Dawn of religion

Imagine a world, different from ours. You are dropped there, all you know is that it can be dangerous. You have seen others killed, maimed, devoured, you are not sure what by. You hear a rustle in the grass. Is it the wind, or is it a dangerous predator. If you trust that it is just the wind, and you are mistaken, it could end very badly. If you steer away, just in case, you are safe, and nothing is lost. You find a broken body near a cave. Did he fall or is there something there that is dangerous? To survive, you must treat every snap, crackle, pop as a monster out to get you. If there are dangerous things in the shadows, there must be helpful ones too. Did you just find those fruit, or did someone, something leave them out for you? To try to understand and make the best of your surroundings, you try to find patterns in what happens.

Animals are also very good at recognizing patterns. That is how we teach them tricks. Every time I sit when he makes that sound, I get a treat, pattern! Not all patterns are on purpose, or even real, but we still like our patterns. Your cat shows up when you are opening a can, even if it is only peas.

Obeying your elders is natural, you have a better chance of survival. You teach your children that there are unknown forces out there, to hurt you or help you. Certain things you do put you in danger, so they become forbidden. Other things seem to bring beneficial outcomes, so they become compulsory.

At some point, someone speaks up and takes control of these rules. witch doctor, shaman, priest.

Unknown powerful forces, rules to make the best of them, a special class of person that tells you what to do or not do.



Are you sure you are not an atheist?

Let’s take a few everyday “beliefs”.

  • You believe that if you jump off the bridge, you will die. You do not jump.
  • You believe that your friend will be angry if you stand him up. You respect him.
  • A thug threatens you with a gun in your face and demands your wallet. You believe that if you do not comply, he will kill you. You give him your wallet.
  • You believe your good work will get you paid. You show up at work.

Compare them to some religious beliefs.

  • You believe that if you sin, you will burn in hell forever. You sin.
  • You believe god is watching you and expects you to behave in a certain way. You don’t.
  • Your priest (or whoever) threatens you with damnation if you give into your urges. You give in.
  • You believe your good deeds will earn you eternal bliss. You sin.

To not be an atheist, you have to really believe in god. Your live choices have to strongly reflect that belief. This a life defining position, the foundation of reality. Actually believing in god must influence your behaviour.

  • If you don’t jump, but you sin, you believe in the consequences of your fall more than those of your sin.
  • If you are more respectful of your friend’s time than of god’s will, you believe in the importance of human relations more than divine consequences.
  • If you are scared into obedience by a gun, but not by the promise of hell, you believe your life is more important than your afterlife.
  • If you do good actions to get rewarded in this life, but not to get rewarded in the next, you believe in this life more than you believe in the next.

Believing in god should be like walking a tightrope. You watch every step you take. Click To Tweet

You don’t let your attention waver, even for a second, because you know that the consequences will be bad.

If your belief does not affect your actions, how can you pretend to really believe?

We are all atheists.

Why do we all lie to ourselves like this?

Religion, from childhood, teaches us to stop thinking, to not question. We develop a split personality. Every time reality contradicts part of the fairy tale, we put that part in the fairy tale box. And we keep on living. In the end, we learn to act rationally, to function in our everyday life, while hanging on to our fairy tales, but kept at a distance. Asked if we believe, we take the answer from the fairy tale box: “It is the literal truth”. When we act, our rational brain functions normally, disconnected from the religious injunctions.

It is called cognitive dissonance.

To be able to keep our fairy tale box, we must pretend that it is part of reality. On the surface, everyone acts as if their belief is true. We have developed a social standard where appearances are paramount. God isn’t watching, society is. When someone breaks the spell and refuses to act according to the rules of make-believe, our fairy tale box could be shown for what it is! We are outraged. So, the sinner that cannot be hidden, the atheist, the gay, are chastised.

A priest molests a child, he doesn’t really believe. The church hides it to preserve the illusion, more important than saving the child.


Pedophile priests

With child abuse scandals in the catholic church worldwide, a few questions come to mind:

1. Why are there so many?

2. Why did the church not handle the situation?

3. Why has this not been considered organized crime?

4. Why have devout catholics not fled the church in droves over what has happened?

1. Roughly 4% of catholic priests in the US were accused of child abuse between 1950 and 2000. 4% is actually only slightly over other professions dealing with children such as school teachers. Of course we would expect better from representatives of god. Forced celibacy must add kindle to the fire.

2. So, men are men, priests are the same… In any other institution, the abuser would be forcibly removed from the children and turned over to the authorities for judgment. But why did the church put its (short term) reputation before the safety of the children in its care? Is the church so scared of scandal that they choose to knowingly deliver innocent children (are there any other kind?) to recidivist child abusers? What other reason than protecting their reputation could there be?

3. Hiding and protecting serial child abusers from the law and directly delivering more children to be abused in an organized manner with knowledge and responsibility going up to the highest levels of the church. It sounds like human trafficking, right in front of our noses. Why is the church hierarchy not the target of criminal prosecution? How can any organization be above the law? How can we accept lame excuses and promises of reform?

4. So, society is cowardly, the church is too powerful. But individually, how can a devout catholic continue to go to her local church, knowing that they would have delivered her children to child abusers without remorse? How much power does the church have over people’s minds for them to accept such … evil?

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Polygamy is poison to society

Numerous religions allow or have allowed polygamy, basically giving in to biology. Polygamy is one man with several wives. Never the opposite.

Polygamy is a coherent evolutionary outcome. If you made a simple program to organize behavior:

  • Males should try to procreate as much and as widely as possible
  • Females should pick the « best » male to be the genitor of her children

We can understand the male urge from current stereotypes. The females would rather have part of the attention of the « best » genitor for their children than accept second best. One tenth of a rich sheik provides more than 100% of a (sexy) poor beggar.

Polygamy is poison to civilization. Even in the animal kingdom, for one lion king with twenty wives, there are nineteen frustrated males roaming the savanna. Do you really want to bump into them on a dark night? In a polygamous society, there is an important portion of men who have absolutely no chance of a relationship with a women (mating). This can drive to desperation and destructive tendencies such as suicide bombing. What do they have to lose?

But there is this little thing called civilization. Equal rights for women and all that. With more women working, they are less dependent on men and are less prone to accepting the lousy deal of polygamy.


How do you know it is a metaphor?

When god explains how to treat your slaves, it must be a metaphor. When he says to love your neighbour, it is the literal truth.

When something is particularly clear and nice in your scripture it is the literal word of god. When something is particularly obnoxious in your scripture, it is a metaphor.

How do you know which is which? The whole point of your scripture seems to be to help you make sense of the world and make the right life choices. Understanding when something is literally true or a metaphor seems pretty essential to actually using scripture as a guide for your life. Shouldn’t this guide help you in that? If you have to know by some other means – « obviousness », gut feeling, empathy, hearsay – which is which, those other means are even more important than the scripture itself.

Say you are looking for « morals » in scripture. Once it says « do not judge », then « kill the adulteress ». Which is the literal truth, if either, and which is the metaphor? It seems you would need a good sense of morality to figure out which to believe. But then, you don’t need the scripture…

Or you just believe what someone tells you – a priest, rabbi, imam, talking rabbit – and that just pushes the question to where they found the information.


What horrors behind “mysterious ways”

The local catholic school organizes a day’s outing with three classes of third grade. They plan to visit the local zoo and have a picnic. The school bus goes off a cliff and crashes in the valley below. The driver, four teachers and 57 children perish in the crash.

The community is devastated by this tragedy. The local priest, in his sermon, says that god works in mysterious ways.

Randomness seems to be one of the hardest things to understand and accept. Everything must have a meaning. When we find none, we still try to shoehorn the tragedy into something bigger, god. Since it does not make sense, the only solution left is that “god works in mysterious ways”.

After the first reaction of denial comes anger. By wrapping the tragedy into god’s will, even with the “mysterious” part, you cannot really express your anger. You cannot be angry at god. How can you get through your grief?

But it is also saying that there is some greater good in the grand scheme of things. That the end justifies the means. Somehow, the death of those children is part of god’s plan. What about every other tragedy or injustice? Should we ignore civil rights abuses, tyranny, torture? Could there be some sequence of events that make these horrors worth it?

Say it is the distant end result that matters, how do we know what to do? If everything horrible is part of the plan, what should we do? If we had saved those children, would we have gone against god’s plan? Should we have blown up the school to further god’s plan?

We know better than that. We know in our gut that doing something horrible for the best intentions is still horrible. You cannot do simple accounting to justify being bad because you will make it up later. If you believe we will be judged on our actions, you don’t believe that it will be on the average. Sum up the good, the bad and the horrible and if it averages out a little good, it’s OK.

There is no mysterious plan that justifies the horrors of the world. There cannot be.


Does the church really want to reduce the number of abortions?

Religion holds back rational thought as the guiding force of human development. Scientific discovery is greeted with skepticism. The earth isn’t flat and is not the center of the universe… Stem cell research is blocked today in the US. Statistical analysis is not used for decision making. You start with the belief and find the facts that comfort your ideas.

Consider abortion. For everyone involved, the goal is to reduce the actual number of abortions.

Compared to western Europe, the USA is much more religious. Abortion is fought by the conservative right with all their might. Abortion is being blocked in a growing number of states. The republican program declares wanting to outlaw abortion even in cases of rape or incest. In the same way, they fight for abstinence instead of contraception and are against sex eduction in schools.

In western Europe, abortion is widely legal and accepted (except very religious Ireland). There is no big social issue. Through sex education and promotion of contraception, they have a much lower rate of abortions than the USA.

The conservative right in the US is more concerned about the religious precepts than the human misery involved. By restricting sex education, the religious lobby actually increases the number of abortions.

Why does it seem that we know only how to punish, not how to help, to educate, to support?


Us vs them, supersized

Belief in an all powerful being who created everything, watches and judges your every action, is a world defining point of view. It is not on the same level as any other opinion you can have. By definition, each other that believes in a different god, or does not believe, lives in a different world and is sadly wrong. Differing political opinions is nothing compared to different views on the fabric of reality.

This pitches you, and your co-believers, against the rest of humanity. You are right and will be rewarded for ever. They are wrong and might burn in hell for all eternity.

This is the most fundamental separation between « us » and « them » that can be imagined.It is not a difference of culture, of social economic level, even of values or actions. You do not consider the other as different but comparable, such as nationals versus foreigners. It is the ultimate rejection of the rest of humanity.


Religion is the most fundamental separator between « us » and « them ». Click To Tweet

10 commandments, really?

Bob decided to strictly follow the ten commandments. He worshipped god. He didn’t look at his beautiful neighbour’s wife walk by, he was faithful to his. He  told her she was fat and ugly going out the door to work. He asked his boss to not have to work on Saturday. He went to a café where the waitress spilled his coffee. He hit her in the face and raped her on the bar. He locked her in his basement and asked her family for a hefty ransom. They didn’t pay, so he tortured her and burned down their house. He joined a group to exterminate the jews. He was happy, he strictly obeyed the ten commandments.

The ten commandments are surprisingly inadequate.

First, It contains only negative commandments, nothing positive. There is nothing about being good. If you only had one commandment to give, « Do onto others what you would have them do onto you » would be a good place to start.

The ten commandments contain a very precise list of crimes (sorry, sins), that directly hurt someone: do not kill, commit adultery, steal and bear false witness. That’s it. There is nothing about slavery, rape or sexual abuse, incest, prostitution, physical harm, torture, blackmail, extortion, kidnapping, arson, vandalism, genocide, nuclear proliferation. If you could only pick four, would you really pick those four?is “borrowing” office supplies from work really up there at the top of the list?

Thou shall not covet thy neighbour’s house… Have you never felt even the slightest pang of envy? Shouldn’t resisting temptation be a good thing? Should you be punished for your urges, when you successfully keep them in check? Punishing thought crimes has its own category of unacceptable.

You can’t work on Saturday (or Sunday). Respecting a day off is in the top ten rules for our lives.

Finally, 3 out of 10 are about worshipping god. He could have boiled it down to one and leave some space for torture and rape. For god, worshipping him is three times more important than not killing…


In addition, there are several versions of the ten commandments. The « real » ten commandments, as designated as such in the bible, engraved on stone tablets given to Moses by god, are actually:

(1) Do not worship any god other than Yahweh.

(2) Do not make molten gods.

(3) Keep the feast of unleavened bread.

(4) The firstborn offspring of every cow and sheep is to be sacrificed to God.

(5) The seventh day of each week is set aside to rest.

(6) Observe the feast of weeks.

(7) All male children must appear before God three times per year.

(8) The blood of a sacrifice shall not be offered together with yeast, nor shall the sacrifice of the Passover feast be left until the next morning.

(9) The “first of the firstfruits” of the land are to be brought before God.

(10) Do not boil a baby goat in its mother’s milk.

So the original version skipped over killing and stealing for a few dietary suggestions and a blood sacrifice…

Richard Dawkins

The alternative to the Ten Commandments cited by Richard Dawkins in his book The God Delusion[2] is:[3]

  1. Do not do to others what you would not want them to do to you.
  2. In all things, strive to cause no harm.
  3. Treat your fellow human beings, your fellow living things, and the world in general with love, honesty, faithfulness and respect.
  4. Do not overlook evil or shrink from administering justice, but always be ready to forgive wrongdoing freely admitted and honestly regretted.
  5. Live life with a sense of joy and wonder.
  6. Always seek to be learning something new.
  7. Test all things; always check your ideas against the facts, and be ready to discard even a cherished belief if it does not conform to them.
  8. Never seek to censor or cut yourself off from dissent; always respect the right of others to disagree with you.
  9. Form independent opinions on the basis of your own reason and experience; do not allow yourself to be led blindly by others.
  10. Question everything.
The 10 commandments? How about: Do not do to others what you would not want them to do to you. Click To Tweet

Dawkins uses these proposed commandments to make a larger point that “it is the sort of list that any ordinary, decent person today would come up with.” He then adds four more of his own devising:

  1. Enjoy your own sex life (so long as it damages nobody else) and leave others to enjoy theirs in private whatever their inclinations, which are none of your business.
  2. Do not discriminate or oppress on the basis of sex, race or (as far as possible) species.
  3. Do not indoctrinate your children. Teach them how to think for themselves, how to evaluate evidence, and how to disagree with you.
  4. Value the future on a timescale longer than your own.

The Fresh Ten Commandments: The Fresh Ten

  1. You shall treat all people with respect regardless of race, color, creed, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, age, or national origin.
  2. You shall not kill, assault, nor intimidate with threats of physical violence.
  3. You shall not rape, sexually coerce, nor intimidate with threats of sexual violence.
  4. You shall cultivate intellectual curiosity, be open to new ideas, and  respect the scientific method.
  5. You shall not cheat, nor cheat others out of what is rightfully theirs.
  6. You shall not lie, deceive, nor spread lies about others.
  7. You shall not steal, that is to say take or use what rightfully belongs to another person in a manner that causes harm. (Stealing is a trickier concept than it once was. How do you say yes to Fair Use and no to software patents?)
  8. You shall keep your promises.
  9. You shall not waste natural resources nor pollute the shared environment.
  10. You shall take responsibility for your actions and their consequences.

Written by Erika Hall

Where do the criminally insane go after death?

Bob loses it. He takes his gun and starts shooting people down in the street. He steals a car and runs over children crossing the street. The police finally arrest him. He is deemed mentally irresponsible and is institutionalised. He is treated with therapy and medication. He is kept of the streets to protect society. Years later, he dies. Does he go to heaven?

If someone is insane, cannot distinguish right from wrong, our judicial system recognises even the most violent criminal as irresponsible of his acts. He is treated, not punished.

What does god do?

If he sends him to hell, how can that be just, since he is incapable of knowing better. Even if he is somehow responsable at some level, how is that fair compared to someone who had all his wits.

If he sends him to heaven, how is any better? If crazy people get a free ticket to heaven, isn’t that the greatest deal there is? Why doesn’t god make us all crazy.

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