October 2009

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The Root Of Religion?

There has been a lot of research in recent years as to why we like to believe in religion, and where it came from in the first place. A lot of theories have been suggested, and there’s probably an element of truth to all of them. Plus of course, there’s our deep-seated fear of the unknown, especially death. We are so afraid of death that we desperately want to believe that we don’t actually die, a desire that religion fulfils in our minds. And before we had science to explain the true nature of reality, religion provided us with an explanation for the way the world is, however fanciful it may have been. The discussion we had after my last post, however, leads to another possible idea as to the origin of religion—surely not the only reason religion came about, but quite possibly a very important one.

As social animals, human beings are biologically programmed to co-operate with and care for each other, as it enhances our chances of survival, both as individuals and as a species. This is actually the origin of the moral sense that religious people have such a hard time understanding without God, but which is in reality a very simple and logical consequence of our evolutionary history. But like all animals, however, we also have a selfish survival instinct, particularly when resources are limited. This naturally leads to tribalism—we tend to form groups that are large enough to give us what we need to survive, but not so large that we run out of resources. Of course, just how big that group can be depends on how efficiently we are able to use the resources available to us, hence technology has led to an increasingly globalised society. But at the time the holy books of most of the world’s major religions were written, tribalism was rife, as our ability to utilise resources was indeed limited. Read the rest of this entry »

Jr posted a link to this article in a comment on my last post, but it had me so outraged that I think it deserves a post of its own. Here is a quote from the opening paragraphs of this eye-opening article:

EKET, Nigeria—The 9-year-old boy lay on a bloodstained hospital sheet crawling with ants, staring blindly at the wall.

His family pastor had accused him of being a witch, and his father then tried to force acid down his throat as an exorcism. It spilled as he struggled, burning away his face and eyes. The emaciated boy barely had strength left to whisper the name of the church that had denounced him — Mount Zion Lighthouse.

A month later, he died.

Can you imagine the excruciating pain this poor boy must have suffered over that month? This must be some kind of crazy, whacko religious cult, right? It is in reality Christianity, as brought to Africa by American evangelicals. And as shown by this article, this boy’s case is not an isolated incident.

So why on earth are preachers condemning innocent children to this fate? That’s the most shocking part of all: it’s good for business. The preachers and churches who identify the most “witches” are seen as being the most powerful, and parents actually pay them willingly to exorcise their children.

This is a great example of why atheists like myself can no longer accept religion as a benign belief that gives people comfort. Because when a person’s most cherished belief is something for which there is no physical evidence, they are susceptible to believing anything—including that their own children are witches and must be tortured, or that blowing themselves up to kill “infidels” will give them 72 virgins in the afterlife. Religious moderates and liberals will argue that these people are extremists, but their actions are a logical consequences of their belief systems, and are very often actually directly supported by their own holy books. Yes, these people are often poor and desperate, but certainly not always (most of the September 11 terrorists were actually fairly wealthy and well educated), and only religion could twist their minds so much as to do something like this. Indeed, the more poor and desperate people are, the more powerful the false certainty of religion becomes. This then allows business interests to prey on their desperation, as is so tragically the case here.

I also find it absurd that we condemn new religions as cults, while allowing larger, more established religions to do the same sorts of things, or worse. They are both equally delusional—and dangerous.

I’m sure you’ve all heard about this story by now: Obama gets asked by a 4th grader why everybody hates him so much! Although I obviously can’t personally agree with his Christian sentiment, he actually does make a valid point: Christians are supposed to be loving and tolerant, but far right wing conservative Americans have shown themselves to be about the most hateful and intolerant group of people this side of fundamentalist Islam. And at least Muslim fundamentalists are honest about their hatred and intolerance—fundamentalist Christians go on about love when all they do is hate, and go on about freedom when they want to suppress the freedom of everyone who disagrees with them. They claim to represent American values when in fact America was founded on secular values (hence the separation of church and state in the constitution), and they claim to represent Christian values when in fact their behaviour is very much against to the teachings of Jesus Christ.

And why do they hate Obama so much anyway? I mean, Bush sent hundreds of Americans to their deaths in a senseless, illegal war, but that’s okay for them. On the other hand, Obama is trying to do something to bring health care to more Americans—even if you disagree with his plan, surely any sensible person can see that he is at least trying to do something for the benefit of the American people? Bush basically sent hundreds of innocent Americans to die for the benefit of Halliburton and the arms trade, while Obama is at least trying to save American lives, by taking them out of this war and trying to improve their health care. How could anyone have such a twisted value system and delusional world view as to think they should hate Obama, while at the same time supporting Bush?

POSTSCRIPT: I forgot to ask everyone what they think of Obama winning the Nobel Peace Prize! Personally, I agree with Obama himself that he doesn’t yet deserve it, and I hope he makes good on his statement that he will take it as a call to action. Perhaps he can start by putting some teeth into his administration’s demand that there should be no more Israeli settlements on Palestinian land…

Creation Story Cartoon

We’re currently working on something pretty big and serious, so while we’re doing that, I thought I’d post this hilarious bit of comic relief—it’s actually a very accurate retelling of the Biblical creation!