Wednesday, April 23, 2014

“So, How Come You Keep Bashing Religion?”

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A FEW FRIENDS, and friends-of-friends, and friends-asking-me-on-behalf-of-other-blog-readers (“it’s not for me, it’s for a friend”) have kept asking me the same question over and over for the last ten years.

The question usually goes something like this:

“How come you keep bashing religion on your blog? Especially at Easter and Christmas!”

To me, the answer’s bleeding obvious. But to these blokes (and blokesses), it’s obviously not, so here’s my effort to answer.

First answer is: because it’s absurd. And I despise absurdities.

My job as a blogger, as I see it, is to be somewhat of a provocateur; to challenge your thinking; to pull on your coat a little about the small absurdities, and to annoy the bejesus out of you on the big ones. 

And as Richard Dawkins says (and as most us probably thought to ourselves last Friday and Sunday when a mad alliance of religionists and unionists stopped us buying beer and wine if we wanted to) why should religion’s many absurdities get a free pass?

Second point is (as Voltaire would say) because those who believe absurdities have tended to commit atrocities. And while I’m passionately opposed to absurdity, I’m violently opposed to atrocity.1

Third point, a more positive one, is this: because there are better bases on which to build knowledge and morality than the idea that an imaginary friend has somehow slipped you all the answers, without any effort of thought on your part. All you have to do now, in this fantasy built entirely upon articles of faith, is believe. As Ayn Rand observed, this “alleged shortcut to knowledge, which is faith, is only a short circuit destroying the human mind.”

Faith, in its three major monotheistic forms, did that job for centuries: methodically destroying both the knowledge and virtually all the fruits of reason produced in the first birth of human reason, in Classical Greece. Andrew Bernstein summarises both history and results of that destruction – the battle between reason and the three religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam -- in a superb piece in the latest Objective Standard  dramatising the 2300-year conflict between Aristotle, whose philosophy represented the first full embodiment and flowering of human reason, and the religions that presided over the various monotheistic dark ages – those dark benighted landscapes bedevilled2 by crosses, crescents, subservience and graves. He begins…

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The rest of Bernstein’s piece is the essentialised survey of the two poles that he promises.

He starts with the crucial fact from history obscured by talk of “Judaeo-Christian roots”: that it was not Hebrew desert dwellers who most fundamentally gave birth to Western civilisation, but the Greeks.

IT SOUNDS LIKE A SCENE from Monty Python. What did the Greeks ever do for us? Well …

as the eminent historian Will Durant wrote, “there is hardly anything secular in our culture that does not come from Greece. Schools, gymnasiums, arithmetic, geometry, history … physics, biology … poetry, music, tragedy, comedy, philosophy … ethics, politics, idealism, philanthropy … democracy: these are all Greek words for cultural forms … in many cases first matured … by the abounding energy of the Greeks.”

Bernstein writes of the seminal intellectual achievements of Aristotle, the foremost philosophical advocate of the secular, rational vision.

imageAristotle’s approach is almost entirely secular, making only the most attenuated references to divinity.  His extensive and profound work in moral philosophy [for example] demonstrates that this field flourishes independent of religion. Morality is a branch of philosophy [not religion] and was born in Greece, four centuries before Christianity.

This is just one example from many of the thinker who single-handedly started at least three of our sciences, and had a hand in the beginnings of many more.  But it wasn’t the Romans who killed Greek thought for centuries, murdered Greek thinkers and burned and buried their books.  It was those three “great religions.”

THE FIRST GREAT RELIGION it encountered was Judaism. “The Jewish religion,” says Bernstein, “is one of the most irrational.”

According to Jewish legend, as Durant states: “Moses had ruled bloodlessly by inventing interviews with God.” The Jews also invented other, similar fables – of a bush that spoke, of a man who lived within a whale, of a woman turned to salt, and so on.  Here lies a critical parting of the way in human cognition: The leading Greek thinkers rejected the myths of their culture – for example, that Pallas Athena sprang fully developed from her father’s head, without benefit of a mother; whereas the leading Jewish thinkers upheld theirs.

So while “many of the better-educated Jews found Greek culture profoundly attractive,” they were very much in the minority. “Aristotle’s method of logical, non-contradictory thinking about facts was hereby rejected by the first culture to exert a deeply religious influence on Western civilisation.”

WE NEXT ENCOUNTER CHRISTIANITY’S “war against the mind,” building upon Judaic irrationality and adding ingredients of their own. (At least Judaism never imagined a hell.)  The Christian rejection was complete, best symbolised by the Christian mob, “including monks led by a member of the local bishop’s staff,” burning the Great Library of Alexandria to the ground in 415AD and murdering the brilliant Greek mathematician, Hypatia.

imageThe burning of irreplaceable manuscripts continued for centuries (seen in the fate of writing and work by Sappho, Johns Scotus Erigena, Peter Abelard, and even Aristotle himself, and well portrayed in films like Agora and Name of the Rose.)

These were not isolated incidents.  They were necessarily central to the new church’s method.

The Catholic Church required its adherents to accept a specific religious doctrine.Because this doctrine was based on faith, not facts, reason was out as a method of adjudicating theological disputes. For example, the Church decreed that Jesus was God; but Arius (250-336AD), presbyter of Alexandria, argued that Jesus was a creation of God – divine, but not identical to God the Father.
    How could one side or the other prove itself right?  Given that each side started from the non-observable claim that there exist spiritual beings independent of bodily means – ghosts – there were no facts to appeal to – merely competing arbitrary faith-based claims.
    American philosopher Ayn Rand states: “When men deal with one another by means of reason, reality is their objective standard and frame of reference. But when men claim to possess supernatural means of knowledge, no persuasion [or] communication … are possible…. [M]ysticism reduces mankind [to] a state where, in case of disagreement, men have no recourse except to physical violence.”
    Inevitably, the Church condemned Arius and his supporters as heretics, and the dispute devolved into mass violence where “over three thousand Christians … died at the hands of fellow Christians.”

This was not a one-off, and the result was a virtual millennia-long suppression of knowledge and original thinking – best symbolised by the suppression and murdering of heretics.

A heretic is a member of a religion who challenges some tenet of its orthodoxy.  After Christianity came to power in the 4th century AD, the number of heretics it supressed – in many cases, murdered – is incalculable, as are the intellectual advances not reached by relatively rational heretics due to such repression and murder. 
    Men of reason, as taught by their first teacher, Aristotle, demand observable facts in support of the ideas they accept. But religion is not based on facts; it is based on faith – and it cannot withstand rational inquiry.  Therefore, when fervently religious men hold cultural and political authority, they conduct relentless war against the thinkers who challenge their dogma.

And so they did, and would still do.

As the classical scholar Charles Freeman points out, “The Greek intellectual tradition was suppressed rather than … faded away.”  Fundamentally, Christians rejected Aristotle’s method of observation-based rationality. Consequently, they rejected rational philosophy, the arts, science, mathematics, and education. 
    The Dark Ages ensued.

IT’S SOMETIMES ARGUED THAT theology is a religious employment of reason. Based on Aristotelian logic, it’s at least true that it’s the best religion can offer – and that we still have Aristotle’s logic is only because Christians failed to suppress it completely.

Theology is formal, deductive thinking about God and other faith-based beliefs. Theologians start with a faith-based definition of God or angels or demons or demons or the like, then tease out or rigorously deduce from that definition the things such beings can or cannot do. And element of non-contradictory thinking is present, but facts are utterly absent.  Theology is rigorous thinking about fantasy premises – and, as such is, at best, a tragic waste of human brainpower.

And is best reflected today in the postmodern use of logic, in which the truth of premises is irrelevant and logic is thereby bifurcated from facts. So it was too for medieval Christians: “it did not matter [for example] if one went wrong regarding the cure for leprosy – but knowledge of angels was important.”

Thus did a thousand years of leprous hell pass on earth in the Christian west, under the rule of a Christian Taleban.

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ODDLY, WHILE THE WEST had plunged itself into intellectual darkness, and reaping its fruits , the Islamic world was – briefly --embracing Aristotle and his intellectual achievements – thus, on these intellectual fruits (and, tragically, only briefly), enjoying their one and genuine Golden Age.

The Arabs learned the method of observation-based rationality and, in a true golden age, made superb contributions to medicine, astronomy, mathematics, literature, and other fields.  But it did not last.  Due to the monumental influence of Al-Ghazali (1058-1111) and other reason-rejecting theologians, as well as fundamentalism firmly entrenched in Islamic culture from its outset, faith ultimately crushed freedom of thought… For eight-hundred years since, the Islamic world has wallowed in a dark age.

The west itself only recovered by the rediscovery of the works of Aristotle and other Greek thinkers (largely as a result of “recovering” Spanish Toledo from the Muslims)  – and, finally and after a long struggle, taking seriously the reality-based thinking method contained therein.

Durant refers to Aristotle as “this amazing Greek who … upset three religions.”  … Aristotle continues to upset the religions … His philosophy provides a proper understanding of the method of reason – and from that comes all that is good in modern secular culture: rational philosophy, the arts, the sciences, medicine, technology, prosperity.

Western civilisation then is underpinned not by our Judeo-Christian heritage,” which is mostly only barbarous, but by our Greek – more especially our Aristotelian.

The greatest story of history is the 2300-year death-struggle of religion and Aristotelian reason. As Bernstein concludes his fantastic article:

The death struggle of reason versus anti-reason continues.  Everyone must choose a side.

Read the story for yourself in THE OBJECTIVE STANDARD – Spring Issue. Download a copy here.

1. Yes, I’m sure you all saw what I did there.
2. And there.

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18 Comments:

Anonymous Rex said...

"First answer is: because it’s absurd. And I despise absurdities."

I guess the constant belly crawling, hagiographic references to a long deceased Russian cougar who spent three decades spaced out on Benzedrine and signed on to receive Social Security and Medicare benefits doesn't count.

You don't have an issue with religion per-se. It is Christianity which is your bugbear. You don't like its moral codes because you are a homosexual. Same goes for that misanthropic has-been Perigo.

4/23/2014 08:21:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have no idea whether Rex is correct in the claim as to your sexuality and while it may explain the posts about religion I don't much care anyway. I tend to agree he's correct that you poke at religion but really mean Christianity. Dawkins is the same. I don't much care about that either although I think its a bit tiresome. You have Rand where I have Christ. At least you won't argue the claim that Rand is dead.

The recent Sydney "Revival of dangerous ideas" saw Peter Hitchens claim the most dangerous idea in the world was that "Jesus Christ was the son of God and rose from the dead". That got a cheer as you would expect but when asked why his answer shut the audience up. The answer was "Because it alters the whole of human behaviour and all our responsibilities. It turns the universe from a meaningless chaos into a designed place in which there is justice and there is hope and, therefore we all have a duty to discover the nature of that justice and work towards that hope. It alters us all. If we reject it, it alters us as well. It is incredibly dangerous. Its why so many people turn against it".

3:16

4/23/2014 09:57:00 pm  
Blogger Peter Cresswell said...

I love how you critics all go for 'kill the messenger' rather than 'address the argument.'

That's not just really admirable, it tends to support the thesis, i.e., that because your doctrine is based on faith, reason is out as a means of adjudication.

So, thanks for that.

4/24/2014 07:09:00 am  
Blogger c papen said...

Peter,
I think that Hey Nonny Mouse 3:16 believes that his invocation of your sexuality (whatever that may be) is a substantive response. I mean, he has his Lord and Savior as his Example, to be sure.

"But he answered and said unto them, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas:"

Apparently talking obscurely and resorting to ad hominem has always been de rigueur among the Xtian set. Indeed, it looks as if their own book gives them divine provenance for the practice.

4/24/2014 07:38:00 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The problem is that reason only gets you so far and, reason or not, there remains a slice of life around faith that won't go away. I agree that it makes no sense to someone who does not believe in something outside themselves, especially when Christianity makes claims that are so preposturous in a secular sense.

That Christian followers have picked bits of older festivals over time doesn't matter to me - the basic tennent of my faith is not undone by people hijacking things. I could say that the secular have hijacked easter, as it was in NZ, for a holiday. Christmas and easter remain what ever you want them to be and I thought how petty I couldn't get a beer without a meal at Cardona on Sunday afternoon. Congratulations to Wanaka for being sensible.

That billions have a view that you don't share doesn't make them stupid. You've had a look and think its bollocks and that's fine but I still get stuck on the no body carpenter you rubbish and can't seem to let that go. If you haven't seen it from the other side that will make no sense but the pull is not able to be reasoned away. We simply come to a point where I believe and you don't. It feels like a side has been chosen for me whereas you have chosen philosophy.

I know nothing much about Ayn Rand but if Rex is correct some would say she's a bit of a loser. A few comments that you think are enlightened because you agree with them is not neccessarily much of a legacy. I don't care if you rate her but suspect you do because you find some comfort in her view of the world.

Its Anzac day tomorrow. Many will gather together to pay respects to people who went on a big adventure that turned out badly for them (as it did for my grandfather) but arguably better for us because they went. Paying respect is not a celebration and easter is in the same vein. I might celebrate my salvation (and contemplate that everyday) but remain mindful of the cost. I don't need an easter holiday to do that but enjoy the gathering of like minds over that weekend.

3:16

4/24/2014 08:27:00 am  
Blogger c papen said...

3:16
I have seen it from the other side, being a devout xtian for the first 30 odd years of my life. And as far as Rex's ad hominem goes, I find it telling that he thinks that a substantive response is to be found in character assassination.

My point about Jesus' statement regarding a wicked generation is that he declared a general principle that those seeking a perceptual manifestation of his claims were evil. Not that the specific individuals asking for the demonstration were wasting his time.

This approach has a modern day counterpart in the antics of the New Left, at least in the USA. If you dare challenge them on the horrid outcomes of their various progammes which often "accomplish" the opposite of their alleged intent, you are derided as evil because, in the Leftist Morality, Good Intentions always trump Bad Outcomes.

I have no (civil) problem with those who want to follow a religion however irrational it may be. But when those same religionists feel that they have a right to impose their values on me by fiat legislation I will challenge that advocacy at every level of philosophy and in the historical record where, as the Holy Book itself proclaims, "By their fruits, ye shall know them."

4/24/2014 08:51:00 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"a right to impose their values on me by fiat legislation"

And that is the issue cp. I cannot see that Christianity is a feature in legislation today - its influence is clearly in decline. No one asks the punters what they want anyway and laws get passed by generally secular people. Even Andrew Little supported easter being a holiday with shops closed although his reasons are not religious. A control freak in a different form.

I want a far smaller govt that does not get involved in my private life at all and do not expect to influence people who chose a different lifestyle if that does not materially impact on me. Likewise I expect to be able to decline to marry gays in church because it conflicts with the church rules. It seems one sided to me - I have to like what I don't much care for. The pendulum will begin swing back and I hope the religious zealots are more respectful that the progressives have proven to be.

3:16

4/24/2014 10:46:00 am  
Blogger c papen said...

I certainly agree with the idea that churches should be able to decline marriage ceremonies solemnizing behavior that they find distasteful. The right of association necessarily implies the right of disassociation; that is, association must be mutual and voluntary and can be rightfully declined by either prospective party, or else it is merely coercion dressed up in fancier clothes. The fact that the Left (in the USA) has not denounced such coercive "associations" tells me that their dedication to personal (as opposed to economic) liberty is very fragile, if not a complete charade.

In the US, at the Federal level, there are religious aspects to the various Prohibition supporters but it is in the various States that I find religious elements beginning to encroach upon the legislative process, particularly in the Personhood movements. I remember clearly, 35 years ago, when the anti-abortion groups first began to manifest, that they explicitly stated that banning contraception was not in their agenda. I remember because I was part of that community.

Now it is targeting contraception. And I'm not referring to that silly "War on Women" thing that the Left has going on here. If your (speaking in the abstract) sexual habits are not any of my business (and they are not) then surely it is not your business to make me pay for your sexual proclivities in the form of mandatory provision of birth control or federally subsidized abortions.

I'm referring to the push by the Personhood movement to outlaw contraception (which they refer to as "chemical abortion") that is gaining ground in the several States, and, unlike Progressives, I'm capable of learning from history. I see a desired reversion to the pre-Griswold v. Connecticut state of law and can only remember that what bred that pre-Griswold state were the actions of the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) in the person of Anthony Comstock. And that the Comstock Laws were passed by various Christian coalitions in the form of the Social Purity movement which itself eventually merged into what became the Progressive movement with all the oppressive governance that that implied and later, enacted.

This move by Christian activists is Revanchist; they hope to bring back the days when legislation was written with their moral prejudices in mind and it is perennial enough that I think that it needs to be opposed now.

Perhaps you folks don't have similar movements in your country and so Xtianity is waning in its influence there. But I don't think that that is the case here.

4/24/2014 11:31:00 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The "Dark Ages" are at best an overstatement, and at worst an outright myth which survives only because it's useful to anti-theists. Your use of it undermines your argument right out of the starting gate.

Frankie Lee

4/24/2014 11:39:00 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Peter, your post seems to be an objectivist version of the mantra 'The debate is over. The science is settled'.
Scientific inquiry and Christianity are not exclusive of each other. A simple internet search gives pages of scientists, mathematicians and medical pioneers through the ages who were believers. The allegation that faith is a reactionary anchor is not borne out in facts.
Perhaps the reason you keep having a go at God is because God is having a go at you. He's not afraid, but simply says like he did to Job & Isaiah " brace yourself like a man, I will question you and you will answer me..Come let us reason together.."
It seems to me you might have or had some family member or friend praying a lot for you.
Augustine and Wilberforce had the same problem.

4/24/2014 12:02:00 pm  
Blogger c papen said...

Yes, and the crop failures for 70 years in the old Soviet Union were the result of bad weather.

4/24/2014 12:53:00 pm  
Blogger c papen said...

It would interesting to see how Christian Faith informs Scientific Discovery. Please give us some more details, if you would.

The fact that a person can be a believer and a scientist is not sufficient in defense of your hypothesis. A man can be a horrible manager and a good father. Or vice versa. This is called compartmentalization. Isaac Newton also believed in the efficacy of Astrology. Do you take this as a legitimate defense of Astrology and an affirmation of its truth?

It is Isaac Newton qua scientist that advances civilization, not Isaac Newton as Astrologer or as Xtian. And I think that the world might have been a better place if Augustine had never been granted the chastity he prayed for. Then we might have been spared a world where religious disagreement was considered legitimate grounds for killing your opposition.

4/24/2014 01:04:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Thus did a thousand years of leprous hell pass on earth in the Christian west, under the rule of a Christian Taleban."

Further to my earlier comment, idiotic overstatements like this also do your argument no good.

Frankie Lee

4/24/2014 02:20:00 pm  
Anonymous Terry said...

"Aristotle" means "Best Earth" (Aristo-Tellus), whilst "Plato" is derived from the root "Plat-" which is the Greek word for "flat". Interestingly, Plato's original name was Aristocles, meaning "Best Glory/Fame" (Aristo-Cleos). The choice: a philosophy for the best life on earth, or one that glorifies, flatters and/or flattens.

4/24/2014 02:54:00 pm  
Anonymous Mr Lineberry said...

lol@Rex - that is so incredibly funny; Peter is about as homosexual as Colin Meads or Warren Beatty and personally I do not think he bashes religion enough!

4/24/2014 05:15:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Peter,

Off thread I acknowledge, but do you remember the name of the poem and/or poet who wrote a line referring to Thomas Jefferson having an intimate relationship with one of his slaves/servants? The line refers to "some black Hypatia."

Chris R.

4/25/2014 08:26:00 am  
Anonymous chessefunnel said...

I think the fundamental irritation here is that PC substitutes one dogma for another, he drones on about religion over Easter & Christmas, yeah yeah...I think most people get it, then he spends the rest of the year droning on about Rand. To the observer who doesn't have a foot in either camp, it just looks like the age old 'my beliefs are better than yours' snore-fest. Having a go at Christianity is like shooting fish in a barrel at this point, however, reducing every economic crisis of the last 100 years to being a governmental intervention problem would seem to require an almost superhuman cherry picking of the facts to sustain. PC, of course, does not see it like this, he believes his thought process to be rigorous beyond that of the average man, after all, according to his 'Holiday Reading' posts, he reads about 2.5 books per day (if one uses the average holiday span) to reinforce his views. Looking through 'Solo Passion' (why, oh why the name?) one sees that PC's friends all think they're pretty smart as well, beyond the petty ideologies of the common man, the funny thing is that, in the end, their views simply converge on 'Middle American Conservative', minus the religion.

4/26/2014 08:50:00 am  
Anonymous Michael Reddell said...

How come you keep bashing religion? Surely for the same reason that we Christians relentlessly seek to proclaim the Gospel. You believe your stance to be correct. Ideas and beliefs matter, and have consequences. I'd argue that the consequences of atheism have mostly been malign, but not entirely, and Christianity is hardly lived with spotless purity - more or less the point of its message.

We Christians should welcome the scrutiny, the debate, and the challenge. And pray, and work and witness, for the conversion of those who will one day face death without hope.

4/28/2014 09:32:00 am  

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