The Lower Quote, As If You Didn't Know, Is By Richard Dawkins, Son.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Questions Answered - No Whammies

R.J. Eskow over at the Huffington Post has written a piece asking "militant atheists" some questions. I decided to attempt to provide him the answers, as far as I'm able. You can read the article if you like and then come back and see what I'm sayin'.

1. Where (sic) the wars so often cited by militants (the Crusades, etc.) primarily religious in nature, or did their root causes stem from other factors such as economics, nationalism, and territorial expansion - as many experts in the field suggest? Or is the truth somewhere in between? Ok, the actual causes of the wars/Crusades may have been due to something other than religion. I am not a scholar of those conflicts or horribly brutal one-sided attacks. The fact remains, however, that whether or not these killings were caused by religion (which is undoubtedly at least partially the case) or by some other factor(s), religion was the prime motivator of the "foot soldiers" who did the grunt work of the slaughter. Sure, it might not be why the upper .5% went to war, but it sure is a fabulous way to get ordinary folks to cut off their neighbor's heads and think they're going to Heaven.

2. Historically, has terrorism been driven primarily by religion - or by other forces? (See Robert Pape's work on the subject.) Basically this answer is the same as the above one. Maybe the Al Quesadilla leaders want economic reform (sure they do), but the suicide bombers have magical mindsets that allow them to think they're getting Paradise and virgins.

3. Does the historical experience of nontheistic countries challenge the notion that religion is a major factor in causing internal oppression or external military conflict? (Note: I'm not suggesting that nontheistic countries went to war to defend nontheism," as one atheist writer characterized the argument. The question is: Does the absence of religion as a motivator reduce the likelihood of war, as the militants suggest - or not? Suggested countries of study: Cambodia, China/Tibet, USSR.) I'd say that religion causes oppression. Ask women or anyone not in whatever religion you happen to be discussing. I would agree that absence of religion would result in somewhat reduced conflict, but human nature suggests that we'll always find some reason to hate whoever is not like us. We're weird that way. Not believing in magical fairy tales would seem, however, to make a population slightly less gullible with respect to the reasons for going somewhere and murdering brown people (or black, yellow, purple, or green people).

4. What is the extent of religion's role in creating individual discontent and unhappiness through ostracism, sexual repression, prejudice, etc. in various world cultures? (I suspect it's substantial, but I'd like more data.) I have no fucking idea.

5. Is Islam the origin for genital mutiliation, stoning of adulterous wives, and other abusive practices? (Note: Neither practice is condoned by the Qu'ran, and both existed as tribal practices before Islam. Historically weaker Prophetic sayings, or 'hadith,' are cited to support them. (See Reza Aslan.) This question answers itself.

6. Would the elimination of religion alone eliminate these harmful practices, or would additional actions need to take place? If you eliminated religion and the dumbasses who propagate the ludicrous notions within and peripheral to it, yes, I think that that would go a long way towards stopping those "harmful practices".

7. If so, how can such practices be stopped most quickly and effectively - by campaigning to eliminate all religion, or by using moderate religion as a countermeasure against extremism? As a realist, we would have to use moderate religion because the notion of eliminating religion wholesale is just not probable at this point.

8. Can the positive influence of religion - in reducing conflict, bringing personal fulfillment, building communities, etc. - be quantified and measured against the negatives? I have no fucking idea, but I can say with a high degree of confidence that the "positive influence of religion" can be achieved through other means.

9. Do the social problems caused by religion stem from personal religious belief, from organized religious activity, or both? That would be "both", Bob.

10. Is all religious activity harmful, or just the fundamentalist variety (which one research project estimates involves roughly one-fifth of all religious populations)? All religious belief is harmful because all magical/religious belief propagates faith in the nonsensical or irrational. This does harm because, as an example, a person who believes that there is Paradise awaiting him after he blows himself up, killing "infidels" in the process, has reasons that make sense to him in his religious frame of mind. If you don't have that faith, you will come up with more constructive ways of getting the world to change.

11. Is it true, as some atheists argue that Buddhism's more peaceful doctrine propagates less violence and war than monotheistic religions with violent sacred texts?* Probably, but the answer to the previous question arises again because of the Buddhist belief in reincarnation. The government is being mean and extremely hard-handed towards Buddhism? Drive to the city and light yourself on fire to protest. What does it matter? It'll make a dramatic demonstration and you'll come back either as a "higher" life form or you'll reach Nirvana.

12. Does 'moderate religion' enable fundamentalism to continue? (That's another core militant assumption - also unproven.) Or, does it draw adherents away from fundamentalism and thereby weaken its negative effects? I see it as a sliding scale of retardedness. You can be really retarded as a fundie, or you can be only slightly handicapped as a "moderate" religion believer. It's the difference between "Kill all the faggots!" and "I don't think gay people should be allowed to be married."

13. What's the best way to advocate for needed changes - through aggressive attacks on religion or milder persuasion? Why not both? Religion needs to be aggressivly attacked because its base tenets are just plain stupid, but the everyday people who believe need to be persuaded mildly with reason and compassion. This is not an "either/or" question.

14. Do the internal dynamics of religious communities suggest that extremism and fundamentalism are the primary source of religion's negative effects - or do these effects come from something fundamental about religious belief itself? Religious belief is fundamentalist - any reading of a "holy" book will show that. The "crazy" believers are just doing what the books actually says; Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live - Ex. 22:18 - Ok, so kill all the witches. That's not crazy, that's what it says.

15. Would the eradication of religion lead to increased trauma, and/or decreased mental and physical health? If so, how should we prepare to address that problem as we work to eradicate religion? Part A: I have no fucking idea, but I doubt it. Part B: See answer to Part A.

My bottom line with respect to this sort of questioning is that religions are based on faith, which means they are too weak logically, philosophically, or rationally to support themselves. They have survived because of, primarily, the indoctrination of children who believe their parents and authority figures, then never bother to think about what they've been taught ever again. The basic assumptions are just silly and once we look objectively at them, we won't need questions like the above. This seems like arguing about the number of twists in a unicorn's horn.

I'd love to hear some thoughts about either the questions or the answers I've provided.

5 Barbaric Yawps:

At 8/1/07 9:29 am, Blogger Paul said...

Re: question #3. While the USSR, China, and Cambodia may nominally be purely secular countries, the suggestion that they are religion free is either extraordinarily naive, or outrageously disingenuous. I suspect the second.

At 10/1/07 1:54 pm, Anonymous Melissa said...

"This seems like arguing about the number of twists in a unicorn's horn."

Ah! So that's where the Ultimate Answer "42" fits in!

At 10/1/07 4:41 pm, Blogger BigHeathenMike said...

Yes! Life, the Universe, and everything!

At 10/1/07 7:03 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm basically with you on all these, my reactions were about the same.

Michael Parenti actually has some pointed criticisms of modern Buddhist countries being no more "peaceful" or "enlightened" than other nations up somewhere on the web; The Monastic oligarchy that ruled Tibet before the Chinese took over weren't exactly nice guys either; some social conditions actually improved under Chinese communist administration.

As regards the USSR, as I've argued in other fora, in the USSR, especially in Stalin's time, which rose to the level of Personality Cult, they treated their Marxism functionally LIKE a religion, and were quite vigorous in persecuting "heretics" who deviated ever so slightly from established Dogma. They tried to use it to explain EVERYTHING (Lyshenko, etc) and things got silly. Plus, as Annie Lynne Gaylor of FFRF has pointed out, Stalin was educated in a seminary ;-)

I consider myself a socialist and a Marxist, and a secularist. Marxism is an analytical tool for understanding the operation of Capitalism. It isn't the Unified Field Theory of Everything, no serious Marxist these days accepts the "inevitability" thing (historical baggage from the 19th century, that), etc. But I do find it offers an interesting way of looking at the world that still offers a lot of explanatory power, as any good theory should.

Marx actually isn't as hard on religion as many latter-day Marxists now are (myself included)...that came more with Lenin. I'm not a Leninist...he accepted the Taylorist mode of production too uncritically, thinking he could just slap a "socialist" label on the structure and presto, instant worker's paradise in no time. A vanguard Party ruling in the name of the workers versus workers actually having a say in things, real workplace democracy--ain't the same thing. Ask Marshall Tito of Yugoslavia or the worker co-ops of Mondragon in the Basque region of Spain.

One thing I do know is that in the 20th century, yeah, there were some rebel priests, Liberation Theologians, etc, that wanted to uplift the lives of peasants, etc. But in the main, the Church, the priests, etc. were all on the side of the oligarchs, contributed oodles of money to propoganda campaigns against socialist leaders like Salvador Allende, etc, and more than a fair number of Christian mission groups are affiliated with the intelligence community and the US National Security State (which is why Chavez kicked the lot of them out of Venezuela recently, I heard). The NeoCons in Washington are all good Straussians, and all good Straussians believe in using religion for social control of the masses; Atheism + cynical Realpolitik are the exclusive purview of the wealthy elites, not fit for anyone else. Atheism + economic populism + Marxian analysis are an absolute anathema to the Straussian world view.

Religion is ultimately just another ideology among many, and no less dangerous.


At 12/1/07 8:30 am, Blogger Roopster said...

Nice horns :)

Check out my blog Daily Bible Verses - 2007 when you get a chance.


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