their job to be there. If you don’t support them being there, then you aren’t supporting them.

Personally, I don’t support troops being anywhere without direct reasons – defending against attackers in accordance with treaties or acting as invited peacekeepers in other nations civil disputes.

I would like the UN to be the world’s government, and to do so would require a makeover and the world’s nations to step up to a more enlightened status of government than the current mishmashes of democracies, republics (banana or otherwise), kingdoms, and dictatorships – it would mean authorizing the UN to directly impose a peacekeeping force in nations that failed to abide by UN’s Charter of Rights and it also means revising that charter to be more inclusive than it currently is. It also means putting rights in a hierarchy, as practiced globally now, the rights of religion overrides too many other human rights.

Because without the idea of individual human rights, that we are all equal under the law and equally entitled to freedoms, rights and responsibilities of our society and societies, then the American social experiment fails and we the people of the world, mean nothing and deserve nothing. (nod to Darwin Harmless!)

I, for one, just do not accept that. I matter, I mean something, I deserve better, and I am prepared to be a lone voice in the dark shadow of religion, of tyranny. And history tells me that I am not actually alone. Experience shows me that I am not alone, and the internet is a means for all the voices to connect, to stand together and hold the line – there and no farther.

Say it loud, say it proud and say it with me (in your best Gandalf voice):

the darkness shall not pass.