We now continue looking at more of Valeria Tarico's "most dangerous religious ideas" (in her salon.com piece) and my responses on how they can be neutralized.
7. Blood sacrifice – In the list of religion’s worst ideas, this is the only one that appears to be in its final stages. Only Hindus continue to ritually hack and slaughter sacrificial animals on a mass scale.
When our ancient ancestors slit the throats on humans and animals or cut out their hearts or sent the smoke of sacrifices heavenward, many believed that they were literally feeding supernatural beings. In time, in most religions, the rationale changed—the gods didn’t need feeding so much as they needed signs of devotion and penance. The residual child sacrifice in the Hebrew Bible (yes it is there) typically has this function.
Christianity’s persistent focus on blood atonement—the notion of Jesus as the be-all-end-all lamb without blemish, the final “propitiation” for human sin—is hopefully the last iteration of humanity’s long fascination with blood sacrifice.
Response: As noted above most of these primitive acts are on the way out so need not concern us. The blood atonement is the only one that does - the notion that the "pure lamb of God " (Yeshua) had to sacrifice himself for the expiation of humanity's "sin". But as I noted in previous posts, this is only relevant if Yeshua was really a "god-man" and there is no evidence he is, see e.g.
In the context of the God-concept, Yeshua is derivative and not primary in any case. In other words he is the "son" of the God-concept which most Christians accept. But again, if all such concepts are relative it doesn't matter in the end if people accept him as "Savior" or not. If it comforts them to do so, then that's fine. But because of the relative nature of the primary concept one can't use the son as a belief cudgel to threaten others who don't accept it.
8. Hell – Whether we are talking about Christianity, Islam or Buddhism, an afterlife filled with demons, monsters, and eternal torture was the worst suffering the Iron Age minds could conceive and medieval minds could elaborate. Invented, perhaps, as a means to satisfy the human desire for justice, the concept of Hell quickly devolved into a tool for coercing behavior and belief.
Response: The point about the limitations of "Iron Age" minds is apropos and fits also with their primitive god-concept of something along the lines of the vengeful, petulant demiurgos. Beaten down by climate upheavals and with tribe members eaten by beasts, these minds could only come up with vicious gods that punish for the smallest offenses, and demons that enforce "justice"
But at some point human brains - especially since the Enlightenment - were able to see through this nonsense, and with the advent of science moved on to more sophisticated God-concepts. This meant religions had to figure out a new way to integrate "eternal" punishments into their dogmas. They also had to make "Hell" more believable - away from it cartoon fire basis. Dante Alighieri's great contribution lay in using the power of his imagination, in his Inferno, to remake Hell away from its childish, cartoon Hellfire imagery.
Instead of unending "fires" which were impossible and spelled numerous metaphysical problems, including demon reproduction, Dante invoked and created subtle forms of eternal torments peculiar to the violations of the damned. For example, in the 2nd Circle of Hell we find those condemned for their lust, "the carnal malefactors"- for letting their raw carnal appetites subdue their reason. They're the first ones to be truly punished in Hell. (The First Circle is not truly a punishment level but rather "Limbo" - for all unbaptized infants. Not even Dante could image them being sent to eternal perdition!)
The RC Church, especially, began to invoke similar, more nuanced Hell visions to reinforce its objective to coerce behavior, i.e. if you have sex before marriage you go to Hell, if you masturbate you go to Hell, if you kill yourself for any reason, you end up in Hell.
But the problem for the Hell mongers is that the concept isn't even logically coherent, e.g.
9. Karma – Like hell, the concept of karma offers a selfish incentive for good behavior—it’ll come back at you later—but it has enormous costs. Chief among these is a tremendous weight of cultural passivity in the face of harm and suffering. Secondarily, the idea of karma sanctifies the broad human practice of blaming the victim. If what goes around comes around, then the disabled child or cancer patient or untouchable poor (or the hungry rabbit or mangy dog) must have done something in either this life or a past one to bring their position on themselves.
Response: There is not much to add to this, other than the 'blame the victim' meme comes to the fore. Also, it appears none of the karma backers grasps the unending karmic loop engendered, and where it ends. If some bad guy did evil act E1 to Y, and it was Y's "karma" and Y does evil E2 to Z to make it Z's "karma" where does the karmic chain end? One karmic adherent I had a debate with claimed the Jews that died in the Holocaust were all receiving "karma" for terrible things they'd done in past lives. The absolute abominable subtext of this needs no elaboration but it gets to the bottom (glaringly!) of what is wrong with the karma idea. That last example alone ought to be sufficient to neutralize it.
10. Eternal Life – To our weary and unwashed ancestors, the idea of gem encrusted walls, streets of gold, the fountain of youth, or an eternity of angelic chorus (or sex with virgins) may have seemed like sheer bliss. But it doesn’t take much analysis to realize how quickly eternal paradise would become hellish—an endless repetition of never changing groundhog days (because how could they change if they were perfect).
The real reason that the notion of eternal life is such a bad invention, though, is the degree to which it diminishes and degrades existence on this earthly plane. With eyes lifted heavenward, we can’t see the intricate beauty beneath our feet. Devout believers put their spiritual energy into preparing for a world to come rather than cherishing and stewarding the one wild and precious world we have been given.
Response: The last part is especially cogent and why I personally hate the idea of "eternal life" or "heaven" because it leads directly to the dismissal of Earthly life, environment and living in the here and now. It is no wonder then that those who cling the most to concepts like heaven have the least care about climate change and acting to stop it. "What's the point? Earth is only a way station anyway, heaven is my final destination".
But as I also noted in an earlier (April 14, 2012)post:
"The error of the Heaven confabulators, then, is basically the same as for the Hell inventors, since the two represent opposing poles of the same afterlife fantasy or two sides of the same sanity-raping coin. In any reward-punishment setting, one must offset the other. If you invent Hell to punish the unfaithful or the hardcore sinner who refuses to repent, you must have a Heaven for those who comply."
Thus, heaven falls just like Hell because they are two sides of the same "reward-punishment" God-concept. Since all God-concepts are relative then all afterlife concepts are as well, none is to be preferred to any others. Thus, the Buddhist concept of afterlife nothingness is as justified as the heaven-Hell model.
11.Male Ownership of Female Fertility – The notion of women as brood mares or children as assets likely didn’t originate with religion, but the idea that women were created for this purpose, that if a woman begets life she must be subjugated is part of many religions.
Response: Again this goes hand in hand with the patriarchal nature of most primitive god-concepts: envisioning "God" as an old white man with a beard, ruling over everything and everyone- especially women. Of course, the . most expeditious way to eradicate this foolishness is by replacing all personal God-concepts with impersonal ones, i.e. defining the ultimate in terms of energy. Since energy has no gender the male patriarch image becomes redundant. The nature of a holistic impersonal Being is explicated in my recent book, Beyond Atheism, Beyond God.
12. Bibliolatry (aka Book Worship) – Preliterate people handed down their best guesses about gods and goodness by way of oral tradition, and they made objects of stone and wood, idols, to channel their devotion. Their notions of what was good and what was Real and how to live in moral community with each other were free to evolve as culture and technology changed. But the advent of the written word changed that. As our Iron Age ancestors recorded and compiled their ideas into sacred texts, these texts allowed their understanding of gods and goodness to become static. The sacred texts of Judaism, Christianity and Islam forbid idol worship, but over time the texts themselves became idols, and many modern believers practice—essentially—book worship, also known as bibliolatry.
Response: This is something I have commented on in previous posts. In terms of the God-concept context, it means that the Jewish concept of Yahweh, the Muslim concept of Allah, the Hindu concept of Brahmin and the Christian concept of the Trinity all stand in the same epistemological relation. From an informational point of view, none can be selected as “true” to the exclusion of the others.
This is completely analogous to there being inadequate information to distinguish one religion’s claims as true to the exclusion of all others. In the case of individual religions and religious traditions, the embodiment of the respective truth claim is found in a sacred revelation, or holy book. For example, the Holy Bible for Christianity, the Talmud for Jews, the Koran for Muslims and the Upanishads for Hindus, each proclaims inherent truths. For many of the respective faiths’ followers, these inherent truths are also absolute in the sense they dare not be contradicted. But if God-concepts are all relative and subjective, then all the sacred books on which they are based must be. None can be "true" to the exclusion of the others.
The problem is that the early writers for each scripture suffered from the same limitation of comprehension as their modern counterparts. A finite neural capacity means limited intellectual grasp, irrespective of the particular conceptual allegiance. This then leads to a "holy" document or scripture that itself is limited and subjective, not absolute.
Note, a genuine God putatively doesn’t make mistakes since perfection is surely a fundamental divine attribute. However, a human brain is quite likely to project its flaws onto its concepts and that includes beholding the contrived deity botching assorted events and actions. No one can blame (finite) brains for this propensity, but humans at least need to recognize that they do it!
On the other hand, this defect means that worshipping holy books is to avoided at all costs as another form of idolatry.