JR'S Free Thought Pages
Thoughts on God, Evil, Religious Experiences and other Theological Conundrums
Religion is a Racket
By Johnny Reb, January 2018
“Men will never be free until the last monarch is strangled with the entrails of the last priest.” – Denis Diderot
“All religions are ancient monuments to superstition, ignorance and ferocity.” – Baron d’Holbach
“By defending myself against the Jew, I am acting in accordance with the work of the Lord” – Adolph Hitler, Mein Kampf
"Surely infantilism is destined to be surmounted," wrote Sigmund Freud in 1927. "Men cannot remain children for ever; they must in the end go out into the 'hostile life. We may call this 'education to reality.'" Freud, of course, was referring to the "infantilism" of religion--or as he so bluntly characterized it, "the universal obsessional neurosis of humanity"
The British zoologist Desmond Morris in his popular 1973 book The Naked Ape, theorized that the “extreme potency” of religion is “simply a measure of the strength of our fundamental biological tendency, inherited directly from our monkey and ape ancestors, to submit ourselves to an all-powerful, dominant member of the group.” All three major monotheisms postulate the existence of a "creator" of the universe that is generally depicted as an alpha male father figure who considers his human creations as helpless children. We're also cajoled by the big three religious rackets into believing that their personal god is a really great guy, someone you'd enjoy talking sports, politics or philosophy with over a beer. Most Christians believe this depiction but a reading of the Bible ought to dissuade any inquiring individual of holding such propitious views, because the sanitized god of Christian theologians is rather graphically portrayed as a cruel, sadistic and vindictive psychopathic tyrant. 
Two famous quotes on God, one by Voltaire in 1768 and one by Mikhail Bakunin in 1882 have interesting implications, both disapproving. The deist Voltaire once said, “If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.” Voltaire, although a vitriolic critic of the abuses and corruptions of Catholic Church, also defended religion as device for keeping the rabble in line primarily through fear. This was not unlike Napoleon’s view that religious belief subdued the common people into docile sheep and deterred them from murdering their rich masters. But the atheist anarchist Bakunin proclaimed that if God actually existed, “it would be necessary to abolish him”. For Bakunin all hierarchy and tyranny were anathema to him, so like any other dictatorial or noxious Orwellian control freak whether in human form or a metaphysical fiction such as God, even belief in such vile chimeras must be destroyed. Anarchism and atheism it would seem are philosophical cohorts in the rejection of all forms of coercion, hierarchy and authoritarianism. I’ve attempted to argue the validity of this position in my essay “Confessions of a Reluctant Anarchist”.
The great German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) famously proclaimed the death of God with the qualification that it may take centuries for the divine body to decompose. But Nietzsche never assumed such a metaphysical entity called “god” really existed; he was referring to belief in such mythologies. This was more or less the same position taken by the Great 19th century Russian anarchist Bakunin and cited in the previous paragraph. Not unlike Bakunin, Nietzsche did not just mean that it was no longer possible, without delusion and self-deception, to believe that there is an omnipotent, omniscient, perfectly beneficent being that created all that exists and with whom human beings can have personal relationships. Atheist philosophers such as Diderot and d’Holbach a century earlier claimed much the same, albeit not in as definitive and colorful manner. Nietzsche’s claim had more depth in the sense that ways of magical thinking, sense of existence and modes of superstitious credulous civilization that rested on the premise of a Supreme Being and creator were washed up as well. 
This included much more, not literally everything of course, but nearly all that was of fundamental importance. In his view, prevailing notions of pre-scientific epistemology and divine command morality grounded in original sin and guilt would be among the first casualties. Despite the decline in mystical thinking, from time to time, there would be for some time periods in which parts of God’s decomposing body would re-emerge with fanatical fervor as we see today with both Christian and Islamic fundamentalism , but this does not refute or diminish Nietzsche’s claims, following Diderot and d’Holbach, that Christianity was a tyrannical “slave morality”. His ideal for humanity, the sage Zarathustra, is also deeply influenced by the Epicurean emphasis on cultivating the self, embracing individuality, zest for life, living through and not against the passions by transforming them from a merely physical instinct into a spiritual quest for authenticity driven from personal reflection and desire - and not by appeals to dubious authority, mysticism or the supernatural. 
In what follows I will focus on the familiar, namely, Christianity. Among the hundreds of religious enterprises and even more numerous fictitious deities and other metaphysical entities invented since the dawn of mankind, dealing with one god is perplexing enough. Despite the unscientific and logical incoherence of such claims, we're told that the ill-defined  and enigmatic creator of all things is all powerful (omnipotent), all knowing (omniscient) and all-good (omni-benevolent).
A theologian has been aptly described as “A blind black man in a dark room looking for a black cat that is not there”. What the theologians, popes, priests and pastors never explain to the curious and skeptical is how their deity managed to create something as infinitely vast as the universe and why he bothered doing so in the first place. Conceptual difficulties and other conundrums such as the logical problem of infinite regress are never addressed and properly resolved. St. Augustine was apparently asked by an inquisitive student, "What was god doing before he created the universe?" The saint responded glibly with, "creating hell for people who ask such questions."
Typical examples of such befuddlement are regularly exhibited by the behaviors of seriously confused baseball, football and other professional athletes. Anyone who has watched these sports on television cannot fail to notice how they often pray before games and point to the sky, reverently thanking their deity for their home runs and touchdowns. This strange behaviour assumes a hard determinism, even fatalism, an issue they have quite obviously never considered. Yet, this is the same athlete who wastes hundreds of hours practising his craft which one can only assume, is purely dependent on the will of the Christian deity. However, when these same athletes strike out or fumble the ball at the line of scrimmage, their mysterious behavior is strangely absent. Reason and plain logic demand that god, with his attributes of physical and intellectual super powers, is at the controls of the universe machine created by him/her/it. The deity surely knows exactly what will happen and when since he's in the driver's seat. Based on his omnipotence and omniscience, it's an inexorable upshot and inescapable causal conclusion regarding all worldly events, good and bad.
In the fourth century of the Common Era Christianity emerged from a minor persecuted cult in the declining Roman Empire to its state religion. The Emperor Constantine, apparently because of some bizarre dreams he’d had, made the decision to banish the Roman gods and elevate Christianity to the sole religious authority with single deity. With Constantine’s bizarre decision went science, scepticism and unmitigated inquiry in areas of the empire such as Greece retreated with it as the nature of the “heavens” would now be accepted on faith, as dictated by the Christian churches. The Academy of Athens, founded by Plato and once led by Carnaedes, had survived for 900 years but was closed in 529 CE by Emperor Justinian, a fanatical defender of Christian domination. The long era of the Dark Ages had begun as many great books of Greek and Roman thought, including Aristotle’s treatises of logic and philosophy, simply disappeared - in many cases forever lost. Christians were not interested in any books unless it supported their own doctrines of faith. As one of the earliest Christian theologians proclaimed, “After Jesus we desire no subtle theories and no acute inquiries.” In those early days of Christian supremacy and control of all thought, heretical books were not generally burned as the flames in these dark centuries were reserved for the authors. Today church officials who cannot burn the authors at the stake such as Richard Dawkins have other more devious ways of banishing books. One such ploy is controlling school boards and removing them from the school libraries. For example, Oxford Evolutionary Biologist Richard Dawkins book The Magic of Reality was banned from the Chilliwack, BC school libraries in 2015. The Dark Age medievalists are still at work.
When the International Humanist Movement was created in 1952 with the concomitant founding of the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU), its declared mission was to provide an alternative to established religions which were deemed not only authoritarian and decidedly antithetical to democracy, but based on pre-scientific superstitious revelations grounded in the belief systems of the ancient and medieval world. But questioning and confronting religious authority and its calcified systems of belief have a long history that began in earnest during the early years of the Humanist Enlightenment and Scientific Revolution. These years were the beginning of scepticism, free thought, autonomous nature of ethics, the rejection of divine command morality and the onset of scientific inquiry. On a personal level, I’ve never been able to understand how people can reconcile ethics and morality with the belief in a vindictive cruel Christian God and intellectually pernicious and morally noxious biblical creed. Because the God of both the Old Testament is not, as Saint Anselm mysteriously described him," that than which no greater can be conceived." Rather, he is that than which no greater maliciousness can be conceived. And, as Mark Twain, pointed out, the divine Jesus of the New Testament surpassed his father in callousness by inventing the doctrine of a fiery hell as a place in which all those who don't believe in him will suffer eternal torment while "the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever." If you want to tell, or retell, the stories of God and Jesus while concealing those facts, you are not being honest with regard to the God you worship. Why intellectually pernicious? As the great Scottish philosopher David Hume so eloquently put it: "reason is insufficient to convince us of its veracity; and whoever is moved by Faith to assent to it, is conscious of a continued miracle in his own person, which subverts all the principles of his understanding."
Challenges to the tyranny of the Christian churches began in the 16th and 17th centuries and much of the violence and slaughter that ensued was among Christians themselves. While some countries such as Holland celebrated new found freedoms, the inhabitants of central Europe were obsessed with killing one another in a feast of holy horrors that came to be known as the Thirty Years War that began in 1618. It all began in Bohemia when the Catholic Church shut down a Protestant Church and burned another. Protestants responded by catapulting a pair of Catholic deputies from the windows of a government office. This ignited a three decade series of barbaric internal Christian conflicts that spread from the Baltic to the River Po. It was essentially a continuation of the violent military conflicts that began in the previous century, exacerbated by the venality of kings, princes and land barons. During the thirty years, the magnitude of the slaughter was mind boggling, as the population of Germany alone declined from 21 million to 13 million, a ratio of devastation that even surpasses the two world wars of the 20th century. In addition to the standard fare of rapes, tortures and murders, it included practices such as thumbscrews, the forced eating of feces and the torching of entire villages and their populations, creating ideal conditions for starvation, disease and plague.
British philosopher Thomas Hobbes, born in the year of the Spanish Armada (1588), had a good deal of which to be fearful, since most of his adult life was dominated by the horrors of the Thirty Years War. This era of anxiety and terror very likely contributed to the reactionary manner of argumentation in his magnum opus Leviathan. This endemic European war was the basis of Hobbes’s notorious view of the state of nature he conveyed in Leviathan in which he describes the life of man in a state of nature as “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.” The state of nature was the condition into which human social norms were eroded when civil society had collapsed. For Hobbes, the state of nature was not an abstract, theoretical construct, it was something that existed throughout his long life (he lived to age 91, a rarity for his time) in large parts of Europe and often motivated an alteration in his travel plans. Hobbes’s response to these very real manifestations of fear was to attempt to construct a scientific and materialist theory of politics that was revolutionary in its implications and was to reverberate throughout the 17th and 18th century Enlightenment and into the thoughts of political theorists today. Hobbes’ conception of the state was a modern, as opposed to a feudal one, nor was it even one appropriate to the absolutist ancien regimes that were to emerge in the latter part of the seventeenth century on the continent, but it was not a democratic one. But he was not alone in that regard as our more recent political ideologies such as fascism and globalized corporate capitalism (as manifested in neo-conservatism and neo-liberalism) resemble oligarchies rather than democracies.
Hobbes, an atheist, had an authoritarian solution for church interference in the affairs of government. He advocated an all-powerful sovereign who would control public worship but refrain from asking what citizens actually believed in gods. This was not acceptable to his contemporaries that included Spinoza, Locke, Montesquieu and Hume nor the 18th century authors of the Federalist Papers, Tocqueville and others who proposed instead ‘a system based on limited government, separation of church and state and religious toleration within reasonable limits. David Hume reasoned that “if the sects could be convinced that toleration would leave them free to save souls without interference, they would see that they have a greater stake in liberty than in the conquest of political authority.”
In addition to his political theories, Hobbes played a vital role in the development of modern materialism and formed a link in a chain that passed from Britain to France that was, in turn, an organic part of the political developments that found expression in the French Revolution of 1789. Dialectical materialism and historical materialism would have been impossible without that earlier development. In his battle against the power of the Church, in his courageous stand for materialism at a time when the vagaries of fate favored superstition, in his struggle to create a science of politics, and his insistence that there was no area of experience that was not susceptible to scientific analysis, Hobbes was a man who transcended his times. But he was a man of his time and expressed the interests of his class and the experiences of the social layer to which he belonged. “Yet,” as Marxist scholar David North wrote, “it would be simplistic and superficial to see in the work of the Enlightenment nothing more than the narrow expression of the class interests of the bourgeoisie in its struggle against a decaying feudal order.”
The advanced thinkers who prepared the bourgeois revolutions of the eighteenth century spoke and wrote in the name of all suffering humanity, and in doing so evoked universal themes of human solidarity and emancipation that reached beyond the more limited and prosaic aims of the capitalist class. Unfortunately there has been a false narrative regarding the Enlightenment regarding our emotional character, innate and culturally inculcated moral sensibilities, the appreciation of art and what the religious call the spiritual dimension of life. There is no requirement of religion for the ethical or spiritual life, whatever that might mean to each individual. Neither science nor religion can inform us as to what is the right thing to do or what constitutes the good life; we need to sort this out for ourselves both as individuals and collective society. Science, its open-mindedness, ideas about inquiry, quest for understanding, skepticism and challenge of all existing verities are also the hallmarks of freedom and any vibrant functioning democracy. Facile narratives that provide simplicity, closure and certainty may be emotionally satisfying to many people but they remind us not only of fairy tales but many biblical tales as well. Religions, Christianity and Islam being the current archetypes, are the quintessential conversation stoppers in which all answers to our queries can be found in a single book. Religion is without a doubt, the quintessential conversation stopper.
So, it was not until the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries that science, philosophy and critical inquiry re-emerged and began to seriously challenge church dogma with thinkers such as Montaigne, Servetus, Copernicus, Galileo, Hobbes, Newton, Leibnitz and Spinoza. Despite many still maintaining a belief in god (or at least a pretence to belief) during this perilous period, those criticizing Christianity and the churches invariably paid a huge price, often by torture, imprisonment or execution by the Inquisition’s auto-da-fe. These punishments were meted out even for what would now be deemed minor deviations from church doctrines. By the time the Enlightenment was in full bloom by the 18th century, men such as Jean Meslier, Voltaire, Diderot, d’Holbach, Spinoza and others driven by the slogan Sapere aude (Dare to know) had completely rejected the groundless concept of a personal deity despite the continued threats by the church. Following the reactionary mission of Leibnitz as against Spinoza, Immanuel Kant’s desperate efforts in the 18th century to save Christianity by introducing the dubious existence of a noumenal world of ultimate realty as “things-in-themselves” on the basis of a critique of pure reason spawned subsequent attempts by Hegel, Bergson and others to salvage teleology and the supernatural from the corrosive onslaught of science. This futile project continued in the 20th century with Martin Heidegger’s call for the overthrow of Western metaphysics in order to recover the truth about “Being” and the entire postmodern project of deconstructing the male centered tradition of Enlightenment thought and Western modernity. Contra Spinoza, Gottfried Leibnitz’s modern day disciples conjure up any number and manner of mystical appellations conjured up from his arcane idea of the monad: Being, Becoming, Life Force, the Absolute, the Will, the re-emergence of Eastern mysticism stirred up with Quantum physics and forms of non-linear rationality and shadowy logic – and much more. The silly notions of men such as Leibnitz and Pascal squandered their brilliant minds on notions such as “we live in the best of all possible worlds” and that “everything happens for a reason”. Yes, cause and effect exists, but not the metaphysical mumbo-jumbo divine intervention based reasons Leibnitz had in mind. But supernatural beliefs die hard, as the antics of professional baseball players demonstrate with the inane behavior of pointing to the sky after hitting a ball over the centre field fence. Oddly, this behaviour is absent after striking out or fumbling the ball on an easy infield double play.
Historical and scientific reality is surely more rewarding and more exciting than legend or myth. Baron d'Holbach's infamous salon and its skeptical inquiring protagonists did foment revolutionary ideas, but it was more than a mere political revolution they were thinking about. D’Holbach and like-minded men such as Denis Diderot, Voltaire and Jean-Jacques Rousseau published radical pamphlets, subversive books and Diderot’s massive Trojan horse L'Encyclopédie that ended up comprising twenty-eight volumes. But they wanted to bring down something infinitely more pervasive and tyrannical than hierarchies of the monarchy or the Catholic Church. The vision they discussed and debated around the baron's dinner table was one in which women and men would no longer be oppressed, bribed, indoctrinated and debilitated by the fear and ignorance instilled by religion but could instead live their lives to the fullest both intellectually and emotionally. Instead of sacrificing their aspirations and longings to the vain hope of reward in the afterlife, they would be able to flourish freely, to understand their place in the universe as intelligent humanists and naturalists and to focus their energies into building individual lives and communities based on democracy, cooperation, solidarity, empathy and rationality. Yearnings and dreams, erotic or otherwise, would make their world satisfying, beautiful and full of seemingly infinite opportunity and possibility. Compassion, comradeship and empathy would provide the potentially make it livable, kind and gratifying with reason and inquiry into all things, as opposed to faith, would allow an understanding of the world's immutable scientific principles. The moral outlook of Enlightenment thinkers was not grounded in divine command reward and punishment, but rather a society based on scientific inquiry, knowledge, mutual respect, tolerance, solidarity and equality of opportunity, without masters and slaves or oppressors and oppressed. There was no place in this vision for supernaturalism, authoritarianism, hierarchy or rights based on birth. The quintessential Enlightenment man of the Eighteenth Century was clearly Denis Diderot and consequently he was reviled by both the monarchy and Christian churches that imprisoned him multiple times but would have preferred to burn him at the stake. We continue to grapple with many of the questions raised by Diderot, d’Holbach, Hume and their associates but we have still not learned the lesson that any philosophical, empirical or moral dialogue must begin with the scientific facts. Certainly after these three men had demolished Christian superstitious claims, the intricate workings of the natural world could no longer be invoked to justify the existence of a celestial “creator”.
But before this utopian, paradisiacal and remote vision could be reached, the enemies of reason and desire had to be defeated. The Christian church condemned desire as lust and reason as pride - mortal sins both - and perverted empathy into the practice of making people suffer now so that they could reap rewards in a promised afterlife. The Enlightenment radicals saw it as their duty to convince their contemporaries that there is no life after death, no God, no Providence and no divine teleology, but rather only a physical world of life and death and the struggle to survive - a world of biological contingency and without higher meaning, into which kindness and love can inject an ephemeral beauty. During the Eighteenth Century Enlightenment when thoughts and ideas such as these were regarded as heretical and punishable by death, defending them was a truly Herculean challenge.
Notwithstanding that throughout its violent history, Christianity has been a relentless opponent of science, reason and rationality; its apologetic doctrines of theodicy have been invoked to provide a rational defense of the goodness of God in the face of widespread evil in the world. Theologians have been compelled to practice hand wringing intellectual gymnastics and gross perversions of logic to explain how an omnipotent, omniscient and perfectly moral God looks on and permits so much anguish, suffering and gratuitous evil in the world. Notwithstanding the widespread suffering of all other living organisms on the planet, the Christian reply to this dilemma has been that God has granted his human flock free will. But this simply will not wash. We’re told that if there was no evil in the world, humans could not choose between the good and the evil, and hence free will would not be possible. In addition to invoking a fallacy of false dichotomy, this is a non-intuitive answer that immediately raises a host of additional questions. Of course freedom of the will means that humans may choose to do evil. As history has graphically shown, many do indeed choose evil and, according to the standard Christian account, this choice will inflict divine punishment to the perpetrator, but only infractions called “sin” listed by the deity. But if God knew in advance that a particular person would use his free will to choose evil, and that as a result he would be punished for this by eternal tortures in hell, why did God bother to create this person in the first place? Theologians have written countless books to answer such questions such as accounting for the existence of psychopathic men such as Attila the Hun, Adolph Hitler and Ted Bundy. Like their arguments for the existence of God, none have been convincing.
As to the Christian God's universal goodness, I question the notion of hell and eternal damnation for people like myself who merely do not believe in metaphysical fictions like gods. A similar fate awaits those who believe in one of the countless alternative gods such as Allah or Vishnu. The Islamic mullahs, for example, reserve a spot in Muslim hell for those who do not believe in their deity, Allah. Both Christianity and Islam vilified natural sexual desire as lust and reason as pride, mortal sins both and punishable by eternal fires and torment. They perverted compassion and empathy into the practice of making people suffer in this world to bribe them into preparing for some imaginary bliss in an oxymoronic life after death. The courageous Enlightenment radicals and skeptics risked torture and execution by thinking it their moral and intellectual duty to convince their contemporaries that there is no God, no Providence, no life after death and no divine plan but rather only a physical universe in a life and death struggle to survive. The problems of humans in the only world that exists can only be solved by humans. The churches they deemed fraudulent and corrupt, serving only their own interests and those of the tyrannical monarchs and the profligate church hierarchy.
These considerations are more than a tacit recognition that rational creatures cannot live by blind faith alone. Unfortunately, it is also a self-refuting manoeuvre because it is logically infeasible to assert concurrently that (1) God is omnipotent and omniscient, (2) God is perfectly good and moral and (3) evil, much of it gratuitous, exists in the world.
If one wishes to abide by rationality and basic principles of logic, it's quite obvious that one of these claims must either be rejected outright or covertly subverted. For centuries, atheists argued that an all-loving, all-powerful) God is logically incompatible with the existence of evil, and thus the existence of evil provided a knock-down argument against God.
The standard form of this argument was provided by the late Australian philosopher J.L. Mackie in Evil and Omnipotence (1955).
Mackie demonstrated that theism can be disproved thus:
(1) If God exists, God is an omnipotent and wholly good being.
(2) A good being always eliminates evil as far as it can.
(3) There are no limits on what an omnipotent being can do.
(4) Evil exists.
Ergo, God does not exist.
As Mackie noted:
If you are prepared to say that God is not wholly good, or not quite omnipotent, or that evil does not exist, or that good is not opposed to the kind of evil that exists, or that there are limits to what an omnipotent thing can do, then the problem of evil will not arise for you.
Which premises might the theist attack? To deny (1) is to deny traditional theism, particularly mainstream Christianity. This was the strategy of Rabbi Harold Kushner in his bestseller, When Bad Things Happen to Good People. Kushner said that God wants to destroy evil, but he is unable to do so. He’s far too weak and impotent. But the traditional theist believes (1). So let’s move on from illogical machinations of Harry K.
It would appear obvious to any clear thinker that the theist must face the logical/rational problem of evil. Now, if it can be demonstrated that the alleged contradictions are real, would it not follow that there is no rational basis for the belief in an omnipotent and benevolent God? Would it not follow that the belief in such a God is, indeed, positively illogical and irrational?
These questions at once make it important to address the problem.
One might ask: why, if god made man in his own image, did he not make him incapable of immoral behavior and evil acts? And why in the interest of just desert and ethical accountability did he insist on an odious system of eternal rewards and punishments called heaven and hell. Moreover, one wonders why he allowed his own son to suffer and die a horrific death as atonement for the moral transgressions of mankind. In any meaningful moral community, are we not supposed to be responsible for our own unethical behaviour?
And what about other species, our animal friends for example, that have no conscience or awareness of the distinctions between good and evil, morality and immorality? Why would an apparent good guy god allow an innocent animal to suffer and die in a forest fire started by a lightning strike? Why did he order the lightning strike in the first place? Why would an innocent child be born with a horrific cancerous brain disorder and die after one month of agonizing pain? Was the cosmic god asleep at the heavenly wheel? And how does one account for floods, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, climate change, George Bush, Stephen Harper, Goldman Sachs and now, Donald Trump?
The devout often claim a god manufactured a "miracle" when someone survives a plane crash in which 200 others perished. What about the 200? And why doesn't the great wizard Christian god show us the beef and perform a real miracle like regenerating a severed limb, providing George W Bush with a brain, Stephen Harper with a heart or Donald Trump with a conscience?
And their silly spurious argument that god allowed evil people so we could understand the good is like inventing rape to understand how to love, feel affection and compassion. Sorry Mr. God, that won't do.
Couldn't you just give us a break for once, Big Guy? Since you know all and are responsible for everything that happens, why allow John Lennon, Martin Luther King, Gandhi and other peace loving humans to be murdered? Yeah I know, you're the alpha male boss and work in mysterious ways.
Metaphysics as Mysticism
“Man at last knows he is alone in the unfeeling immensity of the universe, out of which he has emerged only by chance. His destiny is nowhere spelled out, nor is his duty. The kingdom above or the darkness below; it is for him to choose.” – Jacques Monod, Chance and Necessity, 1971
In the book cited above, molecular biologist Jacques Monod, in opposition to the superstitious mythologies of religion, specifically Christianity, employed a bleak disenchanted scientific narrative to argue for atheism and the absurdity and futility of existence. Based on scientific studies of Darwin’s theories of natural selection, particularly in light of latest groundbreaking work in genetics and DNA by Francis Crick and others, Monod informs us that humans are merely chemical accidents in a majestic but impersonal cosmic drama - an irrelevant, unintended roll of the dice in a cosmic lottery. Monod went on to say that, “Among all the occurrences possible in the universe the a priori probability of any particular one of them verges upon zero. Yet the universe exists; particular events must take place in it, the probability of which before the event was infinitesimal. At the present time we have no legitimate grounds for either asserting or denying that life got off to but a single start on earth, and that, as a consequence, before it appeared its chances of occurring were next to nil. Destiny is written concurrently with the event, not prior to it... The universe was not pregnant with life or the biosphere with man. Our number came up in the Monte Carlo game. Is it surprising that, like the person who has just made a million at the casino, we should feel strange and a little unreal?” For Monod, “Armed with all the powers, enjoying all the wealth they owe to science, our societies are still trying to practice and to teach systems of values already destroyed at the roots by that very science. Man knows at last that he is alone in the indifferent immensity of the universe, whence which he has emerged by chance. His duty, like his fate, is written nowhere.” In short, in our agonizingly brief human life, meaning can only be acquired by taking an interest in it and be sustained by what we make of it. Anything less is a refusal to accept our animal nature and insignificance, in addition to a delusional abdication of intellectual autonomy and personal responsibility.
More than two thousand years ago Jesus ostensibly demanded that his disciples believe, to have faith even though they could not understand the mysterious ways of God. He told them that everything that has been “kept secret from the foundations of the world” will be revealed, “For nothing is secret that shall not be made manifest” (Matthew 13:35 and Luke 8:17). Moreover, he assured them that it would not take long: “This generation shall not pass away, till all is fulfilled” (Luke 21:32). As things turned out, like the Rapture, it did not happen; more than two thousand years later, it still has not happened. Christianity, like all the other hundreds of religions, has been a colossal failure in providing any coherent evidential explanation of our earthy existence or the origins of a seemingly infinite cosmos.  We know little or nothing about the young life of Jesus since the historical record is basically zero. Jesus is portrayed by Christians as a man who preached compassion, love, charity, peace, care for the poor and oppressed, in addition to other humanistic values. But he was also a man who understood the power of fear to motivate men. As a result, he was not above threatening those who challenged his program for salvation of humankind.
“He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day.” ( John 12:48, KJV)
“If a man abides not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.” (John 15:6, KJV)
In The Brothers Karamazov, Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky imagines a conversation between Ivan and his brother Alyosha, who is a Christian monk. Ivan says to his brother:
It’s not that I don’t accept God, it’s the world created by Him I do not and cannot accept. . . . I believe like a child that suffering will be healed and made up for, that all the humiliating absurdity of human contradictions will vanish like a pitiful mirage … something so precious will come to pass that it will suffice for all hearts, for the comforting of all resentments, for the atonement of all the crimes of humanity, of all the blood they’ve shed; that will make it not only possible to forgive, but to justify all that has happened...But though all that may come to pass, I don’t accept it...I won’t accept it.
Ivan tells his brother the story of the little peasant boy, in the dark days of serfdom, who was stripped naked on a cold and gloomy autumn day and was chased by the nobleman’s hounds. They ripped him to pieces while his mother was forced to watch. Ivan tells Alyosha that God’s “eternal harmony” is not worth the suffering of that one child. Why, we might ask, must so many children pay for God’s glorious utopia?
A Few Final Thoughts on the Psychology of Religion and Transcendent Experiences
“Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people” – Karl Marx
Marx’s contention about the attraction of is likely correct, especially in the feelings of unworthiness, fear and propensity to find pattern, purpose and meaning in thier lives and everyday experiences, many of which are contingent and seemingly chaotic. There is ongoing research into the cognitive and evolutionary science of religious belief that are shedding light on this long-standing pervasive peculiar behavior. For those of you who would like to seriously pursue this topic, there is a fascinating ongoing research program and online course sponsored by the University of British Columbia titled the Science of Religion at: https://www.edx.org/course/science-religion-ubcx-religionx#!
The course, presented by Edward Slingerland of UBC and Azim Shariff, who teaches psychology and social behavior at the University of California.
Skeptics, humanists and others will likely be familiar with these ideas, such as how pattern seeking, the need for eternal verities and teleology explain how the mind creates supernatural agencies such as gods. These ideas imply that our brains are predisposed toward thinking that there is design and purpose in life and the universe as a whole and that there must be an intelligent designer orchestrating the drama. For many, part of this package of beliefs is the acceptance of a just world hypothesis underwritten by a benevolent omnipotent deity, thereby saving us from ever intervening in the superfluity of gratuitous evil and injustice that pervades our planet. The upshot of this fantasy is generally an ossified political conservatism and resistance to change regardless of one’s miserable existence.
Evolutionary science and astrophysics should disabuse us of this. We should be able to cure ourselves of this transcendental impulse just as we have come to understand that the earth is spherical, diseases are not caused by demons and that all living things, including humans, eventually die. Many of us simply can’t progress beyond the powerful delusional urges to see meaning and purpose where there is none, deny scientific evidence and fact and even the most basic overly optimistic view of ourselves and our abilities. Moreover, there is our predisposition toward mind-body dualism despite the fact there is no evidence that humans possess a soul or any consciousness outside the physical body. But people have a natural sense of a mind-body separation that leads to a strong belief in the perpetuation of a non-material entity when the body dies. This notion ought to be dismissed by a number empirical examples, not the least of which is when a loved one suffers from dementia or a stroke. The physical damage to the brain more often than not changes the person so dramatically he becomes someone else other than the loved one we once knew, often not even knowing who they are themselves. But many people will continue to embrace the idea that their loved one has an uncontaminated soul that will occupy a spirit world intact. The belief in an immaterial soul that survives bodily death also attenuates our innate fear of death.
Marx’s quote on religion as a palliative is consistent with research on compensatory control. Many humans are psychologically motivated to bring control, order, and non-randomness to their world, choosing from a limited menu of conceptual defense mechanisms such as seeing or hearing patterns and adhering to superstitions and conspiracies, bolstering support for institutions that impose social control or believing in an interventionist god. By focusing on one of these, people can fool themselves into feeling safer, mitigating human anxiety. But even if we acknowledge some psychological benefits, religion is a very costly exercise both materially and intellectually. People squander money and time in adherence to faith by spending hours in church reading the same 2000 year old book over and over and worshipping and praying to an invisible sky wizard. They limit their potential by acceding to religious constraints that dictate how they may live and think, dismissing empirical evidence to the contrary and often most of modern scientific theory, including for some, medical science. And why the religious or anyone else would want to worship anything, be it a god, rock star, their smart phone or country of birth is mystifying. Humanists worship nothing, as all things encountered in the universe are open to skepticism and rational inquiry. Religion, in addition to its irrationality and anti-science positions, sows the seed of social division, and, at its extremes, provokes intellectual rigidity, intolerance and extreme violence. By understanding the cognitive components that make religion so intractable, we may develop social and psychological tools to loosen the control it wields over its adherents. One thing seems clear. Religion is the ultimate parasitic host on human psychology - the quintessential barrier to inquiry and curiosity antithetical to democracy and freedom of thought.
An important conundrum of monotheism and religion in general is confronting those religionists who claim to have had "religious" or "mystical" experiences. This is an inductive epistemological problem created by an empirical assertion by someone who has subjectively experienced god's presence, or perhaps has even communicated with a personal god. Notwithstanding the conflicting claims of hundreds of religions throughout history, this phenomenon has been often been offered as a proof of a god's existence. Anyone can make such a claim.
Possible explanations are (1) the person is lying; after all, in addition to self-deception, bullshitting and telling whoppers is one of our species' most common attributes or (2) the experience is a manifestation of something else. Perhaps the not uncommon phenomenon of hallucination is mistaken for the supernatural?
If any curious inquirer is to scrutinize the supernatural mythology of the world’s religions with a skeptical stance, it can be easy to understand why David Hume viewed these beliefs as the products of “sick men’s dreams.” But it is perhaps premature to dismiss religion-forming experiences in this manner. Deceit and prevarication are all-too-common human traits, but we risk resorting too hastily to skepticism, in order to relieve ourselves of the responsibility to investigate those phenomena that clash with our innate empiricism and day to day experiences. Or as in the case of advanced mathematics and quantum physics we simply may not fully understand and know how to explain them. For the man of science, religions derive not from the supernatural (which those with a scientific outlook reject), but nor do they generally derive from liars or madmen (although this has been the case in many instances). Rather, I suggest that religions may be the result of honest and sane but misguided or delusional individuals who experience three extraordinary but very natural phenomena: epilepsy, sleep paralysis, hallucinations and out-of-body experiences . There are multiple examples from Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Mormonism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism and even Native American religions but space prohibits detailed expositions. The reader can research this for himself.
Suffice to say that the undeniable commonalities of religious experience issuing from disparate cultures allow two mutually-exclusive possible conclusions. (1) These hallucinatory experiences, despite revealing no coherent metaphysical tale, are indicative of a supernatural dimension inhabited by incorporeal entities who manifest and bestow revelations unto an elite few; or (2) These enchanting experiences are the culturally-variant results of neurological anomalies, as erratic and as unreal as the imagination, yet erroneously taken as authoritative by the person experiencing them. Naturally, many believers maintain the untenable position that the hallucinatory experiences of their religion’s prophets are privileged, somehow exempt from the naturalistic explanations they will happily apply to the heretical delusions of the other religions’ prophets. When you speak with Christians who have has such experiences they conveniently see no hypocrisy in accepting the supernatural accounts in the Bible upon which their own faith is predicated, while simultaneously proposing the ingestion of psychoactive funguses as a dismissal of Joseph Smith’s angelic visitation – as if believing that Moses and Elijah actually appeared to Jesus, Peter and John, is somehow less preposterous than believing that the angel Moroni appeared to Smith, or that Muhammad flew to heaven on a horse. One Christian at my door claimed he was awoken nocturnally to the paralyzing presence of the luminescent Jesus; but when the apostle Peter had a nearly identical experience with angels in his prison cell two thousand years ago, his hypnotic hallucinations were recorded as holy scripture. What distinguishes a madman from a prophet is evidently that the latter’s hallucinations are believed. One mans religion it seems is another man’s fairy tale.
But interfaith disbelief is not the only kind that exists. Even within the same religion prophetic conflicts arise. Intoxicated by the persuasiveness of their own makyo revelations, each prophet was inalterably certain that he was the legitimate conduit of God’s infallible word. And so, to explain why others’ prognostications contradicted his own, Jeremiah simply declared that those other prophets “are prophesying to you false visions… and the delusions of their own minds” (Jeremiah 14:14; see also Ezekiel 13:9; 2 Chronicles18:20-22). For those who have never experienced sleep paralysis or out-of-body experience, a realist interpretation of these phenomena remains alluring because it demonstrates the existence of a spiritual dimension, and thus the possibility of an afterlife. Many also find the hope that there is “something else” out there enticing beyond the monotony of their lives. The lust for existential perpetuity and meaning, coupled with confirmation bias, leaves people averse to any information or interpretation contrary to the opiate induced fantasy. These psychological predispositions also encourage us to forget that we may retain the wisdom entrenched within these traditions while simultaneously emancipating ourselves from the mythology that initially inspired the judiciousness. Not doing unto others as we would not like done unto ourselves does not require belief in talking snakes. The belief in a body-independent soul is an infantile state of metaphysical development that even many intellectuals fail to outgrow.
Disturbing as these views may be, they are unsurprising when we consider that even most academics are either ignorant of or dismissive of such hallucinatory phenomena as sleep paralysis and out-of-body experiences. Despite having unknowingly recounted multiple instances of both phenomena in The Varieties of Religious Experience, William James remained oblivious to either. Or, speculating on the origins of religion in The God Delusion, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins considers a little girl who was regularly visited by a purple man “who would manifest himself, sparkling out of the air, with a gentle tinkling sound”. Unaware of sleep paralysis, blind to the diagnostic features of apparition, light and sound, Dawkins ponders thus: “Is the imaginary-friend phenomenon a higher illusion, in a different category from ordinary childhood make-believe?”. Dawkins then suggests Canadian neuroscientist Michael Persinger’s temporal lobe epilepsy hypothesis, to which renowned skeptic Michael Shermer also defers in his book How We Believe. This hypothesis posits that religious experiences are the result of seizures which are transient disturbances of cerebral function due to paroxysmal neuronal discharge (see Acts 9:3-4 for one of several possible biblical examples). Admittedly, epilepsy , sleep paralysis and out-of-body experience can exhibit overlapping symptoms, but the way they work are very distinct. This is evidenced by the fact that nearly half of humanity will sporadically experience sleep paralysis or out-of-body experience and apparently anyone can learn to induce them; but epilepsy occurs in only about one in two hundred people. In her exhaustive book Consciousness, psychologist Dr Susan Blackmore , a Zen Buddhist knowledgeable in sleep paralysis and out-of-body experience, makes the connection between sleep paralysis and ghosts, but only timidly proposes it for alien encounters and fails to even hint at it for religion.
Many door knocking Christians from a variety of denominations with whom I have attempted to engage in rational dialogue on my doorstep over the years inform me that they have had personal encounters with God or Jesus. I've told them that many people, such as myself, have never had such experiences. The most common response is that in order for me to experience this alleged transcendent level of "reality", I must pray and have faith. I have little doubt that the majority of people who report religious experiences are sincere. The big question is why they occur. There are scientific accounts for this behavior, including the sociological and psychological, stimulation of normal sensory channels against particular psychological backgrounds that induces people to assimilate their current experiences to some religious framework. The idea of religious experiences became especially prevalent in response to the corrosive critiques of religious texts and traditions that emerged from the Scientific Revolution and Humanist Enlightenment. The generally polite and friendly bible toting Christians I've met at my door make all manner of outlandish claims. One of the most common is that the book they hold in their hands is "the word of god" and that I should believe this book rather than those of men, implying that human inquiry, evidence and science have no chance against the conclusive immutable authority they deem their doctrines to entail. Notwithstanding the dubious premise and problematic conceptual issue with metaphysical entities such as "god", I try to point out that when they refer to "men", they are talking about the realm of science and other human modes of inquiry, but when they refer to the "word of god", they mean the myths written about god, by men. When I ask them about other alleged sacred texts such as the Koran or Book of Mormon, they are immediately dismissed as the works of deranged men and false gods. It's at this point that the dialogue usually deteriorates into a an exercise in futility.
The other related point I try to bring up with the religious marketers at my door, is the problem of competing religions, like their own, portray other religions as fraudulent and contaminated by "false prophets". The Christian missionaries who accompanied the brutal rapacious European invaders in the Americas and Africa dismissed the religions of the indigenous peoples they met as primitive, pagan and superstitions despite the fact that their own mythologies had no more evidential support or grounding in reality than those same indigenous populations whose land they stole and subsequently tortured and subjected to slaughter and genocide. Ironically, or not, many religions such as Islam and Christianity have very distinct similarities, despite the fact they have fought and slaughtered one another for centuries over minor doctrinal differences. In fact Christianity had battles with itself in countless wars of religion such as during the Protestant Reformation.
It's important to note that many people, religious or not, claim to have had all manner of implausible experiences of a paranormal and magical nature such as alien visitations from the ghost of Elvis, having gone on a tour of heaven and back to Protestant Evangelical Christians seeing Jesus in their breakfast cereal and Catholics who manage to see the Virgin Mary on a pizza. Such claims are surely not of the empirical status of stating that "I was mugged on the way to church" or "Uncle Ralph was sitting in the next pew last Sunday and stole two dollars from the collection plate".
And let's be reminded of the generally accepted fact that the burden of proof, as is the case in any honest courtroom or scientific investigation, is invariably on the individual or group making a claim. And be heedful of the famous quote by the late Carl Sagan, "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence". To my mind, there is a distinctly ethical component to belief, a notion for which I attempted to offer an extensive argument many years ago in a philosophy MA thesis titled Skepticism, Critical Thinking and the Ethics of Belief. Any epistemic position that potentially guides action that may affect the lives of others, especially including religious doctrines based on faith, demands ethical scrutiny. As the late 19th century English mathematician W K Clifford stated in his essay The Ethics of Belief:
"...it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence. If a man, holding a belief which he was taught in childhood or persuaded of afterwards, keeps down and pushes away any doubts which arise about it in his mind, purposely avoids the reading of books and the company of men that call into question or discuss it, and regards as impious those questions which cannot easily be asked without disturbing it--the life of that man is one long sin against mankind"
As Clifford understood very clearly, we do not generally accept the moral conduct of people who act without reason or evidence while at the same time expecting success or that everything will turn out well. For example, the devout religious believer who supposes that god, as in the Old testament story of Abraham and Isaac, has instructed him to kill his son, or that religious doctrine requires that he murder an abortion doctor or deny medical attention or medications to a family member suffering from a potentially curable cancer.
The great mathematician/philosopher Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) would very likely have concurred with Clifford's view, having written:
"I do not pretend to be able to prove that there is no God. I equally cannot prove that Satan is a fiction. The Christian God may exist; so may the gods of Olympus, or of ancient Egypt, or of Babylon. But no one of these hypotheses is more probable than any other: they lie outside the region of even probable knowledge, and therefore there is no reason to consider any of them. The fact that an opinion has been widely held is no evidence that it is not utterly absurd; indeed in view of the silliness of the majority of mankind, a widespread belief is more often likely to be foolish than sensible"
Religion, I dare say, is the preference of comfort and consolation over reality and truth. Bertrand Russell again:
“There is something feeble and a little contemptible about a man who cannot face the perils of life without the help of comfortable myths. Almost inevitably some part of him is aware that they are myths and that he believes them only because they are comforting. But he dare not face this thought! Moreover, since he is aware, however dimly, that his opinions are not rational, he becomes furious when they are disputed.”
The true character of acting from a position of faith is revealed when you examine the actions of those who are moved by a different faith, such as the Islamic true believers who flew airplanes into the New York twin towers on September 11, 2001. Or the Saudi Arabian government that regularly behead heretics of the Islamic faith for "crimes" such as blasphemy against Allah. Christians who are appalled by such acts ought to refresh their own historical memories of the Inquisition, torturing and burning at the stake heretics, including scientists and the numerous Crusades against Islam and internal wars of mayhem and slaughter during the Reformation. The blindness with which religionists from both Islam and Christianity commit themselves to acting in accordance with their preferred interpretation of a particular sacred text in no different from that of people who would express a similar passion for The Protocols of the Elders of Zion or regard Mein Kampf as divinely inspired.
The variety of religious experiences frequently generate contradictory claims about reality, demonstrating that all-inclusive religious experience is not a reliable source of knowledge. Moreover, while it is logically possible that some mystics actually do experience a fundamental reality while others do not, in the absence of further evidence - evidence other than the personal subjective experiences themselves - there is no way to distinguish "genuine" mystical experiences from delusional or hallucinatory ones. Also, religious experiences typically generate claims that cannot be corroborated by independent evidence and scientific principles of experimentation and repeatability.
We know the human brain is a complex mechanism, hardwired to recognize patterns, often conjuring up supernatural ones when none exist, such as random noises in the night. Also, attribution to causation is often difficult, even under diligent scientific experimentation. There are evolutionary explanations for such propensities to pattern and causation based on our ancestors vulnerability to countless predatory threats.
Notwithstanding the ignorance of many people to the rigors of scientific inquiry and mathematics, especially probability theory, I will cite a few plausible explanations for such mystical/religious experiences below based on scientific and psychological analysis. But not only are many people ignorant of science, mathematics, logic and history, most will never be presented with the well-established long-standing enlightenment case against theism and the supernatural. Not only will they not experience the arguments by brilliant philosophers and scientists against theism in the public schools, many will never have it presented in any systematic way at university either. This is particularly true in the United States where Darwin is often reviled, Christian fundamentalism is widespread, levels of religiosity are comparable with theocracies such as Iran and Saudi Arabia and the Theory of Evolution is not taught in the senior high school biology courses, despite the fact that modern biology is not understandable without it. Fundamentalist Christians in the United States are generally not only unashamedly ignorant of the complexities of Evolutionary Theory and particularly the confirmations from the extensive discoveries in the fields of Microbiology and Genetics, they are not aware that the early leading proponents of evolutionary theory were initially Christian, including Charles Darwin. Moreover, a few leading evolutionary scientists today call themselves Christian, including paleontologist Robert T Bakker and microbiologist Ken Miller who testified at the infamous Kitzmiller v. Dover Creationism trial. Creationism, as a legitimate counter to Evolutionary Theory is not taken seriously in any other developed nation in the West where Christianity is the dominant religion. Sadly, the pseudoscience of creationism and its successor "intelligent design" are even more prevalent in Islamic and Hindu nations.
An even more important inquiry into religious experiences concerns the role of hallucinatory experiences of those founders, gurus and mystics of the world's mainstream religions, in particular the most prevalent, Christianity and Islam.
The reader can read much more on religious criticism, humanism, philosophy and other topics at http://www.skeptic.ca/Home_Page.htm
 I’ve always considered the Bible as one of the most anti-intellectual, reactionary, immoral and violent books I’ve ever read. I’ve been eternally perplexed as to how any Christian who has actually taken the time to read this horrifying book in its entirety could remain a Christian. Many Christians with whom I’ve spoken, especially the solicitous ones who knock on my door with regularity, seem to be seriously lacking in knowledge about the book they claim is written, or at least inspired, by their omniscient deity. The Pew Research Centre’s Forum on Religion and Public Life conducted a survey of 3,412 Americans and found that atheists and agnostics scored highest on a measure of religious knowledge, surpassing Jews, Mormons, Catholics and various Protestant sects, including Evangelicals. This study raises the question as to whether if the obediently religious had more knowledge about their own religion, would they so readily engage in submission to its doctrines? I’ve often wondered how much if any of the canons of Christianity connect with the vast economic inequalities in the United States of America? The USA is the richest country in the Western World, by a wide margin the most religious and yet has the greatest economic inequalities. Also, the richest people in the United States are far less likely to be religious. For example, the two richest men in the US, Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, are avowed atheists yet atheists account for only 7% of the general population, the mirror image of the statistics for members of the National Academy of Sciences.
It seems to me that many, if not most, people are not religious because they’re convinced by their church pastor’s arguments for God’s existence and alleged scriptural inerrancy. In fact how many Christians have ever read a book on the philosophy of religion in which all the arguments for the existence a deity have been refuted? Even for very young children, invisibility is synonymous with non-existence. More generally religion is often merely an edifice of feelings and cognitive house built on emotional and psychological insecurities. Belief in God often comes not from evidence, but from teaching or indoctrination by parents, cherry picking certain passages from the Bible by church leaders or from some hallucinatory revelation that seems real. The purported evidence, which is often concocted by theologians who specialize in justifying beliefs credulously acquired that have been inculcated in childhood. Like the JWs at my door this morning, cognitive dissonance and confirmation bias are rampant among the religious. A survey of Americans in 2010 found that Christians were abysmally ignorant about the details, origins, history and doctrines of Christianity: only 42 percent of Catholics could name Genesis as the first book of the Bible, while only 55 percent knew that the bread and wine of the Communion become, rather than symbolize, the body and blood of Christ. Moreover, with rare exception Christians know precious little about the hundreds of other religions that hypothesize a god (monotheism) or gods (polytheism) and compete with the Christian version for adherents.
In1922, the American essayist and social critic H. L. Mencken wrote a short essay titled "Memorial Service". Here's how he began:
“Where is the graveyard of dead gods? What lingering mourner waters their mounds? There was a day when Jupiter was the king of the gods, and any man who doubted his puissance [power] was ipso facto a barbarian and an ignoramus. But where in all the world is there a man who worships Jupiter today? And what of Huitzilopochtli [wee-tsee-lohpoch'-tlee]? In one year-- and it is no more than five hundred years ago--50,000 youths and maidens were slain in sacrifice to him.”
Mencken went on to name a total of 189 pagan gods. He told how millions worshipped them; how men labored for generations to build them vast temples; how priests, evangelists, bishops, and archbishops served them; how to doubt them was to die, usually by torture and death by burning at the stake; how armies took to the fields to defend them against infidels; and how villages were burned, women and children slaughtered, and cattle driven off. All these, he pointed out in conclusion:
“...were gods of the highest standing and dignity--gods of civilized peoples--worshipped and believed in by millions. All were theoretically omnipotent, omniscient, and immortal. And all are dead.”
And why are they dead? It’s simply because the societies that believed in them disappeared – or were replaced by the gods of competing religions. When the Roman Emperor Constantine in the 4th Century CE declared that Christianity would now be the state religion, people stopped believing in the many Roman gods such as Apollo and Minerva. Of course these gods never in fact existed in reality any more than the gods that are believed in by millions of Christians, Muslims and Hindus. When the belief in a god dies, so does the mythical fabled god. As Mencken claimed, all the gods he mentioned are all dead. The track record of belief in supernatural entities and causes of natural phenomena is abysmal. Outside the realm of religious faith, they persist only among those credulous enough to believe in ghosts, goblins, poltergeists, fairies and the like. Supernaturalism has given way to naturalism, superstition to science. The gods mentioned by Mencken in his essay have lost whatever epistemic credibility, whatever evidential base and explanatory power they were once thought to have. Yet, in an age of science, rationality and enlightened thought, people continue to believe in gods and supernatural agency. More on Mencken’s skewering of religion, including the aforementioned essay, can be found here.
 There’s a strong correlation between the happiest countries in the world and the least religious countries in the world and along with Finland, Denmark and Iceland, Norway rates at the top of both lists. The two measurements have a complex relationship with each other since the appeal of religion is diminished when they are provided with public services and programs and therefore want for less. Moreover, it may be that atheism flourishes in nations where people demonstrate high levels of commitment towards egalitarianism, collectivism and a social democratic government with shared economic benefits such as free health care and education right through college. Health care and education in these countries are considered the best investments a country can make. If you have trust in your nation to serve the common good and care for the worst off of your fellow citizens, it would seem that putting blind faith in palliatives such as religion is rather pointless. Norway cemented its relationship with secular values just this year, eliminating Lutheranism as the official state religion, aligning the law with the dominant culture. No one in the Norwegian parliament resisted the change; in fact the churches supported it, in an excellent demonstration of non-believers, atheists and Christians working together to create a secular society for the benefit of all.
These revelations are of course based on what we mean by “happiness”. One definition that makes as much sense as most others is that “hapiness is the brief period between long stretches of unhappiness.” In our atomized acquisitive capitalist world, happiness has become synonymous with shopping for mostly useless rubbish that, once purchased, is discarded within a few months.
Another interesting statistic is the scarcity of atheists in prisons. In the US, which has 4-5% of the world population and 25% of all people in prisons, the number of self-described atheists in those prisons is less than 1%.
Despite the rabid embrace of the free market by many evangelical Christians, surely if Jesus were to return, as many claim, he’ be a revolutionary socialist and, unlike most evangelical Christians, against the death penalty (since he was personally subjected to a brutal state execution for challenging the prevailing Roman gods and political status quo).
 A recent study has determined that there is a link between brain damage and religious fundamentalism, an intellectual impairment produced by a malfunction in a region of the brain known as the prefrontal cortex. The findings suggest that damage to particular regions of the prefrontal cortex indirectly promote rigidity of thought displayed by both Islamic and Christian fundamentalism. The damage diminishes cognitive flexibility and openness, thereby inhibiting the capacity for curiosity, creativity, open-mindedness and acceptance of ambiguity that contribute to dogmatism and the acceptance of uncompromising doctrinaire religious beliefs.
Religious beliefs can be construed as socially transmitted cognitive depictions that involve supernatural events and metaphysical entities assumed to be real. Religious beliefs differ from empiricist or scientific world views which are based on how the world appears to our sensory apparatus, views and beliefs that are regularly updated as new evidence accumulates or when new arguments or theories with superior predictive power emerge. Religious beliefs, on the other hand, are not generally updated in response to new evidence or scientific explanations, and are therefore strongly associated with conservatism. They are fixed, inflexible and resistant to change, thereby maintaining and promoting predictability, coherence and certainty to the beliefs and norms of a society of individuals within the group.
Religious fundamentalism refers to an ideology that emphasizes traditional religious texts and rituals, thus discouraging skepticism and progressive thinking about religion and social issues. Fundamentalist groups generally display forms of cognitive dissonance and confirmation bias, opposing anything and everything that questions or challenges their emotionally comforting sclerotic beliefs, social practices and world view. For this reason, they are generally hostile and frequently violent towards anyone who does not share their specific set of supernatural beliefs and antagonism towards science, as these things are deemed existential threats to their entire worldview.
The researchers emphasize that cognitive flexibility and openness aren’t the only factors that make brains vulnerable to religious fundamentalism. In fact, their analyses showed that these factors only accounted for about a quarter of the variations in fundamentalism scores. Uncovering those additional causes, which could be anything from indoctrination, genetic predispositions to social influences. These are factors for a potential future research project that the scientists believe will occupy them for many decades, given the complexity and diversity of religious fundamentalism that, sadly, will likely continue for some time.
 A few quotes on religion by Nietzsche:
“Two great narcotics are alcohol and Christianity”
“In truth, there was only one Christian and he died on the cross.”
“A casual stroll through the lunatic asylum shows that faith does not prove anything…. Faith: not wanting to know what is true.”
“I cannot believe in a God who wants to be praised all the time.”
“In Christianity neither morality nor religion come into contact with reality at any point.”
“The only excuse for God is that he doesn't exist.”
“God, "he immortality of the soul, salvation, the beyond - even as a child I had no time for such notions, I do not waste any time upon them-maybe I was never childish enough for that?”
“Interest in Education will acquire great strength only from the moment when belief in a God and His care is renounced, just as the art of healing could only flourish when the belief in miracle cures ceased.”
“I call Christianity the one great curse, the one great intrinsic depravity, and the one great instinct of revenge, for which no means are venomous enough, or secret, subterranean and small enough - I call it the one immortal blemish on the human race.”
 One of the many intractable problems I had in reading the Bible was that every section of it, both Old and New Testaments, was so illogical and inundated with obvious falsehoods that it could never have been inspired by an omniscient being. Yes, I have read the Bible, unlike most I have known who call themselves Christian. Surely in reading a book written by an all-knowing deity, one would find an inspiring level of wisdom, morality, cogent argument and understanding far beyond anything written by the most erudite and brilliant earthling. Rather, what I found were the insane ravings of intolerant ignorant superstitious primitives and accounts of a tyrannical deity who committed grotesque atrocities, including genocide. The Book of Leviticus in particular is shocking in its brutality and wanton disregard for life. Another feature of the bible is its total lack of humor.
 Consider the approach taken by some liberal Christian theologians who, repulsed by the cruel genocidal vindictive god of the Bible and its morally obnoxious and intellectually pernicious philosophy, engage in unintelligible Humpty Dumpty word games and metaphysical mumbo jumbo. As Mark Twain pointed out, the divine Jesus of the New Testament outdid his father by inventing the doctrine of a hellfire and damnation (Hell, Hades) as a place in which all those who don't believe in him will suffer eternally while "the smoke of their torment ascendeth forever and ever." If you want present the air-brushed Christian narrative of God and Jesus while concealing those facts, among many others equally venal, you are being dishonest.
The efforts of liberal Christian philosophers to redefine the tyrannical alpha male deity of the Bible as an opaque metaphor, as does Paul Tillich in referring to the Christian god as the “infinite and inexhaustible depth and ground of all being”. Can anyone explain what this could possibly mean? Even the pronouncements Hegel and Heidegger seem comprehensible when compared to this conceptual gobbledeygook. The contorted efforts of men like Tillich are not unlike those Christians I have met over the years who inform me that “god is love” - which is synonymous with “love is god”.
When it comes to the theological utterances of Tillich and his ilk, I am befuddled. I’m reminded of the remarks of the eminent British biologist Peter Medawar who, in the first paragraph of his review of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin's much-lauded book The Phenomenon of Man, wrote that the greater part of what Teilhard asserted was "nonsense, tricked out with a variety of metaphysical conceits", and went on to add that "its author can be excused of dishonesty only on the grounds that before deceiving others he has taken great pains to deceive himself." As for Teilhard, ditto for Tillich, John A.T. Robinson, John Shelby Spong, and Don Cupitt. And, I might add, Medewar’s criticism of this sort of conceptual mystification, reification and theological obscurantism was too merciful.