Monday, April 19, 2010
when I reflect on the success and longevity of religion I would attribute it to several factors:
1. Its ability to reinvent itself
2. Its ability to undermine the self worth of believers
3. Its ability to spread fear and intellectual dependency
My neighbour and I were talking about the Christians that come around the neighbourhood each month. I guess I see about 6 of them each year. Most come in pairs, some come with their children. My neighbour is a Catholic. He suggested I don't like how they are always trying to get money from people. Well proof enough that there is no God perhaps; but one must concede that they do need money to survive, and I dare say the rich dislike parasitism as much as maligned community members who have lost confidence in religious institutions. His point however was that 'They mean well'. Being a Catholic, he looked at me like he saw a ghost. Fortunately he has long since repressed my atheism, so he is nice to me again. There was about a month when he avoided me.
The reason I suggest that Christians are not well-meaning is because people only look at Christians in a superficial sense. Christians of course vary in their degrees of moral rectitude. Most people would consider their moral righteousness in terms of their 'giving spirit', or their 'commitment to God'. I simply look at the extent to which I can have a reasonable conversation with them. The reason for taking this approach is because:
1. Money given was money taken from elsewhere. I'm not suggesting Christians don't earn money, but I do suggest those that give in the name of altruism are fakers seeking moral superiority. Anyone needing to peddle such influence usually has a guilty conscientious.
2. A person who is not reasonable is open to any action. A reasonable person can still be deceitful, but they have to rationalise, and this places them in a position in conflict.
Now I must confess that I am rather provocative with Christians because I now have the freedom of not being employed by such people. On the surface they are rather friendly and non-judgemental. But when placed in a position of conflict I have found that they tend to lose control. The problem is of course their lack of mental efficacy. The reason they lack mental efficacy is because from an early age their minds have been sabotaged. Until non-Christians who are simply the product of a bad education system, they have grown up with an anti-life (i.e. anti-reason) philosophy. That does not stop them trying to rationalise it.
This week I joined a local philosophy group. Unsurprisingly these people are all over 65yo Christians. Why people bother to take an interest in philosophy just prior to dying I will never understand. I learnt it from age 19yo, and if I knew its importance I would have studied it from 15yo. Mind you, in a world of contradictions, perhaps I needed more life experience before I could accept such 'provocative ideas'. Regardless over 65yo is too late.
The next problem is that they are reading a Christians interpretation or rationalisation of philosophy. They are reading 'Think' by Simon Blackburn. The problem with this book is that it is a rationalised interpretation of philosophy. It has intelligibly pieces of other philosophers like Schopenhauer. The implication is that Christians are not challenging themselves. They are getting the same sanitised version of the truth that they get at church. There can be utterly no respect for facts or reality if:
1. You do not challenge yourself by reading other material (giving you greater coherency or integrity)
2. Seek to resolve practical problems (giving you grounding)
Another example. My parents have never in the last 20 years of knowing me sought to understand my values. I have challenged them on a great many issues, and yet they are not honest enough to engage in a reasonable manner. It is the psychology of Christians. You might ask why I am lampooning Christians if they are not terribly Christian? The reason is that they come from Christian households and they went to Christian schools with the same destructive impact on their 'young minds', which was never corrected by having children. By the age of 10y0, when children start to question their parents, such parents undermine their children rather than embrace the facts of reality. Of course many children cannot espouse coherent philosophy. But don't under-estimate a child's capacity to identify a contradiction in their parents. Parents in the formative years will laugh off the 'honesty' of their kids. e.g. Daddy, why is mommies skin so wrinkled. When a child retorts to a parent, Christian or otherwise, and they don't have an efficacious mind, they are inclined to attack the child rather than deal with their own issues. The implication of this is:
1. The child is denied validation
2. The child is attacked or abused physically or mentally
This is why social problems persist in society; because people do not have sufficient respect for the facts of reality. They would prefer to undermine those who provoke or challenge us to think rather than actually solving personal problems. It ought however to be apparent that teaching faith (i.e. The opposite of reason, accepting without evidence) is going to sabotage a person's mind.
Why do they do it? Simply because they cannot confront their own shortcomings? People will say that their fear makes them selfish. But its not in your self-interest to sabotage your mind or anyone else's. This is why Christianity has been so insidious. It spreads the myth that values are subjective; so people self-indulgently don't seek to reconcile their values with facts. i.e. Objectivity. People only take an interest in a delinquent child from the age they start to commit crimes. The problem of course is that its much harder to solve problems at this level.
So you might ask yourself - how do you stop Christians rationalising that they are good people. Well, you withdraw your moral sanctioning of them. They cease to be 'well-intended' and you start treating them as intellectual cowards who would rather sabotage their minds, and their childrens, rather than confront (and resolve) the challenges in their life. The greater 'sin' is allowing another generation of people to be injured by religion. The other great travesty is the moral ambivalence that 'non-Christians' have, such that they were raised in Christian households unable to develop a coherent sense of values. They are insecure, but they know enough to know that there is something wrong with 'institutionalised religion'. Many would conclude that the problem is the people. i.e. Humans are evil by nature. But no one questions the underlying philosophical premises shaping these 'lost souls'. They were of course lost before they discovered religion. Religion appeals to vulnerable souls, but it does not help them. It gives comfort by deluding them into thinking that love or values are not rational, or conditional. They live on a succession of reduced expectations and rationalisations.
Those of you who are inclined to argue with Christians to save their souls, you are wasting your time if they are espousing baseless assertions. There is no way a rational argument will convert them. If you recognise that they are responding with intelligible arguments, then you have a chance. But bear in mind that they are still challenged by their social identity with the church. It might not be as strong as the entrenched 'cultural identity' of a cult, however it is nevertheless the basis of their security system. You would have to offer a comprehensive repudiation of religion, as I have attempted to do in these blog entries.
My thanks to those who give me feedback. Glad to know I am influencing people. I'm particularly pleased if people tell me why that appreciate the arguments I make, or what difference it has made to their thinking. The reason being I want to know people are 'really' getting it, and not rationalising.
When I was young I was so passionate about learning. I retain that attitude today. There is no fear of learning from any source. Science was no doubt a key, as it developed a respect for objective reality. If we can teach people to give primacy to facts, to have confidence in their cognitive ability, so they need not fear the world, then society will be a far better place.
Andrew Sheldon www.sheldonthinks.com
Monday, April 5, 2010
The answer to that question is supposedly – ‘morally yes, but practically no’ when a person uses religion in order to attain some benefit. The problem with this understanding is that it lacks a theory of values. Consider the notion of selfishness – defined as a primary concern with one’s self interest, which is what? This is where most people stop thinking. But we must ask – What constitutes our self interest? Is rape in our interests? And we have to renounce rape because its against the law right? (selfless conception). Or is there some objective standard to say that rape is bad. This objective or ‘enlightened’ self interest concept invariably leads one to conclude that self interest is good if one has objective interests or values. i.e. It matters neither whether you profess to do something for others (i.e. non-self) or oneself, the issue is why you do it. Does the value have legitimacy. So you ask – what is the basis for prescribing the basis of any value – objective or subjective. I would suggest that it is your nature as a human being.
It is easy to identify the moral validity and illegitimacy of some values because their actors are so pathetic that their actions could only be construed as good or bad. i.e. We are not going to bad-mouth Warren Buffett for working hard, nor for giving billions to a non-profit foundation. The flipside is that we would regard the deception or abuse of people as repugnant because its universal application could only result in a degeneration in social values. But what of moral greyness?
What of a productive person who compromises his values in order to attain a big order? What of capable person who accepts a idiot guy because she fears never meeting another guy? Is this moral greyness? Is it simply a bad choice?
What is the purpose of a relationship with God? The idea that you need a relationship with a person before you are able to connect with a being strikes me as asymmetrical. We associate a relationship with mutual interaction, yet a relationship with god is polar. You may as well be talking to yourself; and more importantly, there is good reason to think that you are talking to yourself. I do not dismiss that some Christians are even able to talk themselves into such a ‘frenzy’ that they can imagine gods.
Having established a ‘loving relationship’ with god, what is the purpose of the relationship? I guess it is a shared love for others. Why does God need us to do that? Why doesn’t God simply have the same relationship with them as he has with us.
It seems a great many people only want a relationship with God for material things. It might be argued that herein lies the problem. But I think if these people could have a good job, they would be more than happy to earn the money to get those material things. Maybe God could give them the courage and conviction so they could actually get those things if we concede the argument that the role of God is to give us things; that is the things which are not material. It makes one think; if the role of god is not to give us things, what is the point of having a relationship with him, unless we are a useless hobo.
Even if we admit that God has the capacity to give us things; so he has the capacity to take them away. How can we argue that we either deserve to receive things, or deserved to have things taken away from us? Does god intervene in our life to do justice or charity? At the end of the day, is it not simply us getting things, whether by earning them, stealing them or being given then. At the end of the day, is it not good for our sense of pride to do these things for ourselves.
There are religions around the world – such as the Catholic Church (in various countries), various mystic groups in India and sects in various countries which solicit money from people on the basis of fear, guilt or social pressure. These efforts involve subjecting people to public mocking or shame by compelling them to give money in private. Surely it would be more considerate and humble to actually give money in private, if only for the sake of the poor. Even for the rich. The idea of giving money in public can only lead to vulgar displays of wealth, for a religion which surely has monetary resources in abundance. Anything less simply looks like ‘cold hearted’ business. Are religion clergy the saints they are depicted as, or are they the worst form of manipulators?
What of paying penance to atone for your sins. Is that a legitimate practice? Why is it bad for people to be concerned by material wealth, and yet it seems to be the sole consideration for moral virtue in churches around the world. I wish I could say it is mastery of manipulation; but simply it is mastery over fools. We might well hear from religious leaders who condemn casinos for taking money from people who can ill-afford to lose it, and yet are the churches not going the same. Why would you seek a relationship with god if you did not need some material reciprocity, and would you not be peeved if you needed food, but only got advice from a clergy? The vice being: You have not got enough faith; keep searching, and it will come to you. You will finally meet someone who is as guilty as you. That is virtue? Well I do not doubt that there are other ‘true believers’ who would actually concede some material benefit so that these people may benefit. I have no doubt that reaching the bottom can only result in people seeing nothing but ‘blue sky’ ahead; most particularly in a welfare state where is really never was so bad, and where an adjustment of personal expectations can give one a lot of relief which one might interpret as a ‘gift from god’. Or is it simply we stopped wanting the intangibles?
Another common statement by Christians when they find out that you are an atheist is….’how do you find meaning in life’. What is there to live for if you are going to die in 50-60 years. This of course suggests that there is an after-life.
I personally find value in life from being good at a skill and exercising my mind. I think a lot of people do the same, whether they identify it as a sense of identity, or simply something they have to do to live their lives. I don’t particularly care a great deal about money, but I love the idea of investing in ideas which pay off, developing or discovering knowledge, and the companionship of people who have similar values…which is pretty rare, so instead I spread a lot of time investing in knowledge so that I can contribute to a better world, where my values have more likelihood of being held. I am thus fighting a pitiful education system, a collectivist government and a good handful of Christians. But it’s all fun if you are engaging your mind in purposeful, constructive, efficacious action. I can take pride in a hard day’s work, and at the end of the day its building something great, so at the end of my career I will be able to look back and say at any point that “I did that”. …then die with a smile on my face. Anyway, I won’t be complaining when I’m dead, and I’m not going to waste time worrying about it now.
I am an atheists and in many respects life is good. I can’t say it is perfect, but I could not be happier. There is no place in my life for God, but I am very happy. A year ago I was not so happy. There was no place in my life for God then either. So there seems no positive correlation at all. Now is it simply about being happy? Does having a relationship with God impart any greater sense of happiness? I think not. In fact a great many of the Christians I encounter seem to be scared of their own shadows. They seem to have little in the way of mental efficacy. The more logical ones tend to be more defensive and evasive. In the case of my ex-boss, who was also a minister of his church, I would suggest he was terribly conflicted.
The more engaging ones simply don’t want to explore their minds. Its not that they are ‘closed minded’, its as if they have turned it off. Any argument results in a counter-assertion which is simply some dogmatic assertion they have learned at church. It is interesting to ask such people why they are happy. Don’t expect their happiness to relate to any meaningful values. They can no doubt celebrate the incidental….I want to change the world. This is in fact the basis of my happiness…the expectation that I can make a positive impact on the world, by helping people to become better parents, helping people to make money, helping people to develop good character values, etc. It really has nothing to do with helping people. It has more to do with being good at something. I am a consummate thinker developing new knowledge. I want to share these ideas so that I can achieve some practical success as the discovery process is so intangible….so I want to make it real. Poor fellows those Christians. I have tangible reasons to have confidence that I will achieve my goals, but they have to accept God’s world on faith. Faith is incidentally the acceptance of some assertion without evidence…not a good thing and contrary to your whole knowledge system.
Anyway, what makes me happy is the fact that I love my writing/work. I can't wait to get up in the morning and do my exercise, and start writing. If I have any hang up, its my impatience to get my ideas into books. The editing is a drag, though also a necessary process in developing ideas and organising them. Equally as important I finally have a lovely partner in my life, I no longer work for unethical people in the finance industry. Mostly I am excited about the impact of my future books. I have so many ideas....god is the last thing on my mind...so why spoil it. Ok, well its the last thing now.... :)
It is therefore understandable that I might think religion is a pack of crap. I can have a satisfying and rewarding life without it; I have intellectual arguments which dispel any need for it. The question then becomes - would I recommend it to people in difficulty? Well, not even if a gun was pointed at me. The reason is clear. Faith is not going to help you achieve; you don't develop a sense of efficacy by renouncing your mind; you don't develop your cognitive skills by memorising Christian verse. Basically you will only find another really insecure person at church. Hardly the type of person you want as a life partner....notwithstanding that there are morally 'grey' Christians with some redeeming Christians. Personally I take this as a superficial distinction. I don't spend much time around Christians. The only ones around me I have converted. It is a slow process, and who has the time.
My bosses were Christians – one more pragmatic one I could more easily get along with. The other was a prick of a person. In his defense he appeared to struggle with certain moral values. He was smart in a way, but really he was very conflicted. I used to present him with challenges…I used to frustrate the hell out of him. I was not very politically correct. I used to write reports where I would call Korea a collectivist or statist economy. He did not like this. I think the Koreans are proud of this, but he had a problem with it. He even went to the point of arguing ‘statist’ is not even a world….so I showed him the word in the Macquarie or Collins Dictionary. Haha.
This was a very difficult man to deal with. He made me particularly uncomfortable because I loved my job. He always had a stressed, conflicted look on his face, as if he was going to explode. I had very different philosophical values to him, so I was always worried about saying something wrong. This was my first job, and I loved it. I also recall meeting his children….poor things looked like all self esteem had been beaten out of them. The oldest was probably fretting from the expression of his disproving dad…..No, the meek are not going to inherit the earth. This kid was the embodiment of religious virtue…no ego left in him….I’d say he is probably doing drugs today…repressing any notion that he was a failure in his dad’s mind.
There is a belief among some Christians that religion actually gave rise to Christianity. This idea was suggested to me in my early 20s. He must have studied a different period to me because I had always associated religion with the political and religious oppression of the Dark Ages.
Years later I would learn more about the period in history which placed this notion in his mind. It was the Calvinists of Switzerland, and he probably took some comfort from Thomas Aquinas who also had some notional support for freedom from tyranny. Adam Smith was a Christian too, and perhaps John Locke.
It is safe to say that anyone in this period is going to espouse to be a Christian, even if they are not, precisely because these periods were periods of oppression. We even have this legacy today…why is it that no one talks about religion and politics. Ok, you won’t be executed, but in those days people were, so they were more cautious. Today you are merely marginalized or alienated.
The point is that Christianity was incidental to the development of religion. Certainly there was the concept of ‘divine rights’ but most of these philosophers did not argue them on the basis of divinity, but rather on the basis of logic, which is the counter-point of faith and mystic revelation. The implication is that philosophers did not seemingly have much integrity, and not much scope for honesty about their religious beliefs. To be fair, the clergics and followers would have pulled them apart if they preached anything which contradicted the church. Look what happened to Galileo.
One of the reasons that Christians distrust atheists is that they think we have no moral code. They think this because we repudiate God. God for them is a source of accountability or moral guidance. In fact God or religion is not even a direct. It’s a renouncement. It tells you the thinks you can’t do, and they are always things for non-self, another negative. For God, for the church, for others….never you. Why can’t it say that you should live a life according to reason, establish a comfortable life, and then invest in the people around you so you can feel as if you have saved the world? That would be an entirely concrete guide, but at least it would not be around renouncement.
The problem with renouncement is that it establishes no positive values. Consider this…a Christian might suggest…if you don’t believe in God, what is to stop you going out and raping any child. The implication of such conversations is that the only form of accountability is mystical, and more problematic, that these ‘religious folk’ obviously think it is morally acceptable to abuse kids. Should is surprise us that many clergy have been caught with their underwear on the wrong side of their robes.
What religious folk fail to realize is that people can have moral values grounded in some understanding of human nature, be it implicit or explicit, and that these values are rewarded by practical consequences. Of course most of our parents model fairly decent values, even despite the fact that they are confused by religion. We nevertheless mostly reject the nonsense, i.e. Any notion that we should not judge others, ‘turn the other cheek’, etc. It amazes me how churches seem to have lost all relevance to people’s lives. It’s as if the church stays in the 15th century because if it dared to discuss a contemporary problem it would only marginalize a group of people, or reveal its inadequacies. Nope, the church properly should remain in the 15th century…..the Dark Ages…the time when religion reached its zenith. People like it in this period because they can pretend to be a good Christian, and using psychological trickery they can easily compartmentalize their current lives from any possibility of Christian dogma. Any hint of a contradiction can readily be repressed…no problem.
So Christians take note….when you think you cannot have moral values without a god, you are exposing the fact that you really have no moral guidance. Whenever you meet a Christian who is professing to do you a favour…expect some seriously deceitful act to follow. I am not ruling out generosity, but generous people don’t seek a stage before they offer. They just do it. Mind you…there are people who give in the expectation of receiving. This is the beauty of trade….value for value or voluntary exchange….nothing is fairer.
I would welcome the opportunity for God, an aspiring Christian or theologian to put forward arguments which would justify a belief in God. I suggest a dialogue over Gtalk so that each party has a complete record of the conversation. I will place the discussion on this website, and they can do the same on their website. My intent is to show that their values are based on baseless dogmatic assertion. Please email any time to arrange such an debate.
Attention all atheists!!
In fact anyone who has had an interesting encounter with a Christian which involved manipulation, deception or blatant rationalisation. This is research or material for a forthcoming book. I am not suggesting that all Christians are criminals, dangerous or threats to society, but I am suggesting that Christianity is a basis for moral inefficacy. There is a reason why Christian nations are always at war. There is a reason why former Christians (or children of Christians) have a tendency to drift into cults and extreme religious groups. Thank you for any life experiences you can recall. ----------------------------------------------- Andrew Sheldon www.sheldonthinks.com