Coded gray.

Monday 17 September 2001

Screenshot Ultima IX

Pic of the day: Worshipper or warshipper? (Screenshot from Ultima IX, Ascension.)

Atheism doesn't help

In my September 11 diary, I wrote it as I saw it: That unthinking obedience to religious authorities is the most likely cause of that day's disaster. Before I go further, I will present you with an incomplete quote from the christian Bible, where one word is lacking. Bear with me, I have a reason for this. Here it is:

"But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and _______ it."
Years ago, I presented this quote to some christian friends, asking them to fill in the missing word. These were not casual Sunday christians, but people whose lives were deeply shaped by their faith, and who spent considerable time researching the will of God. Not one of them were able to remember the correct word. I shall come back to that word shortly.


My online friend Skye pointed me to an article by the renowned biologist Dawkins, known perhaps particularly for The selfish gene, a well written but at its time controversial work. Dawkins in his article made a case for religion being the tool that brought about the Fall of the Towers. (Does anyone else get a slightly Tolkien feeling from that expression ... the Fall of the Towers?) The article concluded in a general warning against religion. This may not be surprising, given its author. But it is poorly supported by his argument, which is completely one-sided. And so, sadly, the very article proves that atheism does not guarantee logic and objectivity.

The vast majority of religious philosophy has a humanizing effect. It teaches humility (always a useful skill) and responsibility. For many people, religion is the only coherent philosophy they are ever presented with. To them, atheism would imply a world where we are all just walking protoplasm, and where sentience is the cruelest of jokes played on us by an uncaring cosmos. What matters the life or death of oneself or others in such a world? As you see, one can easily construe two different conclusions from the same facts. This indicates that we should look for some other parameter than religion in general. I will focus on connection.

It is a well known fact that young single men without a family are particularly prone to commiting crimes, and especially violent crimes. And social or ethnic groups in which men are more often living without a family, have correspondingly higher levels of violent crime and risk behavior. If the simple connection of a family is often enough to turn a man from crime, how much more a deep connectedness to a higher purpose, whether it be a formal religion or not.

I suspect that Dawkins and his friends find in science the same experience that I have found BOTH in science and in religion, the one which I call the mystic experince: That all is one. All things are connected in an intricate and awesome pattern, and this connectedness gives inherent meaning to all things. We do not care for our neighbor because we want gold stars in the book of life, but rather because in a very real sense my neighbor is part of me. Not as large a part of me as my own body, but still a part. And it behooves me to care about all parts of me. What Dawkins sees in the genes, others see in the spirit. And some of us see both at the same time.


I still maintain, however, that unthinking obedience is not an ideal. It may be countered that Abraham showed unthinking obedience when he went to sacrifice his son - and that this has been inherited by all the Abramic religions. But at the time, little was yet revealed about God. By now we know that God does not appreciate the sacrifice of children, and we should be able to weed that kind of thoughts out immediately without the need for angels to intervene!

Oh, and for that quote. "But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and _______ it." People tried both "believes" (most popular) and "obeys". But the word Jesus used was understands. Who would have thought that? Did your preacher ever tell you that you should seek to understand?


It has grown on me that unthinking obedience is not really limited to religion. Religion may help to shore up people's morale, like I've heard that the German army marched with the words "Gott mit uns!" (God with us!) on the belt buckles. -Not sure about the truth of it, but it seems like a good idea. Certainly there have been priests following the armies for a long long time, and it's still the usual route for theologians around here when they are conscripted. Being a conscientious objector myself, I have never actually seen the clergy bless weapon or armor, and can't vouch for the truth of it. But it seems to have happened in the past.

Yet this is a case of religion being drafted by worldly warlords. Normally preachers don't tell people to go out and kill and die. No, those who do that are officers. It is the basic mindset of the military: To suspend personal morality and become a tool of another, supposedly for some higher cause. Except that in a war, both sides fight for Truth and Justice.

Look at the military, and look at any randomly chosen neighborhood church or synagogue or even mosque. Then think this over: Which is the better description of the terrorists: Warriors or worshippers?

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