The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

The Path Of The Great Prophets

A religion is an ideology with supernatural elements.

We consider it OK to criticize Marxists or capitalists or libertarians or monarchists, but we tend to shy  away from saying that a religion has bad elements.

The Hindu caste system is evil. It needs to end, and it needs to end today. If The Laws of Manu sanctify it, they need to go or be reinterpreted, whether they are a holy document or not.

All religions which claim that non-believers automatically are damned need to change that because it leads to things like crusades and jihads and burning people at the stake to save their souls.

God also does not have a chosen people, and claiming it does leads to obvious problems.

Male “leadership” needs to go away as well.

Prophets are great men (there don’t seem to be many women prophets) and most of them did more good than evil.  Codified religion, however, generally winds up missing the point. Muhammad, for example, made the lot of women far better than it was before. He improved it. His followers took the better status he gave them (still less than men’s) and said “OK, this is it” or they backslid, rather than noting the direction of movement: forward.

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Confucius put human relationships at the center of his teachings, but denigrated women and put only one relationship involving women as important: the husband wife bond. His teachings, resting in the family, also had a tendency to lead to nepotism.

Jesus, poor bastard, had his teachings bastardized more than almost any great prophet I can think of: a Christianity which includes the book of Revelations has lost the plot, and I suspect the Old Testament should be ditched as well, because the God of the Old Testament acts in ways opposite to what Jesus teaches.

Great prophets are not perfect, they don’t get everything right. Their successors are usually their lessers, and get even more wrong.

Senator Carl Schurz once said, “My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.” This is the correct attitude in religion, as well.

Religion is often wrong, and the great prophets were not always right. You take the good and jettison the evil. If a great prophet tells you to do evil: to enslave people, or to murder, or to oppress, it is still evil. To abnegate to them your moral responsibility is not the road to God or good, it is the road to Hell.

Religious followers who fall back on authoritarianism “my prophet/god said so, that’s why” are not due a pass because they have a religion. If what they’re doing is wrong, it’s wrong no matter what authority they claim. A God who is not good and does not want its followers to do good is no God anyone should follow.

What is especially ridiculous is that almost everyone who has a religion was born into it. Converts are actually quite rare. So people follow a set of beliefs they didn’t choose just because of where and who they were born to. (Not that this is unique to religion.)

The person of reason; the moral person, takes these beliefs as arbitrary and inquires as to what parts are good and bad, rather than bowing down before tradition and authority.

This is the path of respect for the great prophets, each of whom came into an imperfect world, was unwilling to accept it, and tried to make it better. Buddha saw suffering and sought a way to end it. Confucius saw rulers savagely mistreating their subjects and sought to bring better rule. Jesus saw people following “the law” and missing the spirit of love and care for fellow humans that was the essence of the love of God. Muhammad’s first followers were mostly women and slaves (as was true of early Christianity) because he offered them a better life than the one they had.

It is that spirit: the spirit of improvement, of movement towards the good, that is the legacy of the great prophets. If you are not doing that, no matter how pious, you are not following their example. By not striving to improve on what they got wrong, left undone, or their successors messed up, you disrespect them more profoundly than anyone who takes their name in vain but tries to do good.



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  1. An Atheist is the only sober person in the car, that no one will let drive.

    Having read the book many times – at least five probably ten – over the past fifty-five years, and in fact referenced it in a 2008 blogswarm against theocracy Childhood’s End the miniseries, for what it is, a three part six hour miniseries, comes pretty close to the book. Bit overly melodramatic on the luvy-duvy stuff but never-the-less conveys the message at a number of different levels. Will have to go back and read through it again, there were a couple of things in the movie I don’t remember in the book, and one scene leaves me wondering if the writers have visited my blog, or if Clarke’s subliminal impact on my way of thinking was the muse behind the times I’ve encouraged people let me know when they figure out how to drink oil.

    Gonna’ have to do something about our little religion problem. Soon.

  2. bruce wilder

    I have wrestled a bit with the “moral foundations” theory promoted by the psychologist, Jonathan Haidt, which suggests some of the complexity involved. I instinctively do not like the way Haidt tries to undermine the liberal critique of authoritarian conventionalism and ritualism — getting one’s self all bent of shape over blasphemy, say, while ignoring the material plight of the poor or dismissing injustice with legalisms — but I do see the liberal reliance on personal moral intuitions to be more than a little ignorant of the importance of social institutions and political rituals. In our current politics, the left’s idpol obsessions with “racist” as epithet and unrelenting attacks on patriotism and nationalism do seem corrosive of political and social solidarity, a pre-requisite of practical implementation of morality in political action.

    Is an atheist the only sober fellow on the bus? I am not a believer, but I also know that the atheists go neoliberal pretty damn easily, which makes me suspicious. When societies really do descend into “hell” as Ian puts it, the righteous who persist in righteousness are not as often rugged individualists, but more likely, members of a community that promotes and sustains a religious or ideological commitment to righteousness. We need shared belief and some concrete, institutionalized path to implementing concepts of public good and the general welfare. The morality of a good society does not bubble up magically from the consumer sovereignty of individual moral intuitions wrestling with the subversive forces of self-interest. And, the charisma of prophets is ephemeral, yes, but also it is a bit more complicated than that in the matrix of structured polity.

  3. GlassHammer

    A religious person must accept that they live within the contradiction of faith and reality.

    A religious person must accept that this contradiction cannot be resolved.

    A religious person will always be in a state that is both rational and irrational, both truthful and hypocritical, and both peaceful and conflicted.

    A life in faith is difficult, far too difficult for most people to handle.

  4. Fran Draper

    That is so absolutely spot on, Ian, thank you for the wonderfully
    insightful and not to mention entertaining post. A rare thing these days in the blogosphere.
    Something to put in the \”keeper\” file. Yep.

    I could have sworn I read something just like this in a book written by this university
    professor, don\’t remember his name. But I heard about it on a talk radio interview
    out here in upstate New York. I was so amazed that I just sat their in amazement
    at how utterly concise the theoretical framework was. Cut through all the noise and
    made everything just snap into focus. Like a large glass of cold water being dumped
    on my perm. I was so grateful that I found him online, baked that guy
    a loaf of banada bread, and visited him during office hours just so that I could give it to him.

    Initially I made socks, but the socks were just so darn useful during this cold snap
    that I started wearing them on my hands. After a while I started talking to them like
    they were my kids and it\’s gotten to the point were they\’ve taken
    on a life of their own. Telling people how great they are. You know, to help build the myth[TM]
    and encourage the rubes out there in the audience.

    So, again, this post was epic. And a long time coming. Thanks again Ian.
    Here is to your lasting legacy of deep thinking Internet freebies served up Monday-Friday
    with a hot side order of daily affirmation.

  5. elissa3

    Religions are silly, ridiculous. Like ideologies, they purport to explain what life is all about within a structure or system. There IS no meaning of life. Common human values, that transcend nations and cultures, yes.

    The best path is the PROCESS of searching, always searching for the best way to lead one’s life in a way that enhances the innately good values of human beings. I know this is an optimistic point of view, and the inherent weakness of the species is the 4-5% who are socio or psychopaths and who are often elevated to positions of authority. Which is one reason why flexible structures at the level of government are a necessary thing. To limit the harm that the outliers can do. (In many cooperative animal species, these outliers would be banished from the group, left to die). It’s basic Darwin. If a species takes too many wrong paths, it will disappear.

    There is a latent evil in religions/ideologies. It is the characterization of those not adhering to your group as “the other”. Today, Presbyterians and Lutherans aren’t killing each other, but all it takes is a period of stress and a psychopath with charisma to demonize the other tribe and blood can flow. Ian is correct in noting that almost all of us are born into a religion. In my ideal world, one’s education would be grounded in the positive innate human values. At age 18, more or less, a human could choose if she/he wanted a religion or ideology. My guess is that most would forgo this choice.

  6. Dan Lynch

    Re: female prophets. Ellen White, the defacto founder of the 7th Day Adventists.

    Ian, being a philosopher by nature, looks at religion as a type of philosophy, which it is. But most religious people cannot articulate what their religion believes in — as an atheist, I often know more about their religion’s doctrine and history than they do.

    Instead, most people view religion as a social institution. It gives them a sense of belonging. Church rituals mark the rites of passages. In non-religious Scandinavian, church weddings are still popular. In America, where people often do not talk to their neighbors, church is often the center of American’s social life. The sense of belonging and the rituals and the social activities all seem to fill a real need, even if the church doctrine is bunk.

    You see this especially in Judaism. It seems like the majority of Jews are “secular Jews” — they don’t actually believe in the religious bunk, yet somehow they insist they are still Jewish (you never hear anyone claiming to be a secular Southern Baptist!) According to a Haaretz poll, only 54% of Jewish Israelis believe in God.

    Likewise very few Mormons seem to actually believe in or practice or even know Mormon religious doctrine, yet they strongly identify as Mormons. It’s not just a religion, it’s a culture and an identity.

    It must fill a real need or else it would not have survived all these years. Is there a way we can fill that need without the harmful baggage?

  7. Hugh

    Religions grew up in societies thousands of years ago and sought to explain our presence in a world thousands of years distant and different from our modern world (and our understanding of the universe). They are a how-to book for societies that largely don’t exist and haven’t existed for centuries. This does not mean that everything in them is wrong. Rather what remains and continues to be relevant are the echoes of some of their great precepts, most notably that we should treat each other better.

    As religions exist in societies the question arises what is the relationship of religion to those societies. Many adherents of religions believe that their religion comes first, But this is untrue. It is society which preserves and transmits religion across the centuries. Without society there would be no religion, or language, or history, or a lot of other thing we take as permanent and eternal. Even if you are religious, it is fulfilling your social obligations and duties that gives you the space and tools for you to have, practice, and transmit your religion. Society comes first. Many religious people don’t want to accept that or try to meld religion and society together but we live in a multi-cultural, multi-religioned world. Your religion can inform your social choices, but making your religion the only determiner of social choices is a recipe for religious repression and social war. And of course, it violates that primary precept of so many religions: to treat each other better.

  8. Ten Bears

    When talking about atheists and atheism we would do well, boiled down to ones and zeros balls on a brass monkey, to recall what by definition atheism is. The best way I have found to do this is to first remind folks of symmetric, or symmetry, of balance or being balanced; and of asymmetry – out of balance, not-balanced. Of typical – ordinary, everyday, run of the mill; and atypical, out of the ordinary, not-ordinary. Or political, partisan, self-explanatory; and aehpolitical, apartisan – not-political, non-partisan. There’s more but for brevity theism is by definition religion, a-theism is no-religion. A theist is by definition a religious person, an a-theist is not, is not-religious.

    Don’t get side-tracked by people trying to make a religion out of it, religion is theism, atheism is not. It’s not a religion. It’s No-Religion. The Way that can be articulated is not the way. The answer is never the answer, what’s really interesting is the mystery. Those Jewish wildmen living up in the mountains don’t deny God, they just don’t want to talk about it.

    The fun part when running through all this is with some snotty show-me “agnostic”; don’t know, don’t care to know, not my place to know type … who for whatever reason doesn’t know. Gnostic is (loosely) Greek for “to know”, or (loosely) to choose to know. Aeh-gnostic, popularly “ag-nostic”, is of course to not-know, or to choose to not-know.

  9. Stirling S Newberry

    There are women prophets –

    1. They are erased.
    2. They subordinated to men.
    3. They focus on a small group of children.

    It is the usual drag – the man gets top billing.

  10. Zachary Smith

    Religions grew up in societies thousands of years ago and sought to explain our presence in a world thousands of years distant and different from our modern world (and our understanding of the universe). They are a how-to book for societies that largely don’t exist and haven’t existed for centuries.

    Not a bad summation! Hardly anyone understands the situation existing in the Roman province of Judea. The description of Jesus in the New Testament is an example. Jesus exhorted his followers to behave perfectly in every way, for he felt this was necessary to convince God to intervene and throw the Romans out of his Holy Land. Nearly everyone understood Roman power – it was awesome and overwhelming – and without divine assistance any rebellion would fail. The local well-off quislings had come to terms with the occupiers. Poor people had not, and were wanting a change. Jesus was a revolutionary, and this has been well well hidden for the past 2000 years. In fact, his “failure” was successfully redefined as “success”.

    The white skinned, blonde haired, blue eyed Jesus was, in part used by the Europeans as a tool to subdue the African slaves. African slaves were forced to convert to Christianity upon arrival in the ‘new world’ and in doing so, a white Jesus who looked like their slave master affirmed the concept of the master being a god to the downtrodden and uneducated African slaves.

    For all I know there could be some truth to this. Certainly European Colonial Empires would have found such images useful in their quest to awe the peoples whose lands they occupied and ravished.
    Even today you can find headlines like this:

    (2015) Jesus Was a Blond-Haired, Blue-Eyed Aryan

    Probably output from some European Nazi site. So what did Jesus look like?

    Retired medical artist Richard Neave has recreated the face of Jesus (pictured), using forensic techniques. The portrait shows the Son of God with a wide face, hazel eyes, a bushy beard and short curly hair, as well as a tanned complexion.

    Betcha we’re not going to see any images like this in US churches or Sunday School books anytime soon.

  11. Hugh

    There used to be literature on how earth (agricultural) mother gods were replaced by male sky (warrior) father gods. I don’t know how accepted these views still are.

    Parenthetically, Zeus is a dialectal variant of theos or god, and Jupiter comes from deus pater, god the father. I read that archaeologists in Israel found figures indicating that early Judaism had dual principles, both male and female, but that the female principle was extirpated in favor of the male principle during the Babylonian Captivity in the sixth century BC. Even in male dominated theisms female principles continued to be important. There were, for example, the Cult of Isis in imperial Rome as well as the later the Virgin Mary in Christianity.

  12. Willy

    The American founders wisely told us to not mix church and state. So what did we do?

    We allowed an unholy alliance between plutocratic libertarians and religious zealots to grow in power until debate over secular reality, problems and issues became irrelevant. At least to them.

    We should know better what happens when the most intellectually malleable members of our society, the ones whose rational muscles have atrophied past the point of redemption due to an overreliance on prayer, gain power.

    They tend to rationalize material evil, like sacking their own in Constantinople. Or expensive conquistador boondoggles against other religious cultures. Or bizarre movements like Qanon, with idiotic sociopaths as The Hero and all hope of redemption relying on unleashing a Quacken. Not to mention tax dollars going to a spiritual advisor who’s an obvious charlatan.

    I miss the good old days when most people held more personal and socially benevolent views of religion. But at least a few of their so-called ‘prophets’ have been apologizing.

  13. Joan

    I think the 21st century will see a second religiosity where people will turn to (or return to) faith as a way to understand the crises headed our way. I do not think atheism is the wave of the future. It likely will go down in history as a fringe minority faith in science.

    I’ll note that there are quite a few female Catholic saints and that the current pope is a converted atheist (and he recently urged Catholic families not to throw out their gay family members, which I appreciated).

  14. Plague Species

    The definition of religion and preconceptions related to it need to be broadened. What do people today TRULY worship? It’s a deity by any other name when you consider the effect it has on its brethren that worship it daily. The traditional religions and their respective deities are obfuscating proxies for the one true religion and the one true god. In fact, all other religions and deities are contorted and distorted and subjugated to serve the one true religion and one true god.

  15. nihil obstet

    Religion is kind of an Uber-ideology. It’s an ideology with lots more features than any of the others. Its big advantage is narrative. It has the stories that serve as models and that can be interpreted to explicate our problems.

    People who believe strongly in “economic man” who always makes rational economic choices somehow think they’re rational and the religious aren’t. Same with believers in meritocracies.

    The French republican government which repudiated religion understood the power of symbols, rituals, and community. So they did things like rename the months. “Germinal” was the first month from March 21 to April 19. It didn’t make things more rational.

    Is there something beyond the material world? If you believe there is, is that religious or is religion defined as belief in a god, set of gods, or system imposed by gods? We aren’t clear on it and it leaves some good people thinking that some other good people are evil.

  16. bruce wilder

    Did any of you ever watch Big Love on HBO? It first aired about 2006. Bill Paxton was the general manager of a Big Box Home improvement store, who had three wives, living in adjacent suburban tract homes in Utah somewhere. It was dramedy, often playing on the absurdity and hypocrisies, but it was also oddly effective in portraying how religion can provide ritual and rhetoric to imbue life with meaning.

  17. mago

    An honest appraisal across time and culture shows matriarchal dominance no matter whatever male bluster and aggression may seem to pertain.
    On a note more relevant to the religion theme(s): “isms”/ologies and conceptual binary perceptions just reify habitual ignorance.

    To GlassHammer:
    Faith is recognition of what is.

  18. someofparts

    The Orestia trilogy addressed the conflicting claims of fathers/mothers. A woman murders her husband in the first play. In the second play her son is conflicted because he is obliged to revenge the murder of his father but also expected to protect and honor his mother. In the final play Apollo sits in to render judgement and decides that the duty Orestes has to his father is more important than his responsibility to his mother.

    I always think of that when someone wonders if there are even any records left of a time before the Abrahamic template became dominant. Short answer – yeah, there are still records.

    Also, at the end of the last century there were still over a hundred distinct religions globally, only about a third of which were decidedly male dominant.

  19. bruce wilder

    Like money, religion is a space strategically contested — and under that strategic pressure, religions are always being re-invented and even the idea of religion is constantly being reinvented. Actual religions are far more plastic, even fluid a social construction than the cliched critiques and rationales of religion in general offered by cynics.

    I have seen the state church of Norway, Santeria in Cuba, Sikh and Hindu temples in India, the Judaism of the conservative Jewish Theological Seminary in NYC, Buddhism in Thailand, Roman Catholicism in Michigan, the spritualism of Big Sur, talked with neopagans at Stonehenge and I could not tell you what they have in common or what they believe (or what they mean by “belief” if they profess one.

  20. Hugh

    One of the things I’m noticing is that terms and categories aren’t as fixed and absolute as we take them to be. At one level, Hinduism is as polytheistic as you can get. Its gods are often depicted with multiple hands and arms> Each one reflects a power of the god, and the god is seen as a manifestation of these powers. But what is interesting about Hinduism is that it doesn’t stop there. Gods themselves are manifestations of a more central reality which is the mystery of being itself. Ultimately this most polytheistic of religions is atheistic, –it recognizes something beyond godhood, something behind and above it.

    It is easy to treat religions as cartoons and, as I said above, our connection to the worlds they were created in and speak to is so tenuous as to be non-existent, but they also were capable of asking incredibly deep questions and treating them in incredibly serious ways, The question of being in Hinduism, the Sermon on the Mount in Christianity, Buddhism’s focus on suffering, these are aspects of religion that resonate across millennia.

  21. BlizzardOfOzzz

    What are examples of ideologies? Are we talking about Marxism, Darwinism, National Socialism, liberalism, …

    There is overlap between religion and ideology, but the main difference is that religion makes transcendental claims (metaphysical or occult), whereas ideology’s claims are practical or empirical.

    Religion makes a claim about the nature of man’s existence, our origin, purpose and destiny. Ideologies do not really touch those things, but make empirically supported claims about human nature, upon which plans are made to improve society. Contrary to the “Imagine” style liberals, the major world religions make radically different claims. But atheists/agnostics are completely blind to the transcendental, and being focused on practical things read their own viewpoint in (hence “all religions are the same, they just say be kind to one another”).

    It’s easy to see why religion is far stronger and more enduring than ideology.

  22. Given that I’ve done the same, it’s easy for me to forgive Ian for making solid his circular argument (fulfilling his own prophesy) in regard to the reputed late great Jesus Christ.

    Bastardized? How can a mythological messiah whose only record is unverifiable teachings recounted by unverifiable sources be anything but bastardized? Okay, on its proverbial face, nevertheless, “He” is purported to have claimed time and time again, i.e. consistently throughout these recorded teachings, that his appearance and actions were fulfilment of Old Testament prophesy. So, again, on its face, his new covenant was more renewal of OT source material than departure from them.

  23. T3n Bears

    Hide Witch hide, the good folk come to burn thee;

    Their keen enjoyment hid behind… A perfect mask of duty.

    There are no “gods”, only fairy tales. Fantasies to explain away the dark, justify sex with young children, and profit. You really don’t think the witch doctor really believes that tossing a virgin in a volcano will make it rain, do you? Nooo… tossing a virgin in a volcano keeps him in his cushy witch doctor gig, with the additional perk of spending a few quality end of life hours with the virgin – what…!? you thought the virgin, stoned to the bone on Ambien, Prozac, and Viagra and smiling all the way to the bottom, was still a virgin when the witch doctor tossed ‘em in? I’ve got some property to sell. Ocean-front. Cheap. Cash only, in small bills. You’ll love Idaho!

    Recalling that in all legend lay a kernel of fact, reading the fabrications koran, bible, and torah in larger, historical context with other fabrications lain down in stone it is in fact quite easy to afford “Intelligent Design” a measure of credibility. When chariots with wheels of fire flitting about, vast arks propelling the seeds of life across vast empty spaces, and fathers asking of their wives “be this my son, or that of a “giant?” are lain aside the physical record it isn’t all that far fetched to supposit that at some point in the past half-million years extra-terrestrial travelers – for whatever reason: pure science, sheer boredom, desperate survival, or profit – genetically interfered with the development of the proto-humans they found roaming the savannahs of Northern and Western Africa. Not only are we but fleas agitating the hide of a far greater organism, but some bastard’s abandoned science project, if not cattle, as well. Wrap the twelve percent of your brain you use around that.

    This notion that the bastard is going to come back and rescue us… that as the blood of our adolescent squabbles over whose imaginary dog has the bigger dick rises to the horses’ bridle will come floating down out of the sky on a white horse with a thousand angels to carry away the chosen few, the faithful… Who are these “Chosen People”, these “faithful”? The genetically purest cattle (or pigs, as it is)? More accurately: just who do they think they are? Get this straight, these “Chosen People”, these “faithful”, can destroy the world – burn the forests, chop down the mountains, turn the air we breath into toxic gas and waters we drink into vast garbage reservoirs … can drop their fucking bombs and burn the screaming babies and at the last moment, the moment the world is utterly destroyed, after the bloodbath, some spectral being with whom they’ve entered into some kind of “special” contractual obligation is going to float down out of the sky and carry them away.

    Uh-huh. To what?

    Far the more likely thousands upon thousands of cavernous spacecraft, vast slaughter-houses piloted by ravenous vaguely reptilian creatures, replete with horns and folked tail, intent not as benevolent overseers of the demise of this world and our current iteration in human evolution and our children’s evolution onto the next iteration of humanity but as ravenous reptilian creatures … you know, hungry lizards.

    We did, afterall, invite them to “Come Eat!”

    I often despair of humanity, seeing the mass as that of maggots: a few will evolve and escape as flies, the vast majority will consume the host and die … we as a species, the human species, as a “race”, the human race, today stand at a cusp, an iteration, in the evolution, in the maturing, of humankind. But if we don’t abandon – outgrow – this irrational dependency on adolescent fairytales and attendant adolescent squabbles over whose imaginary dog has the bigger dick … we may very well not survive at all.

  24. bruce wilder

    Christianity has so little to do with Jesus of Nazareth that it is difficult to fathom any account that emphasizes the founder’s teaching, though that teaching persisted due to scraps and rumours written down decades after the facts and carefully edited and codified a couple of centuries after that. The Sermon on the Mount is one thing; transsubstatiation or the Trinity are quite different dogmas. Which do you think supposedly motivated war and torture at scale?

    Go to a Catholic Church, get down on your knees, rosary in hand, and do the Stations of the Cross. Then tell me about the Buddha’s concern for suffering.

    Consider iconoclasm and the iconography of the Orthodox. The passionate concern of Old Russians with whether the sign of the cross properly requires two fingers or three.

    Consider the medieval Catholic Church and its struggle against robber barons and feudalism and the resulting ideology of chivalry.

  25. nihil obstet

    I have been told that Christianity is the only major religion that emphasizes belief. The context was my recounting of an Egyptian’s explanation of the five pillars of Islam. My (silent) response had been, but those are actions, not belief. Similarly, Jews talk of being observant, not of believing. My familiarity with other religions would lead me to a similar conclusion — you fulfill ritual obligations and ethical actions, but don’t regard belief as fulfilling the major requirement of your god(s).

    If true, this might explain the peculiar reaction of Western Europe and its offspring to the rest of the world.

  26. Hugh

    If you start googling for a definition of religion, you will quickly find there isn’t one or that it is considered a primarily Western concept. I generally consider religion to be a holistic explanation of the universe and our place, and how we are supposed to act, in it. Your view of religion may vary.

  27. That was/is me, my key or two short keyboard both quirky and qwerty. From the 2008 Blogswarm Against Theocracy. Given the glaring typo I’m now not surprised at the filter.

    Sounds, nihil, an awful lot like Conan’s barbarian god, who didn’t give a flyin’ fig what you did, as long as you did. And if you did the right thing then in the end you go to Valhalla, sit at the right hand of Crom, drink honey beer and cavort with adult women. No word on the wrong thing.

    Lost in the translation, is one of things that prevent better expression; we are hostage to the narrative – we are trying to talk/not-talk about something that can only be talked about in its own language, its own set of symbols and symbolisms. We, Western Europe and its peculiar offspring, are conditioned to it, ore at least a thousand years. We can’t express our disdain with the church with anything other than the language, symbols and symbolisms of the church.

    The Way that can be articulated is not the way.

  28. Steve Ruis

    Teachings of Jesus bastardised? None of them were new or even novel. And as a prophet his record is very poor. Not a good example for this list.

  29. Hugh

    Thanks. Steve, it’s a lot like saying that there isn’t a lot original in Shakespeare once you take out the re-used plots and tropes.

  30. Ché Pasa

    Siddharthan mythology is probably more extensive and malleable than that of any other religious prophet/founder, but like the others, Siddartha was a rebel whose efforts, once adopted by Power, led to official religions that essentially did the same thing as the religions or beliefs they replaced.

    Once the Emperor or whoever wields Power declares that the doctrines of this or that faith are now ordained (from On High, no doubt), the primary point of the exercise is obedience.

    Not belief. In fact, belief doesn’t matter, and the masses never actually believe much of their ostensible doctrine of faith. What matters is that they obey, and for the most part, they do.

    Thus society continues on….

  31. anon y'mouse

    no system of ethics can both be applied universally and hold as consistent. at the edges, they all contradict each other and/or lead to startling and uncomfortable conclusions. and since most people believe that their ethical system must necessarily derive from their religion (and that anyone not following that system is, by definition, unethical. except maybe the B’hai), you get dogmatism.

    ethics are hard. dogmatism is easy. dressing your dogmatism up as “from on high” added to some interesting metaphysical discussions which at the upper end (the philosophers, sages, scholars) gets you somewhere close to the Greek philosophers, but when drilled downward to regulate society just results in the same ol’shit.

    sadly, religion seems to fulfill a human need. if we don’t have one, we adopt something else as one.

    i am with Eugene McCarraher (and was before he published)—Capitalism is our god, and our moral system. and it is the most ridiculous, in practice and it its claims, to ever exist.

  32. BlizzardOfOzzz

    Christianity has so little to do with Jesus of Nazareth that it is difficult to fathom any account that emphasizes the founder’s teaching, though that teaching persisted due to scraps and rumours written down decades after the facts and carefully edited and codified a couple of centuries after that. The Sermon on the Mount is one thing; transsubstatiation or the Trinity are quite different dogmas. Which do you think supposedly motivated war and torture at scale?

    Transsubstantiaton from John 6:53 … I don’t quite know what he means, do you?

    Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you.

    Christian Orthodoxy is an unbroken tradition from Jesus’ disciples down to today. Church dogma was the attempt to understand who Jesus was based on the gospels. It’s not so easy to just hand-wave it away. But for materialists, the core of anything spiritual is rejected out-of-hand as impossible or nonsense; everything by definition boils down to utilitarian considerations, which again by definition reduces to things like be nice to everyone, pleasure=good, suffering=bad. It’s impossible to reconcile that view with the gospels, but that is the only thing materialists are capable of understanding. The point is in the Nicene Creed, to follow Jesus, accept his gift of atonement and live forever in heaven.

    That is not to deny that radically different understandings of Jesus and the gospels are possible. Mormonism accepts the gospels as truth but comes to a totally different theology. Likewise Rudolf Steiner became a Christian but maintained an understanding of spiritual truths that are totally unorthodox.

    Religion is interested in the the ultimate mystery of existence, and especially man’s purpose and destiny; material reality being transient and determined is not the main point. As Goethe said “alles vergaenglische ist nur ein Zeichnis”. For ideologies the exact opposite is true: “religion is the opiate of the masses”, it’s just a distraction from the true reality, which is material.

  33. Hugh

    So BOO, if radically different understandings are possible how does that translate to orthodoxy, dogma, or an unbroken chain?

    And the quote from Goethe’s Faust is “Alles Vergängliche ist nur ein Gleichnis.” Everything ephermeral is only a parable.

  34. Willy

    But for materialists, the core of anything spiritual is rejected out-of-hand as impossible or nonsense…
    …that is the only thing materialists are capable of understanding

    Disagree with your use of words here. Not materialists, but skeptics. Some of the most materialistic people I know are prosperity gospel diehards, as in, if you’re poor then that’s proof of a God who isn’t happy with your spiritual life.

    As for skeptics, they don’t reject the spiritual but await the proof. Atheist extraordinaire Dillahunty has said many times, that if God ever shows up in some meaningful way that he’ll believe. He has reasonable explanations for why “feeling the spiritual” isn’t proof.

    My only strong negative concern with Christians regards their conservative sect, which is growing increasingly cultish, authoritarian and disregarding of realities which conflict with their own views. I agree that it’s a shame that scientists who once polled at 80% believers a century ago, today only poll in the single digits. For whatever reasons Pascals Wager wasn’t enough for them, nor was the acceptance of phenomena existing outside the perception of the five human senses. Or maybe it was that highly sociopathic and irrational Old Testament God?

    And so in turn, conservative believers don’t believe in scientists anymore. I have a hard time seeing how the pews will be kept replenished by Christians increasingly unwilling to accept unpleasant material realities. I don’t like the idea that American Christianity could go the way it did in Spain or Norway. There are many positives which a Christian spirituality can provide, for free. But political power isn’t one of them.

  35. bruce wilder

    Willy’s skeptics miss the point of the spiritual/religious. (Plenty of religious people miss the point of science.)

    If, say, a friend experiences a near-fatal car accident, I will say things to her about that accident that make no scientific sense: I might say, for example, that she was very lucky to have survived. I will say things that help her make “sense” of the accident, that help reduce the anxiety and repair the healthy narcissism she needs to function. I will “comfort” her and her family with ritual cliches that amount to nonsense viewed as “objective” statements of fact, but that reframe events in ways that are psychologically helpful.

    A commonly useful spiritual belief is to choose to believe that you chose to be born into your circumstances, to meet and learn from the challenges you have or are confronting. Believing in your own fate can be liberating and focusing. It is not something that makes any sense to prove scientifically.

  36. Hugh

    “A commonly useful spiritual belief is to choose to believe that you chose to be born into your circumstances”

    Seems like a great way to rationalize social injustice and inequality. Hey, you chose it. I guess too that people who chose to be Waltons with their tens of billions of dollars apiece are spiritually ascendant beings who chose their life with billions too.

  37. BlizzardOfOzzz

    I agree that many, probably most Christians are materialists. This has been brought out in the starkest possible way by the birdemic. You can go into a Catholic mass now, and the emphasis of the whole thing is the virus (the sacrament is a disease vector? Clearly these people in the church leadership are non believers.)

    But for this part:

    As for skeptics, they don’t reject the spiritual but await the proof. Atheist extraordinaire Dillahunty has said many times, that if God ever shows up in some meaningful way that he’ll believe.

    No, he won’t. There is no possible miracle, or divine communication that he wouldn’t explain-away as a “hallucination” or some other materialist explanation. There is abundant evidence of God’s hand in nature. What’s missing is not proof, but something else — no amount of additional proof will ever convince this type.

  38. Ten Bears

    Jeez, everything was going groovy until John Calvin showed up.

    I wonder how the butterflies in Beijing feel about predestination?

  39. Willy

    I’ll admit that I still struggle with understanding the difference between Russell Wilson’s apparently wildly successful use of prayer, and the dismal failure of (some say equally talented) Tim Tebow. Is it the quality of the prayer? Did their spirits choose to live those particular lives, of public winner and public loser, perhaps? Does a fetus choose to be aborted or did the spirit of Michelle Bachmann choose to live the life of a highly controversial infamous nutjob/respectable prophet?

    I think of the alcoholism which runs in my wife’s own religious family. As Jordan Peterson suggests, help from God does seems the only way to sobriety for them. But then, Peterson admits that this was his own personal pathway away from addiction. He goes one further and proclaims that no human can overcome addictions without the help of God. Gee, I wonder where that idea came from? Not the “God” part, but the “no humans” part.

    I’m more of a “whatever floats yer boat” kind of guy. Different strokes for different folks as long as you don’t get all uppity when I choose different strokes. The problem I have with the current state of conservative Christianity (back on track again) is the projective rationalization, the binary, good-evil thought patterns which are determined by Dear Leaders. I don’t think this is what the American founders wanted.

  40. Trinity

    As usual, Che nailed it. Religion is nothing more than a system of social control. It may have started out as a way to explain natural phenomena, but someone recognized it as a way to control the populace and therefore accumulate power. Worked very well by providing just enough (a building, some fancy rituals, smoke and mirrors, lots of social opportunities, other non-believers to look down upon), and then constrained by rules that apply only to the congregants, but never the rulers religious leaders.

    This should all sound very, very familiar by now. Substitute “a job” for “a building” in the previous paragraph and things become clear.

    I am of the mind that if religion works for you, then that’s good enough for me. Whatever gets you through the day, I say. Just don’t tell me I have to do what you do, or that I am “less” than you if I don’t. You be you, and I’ll be me.

    There IS no meaning of life.

    This is true only when meaning is chosen for you, such as: you are to want continually for shiny new toys so as to enrich a very few, who may or may not learn that lots of money provides no meaning to life either. For the latter, Money is a religion (and a god).

    There IS meaning in life, but it requires looking beyond (or away from) what others define as meaningful (and has anyone else noticed that the messaging these days seems tinged with a smidgeon of desperation?).

    Instead, you need to figure out what is meaningful for you. Not easy to do in this society, for sure. But if you want meaning in your life (and who doesn’t?) you won’t find it in our selfish, short-term thinking society. You won’t find it in owning things, either. Rational thinkers and the people who have to remove the dust from all the accumulated crap eventually learn that we don’t own things, our “things” own us.

    For Ten Bears: “Ever desiring, one can only see the manifestations.”

  41. Duncan

    I see a number of people agreeing with Ian’s claim that Jesus’ teachings were “bastardized.” That’s likely, and it’s just as likely for the other “prophets” he mentions. (The Buddha, Confucius, and Jesus weren’t prophets, unless the word is supposed to mean “really cool guys.”) I see versions of this claim often, but I really wonder how you guys know what his original teachings were. It would be very helpful to many to know this.

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