Thursday, September 24, 2009

Religion is already dead - it just doesn't know it yet

Like the cartoon character that steps off a cliff yet falls only after looking down, religion has already taken its first tentative steps off the cliff. Religious practitioners and congregants alike may have yet to consciously acknowledge it but many if not most are all too well aware of the preposterousness of the central stories underlying their shared dogmas, clinging to them and desperately pretending that they don’t see the elephant in the room; professing to believe even as they privately and in some cases only subconsciously recognize those ideas for the nonsense that they are.

People living in the real world are continually faced with the contradictions between the biblical stories to which they’ve been indoctrinated on the one hand, and their own direct observations of the world on the other, augmented of course by the enormous and continually growing body of scientifically explored and documented evidence. Even as they are exposed to the false controversies promulgated by those with an agenda to perpetuate religious ideas, attempting to present science’s inherent strengths, significantly the necessity to discard or refine earlier theories to explain new evidence, as though these were some sort of weakness – a lack of certainty, of strength of belief, held as a virtue by the religious but in fact a recipe for ignorance and stagnation – most people at some level recognize the basic flaw in the religious thinking and partition their own minds to try and accommodate both the religious ideas and their own limited understanding of reality. While the average citizen’s understanding of science and the scientific method is quite limited and most religious people’s scientific understanding is muddier still, the practical results of scientific examination of the world are real and have enabled great accomplishments that cannot be ignored. Faced with this contradiction, many will take refuge in their religious teachings, publically insisting on their “truth” while privately knowing that this position is untenable, incompatible with reality. Even (perhaps especially) clergy members, steeped in religious teachings and traditions, must be exerting considerable energy to shield their religious ideas from the onslaught of the obvious.

The battle of course is not between religion and science. Science is merely the most effective means we have yet developed to investigate reality, challenge and verify what is discovered, to discard whatever does not withstand the scrutiny, and document and disseminate the resulting information. Science is the messenger. The message is what the world really is, exposed through science to ever increasingly fine resolution and accuracy. Unable to provide substantive arguments against the message, many who have a vested interest in perpetuating existing religious establishments and the ideas they represent and the power they wield over the masses, instead target the messenger, treating science as though it were their enemy.

In order to survive, religion must keep its adherents ignorant. Until relatively recently this was much easier, but with the advent of the modern media and the growth over the past decade of the Internet and the World Wide Web, cultivating ignorance requires inoculating the ‘faithful’ against the torrent of information so widely available today, and tainting that information to whatever extent possible with ‘alternative’ interpretations, no matter how silly. To that end, they actively and deliberately misrepresent what science is and what it can teach us, in the various media including the Web, and in many cases try, in effect, to vandalize the teaching of science by attempting to insert religious nonsense into the curriculum. This tactic, at best disingenuous, ultimately cannot succeed. Reality is what it is. Insisting it is otherwise is an enormous waste of resources that would be better spent learning. Actively damaging our educational system threatens the very future of our civilization.

Even people who outwardly profess strong religious beliefs are privately driven to question the veracity of those beliefs as they struggle to reconcile them with their own experiences. Often they consult their clergy and others they’ve been raised to believe are knowledgeable in such matters. This of course serves to reinforce the ideas that underlie the conflict they seek to resolve. Others cling on moral grounds*. Left to their own devices, without professional reinforcers, most would eventually reject the religious ideas, contradicted as they are by nearly everything in their actual experience, their insistence otherwise notwithstanding. As human society becomes farther and farther removed from the days when the religious texts were written, they become progressively more difficult to apply to modern reality.

Even as religion seeks to survive and adapts and evolves to that end, its obsolescence is upon us and well entrenched. Religious beliefs become increasingly marginalized as their relevance to day-to-day reality becomes harder and harder to find. Already today, in many circles, religions survive merely as familiar and comfortable traditions, but even their leaders and practitioners no longer accept their teachings as truth. Though there are movements that expend considerable resources attempting to combat this, the trend is clearly toward diminishing acceptance of religious teachings as anything more than comfortable traditions, some of which may indeed be worthy of preservation in that capacity but not as a substitute for reality. Short of a catastrophic development, this steady erosion will eventually cause current religious beliefs to dissolve into the background of history much as did beliefs in other ancient god systems. Though it may take generations before mainstream religion is finally buried, it is pretty much already dead in the minds of people in modern societies. As modern technologies and communication capabilities increasingly penetrate developing societies, the pressure to modernize becomes irresistible. These societies too will eventually follow suit, though it may take further generations

* Religion as a vehicle for teaching moral values has shown itself to be flawed at best. As has been pointed out far more eloquently elsewhere, people pick and choose from among the various teachings, attempting to adhere to those that seem applicable and appropriate in their lives while discarding those based on obviously outdated contexts. The ability to do so demonstrates an innate capacity for moral judgment independent of religious guidance. While moral choices should probably be guided in early child development, the ability to do so doesn’t rely on religion and indeed many of its metaphors are so far removed from the experience of a child as to be of little or no instructive value.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009


From HuffPo:

... I am so shocked and dismayed over the debilitating pathology that has gripped much of the organized Jewish community today--particularly those of my friends who proudly call themselves "pro-Israel."

What was once a proud, smart, intelligent, nuanced, and diverse movement has devolved into a combination cult-booster club championed by a handful of amazing people who lead a throng of angry, paranoid, one-issue folks with tunnel vision who often blur the difference between being a player and a fan.

(full article)

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Obama tones down National Day of Prayer observance


(CNN) -- For the past eight years, the White House recognized the National Day of Prayer with a service in the East Room, but this year, President Obama decided against holding a public ceremony.

"Prayer is something that the president does everyday," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Tuesday, noting that Obama will sign a proclamation to recognize the day, as many administrations in the past have done.

Asked if Obama thought his predecessor's ceremonies were politicized, Gibbs said, "No, I'm not going to get into that again.

"I think the president understands, in his own life and in his family's life, the role that prayer plays."

The National Day of Prayer is an annual observance for people of all faiths.

(full article)

Bravo Mr. Obama. Prayer by public officials should always be a private matter. Even the appearance of promoting a particular religion or religion in general is a tacit violation of the separation of church and state.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Bullshit in the service of atheism?

From The Jerusalem Post:

This past Shabbat my family and I hosted Rabbi and Mrs. Nachman Holtzberg, parents of Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg, the head of Chabad in Mumbai who was brutally murdered with his wife Rivkah. You'd think that a family that watched their son and daughter-in-law slaughtered on TV by Islamic terrorists would feel hatred and a desire for revenge. But what this saintly father asked of our many guests was simply their participation in rebuilding Chabad of Mumbai so that his son's selfless work would continue.

What a shame Christopher Hitchens did not join us. It might have dissuaded him from penning yet another ignorant and slanderous article about the murderous intent of Orthodox Jews. To read Hitchens these days is to be transported to an alternate universe where religious Jews are often terrorists inspired by racist Jewish ideology that is fomented by their rabbis. Of course, those who live in the real world and who never read about Orthodox Jews setting off bombs in Bali and Baghdad might be a trifle confused by Hitchens' regular rants against Judaism.

You should be. Most of the time he is simply fabricating, like this famous quote taken from his 2007 book God Is Not Great. "Dr. Baruch Goldstein... killed 27 worshipers... While serving as a physician in the Israeli army he had announced that he would not treat non-Jewish patients, such as Israeli Arabs, especially on the Sabbath. As it happens, he was obeying rabbinic law in declining to do this, as many Israeli religious courts have confirmed."

For this particular blood libel against Jewish courts Hitchens relied on a well-known hoax perpetrated by writer Israel Shahak, which was exposed as a fraud more than 40 years ago by Lord Immanuel Jakobovitz, chief rabbi of the British Commonwealth. This is the same Israel Shahak who once accused Jews of worshipping Satan. When I challenged Hitchens about his use of a well-known forgery, and when he could not cite a single other religious court to have ever ruled that a non-Jewish life could not be saved on the Sabbath, he wrote to me and agreed to amend the item in the next edition of his book.

He did not.

(read full article)

Mr. Hitchens:

I've read some of your writings and generally agree with most of the basic points you make; however we as atheists must hold ourselves to a higher standard of truth than our ideological opponents, lest our arguments be as easily dismissed. Quoting from dubious sources, much less sources that have been widely discredited, only serves to undermine your credibility specifically and damages the credibility of other atheists by inference.

When attacking the foundational beliefs on which most of the major religious systems are predicated, stick to the facts, check your facts, and agressively seek to correct errors you may have made in the past. That the whole premise of a supernatural being objectively makes no sense and is self-inconsistent is a position strongly supported by the facts. But if you wish to engage in comparisons between the complex belief systems built on these dubious foundations, and the actions historically and in the present of the practitioners and supporters thereof, you clearly need to get your facts straight.

While there have certainly been examples throughout history of terrible things being perpetrated in the name of virtually all major religions, an examination of the underlying reasons and of how the practitioners and leaders of each such religion grapple with these issues is instructive. In particular, and all too often lost in modern discourse, whether deliberately or through abject ignorance, it is of critical importance to distinguish honestly between conquest and defense; between violence for its own sake and efforts to contain action to what is necessary to achieve a specific military objective, minimizing "collateral damage" as much as possible; between deliberately placing civilians at risk to take advantage of the other side's revulsion at the prospect of harming "innocents" and being that other side, struggling to protect itself while doing as little harm as possible; between deliberately targeting random civilian noncombatants with the goal of harming as many as possible and earnest efforts to avoid civilian casualties despite the counter-tactics of the other side. It is also critical to distinguish the open and heated debate on one side from the widespread support of random terrorist violence on the other.

In any military conflict, no side has completely clean hands. This is just an unavoidable reality of war. But holding one side to unrealistic standards, tying their hands from doing what any of other country would consider its right and responsibility in its defense, while tolerating, ignoring and even denying the egregious behavior of the other only serves to deepen the divide and prolong and exacerbate the conflict.

So, Mr. Hitchens, I would hope that you could publicly acknowledge your errors and in the future, stick to the facts. Argue the fallacy of the foundational beliefs underlying all these religious systems. Argue against the blood spilled in defense of these beliefs. Argue against acetic practices and denial of our nature and our most basic needs. Argue the obsolescence of using supernatural explanations as a substitute for legitimate scientific inquiry and learning. Argue against religious dogma. Argue against nonsense like "intelligent design", and efforts to undermine our educational system by injecting such garbage into our curriculum. But when taking on the details of the more complex ethical systems bult upon these clearly faulty foundations, don't start with a premise and seek "evidence" however weak, to support your conclusions. Instead examine the facts and draw conclusions from those facts. And when something worthwhile has arisen from a religious context despite its foundational fallacies, acknowledge that too, and move on.

Above all, please don't rely on bullshit in support of your arguments. Let's leave that to the religious.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Catholic Church Consolidation


(CNN) -- Along the Rust Belt and in cities dotting the Northeast and Upper Midwest, Catholic communities are mourning the loss of parishes. It's a five-year trend of sweeping church closures that most recently hit Cleveland, Ohio.

Wally Martens, a Cleveland native, can look out his kitchen window and see the spiritual home that has served his family for five generations. St. Ignatius of Antioch has been with him and his loved ones through life and death.

"It's the place where most of us were baptized, most of us got married, most of us graduated from grade school and some of us were buried," Martens, 68, said of the west side urban parish that serves 1,200 households. To find out that the building is set to be shuttered is "like losing somebody in your family."

Earlier this month, Bishop Richard G. Lennon of the Diocese of Cleveland, which serves more than 750,000 Catholics, announced that 29 parishes will close and 41 others will merge. The reconfiguration plan, which will effectively cut 52 parishes in the current tally of 224, is scheduled to go into effect by June 30, 2010.

(full article)

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Roland S. Martin: Pope wrong on condoms


(CNN) -- The African-American religious community deserves considerable praise for taking leadership of the civil rights movement during the first half of the 20th century.

But there is no doubt that toward the end of the 20th century, the black church, primarily because of its opposition to homosexuality, has abdicated its responsibility and totally disregarded the human toll that HIV/AIDS has had on the members it largely serves. It only has been recently that pastors have opted not to turn a blind eye to what is clearly a state of emergency.

Unfortunately, we are seeing the same kind of ignorance of reality from the Catholic Church and its leader, Pope Benedict XVI.

The church has long been opposed to the use of condoms and other forms of birth control because it strongly believes the only purpose for sex is procreation. But for the church to continue to ignore the definitive research that condoms play a huge role in decreasing the spread of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases is mind-boggling.

(please read full piece at CNN.COM)
Sure, sex is only for procreation; food is only for sustenance; play is only for exercise; song is only to aid memory; stage is only for communication... and anyone would want to live such a life... why?

Monday, March 9, 2009

America becoming less Christian, survey finds


(CNN) -- America is a less Christian nation than it was 20 years ago, and Christianity is not losing out to other religions, but primarily to a rejection of religion altogether, a survey published Monday found.

Three out of four Americans call themselves Christian, according to the American Religious Identification Survey from Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. In 1990, the figure was closer to nine out of 10 -- 86 percent.

At the same time there has been an increase in the number of people expressing no religious affiliation.


The rise in evangelical Christianity is contributing to the rejection of religion altogether by some Americans, said Mark Silk of Trinity College.

(full article)
Well, it's not much ... yet ... but it's progress. Someday perhaps a majority of Americans can remove the blinders and look at the world as it actually is instead of through the filter of fairy tales.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Good Cognitive Citizenship

From: - diavlogs:

Will Wilkinson: … there's a lot of other things that I think people would call values that I think imply epistemic laziness. So the value for conformism, for example: people don't think of the value as being conformism, people think of it as” I want to fit into my local community. I want to have the access to the sources of meaning that all the people around me draw from him and if I actually learn about logic or decision theory and deploy it in my everyday thinking then I might end up alienating myself from the things I really do care about that really are values to me.”

So it might be the case that a certain kind of conformity which implies not thinking very hard...I mean not thinking very hard might be instrumental to being able to maintain your commitment to whatever the local norms are. So by saying to people that, “you have a responsibility to be a good cognitive citizen,” that has implications that if you are a good cognitive citizen you might have to give up some of the sources of meaning that, you think, make your life worthwhile.

Eliezer Yudkowsky: Well to be sure rationalists, pardon me: someone undergoing the transition to rationality from a supernaturalist – or non-naturalist base is going to lose some of what they thought were their sources of meaning. The question is, “do they get it back and is it better afterward?”

…So, to put it bluntly: someone who believes that morality comes from God is going to lose their god and get back an improved morality…

Monday, January 26, 2009

Disgraced pastor Haggard facing new sex allegations


COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado (CNN) -- A megachurch paid a 20-year-old man to keep silent about a sexual relationship he had with disgraced evangelical pastor Ted Haggard, a senior church pastor said.

Haggard, who was fired amid allegations that he used drugs and patronized a male prostitute in 2006, had a sexual relationship with a second man -- a 20-year-old volunteer at his megachurch, the Rev. Brady Boyd, a senior pastor at the church, said Monday.

The church agreed to pay the man in exchange for his pledges not to talk publicly about the relationship, Boyd said, referring to a settlement reached by the man's lawyer and the church's insurance company. Under the settlement, the church provided the man money to pay his college tuition, moving expenses and counseling, Boyd said.

(full article)

The monumental hypocrisy of Haggard is only one facet of this story, and it's certainly a big one, particularly as it reflects on communities of repressive religions generally. Another important facet is the hypocrisy of the Christian community at large, supposedly a compassionate bunch, shunning and ostracizing this man they once purported to revere, not for his hypocrisy but for his "immoral behavior". That's it. They're really that shallow. Imagine how conflicted, how self-consumed this guy Haggard must have been all this time, to say nothing of what he must be going through now that the truth about him is on display before the world; yet that's the best the "compassionate" Christans can come up with. In their eyes, his terrible sin is having had homosexual relationships. Pathetic. The hush money was, ostensibly at least, meant to help the young man to move beyond this experience, but the net effect and clear intent was to try and shut him up, to sweep under the rug, to the extent possible, the fact that this incident happened at all.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Goodbye and Good Riddance

Olbermann: Bush Presidency in retrospect - Finally!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

“God” is the problem

In the never-ending conflicts in the middle east, violence is not the problem; territory is not the problem; history is not the problem; anger is not the problem; even corruption is not the problem. These are all symptoms of the problem. The problem is “God”. All parties to the conflict believe this mystical, magical, supposedly omnipotent, merciful, caring, benevolent, yet somehow always conspicuously absent, particularly in times of strife (are there any other kinds?), is allied with their views. Were it not for this insane belief, perhaps the parties could examine the reality on the ground and conclude that there are other actions each can take for the mutual benefit of all instead of striving for mutual annihilation.