New Page -- 25 August 2004
Revised -- 9 September 2005
It has been said that religion is the opiate of the masses. There is no a priori reason why this should necessarily be true. Religion, after all, is just "1 a belief in a superhuman controlling power, especially in a personal God or gods entitled to obedience and worship; 2 the expression of this in worship; 3 a particular system of faith and worship..."
Okay, I take it back. The mind-numbing aspects of an all-encompassing opiate does spring to mind. Why, for example, would any "superhuman power" require worship and/or obedience from humans? If a being is in fact "superhuman", then this would tend to imply that there is no real need for worship by lesser entities. After all, how many humans require worship from their cats?
Okay, bad example -- cats probably are deities themselves. They do, however, much prefer that any worship be directed from the humans to the cats (and not vice versa). But is it important for you to have your parakeet worship you? To have your goldfish offer up sacrifices? Really? Isn't that just a bit weird? Even dysfunctional? Even insane?
Dysfunctional, insane... Ah yes... perhaps there we have the key! A dysfunctional but technologically superior being might require worship. Yes, that makes complete sense.
(4/1/07) Consider, for example, the possible motivation for an alleged Creator to demand that his followers mutilate their genitals as a sign of submission to this deity. Genesis 17: 6-14 makes it very clear that the god of Abraham demands circumcision for all of those who wish to share in Abraham's covenant. In effect, this god claims to have made man in his image, but now wants to destroy a significant portion of man's ability to enjoy sex. And inasmuch as women's enjoyment is also tied to men's, the entire cadre of circumcised peoples have lost something precious. As pointed out by others, a god which requires an immediate modification to his alleged creation is not a god which deserves any serious consideration or respect.
On top of everything, it is noteworthy that this same dysfunctional, fundamentally evil god wants genital mutiliation for every infant male on the 8th day after birth. There is clearly no submission to the deity by the helpless infant, but rather a typical version of showing one's submission to a deity by harming someone else. It takes no great effort to harm some helpless victim in order to show one's true colors; whereas if this same god wanted a legitimate sign of submission, it would be done by the adult as an adult.
But any God worthy of the capitalization of the name, any Creator of the universe, any truly Supreme Being is unlikely to be even partially dysfunctional. Instead, one would have to assume such a being is: One, a humorist, Two a mathematician, and three... possessed of a superhuman sense of humor. Which pretty much brings us back to one
According to Douglas Adams, God's last message to his creation was: "We apologize for the inconvenience." That may pretty well say it all.
Well, not really. Never let it be said that any portion of this website says it all.
Accordingly, we might consider the characteristics of religion -- the kind of religion where various forms of fundamentalism require the worship of some clearly dysfunctional being claiming to be a god. The obvious first example is any religion which requires worship of one of the gods of the Old Testament. It is hopefully clear at this juncture that the so-called god of the Biblical Old Testament is none other than a Sumerian god -- aka extraterrestrial/Anunnaki -- also known as Enlil.
A second example might be a religion purporting to worship a man named Jesus, but whose religion is actually based more profoundly on the teachings of a persecutor of Jesus' followers, who saw the light, so to speak, and converted. His brand of religion is known as Pauline Christianity -- and quite possibly would be considered to be very distinct from Jesus' intentions.
What, for example, is the advantage of having sin and guilt as the fundamental principles on which one worships? Is it better to live by emulating someone's teaching, or to find all manner of reasons to suffer and find fault in most everything -- in effect to bask in the twin cauldrons of Woundology and Scapegoatology? The latter such worship is in itself clearly dysfunctional.
Religion -- The Good News
If we get past the worship nonsense, however, then perhaps religion might serve to ease our troubles in times of stress. When things are not going well -- as is the case in much of the world, historically and currently -- religion and the principles of living a life which yields joy and happiness has a great deal of appeal. Unfortunately, the tendency toward scapegoatology tends to detract from such attempted adherence to principles.
For example, in the United States and most of the Western Industrialized world, there has grown up a sense that while we recognize the life if good, we're still not satisfied. As the cow said in Gary Larson's Far Side cartoons -- while sipping on a martini, wearing pearls, obviously living in luxury, and turning to her husband -- "Howard, I'm not content."
How might religion help in the current cultural crisis? For starters, consider the crisis.
According to Gregg Easterbrook , there are several relevant theories to explain why what would have been utopia to our great-great-grandparents has turned somehow sour. One possibility is (1) "the revolution of satisfied expectations". Most people judge their happiness not on their current situation, but rather on whether they expect things to get better or get worse. "Many millions of Americans find they have what they once dreamed of having -- and it does not make them happy."
Then there is (2) "catalog-induced anxiety", wherein everyone can see, "in agonizing detail all the expensive things they will never possess." There is also (3) "collapse anxiety" -- the fear that life cannot continue at the elevated standard of living and liberty currently being enjoyed. Easterbrook suggests that such an anxiety might be a fact of evolution, wherein the ancestors who lived to foster progeny were always a bit leery of what was just around the corner.
"Abundance denial" (4) is the tendency to deny our good fortune for fear of becoming the beneficiary of favoritism: "since through history so much affluence was obtained via inheritance, a rigged system, [and/or various forms of quasi-larceny]." Progress can also be said to create as many problems as solutions. This (5) "unsettled character of progress" suggests, for example, that the burning of plentiful coal may contribute to global warming. "Wireless phones solve the problem of easy communication but also means you can't escape office calls and most move about in dread of lunatics who speed in SUVs while yakking into cell phones."
"The choice penalty" (6) occurs when people freely make choices on their own, "but then suffer an endless self-doubt that did not exist in eras when most people's choices were made for them." Obviously, in an era where religion dominated, choices were severely limited and curtailed. Easterbrook also notes that we have gone from "Material Want to Meaning Want"(7) -- with the extra difficulty that "the sense of meaning is much more difficult to acquire than material possessions. Finally, there is the "virtue of gratitude" (8), the implication that we should be more grateful.
Notice how in each of these aspects, religion is playing a hand. In an era where an unconditional faith in god was more prevalent, the future was less a consideration and life was more fated or in the hands of a deity (or a self-appointed representative on Earth), differences in material wealth was less obvious and more acceptable, progress was slow and measured (with negative side effects far enough into the future to allow their being ignored), and many of the more meaningful discussions about life and the pursuit of happiness were simply not on the table. Life where survival is paramount is also life where simplicity reigns.
Eugene Wigner, the Nobel Laureate in Physics, once complained that in his day it was a daily challenge to find enough to eat, while in modern times the question was more of "where shall we do lunch." And yet, every time Wigner found enough to eat, he had a victory of sorts. There are precious few such victories -- of such import -- in today's world. With a reduction in challenges, there has been a reduction in triumphs.
And with a reduction in crises, there has been less need for religion. In particular there is now even less need for the simplistic leanings of religious philosophy. Religion is rapidly becoming obsolete in the life of any thinking, open-minded person. Hopefully, such obsolescence will make the entire world a better place to live.
This may explain the changing complexion of our belief systems. Netscape  has reported on a Harris Poll in 2003 which arrived at the following percentages of American adults who believed in:
Religion -- The Bad News
A decline in the essential need for religion in modern life is one thing. Of much greater concern is the use of an almost antiquated version of religion to administer all manner of evil. Nurit Peled-Elhanan  has written: "These leaders [those who would send others out to kill and murder] know all they have to do to draw more young, enthusiastic soldiers is to find a God to ordain this killing." Of course, as she points out:
It should be clear that traditional religions have been used to justify the greatest evils. There is, historically, the Spanish Inquisition, the misuse of Jihad (which according to most Muslim scholars is exclusively a defensive posture), and other such historical and current day examples.
(8/20/05) Sam Harris' book, The End of Faith; Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason , does an excellent job of detailing the degree to which religions, and blind faith in particular, are responsible for most of the evil in the world. This book is a must read for anyone who thinks of themselves as religious. It won't necessarily be a comforting read, but it just might make one wonder at the advisability to having faith in stories which are manifestly false and detrimental to every imaginable definition of truth. Harris' thesis, for example, is that civilization can no longer tolerate willfully ignorant beliefs, beliefs that can bring about horrific results.
Extremely important is the fact that if anyone is a fundamentalist -- that is to say, believes and lives by the exact words of books written millennia ago (in an Age never referred to as "enlightened") -- then they are bound to punish any and all unbelievers with death. This grotesque lack of tolerance strongly suggests that all intelligent people must reverse the Golden Rule and treat these people in the way in which they would treat you in their mad and insane rush to religious judgement.
If one suspects that such claims are just a bit too much, consider the basic tenets of Dominionism. If this doesn't convince you of the diabolical threat of fundamentalism -- the Christian brand -- then you're already likely brain dead.
A Parting Shot
Taking the course of finding a silver lining in every possible dark cloud, we might observe that religious fundamentalism may turn out to be of some value. Its extremism in all of its forms is sufficient that perhaps -- hopefully -- the backlash will return us from the brink of doom and institute an enormously more loving and compassionate trend. But then the Spanish Inquisition had quite a run, as I recall.
The hope is that the negatives of religion -- of which there are legion -- can be erased from the earth. A backlash to fundamentalism in all of its forms (including Islamic, Christian, Jewish, Dominionism, et al) may be able to accomplish just this. As Jurriaan Kamp  has written in her interview with Marilyn Ferguson::
Okay, so the latter is a real stretch to find a silver lining!
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