Sunday, April 4, 2010

Trying To Blog Against Theocracy

Image credit: Original image by Tengrain. Modified by Cujo359. (Anyone else wanting to use this image, be my guest.)

Many years ago, Monty Python put the idea of theocracy and ritualism in its place:

King Arthur: I am your king.
Woman: Well I didn't vote for you.
King Arthur: You don't vote for kings.
Woman: Well how'd you become king then?
[Angelic music plays... ]
King Arthur: The Lady of the Lake, her arm clad in the purest shimmering samite held aloft Excalibur from the bosom of the water, signifying by divine providence that I, Arthur, was to carry Excalibur. THAT is why I am your king.
Dennis: [interrupting] Listen, strange women lyin' in ponds distributin' swords is no basis for a system of government. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony.
Oh, but you can't expect to wield supreme executive power just because some watery tart threw a sword at you.
Oh but if I went 'round sayin' I was Emperor, just because some moistened bint lobbed a scimitar at me, they'd put me away.

IMDB Quotes: Monty Python And The Holy Grail

It's Blog Against Theocracy week, and it's really hard to think of something to write that I haven't already. That's because one of the rules is that you're not supposed to insult religion.

Yet that is sometimes rather hard to avoid.

Take, for instance this sign, and others like it that are being put up on billboards and buses at different times in different parts of the country:

This particular version was put up in late summer of last year on some buses in Des Moines, Iowa. It's nothing more than a declaration that there are people who don't believe in a god. It's not an insult in any sense that I can imagine. Yet the governor, who calls himself a progressive, and numerous others felt that this was a grievous insult. The local bus agency removed the ads while it considered the gravity of this declaration. One woman was so upset by this billboard that she risked her job rather than drive a bus that displayed one.

That's crazy. You would think that no one in his right mind would do more than chuckle or shrug his shoulders at such an ad, assuming he disagreed with it. Yet this sort of thing happens everywhere that ad appears. Here's what someone had to say when they appeared last year in Dallas, according to a local television station:

The Fort Worth billboard will be located within sight of Calvary Cathedral International church.

"They have a right to believe what they want to; this is America," said Michelle Cavero, who rejoined the church Sunday. "But why put it here and discourage others from their beliefs?"

Don't Believe in God? You're Not Alone

How does this discourage someone's belief? All it does is affirm someone else's.

Most religions require their adherents to believe some crazy things. Christians are supposed to believe that their religion's founder was tortured and killed in one of the worst ways imaginable, given the technology and medical knowledge of the time, so they could be forgiven for their sins. Huh? This makes absolutely no sense, no matter how you spin it. What makes sense, given what we know of the situation, is that Christ was crucified because people found him annoying and their leaders thought he was a troublemaker.

No doubt, he was insulting the religious beliefs of the time by declaring that he had his own.

All the major religions of America require belief in the idea that after you die you go to some other place. This is a place that no one can get to while they're alive, and no one can locate. You can only go there when you're dead, and thus, can't report back on what you've found. Yet there are millions of Americans who will tell you firmly that this place exists, and that you're a fool not to believe it.

That's crazy. People are comforted by the idea that they can go someplace after they die. No one likes to contemplate the end of his existence, and for some people this existence really is a lousy one. It's full of pain, disappointment, and loneliness. It would be nice if all that suffering were leading up to something. So people believe in something that their own experience, and any real learning they might have encountered along the way, should tell them is impossible. If that were the end of it, though, it wouldn't be so bad.

The problem is that people want to believe this so much that they'll believe any other mumbo-jumbo that goes along with it. They'll believe that utter nonsense like the Trinity is profound. They'll believe that the end times will be great for them, but not for you. They'll believe that the guy who runs their church is infallible. They'll believe it even though they should know better, and if they do know better, they'll pretend not to.

If I were to declare that Richard Dawkins was infallible, you'd say I was nuts. You'd be right, too. The difference between the Pope and Prof. Dawkins in this particular instance is that Dawkins would agree with you. This quote that I've published before illustrates that point fairly well:

Rivers of Medieval ink, not to mention blood, have been squandered over the 'mystery' of the Trinity, and in suppressing such heresies as the Arian heresy. Arius of Alexandria, in the fourth century AD, denied that Jesus was consubstantial (i.e., of the same substance or essence) of God. What on Earth could that possibly mean, you are probably asking? Substance? What 'substance'? What exactly do you mean by 'essence'? 'Very little' seems the only reasonable reply. Yet the controversy split Christendom down the middle for more than a century, Emperor Constantine order that all copies of Arius' book should be burned. Splitting Christendom by splitting hairs, such has been the way of theology.

The God Delusion - pg. 33

No one who is sane would kill someone else over something like this. Scientists, not to mention engineers, lawyers, politicians, and business people, have far more substantive disagreements daily, yet the most they'll usually do is not speak to each other for a while. Yet people will gladly kill others for their own shot at Heaven.

That's why people think you insult their religions because you have a different belief - you're making them question their own. The crazy lady from Dallas was right - it's cruel to make people like her think for themselves on this issue. Any hint of a rational discussion of their beliefs might lead them to question what they've been doing all their lives, and what might happen when their lives end. That this is a frightening thing should be obvious, particularly when you consider that the most popular question among people I've told I'm an atheist is "You mean, you think when you die, that's it?"

Which is why theocracy is so dangerous. People will believe all manner of nonsense if their religion calls for it. Calling out that nonsense, or believing in your own, is a dangerous thing to do. Making it a part of the country's laws would be disastrous.

I'm not a big student of religion. I never was. Yet, I know that Genesis is the first book of the Bible, which is more than half of America's Christians do. I can recite the Ten Commandments, which probably would put me in the 95th percentile among American Christians. In fact, I know that four of them, including the first, are about how the adherents of that group of religions are supposed to practice their religions. If you believe these Christians, however, we're supposed to plaster these commandments all over our public buildings to remind us what the foundation of our civilization is. Never mind that the foundation of our civilization's beliefs in the rights of man and freedom were first developed by the pagans of Greece and Rome, and that they were later expanded on by many non-believers during the Enlightenment. Their knowledge of history is a match for their knowledge of their own religions.

Leaving people in charge who believe that faith in whatever superstitions they happen to believe in is more important than knowledge and experience is no basis for a system of government.

If that insults your religious beliefs, tough.

UPDATE: I almost forgot - Happy Easter, or happy first Sunday after the first full moon in Spring, whichever applies.


Distributorcap said...

great post

you write:
That's because one of the rules is that you're not supposed to insult religion.

funny - many religions insult many people on a daily basis. the recent church scandals, westboro church and fred phelps, the 'warm' reception gays receive in many congregations - i could go but to my thoughts i find organized religion one giant insult to humanity

if there was a god he surely wouldnt want to be associated with anything like the pedophile priests or the hate of fred phelps

Cujo359 said...

That's one of the problems with being infallible, isn't it? It's hard to justify having hired pedophiles as priests under those circumstances. Much easier to just ignore the problem and hope it goes away.

Religions can inspire people to do good, too. Unfortunately, many of them require too much faith and not enough thought.

CrackerLilo said...

Terrific post. It hits a variety of issues very well. I particularly like what you wrote about heaven and the afterlife. I have seen people turtle up or glare at me when I say something like, "Oh, I don't know what's on the other side. Guess I'll find out when I get there. I think we just need to live our lives now." They find the idea of someone not *caring* about the afterlife so threatening, even if they aren't particularly "religious." And I have to realize, this is a comfort to some people.

I know when I was a little girl, I found the idea of being able to see my late father again in heaven quite comforting. I still occasionally kinda wish I could imagine him in a beautiful endless summer, racing a gorgeous car against Dale Earnhardt and Alan Kulwicki and fishing with my grandfather. (His heaven would be fish hell!)

I find it absolutely infuriating that some Christian(ist)s believe a simple expression of other beliefs is an insult to their own. I always want to ask them, and sometimes do, "Don't you keep saying you worship a powerful God? Don't you think he's a big boy who can take care of himself? Do you really think he's that insecure?" Of course, it's not any God who's that insecure, not really. It's them, and their God is made in their frightened narrow-minded little image. Which doesn't make their lashing out at religious minorities hurt any less.

Graham Firchlis said...

Pretty much doesn't matter what you say, somebody will be offended. Best to just tell the truth as you see it, and let other people worry about their feelings.

Nice post, enjoyed reading it.

Whenceforth Progress

Cujo359 said...

Obviously I don't believe in an afterlife, CrackerLilo, but I understand the desire for there to be one. We've all left loved ones behind, and it would be nice to see them again.

Yes, it really is about those people, not their religion. You can take inspiration to be any kind of person you want to be from Christianity, or from any other major religion. What people choose to do because of their religions tells me a lot more about them than it does about the religion.

I liken religion to a Rorschach test.

Cujo359 said...

Thanks Graham Firchlis. You're right, it's best to just say what you mean. It's easier to remember that way. ;-)

Unknown said...

Organized religion is an abomination. It's sole goal is to steal money from the folks who believe.

Now, with that said..I see nothing wrong with believing in a higher being. Just keep it to yourself. If you need to preach to people you have issues that need to be addressed.

Cujo359 said...

As I wrote, Dusty, I'm not a student of religion, nor of the institutions that promote religion. I've noticed, though, that many times organizations that start out having a particular purpose eventually become primarily concerned with perpetuating themselves. I've noticed this trend recently among many supposed "progressive" organizations, and their support of the health care "reform" bill, which is anything but reform. Few would say so, because they were concerned that they'd lose funding if they did.

So, it's in the nature of things that an organization will tend to go that way, no matter what it's original purpose.

As for gods, people can believe whatever they want, as far as I'm concerned. What I have problem with is when they tell us that these gods are telling them that we should all do this or that. Then they're a problem, and as Dennis the peasant would say, they shouldn't be treated as authoritative - they should be treated as if they're crazy.

Anonymous said...

I personally like "Happy Zombie Jesus Day"

Nice Blog. I thoroughly enjoyed it and you made some very valid points with respect for those who choose to believe in something.

Cujo359 said...

"Night Of The Living Dead Prophets"

Efrique said...

> I can recite the Ten Commandments

Which set?

The first set (not on tablets)?

The third set - the ones Moses brought down on tablets and didn't smash?

The ones Jesus supposedly said were important to keep (which didn't match either of the previous sets) - and if these, which of the three different sets attributed to him?

And whatever you do, don't start referring to them by number. Gah, does that ever cause problems (as I experienced when I was on a quiz show that made the mistake of asking about one by number).

Cujo359 said...

There are ten that are pretty commonly referred to, at least in America. I'm aware that there are different versions, but the ones that are commonly referred to as "the Ten Commandments" here are (perhaps not in order):

- No other god but me (however little sense that makes in a monotheistic religion)

- Remember the Sabbath

- Don't take the Lord's name in vain

- Don't worship idols, graven images, whatever

- No killing

- No stealing

- No lying ("false witness")

- Honor your mother and father

- Don't covet your neighbor's wife, or your neighbor's ass (how about your neighbor's wife's ass?)

- No adultery (apparently, the neighbor's wife's ass is out of bounds, too).

These are the ones I "secularized" in that link. When I challenge anyone who wants to put the Ten Commandments in public buildings to name them, I'm happy to accept any ten.