Religiousity – Part 1

Here at Liberal Rapture, we take pride in being controversial to the point of obnoxiousness. Things are just so much more exciting that way, and its not just at LR that I take this banner and run with it. At my school newspaper, I also make a point of being obnoxiously contrary in my section of the publication. But I digress.

We all (unfortunately) know about the holy roller who predicted the end of the world on May 21st… and was predictably wrong. John Smart
interviewed one of Camping’s followers for his radio show and instantly regretted it- who wouldn’t? After listening to clowns like Camping one has to go out and play with puppies and kittens and look at rainbows, and then slowly remove their mind condom after the mind raping they have just endured.

What was most interesting was the aftermath- my PIC Tamerlane made a comment that caused an uproar on the thread after the show. He pointed out to several believers on John’s thread that they worshiped the same Zombie God Camping does, and thus by default must also believe in the eventual rapture of the faithful up into heaven.

All of you know that as a Wiccan I take personal pride in being one of the Judeo-Christian God’s unwanted, bastard children. So I feel that I am, for the most part, able to play Devil’s Advocate for both Athiest and Believer alike. We Pagans are easygoing folk when it comes to the beliefs of others, so long as they’re not shoved down our throats. Some of my fellow Pagan friends have noted that Athiests can occasionally be as obnoxious as Evangelical Christians who threaten us with Hellfire and Brimstone as they pass flyers to us on the street, but I’ve not seen any evidence of this in Tamerlane.

So I decided to interview him and get his side of the story, admittedly two weeks after the blow up on John’s show, but this isn’t an issue that is going to go away, and besides, I’ve been in and out of the hospital since. I have been having gastro intestinal problems and had to get colonoscopies and so on, but I digress.

Q: So recently you got in a tiff with some commenters at John Smart’s website over a remark you made about Christians worshiping a Zombie God. Here at Liberal Rapture we enjoy making people angry by frequently delving into controversial topics. What made you post that?

A: I wanted to call out hypocrisy. People were cracking rapture jokes and labeling the rapture guy’s views “bizarre”, “crazy”, “a death cult”. Yet most christians take great umbrage when their own beliefs are questioned. So I intentionally and impishly chose a reference that generaly uspets christians– “zombie jesus”. And not surprisingly, a lot of christians got their hackles up.

And they were quick to distance their particular beliefs from the radio guest’s.

But, from where I’m standing, /all/ christianity is bizarre.

I mean at face value, christianity sounds like a Wes Craven flic. This demigod uses his magical powers to raise corpses from the dead who are already very stinky. Then he’s tortured to death. A few days later, he crawls out of his own grave to visit his friends. (In one version, all the dead corpses come out of their tombs and wander into town.) He still has the nail holes in his hands, and invites one of his friends to stick his hand into the gash in his side. He hides out in secret for a month with his friends, performing tricks like making flames dance on their heads, before flying up to heaven on a cloud.

His followers honor his memory by wearing a miniature of the torture device he died on, and once a week they practice ritual cannibalism by pretending to eat his body and drink his blood. The largest sect even believes they’re eating his actual flesh. They all await the day when he’ll come back and raise their rotting corpses from the ground, too.

Q: So as an atheist, would you say that Religious Faith by nature causes suffering? If you point out the inquisition to some believers they’ll fire back with Stalin, who was supposedly an Atheist. What do you say to that?

A: Stalin and the Inquistion don’t cancel each other out. Both believers and non-believers do both good things and bad things. The difference is, believers usually do bad things because of their religious beliefs. Stalin didn’t do things in the name of atheism, he did them because he was a sick fuck.

As for suffering, I do feel that the net happiness of the world would be raised if everyone were atheist. Sure, faith can afford some comfort, but it’s a dead end. Plus there’s so much guilt and fear — and, ironically, doubt. I know someone who’s a devout christian and is going through a painful divorce. They prayed a lot, asking God what to do, but got no answer. This person is also very angry at God — ‘I’ve always been a good christian, so why are you punishing me like this?’

The best answer christians have to that is their supposedly omnipotent, omni-benevolent deity has to hurt us in the short run to do us good. The simplest answer, of course, is that there is no God doing those things; it’s just random. There are other outlooks on life that add more meaning without the suffering.

Q: A lot of Christians don’t take the Bible at face value and say that it’s okay to believe in Jesus without believing that Adam and Eve rode Dinosaurs and that women aren’t allowed to have sex until they’re married, and I think it was those types of believers you got in trouble with on John’s thread. What would your response be to those believers?

A: Where do you draw the line? Without Adam & Eve, there’s no need for Jesus to absolve Original Sin. If you reject some admonitions in the bible, why obey others, and on what grounds? These are highly intelligent people, who are rational except when it comes to this one subject. Why is it forbidden for me to call them out on that?

Many practising christians sound more deist than theist. Yet they cling (yes) to formal theistic religions & rituals out of habit, tradition, or because those rituals and the community are comforting. At least the Universalist-Unitarians are honest about it — ‘we’re kinda uncertain about god’ they admit, ‘but we really enjoy all the ceremonies!’

How many catholics taking communion understand the transubstantiation of the host? It seems to me unwise for people to conduct their lives based on this guy, Jesus, who they have not properly vetted. The more scrutiny you apply to the Jesus narrative — not just the miracles — the more you realize he cannot have been an historical figure. At best, Jesus is a composite of several figures.

Q: Have you ever read any Richard Dawkins? I’m not an atheist but I quite enjoyed The God Delusion.

A: Dawkins is one of my favorite science authors. His descriptions of how random genetic mutations selected by environment accrete to produce evolution are accessible to lay readers, and prove that no “Intelligent Design” is required. Because of his writings, the idea of the gene as the unit of selection (as opposed to individuals or species) is now standard.

The God Delusion tackled religious beliefs, but I still found it more pro-science than anti-religion. I honestly don’t know what about Dawkins upsets believers so, other than: 1) he argues that Science makes religious belief unnecessary; 2) he dares call faith irrational, and; 3) he encourages atheists to stop hiding their views.

For believers who are willing to listen to a less-controversial (& actually Deist) case for Science over faith, E.O. Wilson’s Consilience is a must-read.

Q: But getting back on topic. I got a “B” in Human Genetics, Reproduction and Development this semester. Science by nature is different than faith because the point of it is to prove a hypothesis. But don’t we, as humans, take a lot of things on faith? For example, in Pet Cemetery the Protagonist explains to his young daughter that we have no evidence that the chair in our living room won’t be stolen while we’re sleeping. We take it on faith that it will be there when we wake up even though we have no evidence that it will be. Don’t we, as people, need faith?

A: That conflates “faith” with “confidence.” Faith is defined as belief in something despite lack of evidence, or even in the face of contrary evidence. Not only is faith encouraged & rewarded by religion, it’s required. That leads to bad judgement, wishful thinking, all around. Just look — half of Americans believe in angels, but less than half believe that global warming is man-made.

Confidence in science is based on science’s proven ability to accurately predict and explain things. Not only do we have evidence for the chair not disappearing (no chairs have ever disappeared), we also have a very detailed model — physics — explaining why chairs don’t disappear. And if we’re contemplating a theft of the chair, then we can have confidence in our alarm system, be confident in the low probability of getting robbed tonight, and confident that a burglar would steal our jewelry and not our chair. Unless we’re in the movie The Twelve Chairs. LOL.

Q: What about bad science? Like Eugenics?

A: Eugenics is bad ethics. We selectively breed plants & animals all the time using good science — genetics. We make an ethical choice not to breed humans that way.

The US medical industry is another example of bad ethics, but also sloppy science. Most social sciences (sic), economics especially, are just folk truisms cloaked in the trappings of scientific nomenclature.

People like to point out how often scientists get things wrong. But they’re never completely wrong; they’re always in the ballpark, and always gradually hone in on the precise truth. That’s because Science is self-correcting, and encourages questioning. In just 400 years, the modern scientific method has figured out just about everything. Religion tries to explain everything, too. But it’s gotten every single thing terribly wrong, and has no way of correcting itself.

 Q: Do you believe that we should always question everything?

A: I’m not so sure about that. LOL.

Yes, of course, but approaching things with skepticism is not the same as always denying or rejecting. In science, ideas go through stages — from Postulate, to Hypothesis, to Theory, to Law. Each stage has a distinct level of confidence, from tentative to near certain, based on the evidence accumulated, the completeness of the explanation, how it dovetails with other things we know, and on its predictive power. Evolution is so robust now it should be called a Law.

When people want to believe in something irrational they resist inquiry. Like deities. Or chiropracty for my GF. When I try to point out how it’s pseudoscience, she says, ‘I know, I know. But I don’t want to know, OK?’

 Q: You said that Fundamentalist Christians at least have some consistency on their argument, since they base their beliefs on the Bible being the 100% truth, and that if you believe in the concept of original sin and Jesus dying on the cross for those sins then you must believe in the rapture. What about what FembotsforObama said? That “Yes, Christians theoretically all believe in the Bible and hence it can be deduced logically believe in the Rapture. But, the way that belief is applied varies greatly. More sane Christians look at the New Testament and see the Old Testament as more historical.”

A: Does that makes Jews “insane” for believing in the OT?

The NT is filled with some outrageous & bizarre shit, too. Just one example: Jesus teleports 1000 demons out of this dude into a herd of pigs, and those demon pigs run headlong down a hill into the sea and drown.

Now, a “sane” christian may toss out some of these miracles. Jefferson tossed them all out and was left with an inspiring, secular story about a wise man! But even a “sane” christian still wants Jesus to be divine, so they must retain at least a couple of miracles. But they have no solid rule whatsoever for drawing the line between believable and ridiculous.

The only logical line is either to accept all the miracles, or reject all. Thus is the fundamentalists’ position entirely logical. The assumptions are false, but the logic itself is pristine. I find any middle positions arbitrary and dishonest.

As Hume put it, “No testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind, that its falsehood would be more miraculous than the fact which it endeavours to establish.”

Indeed. Of course, I can’t say much against Christians who believe that Jesus transferred 100 demons into pigs (The poor pigs! ANIMAL ABUSE! CALL THE ASPCA ON JESUS!) seeing as how I believe in fairies. However, Pagans pride themselves on the fact that our beliefs are basically compatible with science. String theory, quantum physics and Gaia theory all correlate nicely with our views of everything being connected and magick coming from natural energies that we use for positive change. Tamerlane poo-pooed to me about the Gaia hypothesis being the imaginations of LSD induced hippies (HEY! What’s wrong with LSD? Don’t knock it ’till you’ve tried it!) and said that my babblings about string theory and quantum physics were too generalized, but that is just because he’s jealous of my witchiness and of my availability of skyclad (nekkid) covens.

Part 2 will contain an interview with a believer, and not just any believer- a believer of the same lunatic ilk of Harold Campings, a believer who just recently put her hand on my burning, aching stomach and screamed “by the stripes of Christ, you are healed!” A believer who anointed my black cat with holy oil. And that believer… is my mom.


22 Responses

  1. The Gaia theory is indeed pseudo-science for many reasons. Just one example — unlike real scientific propositions, it is not falsifiable.

    Chaos theory is intriguing, but has a long way to go before earning the capital “T”.

    Wiccans are not too far off-base with their concept of the inter-connectedness of everything. Wicca certainly is less threatened by science than the Abramanic religions or Hinduism.

    If wiccans were brave enough to adjust their tenets to QED and String Theory, and not the other way around, Wicca could mature to offer spiritual meaning and sense of place in the world to the billions of people who crave such, without the many drawbacks of the traditional faiths.

  2. As it stands Wicca is probably the fastest growing religion in the country, which is impressive considering the fact that we keep a low profile and we don’t evangelize.

    But I tend to agree with you. One nice thing about being a Pagan is the lack of dogma. Any number of unholy folk born without the light of God could adjust tenets to string theory and QED and no one would bat an eyelash.

  3. “The difference is, believers usually do bad things because of their religious beliefs. Stalin didn’t do things in the name of atheism, he did them because he was a sick fuck.” Love this!

  4. I’ve reviewed quite a few books on wicca and witchcraft over on my blog; I’m getting Ronald Hutton’s paperback edition finally out here “Blood & Mistletoe” on the history of modern druidry soon. Lil’ Isis, your remarks and Tamerlane’s comments reminded me of two issues from my own study.

    1) Some wiccans and pagans tend to get as smug out of defensiveness as some Christians. Jennifer Miller’s “Rites of Pleasure” displays well a superiority complex some neo-pagans tend to revel in that may turn off otherwise curious inquirers. My review:

    2) Lots of Buddhists, who may not all be deists (see my inevitable reviews on my blog of Stephen Batchelor’s “Buddhism without Beliefs” and “Confession of a Buddhist Atheist”) affirm as does the Dalai Lama that if science and dogma clash, science trumps. Not all those spiritually minded gravitate away from rationality.

    Margot Adler’s history of neo-pagans, “Drawing Down the Moon,” documents well the prevalence in some movements the presence of computer scientists and the like. Reinventing and reconstructing religious rituals, as many neo-pagans are doing, makes a sense, as it were, out of the non-sense that accretes around so many popular religions two-three-thousand years on.

    Michael Strimska’s edited “Modern Paganism in World Cultures” is heavy on North American and European elements, but recommended for those eager to find out more about this on an academic level, by participant-observers as paganism enters the scholarly realm.

    Don’t mean to make this look like a term paper, but after all, I’m an egghead. Eventually, if the dean approves my entreaties, I will be teaching a course in Comparative Religions for the first time, and I anticipate directing students to such posts as yours, Lil’ Isis, for inspiration!

  5. great stuff! I would like to add that both religiously driven murderers and Marxist driven ones are sick fucks. Stalin found an vehicle for his fuckedness as did the inquisition. Being homicidal predated the excuse. They could have fought over how to serve mutton…it was about power and fear. Not ideology. Ideology was the EXPRESSION of the power grab.

    In so much as “faith” is dismissed it takes a lot of faith to assume the murderous history of mankind would be less murderous if religion suddenly vanished. We’d kill for some reason. I’d also argue that the one thing we really fight over in the end it land. Period. That’s it. Control of land we have or control of land we want. The crusades were about ownership of land. So was Stalin’s insanity. So is the entire history of the USA. So was Hitler and every other war. Korea, 9/11, whatever. Someone wanted someone else on or off some piece of land. Excuses are made to grab land based on the culture of the moment.

    As a believer I’d never insist one needs belief. And don’t care much if one does believe. The exact same rules apply at any rate. I don’t even care if Jesus is entirely made up. It makes no difference at all. The teaching is radical and pertinent. That’s what matters.

  6. and before I get grief about the crusades being over religious sites – note: the religion of the day was a commodity centered in the middle east. From the catholic side the fight was over land. controlling the symbols was good for the health of the commodity.

    Not much has changed. the recent wars in the M.E. are about the commodity of oil – and the land it’s under. Terrorism is the excuse on our end.

  7. […] Isis dove in head first, here and here. Read […]

  8. These conversations are soooo tricky for me.

    I’m not a Christian or an Atheist, so I’m never in the bullseye of most conversations about faith. I do have faith in a divine intelligence… except when I’m in a faith crisis, of course — and boy, do those suck. But conversations about the existence or non existence of a ‘god’ (a word I can’t use comfortably) remind me of why I don’t attend any sort of church. Growing up in the South, I’m just not interested in what a group of people thinks about existential questions. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a conversation about the existence or non existence of divinity in which both sides weren’t trying to convince the other that they’re wrong. I currently think that neither side can prove their positions beyond the shadow of a doubt — so what’s the point? Proof is where you find it. Where one person sees a chemical reaction, another person sees divine intelligence behind the chemical reaction. Really — so what? This is why my own faith has become personal and private, rarely discussed with people whose only interest in hearing my views is to try to convince me that they’re wrong.

    Now, when the devout (believers or their opposite) start to hurt / kill / oppress in the name of their beliefs, that’s when my ‘you see it your way, I’ll see it mine’ attitude collapses rather quickly.

  9. @JWS. All wars are indeed ultimately about land or taking other people’s stuff. Rationales, religious or ideological, are given to justify the grabs.

    All successful religions received the support of the ruling elite by confirming the power of the ruling elite, whether declaring the pharaoh a god, or the dauphin the rightful king of France.

    Because of this ancient link, I believe religious fervor has been imbued with the violence of war, not the other way around.

  10. @ Jay — I have no issue with deists who think that there is some undefined power behind the entire universe. It’s a sentiment adopted by an increasing number of my formerly theist friends & family. If that question can ever be answered, it will be found in pre- big bang astrophysics which we are only just now attempting to comprehend.

    But when someone claims that God and His agents are here, at work among our physical world, I must demur. That proposition can be disproven with near certainty, based on: 1) lack of real evidence; 2) inconsistency with all the other things we know to be true. And the onus is on the maker of such extraordinary claims to provide extraordinary proof.

    My personal policy has always been to avoid raising the topic of belief. In recent years, I’ve decided to no longer bite my tongue when they are raised by others. So I now call out the inconsistencies in people’s statements of faith, if & when they make them.

  11. @ Jay – as for divine intelligence behind chemical reactions, there is a problem with someone claiming that. Our understanding of chemistry shows that, given the conditions of the early Earth, and one billion years to cook, at some point self-replicating molecules will form. As divine intervention is not required, per Occcam’s Razor it should be rejected.

    The robust and comprehensive model of Evolution shows that given eons, highly complex organisms and body parts can develop from elementary forms. The “irreducibly complex” units claimed by IDers simply do not exist. The IDers were thoroughly embarrassed when their prime example of an “irreducibly complex” unit, the bacterial flagellum, was shown in court (Dover v. Kitzmiller) to have been an adaptation of a simpler part of the bacterium!

    Just because it’s hard for a person to conceive of an eye, for example, to have arisen on its own, doesn’t mean you get to stop thinking and call in God to do the job. I can’t do logarithms in my head, but my TI calculator can. The scientific method is a tool we’ve developed to help us comprehend the things our ape-man minds weren’t designed to handle.

  12. Tamer, I understand that science is very useful and that it’s important to you. I do not have any interest in trying to convince you otherwise — unless you start making the world a worse place because of your beliefs. Then I will eventually make a movie about you. 😉

    It is not possible for us to agree on this subject so really — what’s the point? Are you an atheist evangelical now?

  13. Tamerlane is just being Tamerlane 🙂

  14. I’m a vocal advocate of Reason. I’m too busy and too lazy to be a full-blown evangelical. If someone makes an irrational statement of belief, I’ll point it out — otherwise, I feel no urge to rescue their non-souls from non-hell!

    (If I really, really annoy you, will you promise to make a film about me?)

  15. You may not have my soul, Tamer. I am using it.

  16. I know this is sidetracking, but evangelicals/fundies of all stripes pretty much have a bigger religion, which is to control women.

    Little Isis, I hope you’re recovering from your health problems. Hugs to you.

  17. (((Wonk))) They found one abnormaily. I digest my food too slowly. Don’t know why, though. Maybe Celiacs. They’re still doing tests.

  18. @Tam I think that maybe my feelings on this are a middle ground. I don’t like getting into extremes, because they’re counter-productive. I believe that faith and reason can be compatible, because I don’t like dualities. Its just the way I think about everything. I’m a pragmatist.

  19. Religious faith is at heart irrational. Explain how irrational can be compatible with rational. That’s my main gripe — people say, ‘for this one subject, we get to be irrational.’ But then the irrationality & wishful thinking spreads to everything.

  20. Wonk, the major religions were invented by societies where men were already dominant. it’s an artifact of the culture, not a strategic plan.

    Women don’t seem to care much, as they exhibit, both today and traditionally, a significantly higher level of religious belief and practice than men.

  21. I don’t think it’s a strategic plan–I think it’s a strategic tool of divide and conquer.

    Racial minorities also show significantly higher religious belief. Doesn’t mean they don’t care about being oppressed.

  22. @Tamerlane et alia: sorry for another link or two, but these recent reviews may be germane. I follow this discussion with interest, if from the sidelines.

    Nicholas Wade’s “The Faith Instinct: How Religion Evolved & Why It Endures.” NYT science writer’s popular history of how religion as in ritual precedes in his opinion even language itself, in a basic yearning! He does not bring God’s existence into it or out of it, but instead shows why humans tend towards religion.

    Michel Onfrey’s “Atheist Manifesto” is a French philosopher (raised Protestant, now doggedly atheist in a take-no-prisoner’s polemic against the three mighty monotheisms. Some light, much heat.

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