Friday, June 16, 2017

Atheist Arguments For Religion

Merely believing in right and justice won’t make someone effective. Most people do and act on the desire to do right—it’s just when they get it wrong they’re often all the more wrong for it. Even intellectuals at the highest level are not immune to the bitter, insecurity-driven desire to make their opponents look like imbeciles. It’s not enough to be scientifically correct, they’re often compelled to twist the knife while they do it. That’s why some of these people love to debate theologians or anyone who they feel is their intellectual inferior. It’s not a sharing of ideas, it’s an attempt to win versus an attempt to save face. Even if the secular, scientific person is right, it’s often more about wit, applause, and punchlines. Otherwise, religious and scientific communities might have found some common ground by now.

I have little doubt fables, myths, and religion were original forms of philosophy and science. Where a word doesn’t exist, there’s a metaphor. If you believe in evolution, it’s not a stretch to assume eventually after consciousness, creating a creator soon followed. Religious dogma helped create and maintain the moral universe we live in. It’s unfortunately that same dogma that keeps it shackled to the past. The absolute, divine, sacred laws are ideas beyond reproach, beyond challenge, and beyond thought.

“There are no atheist soup kitchens.” — Marc Maron, comedian

Some intellectual figures would choose to do away with religion entirely in one fell swoop if possible. It’s a naive idea, if only at the base level that implies religion provides no good in the world. Furthermore, there’s the reality you would have a majority global society with their fundamental method of morality, philosophy, and reasoning stripped from them. If modern science and philosophy can’t inform them now, I can’t imagine how awful that world might play out. People with moral failings and no outlet to scrutinize or reflect on them is a bad mix. You would have nations founded on religious ideals suddenly stripped of their synergies and identities, with a vacuum to go unfilled, or filled with who-knows-what, nihilism, general malaise.

“Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.” — Karl Marx (often quoted out of context, read properly there is an overt sympathy toward religion)

The power of religion is undeniable. It gives you the Euphoria of Knowing. I believe it can operate as a drug, with the placating effect of faith-based answers, and the real world communal benefits. The former way, it’s especially toxic, akin to drugs, alcohol, sex, pornography, food, prescription meds, gambling, video games, whatever the vice might be. The difference is most of these vices, however problematic, don’t lead to the harming of others. Bad religion does. That same fundamentalist appeal that can make it so powerful in influencing people's lives is the same thing that can make it so destructive.

“A symbol is only as worthy of respect as the values of the people who appropriate it.” — Stewart Lee, comedian

Currently, there’s only one belief system on Earth that would allow you to drive a truck full of explosives into an area populated with innocent civilians with a smile on your face—it’s Islam. It’s not the smile of evil, it’s the smile of following a self-righteous mandate your book of worship deems correct; it’s the smile of 1000 years of modernity that cast your ancient coping mechanisms aside, and brought the frustration of social and economic disparity. Claims of a silent majority of peaceful Muslims don’t absolve this, with simple reasoning: if the problem is as small as implied, there’s no reason to be silent, and remaining silent isn’t very peaceful; or, the silent majority is frightened into silence by a capable and violent minority. Either way it spells trouble and peaceful Muslims passively propagate jihadist ideology. It works no different with Islamic terrorism than with Christian child sexual abuse scandals. These are the kinds of issues that need exposure, the last thing that should be tolerated is silence.

Now to get back to the compliments.

Take a look at the animal kingdom to see how far we’ve come. Most animal life is met with violence, murder, starvation, and famine. We’ve navigated as a species from that chaos to what soon could become a relatively unrivaled peace. We’ve farmed the Earth, mined its resources, and manipulated it to our advantage to deal with problems of scarcity and population. In a world born from murder and moral deficiencies, religion and other methods of articulation and interpretation have had an immeasurable contribution to theory and attaining knowledge.

Often when talking to religious people in this Western country, the basic tenets of religion could apply to anyone. Many are religious, but revolted by the idea of actually attending church. So what is often cited? People believe in “a greater power.” People wish to believe in “something outside themselves.” Who could look down on that? When people pay to see a superhero film they’re reflecting on the perfect idealization of a greater power. When people “look outside themselves” that is the very basis of empathy, the single greatest force pushing away from our stone-age ancestry.

Religion requires reform, not calls for its eradication. Churches perhaps could be a place where a person of any belief could come to reflect, do charity, do theory and philosophize, or more importantly be challenged. Or it could stay on the same course and suffer from the law of diminishing returns. I don’t see reform happening, however. I instead see a continuance of a religious and non-religious tug-of-war, with secular views winning, and a once-purposeful institution left with nothing to replace it but cynicism.

When not actively-practicing religious people speak of a vague “greater power,” who knows what they mean. It seems as though God’s most resonating verses are also vague. Other meanings can be just as easily ascribed. If you replaced “God” with “love” in a lot of popular biblical quotes, a good deal of them would fit 1:1. I know any God worth worshiping wouldn’t mind foregoing credit in lieu of spreading its essential message. Some things are worth struggling for and semantics aren’t one of them.

There’s a simplicity to ten commandments as the basis of moral teaching, but life is a little more nuanced than that. No one would fault someone for lying to a psychopath, or killing in self-defense. An interesting irony is the religious command for honesty. Even the most devout aren’t free of skepticism when it comes to some of religion’s more fantastical claims. There’s burning bushes, large boats, talking snakes. But there’s nothing innately bad about a lie that causes no harm. A lie is the first step in the element of surprise or telling a good joke, and most reasonable people enjoy them. A lie is the platform for great books and movies and art. I can’t find a logical flaw with benevolent dishonesty. If someone is tricked into doing the right thing, that’s not ideal, but it’s better than the alternative.

Street signage with unintentional political commentary
It doesn’t surprise me many believers have doubts, and it wouldn’t surprise me if many secretly didn’t believe at all. It could be what influences the reluctant way in which some people talk about their faith. It’s often “personal” or “private.” Their reasons for pursing faith can be deeply entwined with intimate issues and heavy personal experiences that deserve the consideration they request. Whether it’s secret shame, a moral failing, or the simple desire avoid an abstract conversation, it deserves respect.

Many seem to find religion after having children. They are born-again conveniently right alongside them. Is it the cosmic trickery of the moment, the levity changing the situation from awe to the supernatural? Is it the vulnerability of life and the threat of loss causing someone to redefine the way they empathize? Or, could it be the subconscious realization that while we live in a world of many answers, we don’t always live in a world of good ones. Sometimes our answers are frightening, and sometimes even majorities are too afraid to ask.

Sad, beautiful, both, neither
For all its conceits, as right as the scientific approach may be, generations pass without change. If all the rationale and the philosophy, the books and the intellectual prowess can’t make a definitive leap over a talking snake, maybe it, too, is a flawed belief system. Maybe it, too, is inspired by an Old Testament sense of wrath and justice. Maybe science, too, is inclined to use its finding in a self-righteous way, as a sword instead of a surgical instrument.

Every intellectual rests their elbow on objective truth as the gold standard. Here’s an observation: people can be misguided, delusional, lie to others and lie to themselves. Those are objective truths, those are minds that exist in and influence objective reality. The irrational don’t react to reason, or heavy-handed declarative statements. Others are sick, some aren’t smart, some are unimaginative, some are uninterested. Some are harmless and merely want to live with an innate feeling of closeness and trust to their surroundings, with the most rudimentary backdrop for a value-system they can find. There's no more thought to it, and scorn and derision rarely work. If fundamentalism is part of the ideological problem it can’t be part of the solution.

It’s a waste of effort and time, and potentially more detrimental, to attack institutions at large, instead of trying to excise any toxic elements and let them be. It’s a waste of breath to wax poetic about the whims of the irrational—something no human is beyond. By trying to dismiss and dismantle, otherwise smart people do a disservice to themselves. Instead they could engage more with people they disagree with, even if only vaccinate themselves from it, by taking in the perceived poison and dispelling it with empathy and understanding.

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