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Ending religious violence


By Nanook - Posted on 14 November 2010

Why does society have religion at all?

So let’s try to wrap up this pretty long but very valuable discussion. In summary, why does society have religion at all? Try to refer back to the things we talked about.”

"Society has religion primarily because of IGNORANCE and FEAR. Human’s throughout the ages, and from all cultures, couldn’t explain many things that happened to them. This scared them. So, out of fear they went looking for answers. Up until very recently, there was no reliable source of answers based on our material existence. So people turned to authority figures for answers. Not having material based answers either, the authority figures made up narrow, logically consistent explanations that they claimed were supported by supernatural powers. This gave people temporary consolation. The collection of supernatural explanations is the basis of religion.”

"And why are there large organizations we call religions in addition to just collections of explanations?”

"Well, first off, until recently in history, there was no simple way for the average person to access a broad collection of knowledge. Books didn’t exist, and most people were illiterate. This access problem created the role of the priests. They were intellectuals who could read, or memorize from oral teaching, a large number of answers. There were large numbers of priests required to carry the message to the whole population. Large groups of people need structure to show consistency.

Second, since government leaders relied on religious answers as well, religion and government worked side by side in early history to both gather and distribute information. This created the organized structure for religion.”

Why do we have so many religions

“So, question three. Why do you think there are so many religions in the world?”

“Let’s take this in two steps. Step one is why were there so many religions in the first place.

I think the major reason for that was the lack of long distance communications. The need for answers was universal. But since there was no easy way for people to get answers from afar, people turned to local resources. The local resources, witch doctors, a shaman, medicine men etc. created answers, but mostly for local questions. These questions, which were driven by local conditions, varied widely from place to place. So, there was essentially a separate religion for each separate tribe. Over time, some of the religions merged due to wars and emerging social groups. But there were still a very large number of them.”

“OK. That explains the wide variety of beliefs. But what about the more universal questions, like what causes rain? Why are there so many explanations for that?”

"Of course, the local Shaman would answer that question too. But, without a scientific way to get the answer, or true supernatural inspiration, the Shaman had to make up an answer. Human creativity being so broad, there are a very large variety of answers to such a question - supernatural waterfalls, angels crying etc. And since all early religious answers relied on supernatural causes, there would be no way to verify them against material reality and thereby converge on a single answer. So each Shaman held to his own stories.”

“That raises the issue of supernatural inspiration. Couldn’t God have inspired all the holy books with the true answer to these questions?”

"Sure. He COULD HAVE. And if that were the case, they would all say pretty much the same thing. But they don’t even say close to the same thing. So, supernatural inspiration can’t be a fallback here, unless of course, you accept that there are many gods who each have their own territory and ways of doing things, which was the belief in the old days. So, if we want to assume there is only one God, and if we want to assume that he inspired at least one of the holy books, we’re back to the problem of determining which one it is.”

“This brings us to questions number 4 and 5: why do we still have religions today, and why are there still so many?”

Why society hasn’t freed itself from religion

“I think both of these questions get answered at the same time. And that answer is: we still have so many religions because humanity hasn’t found a process to expose and reject false religions.”

“OK. But that statement is based on a very big assumption. That assumption is that humanity SHOULD have found a way to reject false religions. How can you assume that?”

"Because of the MULTIPLE RELIGIONS problem. Sure, maybe we might allow the assumption that there is ONE TRUE religion out there. But, there is no logical reason to assume that all religions are TRUE. In fact, it means that we have to acknowledge that there are many NOT TRUE religions. That is religions that are preaching LIES. Once society acknowledges that, why would society want to accept it? They shouldn’t. Which is essentially the equivalent of saying society SHOULD have found a way to reject those religions.”

“And your reason that they haven’t is that society doesn’t know HOW to do it?”

"That’s right. Society, as a whole, has not learned to face their denial.”

“And in that case, we have what we have. Dawkins agrees with you, by the way. Let me read what he says about it.”

“On this model we should expect that, in different geographical regions, different arbitrary beliefs, none of which have any factual basis, will be handed down, to be believed with the same conviction as useful pieces of traditional wisdom such as the belief that manure is good for the crops. We should also expect that superstitions and other non-factual beliefs will locally evolve - change over generations - either by random drift or by some sort of analogue of Darwinian selection, eventually showing a pattern of significant divergence from common ancestry.”

“And this brings us to question 6: what can society do about it?”

"Which I interpret as asking ‘what can MY generation do about it? Well, maybe my generation has something special about it. I don’t know. Maybe that’s just my personal pride being projected on the world. But I do think we are more aware than the generations before us. That said, the ‘gauntlet’ is still stretched in front of us. So, let me summarize, based on everything I’ve learned so far, what I think the obstacles are.

Basics

The average person in our society doesn’t have what George calls an A3 brain. That is, they can’t organize things very well, and don’t have the ability to understand organization. So they rely on their leaders to tell them what to do. But, our political system is inadvertently designed to put people in leadership positions who are very much like the people who elect them or promote them. So the leaders aren’t any more capable of answering these major questions than the average person.

Now add in the problem of the Emperor’s new clothes. Even if people see a naked Emperor, the social pressure to conform and not challenge authority is so great, that the entire world will still pretend the Emperor has clothes.

Unable to understand the complexities of the world, and unwilling to confront the social norms, THE REACTION OF SOCIETY IS TO STAY IN A STATE OF DENIAL. Individual and collective brains shut out the need to be logical. They shut out the need to face reality. They turn to the age old proverb: ‘ignorance is bliss.’ But they get short-changed. Ignorance doesn’t reliably solve problems. Why? Because people still need to act and interact. They need to interact with each other and with all the material constraints in life. So they still need a code of morality and codes of conduct. So, what do they do?

First, in order to calm their FEARS, they go looking for LEADERS to pass the responsibility to for articulating these codes. The leaders, knowing how to control people, invoke their armada of supernatural super-powerful gods. The leaders claim these gods love humans and really care for them. Do you see the implied value of this?”

"Sure. This creates a safety net. People want to assume that gods who would create humans would protect their creations.”

“But it’s important to understand how overwhelming the mechanism of denial is here. The entire Judeo-Christian history is filled with events where God has been ruthless with his creations. Even in our current world, what we call the ‘Acts of God’, include the great plagues which repeatedly massacre hundreds of millions of people. But people just stay in denial about that. They BELIEVE they are safe as long as the leaders promise that everything will be ok in the future for each person, INDIVIDUALLY, as long as they, INDIVIDUALLY, do what they are told. To be specific about the level of denial:

- people still believe religion has benefits, and is the ONLY source of these benefits, despite extensive contradictory evidence;

- people don’t actually follow all the teachings in their holy books. But they tell themselves they do. If they are challenged on that, they say they are just doing what their local minister tells them to do. Or if they don’t follow a local minister, they just pick out some very simple statement from their holy book, like ‘love one another’ and refuse to address any logical criticism.

- most people only follow the religious rules that don’t produce clear immediate conflicts and tragedies in their lives. But they still claim to be following ‘all the rules’.

- people actually do accept and use every fruit of science and new technology that gives them a visible benefit. But when asked about it, they deny that their actions in any way go against their religion.”

“NANOOK! Wow. You have sure remembered a lot of the things we talked about. And you are extending the principles quite well.”

“Duh? I wish I understood half of what I’m saying. I’m like a 3 year old full of Single Sentence Logic.”

“Come on. Have FAITH!”

We both broke up laughing. At that point, I established an emotional connection with Father Vincent that I’ll never forget. We both knew, even with as much as we did know, how early on in our personal journeys we were.

"Father. This is amazing. My insides are churning. My head is spinning and I have a headache as big as an iceberg. But thanks to your patience with me and George’s great insights, at least I’m able to jump outside myself and understand what’s going on. My Grim brain is in total chaos. My old world house of cards is totally demolished. My Thinker brain is trying to sort all this stuff out logically and rebuild Mr. Grim’s house.

Then you ask me these questions. What’s so neat is that I can actually see what is happening in my head. Mr Grim jumps right back into the game and starts playing tapes. I can hear Father Paul’s sermons in church. I can see Sister Rosa lecturing us in class: ‘religion is EVERYTHING! THERE IS NOTHING ELSE.’ But then I hear you sending in new information: the Bible is bogus; the world is filled with thousands of religions which can’t all be true; the real problem is understanding the Seven Deadly Sins, which people are ignoring and on and on. And then you ask the questions which forces Grim to make sense of the new material.

With all the misinformation misleading at least 4 billion people on this planet, MOST of us should want to find another way. But we don’t. WHY? And now, I actually know the answers. But I’m frozen! I’m petrified facing the answers.”

" . . . . . . SO? . . . . . . .”

"Come on, Father. Transubstantiate me into a better place. Turn me into a fish or something.”

"OK. Let’s see. Let’s turn you into a . . . . SHRIMP!”

"HEY! Give me a break. Up here in the Arctic, I’d be whale food in a millisecond.”

"OK. How about a . . . . LEMING!”

"Out of the pan and into the fire. The Jaegers and Owls would make quick lunches out of me. OK. OK. I’ll stay human.”

At which point both of us broke up into hysterics. We were laughing so hard we were crying.

“So, what explains how people can have so much denial?”

“Simple: the combination of Single Sentence Logic and FEAR! The major reason people can live with so much denial is that their brains are truly organized around Single Sentence Logic thinking. To feel safe, people only have to deny the FEARS that are currently in front of them. And, as soon as something drives people out of their comfort zone, FEAR will drive them behind a new set of Single Sentence Logic walls to hide.”

“What can I say?”

Again, we broke up laughing.

"What else!”

And we raised our voices in unison:

AMEN!

Respect for individual thought but not conclusions.

[This section excerpts part of a new set of commandments presented in Vol. 2 chapter 34. Nanook (italics) is talking with Father Vincent ( + sign ) and Ben ( & sign ). ]

Intro

"OK. Moving on to commandment three: treating every person with respect, including respect for individual thought, but not necessarily their conclusions.”

+ "This commandment is primarily directed at freedom of speech. But it starts out by focusing on free thought. People need to know that they are free to explore ANY subject in their thoughts. This of course is a conflict with the Christian commandments related to coveting.

Thinking, of course, does not become a social issue until we communicate those thoughts or act on them. While the Bill of Rights claims to protect free speech, as we discussed, it completely fails at it. What my new commandment does is enable three things. It supports the importance of thought, it addresses the complexity of this issue and it implies that speech is NOT totally free.

Four elements of speech

As we discussed before, the concept of free speech, which should really be thought of as freedom of communication, has four elements: the right to express a communication; the right not to express a communication; the right to receive a communication; the right not to receive a communication. What people need to accept is that there are cases where it is reasonable for each of these to be limited.

One of the classic examples where a person’s speech is limited is yelling ‘FIRE’ in a crowded theater when there is no fire. What this is an example of is a broad category of speech related to communicating MISLEADING or FALSE information. But a person can yell anything in the woods where no one else can hear, and no harm will be done. So, the issue of LIABILITY for expressing a communication is resolved by determining, the IMPACT that the communication has on society. So, this legal issue can be resolved by facing the problem in that way. There should be NO penalty given directly for ANY human expression. However, EVERY human expression is subject to a penalty for the consequences it produces.”

& "And that covers a whole range of things like libel laws, for example.”

+ "Precisely! And it sets a NEW standard for how children are taught. They will no longer be told that they have the ‘right’ to say anything they want. They will be told that everything they say has consequences and they’d better learn the social complexities involved.”

"So, that means if a group wants to express their view that the Holocaust never happened, or that they believe in witchcraft, they are no longer protected by the law to do so. Is that right?”

+ "NO. That’s not what I’m saying. The law still has the responsibility to protect a citizen’s right to speak. There are only a very few reasons where one citizen is allowed to assault another, for example. But every case is a complex situation. So, a person who assaults someone for giving a speech on witchcraft or almost any other topic, will be subject to punishment. But if a person making a witchcraft speech insists on doing so in the middle of a fundamentalist revival meeting, and the person is beat up, the judge should have the flexibility to hand out a feeble sentence. On the other hand, if the assault resulted in death, rather than eviction from the meeting, the sentence might be quite different.”

"I see. What you are saying is that the situation is COMPLEX.”

+ "Precisely! And it’s not easy to summarize the complexity in just a few words other than to say total freedom is NOT guaranteed.

Need to focus on the individual

There is another aspect that this commandment addresses. That is INDIVIDUALITY. To do that effectively, we need to develop mechanisms to capture the views of EACH citizen as an individual, not just as part of a poll. And then we have to act to address all of those viewpoints. But, at the same time, the commandment states that the result may NOT give people what they want if what they want doesn’t adhere to reality or causes PROVABLE harm to others.

Notice that I didn’t specify age here. The idea of respecting elders was part of the authoritarian model. If elders are worthy of respect, and they should be based on seeking wisdom throughout their life, then they will get it. If they don’t earn it, however, they shouldn’t get it.

But while respecting everyone’s right to free thought, this commandment is also a directive that everyone in society is also free to challenge what is said, even the pronouncements of institutions like religions. This is a universal.”

& "Again, the need to challenge the sacred theology taboo.”

+ "Precisely! And finally, the commandment establishes an absolute foundation based on logic. Let me read what Ayn Rand had to say about this. Let’s see. Atlas, page 949.”

“When I disagree with a rational man, I let reality be our final arbiter; if I am right, he will learn; if I am wrong, I will; one of us will win, but both of us will profit."

"So, you’re saying the absolute foundation of challenging anything that is stated by anyone is the search for REALITY?”

+ "Precisely!

Expose the failure of religion and the holy books

Clarify that we are NOT here for same purpose

A new government has to come clean on the principle of separation of church and state. It has to give ALL the people clear proof of this. So, as a minimum, it needs to make a statement that it recognizes that all people do not believe they are on this earth for the same reason. Because of this, people may have very different views of what behaviors they may express in society. While a legal structure can have the goal of providing FREEDOM to express religion for as many of it’s citizens as possible, it knows that it will not be able to do so for those with positions harmful to others. But it can do way better than what society has done in the past. And to do that in an equitable way, the rules of law will be re-designed without regard to ANY specific religion. In this age, that specifically requires a re-evaluation of all the laws with regard to the influence of Christian principles. For example, the laws supporting national celebrations for Christian holidays must be re-assessed to balance respect for ALL other religions in the country.

Defend Freedom of Religion

"So, you aren’t saying that the new society would prohibit religion.”

+ "Absolutely not. The primary goal, remember, is freedom. Prohibition of religion would directly conflict with that. In fact, this commandment is the primary defense for Freedom of Religion. What the government would do is support and rely on the new educational system to provide clear comparative information about all the religions, and the implications of practicing those religions, for people to make logical choices.

Force the religions to clarify the definition of their God and gods and other supernatural beings

And because this will be such a major issue in the country, the religions will be expected to present supporting information to the colleges to probe the real deep questions. Then, for example, if the colleges ask the most basic question of all, that is, to define God or gods, they can compare the definitions on a logical basis against tangible verifiable facts. And they can generate critical discussions about some slippery concepts like: are angles gods?’ Why not? Is the devil a god? Why not? Are demons gods? Why not?

Reduce the adversity that Religions thrive on

And now, let me address one of the most basic religious questions of all: why do people seek out religion? We’ve discussed part of this. They seek religion to explain mysterious things in the world. The other major reason is to escape oppression. They turn to religion when they know they can’t get relief by appealing to their government. Let me read a paragraph about this from Neitzsche. Let’s see. Page 69.”

“Perhaps nothing in Christianity and Buddhism is so worthy of respect as their skill in teaching even the lowest that they can be included in a higher illusionary order of things through piety. This enables the religion to keep them satisfied to remain in the real order in which they find it difficult enough to live – but precisely, this difficulty is necessary! Finally, … we must draw up the wicked counter-evidence that these religions present … uncanny dangerousness. One must always pay dearly and frightfully when religions do not operate as a cultivating and educating force in the hands of philosophers, but rule sovereign and … want to be ultimate ends in themselves instead of means among other means."

"This is the ‘opiate of the masses’ issue again.”

“+ "Precisely! But do you see the dilemma? If society does well by it’s members, then the members will not be in a ‘difficult’ situation that they need to escape from. It’s as if the extent of religion in a population is a direct measure of oppression or destitution of the society. We should ask this question about the U.S. With a goal to eliminate such destitution, a successful social structure should automatically reduce the religious impulses that created the religions in the first place.

Religious research

And this leads to another task to be set for the colleges. That is, they should completely explore the elements of society that religion is supposed to affect in order to MEASURE exactly what that effect is. They would then determine if the effects are based on supernatural influence, or have a material explanation? What I’m trying to say here is that we need to heed the warning of John Stuart Mill in On Liberty.”

“The notion that it is one man’s duty that another should be religious, was the foundation of all the religious persecutions ever perpetrated and if admitted, would fully justify them.”