Taking Down the Religiati

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It seems I’ve now written a few items on religion, and that subject is emerging as one which really gets me going. I’ve been particularly motivated by the discussion relating to education, another of my areas of interest.

Having read many pieces by the religiati, I am now getting a fuller picture of the religious ‘universe’, as well as the tactics being employed. I have enthusiastically dissected a couple of articles now, which is actually very satisfying. But now it’s time to make some general observations.

I think the most obvious thing from the pieces I’ve read and dissected is the desperation which is inadvertently conveyed. Why desperation? Well, it seems it’s not enough for those of faith to simply believe and enjoy their faith for whatever reasons. They also have a giant chip on their shoulder which they need to shake off. They need to ram home to the unbelievers the legitimacy of their beliefs. In earlier posts, I’ve shown a number of examples of this, and they can be grouped as follows:

  • Appeal to science (deductive truth) – using the cover of a legitimate discipline to give credence to a range of concepts (See stuff on Jeremy Begbie), or conclude from observations the existence of god. Stephen Jay Gould dubbed religion and science as ‘non-overlapping magisteria’, and I think it should stay this way.
  • Appeal to reason (inductive truth) – using various debating tactics or chains of logic to demonstrate the truth of religion.
  • Appeal to ignorance – we don’t know how X came to be, therefore it must be god. This is a variation of deductive truth.

This list is not exhaustive, but you get the general idea.

This whole ethics in schools issue is a particularly pernicious form of proselytising, in that it is not constrained to a simple ‘we believe X, and it’s great, so why not join us’. It has now become ‘we don’t want you to do Y, because it undermines our X, and we can’t have that because we are so special’.

In other words, the tactics are no longer passive invitations, but active interference in the business of non-believers. This is what troubles me the most. If the religiati suggest that I will burn in hell, then I can live with that, since I have sat in the middle of a partisan Collingwood crowd and survived. But when they start trying to control the education of my family and community, it’s personal.

People like Neil Ormerod sneer in their pseudo-academic way at atheists, and draw on all manner of logic, reasoning, philosophers etc. But, in the final analysis they have absolutely nothing but unfounded assertions to peddle. Such assertions as so easy to refute that it’s laughable – like shooting fish in a barrel, as they say. They claim that ‘you can’t teach ethics without reference to the bible’. I say prove it. I say I can. And this is indeed happening as we speak in the trial in NSW schools. This is just another example of religion appropriating all things good as the works of god, with the rest being the work of the devil. Human beings have developed and agreed a set of principles by which to live, therefore they can only have been put there by god. A monumental appeal to ignorance, right?

To the likes of Neil Ormerod and Jim Wallace, I simply say, by all means have your faith, pursue your academic analysis of the bible, and comment on popular culture. But leave me, and those who wish to pursue a different course, the hell alone. And especially don’t muck around with the education of our children in your desperate bid to brainwash them into accepting dogma and magical-thinking, rather than simply look at the world around them and think for themselves.

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4 thoughts on “Taking Down the Religiati

    Cerebrate said:
    January 4, 2011 at 11:12 am

    Hi RB,

    First of all thanks for the blog and passion that exists here. I share your concerns as to the mandating of religion in order to educate on ethics, I thought you might find interesting a comment in the bible as to the human capability to self-govern regardless of religious persuasion and this is found in Romans 2:14, 15 as quoted below:

    “14 For whenever people of the nations that do not have law do by nature the things of the law, these people, although not having law, are a law to themselves. 15 They are the very ones who demonstrate the matter of the law to be written in their hearts, while their conscience is bearing witness with them and, between their own thoughts, they are being accused or even excused.”

    The full context of Pauls commentary here is in countering some extreme views that were held by some first century christians in relation to gods approval only being provided to those strictly adhering to the mosaic law (which defeats the whole purpose of the messiah) – anyway a bit off track there but interesting to see the side point made by the bible writer in relation to conscience and the role it plays in guiding most if not all people regardless of faith.

    From my perspective religious belief has provided a framework for ethics in early human history and many cultures today, you make a comment that you can easily teach ethics without any reference to god/religion and I’m keen to see if you have any examples you’d like to share?

    Cheers
    C11

      rationalbrain said:
      January 4, 2011 at 1:52 pm

      Hi C11 – your IP address looks vaguely familiar 😉

      Thanks for registering, and thanks for those very relevant quotes, they are indeed revealing.
      The first thing I would say about them is that I wish I was more conversant with the bible so I can play the quote game. On the other hand, it would be just that – a game – since I ascribe almost no value at all to anything contained therein, anymore than I do to, say, Harry Potter and the XXXXX. I say ‘almost’, because each is a reflection of the times and society in which it was developed, so forms an interesting glimpse into a particular combination of the times and society. Beyond that, I believe we have nothing really to learn from any of its pronouncements. If you think otherwise, then perhaps you can provide examples.
      It is, however, very interesting that, at the time, the writers saw the action of one’s ‘heart and conscience’ as significant in determining behaviour.
      I agree that religious belief has provided a framework for ethics – this is undeniable. It’s rich history of story telling has been invaluable in propagating cultural ‘memes’ (as Richard Dawkins calls them). But that does not necessarily mean it is the only way of doing so. Compare with, say, indigenous Australians with their ‘dreaming’, in which somewhere will be encoded behavioural norms.
      As for teaching ethics without reference to god/religion – it seems to me that, at best, god/religion has only a limited part to play in such teaching. Firstly, teachers might preface discussions with ‘god said..[insert ethical message]’ or ‘your religion teaches..[insert ethical message]’. Of course this is unnecessary in getting the message across. Secondly, the message may be couched in parables, which historically have featured characters and such from religion. Again, we can have parables without religious references, so again, religion is redundant.
      What’s left? You tell me.
      As for examples, I might have to sit down and work out a few, but ok, for a start, I would teach kids that it’s not nice to hurt one another (do unto others what you would have them do unto you). Tell me this is a difficult concept to teach without religion. A simple John and Betty book will do nicely. Another is to live their life so as to enjoy the beauty of the natural world, and to learn all they can about it. In so doing, they will be unwittingly fulfilling their evolutionary heritage of propagating the species.
      We could turn this around – tell me some ethical teaching which can ONLY be taught with reference to god/religion. I’m betting there aren’t any good examples, but surprise me!
      Cheers.
      rb

    Cerebrate said:
    January 4, 2011 at 5:33 pm

    Hey RB – I’m discouraged that my attempts at anonymity proved to be so feeble!

    However for the sake of robust discussion I believe we should allow our alter egos to continue down this path we’ve embarked upon.

    The examples you provide are definitely not difficult to teach without religion (I agree with you), however as we live in a historically christian country we have literally had centuries of ethics taught based on religious foundations/principles. I think this history influences how we as a society think, perceive and arrive at our values/ethics today (even for someone who is not necessarily religious). Thus my interest in trying to see what set of ethical guidelines separate from religious influence can be crafted, what do you use as the basis for forming a value judgement?

    I find the increase in “positive atheism” and similar movements really interesting as most western cultures are becoming more secular and peoples perspectives on the role of religion changes (frankly who can blame them). I think this erosion of the traditional power base and relevance for the encumbent religious set is one of the main drivers for religious fanatacism as evidenced by the case surrounding how ethics should be taught in schools etc.

    Re the quotes – appreciate your point that if you view the bible the same as any other novel then “so what” as to its contents, thought that some supporting information for your thoughts from an unlikely source may have been surprising as it highlights the unbalanced approach of the religiati.

    I think we’re on the same page in that extremism of any sort be it religious or anything else typically results in unhealthy outcomes (like trying to mandate the teaching approach on ethics in schools). Personally I think we’ll be hearing a lot more discussion about the level at which christian (or other) religion plays in our education system and other institutions as time goes on and the composition of our societies change. Interested to hear the outcome of the case in NSW.

    Maintain the rage – within ethical limits of course 😉

    Cheers
    C11

      rationalbrain said:
      January 5, 2011 at 1:40 pm

      C11, I think we are in vigorous agreement about much of what you wrote, but let me comment on this para:

      The examples you provide are definitely not difficult to teach without religion (I agree with you), however as we live in a historically christian country we have literally had centuries of ethics taught based on religious foundations/principles. I think this history influences how we as a society think, perceive and arrive at our values/ethics today (even for someone who is not necessarily religious). Thus my interest in trying to see what set of ethical guidelines separate from religious influence can be crafted, what do you use as the basis for forming a value judgement?

      Yes, there have been centuries of lessons learned regarding ethics and values. It must be said that religion has taught us both the good and bad – and especially how to be unchristian – especially towards anyone who questions the dogma. Yes, there have been influences, but those foundations/principles are not the sole determinants. You ask how one forms value judgements today – how ethical guidelines separate from religious influence can be crafted: just look at how we as a society responded to those negative influences – how we bounced back from the Inquisition. How the Galileos of this world triumphed in the face of dogma. I’m sure there are zillions of such examples, in which attibutes such as honesty, kindness and purity of intention, coupled with an intense desire to seek and find the truth, overcame religious foundations and principles. When put this way, there are many, many clear examples of intrinsic qualities which give rise to desirable behaviours, based on intrinsic values. When added to the set of agreed behaviours determined by groups of such individuals, it is really not hard to imagine a happy, functional society devoid of the supernatural.

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