JR'S Free Thought Pages
"One man's theology is another man's belly laugh." [Robert A Heinlein]
"Religions are conclusions for which the facts of nature supply no major premises." [Ambrose Bierce]
"All religions are founded on the fear of the many and the cleverness of the few." [Stendahl]
“Religion is the art of occupying limited minds with that which it is impossible to conceive or comprehend.” [Baron D’Holbach]
“The main irrationality of religion is the preference of comfort to truth.” [Richard Robinson]
"Religion is comparable to a childhood neurosis." [Sigmund Freud]
"For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever would believe in him would probably believe just about anything." [Unknown]
"Can atheists get insurance for acts of God?" [Unknown]
"What men usually ask for when they pray to God is that two and two may not make four." [Russian proverb]
Religions such as Scientology, Heaven’s Gate, The Order of the Solar Temple, Branch Davidians, and Raelians, and others of that ilk are often referred to disparagingly as “cults” by Christians, Moslems and other mainstream religious groups. A cult is a religion that is considered unorthodox, spurious or heretical by those religionists in the mainstream. A cult, however, in spite of its pejorative connotation, is really nothing more than a religion that has not achieved political power or cultural assent. Moreover, after close examination one will discover that their belief structures are no more irrational or outlandish than those religions that have achieved cultural acceptance. My former classmate Brian Fawcett, in his essay Missing John Lennon, has this to say about the religious mainstream:
In the aftermath of the Cold War, organized religion has become the prime threat to both the survival of the human and most other species, and the chief impediment to the intellectual and spiritual leap humanity needs to make if it is going to survive its obsolete instincts to dominate, murder and reproduce itself beyond the capacities of the food supply and land resources.
It isn’t just one of the religions, either. I’m non-denominationally anti-religion. They’re all bad: Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism. They make people crazy and murderous or they make them dangerously docile toward unearned authority. Either way, they make people morally myopic and intolerant of others.
Does religion offer people comfort? Sure, it does: religions give morons safe harbour from the complexity of the world. Do such safe harbours actually exist? No, they don’t. And the illusion of these safe harbours kills today, and will kill more murderously and violently in the future. Do I need to get specific about the Pope, or the current manipulators of Islam, Judaism and Hinduism? No, I didn’t think so.
And Robert Carroll maintains that:
Examined closely, however, the beliefs of Heaven's Gate or Scientology are no stranger than the beliefs which billions of "normal" people hold so dearly in their sacred religions. As has been noted by others, delusions held by one is insanity, by a few a cult, and by many a religion. To ask why anyone would believe such nonsense as the Scientologists or Heaven's Gate cult believe regarding alien beings and space ships, fallen angels, thetans, etc., but not ask why anyone would believe in heaven and hell, angels, devils, crucified gods, resurrections, messiahs, transubstantiation, the trinity, etc., seems inherently self-deluded. (Skeptics Dictionary, p. 94)
Two of the more farcical religions are The Church of All Worlds based on Robert A Heinlien’s popular science fiction novel Stranger in a Strange Land and The John Dillinger Society whose followers seriously believe Dillinger “died for our sins”.
Many people are not aware that Scientology was concocted by L. Ron Hubbard about fifty years ago and was essentially based on his science fiction writings at the time. He obviously came to the realization that forming a religion was more lucrative than writing novels. Two well known pea brain celebrities who are disciples of Scientology are Tom Cruise and John Travolta.
One of the most ludicrous religions spawned in the United States by a delusional charlatan racist by the name of Joseph Smith in the early Nineteenth Century is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saint (LDS). This oppressive religion is often referred to as Mormonism. I highly recommend the recent book by Jon Krakauer called Under the Banner of Heaven (2003) that chronicles the evolution of Mormonism and its sordid fundamentalism.
Mormon Fundamentalism links:
Some "words of wisdom and compassion" from famous Christians:
"Who will venture to place the authority of Copernicus above the Holy Spirit?" - John Calvin
"It is to be believed because it is absurd" - Tertullian
"To arrive at the truth in all things we ought always to be ready to believe that, what seems to us white, is black, if the hierarchical Church so defines it." - Ignatius de Loyola
"To assert that the earth revolves around the sun is as erroneous as to claim that Jesus was not born of a virgin." - Cardinal Bellarmine, trial of Galileo, 1615
"Heretics may be not only excommunicated, but also justly put to death." - The Catholic Encyclopedia, 1911
"The good Christian should beware of mathematicians and all those who make empty prophecies. The danger already exists that mathematicians have made a covenant with The Devil to darken the spirit and confine man in the bonds of Hell." - St. Augustine
"Hell was made for the inquisitive." - St. Augustine
"Man was made to rule, woman to obey." - St. Augustine
"Intercourse even with a lawful wife is unlawful and wicked if the conception of offspring be prevented." - St. Augustine
"The head of every man is Christ and the head of every woman is man" - 1 Corinthians 11:9
(1) "Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ..." - Ephisians 6:5 (2) "If a man beats his male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies as a direct result, he must be punished, but he is not to be punished if the slave gets up after a day or two, since the slave is his property..."And if a man smite his servant, or his maid, with a rod, and he die under his hand; he shall be surely punished. Notwithstanding, if he continue a day or two, he shall not be punished: for he is his money." - Exodus 21:20
For more Biblical Wisdom check out: http://www.evilbible.com/
"We know that reason is the devil's harlot, and can do nothing but slander and harm all that god says and does." - Martin Luther
"I have no compassion for a witch; I would burn them all." - Martin Luther
"The doctrine of the double motion of the earth about its axis and about the sun is false, and entirely contrary to Holy Scripture." - Pope Paul V
"Sin is the moral cause of earthquakes." - John Wesley
"Evolution is a bankrupt speculative philosophy, not a scientific fact. Only a spiritually bankrupt society could ever believe it...Only atheists could accept this Satanic theory." - Reverend Jimmy Swaggart
"No, I don't know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered as patriots. This is one nation under God." - George Bush, Sr.
(1) A website that attempts to clarify the conceptual problems associated with cults is: http://www.religioustolerance.org/cults.htm
(2) A very good website with a huge list of alterative religions, spin-offs from the mainstream, their gurus and followers can be found at: http://www.apologeticsindex.org/index.html
(3) An extremely funny satirical site on mainstream religions such as Christianity, Judaism and Islam can be found at: http://www.landoverbaptist.org/
By James A. Haught
Pentecostalism—in which worshippers compulsively spout incomprehensible sounds called “the unknown tongue” (glossolalia)—has become a major world religion. An estimated three hundred million North Americans and Southern Hemisphere residents now attend churches where glossolalia occurs. This faith is surging, while most other branches of Christianity fade.
Santeria worshippers sacrifice thousands of dogs, pigs, goats, chickens, and the like to a variety of deities that are partly Catholic saints and partly African jungle gods. Bodies of the unlucky animals are dumped into waterways. Miami police patrol boats fish out the carcasses. Santeria (“way of the saints”) is somewhat similar to voodoo, but it arose among Spanish slaves instead of French ones.
Many millions of Hindus pray over models of Shiva’s penis. They make pilgrimages to a Himalayan cave where a penis-like ice stalagmite rises in winter. In San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, many worshippers pray at a phallic-looking traffic barrier.
About five thousand fervent young Muslims have detonated themselves as human bombs in “martyrdom operations” to kill tens of thousands of “infidels.” The phenomenon peaked on September 11, 2001, when nineteen suicide volunteers hijacked four airliners and crashed them like projectiles to kill nearly three thousand Americans. The year 2007 had more than five hundred suicide attacks worldwide—well above one per day.
Another exception to Christian decline is the steady rise of Mormons. Latter-day Saints say an angel named Moroni revealed buried golden plates in New York State and gave Joseph Smith magical stones enabling him to translate the writing on those plates. The plates and stones cannot be examined as evidence today, because Moroni allegedly took them back to heaven.
Thousands of witch-killings still occur in tropical Africa, rural north India, Papua New Guinea, and other places with large numbers of uneducated people. When disease or drought happens, superstitious villagers blame old female “witches” for causing the blight, and mobs murder them. Saudi Arabia still has a law against witchcraft, which results in periodic beheadings. Today’s killings almost rival those of the historic medieval witch-hunts, when up to one hundred thousand women were tortured into confessing that they copulated with Satan, flew through the sky, changed into animals, blighted crops, and so on—then were burned.
Cult suicides and murders were an epidemic in the late twentieth century. More than nine hundred believers died in the 1978 Jonestown tragedy. Nearly one hundred others perished at Waco’s Branch Davidian compound in 1993. Various smaller cult massacres occurred—and Japan’s Aum Shinrikyo (Supreme Truth) sect planted nerve gas in Tokyo’s subway in 1995, killing thirteen commuters and sickening about a thousand.
Tibet’s Buddhists say that when an old Dalai Lama dies, his spirit enters a baby boy being born somewhere. So, the faith remains leaderless for about a dozen years, until the supposed spirit-receiving boy is found and proclaimed the next Dalai Lama.
Jehovah’s Witnesses say that any day now, Jesus will descend from heaven with an army of angels to clash with Satan and an army of demons in the long-foreseen Battle of Armageddon. After the destruction, only 144,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses will survive. This group is another that is growing while most of Christianity fades. Meanwhile, other sects await a somewhat similar scenario at the Rapture.
Advanced-level Scientologists say that every human contains “thetans,” spirits or souls that began as space aliens seventy-five million years ago and were sent to Planet Earth by an evil galactic ruler named Xenu. Scientologists pay money for therapy courses designed to “clear” excess thetans from their bodies.
The world’s 1.5 billion Catholics are told that the bread-like host wafer actually turns into the real flesh of Jesus—and the communion wine actually becomes the real blood of Jesus—by the miracle of transubstantiation during mass (although they still look like bread and wine). Disputes over this doctrine of “real presence” helped spur the Hussite Wars of the 1400s and the subsequent Protestant Reformation.
Creationists of the “young Earth” variety contend that this planet and the universe were willed magically into existence in six literal days, as Genesis says, around ten thousand years ago. They claim that humans and dinosaurs were created in the same week and coexisted. They reject science findings that the universe is more than thirteen billion years old. They reject evidence that dinosaurs went extinct at least sixty million years before the earliest humans developed. In fact, they reject any evidence of gradual development, insisting that all animals and plants were created instantly in final form.
“Cargo cults” grew in the southwest Pacific. During World War II, both Allied and Japanese armies built Melanesian island airstrips that received many tons of food, material, and supplies. Primitive tribes nearby thought the arriving riches were gifts that gods and ancestors had intended for them. Believers cut imitation airstrips in jungles, fashioned life-size aircraft of straw, and marched with wooden guns in hope of receiving airborne gifts from heaven. Previously, during colonialism, similar worshippers saw foreign goods arrive by ship, so they built makeshift wharves and performed rituals to induce gods to send them wealth by sea. All the god-enticing failed.
In the mid-1800s, a Chinese man read Christian pamphlets and had a vision in which God told him he was a younger brother of Jesus—and also told him to “destroy demons.” The vision-seer raised a religious army, the Taipings, which conquered much of China before being exterminated. The death toll is estimated as high as twenty million.
Aztec priests sacrificed an estimated twenty thousand people per year to an invisible feathered serpent and other fantastical gods.
In the 1800s, followers of Thuggee in India believed that the many-armed goddess, Kali, wanted followers to exterminate humans because Brahma the creator was making lives faster than her consort, Shiva the destroyer, could end them. Thugs strangled an estimated twenty thousand people yearly, until British rulers tracked them down and halted the carnage.
The Bible says that anyone who works on the Sabbath “shall surely be put to death,” and brides who aren’t virgins may be stoned to death on their fathers’ doorsteps, and gays must be killed, and on and on.
Religious absurdities are too numerous to count: Shi’ites whip themselves bloody with blades on chains because their hero, Muhammad’s grandson, was killed by a Sunni army fourteen centuries ago; Appalachian fundamentalists pick up rattlesnakes (sometimes with fatal results) because in the Great Commission, Jesus said believers “shall take up serpents”; Philippine Christians have themselves nailed to crosses on Good Friday, with real nails through palms and feet; Sufi “Whirling Dervishes” trance-dance and spout strange sounds; Christian Scientists let their children die of simple fevers because they think disease is imaginary; other believers, perhaps mentally ill, beat their children to death to “drive out demons”; Bible prophecy zealots repeatedly set Doomsday dates, but nothing happens (spurring headlines screaming “The Final Days Are Here Again”); and on and on, ad infinitum.
It’s often said that everyone should respect the “great truths” contained in all faiths. If you see any, please let me know.
James A. Haught is editor emeritus of the Charleston (West Virginia) Gazette and a senior editor of Free Inquiry. He is also the author of numerous books and articles; his most recent book is Fading Faith: The Rise of the Secular Age (Gustav Broukal Press, 2010).
America’s Strange Satanist Scare
By James A. Haught
Silly episodes related to religion flare occasionally—and America’s satanist hysteria of the 1980s and ’90s was especially ludicrous. Many fundamentalists thought the moon-and-stars logo on Procter & Gamble soap signified a secret pact with Lucifer. P&G sued born-again Amway dealers who spread the absurd tale.
Some evangelicals thought the blue-faced Smurfs cartoon show was a ploy to lure children into Satanism. Ditto for the Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game. Still others thought that heavy-metal records played backward conveyed messages from the devil.
A few declared that satanists kidnapped and sacrificed children at Halloween, although no kids were reported missing and no bodies were found.
All this might have seemed comical—fodder for late-night television jokes—except that an ugly wave of resultant prosecutions ruined many lives: dozens of day-care workers were falsely accused of using preschoolers in bizarre satanic rituals, complete with human sacrifice, sex orgies, and mystical mumbo jumbo.
Police, prosecutors, and courts were sucked into what has been called the “Satanic Panic.” Criminal charges were filed against a string of child-care centers and their staffs. There was no actual evidence, only lurid tales told by small children. In fact, some of the events described could not possibly have occurred—such as claims of seeing satanists fly in the sky or watching a satanist sacrifice an elephant and giraffe—but that didn’t stop the witch hunt.
Eventually, it became clear that the toddlers had been enticed to concoct weird stories by supposed “counselors” who used suggestive tactics—such as displaying anatomically explicit dolls and asking children to point to body parts that were violated. Meanwhile, some adults—under hypnosis by a few therapists—allegedly recalled “suppressed memories” of victimization that they had suffered in the past.
The peculiar saga started in 1980 when a psychiatric patient named Michelle Smith wrote a book titled Michelle Remembers. It said her psychiatrist (later her husband) helped her recall how she was abused in a satanic cult. Today, the book is considered rubbish—but it had power at the time.
Soon afterward, a schizophrenic woman accused the McMartin Preschool in Manhattan Beach, California, of being a secret den of satanism. Interrogators enticed tiny pupils to describe devil-worship, sex orgies, animal sacrifice, traveling through hidden tunnels, and being flushed down toilets into torture chambers. Operators Peggy McMartin and Ray Buckey were indicted on sixty-five counts. Their trial became the longest and most expensive in American history. In the end, both were cleared, and the whole affair was deemed a fantasy. The accuser was found dead of alcoholism.
Meanwhile, other satanic allegations erupted at more than one hundred day-cares across America. Horrific charges filled the newspapers. Television shows alleging satanism were hosted by Geraldo Rivera, Oprah Winfrey, and others.
One case involved day-care operators Dan and Fran Keller of Texas. They were convicted in 1992 after some of their charges said they were flown on airplanes into Mexico for murderous rituals—then returned in time for their unsuspecting parents to pick them up after work. A star witness for the Texas prosecution was cult “expert” Randy Noblitt, who later wrote that five hundred American satanist cells were sacrificing humans and also that then–President Bill Clinton was the Antichrist.
Finally, in 2015, the Texas Supreme Court voided all charges in the idiotic case. The Austin American-Statesman reported: “The Kellers spent more than 22 years in prison after three young children accused them of dismembering babies, torturing pets, desecrating corpses, videotaping orgies and serving blood-laced Kool-Aid in Satanic rituals at their home-based day care.”
Eventually in the 1990s, a wave of skepticism discredited the Satanic Panic. Investigative reports found that the whole nightmare had been imaginary. Books and movies denounced the hysteria. In 1995, Geraldo Rivera voiced a public apology for his previous satanism shows. “Now I am convinced that I was terribly wrong,” he said, adding that “many innocent people were convicted and went to prison. . . . And I am equally positive [that the] ‘repressed memory therapy movement’ is also a bunch of crap.”
In his landmark 1995 book, The Demon-Haunted World, astronomer and skeptic Carl Sagan denounced “repressed ‘memories’ of satanic ritual cults—in which sexual torture, coprophilia, infanticide and cannibalism are said to be prominently featured.”
“Something like 10,000 cases are reported annually in the United States in recent years,” he continued. “A significant number of those touting the rampant peril of Satanism in America, including law enforcement officers who organize seminars on the subject, turn out to be Christian fundamentalists; their sects explicitly require a literal devil to be meddling in everyday human life.”
Dr. Sagan said University of California researchers “examined over 12,000 claims of sexual abuse involving Satanic ritual cults, and could not find a single one that held up to scrutiny.”
Sexual molestation of children really happens. And a few rare sickos actually abduct and murder little children for prurient thrills. Sadly, the Satanic Panic diverted attention from genuine crimes. And now America’s great satanism scare has faded to a footnote of history, forgotten by nearly everyone. It was a crazed time of fundamentalist superstition run amok.