Saturday, August 30, 2008

Imagine No Religion

Many years ago when I got my first decent computer, a Gateway 486 with Windows 3.11 and a 14.4 telephone modem (about a thousand times slower than my present DSL connection), I just automatically knew that the most important thing I could do on line was work towards the eradication of religion.

After a couple of years, people started quitting AOL and going on the real Internet, and I downloaded a cool thing called a Web browser, and that was it. I quickly learned how to make Web pages, and the first pages I made dealt with meditation, the philosophy of Alan Watts, and the insanity of religion. I’ve written many essays about religion. Then, in 2007, I discovered Sam Harris and his The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation. This young neurophysicist was doing the same thing I was doing, but so much better! 

However, even though his books were New York Times Bestsellers, I don’t even think he’s made a measurable dent in the number of people in the world victim to the computing virus of the human brain known as fundamentalist religion.

I wonder how Sam Harris would feel about the new crop of 15-year-old gamers trying to horn in on his anti-religion territory. As I was humbled by his work, I wonder if he’d be humbled by theirs.

Let’s do a comparison. After careful reading of his two books, I think that this one from The End of Faith is one of the most powerful paragraphs Harris has written: 

"How is it that the absurdity of this idea [that certain books were written by God] does not bring us, hourly, to our knees? It is safe to say that few of us would have thought so many people could believe such a thing, if they didn't ACTUALLY believe it. Imagine a world in which generations of human beings come to believe that certain FILMS were made by God or that specific software was coded by him. Imagine a future in which millions of our descendants murder each other over rival interpretations of Star Wars or Windows 98. Could anything--ANYTHING--be more ridiculous? And yet, this would be no more ridiculous than the world we are living in."

Now compare it to this graphic put together by a 15-year-old gamer:

Very scary, masochistic God

Ok, here’s another great Sam Harris quote, again from The End of Faith:

"Our situation is this: most of the people in this world believe that the Creator of the universe has written a book. We have the misfortune of having many such books on hand, each making an exclusive claim as to its infallibility. People tend to organize themselves into factions according to which of these incompatible claims they accept--rather than on the basis of language, skin color, location of birth, or any other criterion of tribalism. Each of these texts urges its readers to adopt a variety of beliefs and practices, some of which are benign, many of which are not. All are in perverse agreement on one point of fundamental importance, however: "respect" for other faiths, or for the views of unbelievers, is not an attitude that God endorses. While all faiths have been touched, here and there by the spirit of ecumenicalism, the central tenet of every religious tradition is that all others are mere repositories of error, or, at best, dangerously incomplete. Intolerance is thus intrinsic to every creed. Once a person believes--REALLY believes--that certain ideas can lead to eternal happiness, or to its antithesis, he cannot tolerate the possibility that the people he loves might be led astray by the blandishments of unbelievers. Certainty about the next life is simply incompatible with tolerance in this one."

How do you think it stands up to the following explanation of the Bible by a 16-year-old gamer. Note that to understand the gamer lingo used in this explanation--"cheat codes," "b&," and a few other gamer slang words and acronyms--you may need to refer to my little vocabulary key below the graphic. Cheat codes, for example, are keyboard shortcuts you can type into a computer game to give you special powers in that game. I once learned how to type a complicated 6-key shortcut to activate the God code on Doom, so I could kill the horrible aliens with total impunity, completely invulnerable to their attacks. After months of being beaten back by them, this was the only way I could see what the higher levels in the game looked like. So anyway, check this out:

Bible Analysis by Gamer

troll: person who purposely taunts for negative replies on Web forums

GTFO: get the fuck out

showing tits: The 4chan.org forum motto is “tits or GTFO”

b&: banned from a forum. "perma b&" means permanently banned.

trollbait: someone who falls victim (gets sucked into a prohibited negative conversation) to the troll

pwning: extreme beating (owning) of an opponent in an online game

LOL: laugh out loud

emo: emotional, sometimes gothic kids

fap: masturbate

rcon: remote control

CP: processing power

ska punk: somebody into reggae/punk fusion music

I’m really afraid of religious people because they are, by definition, irrational and illogical. Also, it’s interesting that while all religions are perfectly analogous to computer viruses, just as some computer viruses are relatively harmless--merely a nuisance--some viruses can have catastrophic impact on your hard drive, for example deleting all your data or even corrupting all data on a whole network. So it is with Christianity compared to Islam. Islam seems far more dangerous.

However, Christianity as we practice it in America, is quite dangerous as well. Eight out of ten faith-based voters voted for George W. Bush in 2004, according to NBC’s Andrea Mitchell, despite the fact that this poster boy for the Devil had already murdered tens of thousands of Iraqis and basically destroyed the whole country of Iraq. But a huge difference between Christianity and Islam is that I can be very critical of Christianity and probably get away with it (although posting this blog entry definitely scares me--it doesn’t take much imagination to picture a Christian, in the name of the loving Jesus, knocking on my door and throwing acid in my face or in the face of my little daughter).

Think about the graphics these two bright teenagers have put together and then think about how crazy and hurt a person would have to be to actually be a fundamentalist! How can you trust such a person?

My niece Lisa watched in horror as a crazy man in San Francisco pounded his own face to a pulp against a cement garbage container. This is the physical equivalent to believing in a fundamentalist religion. Fundamentalist book-idolizing religion is intellectual suicide. And, in Alan Watts' words, "it is positive un-faith since it closes the mind to any new vision of the world. Faith is, above all, openness--an act of trust in the unknown."

Can you imagine no religion? John Lennon could. Listen to this amazing Lennon song. Do you remember it?

This sculpture (I don't know who did it or even its location) is the world "Christian" McCain voters are going to choose this November 4th. 

Not one real Christian will vote for McCain. 

This is the world McCain voters want.


6 comments:

  1. Ha - yeah any religion itself sounds insane that is supposed to explain the reason for life. But what is equally insane is that we are self-aware animated molecules - beyond wonderfully functional and in a wonderful environment - existing for absolutely no reason.

    What's interesting is that we can only think about this for moments at a time and then you have to eat or do something meaningless. Pick your insanity.

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  2. You present it as if these are two similar choices, like, do I want a red car or a blue car? But one choice is divisive and turns people against people all over the planet. And it's incredibly disrespectful to God, incredibly arrogant, and primitive--to make up stories about God's purposes and methods and then idolize the books that these stories are written in.

    And worse. It's possibly the worst form of child abuse. Teaching irrational fundamentalist book-idolizing religion to a child completely damages the child's thought process. That's why the Republican Party has co-opted fundamentalists, NOT because they care about Jesus or Jesus' teachings or about gay marriage or the lives of fetuses. Bush/Cheney blew up tens of thousands of children in Iraq, so they clearly don't care about children inside OR outside the womb. But because fundamentalist religious people are broken, docile, and easy to manipulate, since they lack the ability to analyze reality, the Republicans realized that they can be herded easily. Some of these "Christians" even proudly call themselves sheep, Jesus' flock. It is nothing less than degrading for a modern man or woman to latch onto an adult version of Santa Claus: He knows when you've been sleeping, He knows when you're awake, He knows when you've been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake! To teach a child to be illogical and primitive in her/his thinking is very damaging, not to mention all the other damaging aspects of traditional American "Christian" teaching, e.g., your body is nasty, you are a slimy little sinner, God is going to torture almost everybody you know in the most diabolical ways for all eternity, and you can only be a good person if you bow to this German-looking long-haired fellow being tortured to death on a Roman execution machine.

    The other choice, the one made by Thomas Jefferson, Albert Einstein, John Lennon, Jimi Hendrix, and Jeff, is to face the mysterious, awesome, magnificent, holy universe with a feeling of humility, wonder, awe, respect, and mystery, and to realize that the Universe, as Einstein says, is one entity of interconnected/interacting atoms and molecules, galaxies and solar systems, that we chop up into parts with words for our convenience. But really, where does the Self end? Does It end at the the amorphous boundary of your skin? Your skin made of ancient star atoms which are completely replaced about every 7 years?

    Jesus, the ultimate zen master who ever lived (as far as I have read, anyway), said the most zen thing I've ever read: "What you do to the least of them, you do to me." It's pretty much the same as John Lennon's lyrics from "The Walrus": "I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together," but Jesus' way of stating it is much stronger. This understanding is available to any truly religious person.

    People like me, who teach real Christianity, seem few and far between. Actually there are millions of us, but we are spread out geographically and aren't organized into any clearly discernible group. To me, someone like Billy Graham, America's most respected "Christian," is in spiritual kindergarten. He's the man who strongly supported Nixon while Nixon murdered a million Vietnamese and a million Cambodians, and now he's come out for McCain, who makes no bones about wanting to bomb-bomb-bomb Iran. (Surely you've seen the YouTube video where he actually sings his Satanic adaption of this old Beach Boys song on stage in front of reporters and hundreds of people.)

    I can only guess at the humiliation, abuse, pain, and hate that a basically sweet, intelligent person must have endured that would lead them to believe in something so bizarrely insane as any of the organized forms of American-style "Christianity." My heart really goes out to them and I feel profound pity for them.

    For some, religion is merely cultural, like it's just the gang your parents happened to be down with, the Crips or the Bloods. These people, who may go to church once or twice a year, aren't so far gone as the people who base their lives on insane mythology. However, these lukewarm Christians do us all a disservice by lending credibility to the extremists under the umbrella of their same religion.

    So anyway, I would just say that it's not a matter of "chose your insanity" at all. It's not like, Would you like a Bud or a Bud Light? It's more like, Do you want a red car that's kinda fast and scary to drive, but will take you anywhere you want to go, or do you want to hide in a big pile of dog shit? The dog shit will keep you warm, but it will smell up your life, ruin your kids' lives, and even ruin your nation (according to Andrea Mitchell on NBC Nightly News, 8 out of 10 Americans who call themselves "Christian" voted for Bush in 2004, and this was after he'd already murdered tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of people in Iraq).

    My grandmother, a mega-Christian lady from Nebraska, who nonetheless managed to be quite cosmic (she totally dug it that I taught zen and yoga), said that I shouldn't kick the crutch of religion out from under the poor, weak people who need it to survive. I just want to make it real clear that I DON'T do this and I'm not trying to do this in my blog. The young neurophysicist I keep quoting, Sam Harris, thinks that religion is insane, but he thinks seeking after God and enlightenment is the highest thing a human can do. He just wants us to get rid of the psychopath middlemen (the Catholic Church paid out a BILLION dollars last year in Southern California in sexual molestation settlements!). I teach zen,
    http://www.zenhell.com/GetEnlightened/01.htm
    which is a way to get very still and focused and connect to God, and through the heightened sense of connectedness you get, it's much easier to follow Jesus' teachings. And like Thomas Jefferson says, it's real easy to separate Jesus' teachings from the "dunghill" (his words) in which they're buried.
    http://www.zenhell.com/GetEnlightened/FoundingFathers

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  3. I see the reason, why religion used to be necessary. With just too many things the scientists couldn't explain there was a need for some kind of god. God was used for filling tha huge gap of science. With this gap closing, god is not important any more.

    Of course: Our society (be it the European or the American) is based on Christianity. And compared to other religions, Christianity is not the worst:
    1. It has no predetermination of believes (i.e. everyone is responsible for his deeds)
    2. It does not believe in being born over and over again (so that the poor believe, their poverty is because of them failing in their life before) like Hindu
    3. It basically preaches positive things (giving to the poor, avoiding violence)
    4. It doesn't condem pleasure in the real life. You are not prohibited from having sex, drinking alcohol, gamble or have fun in any other way as long as you still are “a good person”. In this sence, the bible is probably quite liberal.

    HAving said this, I still don't believe in an almighty something. If he's almighty, he can make me believe in him. As long as I don't believe, he can't be that mighty.

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  4. German Psycho is right, Bible Christianity is not the worst. Sam Harris writes of the Muslims, "While Christianity has few living inquisitors today, Islam has many. .... [W]e will see that in our opposition to the world view of Islam, we confront a civilization with an arrested history. It is as though a portal in time has opened, and fourteenth-century hordes are pouring into our world. Unfortunately, they are now armed with twenty-first-century weapons."

    Unfortunately, even though American Bible Christianity seems fairly benign, the followers of this faith have been co-opted by the neocons, who are perhaps more dangerous than extremist Muslims. I mean, what could be more dangerous than using tactical nukes on Iran, like McCain wants to do? Especially when China depends upon Iran for much of its oil.

    Bible Christianity is no longer benign. Sam Harris writes to a typical, moderate American Christian: "Nonbelievers like myself stand beside you, dumbstruck by the Muslim hordes who chant death to whole nations of the living. But we stand dumbstruck by YOU as well--by your denial of tangible reality, by the suffering you create in service to your religious myths, and by your attachment to an imaginary God."

    He believes, as do I, that moderates, through their numbers and by sharing the basic beliefs and symbology of a religion, lend credibility and respectability to the extremists under the umbrella of that religion.

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  5. I agree. And I think he has a strong point: Moderates are like a shield for the extremists to hide behind. Extremists cannot exist in our society if they do not have moderate people who seem to legitimate the idea.

    But Christianity is more than "just" the religion: It is the basis for European and American believes. Like it or not, but all our values, our way of thinking, is strongly influenced by the bible. It is a good thing, that these days, our constitution and our laws make religion unnecessary.

    In this sense we cannot get rid of Christianity completely, but we can and should try to convince people to get rid of religious ideas.

    Every religion, especially the monotheistic religions, can and will be used for crusades. All sort of religion that belief in some sort of god will do harm to a modern society.

    Oh btw: the world still seems to be intact, despite CERN. Funny, isn't it? ;-)

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  6. Again, I agree with German Psycho:

    "Christianity is more than 'just' the religion: It is the basis for European and American beliefs. Like it or not, ... all our values, our way of thinking, is strongly influenced by the bible."

    My middle name is James, my brother's name is Timothy, both right out of the Bible. Our society still pretty much celebrates the "Sabbath" by closing things down early on Sunday. European and American culture was definitely shaped by Bible Christianity. But just like children who were raised on fables and fairy tales, we don't have to be UN-made by it. The two graphics by the young gamers give me hope that modern people will soon outgrow the ridiculous aspects of religion.

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