Sunday, 29 May 2011

Jesus and the New Deal

Time and again, whenever you point out the immorality in the Old Testament, things like the command to kill disobedient children and to stone a raped woman if she didn’t scream loudly enough; sanctioning slavery, selling daughters, genocide, etc, you’ll be told that Jesus overturned all that. That Jesus brought with him a ‘new covenant’ or a new deal between Man and God.

You’ll be told this despite the very clear statement to the contrary:
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.
Well, let’s grant that this passage by Matthew was a mistake (and not just Jesus telling a little porky pie or something added later by some scribe or other to justify something else he was pushing at the time). Let’s grant that Jesus did come to abolish the OT laws and start over again with some new ones.

Basically, what we’re accepting now is that God realised there were so many mistakes in the Bible as it was then, that he needed to send someone to correct them all. Of course we need to suspend belief that an inerrant god wrote the Bible in the first place otherwise we would find it impossible to think there was anything in the Bible which needed correcting.

But let’s indulge our fantasy a little longer see where we get to.

We now have a situation where we ‘know’ Jesus came to overthrow, or at best to correct the Old Testament, because of all the mistakes in it. And we know this for certain because we can read about it in the Bible, which doesn’t have any mistakes in it...


Well, let’s ignore the obvious contradiction there and press on.

We also know that we need the salvation that Jesus offers us, in other words, we need to sign up to the New Deal, because it says in the Old Testament, which Jesus has overthrown (or corrected), that we are all sinners...

And we know this because it says so in the inerrant Bible, which Jesus has overthrown (or corrected)...

Forgive me if I started to go round in circles there trying to follow the circular logic...

Even some otherwise intelligent adults will tell you this with complete conviction and will even tell you you have gone wrong if you can’t see the good sense in it...


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Friday, 27 May 2011

The God of Personal Necessity

Words of Delusion
This is probably the second most popular religious fallacy and, like the God of the Gaps fallacy is accepted by very many otherwise intelligent people. Like the God of the Gaps fallacy it too is so ludicrous when spelled out that it's astonishing that it's even attempted, yet it crops up time and again in discussion with believers of all creeds.

It takes several forms but essentially the argument is always, there must be a god otherwise the consequences would be [something undesirable, unpleasant or otherwise unacceptable].

Some examples are:
  • There must be a god otherwise there would be no morality;
  • There must be a god otherwise there would be no purpose to my life;
  • There must be a god otherwise I would have nowhere to go when I die;
  • There must be a god otherwise I would not be so special that the universe was created for me;
  • There must be a god otherwise the explanation for everything would be too hard for me to understand;
  • There must be a god otherwise I would be just another animal and I’m too important for that;
  • There must be a god otherwise my invisible friend would not be real;
  • There must be a god otherwise I would just be talking to myself when I pray;
  • There must be a god otherwise my belief in it would be wrong. (This is often referred to as ‘faith’ – I believe it, therefore it must be true.)

There is always the unspoken subtext that this god is the locally popular god, or at the very least, the god I was told to believe in when I was a child. There is never any question that it might be a different one, even one no one has heard of.

And nor is there ever any consideration that things may indeed not be as the believer would like them to be. The idea that the universe may not be compliant and cosy is never considered

There is, of course, absolutely nothing at all in this argument unless it can be shown that somehow, personal necessity creates gods; that somehow gods are obliged to exist if and when believers require them to and these gods have exactly the right characteristics required by personal necessity.

The surprising thing is that this delusion often persists into adulthood and so allows believers to be duped by charlatans who earn a living partly by reassuring them that their god is indeed everything they need it to be. It’s probably the nice warm glow of self-affirmation which makes this such a persistent and attractive fallacy for both religious exploiters and their victims alike.

It's also one of the hardest fallacies to explain to a believer because so much of their persona is invested in this delusion. That their god fills their personal requirements so perfectly and completely is often the reason they subscribe to the 'faith' in the first place. To consider for one moment that their god might not conform to their requirements is to attack their entire reason to be deluded in the first place.

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Wednesday, 25 May 2011

God of The Gaps

Almost invariably, any discussion with Creationists or their thinly disguised fashionable version, Intelligent Design advocates, will revolve around their challenge to explain how something happened. Popular subjects are:
  • How could matter come from nothing
  • How could ‘life’ come from non-life
  • How could an eye evolve
  • Who created the law of gravity
  • Any other gap in understanding / knowledge / education

Ignoring for a moment the fact that all these questions have been addresses or are being address by science and are firmly within the domain of science, what’s going on here? What we have are various different versions of the God of the Gaps argument which seems to convince so many Creationists and even some intelligent Christians, Muslims or Jews. Creationists apparently find this utterly convincing, even citing the erroneous claim that these questions can’t be answered by science as their reason to believe in their god.

But... There are three huge and inescapable assumptions here, even if we allow that some questions have not been fully answered yet by science.
  1. Because science hasn’t explained something it never will be able to explain it.
  2. A natural explanation is impossible therefore the only possible explanation must be supernatural.
  3. Only the god in question could have caused it; no other god could possibly have done it, therefore it is proof of [insert whichever god you require].

Creationists chant this fallacy endlessly and triumphantly, assuming it trumps any argument science can put up, and very conscientiously ignore any information, arguments or reasoning which is offered, dismissing it with a shrug and usually just repeating the same questions over and over like some protective mantra.

A few moments thought with more than a faint inkling of history, will tell you that the history of the last 500 years has been one of headlong retreat of religion in the face of science, as the god of the gaps has been evicted from more and more gaps and has had to be constantly re-located and fitted into ever-shrinking and fewer and fewer gaps in human knowledge. So desperate has this process become that many charlatans now make a very good living inventing false gaps into which to fit their false god. The currently fashionable Intelligent Design movement is but one example of this.

So what’s going on here in the Creationist mind? How is the very clear, almost embarrassingly so, fallacy not seen through?

These same Creationists would readily admit that no medical or scientific advance was ever made by scientists who just accepted the gap in knowledge as proof of a god and gave up looking for an answer.

Clearly some proponents of ID/Creationism can see through this fallacy but are relying on the general ignorance of their target marks whom they are seeking to exploit with cynical dishonesty. These are usually easy to spot as they are normally keen to lure people to their websites where there are Creationist books or other materials for sale, or simply naked e-begging appeals for ‘support spreading the word of God’ or some such appeal to gullible people desperate to have their superstition validated.

However, very many Creationists are victims of these charlatans, so clearly they have rationalised holding a blatantly absurd position with respect to their religion whilst finding no problem at all with a holding the opposite view with respect to normal life. They could research the subject and look for the answer themselves. Many of the questions they raise have been fully answered and the answers are readily available in books or on the Internet. Most can be found with a few mouse-clicks on the same computer they are using to post their questions. Very obviously they do not want answers to the questions; it's as though the 'mystery' of the question is far too valuable an asset to spoil with information.

The answer of course, is wilful self-deception and delusion. Some people seem to have the capacity to trick themselves into holding absurd views with utter conviction. The origins of this are childhood gullibility reinforced by peer-pressure and phobia and the desire to fit in and be part of a group. It's as though an adult still believed in Santa or the Tooth Fairy.

Arrogant personal incredulity also plays a part - "I can't understand how that happened, therefore it can't have happened" - as also does the arrogantly parochial assumption, "I don't know how it happened, therefore no one does, therefore it is unknowable, therefore it must have been supernatural". This arrogance is itself reinforced by the equally arrogant assumption that ignorant superstition is a far better way to measure reality than all that learning and reason, so the victim of religion gets a spurious smug feeling of superiority which 'validates' his/her failure to bother learning in the first place.

Some people go further, into the realms of paranoia, and assume any answers science has to offer are part of some conspiracy or other organised by Atheists, Jews, Socialist, etc., or are based on false evidence planted by Satan. The fear of even doubting prevents them seeing the absurdity of their argument and, for them, the constant repetition of it in the presence of, and with the enthusiastic approval of, others with the same delusion, simply reinforces it, as indeed it’s intended to.

This is precisely why the charlatans who parasites these unfortunate victims work so hard to maintain their delusion and feed them this constant drip-feed of fallacies and misinformation to spout proudly to an incredulous public.

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Sunday, 22 May 2011

God The Sadist Almighty

If we are to believe the Old Testament, the God of the Jews, Christians and Moslems is inerrantly omniscient; it knows all things past, present and future. It knows absolutely, and in every last detail, everything about you and your future.

If you’re bound for Hellfire, as all Christians, Jews and Moslems believe many or most of us are, the Biblical god has always known this, for all time, way before it created you.

It created you in the sure and certain knowledge that you would end up being thrown into the fiery lake of Hellfire.

How then is this god any different to a man whose hobby is breeding kittens to throw them into a fire, or to pour petrol (gasoline) on them and throw a match onto them? (Tweet this)

If you knew of such a man in your street, what would be your opinion of him?

Would you tell your children to look to him for moral guidance? Would you feel safe in his presence? Would you build wonderful buildings to meet with other admirers and sing songs in his praise? Would you constantly praise him and tell him what a wonderful person he is?

Or would you notify the authorities, try to put a stop to his sick, sadistic activities and warn your children not to go near him or any of his friends or associates?

It would be astonishing if even the primitive Bronze Age tribal nomads whose traditional creation myths were eventually written in the earliest versions of the Bible, believed such a sadistic monster could be a source of morality. In all probability, they were not writing about a loving, moral god, but an object of fear which needed to be controlled with the protective spells, incantations and rituals which random chance had convinced them were the only way to control this capricious, unpredictable, dangerous monster who was about as controllable, predictable, and loving as any other volcano.

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Thursday, 19 May 2011

Is Religion a Phobia?

‘God-fearing’: a term used approvingly by Christians and no doubt by Jews and Moslems, as well as other monotheist traditions, to describe those of their religion who believe in their god and act according to its directions as revealed in their respective holy books or by the priests and prophets who represent it.

But what if we substitute the word ‘spider’ for god? What if we talk about spider-fearing people? How about closed spaces, or open spaces; about lifts or flying; about walking through doorways or using new technology?

Would we consider those who feared any of these things rational and worthy of special respect because of their fear, or would we maybe see their condition as a problem which they need help and support to overcome? Would we see it as something which they could, given time and the right treatment, eventually overcome and return to living a normal life?

What I’m talking about here is morbid phobia; irrational, life-changing fears. The sort of fear which becomes part of the sufferer’s identity and around which they, and their family, may have to fit their life and take special measures to accommodate.
A phobia is defined as an irrational and intense fear of a specific object or situation. Phobias are classified as anxiety disorders by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (4th Ed; DSM-IV)

So, how much of a religious person’s life is conditioned by God-fearing, or theophobia to give it it’s correct medical name? How much of a religious person time is spent thinking about their god, and how to avoid it hurting them? How much time is spent seeking its forgiveness or its approval for fear of the consequences of not doing so? How much time do they spend assuring it of their ‘love and obedience’ and otherwise trying to placate, reassure and mollify it?

The answer of course is a great deal of it. Their 'faith' often defines them as people. Asked to describe themselves, most fundamentalists will immediately identify with their religion. "I am a Christian/Moslem who...".

Unlike other phobia, where the response is avoidance and even fleeing the scene, with an omnipresent god this is not an option. The only recourse is to bargain and try to placate and curry favour with it. Watch the reaction of a seriously arachnophobic person to the suggestion that they come close and examine a harmless spider to see for them self there is nothing to worry about. Try talking to them about how a spider's eyes work, or how their silk is made. Now compare that to the reactions of a seriously devout religious fundamentalist when you ask them to examine a few simple questions about their god. Questions like, "Can it create an object so heavy it can’t lift it?", or "Can it create a Euclidean triangle whose internal angles don’t add up to 180 degrees?"

Forced to confront questions of this sort, many religious people can become extremely aggressive, often resorting to verbal abuse and threats, and frequently by avoidance techniques, and even casting protective spells in the form of quotes from their hand-book of ‘faith’ or by attempting to mollify their god by telling you they will ‘pray for you’; even calling on others to assist in this ritual. They clearly perceive these harmless questions as a serious threat much as an arachnophobe perceives a harmless Tegenaria or Araneus not as a thing of beauty but as an object of terror, and so show symptoms of irrational fear.

It’s my contention that much of the behaviour of religious people, especially fundamentalists, is the result not of faith, but of fear; the severity of symptoms being directly related to the degree of extremism of belief from moderate to fundamentalist.

I contend that religion is merely a phobia inculcated into people in childhood by parents and authority figures who suffer from it themselves and who are afraid to NOT infect their unfortunate children with it, just as some sufferers feel compelled to mutilate their children's genitalia. These children often grow up too afraid even to think of escaping from the phobia and so the cycle is repeated in the next generation.

Religious peoples’ irrational responses, irrational behaviour and irrational reasoning is a direct consequence of an irrational, morbidly paranoid phobia – theophobia. We should recognise religions for what they are and call them by their name.

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What Does Rapture Theology Say About Christians?

Why do some Christians crave for the 'Rapture'? What do they think it'll do for them?

And what does this tell us about their morality and their 'Christian love' for their fellow man?
  • The greatest event they can imagine is their god destroying all life on Earth, especially those humans who don't share their 'faith'.
  • They believe that they alone, of all the humans who have ever lived, and of all the human societies throughout history, have got it right; everyone else, without exception, got it wrong.
  • They believe they will be given a grandstand seat to watch everyone else suffering eternal agony, and that this will be a reward for being such good people.
  • They believe they are such good people that they deserve to have everything for themselves when all the 'undeserving' humans have been killed off.
  • They believe they alone are good enough to occupy an exalted place alongside their god whom they believe is creator and ruler of the entire Universe. No one else is, or has ever been, that special.
  • They know this because they have been told by someone else that it's true and despite the complete lack of any corroborating evidence. They believe it simply because they can't imagine NOT being that special.

They actually think that watching other people, and even their loved ones, suffering unimaginable horrors is a reward!

And these Christians condescend to lecture other people on matters of morality, ethics and love, and demand the right to meddle in our legislatures, our courts, our schools, our science, and in all aspects of our lives, including what we do in the privacy of our own homes...

[Later note] If any Christians feel they've been unfairly tarred with the same brush, perhaps they would explain why they don't believe in the Second Coming of Jesus.

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The Evolution of Gullibility.

Gullible: easily fooled or cheated ; especially: quick to believe something that is not true

Atheists are often quick to point out that religious people are usually religious because they were indoctrinated as children when they were young and gullible. They point to the strong association between geography and religious belief so that you can make a guess about the religion someone was brought up with based on where they were born. In some parts of the world, the Balkans and Northern Ireland for example, this often holds down to the level of the town or village or even the street or housing estate you were born in.

This of course strongly suggests that religious ‘faith’ isn’t something which most people arrive at through independent thought or through examination of the evidence; rather is suggests that they were given their beliefs by their parents, their peers and authority figures in their immediate culture. Any later justification for that belief in terms of presumed evidence or ‘personal experience’, or on the basis of ‘faith’ alone, is a post hoc rationalisation of pre-existing beliefs. For example, if someone has a ‘religious experience’ it is rare for them to interpret this as anything other than a manifestation in some form of the god they were brought up to believe in or in whom many or most of their friends and associates believe. It is rare for a ‘religious experience' to result in conversion to a ‘foreign’ religion. The same applies to so-called out-of-body experience where recalled memories recorded by a malfunctioning, usually anoxic, brain is often interpreted in terms of the locally popular religion.

They fuck you up your mum and dad
They don’t mean to but they do
They fill you with the faults they had
And add so new ones just for you.

Philip Larkin
Why are children so easily persuaded to believe things simply because they are told to, without requiring any evidence? Why do children believe in Santa?

The simple answer is that they are gullible. Gullibility in children is almost a universal trait. It would be rare indeed to find a child below the age of about ten who required solid evidence before believing anything his or her parents said. Children appear to be hard-wired to believe what their parents and other authority figures tell them.

So where did gullibility come from? We know it must have evolved and therefore there must have been a survival advantage to childhood gullibility. Why is gullibility in children an advantage when in adults it places them at a distinct disadvantage in life, prone to being easily fooled and cheated?

As with almost everything else about our evolution, we need to go back to our roots on the plains of East Africa as a relatively weak and defenceless ape and very much part of the food chain of predators like lions, leopards, crocodiles, snakes and even eagles.

As our brains developed so our children needed longer and longer to develop before being capable of independent existence, yet part of acquiring life skills in growing children involves curiosity. Human children have perhaps the longest childhood of any species. Curious children learn about their environments, where food can be found, which trees are easiest to climb, where shelter may be found, etc, etc, etc. Unfortunately, overly curious children are also at risk from predators.

Children who were told to avoid the water-hole where crocodiles live, or the places where pythons lurk and who believe what they were told, would have lived to pass their gullibility on to their children; those who wanted evidence and went to look for themselves would have been quickly removed from the gene pool.

And so we evolved childhood gullibility as a survival strategy. The downside to it is that it has made us susceptible to all manner of superstition, including religion. It has also made children vulnerable to depredation by paedophile priests who exploit this evolved gullibility and deference to authority figures for their own selfish gratification.

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