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About Your “God”, Jeff…

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Paul discusses how the concept of “god” varies from one religion to another with the focus on Christianity, Judaism, and Taoism.

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THE CRITICS EXCLAIM! “It is absolutely certain that Paul Sunstone will someday come to a rich and full understanding of God.  That is sure to be the day Our Altogether Righteous and Just Lord mercifully condemns Paul Sunstone to being eternally chained to Justin Bieber’s buttocks in the hottest regions of hell. Until that day, his opinions and views of deity cannot possibly rise above the ignorant, thoughtless slime that is his post, ‘About Your Gods’.”  —  Merriweather Sterling, Blogs of the Day, “The Daily Burtie”, Berwick-Upon-Tweed, England, UK.

Continue reading “About Your “God”, Jeff…”

Alienation, Feminism, Fundamentalism, Ideologies, People

Why Ideologies are Poisonous Snakes

(About an 8 minute read)

One evening when I was fresh back from university for the summer, I heard someone shout my name. A car sped away up a hill, and I was left wonder who had been driving it.

The phone was ringing the moment I got home.  “Hi, Paul! This is Terri.  I just now saw you’re in town.  Let’s hang out together tonight.”

Continue reading “Why Ideologies are Poisonous Snakes”

Evolution, Freedom and Liberty, Fundamentalism, Human Nature, Idealism, Ideas, Ideologies, Libertarianism, Political Ideologies, Political Issues, Politics

A Critique of Libertarianism

(About a 4 minute read)

It it is a peculiar fact that America stands entirely alone in the world as the only nation in which the ideology of Ayn Rand is not laughed away as immature rubbish.  Yet, I myself can almost see the attraction of her ideology.

I was briefly attracted to it myself when, at age 15, I read Atlas Shrugged.  Back then, as today, I was willing to force myself to adopt views if they seemed to make sense, and if I could not find sound reasons to oppose them.  At 15, Rand’s views satisfied both requirements, and though I was upset to discard my former views, I conscientiously adopted hers.

Continue reading “A Critique of Libertarianism”

Alienation, Alienation From Self, Allah, Authenticity, Being True To Yourself, Belief, Christ, Culture, Deity, Fundamentalism, God, God(s), Hinduism, Humanism, Nontheism, Self Identity, Self-determination, Society, Spirituality

You Have Days

(About a 2 minute read)

You get older, your voice rasps now
Your hair has whitened,
And your patience with people
Has grown thicker,
Much thicker bark.

They are so rarer now
But you still have days
You want to risk falling
Off your cottage roof
To climb up there,
Take your stand on the peak
And roar, just roar:

“By the gods of fools and of sages,
By the spirits of the living and the dead,
I’m an atheist, you people,
You citizens of the same earth,
An agnostic atheist and no,
I’m not about making you me,
And stealing you from you
So as to compound
The miseries and misdirections
Fated by God and Darwin
For our human lives.

“So let us agree,
Let us de-weaponize our words
To each other.

“Let us from this day to forever
Again speak in civil terms
As brothers do, for both of us
Are doomed to end in a day of tears,
The final gifts from our friends.

“Go your own way,
I’ll go mine.
Don’t meddle with my spirit,
I won’t meddle with yours.

“Let us be true to ourselves,
Brothers and sisters, let us be true.”

But you have journeyed
Long miles from your childhood,
And the road’s lessons have been hard,
So you’re leagues from a total fool.
You know how they would see it,
You’ve seen it before,
Too many times before.

“Look! Atheists are madmen.”
“More like demons, I think.”
“See how he shouts at god, the hypocrite.”
“You can’t trust him, he’s obsessed.”
“How insulting he roars at us!”
“Get the children inside. Umm…The ducks too.”
“His hair’s a mess.”
“When’s supper?”
“I think he’s nice.”

You’re a prophet
Who has seen
Our age is weak,
Most people not strong enough
To endure differences.
And anyway you’re worn
And you’re weary
And you just want to be alone.

So you quietly scratch yourself,
Yawn and shrug in your seat,
And you vow merely to keep
To your side of the road,
Hoping no oncoming driver
Plays chicken with you.
But if one dares test you,
You’ll give him hell.

Alienation, Alienation From Self, Authoritarianism, Bad Ideas, Belief, Freedom, Freedom and Liberty, Fundamentalism, Human Nature, Ideologies, Oppression, Quality of Life, Self-determination, Society, Truth, Village Idiots

Dietrich Bonhoeffer on “Stupid People”

(About a 6 minute read; reading full quote extends post to about 11 minutes)

Please note: Bonhoeffer was a brilliant and compassionate German theologian. He was among the few Germans with the courage to openly and publicly oppose the Nazis after they had consolidated their hold over the nation. He was hanged for it.  This post is about his sharp insights into the mentality of Hitler’s followers — insights that I believe are especially relevant today. 

In an earlier post today, I defended stupid people from our cultural tendency to attack and debase them.  The post prompted one of Café Philos’ readers, Galtz, to respond with a long quote of Bonhoeffer’s that seemingly analyses “stupid people”.  But please don’t be misguided by Bonhoeffer’s and mine use of the same word, “stupid”, to describe a certain type or class of persons.  We are not using the word to mean the same thing at all.

What Bonhoeffer means by “stupid”, I mean by “willfully stupid”.  In turn, what he means by “dull” is what I mean  by “stupid”.  Once that is seen, I believe it becomes clear to any reader of both posts that Bonhoeffer and I are in complete agreement.

Now, let’s take a look at Bonhoeffer’s views. He begins by noting that “against stupidity we are defenseless”.  This is because stupid people cannot be reasoned with: “reasons fall on deaf ears” — an insight that he drives home in brilliant detail.

Continue reading “Dietrich Bonhoeffer on “Stupid People””

Bad Ideas, Belief, Creative Thinking, Culture, Fantasy Based Community, Fundamentalism, Idealism, Ideologies, Memes, Political Ideologies, Politics, Reason, Religious Ideologies, Skeptical Thinking, Thinking, Truth

Why I Always Need a Shower Whenever I Study an Ideology

(About a 4 minute read)

“Since opposed principles, or ideologies, are irreconcilable, wars fought over principle will be wars of mutual annihilation. But wars fought for simple greed will be far less destructive, because the aggressor will be careful not to destroy what he is fighting to capture. Reasonable – that is, human – men will always be capable of compromise, but men who have dehumanized themselves by becoming the blind worshipers of an idea or an ideal are fanatics whose devotion to abstractions makes them the enemies of life.” ― Alan W. Watts

 

It is a tragedy of human nature that it is more than fair to describe all ideologies — even the most accurate and most decently motivated — as inimical to the very best efforts of humans to think.

Of course, that raises the question of what it means to  “think”, and I certainly do not mean in this context to define “thinking” in any way a psychologist would recognize the term.  That’s too narrow here.

Instead, perhaps the minimum standard — in this context — for ‘thinking” is open-minded skepticism.  And perhaps the highest standard is creative, but truthful and accurate, out-of-the box thinking.  If so, it should be fully appreciated by all of us that ideologies invariably fear and fight against such thinking in the same way snakes fear and fight pigs, their natural and inevitable predators.

People who say an ideology “got them thinking” are flattering themselves in the same manner as anyone using a map would be flattering themselves if they claimed they were — not a mere map user — but a cartographer.  Ideologies are not intended to get you thinking, they are intended to get you motivated.  They are the philosophical equivalent of a sales pitch.

One thing any successful salesperson knows is, speak all you want about how much your product or service will do for the world.  Speak to both individuals and crowds. Even shout the news from a mountain that yours will save all of humanity, and lead to much whiter teeth, too.  But whatever you do, don’t forget to close the sale on narrow self-interest, because it is narrow self-interest that does the real selling — that is always and ever the real motivation for adopting an ideology.

People like to confuse themselves about that.  But while people can at least now and then do things for selfless reasons, they simply do not adopt an ideology to help their brother or sister more than themselves.  Ideologies are just as opposed to selfless motives for believing in them as they are to genuine thinking.

Although most of us don’t hang around our hammocks all day long thinking about such things,  to act without any selfish motive at all is to act spontaneously without thinking about it.   That’s because the psychological self or “ego” crucially rests for its very existence on thinking, on symbolic thought.  Hence, there is a profound sense in which it can be said that you cannot think about saving the girl without in some significant sense thinking about what saving the girl would mean to you personally.  In other words, self-interest will factor into every calculation you can make of the value of saving the girl.

But to me, the biggest objection to ideologies is that they are so full of themselves.  Basically, they are “systems of thinking that explain to their deserving adherents why they themselves are clearly right and why everyone else is clearly wrong, yet systems which are always significantly wrong about always being right., and everyone else wrong.’

Arrogance is a form of blindness to one’s blindness to nearly everything.   As opposed to true humility (which is claiming what one deserves — no more, no less),  arrogance lacks sufficient realism to either understand itself or others.  It’s like living in a fantasy world.

Beyond that, ideologies, when approached carefully and cautiously can help make sense of the word.  But damn, there are just too many ideologically-deranged people willing to do the equivalent of bomb an abortion clinic in the name of Jesus.

Abrahamic Faiths, Art, Christianity, Don, Fundamentalism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Love, Lovers, New Love, People, Poetry, Psychology, Religion, Romantic Love, Socialism, Theresa

Late Night Thoughts: Socialism, Theresa and Carlos, Kindness and Tragedy, Poems, and More

(About a 9 minute read)

Thunder has been rolling off the mountains since the afternoon.  The breeze has carried the scent of rain for hours, but there’s been no rain.  It’s once again warm enough to leave the doors and windows open to the night air.

◊◊◊

Someone was telling me that judgmental people are always jealous people.  If that’s so, I haven’t noticed it.  But it sounds like something that could be true.  And if it is true, I wonder if the converse is also true: Are jealous people always judgmental people?

◊◊◊

Waking Up in a Coffee Shop

The sun slants geometric on the floor,
Van Morrison drags the air,
Serbian troops surge forward,
And two old women sit and tell
The lives of relatives —
Their jobs, their marriages,
Births and deaths
Recounted at a trot
With shoes kicked off —
Statistics on estrogen.

The cup of Kenyan is just enough
To provoke the thought Don and Becky
Like the smell of leather better than most religions
And a good walk better than the rest:

Then it’s time to do the laundry.

◊◊◊

I might have been 14 or 15 the first time I heard that socialism fails because people are not equal in their abilities.  Of course, the truth of the statement, “people are not equal in their abilities”, is indisputable.  But does any prominent socialist assert that people are equal?  Not that I know of.  The argument seems to be a straw man.

So far as I know, socialists only assert that people should have equal economic, social, and political rights and liberties — not merely in theory (as under capitalism), but in practice.

Nor do socialists typically hold that everyone should receive the same compensation for their work as everyone else.  Rather, compensation typically varies according to the principle, “To each according to their contribution”:

The term means simply that each worker in a socialist society receives compensation and benefits according to the quantity and value of the labor that he or she contributed. This translates into workers of high productivity receiving more wages and benefits than workers of average productivity, and substantially more than workers of low productivity. An extension of this principle could also be made so that the more difficult one’s job is—whether this difficulty is derived from greater training requirements, job intensity, safety hazards, etc.—the more one is rewarded for the labor contributed. [source]

◊◊◊

Surely, a sense of humor has prevented more murders than a sense of morality.

◊◊◊

As I understand it, there are four major religions that contain within them some kind of a fundamentalist movement: Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.  According to one scholar at least, the four fundamentalisms are united in that each is a reaction against modernity.

That would seem to make sense to me.  But I would go a bit beyond that to speculate that the fundamentalisms are also rooted in the same psychology as political conservatism.  Over the past several years, a growing body of psychological research has demonstrated that liberals and conservatives tend to have differences that run deeper than mere politics.  That is, their differences tend to be rooted in their psychologies.

For instance, studies have shown that conservatives, when compared to liberals, are among other things:

  • More orderly
  • More anxious
  • More attuned to threats
  • More self-disciplined
  • Less open
  • Less novelty seeking

One seems to find the same pattern in the four fundamentalisms.

◊◊◊

Some years ago a friend of mine, Theresa, saved enough money while working as a $1000/night erotic dancer in Los Angeles to start her own small import/export business.  For a reason I no longer recall, she specialized in trade between the US and Costa Rico.   It was in Costa Rico that she met her husband.

Theresa is athletic and is in the habit of running every day, regardless of where she is in the world.  Consequently, when she was getting her business up and running in Costa Rico, she would run each day, taking the same route, at about the same time in the morning.  As it happened, her route took her by a bank.

Working at the bank was a young man who I’ll call Carlos here because I’ve forgotten his real name  (Sorry, Carlos! But I’m bad with names — even though I recall how handsome you are!).  One day Carlos noticed a beautiful blond woman running past the bank’s windows.  But it wasn’t just her beauty that stopped him in his tracks.

Carlos, you see, had had a dream in which he’d seen a beautiful blond woman running past the bank’s windows.  In fact, it seemed to him that the woman he was watching run past the windows that day was the very woman of his dreams.

He soon became aware of Theresa’s routine and began watching for her around the same time each day.   A month went by.   Then one day, Theresa was not there!

Carlos looked for her the next day, and the day after, but she no longer passed the bank each morning.  What Carlos didn’t know is that Theresa had found a local partner, and had consequently returned to the US.

Seven very long years went by for Carlos.  His friends and family worried he would never get married.  They — especially his mother — put pressure on him to find a woman.  But Carlos resisted.  It was not that he was waiting for the blond woman, though.  Carlos had given up all hope of seeing her ever again.

Instead, the blond woman had made such an impression on him that he didn’t feel any other woman he met during those seven years quite measured up to her in beauty or physical grace — and for Carlos, those were deal breakers.  He wondered if he would every feel differently, but he was adamant not to marry a woman he didn’t want at least as much as he had wanted the blond woman.  That would not be fair to any woman, he thought.

Meanwhile, back in the US, Theresa had long ago cashed out her share of the import/export business and was now a partner in an L.A. restaurant.  One year, though, she decided to take a vacation, and what better place to take it than the lovely country of Costa Rico?  She arranged a month long lease on a house there.

Carlos looked up from his desk one day to see the blond woman running past his bank’s windows!  He was so sure it was her that he didn’t hesitate even a second. Instead, he dashed out the door after her.

Theresa realized someone was calling after her to wait up, but when she looked, it was a stranger, so she kept running.  He couldn’t possibly have any real business with her.  Nevertheless, the man caught up with her.  As they ran side by side, he begged her to stop.

She didn’t stop.

So he sputtered out his story as he ran beside her.  She was the most beautiful girl in the world!  Theresa rolled her eyes.  He just had to meet her!  Theresa picked up her pace.  She was the girl of his dreams!  Theresa pushed herself even faster.  She must stop for he could not bear to lose her for another seven years! Theresa suddenly thought he must have known her from years ago — and remembered her!  Curiosity brought her to a jogging standstill.  She turned to face him.   “Who are you? Have we met?”

The two were married within a year or so.

◊◊◊

Kindness is our most powerful rebellion against tragedy.  – George Wiman

◊◊◊

The Hands Remember

The hands remember
More than the mind your skin

They think of their own will,
“This was the shape of her”,

When they find themselves cupped
Or curled in a certain loose way

Around the curves
Of you no longer here:

The left hand
Especially so.

Yes, I know
now
My left hand
Knew you one way,

While my right hand
Knew you another.

Was either best?

◊◊◊

Once upon a time, a god wanted something to laugh at, while a goddess wanted something to weep for.  The two created humans, and both were satisfied.

◊◊◊

“Hullo?”

“Hi Don!  It’s Paul!  I’m calling to see if you want to go to lunch today?”

“Sure.”

“Great!  Can I come along?

“Don?  Are you still there, Don?”

“Yes, Paul, but now I wish I wasn’t.”

Abortion, Belief, Culture, Drug Abuse, Ethics, Fundamentalism, Health, Human Nature, Ideologies, Market Fundamentalism, Morality, Morals, News and Current Events, Political Ideologies, Political Issues, Religious Ideologies, Science, Thinking, Village Idiots

Hamlet, Sex, and Drugs

(About a 6 minute read)

I was reading earlier tonight of a new, scientific study published just two days ago that analyzed the hospital medical records of 20 million people in the United States and found those folks who used cannabis had a 26 per cent higher chance of suffering a stroke than those who did not, and a 10 per cent higher chance of having a heart attack.  The study of course concluded that cannabis use could endanger the health of one’s heart.

Now, there seems to be an excellent, detailed write up about the study here.  I would urge you to check it out if you use cannabis, know someone who uses cannabis, or are planning to vote on whether to legalize cannabis.  But please understand that I’m not suggesting what you should do about the study.  That’s up to you to decide.

No, the reason I began this post by mentioning the study is certainly not because I intend to go on from there to advocating that you and everyone else should give up cannabis now because there seems to be some risk to using it.  Instead, I have what I myself believe is something fully more important — and perhaps even more interesting — to talk with you about at three o’clock in the morning, my time.

But I wonder now what is the best way to introduce this new subject?  Were we speaking in person, I would naturally signal my excitement at the prospect of discussing the new subject with you by of course vigorously flapping my arms while squawking at you like a chicken: A move I have learned through repeated experience is an excellent and virtually guaranteed way to get someone’s attention. I use it all the time.

Alas!  We are not speaking in person.  So, I’ll just blurt out the subject I wish to discuss with you just like a thirteen or fourteen year old schoolboy is apt to spontaneously blurt out the very first words that come to his mind the very first time in his life he asks a girl to hang out alone with him.  Ready?  Here goes: “Why does our noble species of supersized chimpanzees so very often refuse to acknowledge there can be good points on both sides of an issue?”

It was the cannabis study, you see, that brought that question to mind for me.

I like most of us, I have more than enough  experience in life to know the release of such a study is not only going to cause thousands of debates around the world within the next few days, but that many of the people debating the various issues that the study raises will be absolutely and immovably convince that their side, and only their side, has all the good points on it.

For instance, there will surely be people who favor cannabis use that will be simply unable to entertain the thought — even for a brief moment — that the study could be reliable and that cannabis use could endanger one’s heart.  And just like them, there will surely be people on the other side unable to acknowledge that the risks might not be great enough to some people to deter them from using cannabis.

But why is that so?  Put differently, don’t you find it a little strange we humans are so often unable to accept complexity, and seemingly feel compelled to deny any complexity actually exists?  After all, we’ve got the sharpest brains of all the animals on the planet.  Even our esteemed political leaders are second only to most plants and some minerals in terms of the processing power of their brains.   Why can’t we — at least why can’t so many of us — cope with complexity?

I wish to propose an answer to those questions.  An answer that, as it happens, is to be found in Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

As you might recall, there is very little action in the play.  There are many great soliloquies and speeches, but nothing much actually happens until a brief, climatic moment at the very end.  (Indeed, the play is uncannily reminiscent of  my two wedding nights.)  The cause of the lack of action is that the character of Hamlet spends nearly the entire play dithering.

Why doth he dither?  I believe it was the philosopher Walter Kaufmann who pointed out that Hamlet wavers because he has too many choices, and to my recollection, there’s some science that backs up Kaufmann.  The phenomenon is called, “overchoice“:

The phenomenon of overchoice occurs when many equivalent choices are available.  Making a decision becomes overwhelming due to the many potential outcomes and risks that may result from making the wrong choice. Having too many approximately equally good options is mentally draining because each option must be weighed against alternatives to select the best one.

But what has overchoice to do with acknowledging that there can be good points on both sides of an issue?

I believe the relationship is fairly straightforward.  When faced with complexity — such as a situation in which there are good points on both sides of an issue — many of us adopt a strategy of reducing the complexity to manageable proportions by going into denial that there are good points on the other side of the issue.  At least, that’s my guess.

Furthermore, by seeing things in a less than realistic way — that is, by seeing them as one-sided — we crush the wavering doubt we feel and thus open ourselves to taking unhesitant action.

You see that reductive strategy employed nearly everywhere by folks.  Not just in the debates over cannabis that are sure now to flood us for a few days if the reports of the new study go viral, but also in nearly everything else.  Take the issue of abortion.  Few issues seem to bring out one-sided views so decisively as abortion.  I would suggest here that the reason for that might be — not that the issue is simple — but that it is so overwhelmingly complex.  For precisely which reason so many of us adamantly reduce it to black and white.

That’s pretty much all I want to say on this topic for now.  But I can’t resist finishing up this post by offering a practical tip any pastors in the audience.  If you’re a pastor and your sermons have been putting people to sleep, I would suggest to you, based on my singular research into such matters, that you should dress up in a chicken suit when it’s time to man the pulpit.  Trust me!  I have years of experience in this, and flapping around and squawking like a chicken is the best practical way I’ve ever found of seizing people’s attention.  Folks loves them a good chicken act.  And, so far as I can see, there’s absolutely no downside to it at all!

Belief, Free Spirit, Fundamentalism, Happiness, Human Nature, Ideologies, Intelligence, Learning, Morals, Quality of Life, Spirituality, Thinking, Values

How Black and White Thinking Limits Living

Black and White Morals

Do younger people see things in black and white terms more often than older people?

A couple days ago, a friend and I were talking about a discussion we’d had with some other folks — folks much younger than either one of us.  The discussion was mostly on morality.  And both my friend and I noticed the younger folks pretty much dealt in moral absolutes.

My friend would offer up a problem, such as whether it was ever right to cheat on your spouse, or whether a woman should ever marry for money.  Some of the answers she got back were conventional; some were unconventional.  But both the conventional and the unconventional answers were usually couched in black and white terms, in moral absolutes.

Almost no one responded with, “It is sometimes right, but there are exceptions”, or “It’s mostly right, but it’s not perfectly right.”

I started pestering our young friends with annoying statements along the lines of, “I know someone who is grateful that his wife cheated on him.  He says it broke up their failed, abusive marriage — which he nevertheless would not have left, had his wife not run off with another man.”  But my examples were simply swallowed by my audience’s absolute certainty that moral matters could always be reduced to straightforward calculations of right vs. wrong or good vs. bad.

Although the discussion was mostly on morality, there was also a similar tendency to see things in black and white terms when it came to other subjects.   For instance, when we discussed gender roles, everyone except my friend and I thought they were fairly static.  For instance, men were either attracted to looks or they were not attracted to looks, but few seemed to think men were sometimes primarily attracted to looks and sometimes primarily attracted to other things.

Why Black and White Thinking?

If it is indeed the case that younger people are more often black and white thinkers than older people, then I suppose that might be because the human brain typically develops an ability to think in terms other than black and white around the ages of 13 to 15.  Thus, for some young people it’s a relatively recent innovation to think “in shades between”, and they might not have had time to fully incorporate that kind of thinking into the ways they look at the world.

Living a Full Life

So far as I know, thinking in black and white terms is not all that conducive to experimentation.  The fewer exceptions you see to the rules, the fewer opportunities you see for experimentation.

Of course, there might be some things you probably do not want to experiment with.  Yet, even ruling out those things, there is plenty in life that should be experimented with.

While there seems to be no standardized program — no syllabus of things everyone should experiment with — I have yet to meet someone of any age, young or old, who could not use a bit of novelty in his or her life.

It is often said that life is an exploration, a journey, rather than a destination.  But for it to be a journey, there must be exploration.  There must be some risk of the unplanned and unexpected.  Otherwise, life would not be a real journey, for you can no more plan every event in a real journey than you can plan spontaneity.

To the extent that black and white thinking reduces the opportunities for experimentation, it is incompatible with the fullest exploration of life.  In effect, one thus becomes imprisoned by one’s own mind.

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New Rule: When You Lose Your Religion, You must Blog about it.

It is such a common thing to do, it might someday become a rule of etiquette.  If you lose your religion — the religion you grew up in — you must start a blog about it.  If you don’t, you will be accused of bad form!

Yet, regardless of whether it ever becomes a rule that you must blog after losing your religion, some of the best written, most insightful blogs I come across started that way.  And so far as I can see, they frankly outclass most — but not all — of the religious blogs.  Especially if you include in the “losing your religion” category blogs written by people who swapped the religion of their childhood for unaffiliated spirituality.

Maybe the losing your religion blogs are so often powerfully written because losing your religion can be — to put it mildly — disturbing.  And “disturbing” experiences have always been one of the fuels of immediate, fresh, and forceful writing.

So why are people who blog about it losing their religion?  Well, from what I’ve seen, there are two primary reasons.  The first gets the most attention, but — oddly enough — might be the less motivating reason.  Namely, the blogger left because he or she could no longer intellectually accept as true the theology or scriptures of the religion.  Typically, their doubts began to mount until one day some point in particular became the straw that broke the back of their faith.

A second reason — and it seems to me a moving one — is they discovered their religion was repressing them.  That is, if you listen to the bloggers, they are often folks who discovered their religion was not helping them to be who they are, but was actually opposed to who they are.

Maybe they were a strong woman in a patriarchal faith.  Maybe they were a homosexual in a homophobic faith.  Maybe they were an intellectual in a mind-numbing faith.  Or maybe they felt they had a spiritual side that was not only unaddressed by their faith, but actively suppressed by it.  Whatever the reason, they are people who discovered their faith was detrimental to their being authentic.

Both the bloggers who left because they could no longer swallow the theology or scriptures of their faith, and the bloggers who left because they could no longer stomach the spiritual oppression of their faith, have frequently been accused by some of the faithful of being petty and malicious in denouncing their former faiths.

Yet, that strikes me as self-serving.  I think it would be more accurate to say the bloggers are, in some sense, mourning their loss.  If they feel anger towards their old faith, I think that’s usually part of the process of any mourning.   Wasn’t it Kübler-Ross who first pointed out that we typically go through — and all but must go through — an anger phase when we mourn a loss?

Now, my survey is about as scientifically rigorous as a limp noodle, so please take my impressions for what they are  — impressions.   But, if my impressions have any degree of accuracy, then perhaps a significant number of people are leaving religion because they find it fundamentally opposed to them.   Aimed at their heart and minds: They find in religion an aggressor.

Abrahamic Faiths, Christianity, Ethics, Faith, Fundamentalism, Hinduism, Ideologies, Islam, Judaism, Morals, Religion, Values

Do Religions Teach Morals?

Suppose you had a therapy that was supposed to cure people of depression. Further, suppose your therapy was full of sharp insights into human nature.

But let’s say you did a study and discovered that your therapy cured only 15 people out of every 100 people who underwent it.  In other words, it failed to cure 85 out of every 100 people who tried it.

Worse, your 15% cure rate was no better than your control group.  Your control group consisted of people who got no therapy at all.  But your therapy, despite it’s noble goal and its sharp insights, couldn’t cure people any better than no therapy at all could cure people.

If all of the above were true, would you call your therapy “effective”, “powerful”, “life changing”?   Would you say: “The goal of my therapy — to cure depression — is far too fine of a goal for anything to be wrong with my therapy.  The sharp insights of my therapy into human nature are far too truthful for anything to be wrong with my therapy.  Since nothing can be wrong with my therapy, it is the fault of the patients themselves that more of them don’t get better.  Give me more dedicated patients! Give me more enthusiastic patients!  And I will show you then that my therapy works just fine!”  Would that be your approach?  Blame the patient?

One of the main problems I have with most strains of Christianity, Islam, and several other religions, is that — so far as we have any science on the matter — they are no better than no religion at all in helping people lead moral lives.  And sometimes they are worse than no religion at all.

Of course, one can argue that the evidence is inconclusive, that we are not really sure most strains of those religions are weak moral teachers, and so forth.  But at the same time, even Christians, Muslims, Bahá’ís, Jews, and others routinely recognize the fact their religions fall far short of being wholly effective moral teachers.  For while they habitually claim their religions are powerful, effective, life changing, and so forth, they actually spend an astonishing amount of time and energy accusing the members of their own congregations (and other congregations) of backsliding, lacking better morals, or  being religious in name only.

Yet, they don’t blame themselves for that.  They blame everyone but themselves, often in rather sophisticated ways.  “Men and women are simply too wicked to follow our True Religion”.  “Materialism has corrupted everyone.”  “Hollywood liberals are undermining our morals.” “Western secularism is attacking our religion and corrupting our youth.”  “There is a cultural assault on our values.” “It’s the anti-Semites.”  “We are born sinful.” “Homosexuals are undermining us.” “Atheists!  It’s the atheists!”   And on and on and on ad nauseum.

No one says, “Our religion has some good ideals and goals, and some sharp insights into human nature, but we don’t know how to make use of them.  We don’t know how to translate our goals and insights into genuinely changed lives.”  No one says that, because everyone is too busy claiming out of one side of their mouth that their religion is life changing, while stating out of the other side of their mouth, that not enough Muslims are true Muslims, not enough Christians are true Christians, and so forth.

I am only going to mention in passing in this post the world’s many fundamentalists — who are always the biggest fools in any religion, and always the loudest hypocrites in any religion, and always the most violent — and whose goals are seldom enough honorable, and whose insights into human nature are seldom enough sharp and accurate.  Fundamentalists make for the world’s worse religious folks, whether they are Hindu, Christian, Muslim, or Jewish fundamentalists.

Yet,  there is a problem with lumping them into the mainstream, alongside the average Christian, Muslim, etc.  Namely, fundamentalists probably represent a psychological disorder,  more than a religious failure.   They are authoritarians, and authoritarianism can be thought of as a personality disorder.  And while they have significant influence on religions, expecting fundamentalists to live up to ideals like compassion, justice, and love  is like expecting a slow child to tackle the mathematics of nuclear physics during his or her third year in the fifth grade.  It is not fundamentalists that concern us here, but the average, mainstream member of a religion — why isn’t he or she morally sane?

Anyone who thinks the average, mainstream American Christian is morally sane, should ask where that Christian stood the day America invaded Iraq.  Or — let’s be honest — where he or she stood  on any number of other issues.   Some moral issues are genuinely ambiguous, but most apparent moral ambiguity is just dust stirred up by the sides to confuse people.

Insofar as morality is — as Sam Harris suggests — a matter of promoting human well being, then most moral issues are not as ambiguous as we might think.  Raping choir boys does not promote human well being.  Neither does rioting in the streets to protest a Danish cartoon.  Invading another country that has neither attacked you nor genuinely threatened you is unambiguously bad morality.  And so is stealing someone else’s land and water while imprisoning them in their remaining territory.

There are several strains of Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and so forth, that claim — as if they have any right to claim it — they are life changing teachers of superior morals.  That’s fine, but if we are going to make such claims, we had better have the science to back them up.  Otherwise, how are we any different from a braggart, or perhaps even con artist?   Merely because those strains have a few high ideals and some genuine insights into human nature does not mean they know jack about helping people to become morally sane.  Instead, they are like Freudian psychoanalysis:  A lot of lofty intentions followed by a 15% cure rate.

Perhaps it is time to shit or get off the can.  That is, religions should either drop their claims to being effective moral teachers, or they should devote serious resources into figuring out exactly how to become effective moral teachers.  One or the other.

By the way, I do realize that for most religions, salvation or saving people — and not necessarily improving their morality — is the religion’s real reason for being.  I got that.  But that point is irrelevant here.   I am not addressing the claim of many religions that they offer us salvation.  I am only addressing the claims that they are effective moral teachers.

Last, there is not a religion on earth whose ideals and insights are entirely good or reliable.  Religions have a lot of junk mixed in with their treasures: Far and away more junk than treasure.  But, again, that is not the issue here.

Here, I am only addressing whether religions are effective moral teachers. And, in fact, there does not seem to be a great deal of evidence — scientific, anecdotal, and otherwise — to suggest that several religions are.  Instead, we are only given excuses as to why they are not effective moral teachers.   But there is no widespread, realistic or systematic effort on their part to actually improve their effectiveness.

You know, if you do not think this blog post is the absolute best blog post of the day on any of the world’s 72 million blogs, then it is your fault.  You are too materialistic to appreciate it.  You lacked enthusiasm when reading it.  You failed to study it enough.  You did not grasp the core concepts.  Shame on you.  The post was perfect.  Look what you have done with it!

Authoritarianism, Christianity, Culture, Fear, Fundamentalism, Happiness, Health, Islam, Judeo-Christian Tradition, Mental and Emotional Health, Religion

Fearful Little Lives

He was talking about sin, and about how society didn’t want to hear about it anymore.  He said, “‘Hell isn’t fashionable these days”, but he said it like he regretted it.

—  Overheard in a bar

A few days ago, Tom Rees posted on a sweet little study that suggests people who are scared of one thing, tend to be scared of many things.  Teach people to fear hell; they will end up fearing their own shadows.

But if that’s the case, then it might make you wonder about all those times you’ve heard someone complain no one gives a damn about hell anymore.  Basically — if the study is accurate — those folks are complaining the rest of us aren’t living the fearful little lives they think we should be living.

Strange world, maybe.

I figure the odds are excellent that anyone who complains about a lack of hell in your life must be an authoritarian.  What do you think?  Good guess?