As it seems that only way belief in God can survive is for believers to say that God is too mysterious to subject to science, then it’s perfectly reasonable to take them at their word and say that the idea of God is therefore nonsense.
Otherwise, it’s rather like playing a game with a young child who holds their empty hand behind their back and asks you to guess what they are hiding. Whatever you guess they will say “no” and giggle. The problem with modern theology is that we aren’t dealing with children, and believers are convinced that their empty hand holds God.
EDIT: Another good thing I found on the web, and surprisingly, it’s from Yahoo Answersof all places:
Igtheism is not a term that embraces atheism. Atheism is a belief that there is no god, a + theism i.e. ‘no-god’. To assert that, you would need to have some concept of the thing it is the existence of which you are denying. The term igtheism is ig + theism i.e. ignorance of what the term ‘god’ means; even a denial that it means anything at all. So an igtheist is not denying that god exists, they are denying that the term ‘god’ actually refers to anything meaningful at all. In that case it would necessarily be quite impossible to deny that it exists, just as it would be impossible to assert that it does. A possible response to the igtheist’s position would be to explain what the term ‘god’ does mean. Since so far nobody seems to have been able to do that except in the vaguest and most vacuous terms, e.g. a ‘something up there’ or ‘the uncaused cause of it all’, igtheism would seem to be a reasonable stance. But it is very different from atheism.
I don’t think that igtheism is “very different from atheism.” I think it’s actually closely related, and that it’s more of a subtle difference–but it is a difference, and it does have implications.
I brought this up in a discussion with a guy who claimed that igtheism and atheism is the same thing–which I think is true only in a colloquial, “well we don’t believe” sort of way–and said that it was atheism because of the “soft atheism” definition. That’s the idea that there are two main flavors of atheism: soft, which is “I don’t believe in god,” and hard, which is “god doesn’t exist.” But I’ve always thought that to be a distinction without a difference. If we’re talking about things that supposedly exist beyond the natural realm and are thus meaningless in the sense the Advocatus Atheist puts forward, isn’t saying you don’t believe in them a total denial of them? It’s the same thing. Get over it.
I’m sure, after you read the linked story above, and read what I’m about to say, you are going to think what the headline says (except I’m the bastard, not you. Probably.)
The above story is from Tim Carney, a columnist at the Washington Examiner, who is understandably conservative. The story is about his nephew, who lived for only 442 days before dying, and suffering every one of those days with spinal muscular atrophy, being just about paralyzed at birth and getting worse as the days went on.
Carney writes about the love that the boy’s Catholic parents had for him, and how he spread love by being an object of attention:
Pat and Elena are devout Catholics from strong families, but their answer to this question can’t be set aside as some teaching in the Catechism. It’s a truth written on the human heart.
Jesus said that the two greatest commandments are to love God and love your neighbor. This is our purpose. This view is not uniquely Christian. It’s understood in other religions and in secular worldviews.
In this regard, John Paul lived a superior life. He exuded love. Before he lost control of his facial muscles, he beamed smiles that made grown men sob. Babies can love those around him with the pure, unconditional love we all should show.
Also, JP drew love from others. Neighbors, relatives and strangers cooked meals and gave time, equipment and money to help the Kilners. JP’s brothers and sisters showered him with affection. And Pat and Elena sacrificed immensely to care for him.
Before the wake at St. Patrick’s in Rockville, during an observance called Stations of the Cross, we read a Gospel passage in which Christ explains our duty to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and visit the sick.
“Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine,” the Lord says in this passage, “you did for me.”
Clearly a call to charity, this is also an exaltation of parenthood. Even moreso, this exalts the work of caring for helpless JP.
Tribulations both reveal character and form it. JP’s struggles revealed his parents’ heroic virtue and fostered virtue in others.
Pat and Elena saw John Paul as a blessing, and they generously shared that blessing with the world. They took him wherever they could, in a chair rigged with a ventilator and an IV. Elena shared wider, by penning hopeful, contemplative letters to John Paul every few weeks, which she posted on a blog.
One friend of mine, who never met the Kilners, read the “Letters to John Paul” blog. She wrote me, “John Paul’s story made me want to be a better person.”
John Paul continued shaping souls even in dying. A priest at St. Patrick’s took confessions during and after the wake. He commented afterwards that he heard some of the more honest, searching and contrite confessions he’s ever heard.
More than 500 people attended the beautiful funeral. One non-Catholic mourner was moved so much by the Mass she told Pat, “Now I understand why you’re Catholic.”
John Paul, who never spoke a word in his life, was the greatest evangelist of love, faith, virtue and hope I have ever met.
I look at this and shake my head. I don’t necessarily see love here. Yes, John Paul’s parents loved him, as any parent would, and they sacrified for him, as any parent would. But I look at this and think, “Why didn’t they just abort?”
An embryo has no rights. Rights do not pertain to a potential, only to an actual being. A child cannot acquire any rights until it is born. The living take precedence over the not-yet-living (or the unborn).
Abortion is a moral right—which should be left to the sole discretion of the woman involved; morally, nothing other than her wish in the matter is to be considered. Who can conceivably have the right to dictate to her what disposition she is to make of the functions of her own body?
–“Of Living Death”, The Voice of Reason, pgs 58-59
Never mind the vicious nonsense of claiming that an embryo has a “right to life.” A piece of protoplasm has no rights—and no life in the human sense of the term. One may argue about the later stages of a pregnancy, but the essential issue concerns only the first three months. To equate a potential with an actual, is vicious; to advocate the sacrifice of the latter to the former, is unspeakable. . . . Observe that by ascribing rights to the unborn, i.e., the nonliving, the anti-abortionists obliterate the rights of the living: the right of young people to set the course of their own lives.
–“A Last Survey”, The Ayn Rand Letter, IV, 2, 3
Because of this stance, which I agree with, I don’t consider an embryo or a fetus to be a person like a born human, and thus am not a “pro-lifer.” (I’m willing to accept that personhood would emerge when the fetus displays cognition, or “neonatal perception,” but that’s very late in the pregnancy, and virtually nobody gets abortions at that stage.)
That’s also why, when I look at this, I think that the parents should have aborted. If they had known that the fetus was going to have spinal muscular atrophy, and therefore was going to have a short life full of suffering, why bring the fetus to term? Why increase suffering in the world?
Shouldn’t we, you know, work at reducing suffering? And if we should be doing that, then why bring to term a fetus that has congential problems and is going to have a life full of suffering? It doesn’t make any sense, and to me, it seems pretty sick to do so. Of course, I know some will retort that he wasn’t suffering, and the love he was receiving from his family was proof he wasn’t. But that’s crap. He was clearly in pain for 442 days, he was clearly suffering, there is no way around that.
UPDATE: In this case, the parents didn’t know…which means a great part of this is moot, for this case. In this case, continuing with the pregnancy is completely logical and understandable, and thus giving all you can for the child is similarly logical and understandable. Thus, a huge chunk of my blog post is irrelevant, and so I’ve deleted it. But I still stand by the idea that if a fetus has mental and physical problems, you should still head off at the pass a life full of suffering. That’s my opinion and I’m sticking to it. Thus I won’t take down the rest of the post.
Over one-quarter of pro-life individuals think that abortion should be legal if the baby may be metnally or physically impaired. And for good reason: they don’t want to increase suffering.
Let’s actually try and reduce suffering as much as possible in this world. Stop with the displays of “care,” “compassion,” and “love,” the ones meant to make yourself look good, and actually do something. I’m not perfect–I myself need to take this up–but we can all start. And maybe one of those places is not bringing in infants into the world who are very clearly going to live only in pain and suffering.
Yes, that probably makes me a bastard in many people’s eyes. But so be it.
In the wake of the Newtown tragedy, many stupid things occurred. The media, for one, completely failed to deliver any reliable information, but Matt K. Lewis of the Daily Caller has already ripped them to shreds on that, so I have no need to. Instead, I’m going to tackle those who blamed the Newtown tragedy on a lack of religion and atheism.
Yes, that is what some people have said, and they are the worse for saying it.
I first saw this sentiment expressed in my Twitter feed by Jon Gabriel (@exjon), who tweeted the following:
I usually don’t wear my faith on my sleeve, but this country doesn’t need another law or government program. This country needs God.
Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee (R) weighed in on the massacre at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn. on Friday, saying the crime was no surprise because we have “systematically removed God” from public schools.
“We ask why there is violence in our schools, but we have systematically removed God from our schools,” Huckabee said on Fox News. “Should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of carnage?”
This line of reasoning isn’t new for Huckabee.
Speaking about a mass shooting in Aurora, Colo. over the summer, the former GOP presidential candidate claimed that such violent episodes were a function of a nation suffering from the removal of religion from the public sphere.
“We don’t have a crime problem, a gun problem or even a violence problem. What we have is a sin problem,” Huckabee said on Fox News. “And since we’ve ordered God out of our schools, and communities, the military and public conversations, you know we really shouldn’t act so surprised … when all hell breaks loose.”
Riiiiiiiiiiiight. Let me go through three major points to show how BS this all is.
The first thing I want to say so I can get it out of the way is that these guys, both conservatives (or, in Jon’s case, maybe a conservative libertarian), sound awfully like liberals. I mean, it is always the liberals pushing for gun control, and the conservatives rebut with, “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” They are right to put the blame on the perpetrator and not any tool or inanimate item, but aren’t these guys committing the same fallacy that liberals are here? Instead of putting the blame on the shooter, they’re attempting to reroute that blame onto something else–in this case, religion, society, and specifically atheism. Man, why aren’t you guys in the Democratic Party?
With that out of the way, it’s time to move to a much more constructive and solid argument: data.
The number of violent crimes in the United States dropped significantly last year, to what appeared to be the lowest rate in nearly 40 years, a development that was considered puzzling partly because it ran counter to the prevailing expectation that crime would increase during a recession.
In all regions, the country appears to be safer. The odds of being murdered or robbed are now less than half of what they were in the early 1990s, when violent crime peaked in the United States. Small towns, especially, are seeing far fewer murders: In cities with populations under 10,000, the number plunged by more than 25 percent last year.
This datapoint is not in dispute. Violent crimes rate, while perhaps up in some urban localities, are down across the board quite dramatically.
Unbelief is on the uptick. People who check “None” for their religious affiliation are now nearly one in five Americans (19%), the highest ever documented, according to the Pew Center for the People and the Press.
The rapid rise of Nones — including atheists, agnostics and those who say they believe “nothing in particular” — defies the usually glacial rate of change in spiritual identity.
Barry Kosmin, co-author of three American Religious Identification Surveys, theorizes why None has become the “default category.” He says, “Young people are resistant to the authority of institutional religion, older people are turned off by the politicization of religion, and people are simply less into theology than ever before.”
Kosmin’s surveys were the first to brand the Nones in 1990 when they were 6% of U.S. adults. By 2008 survey, Nones were up to 15%. By 2010, another survey, the bi-annual General Social Survey, bumped the number to 18%.
Meanwhile, the Roman Catholic Church, the nation’s largest religious denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, Methodists and Lutherans, all show membership flat or inching downward, according to the 2012 Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches.
The 19% count is based on aggregated surveys of 19,377 people conducted by the Pew Research Center throughout 2011.
If we take these two datapoints together–a dramatic decline in violent crime, and a similarly dramatic rise in nonreligious Americans–and then use Gabriel’s and Huckabee’s logic, what do we get?
“Jesus, atheism and nonbelief have surely led to a decrease in crime! We should all become atheists to stop all murders!”
Of course, the above statement is completely untrue and nonsensical–but then, so are Gabriel’s and Huckabee’s comments. The fact is, religion–or the lack thereof–had nothing to do with the tragedy in Newtown, and to try and pin it to that is a sign of sheer stupidity.
What I think they’re really trying to say is that there is a dearth of moral teaching going on in our schools and society, but then this brings me to my third major point: is the Bible really such a good source of morality? Look, I don’t want to start a theological war here, but if we’re going to talk about morality, let’s look at the text that is the core of Christianity and from which Christians wish to use to teach young people morals.
Christianity is not innocent, so to blame this tragedy on a lack of it doesn’t make any sense at all to me.
The point of this all is that religion and nonreligion are completely irrelevant to why this shooter went into a school and shot a bunch of children. While Christianity is itself a violent religion in many aspects (Crusades, anyone?) I wouldn’t blame it for what happened either. The blame for Newtown doesn’t lie with organized religion, or the lack thereof. It doesn’t lie with society. It doesn’t lie with the education system. It doesn’t lie with guns. The blame lies solely with the man who did this. It was his choice to do so, and he did.
Both sides are trying to pin the blame on something nebulous and distant. Stop it. The blame is with the shooter. Saying anything else is nonsensical and morally wrong.
From my friend Mike Bastasch, who works at the Daily Caller News Foundation:
The “Exorcist” may have moved public opinion more than previously thought. Nearly six in ten registered voters believe it’s possible for people to become possessed by demons, according to a new poll by Public Policy Polling.
Fifty-seven percent of voters believe possession is possible. Republicans are more likely than Democrats to believe in demonic possession by a 68 percent to 49 percent margin. Furthermore, women are more likely than men to believe possession is possible by a 59 percent to 56 percent margin.
The most interesting part, though, is this:
Republicans by a 39 percent to 35 percent margin. And women are more likely than men are to believe in ghosts by a 39 percent to 35 percent margin.
Democrats are also more likely than Republicans to say that they have seen a ghost by a 31 percent to 22 percent margin. However, only 26 percent of voters at large say they have seen a ghost.
And they say Republicans are unscientific.
Second most interesting:
Despite, widespread fear of ghosts and demons, they don’t actually rank as the scariest monster. That dubious honor goes to zombies with 29 percent of voters saying they are the scariest, and coming in a distant second were vampires with 15 percent saying they are the scariest monsters. However, the category “something else” did actually beat out vampires suggesting voters have something much spookier in mind than lame Twilight vampires.
And Mike scores points for bashing Twilight.
To be fair, even though I’m an atheist, I’m not what they would call a “philosophical naturalist,” who totally rules out ghosts and such like that. I am inclined to think that these things don’t actually exist in real life…but I have never experienced such a thing, and I like to keep my mind open, particularly on ghosts. I mean, they could be artifacts from trans-dimensional bleedthrough, and only some people are sensitive enough to notice.
In the passionate world of American atheism, the venom usually directed at believers has now been turned against the wrong kind of atheists.
The cause of this freethinking furore? A new movement called Atheism+. According to its website, “Atheism+ is a safe space for people to discuss how religion affects everyone and to apply skepticism and critical thinking to everything, including social issues like sexism, racism, GLBT issues, politics, poverty, and crime.”
A+ was born when Freethought blogger Jen McCreight (the mind behind Boobquake) made a passionate call for a “third wave” of atheism, one that extends atheist activism into progressive politics and calls for a part of the movement to be one where women can exist free from the harassment that has plagued women publicly involved in the atheist movement.
The founders of Atheism+ say clearly that “divisiveness” is not their aim, but looking through the blogs and voluminous comments in the two weeks since A+ was mooted, trenches have been dug, beliefs stated, positions staked out and abuse thrown. A dissenting tweeter is “full of shit”, while, according to one supporter, daring to disagree with Atheism+’s definition of progressive issues and not picking their side makes you an “asshole and a douchebag”.
PZ Myers, a professor biology at the University of Minnesota, who frequently blogs on topics relating to atheism, had some very interesting comments on his blog (well, one of them). It’s a wrap up of a “discussion” some people apparently had about this, and I think this one part sums up where I get very, very confused about all of this:
Im in that awkward position where i do agree with most of the values and dislike the misogynist idiots but see no value or reason to mix atheism and the other values. For me atheism just is the simple disbelief and my political values stand apart from it.
Now you see, that’s just stupid. There are lots of atheists who take this blinkered stance that atheism is just one specific idea about rejecting god-belief, and it has absolutely no philosophical foundation and should have no political or social consequences. And that’s nonsense. This commenter is deluding himself as thoroughly as any god-walloper.
If there is no god, if religion is a sham, that has significant consequences for how we should structure our society. You could argue over how we should shape our culture — a libertarian atheist would lean much more towards a Darwinian view, for instance, than I would — but to pretend that atheism is just an abstraction floating in the academic ether is silly.
No, PZ. To pretend it is anything else is silly.
I mean, as an atheist, I don’t believe in unicorns, or fairies, or burglars who sneak into my house via toilets. (I thought that as a kid, I really did.) Should lack of a belief in any of these things make us suddenly recognize massive implications for structuring our society? Er, no, not really.
Of course, there are implications for not having Christianity front and center. First of all, there would be far less churches, and a far weaker religious influence on our laws. There would probably also be slightly different interactions between men and women (after all, Christianity does relegate women to a decidedly secondary place.) But would it naturally follow that suddenly we’d all be cool with gay marriage and abortion? Err, no, not actually. In fact, I have met atheists who are uncomfortable with either of those topics. There are also many atheists who think feminism, in its modern form, is a crock, and might want to ban recreational drugs.
I’m not saying I’m agreeing with those above views. What I’m saying is that it is a monumental leap from a simple lack of belief in any god to certain political beliefs and “implications for the structure of our society.” It is a huge and in my mind completely unjustified jump, one bereft of any connections or reference points or clear logic. It’s one thing to be like Objectivism, where you have an entire metaphysical and epistemological philosophy going on there that leads you to atheism, but it’s quite another to go from “I don’t believe in god” to “my lack of belief in god requires me to believe A, B, and C.”
PZ Myers and another author, Greta Christine, try to explain this sort of jump, but I find it totally lacking. Greta points out that, since this is the only life we have, we have a “moral obligation to fix it.” Fair enough; I agree this is our only life, and we should improve it as much as we can, but that still doesn’t get the idea that, as PZ Myers puts it, we should have unlimited free healthcare and education.
In fact, if you want to be rational about it, embracing true-blue free markets is the best way to go. Seriously, pick up a copy of Johan Norberg’s In Defense of Global Capitalism. Seriously, I dare you. You can get a Kindle copy for less than eight bucks. In just the first hundred pages, Johan goes through all the benefits that capitalism has brought the world. Global poverty has dramatically decreased. Education and literacy have increased dramatically. Women have especially benefitted from free markets, seeing their income soar and their rights broaden in nearly every country in the world. Is it perfect? No, of course not–and lately, corruption and cronyism have slowed the rate of progress–but it is a damned sight better than we were back in 1903. No one can argue that.
And that’s why I find Atheism+ to be absurd. You can be an atheist yet hold gazillions of different views on politics and society and economics. Contrary to popular belief, Christians are not all conservatives. There are many on the “religious left” as well (notably Catholics, at least until this year.) There are Christian socialists, as well as Christian libertarians and probably a handful of Christian fascists (oops, integralists. My bad.) They all believe in one god who sent his son to Earth who was to be killed and then raised again as a zombie, but they have dramatically different political beliefs. How can you then say that something that is merely a lack of belief in those tenets can lead you to specific ideological boxes?
I don’t get it.
Look, it’s fine to say that you’re creating your own social movement of godless people who believe in something. Fine. But the implication of many of these folks–particularly those like PZ, who automatically lumps libertarians in with “jerks”–is that you cannot be an atheist and yet not be of this mind on politics at the same time. That’s just bonkers, and absurd. And I thought atheism was all about reason and logic, because we don’t believe in superstition?
Atheism+ is an absurdity. And I wish people would stop.
Over the weekend, I saw a Tweet from Melissa Clouthier, who is an excellent source of news and goings on in the conservative Twittasphere. Some of her Tweets though, provoked me a little bit, because it touches on that topic of atheism that no theist really understands:
There are numerous myths and fallacies going on here.
First, there is the idea that atheism has a symbol. It really doesn’t. There are a bunch of different ideas–the atom, the Happy Human, the Invisible Pink Unicorn–but we really don’t have a symbol.
Second, there is the idea that going on the TV to defend your views is “awfully religiousy.” I wonder if Melissa would say the same thing about conservatives going on TV to defend tax cuts, or sports analysts defending their opinion of some idiot has done in whatever league they cover, or a business executive defending his company’s actions. “Awfully religiousy?” Hardly. Defending one’s views on TV is not the purview of the church.
Third, atheism just doesn’t have dogma. All atheism is is a lack of a belief in god. It is no different, really, from the Christian’s lack of belief in Osiris, or Zeus, or Optimus Prime. They’re atheists too, just not in one particular direction. Atheism has no rules for how to act, it has no rituals, it has no real ceremonies or doctrine. It has no dogma. There are totally non-spiritual secular humanists, there are bona fide spiritual atheists, there are folks who go join Ethical Culture, there are other religious humanists, and some people decide to join the Unitarian Universalist Church and have fun with crystals. There’s even Christian athiests. (They’ve always puzzled me too.)
Point is, there is no atheist dogma. Other than not believing in any deity (even saying that deities don’t exist is not technically required, though unlike most athiests I think the “positive vs. negative atheism” debate to be a distinction without a difference), there is nothing to follow to be an atheist.
But when I read Melissa’s link to Mediate, I could see why she was a bit…confused.
The president of an Atheist group appeared on Fox News Channel with Megyn Kelly on Friday to denounce the inclusion of the 9/11 cross in the memorial at Ground Zero to the exclusion of other, non-religious religious symbols.
American Atheists President David Silverman said that the cross at the 9/11 memorial at Ground Zero is in a museum paid for by public funds and amounts to the endorsement of Christianity by the government.
Silverman outlined the many ways in which the 9/11 memorial was public. “And they have the gall to say that this is not a public event? Well, we differ,” said Silverman. He said that atheists suffered as much as anyone on 9/11 and they demand representation.
“But you did not have a symbol that was found in the wreckage of Ground Zero,” noted Kelly.
“That’s because there are no symbols of atheism,” said Silverman.
He said that a number of crosses were recovered from Ground Zero because the original World Trade Center was assembled from cross beams. “That does not give Christianity the right to usurp the rest of the nation and to have a memorial solely to itself in our national memorial,” said Silverman.
First of all, jackass, this is not a memorial “solely to itself.” It just so happens that the overwhelming number of Americans and victims of 9/11 were Christians. That’s just how it is.
Second, don’t you think it’s rather silly that, if we have no symbols for atheism, that we should then be calling for an atheist symbol to be placed there? Can you feel the cognitive dissonance…now?
Look, more than anyone I want to see America give up it’s old, superstitious, religious habit. That’s not going to happen, though, if atheists get out there and be antagonistic douchebags. This is like when athiests complain and stage protests over a nativity scene in a public park. Yes, I get the principle behind your argument, separation of church and state, but it doesn’t really apply. Those public spaces are fora for people to put out their ideas and beliefs, including Christianity. Instead of whining about it, maybe you should do some public education about atheism, or better yet, put up a booth for HumanLight.
There are legitimate things atheists should be pushing back on. When students are bullied and harrassed in school because they’re not religious, or expelled or otherwise punished for it, that’s something to push back on. When there’s an atheist family being harrassed or discriminated against, that’s legitimate. When government officials start writing laws based on religious doctrine, that’s legitimate.
But protesting the 9/11 memorial because they have some crosses there? Dude, that’s just douchebaggery. It seems to me that more and more athiests in America want to push back against the overwhelming Christian hordes by beating people over the head and trying to be attention whores. That’s the last thing atheists should be doing. I, for one, do not care what others believe, as long as they are not shoving their religion down my throat. And putting up crosses at a freaking memorial is not that.
But what really got me was this:
Kelly challenged Silverman’s assertion that many atheists were suffering from “dyspepsia” and “headaches” because of the cross. Silverman said that he had members who would testify in court that this was the case.
WHAT. THE. #*&%
Okay, raise your hands if you think that belongs in a Southern Baptist church, not an atheist organization. Uh-huh. Thought so.
This guy should not be taken seriously by any news outlet ever. American Atheists should sack him and find someone new; I realize they’ve been going through presidents fairly quickly since Ellen Johnson left back in 2008, but this Silverman guy sounds like a hustler who shouldn’t be in charge of what should be a respectable organization.
It should also be noted that American Atheists is not the equivalent of, say, the Catholic Church. The organizations closer to that are the American Humanist Association and the Ethical Culture movement, as well as a few others. American Atheists is strictly a “separation of church and state” organization. They have a political action commitee and focus on political issues. They leave “tending the flock” (so to speak) to other groups.
Which means, naturally, they want to stir as much crap up as possible. But really, going for the “the cross is giving us headaches” argument. Just give the theists more power over you, why don’t you. Make us look all like feeble little whining idiots, why don’t you. Make us all look bad, why don’t you.
You don’t speak for me, Silverman, and neither does your organization. Shut up. Also, this:
Got friends who are agnostic and atheist, btw, they tend to not give a rats patoot about crosses.
I swear to Jim Butcher that my next blog post on here will be about fiction I’m working on–honestly–but after the hullaballoo over Chris Hayes and the war dead, I could not help but think about how all of politics has basically devolved into religion, and how much it sickens me.
What the incident has shown me is that both sides of the American political sphere–the so-called “left” (AKA “liberals,” “progressives,” “pink socialist commies”) and the so-called “right” (AKA “conservatives,” “fundamentalist right-wing populists,” the “1%”)–are by this point nothing more than religions, with their own tenets, gods, and apostles (not to mention heretics and unforgivable sins.) They are, in a phrase, “political religions.” The guy who wrote the book on them (though I haven’t read it, unfortunately), Emilio Gentile, defined them as a:
“more or less developed system of beliefs, myths, rituals and symbols” that creates an “aura of sacredness around an entity belonging to the world and turns it into a cult or object of worship or devotion.”
Both sides of the political sphere today put down the government as essentially their core deity. Although they have other gods they more directly worship, the government–the state–is their Absolute, their Ultimate, the Neoplatonic Ideal to which they aspire. It is, quite frankly, sacred, and their give their devotion to it.
I’ve identified at least two political religions on both sides of the aisle off the top of my head. For the progressives, there are the churches of global warming/environmentalism; Keynesianism; and simple wealth redistribution. For the right, there is, well, an actual religion–fundamentalist Christianity–plus the veneration of the military, which sadly has infected even some of my more libertarian friends.
Global Warming/Environmentalism: This one is fun. Even if you get past the people who say that Brooklyn will be underwater by 2050 (which might not be entirely bad*), you find a great number who have done the impossible: they have placed their faith in science, or more accurately, scientists. Of course, science is not based on faith, and to do so is to reject science, but they have done it anyway. This is observed whenever you start really asking questions about how global warming is going to kill us all, and they begin contorting themselves into absurd positions in order to defend it, when the rational mind would have said “This is stupid” long ago and jettisoned it. A great example is when the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published a report saying that the glaciers in the Alps were melting. They based this evidence on…an unpublished paper by a grad student, who in turn based this on…some anecdotal quotes from hikers who said, “Yeah, the glaciers look a bit smaller than the last time we were through here.” Science, people. This is science.
Keynesianism: This one is even more fun, in a way, but more aggravating. Keynesianism, in a nutshell, is the idea that the government must “prime the pump” of the economy by injecting loads of money into it. Of course, this totally ignores the fact that the only place the government can get the money in the first place is from the economy itself, so it’s just taking money out of the right pocket and putting it into the left pocket (and there’s never any consideration of what happens when stimulus must, invariably, end.) This religion’s foremost prophet is Paul Krugman, who has repeatedly demonstrated that not only he is a fool, but he’s also quite ignorant of human life itself. Of course, Keynesians like to hide behind mountains of models that “prove” their theory correct, but in the end, they never seem to translate well to the real world, and are thus very similar to such works like the Bible and the Quran.
Wealth Redistribution: Similar and linked to Keynesianism above, the Triumphant and Occupying Church of the 99% wants more money to be taken from those who are wealthy and redistributed to the poor. It literally hates success and wealth and constantly engages in class warfare. Never mind that income inequality has not changed at all over the past twenty years. They will promptly ignore that, and just call for more taxes on the rich–even though they’re the guys who ultimately get everyone else in this country jobs. They will literally put their fingers in their ears and
Fundamentalist Christianity: The only political religion on this list which is based around an actual religion, the fundamentalist Christianity that conservatives mostly follow is not, I would argue, actually devoted to serving Christ and their fellow man. It is, instead, a play for power in the halls of government, a way to keep one set of cultural values superior to all others, by using the force of government to impose said values. When you ask people who want to force their anti-gay beliefs and pro-life stances upon others why don’t they follow the “Render unto Ceaser what is Ceaser’s” maxim, you get the same sort of contortions (or just outright “that doesn’t matter”) you get from environmentalists. You can’t criticize it; you’re just a heathen.
Military: This one came out in force over the weekend with the Chris Hayes’ controversy. It largely comes down to “You shall not criticize the military” and “You shall DEFINITELY not say ANYTHING on Memorial Day. Just. Shut. Up.” I’ve already gone over this in the past two posts, so I won’t spend all that much time on this particular entry, but only that it is extremely prevalent and is becoming more and more dangerous.
The reason all of these stances go beyond ideology and have become political religions is that ideologies can change, adapt, and evolve, and that people can do so via the power of reason. Religion, on the other hand, is against reason. It is entirely based on faith, which is “X is true and I believe it with all my heart and soul and if it turns out to be false I’ll end up like these guys.” The radical environmentalism and global warming believers don’t use reason to evaluate their statements, and the Keynesians have long ago discarded reason in order to stay in bed with their government overlords (a weakness that was well explained in Public Choice Theory.) Arguably, there was never any reason applied to either the Wealth Redistributionists or the fundamentalist Christians, and the lack of critical thinking towards the military has not yet overpowered reason entirely–as evidenced by the pushback, even from military veterans themselves, on the issue–but it is growing and has been accelerating in particular over the past decade.
Without reason, we can not advance, we can not develop. It was a lack of reason and slavish devotion to the Church and feudal lords that kept Western civilization mired in the Medieval period for so long (which, while good fodder for D&D campaigns, is not so good for real life.) The lack of reason that led to the Soviets and Communism in general led to hundreds of millions of deaths. And the lack of reason that is permeating the entire “discussion” over how to deal with the financial crisis, the recession, and the looming disintegration of the Eurozone is only promising more danger, more failures, and a harder fall in the future. On the other hand, using that giant brain of ours gave us fire, the wheel, electricity, democracy, free markets, the computer, the iPhone, space shuttles, abundant food supplies, and Pokemon. (Okay, bad example.)
This is why I’m both a libertarian and an atheist (and why I’m really, really irritated that so many atheists have basically swapped out Jesus with the state; they’re not “really” atheists, they just call their god Capitol Hill). It’s also why, for the first time in many years, I’m actually getting very worried about the direction of this country. Ultimately, while many terrible things have happened over the past decade or so, it always looked to me that eventually, libertarianism and the free market would win out. People see how things are failing miserably, give it a shot, and would revel in the new found freedom and prosperity. Our logic, in the end, would be inescapable and irrefutable, although it would take a long time to get there. But that only works if people are open to reason, and if they’re not–if they’re just following political religions, which they cannot disagree with or else they will be excommunicated, their lives destroyed–then we don’t really have much of a chance. You can’t reason with them. You can hope to convert, but that’s a long shot.
For the first time in a long time, I’m a pessimist.
The above is a fantastic essay on what happening to all of Harold Camping’s followers, how they were deceived and how many suffered enormous financial, social, and emotional damage from the belief that the world would end in May on 2011…and then didn’t.
I think this is a lesson for any large belief structures. This includes Communism, American conservatism, the Most Holy and Triumphant Church of Environmentalism, and any belief in big government. Rest assured, with the way things are going, their worlds are going to come tumbling down…and when they do, they’re going to be in just as bad a shape as Harold Camping’s misled followers.
As I wrote in one of my earliest blog posts (to which I never supplied the promised sequel), I was raised in the United Methodist Church. I never fully bought into it–even as a child, I considered myself an “agnostic Methodist” of sorts–but I do remember it quite fondly, particularly as it is far more moderate than many of the hardcore conservative evangelical denominations (such as the jerkface from North Carolina who advocated parents hit their kids if they start turning gay.)
I don’t see the Methodists in the news very often, so I was surprised when I saw Matt Yglesias tweet about them banning products made in the settlement territories in Palestine. From the New York Times:
The United Methodist Church, the nation’s largest mainline Protestant denomination, voted against two proposals on Wednesday to divest from companies that provide equipment used by Israel to enforce its control in the occupied territories.
The closely watched vote, at the church’s quadrennial convention in Tampa, Fla., came after months of intense lobbying by American Jews, Israelis and Palestinian Christians. After an afternoon of impassioned debate and several votes, the delegates overwhelmingly passed a more neutral resolution calling for “positive” investment to encourage economic development “in Palestine.”
However, the Methodists also passed a strongly worded resolution denouncing the Israeli occupation and the settlements, and calling for “all nations to prohibit the import of products made by companies in Israeli settlements on Palestinian land.”
An international movement for “boycott, divestment and sanctions” has gained steam as the peace process in the Middle East has come to a virtual standstill, and allies of the Palestinians have argued that these strategies could pressure Israel to stop building settlements and return to the negotiating table.
I may not consider myself to be a Methodist, but by gosh by golly do I agree with the above sentiment. Let’s be honest about what’s going on in Palestine, here: Israel has turned the West Bank and the Gaza Strip into bantustans, depriving the Palestinians of water, food, electricity, and basically anything approaching a free market, all in the name of “security,” and now is moving into what little land they have and taking it. And they have the gall to wonder why they’re being rocketed? Really?
It doesn’t take a braniac to see that occupation leads to violence. Anyone would notice that. Kudos to the UMC for taking a stand, though personally, I think a boycott of goods made in the territories will do jack squat. This is just symbolism.
The United Methodist Church, at its convention in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, voted not to change long-contested wording in its book of laws and doctrines that calls homosexuality “incompatible with Christian teaching.”
The vote was 61 percent to 39 percent against the change to the church’s “Book of Discipline,” indicating little change to the deadlock on an issue the church has been debating for the last four decades. The delegates also defeated a compromise amendment proposed by the advocates of equality for gay members, which said that Methodists can agree to disagree on homosexuality and still live together as a church.
Now, there are multiple considerations here. First off, it is certainly a religious tenet that homosexuality is bad. That’s their religion, and if that’s what they believe, they shouldn’t change it. But certainly they can still be accepting of those who are they way, instead of blatantly stating that their lifestyle is “incompatible.” (I mean, when we think about it, is Christian teaching is also incompatible with cheating on your wife, war, and misleading your flock? Does it mean you should be bothering people at funerals when they put their loved ones to rest? I have to wonder what else is “incompatible” with Christian teaching.)
But second, I always got the impression the United Methodist Church, while not “okay okay” with homosexuality, was “okay” with it, at least in the toleration sense. That’s why I’m a bit surprised to see this sort of language. I always figured they just didn’t mind all that much about it.
But this is why I’m an atheist. I’m not going to let some “General Conference” tell me what is or isn’t okay to think. (Though, technically speaking, that means I’m a “freethinker,” not necessarily an atheist. Though if there’s an “Atheist General Conference,” I’d like to hear about it.)