Fall from Grace

Perhaps the most difficult and contentious issue in secular societies is the legitimate argument that religionists claim special dispensation to act and talk in a manner commonly regarded as psychotic in others.

A post written specifically in response to disturbing intrusions into Google Plus by religious nutcases.

pieter-bruegel-the-elder-the-fall-of-the-rebel-angels

Religionist-baiting is a little bit like dog fighting. It is a cruel sport because the dogs are predictably narrow in their range of reactions to each other, and because once you set them on each other you stand back to watch rather than suffer the consequences of your actions, which are pain and death.

Suffering an aggressive and unrestrained dog in your neighborhood is another thing entirely. A mutt that growls and nips at everyone who passes a certain spot. A cur that threatens and bites. This is how religionists in these threads often appear to others when they advance their claims to righteousness, and their demands for respect and ‘tolerance’ for their intolerant ideas. In other words, despicable people claiming a right that doesn’t exist to spread racist, misogynist, psychotic messages. Demanding that the cloak of religion should protect them from the critique and ridicule they deserve.

When they encounter precisely what they deserve, they act hurt and put upon.

The problem is that few religionists actually have any of their own ideas rather than regurgitating some cleric’s vision for harnessing stupid people to the political purposes of their sacellum.

People with religious faith as well as some power of reflection and comprehension don’t repeat the nonsense spouted by populist clerics, and stay away from adversarial flame wars because they recognise a formidable power in the perspectives presented below.

The secular view

At the heart of post-Reformation secularism is a historical understanding that it was not a deliberate choice to shun faith, but a compromise forced on Western societies by the insanity of religionism in pursuing sadistic, genocidal warfare to assert the superiority of one sect over another. It was not a guarantee that religions would be respected or given special privilege, but a guarantee that everyone could pursue their own ideas in private so long as everyone was also free from all religious impositions in the civic spaces of society. Freedom from religion as much as freedom of religion.

There is nothing at all comforting to any sincerely Christian person about such a disgraceful heritage. Not that the related religions of Judaism and Islam have claims to be more tolerant or less savage in their own ways.

In that vein, arguments from particular religionists that they personally are not like that are moot. Once anyone identifies as part of a larger group they cannot any longer claim some special exclusion from censure of their group’s concrete actions. Most particularly, they cannot claim they were not collaborators by inaction in the consequences of their group’s actions. The only way religionists can be seen to be different from the worst excesses of their confederates is to be visibly, vocally opposed to those excesses, hypocrisies and crimes.

In the West, as elsewhere, it would be much easier to argue for religionism if it were not so strikingly obvious that only a miniscule proportion of those who profess religious views act in accordance with their stated religious principles. A good start would be not to obfuscatre or tolerate the rape of children, noto to pardon or condone violence and murder, not to talk up misogyny, and not to endorse hostile sectarianism.

Atheism

One of the most popular diversions for religionists is to blame atheists for immorality and ‘sinfulness’. This fanciful vision of the world is flawed by astonishing ignorance.

How religionists always deal with opinions other than their own ... unless they are stopped.
How religionists always deal with opinions other than their own … unless they are stopped.

Despite the existence of some quite outspoken and self-confessed militant atheists, there is no such things as an atheist movement or belief system. The word is a 16th century Christian concoction to denounce people as godless, presumably just before torturing and burning them alive. Today it means nothing more than the absence of a belief. It cannot be used for the fool’s errand of extrapolating entire conspiracies or belief systems.

Arguing that nominally atheist political extremists or movements are proof that all atheists are synonymous with such extremism is plainly absurd. It would require the delusional conception of atheism as a binding movement or belief system when it is in fact just the absence (and not necessarily even a rejection) of a single, quite specific belief.

Faith

What confuses many religionists is that they cannot see how atheism is entirely compatible with religious and secular faiths. Plenty of Western atheists feign Christianity or Judaism because they know they can’t attain high office or social and business positions without that lie. Plenty of others feign virtue while pursuing vice so they can lie that they are people to be trusted and respected. Believing in a god does not make anyone virtuous.

Only virtuous action does.

Faith – a belief in things that can neither be proven nor disproven – is not necessarily equivalent to religion, even if it shares many of religion’s characteristics. Faith can be placed in people and outcomes with no relationship to spirituality, such as lotto numbers, football teams, friends, or weather. A corollary is that faith can be secular, and so can religion, which is faith organised for political purposes.

Faith in a leader, and doctrinaire pursuit of ideology is a kind of secular religion. Fascism, communism and even ‘free market’ capitalism are good examples.

Remember how the ‘high priest’ of free marketeering, Alan Greenspan, confessed in 2008 to the US Congress that he’d had ‘too much faith’ in the self-correcting power of free markets?

Responsibility

A rational perspective on religionism is to see it as no more than the elaboration, or harnessing, of people with faith in things unseen and unknowable into an organised political movement, usually also with overt economic ends in mind. This is as true for spiritual religions as for secular ones, particularly once they demand the imposition of their doctrines on those who do not believe in them. This is done mostly as a dishonest attempt to legitimise what can never really gain legitimacy in its own right.

More importantly, for people who do not share particular faiths, it appears quite obtuse for anyone regularly attending any kind of religious meeting to argue that they are not responsible for what their chosen cult does with its power and influence. Support or patronage of an organisation implies endorsement of its aims.

Tolerating psychosis?

Perhaps the most difficult and contentious issue in secular societies is the legitimate argument that religionists claim special dispensation to act and talk in a manner commonly regarded as psychotic in others.

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This perspective is as follows: as a society we make it possible to declare persons mentally incompetent who claim to hear voices, receive instructions or omens from mysteriously unseen entities, or insist on the literal reality of fantasies or fairytales. Yet we are perpetually asked to ignore these signs of psychosis when they come from people describing themselves as religiously inspired or justified.

People whose faith does not extend to superstitions, and people with no faith at all, could be justified in concluding, on grounds of rationality and logic, that those who do act as if superstitions were a binding motivation are not to be trusted any more than a child talking to imaginary faeries at the bottom of the garden. This implies serious consequences in workplaces and civil society.

So, it could be said that enormous tolerance is displayed by people who do not believe in superstitions or myths every time they don’t insist that all religionists be treated by the state as mentally incompetent.

Tolerance vs respect

In light of such a perspective, tolerance may be seen as necessary to keep the peace, given the sheer number of people who believe in superstitions, but this does not in any sense imply an entitlement to respect.

Separately but pertinently, it is almost impossible to accord respect to an institution or organisation. Just as impossible as it is for an organisation or institution to respect another one, or an individual.

It is only between individuals that respect can be earned or granted, and it is not transferrable by association. So, for example, one football player on a team may be regarded as an honourable young man with integrity displayed by moderate habits, charitable actions and visible evidence of trying to live up to the dictates of his professed religion, while his team-mate, who attends the same church, is a drug-taking, rapist psychotic. It is possible to respect the former, not the latter, and not the team as a whole. Moreover, even the former player might be regarded as unworthy of respect if he remains silent about known unconscionable behaviours by his team-mates.

Religionists often fail to consider a first hurdle to their demands for respect: it would be much easier if religionists were better known for virtuously following the nominal doctrines of their religions than for hypocrisy and routine breaches of supposed commandments and virtues.

Concrete, observable realities simply contradict the fantasy that people who self-identify as religious are more ethical, or less criminal than anyone else.

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So, respect can only be based on the known words and actions of individuals, taken together, not separately. Since most people in online forums cannot be known in that way, it becomes difficult to see grounds for demanding respect for unseen attributes. The dilemma here is that most people with religious faith are used to doing precisely that – prostrating themselves to unseen deities. It is nevertheless an unreasonable demand to make of anyone with different ideas about what is rational or reasonable.

Put another way, demanding respect for religion is like demanding that you accept religious doctrine as a precursor to suspending your judgement about it. People prepared to do that might be rightly considered naïve and gullible. People not prepared to do that could be reasonably expected to argue that they are exercising sound judgement.

In that light the demand by religionists for undeserved respect is always an admission of the undeserving nature of the demand. It might be said that people with sincere and committed beliefs do not need to make demands (or vitriolic attacks). That occurs only when faith is febrile or insincere.

All these ontological and epistemological considerations notwithstanding, many Westerners who have different ideas can still recognise and embrace culturally ingrained Judaeo-Christian influences. In particular, there are components of ethics that come from those religions, and are made socially workable by being tempered through rejection of irrational components and infusion of reason and wisdom from other schools of thought.

There are holidays, festivals and observances, often appropriated from pre-Judaeo-Christian or opposing religious traditions, that now have meanings which transcend their religious symbolisms. There is also argot or idiom, like exclamations and profanities, that are not tied to beliefs the way some religionists demand they must be.

It is not necessary for Western societies to turn their backs on Judaeo-Christian influences to meet any tests of secularism. Many people would be justified in arguing that the state should not intervene in these matters and people should pursue their own paths and conclusions.

The delusion of unreason

There is a fallacy that is widely repeated online: civility requires that all opinions be listened to earnestly and respectfully.

Another populist trope is the disingenuous fetish of ‘being offended’ by virtually anything said that is not completely neutral about all things.

These two phenomena indicate a brittle, fearful state of mind rooted in ignorance and personal inferiority complexes.

Sincere faith is unshakeable but not unthinking or tyrannical. Confidence in one’s power of reason and judgement is absent when arguments rest on political correctness or demands that affected mannerisms be observed.

However, there is much to commend the view that intolerance does not deserve toleration, and that some things are just wrong, with no viable counterarguments to censure and scorn.

It can also be argued forcefully on the basis of history alone that strong and confident groups or societies routinise the most robust debates, never beholden to political correctness or personal vanities, and that such vigour is what makes them strong in the first place.

In such a scenario, tolerance is not a carte blanche to say hateful or stupid things in public and then demand immunity from ridicule or opposition.

It also seems incomprehensibly silly to argue for the diminished rights and humanity of some people and then demand their respect. Apparently to accept such tortured logic you must first accept the unreason of religionist doctrines.

So, religionists everywhere would do well to recognise that many people regard them as mostly malevolent and simple-minded, not as virtuous or trustworthy. In simple terms this is mostly about averages: there is too little evidence, in aggregate, of benevolent or benign religionists.

Most emphatically, religionists should not confuse their political demands with faith, or faith with the necessity for unreason. Plenty of people who believe in deities and spirituality abhor religionists just as much as those without faith.

In this light it is easy to propose that if these perspectives are not understood as rationally defensible before religionists choose to demand respect or tolerance for their own views, they truly are delusional.

Clarifications

The original post is on Google Plus, and the following are replies in the comments threads there which clarify my thinking a little further.

Why?

While I personally don’t endorse or dismiss any faith-based belief system, I strongly endorse the principle of freedom of conscience.

Personally I have never had any problem with privately faithful people because they tend not to get in my face.

I confess, too, that I am not actively trying to overthrow any of the established religions, though that might be seen as a worthwhile endeavour.

What I don’t want to have to do is put up with cretins getting in my face with demonstrably delusional fantasies and then expecting my indulgence or even respect.

This is most acutely intrusive if the cretins are demanding changes to laws designed to advance irrational causes or inequalities.

Sorry if this answer is too non-committal, but I really don’t want to endorse or disendorse anything until I have to.

Catholicism and child rape

I can see the difficult position in which the church finds itself, but it cannot forever avoid the consequences of a deviant fetish with demands for am unquestioned top-down hierarchy and self-denial of all biological impulses, which cannot but result in perverse side-effects in all but the most saintly of people.

Catholics are either Catholics or not. Particularly the clergy. If they were truly following the path of Christ, they would welcome an opportunity to confess and atone, would they not? Instead they continue to prevaricate and lie. What sort of example is set by such actions?

Unfortunately Catholics are not alone in this hypocrisy.

Atheism is not a belief!

I think you have misunderstood my point that there is no homogenous group that can be called atheists without first accepting that the term itself is a pejorative designed to fabricate the homogeneity of atheism as heretical and to be persecuted.

Many people who might be regarded as atheists choose not make this a focus of their lives or opinions. They do not see themselves defined by a failure to believe in something. They may instead choose to define themselves by the things they do believe in.

And not all people who vigorously oppose religionists embrace some other ‘ism’, or lack faith themselves. What often unites them is not atheism, but opposition to specific irrationality and malevolence.

Just because it is not easy to deal with something that cannot be given a convenient label, and coloured with convenient ideologies, doesn’t make it unreal. Opponents of religionism may be united by no other issue in any other regard.

Religionists, however, are always united with other religionists by intolerance, as was so stunningly demonstrated when the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Chief Rabbi of Israel, and the Vatican refused to condemn the murder contract put out on Salman Rushdie by an Iranian Ayatollah.

Finally, Andreas, in case there was any doubt about this, my post doesn’t seek to put forward all points of view. It has a specific focus, and unapologetically so. I have no sympathy for anyone who chooses to feel offended.

Make no mistake: people are either guilty of what I have mentioned here, or not. If they are not, they have no reason to be offended, but if they are, they would be foolish to expect me to back away from what I said. Outrage must therefore be interpreted as confession of guilt, no?

Suffer the little children

The forever ignored stories of billions of children subjected to the enforced mental, and sometimes physical, torture of imposed, enforced religionism is a perpetual tragedy in human history, and a shameful indicator of barbarism in notionally civilized societies.

It is also an insoluble catch 22: the alternative is for the state to take children away from religionist parents, and I have heard few happy stories about state wards and foster kids. State powers to alienate children from their parents doesn’t sound to me like a cure better than the disease.

Children have no political or legal rights not rooted in being subject to the whims of adults.

Having been subjected, as a child, for a time, to enforced religionism myself, I congratulate you for the fortitude to survive the experience strong enough to leave when you were able.

I have often thought that religion, like tobacco and alcohol, should be prohibited to minors and come with a government health warning about potentially fatal mental and physical side-effects. But I know that will never happen. Politics is too infused with religionist corruption for that.

What’s left for me, and like-minded others, is to work at the cultural pass mentioned by +Cass Morrison above by speaking up here, and everywhere else, anytime we come across religionism, to say that we don’t think it’s OK. To say that we don’t agree with religionist ends or means. The effect of this is not so much to persuade the religionists as to show others that it’s OK to speak up and to stand for what’s right and decent.

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