10) Miscellaneous thoughts on religion

A Questionnaire

1) If your neighbor's dog killed your child, and you had the power to chain this dog, blast him with blow torches, and the dog not die as a result, how long would you torture the dog for its terrible crime?

A) One Day
B) One Month
C) One Year
D) Eternity

2) As a loving parent, you give life to 5 children and give them free will to do as they see best. Each child goes his/her own way. One becomes a Buddhist, one becomes an Islam, one becomes a Christian, one becomes a Wicca, and one believes in no religion. Only one of your children believes as you do. What would you do regarding your 4 children who do not believe the same way you do?

A) I would kill them.
B) I would disown them.
C) I would torture them for eternity in hell.
D) I would love them and accept them as they are.

3) If you had a critical message and wanted to make sure as many people as possible would get it and understand it, how would you go about it?

A) I would send it in a time when there was no mass communications, or printing presses.
B) I would have my messenger not write anything down regarding my message, trusting others to listen and pass it on accurately and unchanged.
C) I would make sure what is written about my message was contradictory, and very confusing, so people would have a hard time understanding my message.
D) I would write down a clear, non contradictory, simple book and send it with my messenger in a time of mass communication and the printing press.

4) How would you deal with people who did not get your message, or didn't understand it, or didn't believe it was your message because it was so contradictory and confusing?

A) Kill them.
B) Torture them.
C) Damn them to eternity in hell.
D) Understand, Love them and forgive them.

5) If you were omnipotent but invisible, and you wanted to make sure that people knew you were real and wanted them to believe in you, what would you do to make this happen?

A) I would write my name on the face of the moon so all could see and have no doubt of my existence.
B) I would do things that could not be explained in any other way. Like stopping terrible things from happening, like the 911 event, or feeding all the hungry children on earth.
C) I would protect and reward those who believed in me and ignore the plight of those who do not.
D) I would do nothing at all and stay as invisible and undetectable as possible, letting everyone fend for themselves, those who believe in me and those who don't, showing no favoritism.

 

Robert Ingersoll's Vow

"When I became convinced that the universe is natural - that all the ghosts and gods are myths, there entered into my brain, into my soul, into every drop of my blood, the sense, the feeling, the joy of freedom. The walls of my prison crumbled and fell, the dungeon was flooded with light and all the bolts and bars and manacles became dust. I was no longer a servant, a serf or a slave. There was for me no master in all the world - not even in infinite space. I was free - free to think, to express my thoughts - free to live to my own ideal - free to live for myself and those I loved - free to use all my faculties, all my senses, free to spread imagination's wings - free to investigate, to guess and dream and hope - free to judge and determine for myself - free to reject all ignorant and cruel creeds, all the "inspired" books that savages have produced, and all the barbarous legends of the past - free from popes and priests - free from all the "called" and "set apart" - free from sanctified mistakes and "holy" lies - free from the fear of eternal pain - free from the winged monsters of the night - free from devils, ghosts and gods. For the first time I was free. There were no prohibited places in all the realms of thought - no air, no space, where fancy could not spread her painted wings - no chains for my limbs - no lashes for my back - no fires for my flesh - no master's frown or threat - no following another's steps - no need to bow, or cringe, or crawl, or utter lying words. I was free. I stood erect and fearlessly, joyously faced all worlds.

And then my heart was filled with gratitude, with thankfulness, and went out in love to all the heroes, the thinkers, who gave their lives for the liberty of hand and brain - for the freedom of labor and thought - to those who fell on the fierce fields of war, to those who died in dungeons bound with chains - to those who proudly mounted scaffold's stairs - to those by fire consumed - to all the wise, the good, the brave of every land, whose thoughts and deed have given freedom to the sons of men. And then I vowed to grasp the torch that they have held and hold it high that light may conquer darkness still." - Robert Green Ingersoll - 1833 - 1899

 

Deism

Disillusioned with Organised Religion, Thomas Paine (of "The Age of Reason" fame) followed the philosophy of Deism, which is truly appealing in its precepts.

RELIGION has two principal enemies, Fanatism and Infidelity, or that which is called Atheism. The first requires to be combated by reason and morality, the other by natural philosophy.

The Universe is the bible of a true Theophilanthropist. It is there that he reads of God. It is there that the proofs of his existence are to be sought and to be found. As to written or printed books, by whatever name they are called, they are the works of man's hands, and carry no evidence in themselves that God is the author of any of them. It must be in something that man could not make that we must seek evidence for our belief, and that something is the universe, the true Bible, -- the inimitable work of God.

Contemplating the universe, the whole system of Creation, in this point of light, we shall discover, that all that which is called natural philosophy is properly a divine study. It is the study of God through his works. It is the best study, by which we can arrive at knowledge of his existence, and the only one by which we can gain a glimpse of his perfection.

Do we want to contemplate his power? We see it in the immensity of the Creation. Do we want to contemplate his wisdom? We see it in the unchangeable order by which the incomprehensible WHOLE is governed. Do we want to contemplate his munificence? We see it in the abundance with which he fills the earth. Do we want to contemplate his mercy? We see it in his not withholding that abundance even from the unthankful. In fine, do we want to know what GOD is? Search not written or printed books, but the Scripture called the 'Creation.'

--- Thomas Paine. The Existence of God, A Discourse at the Society of Theophilanthropists, Paris, circa 1810

 

On Polytheism

Some people offered the opinion that all monotheistic religions were acceptable, as they were all worshipping the same god. This logic is rather suspect, as I could start my own religion which would worship one God, but it wouldn't necessarily be a real God. This logic also smacks of discrimination against polytheists - who's to say there isn't more than one God, or that he has only one aspect? To the uninitiated, in fact, Christianity appears to be a religion with 3 Gods - or 3 1/2 in the case of Catholicism. It seems that polytheism tends to be more tolerant and friendly, and polytheists don't claim to have a monopoly on faith and convert others from their religions.

Besides, I can't think of a monotheistic religion which isn't exclusive - John 14:6: "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me". No fervent adherent of a major monotheistic religion worth his salt would tolerate the blasphemous suggestion that he was actually worshipping the same god as those of another faith. So if all of them are worshipping a true God, yet all of the religions are exclusive, then we must assume that there has been a major breakdown in communication between God and his creations. More likely is the fact that, societal development wise, the Primary tier consists mainly of Animistic religions, the Secondary tier of Polytheistic and the Tertiary tier of Monotheistic religions (perhaps the post-Tertiary tier holds but Atheism?).

I find polytheism less riddled with moral paradoxes and riddles too. For example the Greek and Roman Gods had contractual relationships with their worshippers - you killed a lamb for them, and they granted you health. You weren't damned for no reason, for the simple crime of being rational. You didn't have so many unreasonable and unjustifiable restrictions on your behavior. The Gods weren't afraid to acknowledge that they did have failings and were not omnipotent. However, for Christianity it is different.


Evolution and Creation "Science"

"It is sad that while science moves ahead in exciting new areas of research, fine-tuning our knowledge of how life originated and evolved, creationists remain mired in medieval debates about angels on the head of a pin and animals in the belly of an Ark." - Michael Shermer

This topic has been revisited endlessly, so I have but a few observations.

 

Why do humans share upwards of 95% of their DNA with Apes and especially with Chimpanzees if we're not related? What about the rapid mutations of bacteria seen in laboratories, or various sub-species of animals that have proliferated over just a few thousand years (eg dogs)?

Why is so much of our DNA junk with no practical use, as if it had used to perform some functions, but not any longer? Why do we have a useless appendix? Why is the default baby's body in the womb female (so Man was created from Woman, not vice versa!)? Do these observations tally with the hypothesis that we were created, as opposed to evolved?

If a few errors in dating techniques (mostly found by the laboratories themselves, checking on their own work) invalidate the whole theory of evolution, should not a few mistakes make the Bible unreliable?

Why do people think that Creation is incompatible with Evolution? Could not the starting strands of DNA have been created by a god? Or could he not have directed or nudged evolution? Even if the account of Creation is fundamentally irreconcilable with what we know and see, there are many things that have been found to be incompatble with religion, but we have now managed to fudge or avoid the issue, or accept that religion can be wrong.

Just because we don't fully understand evolution does not mean it could not have happened. The ancient Greeks did not know how lightning came about, but that does not mean that it had a supernatural cause.

The theory of irreducible design is only so much rubbish, for half-eyes do exist. Furthermore, applying this theory to human society shows how it is invalid - for example the chain by which milk is passed along from a farmer to a consumer cannot lose any one of its links without the whole chain being useless, yet no Greater Power planned the system of milk distribution. Ditto for the economy at large - the Invisible Hand plays the part of the "Creator".

Are there believers in Creation "Science" who are not fervent conservative Christians?

Creationists seem to ignore the ramifications that the acceptance of the Christian creation myth has for much of science. Creation "Science" is not merely a clean replacement for Evolution - it also has implications for the veracity, the very foundations even, of physics, chemistry, astronomy, astrophysics, geology, archeology, paleontology, cosmology, biology and zoology, among others. If Genesis is an accurate account of creation, there would be serious errors in other fields of science, but Creation "Scientists" ignore these implications.

 

Others

Didn't the descendants of Adam and Eve, and Noah and friends commit Incest? Ooh.

"Writing for a penny a word is ridiculous. If a man really wants to make a million dollars, the best way would be to start his own religion" - L. Ron Hubbard, founder of the Church of Scientology
Why are religious insights given to only a select few, just like Aliens are wont to do? Can't this God expend some energy and reach out to everyone, instead of relying on contradictory and unreliable messengers?

Supposedly, we should praise our Creator because he created us and provides for us and is good to us. However, while the priest was admonishing parents who merely provide for their children - they are merely doing their duty, not loving them - it occurred to me that if we were created, our Creator has the same duty to provide and care for us that our parents has. We should be grateful, yes, but while keeping it in perspective. If God was our creator, then he holds the status of, and the gratitude due to a sperm donor.

There seems to be power in numbers - if you have few adherents, you're a cult. If you have many followers, you have a religion. Just look how the Jehovah's Witnesses and the Raelians are laughed at. All religion involves a degree of incredulity and suspension of disbelief - so why should some be more derided than others? If we really were created by Aliens who came from UFOs, well. The Raelians would be laughing all the way to the bank.

It seems that the more successful religions play on people's guilt, despair, hope and naivete (in suitable proportions, of course)

Since sexual sins are evil, guitars should not be used in Praise and Worship, since the guitar is meant to be shaped like the body of a woman.

Catholicism has the problem of having to uphold what all the past popes have said, since they were all the representatives of Christ, even if they are patently ridiculous. That is probably why it retains much outdated and ridiculous doctrine.

Christ supposedly died for us, but isn’t it very easy to die, and harder to live? We all die at some point, so what makes his death more special than that of others crucified, or indeed those burnt at the stake for being witches? Just like it is easy to get married but harder to live married past the Silver Jubilee. By living for such a short time, he never really experienced the full spectrum of human suffering and experience, especially of (romantic) love and disease.

I suspect that, if there is a God, he'd be amused at what everyone is trying to do for him, each claiming that only their way is correct.

It seems that God's most common job is that of the bogeyman - he is evoked to scare people into being meek. The thing is, just like the monsters under your bed or in your cupboard, no one has objective proof that God exists. If you want to believe in a bogeyman, nothing can convince you that he does not exist. You just have to grow up.

I personally find the idea of the Greek and Roman Gods more appealing. For one, they had human flaws and were imperfect, thus reflecting the imperfection of our world and of life - much more believable, on the whole. Worship was on a strictly contractual basis - you sacrificed to Zeus and he struck your enemy with lightning. You could choose not to believe in them, and they would not blame you for it.

The intellectual dishonesty of many Christians is rather infuriating. They purport to want to debate, but then they define the parameters such that their flawed conclusions inevitably follow, and when I question the assumptions, they ignore me. Grr.

It seems most people who become disillusioned with religion come up with the same few points. Maybe it's because these points are valid, forceful and ring true :)

"God fights on the side with the best artillery." - Napoleon Bonaparte. Is it any surprise that the world as we know it seems to function as it would even without a God?

Why is it acceptable, in many modern societies, to discriminate against people based on their sexual orientation? Race, language, gender, religion are mostly unacceptable bases, but somehow treating gays differently is alright. Hell, it's harder to change your sexual orientation than your religion.

The Ten Commandments are commonly held to be a clear guideline for believers. However, this God himself seems to have compelled his faithful to break many of them.

The appeal of asceticism in religion, that God wants us to feel bad, probably stems from people's assuaging of their guilt, and perceived building of self-virtue through self-flagellation. The worse you feel, the more God will reward you in the afterlife! The priest said that suffering was good as it would orient you towards God. To this I reply: How about those who despair, curse 'God' and turn the other way? Why does God like us to suffer, if he is so good, kind and merciful? Could it be that he is sadistic?

When good things happen, we are supposed to praise God. If bad things happen, we are supposed to do the same. But why should we praise someone who is doing bad things to us? The logic behind this is ultimately very fishy. Why should it not be the other way around? People also praise God when they miss disaster or tragedy. But for every person saved from an airline crash because he got booted off the plane, 200 die. What about these people who were not saved by this God?

 

11) So what happens now?

"I don't believe in God because I don't believe in Mother Goose." - Clarence Darrow

And now, the part we’ve all been waiting for. The end. I hope I didn’t confuse anyone too badly, and I assure you, it hurt me a lot more than it hurt you! I got a splitting headache after every writing session. If you’ve got to here, then I encourage you to think upon some of the issues raised with an open mind.

Most people, however, are already entrenched in one school of thought or another, though, so all this might not have any effect. It's rather sad to talk to people who won't even give alternate truths a thought, and carry on the way they are blindly - indeed deliberately, because they are addicted to this drug. "I'm happier with faith, so there". Right. I could be happier with marijuana, but does that mean I should consume it? (I don't think soft drugs are all that bad, but for the sake of argument I'll assume that I am) People refuse to challenge their faith, because, deep down inside, they have a nagging suspicion that they might be wrong. It's good to try to spread the gospel of truth though, nonetheless.

My beef isn't really with the putative god or his existence. More, it's the vagaries of man-made, organised and interpreted religion, which often is used to manipulate people, imbibe them with illiberal and/or conservative beliefs and use their money for questionable causes, all under the guise of following the will of this god. I am revolted. So if you have to follow a religion, keep an open mind and do not follow unquestioningly whatever the demagogue at the pulpit is yelling about. What makes their opinions and views any more right than yours?

Religion, admittedly, does have some virtues, and can offer useful lessons and advice on ethics and how to live one's life. However, it inevitably contains much that is to be rejected. Further, just because religion can be a positive force does not mean that one should believe in it, for ultimately, it is a falsity.

What was suggested to me was that God reveals himself in his own way to each of us, and for those who can't feel his presence or don't get touched, he grants them his grace in another way. Sincere, upright people are supposedly taken care of by him even if they are not believers. I was assured that I'd find eventually - but what about the tonnes of people who don't, and die without having done so? There was no satisfactory answer to that.

So as of now, I leave open the possibility that there might be a divine being, but I do not profess to know how he works, or believe that anybody might; I doubt that he is especially benevolent, loving, have any ideas as to what he might want us to do and perhaps most pertinently, that he wants all of us to worship him and is looking for all of us. I don't believe in God for the same reason that I don't believe in the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus, and I live in freedom. Even if this God was revealed to me, in fact, I am not sure that, with his questionable track record and atrocious ethics, I would want to worship him.

So do you choose to take the Blue Pill, or the Red Pill? (Yeah, the Matrix is overrated, but this was appropriate, so) Life inside the Matrix may be more palatable, but it isn’t real.

The truth shall set you free.

 

12) Further reading

Some sites I found useful:

http://members.tripod.com/~rhatheist/quotes2.html
http://www.vexen.co.uk/religion/
http://whatsthisthen.netfirms.com/bob.html
http://mythofjesus.org.uk
http://www.skepticsannotatedbible.com
http://www.daltonator.net/durandal/religion/
http://www.godlovesfags.com
http://mindprod.com/noah.htm
http://www.religioustolerance.org/christ.htm
http://www.answering-christianity.com/jeremiah8_8.htm
http://www.geocities.com/questioningpage/
http://www.oz.net/~cashton/atheism/
http://www.uctaa.org/
http://users.drew.edu/~jlenz/whynot.html - Why I Am Not A Christian by Bertrand Russell
http://www.askwhy.co.uk/truth/470Mystical.html - On explaining alleged religious experiences
http://www.askwhy.co.uk/truth/120QuestioningBelief.html
http://www.elroy.net/ehr/
http://www.mbdojo.com/~rssl/absurdityofsin.html
http://www.positiveatheism.org/
http://www.rice.edu/armadillo/Sciacademy/riggins/newindex.htm
http://www.uctaa.org/Essays/rs/RS2002/0208god_brain.htm
http://www.rice.edu/armadillo/Sciacademy/riggins/things.htm

 

Contents:

1) Introduction and disclaimer

2) Me and Religion

3) The Value of Scepticism and Science and Religion

4) Why do people believe? and other questions about Faith

5) Metaphysical questions

6) Basic tenets of Christianity

7) Bible literalism and knowing what to believe

8) Catholic Doctrine

9) Six Nights in Sabah

10) Miscellaneous thoughts on religion

11) So what happens now?

12) Further reading