Sunday, December 26, 2010

Religion is bullshit

As George Carlin (PBUH) put it, "Religion easily has the greatest bullshit story ever told."

That's fundamentally the position of most atheists: That all the God talk of the popes and priests, theologians, rabbis, imams, gurus and assorted prophets is just that: bullshit, through and through. Arguing that religious bullshit comes in a variety of flavors doesn't help. Arguing that some particular atheist has misidentified some precise flavor of bullshit doesn't help. Whatever these guys (and they're mostly guys, surprise surprise) have to say, you can take the God bullshit out of it and they're saying the same thing, except without divine authority.

The point is not that people who bullshit others, have been bullshitted, or have bullshitted themselves cannot do good things. They can, of course. They can at times even bullshit themselves into doing good things. The point is that whatever good the religious do, they could do the exact same thing without the bullshit, and almost always do it better. Indeed, what's the point of telling me that you're doing something good only because you've bullshitted yourself into thinking that an omnipotent god has bullied or guilted you into doing it? Until you told me that, I kinda liked you for doing something nice; now you tell me you didn't really care about the nice, you cared about the God behind the nice.

You might as well tell me, "I got a nice necklace for my wife."

"Oh, how thoughtful of you."

"No, I hate the bitch, but if I don't suck up to her, she'll divorce me and take the kids and all the money."

"Well, aren't you the model husband."

One thing that strikes me, and I would imagine strikes many other atheists, is how religion is not just bullshit, but such obvious and egregious bullshit. And Carlin's caricature of religious belief,
An invisible man living in the sky who watches everything you do, every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a special list of ten things he does not want you to do. And if you do any of these ten things, he has a special place, full of fire and smoke and burning and torture and anguish, where he will send you to live and suffer and burn and choke and scream and cry forever and ever 'til the end of time! But He loves you. He loves you, and He needs money!
is the best the religious have to offer; all the dodges and metaphysical work-arounds are even worse bullshit.

It really is astonishing, and the first thing that comes to my mind is: If you believe that — if you're proud you believe that — you could believe anything. It's the intellectual equivalent of stumbling across Dexter's bodies: If you can do that, you can do anything. How can I trust anything you say or do? It's not a matter of making a mistake, or a moment of weakness, or of not thinking something all the way through: It's an intentional and conscious abandonment of basic intellectual standards of critical thinking: the admission that you find critical thinking is at best optional, perhaps accidental, and at worst contemptible:
Reason is the Devil’s greatest whore; by nature and manner of being she is a noxious whore; she is a prostitute, the Devil’s appointed whore; whore eaten by scab and leprosy who ought to be trodden under foot and destroyed, she and her wisdom… Throw dung in her face to make her ugly. She is and she ought to be drowned in baptism… She would deserve, the wretch, to be banished to the filthiest place in the house, to the closets.
The topic of the resurrection has come up in comments. But if a person supposedly rose from the dead today, I would need the entire weight of the scientific community, (with James Randi and Penn and Teller for good measure) working for years to substantiate the event for me to believe it. If I merely saw it with my own eyes, I wouldn't believe it. Not because I have some sort of bias, but because it would be more plausible that I had been fooled and tricked in some clever way, as clever stage magicians have fooled and tricked me a thousand times before. Bury the event two thousand years in the past in a pre-technological, pre-scientific society, and it's completely unrealistic to hope for even the preponderance of evidence, much less proof beyond a reasonable doubt. If your religious belief, how you live your life, who you marry and love and hate and give your loyalty to, depends on the fact of the resurrection, and depends on proving that fact according to ordinary standards of historical investigation, you're doomed from the start. We can barely make a credible — albeit controversial — case that any such person as Jesus actually existed; how can you even hope to make a credible case that an event that contradicts everything we know about biology and physics using that same body of evidence? Just undertaking the project with any degree of seriousness undermines any claim the investigator might have to a commitment to critical, rational thought.

It is the "if you believe that, you could believe anything" notion that fills many atheists with an outrage born of fear. Critical thought isn't perfect, of course, and many critical thinkers have done abominable things, but without critical thought, what hope do we have of ever improving? Throughout history it has always been the realization that, "Hey, wait a minute, that [women are inferior/blacks should be enslaved/Jews drink the blood of babies/etc./ad nauseam] just doesn't make any fucking sense, no matter what the priest says God says," that has begun any moral transformation. Critical thinking isn't a panacea, but it's the only treatment we know that can work, to lasting effect.


  1. "...without critical thought, what hope do we have of ever improving?"

    Leftists like Chris Hedges deny that it is possible for us to improve in aggregate. That's how they weather your criticism and support religion. It's also why they are obsessed with pretending crimes by First World actors are as worse than they are, by both factual dishonesty and conflating unalike wrongs. The goal of their evidence gathering and reasoning is to arrive at the conclusion that no moral progress has been made.

  2. It's interesting to take Hedges' reasoning to its logical conclusion. If no moral improvement were possible, then the attempt at moral improvement, with its concomitant evils, is no more objectionable than the evils it purports (falsely) to cure. (Surely one could not honestly argue that abandoning attempts at moral improvement would cause moral improvement.)

    Therefore how are we to view Hedges statement? Clearly he doesn't want to ameliorate any evils. Thus we must view his comments as an attempt to gain power. He wants to be the hammer, not the nail; he must therefore want to be the one perpetrating the evil, not suffering it.

  3. Also, since he views moral improvement as impossible, he has no particular reason not to lie or be disingenuous.

  4. It's not that his kind don't believe in evil exactly, they are just historical determinists who think that no real progress can be made. That's behind the extreme pacifism: no new system will be better than the old system, so no war can be worthwhile.

    He doesn't argue that abandoning attempts at moral improvement causes society to better itself, but that pursuing betterment causes harm. Most saliently, the attempt at moral improvement does cause evil in his view since only by believing in progress can a project involving tearing down to rebuild be justified. He won't abide any number of true statements about Muslims or Islam, lest they be employed for evil. After all he thinks no good can come of them.

    I don't think he intends evil, rather it is all plausible if one makes certain assumptions, such as: unique features of religions/societies are irrelevant and each will spawn fundamentalists/moderates/liberals as the result of other factors, societies cannot be more or less moral so evidence to the contrary is wrong or the result of incorrect interpretation, it's a good thing that Steve Buscemi and Scott Adams dumped their seed into the same radioactive sewage plant from whence he spawned all those years ago.

    Not too different than the assumptions needed to assume Bush, Obama, the pope, or anyone else is trying to act in good faith but is overmatched by reality. I believe that about basically everyone.

    I don't mean to focus unduly on Hedges as he only typifies the mindset, it's not unique to him.

  5. It's not that his kind don't believe in evil exactly, they are just historical determinists who think that no real progress can be made. That's behind the extreme pacifism: no new system will be better than the old system, so no war can be worthwhile.

    First, it's not that they don't believe in evil, it's that they say, or more precisely I interpret them as saying, that no amelioration of evil is practicable. And it doesn't just extend to war, it extends to criticism or even the expression of the possibility of meliorism. (Hedges definitely criticizes atheists on this grounds only for criticizing and verbally condemning religion, not for advocating war against the religious.)

    But to condemn melioration as evil is itself melioriative: it must aim to curb the evils of melioration; and the position seems inherently contradictory.

  6. "But to condemn melioration as evil is itself melioriative: it must aim to curb the evils of melioration; and the position seems inherently contradictory."

    It is not contradictory if you interpret them as saying that it's only medium and long term change that is impossible. While they speak, for at least a short while they can change minds. This has always been my understanding and though I will keep what you said in mind the next time I hear them, the principle of charitable interpretation militates towards not reading in that contradiction if it isn't explicitly there.

  7. Some of you atheists are so narrow minded that are a shame to skepticism. Just like fundamentalists are a shame to Christianity.

    You say we are star dust -and it is right- but what kind of marvelous dust produced a human being?. Is it not obvious that there is more to matter than just energy? There is a mysterious ingredient that makes possible what is. A principle of matter that can bring to life the primordial dust.

    Now use your great power of rationality which star dust gave you.

    Carlos Vidal

  8. Is it not obvious that there is more to matter than just energy? There is a mysterious ingredient that makes possible what is.

    "Obvious" is big red flag for bullshit. It is not only not at all obvious, but it is also actually false.

  9. Your rage against religion has blinded you, and do not see the obvious.

  10. Claiming something as "obvious" removes the need to provide evidence.

    And I didn't have any bad feelings at all towards the religious... until I started talking to them about religion.

  11. Are atheists saints?

    Some of the worst criminals: Stalin, Mao, probably Hitler filled the Atheist paradise that was suppose to be communism with the blood of millions, and turned out to be one of the worst tyrannies. With a worse crime history than Christianity in 2000 years.(And only in less than 100 years).
    Are you a religio-phobic?

    Obvious? - Matter more than energy? -

    No one knows what dark energy is, but it is. Hawking is bringing new thinking about gravity that seems to bring matter from nothing, and if something exists is because it can, even out of randomness... . These are some facts that make obvious there is more to matter than energy.

    Time will prove me right.

  12. Time will prove me right.

    It'll have to, because reason, logic, fact and evidence have failed you.


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