Saturday, October 10, 2009

Earth is Spherical and Religion is Over

Various cultures have had conceptions of a flat Earth, including ancient Babylon, Ancient Egypt, pre-Classical Greece, and pre-17th century China. This view contrasts with the realization first recorded around the 4th century BC by natural philosophers of Classical Greece and later proved by brave seafarers, that Earth is spherical. Many Americans still believe the myth that it wasn't until Columbus sailed to the New World that Europeans knew Earth was round, but even in medieval Europe, it was already too late to write an "even-handed" Time magazine-style article about the flat vs. round issue. Even in 16th century China, a culture holding a seemingly immutable belief in a flat Earth, the whole mental paradigm shifted almost instantly once the evidence for a spherical world became overwhelming.

By the same token, evidence from the sciences of biology, chemistry, genetics, astrophysics, geology, etc. has piled up so high as to be overwhelming regarding the fact of evolution. Plus, for the first time ever in America, books against blind religious fundamentalism have hit the mainstream, with authors such as Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Chris Hedges, and Christopher Hitchens writing NYT Bestsellers taking on religion. So again, major segments of humanity, including the whole developed world, are on the edge of another huge and almost instantaneous paradigm shift. Like the belief in a flat Earth in 16th century China, fundamentalist religion is just about over. Unfortunately, most people don't know it yet.

Eighty percent of the world's people still believe that the creator of the Universe dictated a book. Many believe this so strongly that they will kill other people who believe that a different creator dictated a different book. Many Americans reading this would immediately think, "Yeah, those damned Muslims, blowing people up over religious differences," forgetting that a large percentage of Americans in the 1960's and 70's, mostly "Christian" at the time, had little problem with their government killing hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese people ("godless communists"), almost as casually as if they were ants at a picnic. If we had information about a domestic terrorist, such as Tim McVeigh, and we knew that he was hiding, in the Bronx for example, would we take out an entire block in order to get to him? The answer is no, we wouldn't. People in this country would be outraged if we bombed a block and killed civilians to get to this guy, and yet that's what we're doing every day with our killer drones to non-Christians in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

But already, especially in the developed world, we're seeing more and more "Christians" believing in evolution. In 2009, it's almost impossible not to believe in evolution and still be sane, with so many scientific disciplines seamlessly proving it. For the "holy book" idolizers, knowledge of evolution seems to diminish the majesty of God. Yet with a slightly open mind, evolution and all the other amazing laws of the Universe should only lead us to feel more awe in the face of Creation!

What has been diminished is the stature of the primitive mythology books, written by superstitious, perhaps even insane men, at the dawn of the Iron Age, that people have dragged into modern times as literal guides to cosmology and correct human behavior. Literally billions of people still base their lives on the stories in these books, a pathological, dysfunctional behavior that imperils all of humankind.

I've had "Christian"-deprogramming Web sites for 15 years (check out my vintage early-1990's web page design!--and click on the picture). Why do I bother? It's not just some pet peeve of mine. Fundamentalist religion is like a computer virus, which cripples the function of a computer. Teaching fundamentalist religion to a child is a serious type of child abuse. Sexual child abuse damages a child's self image, confidence, and attitude about sexuality, but teaching fundamentalist religion often damages a child's thinking capability for life. Fundamentalist religion is not a benign thing, like somebody's preference of one professional baseball team over another. President Reagan invited televangelists Hal Lindsey and Jerry Falwell into the Pentagon to advise him on nuclear weapons policy! Sarah Palin, chosen by almost half of us Americans to be second in command of our nuclear arsenal, would have gladly started World War Three in the name of Jesus Christ.

Perhaps in one or two more generations, fundamentalist religion in America will become a harmless hobby, like astrology. There won't be any need for laws or prohibitions against it because it will become conversationally inappropriate, and no one who adheres to it would ever be trusted with any kind of power or serious responsibility. It might take several more generations for people in some other countries to realize the absurdity of fundamentalist religion, just as it took centuries for the Chinese to comprehend what the ancient Greek mathematicians had discovered about Earth's shape.

If any of you take exception to anything I've written here, please read these very few Sam Harris quotes, carefully selected from two of his books I've read, before you respond. If you still feel like responding, I will of course answer every comment. I ask that you please comment by clicking the "Comments" link right below this post, so that others can see your comment and perhaps comment on your ideas. Posting anonymously is fine.

From The End of Faith:
"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."

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."

From The End of Faith:
"While Christianity has few living inquisitors today, Islam has many. In the next chapter we 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."

From Letter to a Christian Nation:
"Your qualms about embryonic stem-cell research are similarly obscene. Here are the facts: stem-cell research is one of the most promising developments in the last century of medicine. It could offer therapeutic breakthroughs for every disease or injury process that human beings suffer--for the simple reason that embryonic stem cells can become any tissue in the human body. This research may also be essential for our understanding of cancer, along with a wide variety of developmental disorders. Given these facts, it is almost impossible to exaggerate the promise of stem-cell research. It is true, of course, that research on embryonic stem cells entails the destruction of three-day-old human embryos. This is what worries you.

"Let us look at the details. A three-day-old human embryo is a collection of 150 cells called a blastocyst. There are, for the sake of comparison, more than 100,000 cells in the brain of a fly. The human embryos that are destroyed in stem-cell research do not have brains, or even neurons. Consequently, there is no reason to believe they can suffer their destruction in any way at all. It is worth remembering, in this context, that when a person's brain has died, we currently deem it acceptable to harvest his organs (provided he has donated them for this purpose) and bury him in the ground. If it is acceptable to treat a person whose brain has died as something less than a human being, it should be acceptable to treat a blastocyst as such. If you are concerned about suffering in this universe, killing a fly should present you with greater moral difficulties than killing a human blastocyst."

From the conclusion of Letter to a Christian Nation (this quote spoken to a typical 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. This letter has been an expression of that amazement--and, perhaps, of a little hope."

14 comments:

  1. Thanks Jeff for writing this. I agree and think your art is great. There are some sects of Christian religions and others in this country that I respect though I don't share their beliefs. It seems that all religions should have a basic tenet of non-violence.

    BTW, there was a whole block that was burned down by the bombing of that MOVE organization house in Philadelphia. So sometimes we do that here too.

    Eric

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  2. Of course, religion doesn't exist in a vacuum. Dynamics in society keep it going, whether on a grand scale (the ruling class keeping the masses in check), or on a local scale (one believes in the god that one's family and neighbors believe in). The raw anger expressed by Muslim men at the West may take the form of religious intolerance, but it probably has more to do with their anger over their failed hopes and aspirations for themselves and their family, due to corrupt and repressive societies that provide no opportunities for advancement.

    Yes, religion is a drag on clear thinking, but getting rid of it will not suddenly make the world a better place. We will still have a whole planet to fix.

    Chris Ettling

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  3. Eric, you're right. There HAVE been some pretty hard-core domestic bombings in the USA. My brother thinks they will become more common here once a few of our police forces have their own killer drones to use!

    I hear that 1,000 new drone pilots are being trained, and that the drone controls have been simplified so younger kids (gamers just out of high school) can operate them. I haven't verified this yet . . .

    About respecting some of the more reasonable, loving religions, just remember what Sam Harris says about this: "The problem is that wherever one stands on this continuum [a concentric circle with the fundamentalist crazies in the center--the Muslim jihadis and Dominionist Christians--and the religious moderates and liberals on the "progressive" periphery], one inadvertently shelters those who are more fanatical than oneself from criticism. Ordinary fundamentalist Christians, by maintaining that the Bible is the perfect word of God, inadvertently support the Dominionists--men and women who, by the millions, are quietly working to turn our country into a totalitarian theocracy reminiscent of John Calvin's Geneva. Christian moderates, by their lingering attachment to the unique divinity of Jesus, protect the faith of fundamentalists from public scorn. Christian liberals --who aren't sure what they believe but just love the experience of going to church occasionally--deny the moderates a proper collision with scientific rationality. And in this way centuries have come and gone without an honest word being spoken about God in our society."

    Read the whole amazing article
    here.

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  4. Chris,

    You make a very good point.

    You write:
    "Yes, religion is a drag on clear thinking, but getting rid of it will not suddenly make the world a better place. We will still have a whole planet to fix."

    My little essay here kind of hints that everything would be just hunky-dory if we could simply get rid of our Iron Age myths, and I agree with you, and for the reasons you give, that it wouldn't be that simple, at least when you're talking worldwide.

    However, in America, things would instantly get . . . better. If a huge percentage of American people put religion behind them, things would get better almost overnight. And it's not that farfetched that it could happen. A fairly large percentage of young people in the 1960's turned their backs on their parents' religion, at least for a while. And a better example of a huge, sudden shift in thinking (about ourselves) was when, within one generation, most Americans came to understand the theory of evolution.

    America has racked up some truly Hitlerian numbers in our lifetime, Chris. Almost 3 million Vietnamese, 1/2 million Cambodians, 1/2 million Laotians, 1/2 million Central Americans (under Reagan), and under Bush 1, Clinton, and Bush 2, around 2 million Iraqis. Do the math. Most of the post-Vietnam War deaths were made possible by people voting as their "Christian" faith dictated. Clearly, Reagan and the Bushes could have never been elected without the votes of the "Christians." The computer-virus-like effect of fundamentalism damaged the thinking process of almost half of all Americans, so that they actually believed Bush Jr. was a Christian, even though his behavior blatantly contradicted every one of Jesus' teachings.

    True, even free of fundamentalism, certain dynamics in our society could still push people to vote ignorantly and stupidly and against their own self interest, but removing the respectability of "Christianity" would go a long way in eliminating some of the more ignorant stances people have taken at the voting booth, such as banning stem cell research and denying funding and condom shipments to family planning organizations in Africa that even mentioned abortion as an option. Also, if we started thinking of people in other countries as people rather than as Christians or Muslims, it might not be so easy to kill them by the millions without even batting an eye.

    Anyway, thanks for your comments, Chris, and again, when we're talking about the whole world, I'm not trying to refute your ideas, but when it comes to America, we really won't be able to function much longer as the America we know and love unless we put fundamentalist Christianity behind us. Sarah Palin being second in command over our nuclear arsenal would have been just about as bizarre as if we had elected Billy Graham as vice president. Their pathological religions are almost identical, and they both gleefully support killing of foreigners by the far right. (Remember Billy praying with Bush Sr. in the White House living room at the start of the Persian Gulf Massacre, while Bush's regular minister, more in touch with the actual teachings of Jesus, was protesting out at the front gate?) There are many millions of Americans who see their relationship to the Universe the way Buddha, John Lennon, and Einstein do. This group of people is almost a nation in itself, which will be the subject of another essay.

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  5. DM writes:

    What's not clear is if there is a version of Christianity other than the no-nothing fundamentalism. Two famous examples of moderate and intellectually respectable Christians are Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. We could also include T. S. Eliot, Teddy Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Jack, Robert, and Edward Kennedy.

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  6. DM,

    I would refer you to the wonderful Sam Harris quote in my response to Eric, above, and I hope you'll take the time to read the whole Los Angeles Times article I link there. It answers your comment perfectly.

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  7. SD writes:
    My opinion only....religion will never cease to exist. Man is innately flawed, he must have something to hinge his destiny upon or some unknown, unseen entity to blame all his misery upon and as long as he does one or the other...well some form of religious persistence will endeavor.

    Essentially, we are dead meat, because, to resist responsibility for our current actions dooms mankind to create the Russian Doll effect as personal belief system, a religion, inside of a religion, inside of a religion, never fulfilling, never yielding, yet always taunting us to turn the next page to discover the 'truth', 'a truth', well hell, 'any truth' and therefore, never ending, the dolls replenishing themselves in endless repetitive vomiting.

    It's a paradox of intelligence, but there it is in a doll shell.

    I once taught comparative religion in Las Vegas of all places. I taught it to my occult students for one reason only, to help them understand how entrapped they are to themselves. Few students were functioning enough to understand the message, the rest of them went to church to repent.

    Repent, now there is a word.

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  8. SD, I love the writing about the Russian dolls. Very strange and interesting.

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  9. Presidents should not give credibility to Christianity ever, in any way. When taking their oath of office, they should not put their hand on that book! Maybe on a pine cone or something, but not that book. There cannot be both fundamentalist religion and nuclear weapons on the same planet. We are surviving with both, now, but only in the sense that the occupants of a car that is spinning out of control are still comfortable and unharmed only because the car hasn't yet crashed into the wall.

    Take a moderate Christian, one who believes in evolution and supports free choice for women, one who votes for progressive Democrats. This relatively enlightened moderate "Christian," as Sam Harris says, does us all a disservice by providing cover for the fanatics. By utilizing the same symbols, terminology, and mythology that the radical fundamentalists--the "American Taliban"--do, he legitimizes their religion and gives them credibility. Religion on this planet is a pathology, and the moderates are just a milder form of the disease.

    If you put aside the idea of nations as geographic space and make the mental leap to the idea of nations as ideological space, it's not that farfetched to think that developed nations might actually be able to rid themselves of fundamentalist religion in just a generation or two. A perfect example of a "virtual" nation was the 15-million-person worldwide march, on a single day, against Bush's planned invasion of Iraq.

    Much bigger than the protest march accomplished by that virtual nation of 15 million is the huge global "nation" of people who agree with Einstein, John Lennon, Jeff Syrop, Thomas Jefferson, Henry Thoreau, and Alan Watts about our basic relationship to the Universe and to our fellow humans, who already know for a fact that Earth is spherical, not flat, and that Bible Christianity is every bit as silly as Greek Mythology.

    But don't get me wrong. I love the Bible. Like Jefferson says, it contains a few amazing "diamonds" among its many mountainous "dung hills." In all my life of reading, I've never found anything that comes even close to the greatness of the Garden of Eden allegory for explaining the actual state of humanity. Because humans played the intelligence card instead of the speed card or the thick skin card or the sharp claws card, women DO give birth in pain, just as God's punishment commanded. Our brains evolved so large that childbirth became a very painful, difficult business for women. We ate from the Tree of Knowledge when we began to specialize in left-brain analytical functions, when we became analyzer apes. We made a pact with the Devil when we chose agriculture and then technology over hunting and gathering.

    I love Jesus' teachings. If Bush understood just this one, it would have been impossible for him to rain cruise missiles on the heads of thousands of people in crowded Baghdad: "What you do unto the least of these, you do unto me." Yet the most respected "Christian" in America, Billy Graham, delighted in giving Jesus' stamp of approval to Nixon, Reagan, Bush 1, and Bush 2 as they conducted their wars. I'm sure you remember when Billy Graham prayed with Bush Sr. in the White House living room at the start of the Persian Gulf War, while Bush's regular minister, who had refused to pray with him on camera, marched in protest (side by side with Jesus, I believe) in front of the White House gates.

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  10. P.S. to DM
    Of course, as a scientific thinker, I must be open to the possibility that a diety could dictate a book. But in the case of the Bible, it would have had to have been an insane, illogical, angry diety, which seems to preclude it BEING a deity. Could God make atoms and galazies and DNA molecules if God were insane, illogical, and furious all the time? There are THOUSANDS of Web sites dealing with the glaring contradictions found in the Bible. And hundreds more that point out the glaring cruelty, perversion, and violence in the Bible, like this site here for example: Sex,
    Obscenities, Filth in the Bible
    .

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  11. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  12. Dear Jeff, In my view some of the reasoning and comparisons are over the top and unfair, but I wont get into all that minutia.
    Here is one simple distinction I think you are missing. There is the religion of man on earth and how he established religion, and there is the internal of religion that always exists in its purity. To crush the latter because of the sins of the former is to throw away the baby with the bath water. The reason the Bible is here and always will be here is that there is a difference between it and every other written book, and that is that it is written in pure correspondences. This means that it has an internal sense. The literal sense that the fundamentalist go by most often is a guard and protection to the internal sense. The literal sense is a more simple and concrete container of the internal sense. The literal sense has inconsistencies, but the internal sense is in perfect harmony. I think you are making a great mistake in seeking to discredit the Bible. The cause of evil is in humanity. God himself is nothing less than infinite love and wisdom at all times. There is a cosmic correspondence between everything in nature and the grand man, and everything in heaven and nature, and everything in he grand man, God, and the Word.
    I am pretty certain you don't like this, but it needs to be said and I did my duty of reading the article you asked me to. Thanks, Steve

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  13. I know better than to get into this with you, because I could and should use my time writing to people who are open to changing and who can actually start to help humanity make the next step.

    > Here is one simple distinction I think you are missing. There is the religion
    > of man on earth and how he established religion, and there is the internal
    > of religion that always exists in its purity.

    Wrong. That's the distinction I am MAKING. There is ONLY the religion that always exists in its purity. There is only one religion in the vast and ancient universe and it has nothing to do with the Iron Age mythology book called the Bible.

    > There is a difference between it and every other written book, and that is
    > that it is written in pure correspondences.

    No, it's not. That's an ignorant view. I've already told you what makes it different from other books, and so has Thomas Jefferson. You're a good writer so I'm SURE you can understand his old fashioned language in this excerpt from a letter of his to President John Adams. What's wonderful and different about the Bible is that it contains the philosophy of the man Jesus:

    "In the New Testament there is internal evidence that parts of it have proceeded from an extraordinary man; and that other parts are of the fabric of very inferior minds. It is as easy to separate those parts, as to pick out diamonds from dunghills."
    ..........To John Adams, 1804

    "But the greatest of all reformers of the depraved religion of his own country, was Jesus of Nazareth. Abstracting what is really his from the rubbish in which it is buried, easily distinguished by its lustre from the dross of his biographers, and as separable from that as the diamond from the dunghill, we have the outlines of a system of the most sublime morality which has ever fallen from the lips of man. The establishment of the innocent and genuine character of this benevolent morality, and the rescuing it from the imputation of imposture, which has resulted from artificial systems, invented by ultra-Christian sects (The immaculate conception of Jesus, his deification, the creation of the world by him, his miraculous powers, his resurrection and visible ascension, his corporeal presence in the Eucharist, the Trinity; original sin, atonement, regeneration, election, orders of the Hierarchy, etc.) is a most desirable object."
    ..........To W. Short, Oct. 31, 1819

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  14. [continued, to Steve Sanchez]

    The revolution is now! It's a FACT that we're all astronauts in critical danger on a space station that's completely out of control! It's quite a nice, almost Eden-like space station, but we don't know how to drive it. Steve, I like to write about this stuff, and I guess writing it to you is good practice, but you want to hold on to the old way, even though you are lucky enough to actually know a guy who is way more advanced than you in spirituality and religious understanding. America's most respected Christian, Billy Graham, is in spiritual kindergarten compared to me, holder of an advanced spiritual degree. This isn't my opinion, it's a fact. Billy strongly supported Nixon and both Bushes in their cruel and unnecessary wars, total dead, 5 million. (Look up the death count in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Iraq, and Afghanistan.) So therefor, by his own sermons, spreading the teachings of Jesus, he's deconstructs himself as someone who is qualified to teach spirituality. Like Buddha reportedly said about such men, "He knows not the dharma as the spoon knows not the flavor of the soup."

    You can be useful holding on to the old way, and you will bring some real solace to broken people along the way, but YOU ARE NOT MOVING FORWARD. Why the hell do you think Jesus bothered teaching people, Steve. It was to MOVE THEM FORWARD to the next level. Get the hell out of the Iron Age and follow Sam Harris, Bill Maher, Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Syrop, Thomas Jefferson, and every person who has ever woken up. Don't be a sleepwalker, Steve. Wow, I can't believe I even have to tell you this, BECAUSE YOU ALREADY KNOW IT.

    But for some reason you're being stubborn and torturing yourself by holding yourself back. I have no idea why. Maybe you're not ready for the next step. Maybe you're carrying too much pain to handle it.

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