Sunday, January 25, 2015
The "12 Worst Ideas Unleashed On the World By Religion" - How They Can Be Nullified (Part 1)
Heretics meet their tortured ends at the hands of the Inquisition.
Let us agree as a starting proposition that any form of intellectual enterprise or program predicated on fantasy worlds or what are deemed "beyond the natural" realm (i.e. supernatural) are bound to be rife with terrible ideas. The reason is simple: By ignoring natural world constraints and natural laws (e.g. 2nd law of thermodynamics) then "anything goes" and the casual violation of the laws becomes as easy as shooting fish in a barrel.
This then can lead to a fictitious morality and sanctions that have no realistic bearing on what is humanly feasible or possible. These can then lead to arrogant overstepping of bounds and persecution of others simply because they don't share the same beliefs.
So we are clear where I am coming from, and as I pointed out in my recent book, Beyond Atheism, Beyond God, religions ought to be accorded respect but only in so far as they agree they are really espousing God-concepts - not any actual God. The reason is logical and simple: If there are 2,000 religions they cannot all be claiming the same truths - or the same "God"- which is the same thing. Hence, the only conclusion must be their dogmas and sacred books are about God-concepts. These are fallible, artificial creations of the human mind which are inherently flawed and limited.
If religions or religionists claim they are advancing the SAME God but in different ways, then the critical thinker must point out the redundancy and all but one are useful. Since they will never agree on whose God meets that standard, then we must come back to the notion of relative God concepts.
The use of the term God-concept then recognizes implicitly that the nearly universal allegiance to some God concept or other is separate from the issue of any factual existence of a deity. In other words, the widespread use and appeal of God concepts does not mean that there is a genuine correspondent in reality. In fact, humanity's penchant for creating Gods via God-concepts is full explainable by appeal to brain architecture and tendencies such as described by Michael Persinger in his monograph, The Neuropsychological Bases of God Beliefs, 1983.
All this is put forward before I examine each of the '12 worst ideas unleashed on the world by religion' discussed in a recent article by Valeria Tarico on salon.com. Now, taking them in order - with the author's (edited) descriptions- then my take:
1."Chosen People" –The term “Chosen People” typically refers to the Hebrew Bible and the ugly idea that God has given certain tribes a Promised Land (even though it is already occupied by other people). But in reality many sects endorse some version of this concept, i.e. he New Testament identifies Christians as the chosen ones.
Religious sects are inherently tribal and divisive because they compete by making mutually exclusive truth claims and by promising blessings or afterlife rewards that no competing sect can offer.
Response: This is pretty well spot on, especially the last part. If then we were to replace "God" with God -concept most of the problems would vanish because mutual exclusion vanishes since all God-concepts are relative one to the other (i.e. none can be known absolutely) and hence none is superior to the others. Effectively, God "competition" ceases and there can be no spoken idiocy such as one Gen. Jerry Boykin once uttered ("My God can beat your God!")
In the same way, if all are relative, none can promise special "eternal" rewards that the rest can't - because again, all are relative to each other, and subjective. Thus, their beliefs - such as concerning afterlives - must also be relative and subjective. As I observed in Chapter 1 of my book:
The implicit relativism acts as a restraint, backing the believer away from a militant absolutism. Ideally, this should dispose him or her to be more tolerant toward unbelievers, and tolerant toward those of different religions
2. Heretics – Heretics, kafir, or infidels (to use the medieval Catholic term) are not just outsiders, they are morally suspect and often seen as less than fully human.
Response: Again, spot on. "Heresy" is merely a lingual confection and device to isolate a person or minority group if their beliefs do not coincide with the primary belief group's. In thereby performing this lingual exercise the outcasts created ("heretics") are rendered sub-humans and can thereby be tortured by the primary group at will - such as shown in the depiction of heretics tortured by the Inquisition.
But if all "Gods" are relative to each other, and also subjective - since as James Byrne observes ('God', Continuum Press, 2001, p. 151.):
"The idea of God as Being is the creation of the philosophical gaze, a result of the drive to objectification which is the hallmark of the history of metaphysics. It is the ‘God’ which is argued about in theism and atheism, and which can only be a projection of humans"
Then it's a wash. No one's God is truer than any other's so anything one person says pertaining to its nature is as good as any other description. Hence, "heretic" becomes meaningless and superfluous because the original need for isolation is eliminated. This can be formulated as a kind of axiom: "In a world with only God-concepts, which are all relative, there can be no such thing as heresy or heretics."
3. Holy War – If war can be holy, anything goes. The medieval Roman Catholic Church conducted a twenty year campaign of extermination against heretical Cathar Christians in the south of France, promising their land and possessions to real Christians who signed on as crusaders. Sunni and Shia Muslims have slaughtered each other for centuries.
Response: Given what has already been said in my response to "heretic" the application of the God-concept meme is even more cogent here. Indeed, since all God-concepts are relative and subjective it becomes a stupid waste of time to wage "holy war", crusades, or "jihad" - call it what you will.
Understand here the fundamental thrust of all holy wars is forced conversion of the invaded population to the religion or beliefs of the invaders. But if all Gods are relative, via God-concepts, then conversion emerges as asinine and useless. Conversion would only make sense if one could be absolutely certain his God was superior to all others, But he can't because his brain architecture is too limited to know that. Its capacity for absolute insight is foreclosed and since even the brains of the authors of the respective scriptures are limited, then one can't learn any more from those works either.
4. Blasphemy – Blasphemy is the notion that some ideas are inviolable, off limits to criticism, satire, debate, or even questioning. By definition, criticism of these ideas is an outrage, and it is precisely this emotion–outrage–that the crime of blasphemy evokes in believers. The Bible prescribes death for blasphemers; the Quran does not.
Response: Again, if Gods are replaced by God-concepts, then blasphemy becomes redundant and irrational. It is no longer possible to rationally invoke it because one's deity is no better, no more advanced or "perfect" than another's. This is admittedly a difficult pill for the religious absolutist to swallow, but there it is! Also, let's be clear that severely limited god-concepts can themselves wreak havoc. (Since God-concepts are relative, it is possible to have inferior or puerile ones as well as more sophisticated advanced ones -depending on the level of culture and intellect of the people who created it).
To distinguish retrogressive deity concepts from the more advanced, I invoke "god-concepts"- with the common 'g' indicating a primitive version. In the case of the Biblical prescription of death for blasphemy cited above, let us note this comes from the Old Testament where the primitive concept of the demiurge or demiurgos dominated. 
5. Glorified suffering – Picture secret societies of monks flogging their own backs. The image that comes to mind is probably from Dan Brown’s novel, The Da Vinci Code, but the idea isn’t one he made up. A core premise of Christianity is that righteous torture—if it’s just intense and prolonged enough–can somehow fix the damage done by evil, sinful behavior. Millions of crucifixes litter the world as testaments to this belief.
Our ancestors lived in a world in which pain came unbidden, and people had very little power to control it. An aspirin or heating pad would have been a miracle to the writers of the Bible, Quran, or Gita. Faced with uncontrollable suffering, the best advice religion could offer was to lean in or make meaning of it.
Response: This grotesque idea was at the heart of many of the critics' responses to Brittany Maynard, i.e. to just "offer your pain and suffering up to God". But what if Brittany didn't believe in God, or in the "God" of these fanatics? Then again, the notion of God-concepts comes to the fore. If Brittany adhered to a more subtle or nuanced God-concept, i.e. that rejected unnecessary pain, then her first duty would be to eliminate the possibility of reaching that stage, e.g. of a pain-wracked vegetable with no cognition who could only experience agony and lacked bowel, urinary control.
Others may insist that THEIR God declares this to be "suicide" and a "mortal sin" or whatever, but since all God-concepts are relative, it doesn't matter. Brittany's choices (even if she adheres to NO God-concept) are as good and as justified as those who accept a more stringent or punitive God-concept.
6. Genital mutilation – Primitive people have used scarification and other body modifications to define tribal membership for as long as history records. But genital mutilation allowed our ancestors several additional perks—if you want to call them that. Infant circumcision in Judaism serves as a sign of tribal membership, but circumcision also serves to test the commitment of adult converts.
Response: All true, which is exactly why, as I noted in a previous blog post, e.g.
that all forms of such mutilation, including male circumcision, amount to an antiquated religious practice that has no place in the modern world. Neither does it have any place in any objective religious world where all "Gods" are really God-concepts, and "covenants" are derived from these and also subjective and relative.
 See, for example, Elaine Pagels’ explanation in her book, The Gnostic Gospels, p. 37, wherein demiurgos is a lesser divine being who gives the law and metes out judgments to those who violate it. Obviously, demiurgos is a primitiv concept for a preliterate people or culture.
(To Be Continued)