Tag Archives: Atheism

PZ Myers – Sacking the City of God

20 Jun

I recently enjoyed watching this video of PZ Myers, atheist extraordinaire, and thoroughly affable chap.

In it he discusses how we atheistic, rationalist, freethinking types can pull down the edifice of religion.

He starts with a nice theme. He says that “in the beginning was the word” is not right. First came the blood; blood used to knit people together with a common identity. Support for your kin meant you, or at least your genes, survived. Then the king or pharaoh was the symbol of your identity, and looked after your welfare. But kings died. Next was the city as it out-lives the leaders – get behind the city and you prosper. But cities like Rome fell. So then came ideas. People rally around ideas. This is why christianity has done so well.

He quotes Evey in the film V For Vendetta: “We are told to remember the idea, not the man, because a man can fail. He can be caught, he can be killed and forgotten, but 400 years later, an idea can still change the world. I’ve witnessed first hand the power of ideas, I’ve seen people kill in the name of them, and die defending them… ideas do not bleed, they do not feel pain, they do not love…

However, ideas can be beaten with other ideas.

Christians, even more moderate ones, “believe in some outrageous bullshit. The christian myths of a virgin giving birth to a god who dies are illogical lunacy. And the christian doctrines of original sin and redemption through blood sacrifice by proxy are crippling psychopathological abominations.

He says he sees three principles emerging among atheists: Truth, Autonomy and Community (though he’s quick to point out that he’s not forcing any of his principles on anyone as that would be to fall into the immoral approach of the religious).

Atheists seek the truth – evidence based rather than belief. We want to know how things work by testing, by looking at evidence. That’s science. We don’t say we’ve already decided how it works because it says so in a mythical story. We don’t say that’s how it works because that’s how we want it to be – that’s just wishful thinking.

Autonomy, as we freethinkers are all different and have a wonderful mix of ideas, backgrounds and personalities. We are where we are because we reject the orthodoxy, we are weirdos and outcasts, we are not sheep. For many years we have been in the minority, “often feeling alone in seeing through the god-awful babble of the church“. We detest people that try to impose rules on us. “People should be free to be who they are with impunity“.

The thing is there are more and more people standing up and speaking out against the taboo topic of the immorality and danger of religion. We are not all geeky nihilists, though there may be some that are part of the community. There are diverse atheistic groups, whether on the internet, or at atheist and freethinker conferences. There is power in community and together we can work better to “free minds from the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth” (to borrow from Morpheus).

I recommend his blog, where he features regular descriptions from people on why they are an atheist. It seems his mission is to make us superstition-deniers feel we’re not alone, that there are many of us out there, sharing the same core view that we are able to throw off the shackles of religion and move forward to a more grown up way of thinking.

God Is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens

19 Apr

This is a good book to explore some of the arguments around gods existence, the nature of religion and its effects on people.

The reader is left in no doubt as to his view given the subtitle of the book: How Religion Poisons Everything.

Not as good as watching the Hitch debate live mind. If after reading the book and watching him talk you can remain religious then you clearly must have a screw loose (I recommend the second link – he summarises the book in 10 minutes).

The Hitch (PBUH) calls himself an anti-theist rather than an atheist; a distinction I enjoy.

I heartily agree with most of what he says. I’ve noticed more and more the egregious lack of morals in the biblical stories and the principles espoused therein. Although most Christians (by necessity) cherry pick the nice bits and close their ears to the downright nasty bits, I think it’s important to point out the fact that it condones slavery, selling your daughter, rape, genocide, ritual slaughter of animals, human sacrifice and torture; whether that be to appease god or to punish non believers for all eternity. Indeed the idea that we have the choice to follow god, and then choose not to take that option then deserve the eternal damnation that Jesus first introduces, it is scandalous to claim the christian god is all loving, all powerful and all knowing. Further, if he already knows the future and the choices we will make, he has therefore created us knowing that we will make that choice. Pretty immoral.

And so if people truly do follow the claims of the belief system, and believe the bible to be the word of god, i.e. get a bit fundamentalist, then we’re in for a rough ride.

He argued that putting threats of eternal punishment behind these religious moral exhortations rather devalues them – surely we should do it out of a better motive.

And then christians can somehow claim that the morals and laws in society come from religion. (Granted some come from the church trying to maintain power and control.) In fact, in the fourth century, when christianity was being codified, they borrowed largely from the Stoics. I would argue that most decent laws come from our natural instincts as humans to figure out rules to work together as a society, i.e. we have a moral society not because of religion, but in spite of it.

I think The Hitch could have pushed this point more strongly in his book; he does this to great effect in his debates.

That said, most of the arguments were great, and added to the already big armoury of anti-christian arguments that are fairly obvious to anyone that takes the time to read even a small part of the bible with an open mind. He does it with wit and erudition without getting ranty and so it is an enjoyable and educational read.

His treatment of the assertion that atheistic regimes can also be pretty abhorrent (Russia, Cambodia, Nazi Germany et al) could have been stronger; he draws parallels between the ideologies of these regimes and religion and shows that religious people and organisations didn’t condemn then, and even supported them. He could have done a lot better than that, for example mentioning that Hitler was a christian and his interpretation of christianity was a central motivation for his antisemitism. He could have also used an argument that I prefer: mentioning that Hitler was a vegetarian and by the same ‘logic’ could say therefore vegetarianism leads to evil. Or he could have just shown this cartoon which says it nicely. “Saying that you believe in atheism is like saying you believe in maths. Hitler and Stalin didn’t go to war in the name of atheism, much like they didn’t go to war in the name of fractions or prime numbers.

Again, in his debates he puts forward the excellent two questions:

First, you have to name for me an ethical action or an ethical statement or moral action or moral statement made or undertaken by a believer that I couldn’t undertake or say, I couldn’t state or do. I haven’t yet had an example pointed out of that to me. In other words, that a person of faith would have an advantage by being able to call upon divine sanction. Whereas if I ask you to think of a wicked act undertaken by someone in the name of God or because of their faith or a wicked statement made, you wouldn’t have that much difficulty, I think, in coming up with an example right away. The genital mutilation community, for example, is almost exclusively religious; the suicide bombing community is almost exclusively religious; there are injunctions for genocide in the Old Testament; there are injunctions, warrants for slavery and racism in the Old Testament too. There’s simply no way of deriving morality and ethics from the supernatural. When we come to the question of the absolute, well, the most often cited one is the Golden Rule, the one that almost everyone feels they have in common. The injunction not to do to others as you wouldn’t want them to do to you. This doesn’t in fact come from the Sermon on the Mount or from Christianity, or it doesn’t originate with it. It’s certainly adumbrated by Rabbi Hillel, a Babylonian rabbi, and it’s to be found in The Analects of Confucious, too.

It almost seems like he rushed the latter part of the book. Most though was very good and stuffed full of great arguments and quotes. I particularly loved “if triangles had gods their gods would have three sides”.

Suffice it to say that if you are in any doubt as to whether to pursue the believers route, or have the misguided view that religious values are somehow good for society, then have a read and be disabused of those notions.

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