The Unintended Consequences of 9/11
Benefits of a life without religion are numerous: teaching morals is underwritten by action; we learn by example more than by theoretic paradigm; a phenomena like faith requiring little scientific proof produces a low threshold of belief. I mean to say, if you believe this magical thing you'll believe just about anything. Magic and superstition are anathema to the modern mind - we must be poised against reason for them to reign supreme in us. Religion is a tool often used to control us for fear of our savage nature. But it is reason, not religion, which soothes the savage. And if we’re to embrace science over the unreasonable, then the role of religion has to be looked at as a form of ineffective myth. We can skip those mind-numbing hours of prayers and sermons. Pass over the contemplation of brain teasers like three men in one god or the body & blood transfiguration. We must throw over the supernatural regime which has a preordained plan for our unique and individual lives. Stripped of religion frees us to be creative about real problems in our lives of which there are so many. We can still be composed enough to be thoughtful and kind. We can still live a life full of purpose (even if we have to find it for ourselves).
In the book of fairy tales and myths, a big magical sky daddy delivers the populace his own flesh and blood to get horribly slain so that his resurrected son can become your imaginary bearded hippie-friend. The chip off the father’s block is sort of a young Santa Claus for idealists who bestows his gifts on his birthday and is otherwise an enforcer to his father’s backwater creed: a doctrine which threatens eternal hell and other hateful things if you don’t do what you’re told. Religion often promotes unsavory outcomes. The frequency of unwanted children being brought into the world by religionists’ opposition to birth control is one of them. Modern self-management and sexual self-protection are rejected as religion hangs on tenaciously to the creepy idea of sexual abstention. Over 5000 Catholic priests worldwide have now been implicated in pedophilia and the statistics for overall clergy sex-abuse is “significant” and “shocking” according to most figures. While alcoholism may be the most common factor in sexually abusive parents, conservative religious belief is the second most common. Even self-relief can be looked at as a form of abortion if you’re an idealistic enough religionist.
Overall, religion is an event in conformity and discourages independent thinking. It comes with a golden parachute: if you fail at life through mismanagement, and kneel and pray before sentencing begins, you receive a ‘get out of hell’ card and go to celestial eternity by cashing it in at the less-than-luster pearly gates. In religion, wishful thinking has never been more naked; in cults, at no time, so inexplicably undisguised.
One of the things always pressed home in the media about Islam is that it’s the fastest growing religion in the world. It’s more likely the quickest shrinking one. Compare the perplexity of the claims of Marxists in the 60s. The swiftest growing movement/religion in the world back then was communism. With the Soviet Union, China and all the rest, they engulfed one third of the world’s population, often with brute force. How can you count individual choices in a closed society? If you’re living in Iran, you’re never going to meet an admitted atheist. Even in an open society, a religionist’s kids are a statistic even though only an adult can make choices of belief. If five out of eight children in a religionist’s clan like mine, choose as an adult not to believe, the column still counts eight for religion. A third of the population of the world is Christian, but believe that to your own disgrace. They have far more power than their numbers represent, and all their institutions’ incomes are tax free. What a huge unfair advantage to other more preferable viewpoints in life.
There is another problem for religionists who speculate on numbers. Compared to religion, atheism has grown exponentially during the 20th century. According to the World Christian Encyclopedia, a respected source for religious demographics, the number of non-religionists has skyrocketed from over three million in 1900 to over 900 million in 2000. (The figure could be much larger than this -- it's complicated to calculate, but by 2023 it was surely well over a billion). To quote from God and the Folly of Faith: "In France, fewer than seven percent of adults attend worship. Continent wide, only 15 percent of adults attend worship. In Denmark and Sweden, fewer than five percent of adults are in church on a typical Sunday. Denmark's Christian-Democratic political party attracts only two percent of voters. Although Ireland remains dominated by the Catholic Church, the Archdiocese of Dublin graduated only one priest in 2004. In Britain, only four percent of children attend Sunday school compared to 50 percent in 1900. The Anglican Church of Canada lost more than half its members between 1961 and 2001. The United Church of Canada's membership dropped 30 percent in the same period. The Presbyterian Church of Canada’s membership has fallen 35 percent during those fifty years. In Japan, 77 percent of adults say they do not believe in a specific religion."
“Since it is obviously inconceivable that all religions can be right, the most reasonable conclusion is that they are all wrong.” [Christopher Hitchens, “The Lord and the Intellectuals,” Harper’s, July 1982]. Today, just as Islam is shrinking, non-belief in religion is flourishing at the exceptional rate of over eight million converts each year. The figure of a billion unbelievers is here, and like me, most of us have been raised as religionists and by religionists. Christianity and Islam (and Hinduism and Buddhism) have grown not through freedom, education or witnessing miracles, but through unprotected sex. Non-belief has gone from zero to 15% in less than a century. Magic is not winning the day.
The sin of the moderate position in regards to faith is the claim that a lot of magic is irrational, yet a little bit of it is without harm. If the bin Laden family numbers 600 moderate millionaire Muslims and only one of them dreams of patriotic emirates and pure Sunni caliphates (and a repetition of the ancient Islamic empire of the east from Uzbekistan to Nairobi) and has fanaticism and WMDs, and kills, lord knows how many people, then that’s still unconditional failure. Would have Osama bin Laden created a closed empire like the one the Soviets had for 75 years? You bet he would. But the salient point is: out of 600 only one became a zealot, so a little bit of magic could in fact be a lot of harm. He got his finger on the trigger and now here we stand; Osama bin Laden, Ayman al Zawahiri and others of Al-Qaeda studied the tactics of Mao Zedong and Vladimir Lenin in Western Universities. Iraq’s Ba’ath Party got its pointers from the Nazis. Al-Qaeda, Nazi, Ba’ath and Communists’ lust after power made them all penultimate fascists. Their imperialistic goal is to rule the world; yet, like 9/11, they produce unintended results.
It’s like a puzzle.
“I was responsible for entrusting the 19 brothers with the raids,” Osama bin Laden admitted after much denial. . . . "We – with God’s help – call on every Muslim who believes and wishes to be rewarded to comply with God’s order to kill the Americans and plunder their money wherever and whenever they find it.” Or: “I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator by defending myself against the Jew,” Adolph Hitler said in the 1930's. . . . “I am fighting for the work of the Lord.” In both instances, the quotes are amalgamations of two separate citations, but the devastating point is: religion is to politics as is morality to behavior. Scapegoating on the one plain leads to violence on the other.
The result of unexamined belief in the mystic is religion. Religionists may produce the most babies, but they are also disproportionately represented in prison populations. Ultimately by their violence and buffoonery, they discredit magical belief over the world, which it so deserves. Inadvertently, and ironically, by some religionists’ cruelty and stupidity, they produce the most ardent atheists, Hitchens, Dennett, Dawkings and Harris among them. No amount of charity can get them out of this mess. Magic is ascended to without proof. People hold to their gods on emotional grounds. The vulgar believe that faith is a gift. Those crippled inside, the lame, weak at heart and injured have grievances against life, and join together in the cold comfort that are their gods. The Jews, materialists and the wealthy are the easy scapegoats. It’s no wonder that the Christians, Marxists and Islamists have consistently used them over the decades as targets for their wrath.
Faith and religion have been a curse on humankind’s history, not just by weight of its overestimation of the impact on mankind’s moral-value but more so by the harm they do to belief itself. The religionists maintain that religion and faith are beyond reason, and thinking on the problem is a waste of time. They claim that rationalism cannot decide the issue, but in the long run, it is either reason or passion which decides. Religionists criticize reason as hopeless and embrace faith. By doing so, they espouse herd mentality and preach against the lone rational materialist. Religion is a trick of the mind used to deny the most obvious realities: the mortal chaotic life . . . the evolving ever-changing organic universe. The beauty of religion’s explanation is the Absolute. Truth is supplied by the vendor. Logic and science can happily be disregarded by the buyer. To the seller goes wealth and authority. To the purchaser, simplicity and conformity, and often, impoverishment.
And to the rational materialist?
When people choose the irrational, we are all losers, even the winners. Western Civilization depends on reason. Christian philosophers like Eric Voegelin believe contrarily that it depends on Christianity. They see the Dark Ages, which they called the Middle Ages, as a moral achievement, and in general, God, especially the Christian one, as an indisputable teleological fact. To think that we have to share the planet with them after all this time. Last century’s Fascism and Communism were bad enough. Now there’s a Christian whitewash: 21st Century Hermeticism. Will these Western political philosophers ever get over Plato? He’s the one to discover the hidden other-world of the gods and envision the first utopian closed society.
As far as Tillich and his allies arguments are concerned, the question is a vexation like phenomenology and existentialism itself. Even if they're right (the phenomenologists and existentialists), it is only insofar as the mind is your own coin to spend; if they’re wrong, wow, what a whopper. Let’s say that man’s first concern is about the ultimate ground (God, i.e., Being) on which he stands. If a situation claims the ultimacy it demands, as Tillich contends, the total surrender of the man who believes it is required. It entails, in fact, that all other concerns be sacrificed to it, only the other world counts! In this manner, religion . . . faith itself, . . . is an ideology, the individual, a sort of blind mystic. If you get on that train, you never get off the rails, and the engine . . . the human mind . . . works harder and harder to make your subjective reality the (real) reality of social structure to which ideally, in your own heart, everyone should conform even if force is necessary. In your basic being, you become de facto intolerant.
Martin Heidegger is the moral compass for the new ecumenical age. He’s the philosopher who sold-out Edmund Husserl to Nazism but called it something other than betrayal and iniquity. Voegelin professed that the rise of violent cult ideologies like Nazism was the world’s spiritual pathology. He couldn’t see the connection between Christianity and Marxism and this makes him as foolish as Friedrich Nietzsche, last century’s moral guide for egocentricity and nihilism. Nietzsche’s school of thought helped produce all sorts of obnoxious beliefs, including Fascism and Nazism. But that’s the thing about religion and philosophy, they don’t take any responsibility for the ideas they spread. And if anything goes wrong, it’s never their fault.
Religion promotes the herd instinct and the herd instinct promotes religion.
In The Little Book of Atheist Spirituality, André Comte-Sponville, asks the question, “What would the Western world be without Christianity?” He poses it as if to say we could have done worse. Without Christianity the Western world would be an exceedingly better place. It’s a Platonic sun-religion preoccupied with otherworldliness. Given their views on unprotected sex, there’s a chance that the world wouldn’t be so overpopulated, thus the threat of global warming would be lessened . . . a good opportunity exists also that there would have been no Dark Ages so the industrial revolution would have occurred much sooner . . . no antisemitism, so robbed of their scapegoat, no Nazism. There’s an even better gamble that there would have been no Marxism (since the two systems are based in the same marginal ethics of selflessness) and therefore no enormous figures of democide in the 19th century; no Joseph Smith, so no racist Evangelistic cults in America; no Catholic church, so imagine tens of thousands of educated young through the centuries unbroken by sexual predators; no forced conversion of native peoples; no Catholic Protestant wars of intolerance; no afterworld forgiveness-clause for life’s mismanagers . . . the list is seemingly endless, but most importantly, without Christianity there would have been no vehicle to carry Platonism and Neo-Platonism into the post-industrial centuries. Humankind could have embraced modernity without the psychological handicap of an altruistic anti-libertarian mentality.
Religion is a life-raft for all the beautiful losers lost in the social chaos of our sorted societies. They want a quick fix-up for significance in their lives to avoid the onerous task of developing a mind of their own and a character of moral quality. To earn at least some of one's desires without too much harm to others or the planet is challenging. Reading endless books, understanding scientific theories and coming out of one's closet is thorny. It’s a life-time of anxiety and risk. What if you fail? What if nobody loves you? To paraphrase W H Auden, “He saw the shadow of an average man attempting the exceptional and ran.” Religion is for boneless romantics who want utopia without any personal cost in contributing to it. It's the seminal exeunt for failed actors on the stage of life. Today, with as much as 15% of the population of the world nonreligious, it is the belief that your particular religion can circumvent your real task: the moral requirement to make something out of yourself without the use of magic.
Footnote: "The human dilemma is hardly new. We find ourselves through no wish of our own on this slowly revolving planet in an obscure corner of a vast universe. Our questioning intelligence will not let us live in cow-like content with our lot. We have a deep need to know why we are here. What is the world made of? More important, what are we made of? In the past religion answered these questions, often in considerable detail. Now we know that almost all these answers are highly likely to be nonsense, having sprung from man's ignorance and his enormous capacity for self-deception. The simple fables of the religions of the world have come to seem like tales told to children. Even understood symbolically they are often perverse, if not rather unpleasant... Humanists, then, live in a mysterious, exciting and intellectually expanding world, which, once glimpsed, makes the old worlds of the religions seem fake-cosy and stale... " Crick, Francis. “Why I Am a Humanist." (1966) Varsity, the University of Cambridge newspaper. The Welcome Library. Francis Harry Compton Crick was a British molecular biologist, biophysicist, and neuroscientist who was awarded the 1962 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine. He died in 2004 at the age of 88.
© 2023 - E. A. St. Amant