Genesis; The Nasty Little Book That Man Wrote.


The book of Genesis is the first, and one of the most hotly debated, books of the Bible.  It opens from where Christians believe God created the universe and everything else stems from this huge and groundless assumption.  The main action of the book is the supposed (and highly unlikely) conversation between God and Abraham and then his descendants. It is not merely Christians who are expected, and claim, to believe this but the rest of us are too and it is still treated as the height of bad manners to disbelieve it but to openly admit our disbelief and challenge their faith in unprovable stories and parables is considered a gross insult.  Tough.  I refuse to be bullied into submission over a set of ideas which places unthinking obedience (Because, let’s face it, religion has little or nothing to do with morality) over considered thought and questions.  We are meant to believe that an all-knowing god needed to test the faith of a single desert dweller over that of entire populations, and comparatively more advanced, societies in China or Rome.

This is but one of the stories meant to describe the meaning of life, the origin of the universe and deserve unreserved respect from believers and non-believers alike.  The psalms regularly speak of God’s creative streak and he is often portrayed as being on a constant campaign of self-defence against questioning.  One example of this is a five chapter long rant in Job (38-42).  Job is not alone in this and it does much to explain the grossly over-done and frequently exhibited persecution complex.  The book of Isaiah (45:9-23) does much in a laboured attempt to answer preempted charges of unfairness and unfaithfulness.  Could it be that those ancient men had anticipated the ungainliness of their fraudulent claims of wisdom and authority?  Did they realise then that they would be called out on their tall tales by those who were not so credulous as to swallow their lies?  What better way to stamp out such unbelief and non-conformity than to make it a sin and inspire fear in/persecute those who don’t accept their authority at face value?  These religions began as a con and as such they continue to be.

“1 LORD, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!

You have set your glory
in the heavens.
2 Through the praise of children and infants
you have established a stronghold against your enemies,
to silence the foe and the avenger.
3 When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
4 what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?[c]

5 You have made them[d] a little lower than the angels[e]
and crowned them[f] with glory and honor.
6 You made them rulers over the works of your hands;
you put everything under their[g] feet:
7 all flocks and herds,
and the animals of the wild,
8 the birds in the sky,
and the fish in the sea,
all that swim the paths of the seas.

9 LORD, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!”

Psalm 8

The anticipated defence often consists in depicting humanity as uncomprehending and incapable of understanding either God or his creation.  The act of keeping the congregation humble and dependant is a foundation stone of this ancient con.  It also centres on the fact that not only are we incapable of understanding this but that we should not even try to because doing so usurps the position of God.  If we had heeded this absurd idea (of power-hungry self-interest of the church) we would still be in the dark ages blaming demons for our ailments and witches for our woes.  The Gospel of John also refers back to Genesis and echoes the assumption that God claims the creation of the universe as his achievement.  This may go a long way to explain the ever so Christian affection for circular ‘reasoning’ and disregard of empirical evidence when defending their own beliefs (John 1:1-5).

“1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome[a] it.” – John 1:1-5

Genesis does not state facts. It states only what was the acute misunderstanding of the world at the time.  It is nought but an ancient creation myth.  The basis of that understanding is known to be drastically flawed because it was limited by the knowledge of the time and should have long ago been disregarded.  The traditions of the bible are nothing unique.  They are derived from older mythologies at best and plagiarised at worst.  While the similarities are both numerous and striking the differences are equally.  The Gods of the Greek (The Romans emulated the Greeks to such an extent that they even adopted the mythology) and Egyptian pantheon were both portrayed and acknowledged as hypocritical, capricious, malevolent, selfish and frivolous.  However much they were worshipped and their believers attempted to appease Ra, Osiris, Ptah, Zeus, Ares, Athena, Artemis and Apollo or Hera (to name but a few) they did so only under duress: the fear that if they did not, all manner of ills would befall them and thus rendering their acts of worship little more than mercenary acts of self-interest.

The Christian mindset of working only for god and to earn ‘his’ love is nothing new but the God of the Bible seems to be immune from the criticism afforded to the afore mentioned deities by the followers of said cults.  Those ancient gods were also often regarded as an example of how not to behave.  The idea of a God’s representative on earth is also one which far pre-dates those stories of the bible.  I have lost count of the times I have heard people claim to follow the ‘ways of Jesus’.  They may as well claim to follow in the ways of Heracles (Hercules is the Roman incarnation) or Prometheus for it would just as little.  There is no proof that God exists so the argument that an ancient Jewish carpenter was his own father (actually God in human form) who was sent to us to be sacrificed in order to atone for the ‘sins’ of all mankind (before and after his lifetime) and impress himself is not only ludicrous but sickening.  There is also no more evidence that Jesus existed than there is of Heracles, Perseus or Ra and if people expect to be taken seriously they need first to start realising that their beliefs are not immune to scrutiny and second, to stop stamping their feet and throwing tantrums whenever a contrary idea is expressed in public.

Neither the quantity of these stories, nor the similarities between them grant them any truth by any stretch of the imagination.  The god of the bible, along with the ancient gods, are no more than characters in very old stories.  Interacting and interfering in human affairs (Prometheus and fire and Pandora’s Box), the Christian god is no different in its attempt to hold humanity in its subordinate state.  The common thread in creation myths differs from Genesis in one very particular manner.  While Genesis goes out of its way to reiterate the peaceful origin of our world, the others depict violent conflicts between deities and titans, petty squabbling among deities, and catastrophic natural disasters.  Also, the relationships between gods and mankind is often unfriendly with humanity created as a race of slaves to God or gods.  Even though the a few relationships may have positive elements, the majority are little more than the systematic bullying of a subordinate (behaviour which would merit an employment tribunal under modern western civil law).

In Genesis the antagonist is alone in his malevolence though, and free to claim all credit for the creation of the universe (Light on day one but no sun until day 4?  So where did the bloody light come from?).  There may be no squabbles between gods with only a single god but there is great animosity between the God of the Bible and his immortal adversary (Formerly an immediate subordinate and once an angel, but weren’t angels also supposedly created to be slaves? The all-powerful wasn’t doing such a great job really) as well as the conflict sanctioned between rival tribes.  In this case the all-powerful seems capable of doing little more than banishing and ineffectively imprisoning his rival though there is not much of a story if the antagonist is too easily defeated.

The Genesis story has less literary content to offer than any title by Dan Brown (and that’s saying something) and reads like a badly written fantasy novel.  The apparently perfect lone deity organises the sun, moon, earth, and stars with the intention of sharing it with his imperfect creations.  Like the gods in older stories this god requires that his creation worship him in return for protection from his own acts of cruel violence (much like a Mafia protection racket) but the book still goes out of its way to explain the innate goodness of the acts of this immortal ‘provider’.  The assumption that every word of this dreadful story is the literal truth is crass beyond belief.  Genesis is not a challenge to the perceived or accepted origins of our universe because we do not know what they are yet.  Anyone who claims to know that answer is either deluded, a liar, or both.  It cannot even be claimed to be an accurate examination of the culture at the time and is proof of nothing more than the people who wrote it had developed to the stage of using a written language (something which the Egyptians had achieved several millennia before hand).  Genesis, and the rest of the bible,  does little more than attempt to arrest human development by discouraging natural curiosity in the provision of a flimsy answer which does not stand up to scrutiny.  It achieves little more than the flattery of human arrogance by granting our short lives some specific significance in some cosmic plan.

 

Sources

William James on Mystical States and Agnosticism


Mystical States

“One may say truly, I think, that personal religious experience has its roots and centre in mystical states of consciousness,” William James

Our tendency to ‘pyschologise’ our experiences may well have grown since the time of William James but I rather think that now we know more about the works of the human mind, we tend to at least try to attach natural explanations before leaping feet first into the realms of the mystic and supernatural.  Ecstatic states that apparently provide sustenance for a human need for personal affirmation should not be merely issued with unquestioned validity.  Believing something that makes you ‘feel good’, or provides consolation or even offers comfort to the bereaved, does not make it accurate or true in any sense.

Childishly clinging to any imagery is a hindrance to meditation as any instructor will tell you.  So why should we be expected to maintain religious imagery for the sake of tradition? We shouldn’t.  These religions offer us nothing and have now reached the point that the followers of such now struggle to justify the existence of said religion.  This is so much so that very few can do more than bluster about the ‘marginalisation’ of Christianity and how they are being persecuted, waffle on about their country’s tradition being rooted in Christianity (despite all evidence to the contrary), and then parrot what they heard on Fox News the night before.  Tradition, by the way, is no reason to continue any practice, it is merely an excuse used to justify the continuation of a dubious habit.

James acknowledged that mystical experience has a lot to do with emotion along with memory and awe so even he admitted that these experiences are affected by the subject’s own cultural knowledge.  He also admitted that the experiences must be filtered through the subject’s conscious scrutiny so as not to attribute it wrongly to mysticism.  Mr Vernon only gives this acknowledgement a passing mention.  James did not however, believe that the correct means of assessing the truth of these mystical experiences was that advocated by who he referred to as the ‘medical materialists’ for whom mysticism had no meaning other than to suggest hysterical and semi-hypnotic states in an intellectually limited and superstition-biased mind.  Indeed, they would have been the ideal people to test the ideas as they had no interest in their truth.

James’ theories are now at odds with modern conventions of psychology and scholars of mystical experience.  He believed it had little to do with time or place but rather emphasised a need for dialogue of the experience and examination of the historical context in order to distinguish between a real experience and a mere imagining.  James’ interest rested in the individual’s experience more than in the communal as he viewed the former as the ‘real and positive’ version.  The shift in perspective between what is real and what is imagined does little more than add to the religious delusion; because one felt small and alone before, they involuntarily invented an event which allayed a negative and uncomfortable emotional state.  This still does not prove that these experiences were in any way mystical.  However much James wished for there to have been truth to the claims of mysticism, it does not grant them that truth and for or those people to have experienced any positive effects from their moments of epiphany, they would have to have had a negative view of their lives beforehand.  Unless we know their state of mind, what they were doing or how they were living prior to their visions, it is impossible to do anything more than take James at his word that the changes were positive.  It is also likely, considering this was in 19th CE America, that James himself had a preconceived and strict idea of what constituted a good lifestyle and whatever did not fit into that mindset, did not qualify as ‘good’.

Even the great mystics do not claim that their good deeds prove the truth of their visions but instead that misdeeds invalidate them. James’s propensity to disregard the influence of prior knowledge or experience leaves him vulnerable to other charges of biased investigation such as side-lining historical context.  James attempted to judge these accounts based on reasonableness and how well it fit within existing and articulated systems of belief and went on to stress that it is the overall consequences for the individual which matter: the quality he thought of as ‘saintliness’.  I agree that the consequences matter but only in the sense that those who experience these episodes should seek help from the psychiatric profession rather than the church.

Agnosticism

Vernon, wrote in his article that there is an agnostic sentiment in James’ writing.  This may be, but only if he was an agnostic with a desire to believe.  A claim of knowledge which is based only on a religious vision can not truly be taken seriously in scholarly circles.  We have already established that James had become convinced that these visions were helpful to mankind regardless of any ill effects and probed the accounts he had collected in an attempt to prove his case.  One of his observations in from his 18th lecture was that mysticism was too private and varied a matter to be able to claim any form of authority of any overall positive effect on mankind as a species.

“Can philosophy stamp a warrant of veracity upon the religious man’s sense of the divine?” William James

But what is religious philosophy and how does it have any bearing here?  James believed very much that it was a secondary consideration to experience because he felt that humans were driven by passion and emotion rather than reason that drove human this area of inquiry.  He deemed philosophy a necessary, but not sufficient, means of exploration and explanation.  He also had quite a scathing view of intellectualism, describing it as a “preference for concepts over reality” and an insidious means of becoming a spectator of life rather than a participant.  In summary, he felt it encouraged speculation for its own sake with mere ‘intellectual bubbles’ as it’s result.  James detected this intellectualism within religious circles in attempts to prove the existence of God as a fact  but decided that these ‘proofs’ were sought by those who felt the need to separate themselves from what they saw as the randomness of the world.

James charged the Cardinal John Henry Newman of being a ‘vexed spirit’ with a ‘disdain for sentiment’ though considering James’ own disdain for reason and rationality in examining what he believed to be mystical encounters, I do not feel this accusation is entirely a fair one.  Newman made a clear distinction between ‘notional assent‘ and ‘real assent‘ and believed that to determine a belief using only philosophy is to give it only notional assent.  The Cardinal believed that this was an inadequate way to think about such things because it only engaged the rational and that real assent required more than reason.  He also stressed that he believed that in order to achieve a real understanding of mysticism the subject must examine all the evidence and experience as a whole – rational, emotional, cultural and observational.  Though each, on its own, are not conclusive proof of anything but added together, he believed, they supported the truth of a powerful belief.  Newman used the an allegory of a cable to symbolise the elements of religious beliefs.  If one strand is broken then the cable remains intact.  But the more strands that break the weaker the cable becomes until it eventually breaks and thus the individual is freed from the yoke of belief.  The tactic employed by the leaders of organised religion is that they aim to keep their congregations attention away from the man behind the curtain (as it were) by focusing on other issues; the supposed ‘persecution and marginalisation’ of Christianity, for instance. Real assent implies that God is a fact rather than a mere hypothesis and requires a complete suspension of disbelief in order to just accept it as a possibility.

belief in God is “an action more subtle and more comprehensive than the mere appreciation of syllogistic logic”, John Henry Newman

In his essay, ‘The Will to Believe‘, James drew upon the tenuous preoccupation with belief which doctrine requires of its adherents. He admits to the absurdity of the idea that a belief in God can simply be willed.  The essay seeks instead to justify individual belief in God even when those individuals have not been coerced into them.  He began by attempting to define religious belief.  Firstly the beliefs must be ‘real’ to count as such and secondly those individuals must consider those beliefs to be real possibilities.  For example, the subject must consider adherence to a religion and a set belief system to be a viable option for themselves.  They also had to affect the subjects’ outlook on life to be considered ‘religious’.  In the same essay James makes reference to Pascal’s wager, the hypothetical argument in favour of a belief in god, which many have taken seriously in the years since.  The wager is, as James saw it, based upon the logic of the gaming table.  James however had failed to see the wager for what it was; based upon very long odds indeed.  Instead James took it to mean that Christianity was a valid option for the French philosopher and mathematician despite the obvious objections to the suggestion that one may even feign belief if the odds favour a positive result for doing so.

instead of being powerless, [it] seems a regular clincherWilliam James

The wager did not work for Pascal any more than it should have worked for James (it didn’t) or for anyone else for that matter.  Pascal may have had a will to believe but that ‘will‘ does not render one capable of submission to religious belief for to do so we non-believers and agnostics would have to consciously and deliberately ignore all of the evidence and education we have accumulated over the course of our lives (and over human history).  The form of objectiveness demonstrated in the wager does not work in the case of religion because religion requires that we voluntarily lay aside our reason, independent thought and rationality, and our will to question ‘authority’ (rendering objective thought impossible) in favour of becoming a form of intellectual slave to ancient superstition.  That does indeed require a certain willingness but it is not one that I, or anyone in my non-believing activist circle, are in possession of.

Sources

William James on The Psychology of Conversion and Saintliness


The Psychology of Conversion

William James reported the case of 14 year old Stephen Bradley who purportedly saw a vision of Jesus.  It is said to have lasted only a second (so obviously, the boy was certain of what he saw in detail, and the vision was not at all a result of his indoctrination?) but he was certain that Christ was in his room and from that day on he called himself a Christian.  When, in his 20s, he visited a revivalist meeting and it left him cold he became troubled as he had considered himself religious.  That evening he had another experience even more pronounced than before.  The symptoms he reported were palpitations, feelings of both elation and self deprecation, apparently a stream of air passed through him (hysterical reaction).

Bradley claimed to have rushed to his neighbours to discuss the experience.  This is something which he was supposedly unable to do before.  He also challenged the deists and atheists to shake his faith.  That’s right, the blind faith of the credulous urges them to make a challenge to which they intend to automatically reject all evidence to the contrary (For a really good demonstration of this imbecilic attitude, go to YouTube and have a look at some of ShockofGod’s videos.).  William James conceded that Bradley may well have had a ‘religious experience’ but also took a look at similar cases which showed a sense of regeneration, reception of grace, or a gift of assurance (delusion of grandeur and hallucination expressed in familiar imagery).  The difference between the religious experience and the more ordinary decisive changes we make to our outward persona is the depth of the change.  It is quite normal human behaviour to partition our characters so we have one mode of behaviour at work and quite another at home or in social circumstances.  However, the religious conversion is, whether slow or sudden, a stable change.  Whether it be from being religiously apathetic to religious, between religions, or from religious to non-religious, the change goes on to dominate other aspects of the personality.  James believed it was personal drama that lead individuals to become religious, but also that the unconscious mind can play a considerable role in the life of an individual.

“Enlightenment is not imagining figures of light but making the darkness conscious.” – Carl Gustav Jung

The damaging influence of the unconscious is an idea which stems from Sigmund Freud (a psychologist who has now had a number of his ideas discredited).  Freud viewed the unconscious as a force to be suppressed and be wary of as a disruptive influence on our conscious mind, whereas James (as do I) sided more with the Norwegian, Carl Gustav Jung (pronounced yoong) who believed that the unconscious provided us with an ability to problem solve and a way to filter information and memories.  According to Jung, within the ‘collective unconscious’ exists images and symbols that have given rise to the multitude of fairy-tales, mythology, and legends that have been passed through the generations.  Jung called these symbols archetypes. Why did conversion matter to James? It was for more than mere personal religious reasons. He recognised that the only ‘evidence’ of God’s existence was rooted within personal psychological experience.  He attempted to explore and discuss the testimonies of experiences in ‘The Varieties’ and does well to mention that in reality one’s belief in God’s existence is as personal as one’s taste in literature, art and music.  There IS NO solid evidence for god’s existence and it is a logical fallacy to claim that there is.

“This means it will always be contested, though to reduce extraneous argument and focus on the evidence that is mostly likely to be illuminating, James examines what he takes to be the most valuable material: the best articulated and most profound records of conversion. For him, to do otherwise would be like declaring you were going to study music by excluding the work of Bach in favour of nursery rhymes, on the grounds that more people sing Three blind mice than the St Matthew Passion.” – Mark Vernon

Mark Vernon, of the Guardian’s Comment is Free, claims that this is why it will always be contested, but I disagree.  For there to be a contest on this subject there must be solid, testable and observable evidence in favour of those assertions of God’s existence.  There isn’t and personal testimony based on personal psychological experiences will not suffice.  James’ examination on this subject was inefficient because he relied entirely on personal accounts of religious conversion.  These do not prove the existence of God, these accounts only prove that people have converted to being religious.  If James was correct, that religious belief is comparable to taste in music, then it makes sense that some will be more susceptible than others. Vernon claims that statistical methods tell us that the broad mass of ‘religious phenomena’ will tell us as much but statistics only show correlation and correlation does not equate to causation. Statistics can be applied to ‘prove’ any claim no matter how dubious.  Vernon squirms through his peace by trying to claim that conversions are not even possibly delusions and that James presented these accounts without “forcing them into a frame that prejudged the significance of the experience, one way or the other”.  What this does not do is rule out all known natural causes before attaching a ‘supernatural’ explanation.

“They maybe excellent persons, servants of God in practical ways, but they are not children of his kingdom.” – William James

James also questions why some people at least appear to be immune to the process of conversion.  In order to be converted you need to want to be.  The same way that you have to want to give up smoking in order to be successful in the attempt.  Religious faith is, quite simply, a form of psychological delusion and requires an individual to believe absurdities on the say so of others.  We must remember though that religious delusions are a merely symptom of cultural conditioning, not an outright disorder, BUT those that have a hand in that conditioning also have a invested interest in our conversion; they believe that THEY will be granted an eternal reward in return for converting as many people as they can.  They knock on our doors, not out of their concern for our welfare, but concern for their own.  Those converts you hear of, who were formerly atheists and lived good lives while being so, were bullied into their conversions: it was merely the fear of the unknown that inspired them to make otherwise noble acts of altruism into acts of mercenary self-interest.  I disagree with William James, while remembering that he was a product of a Victorian upbringing himself, in that these accounts were anything more than psychological episodes which had been improperly diagnosed due to lack of understanding in what was then a relatively new field of study.  I would urge Mr Vernon not to attached any more meaning to his findings on the matter than that.  We are more than just the passive recipients of sensory information.  In order to make sense of that information and react according to a given situation our minds rely on previous knowledge and experience.  This knowledge includes cultural references and any religious imagery we might have tucked away in the back of our mind.  (Isn’t it funny how ‘visions’ of religious icons nearly always look like well-known and widely circulated works of art?)

“Even late in life some thaw, some release may take place, some bolt be shot back in the barrenest breast, and the man’s hard heart may soften and break into religious feelings.” – William James

Saintliness

Nietzsche believed that Christianity was dehumanising and demoralising, that encourages a slave mentality within it’s adherents and rendered all humanitarian acts worthless due to the demand from the established Christian authority, of serving others in return for the love of God and Jesus.  He was right.  Christianity has always demanded credit for basic human sympathy.  It twists a normal instinct for empathy into a demand to act for selfish reasons and demands  respect for its own sake which it does not deserve.  Nietzsche believed that the human desire to ‘do good’ and the instinct to take pity on those less fortunate was really a desire to make them indebted to us rather than to another (sounds like debt consolidation companies to me).  He believed that pity enables humanity to set itself above those who are suffering and, though we may not congratulate ourselves for our ‘goodness’, it may well be that we prefer helping to relieve the suffering of others than to face our own dilemmas and problems.  This is where my agreement with Nietzsche ends.  He also thought that it was better that individuals deal with their suffering on their own but not in isolation; to learn to accept their lot and rejoice in it in order to ensure that the suffering is not spread.

“The highest flights of charity, devotion, trust, patience, bravery to which the wings of human nature have spread themselves have been flown for religious ideals,”

This conclusion worried William James considerably and he devoted 5 lectures to challenging the idea.  The problem he had was not the insensitivity of merely allowing someone to needlessly suffer when there is some practical help we can offer, but that James was attempting to show religious experiences as a positive influence on humanity and that they were morally helpful and not at all damaging or selfish.  He set out a lengthy case to try to prove his point but his case was limited to the church’s account of the behaviour of the saints and tries to claim sanctity as the true motivator in acts of humanitarian aid.  It is a delusion of a spiritual existence outside of humanity which inspires people to believe that they are part of a cosmic plan greater than their own self-interest.

“Religious experiences are so powerful and positive a moral force, James argues, because they have an ability to overcome the inhibitions that prevent most from behaving in morally exemplary ways. “Few people who have not expressly reflected on the matter realise how constantly this factor of inhibition is upon us, how it contains and moulds us by its restrictive pressure almost as if we were fluids pent within the cavity of a jar.” Moreover, inhibition is typically a subconscious force. So counterbalancing subconscious forces, such as those that are religious, are required to release the individual from their withholding impulses.”

William James argued that religious experiences are a powerful and positive moral force because they allow us to overcome inhibitions which prevent many of us from behaving in ‘morally exemplary’ ways (Like what?  Not systematically dismantling the state safety net designed to protect those who have found themselves in hard times, you mean? How about NOT making cuts to public spending that will cost 500,000 people their jobs and then cheering that prospect?  Okay, dig against Christian majority coalition over).  Again, I will correct Mr Vernon, by pointing out that religion owns neither morality, nor kindness.  People are quite capable of behaving humanely and offering assistance to those in need without being steered their under the yoke of an oppressive religion.  Where altruism ceases to be noble is when it becomes either expectation or compulsion and in so doing  Christianity is guilty of trying to own and control the basic instincts that make us human.

It is not that Religious experience is alone in being able to warp an instinct to do the decent thing for another person for the sole reason that it’s the right thing to do.  Soldiers are paid to follow orders which require a great deal of personal courage in the face of very real danger and their experiences bring them to closely identify with their comrades on a level in which civilians are ill-equipped to do so.  Religious experiences have been granted a level all of their own, and are deemed by the religious to release the unconscious mind to the fore.  Like the soldier who chooses to submit their will to the training, so does the religious convert, but the soldier does not pledge to serve the military for the rest of their lives in the hope of a reward once they have died.  James’ study led him to conclude that these experiences can radically change someone but I do not believe he took the study far enough.  It seems to have stopped there with not even an attempt to explore how ‘natural’ experiences and periods of high stress can also inspire a person to change their outlook and behaviour.  If he did, then Mr Vernon has not alluded to it.

“the fanatic madman delivers himself over, blindly, and without reserve, to the supposed illapses of the spirit, and to inspiration from above” David Hume

The power of these accounts of mystical and spiritual enthusiasm is not what repels us, the critics of religion.  What repels us is the demands made upon the individual to live a life, subjugate ourselves to a force for which there is no evidence, merely forget reason and rational thought in favour of merely being told what to think, believe and to say, and more importantly to adhere to ‘morals’ which we find more than merely objectionable. James’ saints have not earned their adoration for being magnanimous, they earned their high esteem by saying supportive things about the church and Christianity for there is plenty of real humanitarian work going on which is not attributed to godliness or even claimed to be divinely inspired and yet it is the do-nothings such as Mother Teresa and her so-called missionaries of charity who are granted far more respect than they are due for merely perpetuating a problem.  Nietzsche’s ‘strong-man’ may very well be the ruin of humanity but so equally will be the prostrated and artificially humbled slave to religious dogma.

Even James admitted that devoutness is followed by fanaticism and that religious piety has a pathological element to it.  As yet where religious experience can be of true benefit to the world is still in the Undiscovered Country (to steal a phrase from a rather old Star Trek film).  There is no better way to see how religion is a harmful influence on the world in general by simple observation of the conflict in world around us.  It is no coincidence that most of the world’s poorest, war torn and disease stricken countries are the most religious.  Where the Church and other religious institutions have a strong enough hold on the people, misery follows.  India’s caste system hasn’t helped their people out of hardship but the influx of refugees into large cities like Calcutta has been caused by sectarian clashes and warfare.  These are but a few examples and it would be arrogant in the extreme for Christianity to claim that all converts are Christian converts.

Vernon claims that these moral ‘geniuses’ provide ample demonstration of the helpfulness of religion.  I say they fail entirely because what he claims that William James has ‘proven’ neither squares with what I already know nor with what we see in the news every day.

 

Sources

It’s the same bloody book!


Obedience Training & Social Conditioning by the Catholic Church


Group mentality can be a useful tool in a healthy and happily cohesive society.  However, it can also mean having to turn yourself into a social contortionist, especially in situations where adhering to socially acceptable behavioural patterns or ideas means putting aside our conscience or better judgements in order to conform to the will of the majority.  Individual behaviour can be easily swept away under the influence of a group who hold an opposing view-point.  Human psychology is greatly effected and influenced by such social issues and however much we are guided by our own personalities and act instinctively based on our genetic make-up, social-conditioning is a hugely important variable when considering human behaviour.

“Pressure is on to change the Roman Catholic Church in America, but it’s not coming from the usual liberal suspects. A new breed of theological conservatives has taken to blogs and YouTube to say the church isn’t Catholic enough.”-Catholic bloggers aim to purge dissenters – Yahoo News

The power of social-conditioning should never be underestimated.  It has played a huge part in human history and will continue to do so but what is important is realising and recognising when it is in play and then deciding, individually whether to allow ourselves to be subject to it.

 

Michael Voris

In this Monday, Oct. 11, 2010 picture, Michael Voris holds a sword used when he records for RealCatholicTV.com …

 

An Obsession with Obedience.

“Enraged by dissent that they believe has gone unchecked for decades, and unafraid to say so in the starkest language, these activists are naming names and unsettling the church.”

Even the idea of obedience to the Pope and any recognition of that authority is an aspect of behaviour that must be kept in constant check through reinforcement but individuals only have the authority over our lives that we allow them to have.  Once the reinforcement of a particular behaviour is removed, that same conditioned behavioural pattern will decrease and eventually disappear entirely.  With religion the reinforcement is built into the system of beliefs.  Hope of reward and fear of an eternity of punishment and torture for finite sins as minor as doubt or disbelief, rules their lives.  Not only that but they are conditioned to accept this same interference as ‘right’, without question.  As a method of control this is highly effective.  With the Church’s continued theocratic demands on, and intrusions into, the lives of followers and non-Catholics alike, what the church has always been is a bully and well on its way to re-emerging as the dictatorship it was in the days of the Inquisition.

One of the best Pat Condell videos I have ever seen.

Obedience is one of the strongest forms of conformity and it often involves betraying one’s own sense of right and wrong in order to go along with what one is told to believe or how to behave.  In 1965, Stanley Milgram orchestrated an experiment in which subjects were required to administer electric shocks to someone they believed to be wired to a machine on the other side of a divide.  The shocks would increase in strength (from 75 volts up to 450) after each subsequent wrong answer.  At a designated point the person who was believed to be being shocked was yelling for it to stop but the real subject was told by someone in a lab coat with a clipboard to ignore it and continue.  This shows a distinct human inclination to administer torture and cruelty ‘under orders’.  Nazi Germany is probably the most cogent example of the dangers of this form of conformity.  Even a degree of individual forethought and diversity, therefore, is an essential defence against complete conformity to arbitrary conformity.

This cruelty needn’t be physical either. The psychological and physical damage inflicted on children by members of the clergy will have lasting, if not permanent effects, but the victims were often mentally and emotionally tormented by their abusers as well; being told they were at fault for what had been done to them.  The church not only covered it up, but reinforced the problem by insisting on silence from all parties and a threat of the excommunication of the victim if silence was broken or the abuse was not reported within a certain time frame.  The more a group feels it is bound together or tightly organised, the more power it has over its members.  Unity is also increased by shared beliefs, particularly when they are directed against another group (See Stereotyping and Dehumanising Opponents).

The emotional distance (or physical) one individual has from their victim, makes it easier to act and think without compassion or empathy.  It is on record that those who had the power to rectify the problem of predatory clergy, refused to acknowledge the complaints, dismissed the complaints as an ‘American cultural issue‘, and denied all accountability to the victims.  The distance was deliberately maintained in-line with the culture of secrecy, perpetuated since the second century in order to protect the reputation of the church.  Church leaders, in the face of all the evidence, still refuse to admit any responsibility and claim that the stream of abuse and cover-ups is a total surprise to them.  This is born out of their own belief that they are immune to ‘earthly’ authority.  (See Illusion of invulnerability).

The proximity to the authority is also affected by the legitimacy of the figure wielding it.  A close proximity to authority makes obedience more likely but that depends on whether the authority is accepted or not.  We do NOT have to accept the church’s authority no matter how much they would like us to, or tell you how we’ll be better off if we would only step aside and allow them to run our lives.  Institutional authority only works as long as it is recognised by those at which it is directed, but when it is recognised, it can have an enormous effect on obedience.  A public response against certain behaviours can be an immensely powerful social tool.   The church found it easier to bully the victims of abuse and cover cases up by throwing money at the problems while their secrecy directives were taken seriously.  Since the Guathe case in 1983, and the public attention it earned the church it has recently had a huge amount of difficulty keeping their activities quiet.  It speaks volumes that they still speak out more against the publicity that their actions have attracted than against the abusers.  They have shown no remorse and no real compassion toward those who have suffered for decades at the hands of their minions.

 

Persecutory Delusions

“Critics of the bloggers contend the activists are motivated mostly by politics, not theology. The blogs feature nearly as many attacks on President Barack Obama as church leaders. McKinley’s site, until recently, was called “Throwthebumsoutin2010,” in anticipation of the midterm elections.”

A delusion is an erroneous belief that is held in the face of evidence to the contrary.  The church is forever complaining of anti-catholic discrimination (the recent UK visit by the Pope to name but a single example) but in actual fact what they mean is that people are no longer afraid to stand up to this institutional-bully.  This is coupled with a grandiose delusion in which they are, as a group, experiencing an exaggerated sense of worth, importance, power, right of authority, knowledge and ‘personal relationship’ with a higher being.

“There’s a general sense among many faithful Catholics that no matter how much they write their bishops, no matter how much they go to the pastors, all of these unfaithful things keep getting taught,” Voris said. “I think enough Catholics are saying, ‘That’s it. I’ve had it.'”


Constructionist Views and Illusions.

“Constructionist learning is inspired by the constructivist theory that individual learners construct mental models to understand the world around them.”

Our perceptions are not merely a reaction to our sensory reactions, but we also partly construct our perceptions from what we expect to sense.  It is prevalent in the church to justify their responsibility in atrocities and will go to great lengths in order to either shift blame or take credit.  When the Pope spoke of ‘aggressive secularism‘ and ‘imposed atheism‘ in his opening speech in September, he set off a domino effect of fatuous comments across the church.  This included laying the blame of the Holocaust on these two entirely imagined phenomena, regardless of the historical evidence of the Vatican’s involvement and commendation. Priests, lay people, and ordinary parishioners have taken the bait and now those phrases are trotted out as they now look for, and find, instances of persecution and discrimination, where there are none.  The New Archbishop of Westminster, has also fallen into the Pope’s pit and has recently been on the war-path against secularism and bleating against what he sees as a ‘marginalisation of faith’.

 

Confirmation Bias

“The files show what the diocese knew about abusive priests, starting decades before any allegations became public, and that some church leaders moved priests around or overseas despite credible complaints against them.”

Confirmation bias is a form of cognitive error based on the tendency to seek only information which supports one’s beliefs, and ignore contradictory information;

 

Religious Involvement in a Secularized Society: An Empirical Confirmation of Martin's General Theory of Secularization

Article published in 1992 by The British Journal of Sociology

 

 

Illusion of Invulnerability.

“These documents demonstrate years and years and decades of concerted action that has allowed this community’s children to be victimised, and it is not until the community looks at these documents that this cycle is ever going to be ended.”

An illusion is a distortion of the senses, revealing how the brain normally organizes and interprets sensory stimulation. While illusions distort reality, they are generally shared.  They are often built by our unconscious perceptions, such as a magician performing a trick on a stage, making us think we see things disappear or, appear defy natural physical laws.  As much as something might seem real, the way our brains have evolved to organise sensory information – to unconsciously look for patterns – leaves us highly susceptible to illusions.  Cues from context and experience guide our understanding of given circumstances and can adversely affect our judgement.

“When the Pope visited Britain last month some said that everything had changed for good. That is not true in the sense of the nation being converted to the paths of righteousness. And there was also something which changed for the time being. That was the easy ride enjoyed by a small number of atheist zealots, the usual suspects, who had mocked him in the much the way that alternative comedians once mocked Mrs Thatcher.” What the Pope’s Visit Changed – The Daily Telegraph.

Our culture and everyday surroundings can have an incredible effect on the way we perceive our surroundings an the way a given course of action may seem completely rational despite all evidence to the contrary.  For centuries the Church has believed itself to be above man-made laws and codes of behaviour.   It has consistently resisted changes in everything from accepted scientific knowledge to public social opinion and has gone to great lengths to prevent those changes where they can.  In 1971 it was discovered that social-cohesion and group-participation can have adverse effects as groups are likely to work to squash dissent and disagreement in the name of ‘group-harmony‘.  This phenomena was referred to as groupthink.  When expressed views are contrary to the majority, they can evoke a very negative reaction. Possibly one of the most famous victims of this was Galileo, who was jailed as a heretic in order to maintain their illusion, for the terrible crime of disagreeing with the church and posing a threat to their authority.

 

Belief in Group’s Moral Superiority.

“Nearly 10,000 pages of previously sealed Catholic church documents have been made public and showed that the Diocese of San Diego long knew about abusive priests, some of whom were shuffled from parish to parish despite credible complaints against them.”

When a large group, particularly a religious organisation, believes itself to be the epitome of morality, it will even go so far as to ignore or deny instances of its own immorality;

This video has been reposted by another YouTuber so may be commented on.  The self-righteous bigot, Micheal Voris has blocked all legitimate comments  from their videos.  Their confirmation bias has been made loud and clear.  They do not want to be criticised.  Well, I say to them, that if fear of questioning is preventing you from listening to true objections then your faith cannot be as strong as you claim it to be.  On Saturday, I sent a challenge to the producers of RealCatholicTV to allow comments and ratings.  Not only have they not allowed this, but my message has gone ignored too.  So, Mr Voris, I again challenge you to open your channel to un-biased debate.

“We’re no more engaged in a witch hunt than a doctor excising a cancer is engaged in a witch hunt,” said Michael Voris of RealCatholicTV.com and St. Michael’s Media. “We’re just shining a spotlight on people who are Catholics who do not live the faith.”

Worth mentioning in this section is the Church’s prevalent preoccupation with outside ‘evils’ in a bogus and pathetic attempt to distract the world from their own misdeeds.  They have failed in this attempt and yet they still keep digging. I will not stop them because I am just one person, but as a group WE can make it very clear that we are not fooled by their tactics or diversions.  We are lucky to have a tool at our disposal, capable of countering any of the ridiculous claims they make ten-fold so lets use it.  It’s called reason and free thought.  If religion bore any real weight at all, it would not need to demand ‘blasphemy’ laws to protect the oh-so-sensitive feelings of its followers.  Their freedom of religion is a personal one; stops at them.  They have no RIGHT over anybody else’s life, and certainly have no right to decide who gets to take part in the democratic process.

 

Rationalisation.

“They are still murdering children, and that must stop,” said Zastrow. “Anybody can plan their family anyway they want to, but if they use surgery or drugs…then those are innocent children who need to be protected.”

This is a process by which an individual or group will create an incorrect explanation for their actions and beliefs.  The Church’s moves and public condemnation against contraception and AIDS prevention, abortion, LGBT rights, and the secularisation of western society is a prime example of this.  Their information is deliberately erroneous and despite all of their huffing and puffing against the evils of secular society, what they are trying to disguise (ineffectively) is really their own displeasure and concern that the church is being outgrown by society and is slowly ceasing to be the center of most people’s lives.  As a group, it will become even more close-minded (and secretive) as it collectively tries to justify their actions; both past and present.

 

Stereotyping and Dehumanising of Opponents.

“The Archbishop recalled the murder of James Bulger and said: “Catholic teaching is that every single human being is marked by original sin.”

“There is this fault line within us which we call original sin and sometimes it just breaks out.

“Sometimes people get furious and angry in response to that evil partly because they secretly know there’s a bit of it within themselves.”

When the opponent is viewed in an exaggerated and biased manner, any and all statements they (or we) make which contradict the group ethos are dismissed, ignored and denied.  RealCatholicTV’s videos could be used to demonstrate pretty much every section of this post but their vitriol is more of a symptom of their conditioning than a cause.  The presenter, Michael Voris, has been brainwashed with falsehoods and misconceptions about what it means to be anything other than a Catholic and he means to spread those views. They are designed to provoke a reaction of hatred and persecution against non-Catholics while putting the onus of ‘hate-speech’ on anyone who disputes his claims and argues openly.  It is a tactic commonly used in the absence of real thought along with the accusation of being ‘angry‘ or ‘militant‘ atheists.

[youTube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K0sILSapUUc]

Yes, I am angry, but that is because I, and others are expected to sit back and take silently what they say about us , while attempting to lend (borrowed) weight to their fabricated claims. WE have been conditioned to refrain from arguing their claims or even objecting to the Church’s constant attempts to interfere with the running of secular society..  Failure to observe this social taboo means that we are considered rude and pushy, regardless of the circumstances.  It goes back to the Church’s obsession with obedience.  Any reference they make to dialogue does not mean open discourse, it means yet more of the ‘we talk and you listen‘ which has forever permeated from religious ‘authority’.  We are up against a wall, Comrades, and it’s time to start fighting back.  No violence is ever justified but this does not mean we cannot be very vocal against people like Voris and those higher-up. This man is probably not even on the Vatican’s radar yet he assumes he speaks for ALL Catholics. I know he does not but he does make them ALL look like mindless bigots to anyone who doesn’t know better.  This is another reason to be out and proud about being an Atheist.  We have nothing to be ashamed of and it’s well beyond time we ceased allowing the church to make atheism and secularism, their doormats and scapegoats.

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