Category Archives: Religion

Quotes Attacking Religon

The Yazılıkaya sanctuary in Turkey, with the twelve gods of the underworld

My recent post linked to a few of the many essays I’ve written on religions. For those who want an even briefer summary of my views here are a few quotes that exemplify them.  I should note that I’ve had many friends who were practitioners of various religions. While I disagree with them, I also recognize that I could be mistaken.

There is no point beating around the bush. Supernatural concepts have no philosophical warrant. Furthermore, it is not that such concepts are displaced only if we accept, from the start, a naturalistic or scientific vision of things. There simply are no good arguments—theological, philosophical, humanistic, or scientific—for beliefs in divine beings, miracles, or heavenly afterlives. ~Owen Flanagan

There is no greater social evil than religion. It is the cancer in the body of humanity. Human credulity and superstition, and the need for comforting fables, will never be extirpated, so religion will always exist, at least among the uneducated. The only way to manage the dangers it presents is to confine it entirely to the private sphere, and for the public domain to be blind to it in all but one respect: that by law no one’s private beliefs should be allowed to cause a nuisance or an injury to anyone else.
~A. C. Grayling

All thinking men are atheists. ~ Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms

I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours. ~Stephen Roberts

The fact that so little of the findings of modern science is prefigured in Scripture to my mind casts further doubt on its divine inspiration. ~Carl Sagan

Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by rulers as useful. ~Lucius Annaeus Seneca

Emotional excitement reaches men through tea, tobacco, opium, whisky, and religion. ~George Bernard Shaw

The time appears to me to have come when it is the duty of all to make their dissent from religion known. ~John Stuart Mill

Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction. ~Blaise Pascal

Fear of things invisible is the natural seed of that which every one in himself calleth religion. ~Thomas Hobbes

The aim of a religious movement is to inflict a malady on society, then offer the religion as a cure. ~Eric Hoffer

If you want to make a little money, write a book. If you want to make a lot of money, create a religion. ~L. Ron Hubbard

Generally speaking, the errors in religion are dangerous; those in philosophy only ridiculous. ~David Hume

Religion … the universal … neurosis of humanity. ~Sigmund Freud

Religion is all bunk. ~Thomas Edison

The memory of my own suffering has prevented me from ever shadowing one young soul with the superstitions of the Christian religion. ~Elizabeth Cady Stanton

I count religion but a childish toy and hold there is no sin but ignorance.
~Christopher Marlowe

Religion is the opiate of the masses. ~Karl Marx

Say what you will about the sweet miracle of unquestioning faith, I consider a capacity for it terrifying and absolutely vile. ~Kurt Vonnegut

These [religious ideas] are given out as teachings, are not precipitates of experience or end-results of thinking: they are illusions, fulfillments of the oldest, strongest and most urgent wishes of mankind. ~Sigmund Freud

I am myself a dissenter from all known religions, and I hope that every kind of religious belief will die out. Religion is based . . . mainly on fear . . . fear of the mysterious, fear of defeat, fear of death. Fear is the parent of cruelty, and therefore it is no wonder if cruelty and religion have gone hand in hand. . . . My own view on religion is that of Lucretius. I regard it as a disease born of fear and as a source of untold misery to the human race. ~Bertrand Russell

The whole thing is so patently infantile, so foreign to reality, that to anyone with a friendly attitude to humanity it is painful to think that the great majority of mortals will never be able to rise above this view of life. ~Sigmund Freud

Religion stalks across the face of human history, knee-deep in the blood of innocents, clasping its red hands in hymns of praise to an approving God. ~Philip Appleman

Religion is fundamentally opposed to everything I hold in veneration—courage, clear thinking, honesty, fairness, and, above all, love of the truth. ~H.L. Mencken

Religion is a byproduct of fear. For much of human history, it may have been a necessary evil, but why was it more evil than necessary? Isn’t killing people in the name of God a pretty good definition of insanity? ~Arthur C. Clarke

No man who ever lived knows any more about the hereafter … than you and I; and all religion … is simply evolved out of chicanery, fear, greed, imagination and poetry.
~Edgar Allan Poe

I condemn false prophets, I condemn the effort to take away the power of rational decision, to drain people of their free will—and a hell of a lot of money in the bargain. Religions vary in their degree of idiocy, but I reject them all. For most people, religion is nothing more than a substitute for a malfunctioning brain. We must question the story logic of having an all-knowing all-powerful God, who creates faulty humans, and then blames them for his own mistakes. ~Gene Roddenberry

During many ages there were witches. The Bible said so. The Bible commanded that they should not be allowed to live. Therefore the Church, after doing its duty in but a lazy and indolent way for 800 years, gathered up its halters, thumbscrews, and firebrands, and set about its holy work in earnest. She worked hard at it night and day during nine centuries and imprisoned, tortured, hanged, and burned whole hordes and armies of witches, and washed the Christian world clean with their foul blood. Then it was discovered that there as no such thing as witches, and never had been. One does not know whether to laugh or to cry. ~Mark Twain

Every sensible man, every honorable man, must hold the Christian sect in horror. Christianity is the most ridiculous, the most absurd and bloody religion that has ever infected the world. If we believe absurdities, we shall commit atrocities. Superstition, born of paganism and adopted by Judaism, invested the Christian Church from earliest times. All the fathers of the Church, without exception, believed in the power of magic. The Church always condemned magic, but she always believed in it: she did not excommunicate sorcerers as madmen who were mistaken, but as men who were really in communication with the devil. Nothing can be more contrary to religion and the clergy than reason and common sense. ~Voltaire

Man is a marvelous curiosity . . . he thinks he is the Creator’s pet . . . he even believes the Creator loves him; has a passion for him; sits up nights to admire him; yes and watch over him and keep him out of trouble. He prays to him and thinks He listens. Isn’t it a quaint idea ~Robert G. Ingersoll

To abdicate from the rule of reason and substitute for it an authentication of belief by the intentness and degree of conviction with which we hold it can be perilous and destructive. Religious beliefs give a spurious spiritual dimension to tribal enmities … It goes with the passionate intensity and deep conviction of the truth of a religious belief, and of course of the importance of the superstitious observances that go with it, that we should want others to share it – and the only certain way to cause a religious belief to be held by everyone is to liquidate nonbelievers. The price in blood and tears that mankind generally has had to pay for the comfort and spiritual refreshment that religion has brought to a few has been too great to justify our entrusting moral accountancy to religious belief. ~Sir Peter Brian Medawar

Since the early days, [the church] has thrown itself violently against every effort to liberate the body and mind of man. It has been, at all times and everywhere, the habitual and incorrigible defender of bad governments, bad laws, bad social theories, bad institutions. It was, for centuries, an apologist for slavery, as it was an apologist for the divine right of kings. ~H.L. Mencken

History does not record anywhere or at any time a religion that has any rational basis. Religion is a crutch for people not strong enough to stand up to the unknown without help. But, like dandruff, most people do have a religion and spend time and money on it and seem to derive considerable pleasure from fiddling with it. ~Robert A. Heinlein

Nietzsche taught me to distrust every optimistic theory. I knew that [the human] heart has constant need of consolation, a need to which that super-shrewd sophist the mind is constantly ready to minister. I began to feel that every religion which promises to fulfill human desires is simply a refuge for the timid, and unworthy of a true man. … We ought, therefore, to choose the most hopeless of world views, and if by chance we are deceiving ourselves and hope does exist, so much the better. At all events, in this way man’s soul will not be humiliated, and neither God nor the devil will ever be able to ridicule it by saying that it became intoxicated like a hashish-smoker and fashioned an imaginary paradise out of naiveté and cowardice—in order to cover the abyss. The faith most devoid of hope seemed to me not the truest, perhaps, but surely the most valorous. I considered the metaphysical hope alluring bait which true men do not condescend to nibble. I wanted whatever was most difficult, in other words most worthy of man, of the man who does not whine, entreat, or go about begging. ~ Nikos Kazantzakis

Essays Against Religion

In Plato‘s ApologySocrates (pictured) was accused by Meletus of not believing in the gods.

I am myself a dissenter from all known religions, and I hope that every kind of religious belief will die out. Religion is based . . . mainly on fear . . . fear of the mysterious, fear of defeat, fear of death. Fear is the parent of cruelty, and therefore it is no wonder if cruelty and religion have gone hand in hand. . . . My own view on religion is that of Lucretius. I regard it as a disease born of fear and as a source of untold misery to the human race. ~Bertrand Russell

I have recently let some of my readers express their views on religion. I thank them for their contributions. I would also like to say that I’ve had many friends who were religious. But if anyone is interested in my views on religion they have been expressed multiple times over the years. So, rather than respond to all the specific points my readers have made, here are a few links to my own work on the topic.

Religion’s Smart-People Problem

The End of Religion: Technology and the Future

A Philosopher’s Lifelong Search for Meaning – Part 2 – Religion and Meaning

Transhumanism and the End of Religion

Should We Live as if Religious Claims are True?

Arguing with Theists

Some Interesting Biblical Prescriptions

Logic Decreases Religious Beliefs

Religion and Superintelligence

Science & Religion: A Dialogue

Religion as Community

Darrell Arnold

Dr. Darrell Arnold, Professor of Philosophy

Note – My last post elicited multiple thoughtful comments from readers but I thought that Dr. Darrell Arnold’s were worth reprinting in their entirety. I have known Dr. Arnold for more than 30 years and he is a careful and conscientious thinker whose thought I highly value. Here is Dr. Arnold’s commentary followed by a brief rejoinder.

Clearly, religion has done and continues to do much harm. And most of the everyday religious dogmas should be taken no more seriously than the idea that Athena sprang from the head of Zeus. But beyond providing individual consolation, which you note, religions also provide much more. They often provide the impetus for social justice, provide individuals with a strong sense of belonging, and through spiritual direction offer something akin to analytic counseling.

Major social justice movements of the 20th century and of the present have had strong religious impulses. We can look to the movements of which Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. were leaders as examples. In Miami, through obligations associated with the Catholic University where I originally worked, I became involved with a Social Justice organization that works on local (progressive) politics that is comprised almost exclusively of Justice committees of local churches, synagogues, and mosques. These congregations do provide an infrastructure for social coordination at the local (and national) level. And it appears to me that many of the adherents … derive [ a sense of purpose] from that work “being their brother’s keeper” and from the sense of community that the organizations and the collective work provide.

The non-religious often lack the social bonds, outside of family, that religious organizations can provide, and they often lack the organizational infrastructure for collective social justice work. You’re probably familiar with Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. He reflects on the lack of community in contemporary life and problems of social belonging and so on related to this. We can, of course, join Green Peace or the Sierra Club or various organizations and work together for good purposes. But it appears that there is a bit of a vacuum often left by those who leave their churches.

But these are a couple of the roles that religions also fulfill that can be important for a meaningful life. It was this social function of religion that Durkheim focused on more than the question of individual comfort or of religious experience (such as William James writes about). Those without religion (or those who hope that religion will fade) will likely do well to find other ways to facilitate community. This, I’m sure, is part of what is behind the efforts like Alain Botton’s School of Life, which has meetings in London and other places, or the various Atheist churches. Some of them couple that with some other functions of religion, such as philosophical counseling as a stand-in for spiritual direction.

Mostly what I’m getting at here is that there is more that religion provides people than the individual comfort of a supernatural belief system. Many of those things are vitally needed for many people to have a good life and are benefits of a caring community. Maybe that last phrase should be highlighted since I think that a lot of the appeal of religion comes down to that. For all the sicknesses of any religion I’ve encountered, you can often find in the midst of that elements of a caring community — at least some group of people who are focused on a moral life and who find meaning in acts of kindness toward individuals and in work for social causes greater than themselves.

Brief reply – I agree with everything Dr. Arnold writes here. Religions have done, and motivate believers to do, many good things. Religions also provide a sense of community to many, especially in a culture like America where isolation is such a big problem. I really think that religions are social clubs as much as anything else. It was Kierkegaard I believe who said that when you tell someone what religion you belong to you are basically noting who you hang out with. The social and emotional aspects of religion also explain why rational arguments have so little effect on believers.

The Mina Stampede: Tragedy and God’s Will

The way to Jamarat Bridge 3.JPG

The way to Jamaraat Bridge (2011)

A few weeks ago tragedy struck during the hajj, the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca. A new tally shows that at least 1621 were killed, and thousands more were injured or are missing. Other sources put the death toll near 2,000. While the exact cause of the “Mina stampede” is disputed, the Saudi Interior Ministry stated that the stampede was triggered when two large groups of pilgrims intersected from different directions onto the same street.[2] 

However other experts don’t classify the tragedy as a stampede. For example, University of Sussex crowd behavioral expert Anne Templeton told Newsweek. “The density of the Hajj has been shown to reach up to 6–8 people per square meter, so I would be very surprised if a stampede (implying people running mindlessly) could occur in the first place.”[168] The Mina disaster is better understood as a “progressive crowd collapse”:[22][168] beginning at densities of about six[22] to seven[169] persons per square meter, individuals are pressed so closely against each other they are unable to move as individuals, and shockwaves can travel through a crowd which, at such densities, behaves somewhat like a fluid.[169] If a single person falls, or other people reach down to help, waves of bodies can be involuntarily precipitated forward into the open space.[22] One such shockwave can create other openings in the crowd nearby, precipitating further crushing.[22]Unable to draw breath, individuals in a crowd can also be crushed while standing.[169]

We also know is that a number of crowd crush tragedies have occurred in the past during the hajj,[21] with 1,426 people being suffocated and trampled to death in a 1990 tunnel tragedy, and at least 701 people killed in crowd crushes between 1991 and 2005.[22]

We also know that 346 people were killed in a similar Jamaraat incident in 2006, which prompted the Saudi government to improve the infrastructure of the city and its procession routes.[2] The Saudi Arabian government has been spending $60 billion to expand the Grand Mosque which houses the Kaaba, and has deployed 100,000 security forces and 5,000 CCTV cameras to monitor the crowds.[23]

 

Bodies lie covered in sheets. The death toll has been climbing steadily.

What also caught my attention about the tragedy were some of the religious responses to the tragedy. To his credit Salman al-Ouda, a Saudi cleric said that “Riyadh regime should be held accountable for the crush, adding that Saudi rulers cannot evade their responsibility by labeling the tragedy as an act of God.” He called on media outlets to cover the incident with full transparency.[160] 

However, others were not so rational. For example, A Saudi human rights activist said: “The way I see it is success goes to those in authority, and mistakes go to God’s will.”  And Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul-Aziz ibn Abdullah Al ash-Sheikh, Saudi Arabia’s top religious leader (appointed to his position by King Fahdin 1999), told Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince and Minister of the Interior, Muhammad bin Nayef, “You are not responsible for what happened. As for the things that humans cannot control, you are not blamed for them. Fate and destiny are inevitable”.[155][156]

I cannot say to what extent the government was fully or partly responsible, or to what extent a number of other factors like crowd size, record heat, pedestrian bottlenecks, etc. came together to cause the tragedy. What I can say is that supernatural will had nothing to do with this. It is easy to criticize such simple-minded attempts to deal with tragedy, and it is understandable that human beings want explanations, but it is counterproductive to blame imaginary gods for such tragedies. Such explanations lead to fatalism and passivity, exactly the opposite of what we need if we are to improve our lives and those of our descendants.

Religion Without God

Image result for Stanford anthropologist, T. M. Luhrmann

I recently read an article from the New York Times by the Stanford anthropologist, T. M. Luhrmann. She begins by noting that her family will go to church on Christmas. There is nothing unusual about this except that the church Luhrmann will attend is Unitarian. Unitarians reject orthodox Christian Trinitarian theology—just try to make sense of Trinitarianism—and replace it with the doctrine that God is one. Unitarianism emerged in early modern Europe but over the last 200 years, “the Unitarian church had become a place for intellectuals who were skeptical of belief claims but who wanted to hang on to faith in some manner … The modern Unitarian Universalist Association’s statement of principles does not mention God at all.”

This faith without god is becoming more popular in the USA,  and atheist services have arisen around the country. “How do we understand this impulse to hold a “church” service despite a hesitant or even nonexistent faith?” Luhrmann thinks that “part of the answer is surely the quest for community.” Why not hang out with other people and sing, hear interesting talks, and think about self-improvement and making the world a better place? Luhrmann also theorizes that engaging in rituals may have less to do with religious beliefs, and more to do with setting time aside to reflect in a way that is different from other activities.

Luhrmann applauds this new idea of atheist churches. In fact, she thinks that “religion without God may be more poignant [than religion with gods.] Atheists trust in human relations, not supernatural ones, and humans are not so good at delivering the world as it should be. Perhaps that is why we are moved by Christmas carols, which conjure up the world as it can be and not the world we know.”

The need for an atheist church has no appeal for me, but I can understand that people would want to find community with like-minded believers. After all, that is a large part of the appeal of religion today, especially in cultures in which persons are isolated, alienated and exploited. No wonder the USA and the Middle East have so much religiosity, while Japan, Western Europe, and Scandinavia so little.