All opinions expressed in Thor's Unwise Ideas and The Passionate Skeptic are entirely those of the author, who has no aim to influence, proselytize or persuade others to a point of view. He is pleased if his writing generates reflection in readers, either for or against the sentiment of the argument.
The Atheist's Catechism (click link for the eBook)
..an arm-wrestle with the persistence of religion
This assembly of comments and speculations was mostly written in 1997. Of course, a few things have changed inside my head since then, but the basic tenor remains the same. In Australia the whole topic tends to be pretty unpopular to talk about, and in quite a few other places this kind of discussion is apt to have one excluded, imprisoned, shot or burned on a bonfire -- unless it requotes some magic book favoured by the local priests / imams / Party chiefs / witch doctors or other very self-important people. Anyway, from one beyond the pale, here stand fragments of my own testament...
<> And here is a small, random selection of more current remarks on religion from Thor's Aphorisms :
240.Women, Men and Religion
Men find security in physical dominance. Without that dominance most men feel sexually castrated. Lacking physical dominance (on the whole) women often seek security in deceit, or failing that, in magic. Magic is broadly expressed as spirituality. Magic, sorted as organized self-delusion, then better, a shared delusion, is what we call religion. This religious magic is potent stuff for controlling human beings, since few are driven by impartial evidence based thinking. Perceiving the power of religious magic, men hijack the formula by force and kick women out of the temple. Thus all religions which progress to governing the lives of citizens are based on male sexual insecurity sanctified by the state. [a reference: http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/world/secrets-of-divine-women-exposed-20120407-1wi1j.html ]
227. A Vocation
The good face of organized religion is that it creates a social space. This is a space which at its best lies outside the thrall of daily economic contest and role play, a place where people regardless of status, race, gender or occupation can meet and reflect on their humanity. We all know that "at its best" is a fragile condition, and in the case of religion has had a bumpy history. The competition from other social spaces nowadays is fierce. Organized religion also has crippling negatives. In most cultures, it has routinely been controlled by old men, in individual cases with wisdom and tolerance, but in the aggregate over time, as a power tool of social control and sexual control, enforced by exclusion, persecution and war. In the aggregate over time, the evidence is overwhelming that religion has never made good men and wome from bad men and women. Its moral parade has been a pretence for other agendas. The animal routines of strutting, preening, fighting, feeding and breeding don't need a religion to sanctify them, and secular cultures have been perfectly capable of managing them. We need to respect our biology, but it is not what defines us as human. Surely it is time to grow up and find our proper human vocation. If people must talk of a god, and many seem to feel the need, then that vocation, the godly role if you like, is our choice to make. The care and management of a small planet, with all the living things upon it might not be a bad choice.
206. Riddle Time
What do computer games, religion, poetry and art have in common? Well, a kind of artistry perhaps. But let's come down to artistry itself. All artistry is a public illusion in which we are licenced to park our private delusions.
199. Meddling Priests
One of the functions of religions, together with their usual quota of gods, is to provide employment for certain personality types. Priests in their many forms - pastors, imams, witch doctors, missionaries, whatever .. - are characters who lust to exercise moral power over other people. Indeed many, if not most people seem to want someone to exercise that power, however nominally. Perhaps it comes from the conditioning of parental authority. Anyway, the priestly class, having no more imagination than average, pick up on some local dogma and sell it as their own, claiming a moral imperative. A few are indeed saints. Sadly though, on average, the moral calibre of priestly types is rarely better than average, and pretty often worse. Above all, they are intolerant of any challenge to their moral hegemony. Historically they have been a major source of hatred. fratricide and oppression, whatever the dogma in their book of magic. There is no reason to believe that will ever change.
195. The Ark of Common Belief
From the evidence of history, religions are needed. Religions are supermarket explanations for the outer limits of human understanding, and that is all the explanation that most people seem to want. The supermarket status of the explanation itself is an attraction, for it guarantees a fellowship of shared belief. Religions are also social vehicles through which individuals express their ideal moral character, sometimes even when their daily lives allow little space for the ideal. That moral expression will find an outlet, regardless of the religious brand chosen from the local supermarket of the spirits. Thus religion is a licence to do good. The seven deadly sins, and plenty more, will also be justified and rationalized by invididuals and social groups, using whatever religious brand they happen to have chosen, and regardless of what the dogma of their religious texts proclaim. Exclusion, persecution and unkindness will all be availble for members of the chosen religion to inflict on non-group members - those who have chosen another brand. Thus religion is a licence to do evil. When the outer limits of human undersanding are expressed with a human rather than a supernatural reference, the religion is named an ideology instead (communism, Confucianism, capitalism etc). In the end this matters little, for all the same psychological mechanisms for belief and action apply.
187. Hidden Incentives
So you want to change the world ? You have invented a wonderful new system/method/ideology/religion ? Yes, it works for your friends and admirers. Let's sell it to the mass marketers : the politicians, the corporations, the professional promoters. But wait a minute ...
The mass manipulation of populations by governments, mass education, populist religious promotion etc. often has horrendous outcomes. We have a recorded species history of around six millennia of terrible outcomes with this kind of stuff. Why? Well it's partly because the **incentives** any system or ideology or 'method' or 'approach' sets up apply quite differently:
a) to the target group (citizens, students, devotees, whoever..);
It is almost always true that the incentives and rewards flowing to controllers are the strongest predictors of outcomes, those accruing to the delivering agents, the second most powerful predictors, and those applying to the target group (i.e. the explicit content of the ideology, system etc) are the least effective, and frequently overwhelmed.
182. God Stuff
God is to human language as the zero is to mathematics. Thus god in an infinitude of isolation is without substance or value, but makes the most useful of all digits when dreams are multiplied by words. There is no doubt about the power of the god digit in any discourse amongst humans, and we cannot discount it there, for human actions follow where thought leads. Yet when our voices cease, my bet (another empty value to be sure) is that all kingdoms of heaven and hell will come to a zero sum game.
Grown-ups tell lies for a living. They are also required to lie that they tell the truth. This second bit goes by lots of names, like corporatism, or keeping your job, or religion, or Mao Zhe-dung's little red book of wickedness. No matter. The big mystery is why real truth-telling still hangs on by its fingernails, and from time to time claws open the door to the abyss by a crack. It seems that all the lie-telling cyclically brings individuals, companies and cultures to collapse. Then there's a moment of truth, a big bang, an Armageddon, a bankruptcy ... and the whole trick starts again in a different party suit. Same old lies though.
175. The First Problem of Politics
The first problem of politics has always been how to trap wandering minds into a holding pattern of shared purpose.
For hunter-gatherers and peasant farmers, a basic need for food and the procession of seasons set the mould. Every lifestyle since has had its rituals and ceremonies - deliberate structures to organize routines of behaviour. Religions and ideologies are extensions of the ritual process, drastically inflated with solemn nonsense.
The common thread in all of this stuff is that doubt and whimsy are not welcome.
168. Public Belief
Wherever religion or ideology have claimed a strong hold on the public mind, the political consequences have been mostly evil. The conditions which make possible this failure of civil life are based in child rearing and education, though the catalyst for disaster may be economics.
167. God talk
God is the trickster alter ego of self-talk. This chameleon gent is a partner needed, perhaps, by lots of folk, but when he gets control of the asylum, things tend to get apocalyptic, so the common sense of merely human judgements, and the tolerance that comes from knowing one's own frailty -- these qualities are lost in the rush to follow the trickster Harlequin's confident deceptions.
I meet you on the street, ask some simple favour. You are generous in unexpected ways, noble perhaps. You are a private man or woman, free to be entirely human. I meet you as the agent of an institution. You are a beast. Gathered to a group, a religion, a nation, your mind is a pack mind, your lust is a blood lust; any tolerance is a weakness to the mission. Fearful of your incapacity to murder alone, you bay for a leader or a god to absolve your evil with all the lies of power.
155. Creed Caper
Whatever the creed, there are believers. Wherever believers exist, there is the chance for power of some kind. Whenever power can be scented, predators gather like jackals. That is the human story. What kind of creed? Any at all -- religion, politics, ideology, sport, company policy, a book on how to grow petunias... . What of the believers? They crave the idea of a comfort zone, a path already hewn, a promise of future pleasure. Most of all, they fear to be original, and strangely, for the permission to follow, they will suffer any hardship and commit almost any atrocity. What of the predators? They are at all levels of the food chain, some only slightly less enmeshed than the entirely credulous. But in small ways or large, they will break the faith for advantage. At the top of the hierarchy, they are apt to be lifetime hypocrites. Such leaders are certain that public piety and private cynicism is 'the reality of power', and despise the candid. By and large, they rule the human world.
This all began with creeds. A creed on growing petunias is less virulent than a creed on eternal salvation. Why? The petunias grow or they don't grow. Visitors from the dead with an inside story on salvation are not a daily event. Even the rumour of such visits has kept entire religions in business for millenia. For lifetime hypocrites, it is smart to pick a bullet-proof cover. Eternity is the best deal going, when it can turn a profit. Wasn't it Saint Thomas Aquinas who said, "never trust a man of one book" ?
That state of mind which gives us freedom to act is governed by trust. Trust is the first pillar of civilized living. It is fairly easy to maintain trust in a village society, difficult in a city, and extremely difficult in a complex modern economy. Religion is a wishful super solution to the trust problem. I for one trust in no god. The best mortal answer I can find is to seek in others that honesty which I expect of myself. Without trust in our environment, in human relationships, and in the institutions of our cultures, we are reduced to a savage horde. It follows that those who counterfeit frust for short term gain are the enemies of civilization.
134. Rumours of Magic
Religions are organized rumours of magic for Muggles.
131. Of Grace and Spite
Each of us lives by the grace of those we despise. The jobs you loathe are done for you by someone who doesn't share your tastes. Your job is funded by the taxes and spending of people, here and abroad, whom you wouldn't trust with a cent. Your superior habits, beliefs, religion, civilization and knowledge float like a blessed isle in the dark ocean of surrounding ignorance, and you live in secret fear of being engulfed. Well, bless the dark ocean, for you float upon it. When the seas of difference become a burning lake, your hide will be roasted. He who lives by the pogrom dies by the pogrom.
2. Social Innovation
Super-Culture & the
Ghost in the Machine
EDINN: Respinning Intellectuals into the Social Fabric (coffee shop babble ... or sparks for a new social order?)
Personal Declaration of Membership in the Human Community
to the Personal Declaration of Membership in the Human Community
some political leftovers
writing & photography on this site is
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