XII. What Religion Gets Wrong: (Part 3) Morality

“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”

– Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion

“And what is good, Phaedrus, And what is not good — Need we ask anyone to tell us these things?”

– Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance 

The source of morality in the Bible basically all boils down to Adam and Eve and a Snake and a Tree. This is the basic story that has been preached to me by Christians time and time again:

Around 2,000 years ago God impregnated a virgin in the Middle East with his only son, who was also himself. This god/man volunteered to be tortured and killed (in order to fulfill the prophecies) and came back from the dead three days later so that now in today’s world, if I telepathically tell this invisible friend that I believe in him as my Savior, he will forgive me of all of my sins, as laid out by the Commandments of the Jewish Bible, and when I die, no matter what bad things I may have done in life, if I continue to believe and ask for forgiveness, my soul will live for eternity in Heaven with God. Otherwise, no matter how good of a person I may have been in life, when I die I take the risk that my soul will burn in pain and suffering for eternity in hellfire. The reason this happens is that I have inherited and was born with Original Sin. This unfortunate piece of luck arises from the fact that around 10,000 years ago the first woman, who was made from the rib bone of the first man, was convinced by a talking snake to eat a piece of fruit from a magic tree.

Ah yes. Well there you have it. It all just makes perfect, rational sense, doesn’t it?

If that all seems a bit vague, let us look at the commandments, God’s laws to his Chosen People. The first 4 all basically say that God is a jealous god, the only god, and that you should honor Him. Couldn’t these vanities be combined into one commandment? Kind of a waste. Honoring your parents is a good one, except for the parents that abuse their children, although the Bible endorses the beating of children, as shown in the recent Christian child abuse cases. Okay, well how about “Do Not Kill”? Pretty good. Except that it leaves out acts of self defense and the fact that God commands his servants to slaughter hordes of people in the Bible (Whoops. But those were actually good murders because God commanded it, right?). ‘No stealing’ and ‘no adultery’ are decent, although they are technically covered by “Do Not Bear False Witness” and “Do Not Covet Thy Neighbor”, so they can hardly count. And besides, where would today’s society be without coveting, if no one ever saw their neighbor’s car, iPhone, happy marriage, or sexy spouse and desired to find those things for themselves? It’s called wanting a better life. In contrast, the scriptures of Jainism, an ancient religion of non-violence from India, offers this as a commandment: “Do not injure, abuse, oppress, enslave, insult, torment, torture, or kill any creature or living being.” How much better of an effect would the Bible have had if THAT statement was anywhere in the 10 Commandments?

The rest of the 613 laws that God gave to Moses deal with important things like not shaving, what kind of fabric you should wear, genital mutilation, what you should eat on what days of the week, which animals are clean and unclean, and how to rid yourself of the spiritual impurity of sperm and menstrual blood (both of which God supposedly created, remember). Of course there’s far more insidious, rather revealing laws that explicitly instruct church members to kill (yes kill) anyone working on the Sabbath, anyone who is homosexual (though God created homosexuality), anyone who speaks out against God (that’s me!), and anyone who commits adultery, among other things. And of course handicapped people cannot come to the church alter, lest they make it an abomination. I’m sorry but I can find no morality in these statements.

Why do the laws that God supposedly gave to his creation fall so short? Well, the obvious answer is that they were written by men a very long time ago when people were ignorant and concerned with such things. But one only has to look at the acts endorsed by God throughout the Bible to realize that he’s not such a moral guy himself. He personally killed or ordered the execution of an estimated 2.2 million people in the Bible, and that does not even count Egypt’s first born and all of the world’s population killed during the Flood! Not to mention that God sanctified Moses to command his armies to rape women, take young girls as sex slaves, and to kill the elderly, children, babies and livestock, all after killing entire villages full of men simply because they belonged to a different race or religion. And of course Abraham, the man for whom the world’s major religions are named, is praised to this day for his unwavering faith in the God who commanded him to slaughter his own child.

(Think the “Devil is in the details” and is responsible for the evils of this world? Think again. Most of the conceptions Christians have about the fictional character of Satan are nowhere in the Bible.)

So the New Testement cancelled out the Old? Then why did Jesus say over and over to honor the Torah laws? He ushered in a new covenant with God? Then why does he continue to endorse things like child abuse, slavery, abandoning your family, and avoiding planning for the future by “taking no thought for the ‘morrow”? He was a great teacher? Then why did many of his teachings directly contradict each other? A man of peace who loves his enemies? Then why does he threaten his enemies with Hell and damnation, and promise to return to kill most of the population in Armageddon? This is hardly “turning the other cheek”. I think the great Christian writer C. S. Lewis stated it quite plainly:

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.” That is the one thing we must not say. A man who said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.” 

A New Perspective on Morality

We now know that many of the notions of morality in the Bible were based on the concepts of previous religions, which were themselves a crude first attempt to organize our primal ideas of ethics. These first, primitive morals came about through the evolution of the mammalian and then the primate brain. Our ancestors learned that forming bonds, cooperating, and keeping social harmony aided in survival. Indeed, that is the very observation that has led to the development of our entire culture throughout the ages…we humans need each other. Other large-brained animals like chimps, dogs, elephants and dolphins also have the rudimentary basics of these notions of morality in their family groups and use them to cooperate and survive. Morality simply pre-dates religion, and our system of morality has since developed and matured in many ways, amazingly at times in spite of religion.

I find it utterly incomprehensible how seemingly good, moral people can look me in the eye and claim that if there is no God then there is no basis for morality. Really? So you’re telling me that if God didn’t command you otherwise, you would immediately loose all self control and run around like a rabid animal– raping, stealing, killing and whoring, abusing drugs and destroying the world? I find the very notion genuinely appalling and completely insulting. I am not religious, and yet I know, for instance, that rape is bad because it is a forced act that causes great suffering, and I need no other reason than that to abstain from it, thank you.

Morality is an ever-evolving complex system of beliefs and behaviors, and it is up to all of us to determine, as a species, what we want that morality to look like. Sam Harris had this to say about his book, The Moral Landscape:

“I think the greatest challenge facing our species is to build a global civilization based on shared values. To do this, we will need to think about questions of right and wrong and good and evil in a common framework, purposed toward human flourishing. The alternative is for us to waste our time debating things like gay marriage, while problems like nuclear proliferation, energy security and climate change go unaddressed…The moment we admit that questions of right and wrong, and good and evil, are actually questions about human and animal well-being, we see that science can, in principle, answer such questions…After all, there are principles of biology, psychology, sociology and economics that will allow us to flourish in this world, and it is clearly possible for us not to flourish due to ignorance of these principles…We should reserve the notion of “morality” for the ways in which we can affect one another’s experience for better or worse.”

I think that’s a far more evolved idea than anything that ever came out of the Bible.

If you find any fault with anything I have said, I encourage you put in some time and do the research for yourself. Click on any of the underlined links, or explore on your own. Go ahead: open up the Bible, or the Koran, or the Book or Mormon to any page and start reading. If you still find fault with my claims, then please, leave a comment and let’s figure this out together. After all, I could be wrong. Could you?

Prev: What Religion Gets Wrong: The Universe                    Next: Are You There God?

~ by christhehumanist on January 22, 2012.

52 Responses to “XII. What Religion Gets Wrong: (Part 3) Morality”

  1. Sheila’s next thoughts could very well be her legacy. Her message for America was “WAKE UP!” The heritage of this country appeared vulnerable to destruction from within its own perimeters. Capitalistic mania threatened to dig up America’s roots and plant extinction of rural America in the concrete fields of giant enterprises. The country was prostituting itself to the johns of social decadence, big business, faulty government and religious piety. It was time for America to replenish its roots with the compost of Truth to ensure future generations with the heritage of the past. Sheila remembered a statement made by Socrates appropriate for this generation of Americans, “Popular will is not proof of right and wrong. There is an eternal justice, and true citizenship demands the self-knowledge and wisdom to know it and obey it.”…….TEXAS PRIME

  2. oops … here I go again ….. give me the chapter and verse where Jesus subscribed and taught the Torah …. or referred to it.

    me again

    • Jesus on the Old Law…

      Matthew 5:18-19 Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

      Luke 16:17 And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail.

      John 7:19 Did not Moses give you the law, and yet none of you keepeth the law?

      Matthew 10:35 If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken,

      Of course there are plenty of other verses that can be interpreted as Jesus banishing or improving the Old Law as well. Just another example of one of the Bible’s many contradictions.

  3. … and I always thought he was referring to the ten comandments …. do you also have a quarrel with them?

  4. should add that I do not take stock in the bulk of what the
    Bible said either …. (interesting, I just capitalized it) …. talk about brain washing … sigh …… anyway I do take stock in the message as I interpret it …. some of what you say … I take stock in, some not so much or not at all …..:>)

  5. ALL books and web sites interpret the world as they see it which brings in the human factor …..their experiences with any given thing …..their prejudices …… I am curious as to why you cannot recognize that heros and villans have been for or against Christianity forever ….. and just live your lilfe from that stance. Why are you driven to convert? Who are you trying to convince … me, or yourself? If you are not trying to convince anyone, why are you doing this …..is this your calling? ….. Who called you? You are an enigma ….and I love a mystery ……

    • I do recognize that heroes and villains have been around on both sides of the religious fence forever. I am hoping to see more secular heroes and less villains overall. I don’t know if “convert” is quite the right word. I am trying to get people to think for themselves, as opposed to settling for the status quo story that they have been told about how the Universe works. As I have shown, that story is harmful and wrong.

      As for my calling, the events of 9/11 changed my life along with everyone else. That’s when I first realized that religion could be lethal. Then came the push to get Intelligent Design taught in schools. Then I researched all the other evils of religion that I have talked about to exhaustion. Now we are in another Cold War with many nations who have nuclear materials. We need to be done with all that bullshit. That is why I am writing this blog. To help change the world for the better by educating people about the illusions they have accepted. I think this is important, because if religion survives, it may kill us all.

  6. Hi, Chris,

    On your version of the origins of morality.

    From what I can tell, your concept of the origins of morality as being the result of evolution comes from teachers of evolutionary psychology. I think Sam Harris is a strong proponent of that theory. That theory claims that we have evolved to be kind, loving, generous, cooperative because such was necessary for our survival as a species. I hate to say it this way, but this theory is total conjecture at best and utterly laughable at worst. It is absurd on its face and absurd from the standpoint of logic.

    The problem is evil. If we have “evolved” to be moral, where did evil come from? And, why do we have to work so hard to be loving, kind, generous, and so forth? One could easily argue that we evolved to be selfish, arrogant, rude, obnoxious, hateful, murderous, thieving, drug abusing, raping, pushy and so forth. These are all the things–and more– that you term bullsh*t and which you advocate that we should not practice or allow others to get away with. Your friend Sam Harris even remonstrates the God of the Old Testament (whom he says is an invention of the human psyche) for being a perpetrator and even advocator of some of these very evils. How could human beings–so highly evolved to be moral and kind–have imagined, much less created, such an “evil” deity? Do you see how absurd it is? Where did evil come from? Where does it reside? It resides in all human beings. Or do you think that Hitler, Joseph Mengele, Stalin, and Mussolini belonged to some sub-human, unevolved species? Morality is the product of human evolution? I don’t think so.

    The problem of evil is where the story of Adam and Eve and the snake comes in. The story is not about a talking snake any more than Star Wars is about talking dogs (Wookies) or talking Care Bears (Ewoks). It’s a story about the struggle to be human in a world where evil plainly exists. The story of Adam and Eve is the story of puberty, the time when we begin to have an adult mind, when we begin to question our parents, God, and all the things adults have told us. It’s about that time of our life when we begin to feel the stirrings of shame for our sexuality. The story of Adam and Eve is the story of how you and I lost our innocence–our childhood–and we can never go back again. And, it’s the story about our loss of God and the long struggle to find him again.

    The story that follows, the story of Cain murdering Abel, is the story of just how deep into the moral abyss our loss of innocence and the pervasiveness of bullsh*t can take us. It tells us that evil is serious and it is hard to overcome because it is in our DNA. This is the true meaning of original sin; not that we are guilty of anything because of something a man named Adam did. The true meaning of original sin is precisely that we have NOT evolved out of anything. We are NOT moral; we have to work at being better than we often are. And the reason this old book called the Bible is so instructive as teaching for today is that it tells us that our struggle against bullsh*t is as old as time. In spite of all our technological know-how, in spite of all our learning, in spite of all our scientific discoveries we are no different than the very first humans who became aware of themselves and aware of the possibility of evil.

    Instead of killing our brother with a club, we now kill him with smart bombs, machine guns and nuclear missiles. But, we still kill him. And, yes, like Cain, sometimes it’s in the name of religion. But, that should tell us that anything can be dangerous–electricity, water, religion, sticks, guns–if in the wrong hands. And, anything good can be used for evil, and often is, because we are evil.

    Finally, the Bible is the story of the long, long journey of the very unevolved human species to find redemption and renewal. But, you won’t find God on a spreadsheet, or in a test tube. You won’t find him in the stars or a million suns. You won’t find him in the story of evolution. God is the aquarium and we and the animals and the stars and galaxies are the fish. To not believe in God is like a fish not believing in aquariums because he’s never seen one. He hasn’t seen one because his entire world is bounded and contained within one.

    You will never find evidence of God because we are in him. Our existence is God’s. In the words of a very ancient Greek poet: “In him we live and move and have our being”. So, even though we are evil, the reason we struggle to be moral is because we are immersed in God. And he has planted a conscience within us to trouble us when we fail to be as good as we know we can or should be. Thus our conscience is a reminder that there truly is a God who is calling us to higher, nobler things.

  7. for me ….. that last paragraph says it all ….”.do not pass go … do not collect two hundred dollors “…… you have just won the jadkpot and
    need nothing else.

  8. Thank you, Lois. That is too high praise. But, thank you.

    • Carson, you deserve the praise. That was a good comment. In fact, you have caused me to change my script and add an entire post on Good and Evil that I was not initially going to address in this first series of 20 posts. Consider my next blog post as my response to your comment, and I will comment back to this post to address any details from your comment that I don’t cover in the next post after I publish it.

      This is fun. I am honored to be in this dialogue with you.

      ~Chris

    • Carson, I would like to address one point for now. If it’s true what you say, that you won’t find God in test tubes, spreadsheets, stars, or the process of evolution, then what is God for? What does he do…other than inject morals into our brains? And if you believe that God is like an aquarium and all matter in the Universe, including us, is like the fish inside, and furthermore that, just like the fish in the aquarium, we can’t possibly perceive God because our entire world is bounded and contained with Him, then that is a far cry from believing in a God who interferes in the lives of humans and sends us to Heaven or Hell depending on our relationship with a 2,000 year old dead Israelite. Unfortunately, that is the god that most people believe in.

      But if God is like an aquarium and we the fish, how could he possibly ever reveal himself to us? And how is His judgment of our belief in him fair at all? And if you claim that God only reveals himself from within us, then what proof do you have that the voices and feelings inside your head are God? And if you’re just trusting your inner conscience as the voice of God based on faith, then why do we call people like Andrea Yates completely insane for drowning her 5 children in a bathtub because God spoke inside her head, commanding her to do so? This was something that she morally struggled with before she did it, but she had been raised to believe in God and so carried out his will. God did this EXACT same thing to Abraham in the Bible as a test of faith, and thus began the Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, who all honor the man who was willing to kill his own child at God’s request. I’m sorry but I cannot in good conscience believe in these ideas, nor can I silently stand by while my friends and most of the world believe these things. That is why I started this blog.

  9. No analogy concerning God can ever be adequate. For instance, if you had never seen an image from the Hubble telescope (or any telescope, for that matter), would you believe it if you were told that the universe is beautiful, colorful, infinite, inhabited by billions of galaxies, black, deathly cold, dark, infinitely hot, exploding, empty, massively heavy, weightless, life-giving, deadly, violent, peaceful, silent, and loud? Yet, the universe is all of these things. Just so, it is difficult to describe God. The fish-in-the-aquarium analogy is just one way of saying that God is all-in-all. For example, if you were a microbe inside an eyeball, it would be hard to comprehend the outside of an eyeball much less an eye socket or a head or a body.

    I didn’t mean to say that God cannot reveal himself to us. I just meant that we cannot find him by science or at will. He must choose to reveal himself to us in his way. But, it is not hard to understand that it might be difficult for us to comprehend him when he does. That’s why God seems so difficult and convoluted in the Old Testament. It’s like Close Encounters of the Third Kind. You know, this musical theme plays over and over, and it’s the aliens trying to reveal themselves to us, but we don’t get it. People are going deaf all over the place, this massive sound blows out the windows, and they’re just trying to use music to describe something but we don’t know what. It’s not because they’re not smart; it’s because we don’t get it. They are way too beyond us. The picture of God in the Old Testament is like that. He sends spokesmen (prophets) who seem crazy to ordinary people (why wouldn’t they? they’ve been touched by God?). So, he grabs a desert people (the Jews) and says “You’re going to be my people and you will live by my laws and everybody is going to think you’re strange, but eventually they’ll start to get me because you desert people are going to get their attention and teach them about me as best you can.”

    So, for Christians, Jesus is the fullest, most complete revelation of God. He was born from the desert people, but he was also God in the flesh. He is one of us, speaking our human language, but he also speaks “God” really well, too. So, he came to correct some of the misperceptions we had about God from images in the Old Testament. And, he did a good job of it. Even your criticisms of God come from your own understanding and familiarity with the teachings of Jesus and how he taught us about what is right or wrong, good or bad. So, like Hitches, Harris, and Dawkins, you are a Christian atheist.

    • Yeah, I admit that I was picking on you there, Carson. I respect and agree with your point that no analogy of God can ever be adequate. I just felt that I had to point out the flaws of the analogy you used for the benefit of the readers. And I loved your point about Close Encounters!

      I wholeheartedly disagree that I am a “Christian Atheist”. Christian Atheists reject or do not believe in God, but they follow the teachings of Jesus Christ. That does not describe me (nor, in my opinion, does it describe the authors that you mentioned) at all. Though Jesus said some good moral things (that other messiah figures and other religions at the time were also saying), and the belief in Jesus has contributed much happiness and forward thinking to our species in the past, I do not think that Jesus is the ideal moral example for society. Far from it. In fact, I will go as far as to say that I believe that I am far more of a moral person than Jesus ever was. I am certainly more moral than the Biblical God. And I believe that most of the population has better morals than both of these figures as well. To paraphrase several authors: good people do good things and bad people do bad things. But it takes religion to make good people do bad things. It is my opinion, backed up by evidence, that the belief in Jesus as the Christ is not only outdated, but harmful.

      If you truly believe that God chose an illiterate primitive tribal culture in the middle of the desert to reveal himself to in the form of a radical apocalyptic preacher, then I will not try to convince you otherwise. It just has too much evidence and logical inconsistency against it for me to ever believe that it is the truth. But I respect your beliefs and your right to believe them. My hope is that a few of the people who are reading these words will realize what I and many others have come to realize. I hope that realization brings them the freedom and happiness that it has brought me, and I hope they share the message with the people in their lives.

  10. “He must choose” ….. and we have to be open to hearing it.

    again …. thank you Carson ……

  11. What I meant by “Christian atheist” was not what you mean. (I didn’t even know there was such a category of atheists who considered themselves as such). What I mean by “Christian atheist” is simply this: all the atheists we have mentioned Hitchens, Harris, Dawkins, and yourself are products of the Christian milieu. Hitchens and Dawkins were raised and educated in British schools as Anglicans (in America known as Episcopalians). Their early education was strongly Christian. Sam Harris went to Stanford which is a Christian university. You were raised in a Southern Baptist home. Your notion of being a “humanist,” and the fundamental concept of human rights and the equality of all humans comes out of the American declaration of independence which is a Christian statement about holding “these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal”. Where do you think that came from? It came from the Bible, the New Testament book of Galatians, to be specific: “There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3.27).

    But, if you were a pure scientist, you would have to argue that the doctrine of basic human equality is nothing more than sentimental claptrap. Because, it is obvious that some people are born with higher I.Q’s than others. Men are physically stronger than women (in general). Some people are born into higher social circumstances than others. You would have to argue that it is absurd to hold the philosophy that all men are created equal. In the first place, you wouldn’t hold that they are created at all. They what? Evolved? From what? Essentially nothing. Because the universe just ultimately appeared out of nowhere. So, we are the product of nothing. And “nothing” or the product of “nothing” can have NO super-imposed “higher” values. (“Nothing” can never be higher than “nothing”. If you claim you or we are “something,” why? Just because I think doesn’t prove I am. Or, that I am more than nothing). It CAN have SHARED values, but absolutely none of those values can be judged as better or worse than any others. They can only be AGREED values or IMPOSED values, imposed by the will of the strong class.

    So, if you had been raised in India, for instance, your atheism would at least more accurately reflect the realities of evolution. Because the Indians believe that all men are unequal which is why they developed the caste system. In India, they belong to a life-long social class. Why? They can’t help it. They were “born that way,” to quote Lady Gaga.

    But your atheism and that of the neo-atheists (as I call them) reflects the ethical teachings of the Bible in general and the New Testament in particular, because that is how you and they were raised. Your ethics are certainly not based on the Bagavat Gita. Nor are they truly evolutionary, because evolution has absolutely no ethics. All science is amoral. The atom doesn’t care whether a good person or a bad person splits it or whether you use its power for electricity or to blow the world to smithereens. So, if you are a true scientist, a pure scientist and evolutionist, you cannot also be a humanist. For, their is no scientific basis for such a philosophy. It is totally Christian which is why it was British Christian missionaries converting and civilizing Africans and how it was that British citizen and atheist, Richard Dawkins, came to be born in Kenya. (By the way, it was also the reason that Louis Leaky, the British paleontologist and pioneer in evolution, came to be born in the highlands north of Nairobi, Kenya: his parents were British Christian missionaries. Leaky’s first childhood home was a hut with earthen floors because his parents were busy educating and converting the natives to Christianity).

    So, as a scientist, it is a logical oxymoron for you to claim that your morals are better than Jesus’ or God’s. (Which, by the way, is an unfounded claim). Science is amoral. I admire and respect your attempt to create a new moral system, but I am afraid it is destined to flounder. After all, it is hard to imagine anyone paying much attention to a sermon that goes: “You need to stop your lying, cheating, stealing, and beating up on people because E=mc2!”. Or: “Slavery is wrong because all the angles of a right triangle are equal to each other”.

    So, yes, I believe God revealed himself to a downtrodden desert people. But, they certainly weren’t illiterate, as you suggest. After all, the Bible is pretty powerful literature, and they wrote it. (With their own unique alphabet, by the way.) It’s just that God often shows up to talk to the meek and lowly instead of the powerful and erudite. In the process, he shows that all men (and women) are created equal, in spite of all the scientific evidence to the contrary.

    • Man Carson, every time I think I have the idea all wrapped up in a nice bow, you cause me to think about it even harder. This dialogue has been so rewarding. I’ll just briefly respond to each of your points, but I will leave further in-depth explanations of my thesis and philosophy for the next few blog posts.

      Yep, apparently there ARE Christian Atheists, which I find incredibly perplexing. If you are calling me a Christian atheist because my world view was shaped by the Christian faith in my early years, then fine. But I will never call my self that or identify in any way with Christianity, because I have rejected the morality of it. I guess by your definition, someone born in an Atheist household who later becomes a Christian would be an Atheist Christian. Or someone born and raised as a Muslim who later becomes Buddhist would be a Muslim Buddhist, even if they rejected most or all of the tenets of Islam. I don’t know if that’s a helpful classification, but okay.

      Humanism does not come from the Declaration of Independence, but rather the term gained popularity in Germany and France in the 1800s to identify a philosophy developed from ideas of the Italian Renaissance and the French Revolution, which championed that human virtue could best be derived through reason and knowledge and not from religion or supernatural deity. The notion that “all men are created equal” is NOT championed in the Bible. It may say that, but then it clearly regards women, slaves, and non-Jews and non-Christians as being less than equal. Hmmm. Do you see why I reject it? Sure, Jesus preached things like “love thy neighbor.” That’s great. That made me want to to good things. But then Jesus also preached that if you are not saved, you go to Hell. I cannot endorse that idea and many, many other ideas that the Bible teaches, and therefore I reject the whole thing as an all-encompassing guide to life. I have 4 different translations of the Holy Bible, and I read them frequently and have gained much knowledge and insight from them (and yes, even good lessons on morality), but never would I hand a Bible to someone seeking the truth and say “Here. This is all you need.” That would be preposterous, but that is exactly what many Christians are telling people.

      And you are right, I DO regard the notion that “everyone is equal” as “sentimental claptrap” as you said. People are not all born equal in ability, opportunity, knowledge, or morality, and they were not created that way, but evolved along their own lineages. I will be addressing what we evolved from and how in an upcoming post. I do believe, however, that all people should be given equal opportunity to thrive for themselves. Part of that is being able to think for yourself, which the Christian faith generally looks down upon (again, I’m not talking about you but the general population) and the Muslim faith kills for it. I also believe that morality, as you said, CAN be agreed upon, but I would never endorse it being imposed from above, whether from a class system, government or Heaven.

      The building blocks of my morality are built from pieces of the examples around me and insights that I have come up with on my own. You are right, evolution itself contains no morality. It is just the result of what molecules do. But there is ample evidence in history, biology, and archeology that our human notion of morality has been evolving over time. The brain systems that are responsible for conceptualizing morality developed as a result of natural selection (because they allow social animals to cooperate in groups and therefore survive to pass on these genes), and the details and framework of the moral systems themselves are the products of cultural evolution (our shared ideas that are passed down orally and in written history, which is independent of biological evolution).

      I have no problem saying that, if Jesus and Yahweh are real, and if they actually did and said the things the Bible reports, then yes, I have better morals than them and so do most civilized people. I would never kill or condone the killing of people who do not believe in what I say. I would never claim to be the son of God and the key to salvation. I would never claim that I have the ultimate answer to life and existence. I would never tell people to abandon their families because the end of the world is coming. I would never test someone’s allegiance to me by asking them to kill their own child or other people’s children. I do not see women as inferior to men, nor do I endorse slavery. I am not a fan of genital mutilation. I would never kill in the name of a God. All of these atrocities are performed or endorsed by either Jesus or God in the Bible. Cherry-pick the moral statements out if you want, but the fact is it was written by men who were less morally evolved than we are today, who were they themselves more morally evolved than the previous generations before them. (And to address your other point, the literacy rate at the time of Jesus is estimated to be less than 3%–the odds are that Jesus himself, if he existed, may have been illiterate). I hope that future generations, if they survive, will be more morally advanced than me or anyone else alive today. I’m just trying to help the whole process along as much as I can during my lifetime here, before it’s too late and we blow ourselves up.

      Finally, although I appreciate the humor in your illustration of ‘morality equals E=mc2′, I DO believe that science can help us answer moral questions, as I pointed out with Sam Harris’ quote in this blog post, but I don’t think science, or even reason itself, should be considered the final authority on what we should be doing here. More on that later, including my criticisms of both science and reason, I promise.

      Thank you so much for your wonderful and engaging thoughts on my thoughts. Thinking and debating is fun!

      ~Chris

  12. Oh god by any other name …. save us from our own ignorance and the hell that we enter from our own mental processing. …….

    • Amen, Lois! Although I would amend that statement by saying, “Oh Humanity, save yourselves from your own ignorance and the hell that you enter from your own mental processing.” I speak at length about this in my next post on Good and Evil. Thanks for reading.

  13. Chris,

    Thanks for responding. I don’t have time right now to address everything (nor do I presume that I should, so thank you letting invade your blog. Yes, I find it stimulating as well). Just a couple of things:

    First:

    There a couple of words you use that are fraught with meaning: “believe” and “should”. To quote, you wrote, “I believe . . . that all people should be given equal opportunity to thrive for themselves”.

    Why do you believe this? What caused you to believe this? Who taught you to believe this? Why is believing this important to you? Why do you want others to believe this? What is your scientific basis for believing this? You have challenged religious believers because their beliefs are not scientifically based. Science it is not scientifically based, how is this belief of yours any different than theirs? How is having a God tell them so any different than you making yourself your own god who creates your own set of “shoulds” or “commandments,” as it were?

    Second:

    Your ideas seem to be coming out of conjecture rather than research. First, you stated that the ancient Hebrews were illiterate, which they were not. They were taught to read almost universally. Second, you speculate that Jesus was illiterate if he existed at all. Few scholars seriously doubt that he existed. Furthermore as to his illiteracy, just one passage from the New Testament:

        16  And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up; and he went to the synagogue, as his custom was, on the sabbath day. And he stood up to read; 17  and there was given to him the book of the prophet Isaiah. He opened the book and found the place where it was written, 
        18  “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, 19  to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” 20  And he closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant, and sat down; (Luke 4.16-20).

    You can’t be illiterate and also able to read. It’s an oxymoron.

    • Carson, you are absolutely correct in calling me out for using words like “believe” and “should” without providing scientific evidence. I could end every sentence with “but that’s just my opinion”, but that would get repetitive and I believe I have stated many times that I could be wrong and I invite any better ideas to be presented. I would never make “commandments” that could not be broken. My “shoulds” are suggestions, but I think they are solid ones.

      As for the whole of my argument, all I can ask is that you please be patient. This is a blog, after all, and not a scientific paper. I feel like I have been typing my fingers off, taking the course of 2 or 3 months to present my ideas and to research each and every post and response to everyone’s comments, edit and re-edit them, and provide links so that you and anyone else can study further on your own. You and other Christians have the benefit of having your ideas spelled out for you. All you are required to use for proof is “The Bible,” or “faith” or “God did it.” How convenient and nice for all of you. I think that I have made it perfectly clear that I do not find that acceptable, and I have given my scientific basis for why not. I will be spelling out my arguments for why I believe what I believe and what I believe the world should be working on and how science and other aspects of human nature can be used to justify these beliefs for the betterment and survival of mankind. I’m sorry but that takes a while. Please keep commenting, but please be patient. It’s all coming, I promise. I would not have started this risky endeavor without a light at the end of the tunnel.

      As to your comments about Hebrew literacy, I provide the following links to scientific discussions:

      http://faculty.biu.ac.il/~barilm/illitera.html

      http://studentreader.com/literacy-in-ancient-israel/

      And here, some links discussing the existence of a historical Jesus (for the record, I believe that he probably did exist, but he was not the figure that 99.9% of Christians believe):

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historical_Jesus#Denial_of_a_Historical_Jesus

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesus_myth_theory

      Either way, even if he existed, and even if he could read, that does not prove that Jesus was the son of God or a good moral example to follow.

      But my point was that I find it funny that God chose a primitive and, I contend, mostly illiterate people like Moses and the Israelites, or even the people of Jesus’s time, who wrote the gospels years after his death, to write down his words, when there were far more advanced societies around the world at the time that He could have chosen to reveal himself to. I understand your argument for why God might have chosen such a humble people. My argument is that he did not, but that the primitive people of Israel invented a primitive god and wrote about this imaginary figure in primitive books that have no business dictating affairs of the 21st century.

  14. Chris,

    I apologize if I have seemed impatient with you. Yours is really the only blog I have ever read and perhaps I am unfamiliar with their purpose. I have only been responding to your invitation which you issued often in your posts and which I will cut and paste as follows:

    “If you still find fault with my claims, then please, leave a comment and let’s figure this out together. After all, I could be wrong. Could you?”

    So, I took you at your word.

    I certainly can be wrong. But as far as having my ideas spelled out for me, I take offense at that for I have done a great deal of thinking about these things. I have even gone through a long period when I embraced atheism. In the process of returning to faith, I have rejected much of the literalistic and simplistic assertions of the type you seem to be opposing. It has been a long, hard personal journey because it was taken in the context of being inside the church, not out, and while a leader of the church, as difficult as that may be to believe.

    I had thought of sharing some of this at length in response to one of your next blogs, but I’m not sure how I would address it. Besides, your blog is about your journey, not mine. So, I will not.

    But, Chris, I can see that you have been typing your fingers off because you have done an amazing lot of thinking about these things. And I admire it. I admire your thinking and your willingness to share it openly. I admire your bravery.

    It’s just that, in the process, you have thrown out a torrent of challenges to people of faith and asked them to respond to your challenges. In particular, you have ridiculed God, Jesus, the Bible and its stories, the people who brought us the Bible, the ignorant people who “have their ideas spelled out for them” . . . the list goes on and on. But, you haven’t ridiculed Mohammad, Allah, the Koran, Krishna, Brahma, Shiva, the Bhavadh Gita, Buddha, Zoroaster, Confuscius, the Emperor of Japan, Centeotl, Inti, Quetzalcoatl, Musikavanhu, Dinclinsin, or the Rastafarians or a myriad of other deities, holy books, or religions.

    That’s one of the many reasons I termed you a “Christian” atheist because you are out of that milieu and your main argument (and I want to say anger) seems to be with Yahweh, His Book, His Son and his followers.

    I know your blog isn’t a scientific paper. Rather, you dart back and forth between personal beliefs, opinion, moral certitude, and then back into the hiding shadows of science, drawing first upon one then the other seemingly as it suits your prejudiced (predetermined) system. This prejudice is exposed by one of your comments from a later blog, and I paraphrase: “If God and Jesus are real, I want to have nothing to do with them”. This is not the stance of a scientist (to reject the reality of any provable thing), but of a religionist who has chosen a particular religious stance relative to a theological viewpoint which is sometimes called idolatry. That is: “If God exists I want a different one . . . or none at all. I choose to go my own way, regardless of the evidence or repercussions, whatever they may be.”

    I just wanted to engage your challenge with an alternative Christian view that neither rejects science nor blithely dismisses God and sends him back to his room.

    But I will desist if you prefer.

    • Carson and Lois, thank you for your thoughtful posts. I apologize for reacting so harshly. I think I did something unscientific and let my emotions get out of hand. This blog is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, and I’m feeling pressure from a lot of angles. Instead of whining, I will just regroup, and respond calmly to each comment. Please keep them coming. You all are helping me grow during this process. I admit that I put out the challenge, so it is my responsibility to deliver. Thank you so much for participating in this endeavor with me.

    • Carson, thank you so much for sharing a bit of your personal story. Yours is truly inspiring. It goes to show that we are all struggling with the same issues, and I hope that goes to show that we really are all the same and have no reason to hurt or be mean to each other (damn I sound like a hippie–I’m really not). The fact that you and I have been able to have such a civilized dialogue shows that there may be hope for humanity yet. And I also recognize that you and I are in the same business of helping people to live happy, moral lives. In most ways, we are on the same team. In some ways, like with God, I carry a totally different banner. But we’re all on the path together, fightin’ for The Cause.

      I do apologize for causing offense. I do know for a fact that you have done years of thinking about these hard issues among the best scholars of our time on these subjects, yourself being one of them. But the fact remains that many, many, many people in this world and in this country especially, do not think any further than “the Bible is the Truth.” or “Faith is better than reason.” or “God hates homosexuals.” I am speaking to them also.

      As to my criticisms of other religions and philosophies, I stated in my previous posts that I am pointing out the flaws of Christianity and the Bible because they are the most popular religion and holy book in the world at the current moment. That means I am reaching the biggest group with my blog. But I have also said in my blog that I believe that ALL religions, that is, all world-views that involve a belief in a deity or the supernatural, are wrong and therefore harmful to the betterment of society. I do believe that parts of the philosophies of certain religions can be useful even in modern times, especially some of the Eastern philosophies that I will be discussing soon. I also said in one post that I will most likely take the time to critique each of the most popular religions and philosophies in separate posts after this initial series of 21 is concluded. And for the record, I have had a fairly wide variety of experience with religion and philosophy, and at different times in my life I have called myself Southern Baptist, Baptist, Methodist, Nondenominational Christian, Buddhist, Taoist, New Age, Wiccan, Pagan, Agnostic, Atheist, and Humanist. I have rejected all but the latter in light of the evidence. I feel solid about my belief system now, but I’m always open to change.

      I admit that I have a prejudice, as does every single human alive, towards the beliefs that we already hold. That is how the human brain evolved, to pick out that which confirms our beliefs. This adaptation helped us to survive and plan. Scientists always consider and discuss this “confirmation bias” to make sure it is absent or neutral as much as possible in the research. This is a valid criticism of science, though I don’t believe that it is enough to condemn the whole system, or replace it with religion.

      And finally, you are right about the way I skip around between narrative, opinion, science, quotations, and perhaps poetic nonsense. And you have picked up on the fact that I have a slight flare for dramatic language. I use all of these things to present my arguments, because language can stir emotion and imagination, and both of those things are important to finding truth, in my opinion. When I said that if god is real, I don’t want anything to do with him, I was not at all suggesting that there might be a god. It is possible, because we can’t truly know, just like we can’t truly know if there is a flying spaghetti monster who created the Universe, but I highly doubt that there is, in fact, a god, or a flying spaghetti monster, based on the available evidence. I was trying to convey a strong emotion, that I detest the idea of such a god that even if he were real I would reject him. That makes people realize the power of my convictions. I’m not playing back and forth with fact and fantasy as you seem to suggest.

      That’s what blogs are all about, communicating information in an engaging, thoughtful and entertaining way and I am honored that mine is one of your first to follow. But I do take lots of time and effort to try to include links to provide readers an easy way to explore the actual scientific data and other opinions on your own. And I do hope that people are clicking on the links and videos. They’re pretty important to my argument and I try not to waste your time with anything pointless.

      Thank you so much for contributing your unique viewpoints to my conversation,

      ~Chris

  15. thank you for trusting our motives toward you
    xoxo

  16. Yes.

  17. Chris,

    Appreciate your openness and candor. Just one small thought.

    One who has a strong conviction for or against an unproven concept and actively promulgates such conviction as you have, has joined the ranks of the fanatical religious (conviction=belief=faith + evangelical zeal) and has abandoned his claim of objectivity which being a self-proclaimed scientist would require.

    • Thank you, Carson. As I said to Lois, I reject that I am a fanatic on the basis that I do not look at the issues uncritically. In fact, my entire argument has been that most religious people- the extremists, the moderates, the fundamentals, and those who are just floating along with the crowd- do not look at their own ideas critically as people like Lois and yourself have, in fact, done. I wish more people who believed in Christianity or a Higher Power did as much thinking as the both of you. Conviction is a strong persuasion or belief. Faith is the belief in something without evidence or in the face of conflicting evidence. Again, this is something I maintain is a criticism of religion and not my ideas.

      It is hard to maintain complete objectivity, because I DO have an objective. Again, this isn’t a scientific study. It is an argument based on scientific study and reason and logic and emotion and experience. I also admit that I have bias and prejudice, but I think that I have made a strong case for my ideas nonetheless. That is up for each reader to decide on their own. But you’re right, I am somewhat of an evangelist and a preacher, and am trying to spread my ideas in the hopes that others will investigate and adopt them as well.

  18. thank you Carson

  19. again …. the dictionary offering for the word fanatic ……
    “a false fire of an overheated mind” (William Cowper)

    • Again, the most common definition I could find was “Fanaticism is a belief or behavior involving uncritical zeal, particularly for an extreme religious or political cause or in some cases sports, or with an obsessive enthusiasm for a pastime or hobby.” If you are insinuating that I am a fanatic (please tell me if that’s not what you meant), then I would reject that based on the “uncritical” part. I have critically looked at the evidence and arguments for and against the ideas I have presented, and I simply stand behind my findings. I suppose I could agree with “obsessive enthusiasm” for this particular hobby of blogging. I do blog quite frequently and I spend long hours thinking about these things.

  20. Chris,

    You have given us a excellent forum for discussion.

    I gave you my intended meaning of “fanatical”: “evangelical zeal”. Lois gave you her definition. Interesting that you seized on that one word, then gave us your definition of it, then proceeded to argue with your own definition. That’s like the dog with a bone growling at his own reflection in a mirror. I meant it in its most benign definition: “singleminded zeal” and certainly not an attack on you or your critical thinking. And my intentions are only for the best for you.

    I was merely trying to cut down on my verbiage by writing the concluding statement to a complex syllogism (if there is such a thing) as a way of opposing an argument from Richard Dawkins and the evolutionary psychologists that you have adopted as your own. Theirs is a particular type of fallacious argument called an “Argument from Cause”. It’s like saying “All cats die; Socrates died; therefore, Socrates was a cat.” Dawkins’ goes like this: “Humans are evolved beings. Humans have a moral conscience. Therefore, morality is the result of evolution”. This is a false argument. One could easily say: “Humans are evolved. The vast majority of humans believe in some kind of god. Therefore, religion is the result of evolution”.

    Really! We have no idea how morality came about. Absolutely, no idea. It may have been evolution, but it could have been any one of several reasons. We can imagine it:

    George, the ape sees his reflection in the pool. He thinks, “That’s me! I Am! I’m alive! But, I’m starting to feel a bit strange running around naked and all. Especially around the girls. It’s embarrassing”.

    Later, the female apes are gathered and talking as George passes by. Vonda says, “That George! Isn’t he cute? But, he’s such a showoff, walking around on his hind legs all the time! And, what does he think he’s hiding behind that silly-looking fig leaf?”

    We don’t know how morality got started.

    Dawkins has based his conclusion on conjecture, not fact. It is a kind of faith that he has used to attack people who have theological faith. That makes his argument a religious one and not scientific. No scientist would make an attack based on supposition. That’s the reason I said that you have entered the ranks of the religious; even though it has a veneer of science and is atheistic, a faith-based attack on another person’s religious faith is a religious conflict. There is no difference IN KIND between a Humanist’s unfounded belief in the origins of morality than a Creationist’s. Either one is based on faith of a type.

    Your response as to the purpose of your blog is exactly why I find Humanism to be a faulty philosophy. Its ground of authority is a shifting sand of whatever the Humanist wants it to be: science, opinion, emotion, whatever is the latest moral fad, etc. There are no absolutes. There can be none. It is whatever one wants it to be. And challenging it is like trying to grab hold of a soapy balloon. It changes the rules based on the challenge. It makes true debate impossible.

    • Carson,

      Thank you again, for joining in this forum. If it is excellent it is also due to your invaluable contributions to the conversation.

      Here’s why I made a big deal out of the word fanatical. Many people will be quick to dismiss someone that has been accused of being fanatical. The word has a dark history of being coupled with politics and religion to mean unreasonable, bigoted, extremist and even violent. But I do appreciate your intentions, and I see where you’re coming from.

      Actually, I do believe that religion is the “result” of evolution, because the human brain is the result of evolution, and religion is a concept created in the brain. I don’t necessarily think that there is a direct evolutionary cause for religion. Religion was just one way we figured out to describe how the world works. We had the need to explain this because of our developing brain.

      I agree with you that the idea of evolutionary morality is highly contested. I actually believe that our morals came from a combination of evolution through natural selection AND the development of societies and culture, the tenants of which are learned rather than instinctual. But the evidence is not all conjecture. It’s pretty simple: we have morals and other animals have morals. Animals that we share a direct common ancestor with have morals, and more “primitive” animals that exist today have rudimentary morals. It makes sense that there would be be some genetics involved in that. But even if we don’t yet understand all of the details about how morality came about (this is a fairly new branch of science), that does not prove that morals come from a higher power. There is plenty of evidence to the contrary, even if we are still sorting the evidence out.

      So again, faith being the belief in something without evidence, I don’t think it’s fair to call the work of people like Dawkins or even myself based on “faith.” Scientists may make educated guesses based on research until further observations prove otherwise, but that is not faith. If you want to call it faith, that’s fine. I just want to be clear about the definitions.

      As to the nature of my blog and Humanism in general, of course it shifts between science and emotion and opinion. Any philosophy in the world does this. These are the tools which are available to humans to discuss and investigate how the world works. There is no science experiment that can be designed to tell me whether there is a God or not. However, there is no evidence that God exists. There IS ample evidence for alternate theories that explain all of the attributes that the religious ascribe to God. But this is a highly emotional topic. We all use opinion and emotion to discuss these difficult concepts. That’s all part of the human experience.

      And you are correct that I don’t believe in Absolutes when it come to morality. However, I do not follow the “latest moral fad.” I fact, I find many of the morals that people have today incredibly destructive. As for my arguments, I see the morality that we are both striving for itself as the “soapy balloon” that defies easy explanation and at times eludes our grasp. I say we both keep trying to catch it.

      Cheers.

  21. Chris,

    I’m curious about morality among primates and other more rudimentary morality among other animals. I have never considered that animals have morals. That doesn’t seem right for some reason. But, that’s an intuitive reaction on my part.

    Do you think that animals are also religious? Do they believe in God? Do they pray or worship? They don’t apparently congregate for collective worship. But, how would we know?

    I also have a problem with primitivism relative to the theory of evolution. We know that civilizations have been around for a long time. Examples are Egypt, Sumer, Greece, Mayans, Aztecs, and more. Yet primitive cultures abounded and still abound throughout those periods and ’til now.

    They don’t appear to have evolved much at all. I don’t see the same disparity among the cultures or species of animals. It seems that evolution has been far more capricious and uneven with the human species than with any other species.

    This is one of the problems I have with the concept of stand-alone evolution, that is, without God. It’s that human consciousness is so far advanced beyond animals and so easily devolved and so spiritual and so easily superstitious (witness all the vampire and science fiction movies with disembodied spirits and so forth all the way into in the 21st century), that I can’t believe it is the product of cosmic dice-rolling.

    Thanks for your response.

    • Sweet! Now we are getting down into the nitty-gritty of some of the most difficult questions that some of the most intelligent (much more than me) humans in the world are discussing. This is very heady stuff. To answer your excellent questions:

      Nature is full of examples of other species practicing varying degrees of altruism, empathy, chastity, fairness, judgement, disgust and social class etiquette. We see this behavior in all kinds of social animals, including insect colonies, canine and feline packs, ungulate herds, sea mammals, bird flocks, and with the highest complexity, primates.

      I do not believe that any other species has yet developed religion, simply because that would entail advanced language and a highly-developed “theory of mind.” Perhaps the future descendants of today’s chimps or dolphins will be the next species in a few hundred thousand years to become a tribal religious society. But we’ll never know if we kill them all, will we?

      Societies evolve in a simliar way to how species evolve. You have one society that then separates into two distinct societies, either by geography, natural disaster, or conflict. Each of these societies has characteristics of the original, but then each develops independently according to the factors in their respective environments. Some cultures don’t evolve very much over thousands of years because nothing much changes or they become very well suited to their environment. This occurs in nature with biological evolution. Bacteria are extremely primitive, but still exist with the same basic forms and functions because that’s what works for them. Crocodiles and alligators haven’t changed much since the time of the dinosaurs. They are extremely suited to their habitat, which traditionally hasn’t changed much, and remain near the top of the food chain. In humans, some societies underwent drastic changes due to major discoveries and developments, including monotheism, metal-working, fossil fuels, and electricity, while others, like the remote tribal cultures that still exist today, did not.

      Humans changed so quickly evolution-wise in comparison to chimps, for example, because we left the trees and moved into the savannah. This new environment then influenced natural selection in totally new ways, with entirely new environmental factors affecting the survival of random mutations of genes. Certain factors led to the increase in the size of our brain, which allowed us to learn cause and effect and to create tools. Once we discovered fire and then created agricultural societies, we had lots more free time to ponder. We figured out that everything has a cause, and we saw humans creating tools, so it was only natural that we asked what caused the world and us, and then attributed our existence to a “creator”. With this primitive brain we could figure out basic causes and effects, but most of the world remained mysterious, and thus, full of superstition. Some of that superstition still lives on today, I think in part because it is in our deepest instincts to fear the dark and protect ourselves from the unknown. As the unknown becomes more knowable through science and experience, I hope to see such superstitions, including religion, decrease.

  22. If religion and belief in God is the result of higher evolutionary theory of mind, why try to rid the world of it? Wouldn’t that be an attempt to reverse evolution and rather pointless and impossible?

    • That is a fascinating question. For readers who may not know, “theory of mind” is the ability to attribute mental states— beliefs, intents, desires, pretending, knowledge, etc.— to oneself and others and to understand that others have beliefs, desires and intentions that are different from one’s own. As primitive humans evolved a developing theory of mind and concurrently, language, we were able understand and relate with each other in brand new ways, which led to the development of primitive societies. In this early phase, we would look at events or objects that we couldn’t yet explain, and we would interpret things like mountains, the moon, sun and stars as having a “mind” to describe their behavior. These were our first gods. We developed superstitions in order to appease and win favor with our gods, and these ideas became our first religions. We can now explain nearly all of the phenomena that we have historically attributed to God.

      Just to be clear, evolution didn’t design a theory of mind or anything else. Evolution happens, and the characteristics most suited to the environment survive. As far as we can tell, there is no evolutionary ladder towards some predetermined design. We simply grew bigger brains, and that helped us figure out that other humans have minds and think independently from us. This leap in thought caused us to invent religion. Later, we developed science, which, one could say, is the result of an even more advanced theory of mind. This is not the reversal of evolution. It is the forward- moving development of our thought processes and our ability to explain the world around us.

  23. Yes, and I think here is the crux of the matter. Religion is merely the human attempt to obtain or maintain contact with a spiritual reality. Since this is apparently unique to human beings and seems to coexist with humans’ theory of mind, one could argue that they are inseparable. But, it doesn’t mean that any and every religion has its proper object any more than our hunger for food causes us to eat the best or most appropriate food or that our ability to think causes us to draw the best conclusions.

    I would posit that science is not the height of human evolution, but the ability to be religious is. Science makes logical sense: to trust the existence you can see. This is what science is and does. It draws conclusions from observing what it can observe. It utilizes knowledge gained from its observations to change the nature of reality.

    Religion, on the other hand, is the human mind grasping and seeking for “otherness” or “meaning in connection with otherness”. This seeking can be, and often is, misdirected. This happens, for example, when idolatry or spiritism looks for spiritual reality in a rock or other physical object. But, the ability to conceive of a totally other Being, one who is above and beyond anything observable and who is the guiding mind of all things, this would seem to be of the highest order that the theory of mind could comprehend. This is the concept of God that Rudolf Otto (1869-1937) described as the Wholly Other. And, it was what Plato described as the Logos, the All-encompassing Mind.

    This ability to “think beyond” and to conceive of that which is incomprehensible yet personal is of a far higher order of being than the ability to observe and measure and reason from conclusions drawn from that which can be seen.

    • I don’t think that humans have a need for religion. I do think that humans have a need for spirituality, the kind you spoke of when you mentioned “the human mind grasping and seeking for ‘otherness’ or ‘meaning in connection with otherness.’” I will be writing about an alternative view of spirituality and finding meaning in life in an upcoming post.

      I don’t believe in a being who is above and beyond the observable. I agree that if such a being did exist, He would be beyond comprehension, because why would a god use up nearly 14 billion years forming galaxies, suns and planets, in an incredibly violent, destructive and inefficient system, waiting for billions of years while millions of other species evolved and became extinct, only to have humans, the supposed “purpose” of all this mess, go through millions of years of evolution at the very end of this time scale, dying horrible deaths and never understanding why, before we could ever comprehend the God that supposedly loves us so much. Meanwhile, God designed it so that all of the other animals that apparently don’t have a connection with Him still have to live and suffer painful lives and horrible deaths for no purpose other than to exist for us. And if God exists and lives within each one of us, what’s up with the big mystery? Why can he not be more explicit about what’s going on here? Why did he design our lives to be painful and our deaths to be horrible? Why does He let horrible things happen if he can influence us? Why does he not upload a message to all of our brains simultaneously so we would all know He exists? Why didn’t he put a damn sign up explaining what’s going on here? Anything other than what He supposedly has done would have been helpful. Alas, all we have heard is silence. Though I find it remarkable and starkly beautiful, if God did design the Universe, then He is incredibly cruel, and He did a piss-poor job in the design process if humans were the whole point.

      P.S. If my tone sounds angry, I am not. This is the truth quite calmly and plainly as I and many others see it.

  24. Again, exactly. The human need for spirituality as in the search for “meaning in connection with otherness” is a religious need. The word “religion” comes from a Latin word meaning “to be reconnected”. You really can’t separate the need for spirituality from religion, because they are one and the same. Your argument from suffering is the same one that started Gautama Buddha on his spiritual journey. It led him to seek enlightenment but without belief in a personal god or a divine creator god. Nevertheless, though largely atheistic, Buddhism is still a religion. Every search for meaning or search for spiritual understanding is, by nature, religious. Because it acknowledges that the human is more than body and mind; he (or she) is also a spirit, hence the need for the spiritual. From your own personal story about your earliest encounter with faith to your embracement of atheism to your current quest, it is clear that yours is still very much a religious journey. It is the search for the divine.

    • This is why we have to be careful with definitions. I like the idea of religion meaning “to be reconnected.” That fits perfectly with my philosophy of spirituality. I just dislike using the word religion because it suggests a formalized belief in and subjugation to a deity. Up to 33% of the population in general and 72% of Generation Y consider themselves to be “spiritual but not religious”, so I think it is an important distinction. Nonetheless, once again you and I are really striving for the same thing…a connection with the universe and a way to be at peace with our place in it. My way does not involve any higher power anywhere in any form whatsoever. I believe this is a better view than most current religions because it is far less destructive and divisive, and it also appears to be the truth.

  25. Of course, you know that I believe that God did put up a damned sign “that explains everything that’s going on here”. Damned indeed. And it goes to the heart of the problem of suffering. It also points the finger of judgment toward the problem of evil, its banality, and the horrors that it inflicts on the innocent. I will also say that it points the finger of shame toward God himself because there are many innocent who suffer unjustly with no rhyme or reason, as you might say. Even God recognizes the mess he made of things and the piss-poor job he did of communicating himself to us. He accepts your accusation and admits fault.

    And, the big damned sign he gave us says it all. It is the Cross. It is where God in the flesh suffered damnation as a propitiation not only for our evil but also for the failings of God himself. In so suffering on the Cross, we see God’s apology to Job who represents all the innocent humans and animals, and yes all creation itself for its unjust suffering.

    In the Cross we find that suffering cannot be avoided, but it is the ultimate source of our meaning. For, it is through suffering that growth and maturity take place. It was in the suffering of the Cross where our idea of God was transformed. From the harsh and isolated Old Testament deity, God became the Forgiving Father of the New Testament.

    You see? In the Cross we see God damned. But we also see him redeemed. Born again. Changed forever. And so are we.

    • That is truly beautiful Carson, and I have never heard it put quite that way. Unfortunately I cannot believe in a religion of human sacrifice, even though you make it sound so poetic and meaningful. Perhaps here is where you and I will have to agree to disagree.

  26. Thank you, Chris.

    I know it sounds like human sacrifice. But, it is no more human sacrifice than the 10,000 American soldiers whose bodies once lay washing on the shores of Normandy. Or Iwo Jima. Sometimes, in order to to save friend and family, a hero will willingly walk into the very jaws of death or hand himself over to an enemy.

    The Cross was a human cruelty, inflicted upon God out of anger, ignorance, and vindictiveness. It was Gentile and Jew–representing both the ignorant and the informed–who handed God the ultimate rejection.

    It was not human sacrifice but the sacrifice of humans–Cain killing Abel–because they could not abide God. They were hurt by God, so they chose to hurt him back. They put him to death. And he accepted it. Just as he accepts every rejection, and just as he accepts yours, in hopes that his death may bring life.

    Just as every headstone in Arlington National Cemetery represents the lifeblood of our nation given to redeem our freedom, so the Cross is the ultimate symbol of life given for redemption, both human and divine. It is good overcoming evil and good overcoming enmity. In the process, reconciliation is now possible.

    It is a huge mystery in the sense that it is incomprehensible and inexpressible to our rational mind but not our poetic mind. For, poetry is the language of God just as it is the language of music. It is the language of saying that which cannot be said.

    • I respect and honor all of the service men and women who have fought and sacrificed their lives for our freedom. I realize that they fought and died and continue to fight and die at this very moment so that I have the right to have my beliefs and the freedom to express them publicly. However, I’m working towards a day when that type of sacrifice is no longer necessary.

      I also I have the upmost respect for you personally and your right to believe what you choose to believe. I want that right for everyone in the world. However, I do not believe that God exists, or that Jesus died for our sins, or that believing in Jesus has any effect on what happens to anyone when they die. The evidence is just not there and the story just does not make sense.

      When a child comes to her parents because she is scared of monsters in her room, the parents take her into her room, check in the closet and under the bed and say, “See? There’s nothing here. And besides, there’s no such thing as monsters.” When the child asks whether or not the Disney fairy tales she watches are real, she is told “of course not, that’s just pretend.” What amazes me is that these same parents will, even in the next breath, tell the child that Jesus and God are both all around them, even though you can’t see them. Some of these unfortunate children are even told that one invisible monster does exist. His name is Satan and he makes you do bad things. If he gets your soul, he will burn and torture you in Hell for eternity, and even God will not come save you at that point. I was told this story on countless Sunday mornings from the time I was a toddler up until I left the church, and I have been reminded of this sick and twisted story many times by those who would convert me back to Christianity. Thank goodness this form of child abuse can be overcome in adulthood.

      I admire the poetic meaning that you are able to find in religion, and I am even able to appreciate these qualities myself. But I have left the idea of God behind unless the evidence changes. Again, this may be where you and I have to agree to disagree.

  27. I may have sounded sentimental in my last comment, but I truly believe that poetry is how God communicates. I have posted a comment on your next blog that explains this concept.

    Also I wasn’t intending to sound patriotic, nor warlike. I just wanted to make the observarion that the Cross was not ritual human sacrifice. Rather, it was a life given in the grandest of cosmic battles, that between good and evil.

    After reading your last comment, I realized that I haven’t thought much about Satan or hell lately. For me, Satan has become a symbol of the pervasiveness of evil and the nearness of evil in my own life. Hell is symbolic of the death that can never be overcome, the final rejection and separation from God and everything that is meaningful.

  28. PS. You mentioned the child and the Disney fairy tales and the parents answering the universal childhood question, “is it real”? The answer: “it’s just pretend” means that the parents haven’t thought through the meaning of “real”. The story of Cinderella, for instance may be a fable, but the reason children and first time adult viewers leave the theater with their hearts lifted and desiring to be better persons lies in the very truth that the story conveys: goodness and humility will eventually be rewarded; true beauty is what’s inside a person, not outside; the spirits of the universe (represented by the fairy godmother, the mice, the birds who are transformed into royal attendants) are on the side of the meek and lowly; even the good must obey the laws of God (be home by midnight), and more. I once asked someone whether Cinderella is a fairy tale and the answer was, “of course”. I then asked why people love it so. And, the answer came back, “because it’s so true”. And, so it is. Parables always convey truths that cannot be denied because they are intuitively confirmed by our hearts.

    • On the surface, it appears that you and I are in agreement: the stories of fairy tales are the same as or similar to stories about God. The difference appears to be that I see both stories as having been created in the minds of humans with no literal basis in reality, and you see them as having been created in the minds of humans through divine inspiration with a literal basis in reality. I don’t believe that stories about fairy god mothers or gods in heaven reveal some sort of actual truth that spirits or God exist. It can be incredibly rewarding and beneficial to use allegory, metaphor, poetry and narrative to communicate, but to me that doesn’t prove that God is real.

      • I don’t know if you’re still doing this at all, Chris, I’ve just followed a link here that someone posted on Facebook. Reading this article, and the ensuing comments from both you and Carson, has been an incredible experience. I won’t say it’s been life changing, it’s not so nearly melodramatic as that. It has very much so, though opened my eyes to a number of different ideas and two absolutely fascinating perspectives. Unfortunately, I don’t have anything to offer to the conversation, but I thought I’d let you know that reading all of this has been a nigh indescribable experience. Thank you for the opportunity, I’ve got some thinking and rereading to do!

      • Hey Eve, thank you so much for reading and taking the time to leave a comment. Your offering to the conversation was reading the words that I and others have written, and that is no less important of an offering than those of the authors. On top of that, your gratitude has made my day!

        I took a break from writing for a while, but I have found a renewed passion for it, and I have several upcoming posts planned that I am currently researching. My latest is about why God would allow suffering. If you have any questions or comments on this post or anything else, please feel free to join the conversation at any time. If you want to keep up with updates, you can subscribe to the blog or follow me on facebook or twitter.

        Thanks again, best of luck to you on your path, and have a great weekend,

        ~Chris

      • Hey Eve, thank you so much for taking the time to read my ramblings and for leaving such a warm comment. The blog posts don’t come as frequently as they used to, but I’m still writing. As a matter of fact, I just got back from an intense 10 day meditation retreat that is sure to spawn some new things to ponder and write about.

        Just knowing that you are out there and listening to your own inner voice as a result of something I wrote is a wonderful contribution to the conversation, and your comments, whether in agreement or disagreement, are always welcome, as well as any questions you might have. I am so indebted to Carson for having these conversations with me on this and my other posts. He is truly a kind and wise person, and I respect his opinions immensely, even when (and sometimes especially when) we disagree.

        I appreciate your kind words and wish you the best of luck on your journey of self discovery.

        Sincerely,

        Chris

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