Religious Arrogance – As it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be

I rarely bother to pay much attention to religious diatribes and I certainly don’t let myself be seriously annoyed or offended by them, but once in a while, something comes along that is so offensive that I can’t keep my mouth shut. Before I discuss it, it’s only fair to say that I’m a life long atheist. I didn’t convert from any religion because I wasn’t brought up in any religion. I don’t hate god, because it would be insane to hate something that doesn’t exist. I don’t think all believers are deluded or stupid. I don’t feel the need to persuade anyone that atheism is superior to religion.

But … When a deliberately insulting and provocative book is thrust into my face almost every time I go to one of my usual sites, then I have to speak up, even if what I say only amounts to a rant. The site is GoodReads, and the book, which is being advertised heavily, is The Grace Effect: How the Power of One Life Can Reverse the Corruption of Unbelief. The title is a red flag that says, so that no one can mistake the message, that disbelief in the Christian god is a corrupting influence.

In the guise of a supposedly logical and rational discussion of the value of Christianity, this is a diatribe no different from the rantings of any shouter on the street who waylays bypassers in order to thrust a printed version of “the truth” into their hands. The author very typically tries to whip up indignation about a situation which doesn’t exist–“May this book serve to remind us all just how diseased the body politic can become in the absence of Christian influence.” And this is being published in a country in which the conservative Christian right has become an aggressive and backward-looking influence that has its fingers in every aspect of American politics.

It isn’t necessary to delve very deeply into the book. Within the first few pages, the author’s stance is made sickeningly clear. “My defense is limited to Christianity. What interest does a Christian have in defending suicide bombing and Sharia law? To this extent the New Atheists are right: some religions are irrational. Indeed, from a Christian perspective, all that do not lead to Jesus Christ are dead ends.” The only true religion is the one that leads to Jesus Christ, and that, of course, allows him to smear all Muslims with responsibility for suicide bombings and Sharia law. How is such a stance different from that of any religious fanatic? It’s the old story of my religion vs every other religion, and only mine is the correct one.

Anyone who’s offended by what I’ve said is free not to continue reading this blog. I posted it to express my feelings, not as an invitation to a debate, and I will delete comments that resort to personal insult.

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33 thoughts on “Religious Arrogance – As it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be

  1. Religious fundamentalism–Christian, Islam or any other religion–is characterized by xenophobia, intolerance, irrationality, illogical argument, espousal of violence, suppression of free press and speech, and male domination. The rise of fundamentalism in politics endangers democracy and paves the way for fascism. It is fascistic. It is a civic duty in a democracy to speak out whenever we can against the purveyors of intolerance, bigotry and hatred.

  2. In my version of the 30th century, the open practice of religion has been illegal since Earth was unified by the signing of the Global Charter in the year 2690. You still have the freedom to believe anything you want privately, but you may not organize into groups that promote any single dogmatic belief, and proselytizing is strictly forbidden. After the atrocities that preceded and advanced the Second Dark Age, humanity finally came to recognize that religious bigotry and intolerance was one of the major causes of war and oppression in the history of Earth. At that time humanity also finally arrived at a full emotional acceptance of the most essential fact of all: human beings are ALL ONE SPECIES and so every single human being on Earth must be treated with equal justice and concern. I intend to write about this at some point on my own blog.

    1. I hope you do pursue this in your blog — and maybe a book? But you’d better move it up a few centuries because I can’t see humanity lasting that long.

      1. I’ve already pursued it in a book, just not in a way that attempts overtly to convert. I don’t believe in trying to convert people, as I said. I think they have the right to believe anything they want – they just don’t have the right to inflict their beliefs on other people. And in spite of everything, I believe in the ability of human beings to reach down inside themselves and find the right way without being told by a particular dogmatic institution what it is they should believe. That’s why I call myself a humanist. Humankind comes pretty close in my world to annihilating itself between the 2100 and 2500, but they do manage to pull themselves out of it. Maybe I’ll post the section from “The Termite Queen” where I elaborate on future history. It’s about 9 pages double-spaced – about half that single spaced.

        1. I prefer “humanist” if anyone asks me about my beliefs, which hasn’t happened in a long, long time. Actually, the single most important thing I have against religion is that it so easily devolves into dogma and then the dogma takes the place of whatever innate empathy, ethics, common sense, children might otherwise develop.

  3. Nice post…and bravo for your ability to ready beyond the title. You clearly have a strong stomach.

    Ahhh, religion, always an interesting topic to discuss. I was raised Catholic, became atheist, found a non-denominational God, then reverted to Islam. I’m now floated somewhere in the spiritual ether but too damn skeptical to accept much of anything. I’m thinking about taking up a new religion every year, sort of like a side hobby, simply because I find all of its (religion generally) weirdness oddly compelling.

    1. Bad move, Daniel. Now that you’ve expressed your openness to weirdness, you’ve made yourself a target. But I guess that can be fun, too, if you take it with a big dose of humor.

  4. The “corruption of unbelief”? Well then I’m about as corrupt as they come. I used to have a very tolerant mindset toward religion. Over the years I’ve developed a very intolerant mindset. I don’t apologize. I’ve seen too much willful ignorance, too much religious violence, too much integration of religion with politics, too much science-bashing and suppression, and too many friends broken by imaginary deities. I still don’t advertise my atheism, and I don’t attempt to instill rationality in believers, but if someone asks, I will tell them what, why, and how.

    1. I’m with you on all points. I only mention atheism if it’s really relevant. It would have been dishonest to post a criticism of a book about Christianity without stating where i come from.

  5. Well said!
    While I do have a faith, I believe that all faiths and religions are about belief. Not knowledge, not condemning others. In my opinion, everyone is entitled to a belief, but certainly not to force it upon others or label their own belief as “the (only) right one”.
    If I was upset by your post, it was only to be reminded of how abusive religion can get and the fact that I know that some (not you; I am talking about people that I encountered when I was younger) think that all religions or faiths equal fundamentalism because there are so many fundamentalists out there who make it seem like that.
    Others have said it better, but I thought I’d put in my couple of shillings too.

    1. Any form of belief has the potential to become abusive, if it’s unexamined, and if the person’s self-image depends on maintaining the correctness of his own position. Nationalism is another one. And, though it’s comparatively rare, despite the claims of right wing fanatics, even atheists can be shrill. Of course, to fanatics, any statement, even the mildest, that opposes their own view of the world, is a form of proselytising, while what they do is simply showing people “the truth.”

  6. I’m going to play a little devil’s advocate here. Personally I believe that atheists can be just as bigoted and dogmatic as believers. Imagine a world run by fundamentalist atheists – soon they would in turn be persecuting all those who don’t lack belief. The important thing is to maintain a rational balance – that unpopular concept of moderation. In the 11/10/06 issue of Time Magazine, an article entitled “God vs. Science” featured a debate between Richard Dawkins and Francis Collins. I fear I threw out the issue or else it’s hiding under a pile of stuff somewhere in my house, but I found it in the Time Archive and printed a copy. My opinion is that Collins came off much better than Dawkins because he maintained a civil and rational tone whereas Dawkins’ rhetoric came off as bigoted and intolerant, using terms like “mother and father of all cop-outs,” “divine knob-twiddler,” “Shooting yourself in the foot,” and finally “Why bother with these clowns?” Upon that last, Collins gave him a mild reprimand and I quote: “Richard, I think we don’t do a service to dialogue between science and faith to characterize sincere people by calling them names. That inspires an even more dug-in position. Atheists sometimes come across as a bit arrogant in this regard, and characterizing faith as something only an idiot would attach themselves to is not likely to help your case.” After that, Dawkins calmed down considerably and ended on a much less close-minded note.

    1. I did indicate, in my last comment, that atheists could be guilty of the same kind of obnoxious behavior. Personally, Dawkins doesn’t speak for me, and that’s a problem. The god defenders like to act as if the most outspoken atheists represent all of us, and they don’t. But that’s typical of any controversy–a few speak out, and the rest are tarred with whatever brush is applied to them.

    2. Hi Lorinda – Hope you are well. I don’t think your comment about an ‘atheist run world’ was particularly fair. Within the last 2000 years, the following acts have been committed in the name of religion: The crusades, 9/11, the murder of Theo Van Gough, 7/7, the witch hunts… the list goes on. Can you think of any such terrible acts carried out in the name of Atheism?

      1. You missed my point. Way back in my first post I said, “religious bigotry and intolerance was one of the major causes of war and oppression in the history of Earth.” I’m perfectly aware of all the facts you just cited. I was speaking hypothetically; enlighten me if I’m wrong, but I don’t believe there has been a period in the world when atheists were running the show. I said, “Imagine such a world.” My point is that when any belief becomes ascendant, it wants to inflict its own position on the rest of the world. An example is Christianity in Roman times. Sure, they were persecuted, but as soon as Christianity became the dominant religion, they began to persecute other religions. Maybe atheists are “saints,” but somehow I think they’re human beings like the rest of the species, inclined to the same flaws.

        1. Apologies, I didn’t realise that it was you who had posted those previous comments. I know we’re both on the same ‘side’ of this debate, but really the point that I took issue with was referring to atheism as a belief. Atheism is not a belief, in fact quite the opposite – it is a lack of belief, therefore it doesn’t work the same way as religion. When religion takes over it imposes it’s rules and dogmas – atheism (simply meaning a lack of belief in god) doesn’t have any rules or dogmas to impose. So yes, it does always work the same way when a belief system becomes dominant – but atheism is not a belief, there is no holy book, rules or expectations that would make anyone commit an atrocity in it’s name. The world is currently dominated by people who don’t believe in Thor – does anyone ever commit a crime in the name of their atheism towards Thor? Or Zeus? Or the Flying Spaghetti Monster?

          1. OK, I see the sentence you’re talking about – “when any belief becomes ascendant.” I probably misspoke there – I should have written something like “philosophical system becomes ascendant.” Communism lacked a belief in god, but certainly didn’t lack a system of rules and “dogmas” to impose and lots of atrocities were committed in its name. And personally, I would rather believe in Zeus or Thor, and Flying Spaghetti Monster was a lot of fun! I’m a great proponent of the power of mythology to show us things about ourselves, – and also the power of humor! You can’t write fantasy without getting into mythology at some point. Anyway, I also don’t think you and I are so far apart. You might find my future history interesting – see it at http://termitewriter.blogspot.com. Are you on Twitter? I’m @TermiteWriter.

            1. Indeed, I find mythology fascinating too – and yes it does have the power to teach us a lot about ourselves. I haven’t had a chance to read your future history yet, but I’m very much looking forward to it, thanks for the link! I’m a big fan of speculative writing – can’t wait! Sadly I’ve not joined the Twitter revolution yet… I’ll get there one day! : )

              Whilst your point about Communism is true – there were indeed many atrocities carried out it its name – I don’t think its a fair comparison. Atheism within the Communist system is incidental, the atrocities were not carried out in the name of atheism, or even motivated by Atheism, unlike the examples I gave above (9/11, 7/7, murder of Theo Van Gogh etc.) which were all directly motivated by religion. Eg. you can’t say that the Stalinist regime killed millions of people in the name of atheism – however, you can most definitely say that the 9/11 bombers killed 3000 people in the name of religion. To say ‘Stalin killed millions of people because he was an atheist’ is the same as saying ‘Stalin killed millions because he had a mustache.’

              Regardless of whether there is religion or not, there will always be evil people doing evil things (eg Stalin), and good people doing good things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.

              Forgive me – I do understand the point you were getting at, and I’m probably just being picky, but I just felt it was an important point to mention, as it’s one that frequently comes up in religious debates.

              Looking forward to reading your future history!

              : )

  7. Hi Catana – hope you’re well (you may remember me from the Smashwords forum?). A wonderful post with some great points well expressed. Reading through the comments, there were also a lot of good points made. I’m an atheist, although I’m not a fan of the branding (just because theists must brand themselves, doesn’t mean the rest of us have to be labelled – especially since that label has potential to have negative connotations). My main issue with religion (especially the Abrahamic religions) it the way they treat children. I have no problem with people believing whatever they want to believe, so long as it doesn’t impact on the happiness of others.

    The point at which I start to have a problem with it ,is when the children of religious families are taught (as fact ) un-provable, nonsensical information upon which they will make important life choices, have their genitals forcibly mutilated, and are labelled with a belief system that they have no understanding or interest in. Of course this is not true of all religious families, and as such I would hate to tar them all with the same brush, but the practices mentioned above (which are all essentially acts of child abuse) are encouraged by the holy books of the Abrahamic religions.

    Thanks for a most interesting read.

    1. Hi Kit. It seems we have the same problem–a dislike of religious indoctrination of children. All children wind up being acculturated in whatever society they grow up in. It can religious, tribal, national, or political. But when it interferes with the capacity for thinking for oneself, that’s a line that should be drawn in the sand.

  8. I don’t see a reply button on Kit Foster’s Dec.5 post at 2:59. Anyway, I’ll say, yeah, I’ll concede your point – Stalin didn’t kill people in the name of atheism. I have only one more quibble; you say, “for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.” It would seem to me that if you do evil things, you’re not a good person, no matter whether you’re religious or not. Or conversely, if you’re a good person, you don’t do evil things, regardless of your belief system. If you’re a good person already and you suddenly become religious, I don’t see that makes you automatically turn to evil. But I don’t think any of that is what you meant to imply.

    By the way, I was looking for people in Twitter who were interested in mythology, and I discovered a wonderful website you might want to look at. http://norsemyth.org/

    I hope looking at my blog http://termitewriter.blogspot.com will move you to buy my novella, “Monster Is in the Eye of the Beholder.” It’s available on Kindle in the UK – I’ll bet you’re in the UK. You wrote “whilst”!

      1. Whoops! I hope you don’t consider me a spammer! I should have left my own website out! By the way, I’ve almost finished your book “Hidden Boundaries” – I’ll have more to say to you when I do.

        1. WP allows bloggers to set how many links are allowed in comments before it automatically holds them for moderation. I set mine at two, so it caught your comment. No problem.

    1. Hi Lorinda, my apologies for taking so long to get back to you! I am indeed from the UK – well spotted : ) Scotland, actually. I understand what you mean about good / evil people, but just let me clarify, if I may.

      Yes, people who do good things are good people, and people who do evil things are evil – but what I’m really talking about is coercion. Imagine this scenario – you have a good person who has done nothing but good things all their life, but then someone holds a gun to their child’s head and tells them to rob a bank. They do, to save their child’s life They then become a good person coerced in to doing an evil thing. Now replace the gun with fear of eternal damnation (hell), and the bank robbery with something like mutilating the genitals of an innocent child who has no say in the matter.

      Hope that clarifies what I mean a little. Most people who circumcise their children are otherwise good people, coerced into doing something evil by fear of being punished by their God.

      I’ve had a quick look at your blog, and it’s very interesting – I hope to get a better look when I have more time over the festive period. Thanks for the link to the mythology site – it looks really cool!

  9. Hi, Kit! Scotland, great! I love Scotland! I thought our little conversation had ended! You know, there’s another reason why people do things that their religion requires besides fear of damnation, and that is the influence of the culture in which they were raised. Back in the 70’s, I got quite interested in Rabindranath Tagore, I read a lot of his poetry, novels, and plays, and also a biography of him. He opposed child marriage and yet he married off one of his own daughters when she was 13. I doubt if he thought he’d be damned if he didn’t do that. That really impressed on me how hard it is to escape the influence and pressure of the culture in which you live, and religion is large part of culture. Thus, we in the West all continue to celebrate Christmas. We really should just call it the Mid-Winter Holiday, (which is what they do in my irreligious 30th century), or as you said, the Festive Time!
    I posted something on the Norse Mythology website and it went to moderation and never appeared. I was a little miffed!
    By the way, there is now a great review of my book “Monster Is in the Eye of the Beholder” on Amazon!

  10. This post reminds me of this song, which I think is particularly appropriate for the topic that you are writing about and discussing here:

    Thank you for sharing your views with all of us.

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