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Religion… What is it good for?

On the latest available research approximately 84% of the world’s population identify themselves as believing in, (or at least being affiliated with) one religion or another. Yet as the world reels in shock at the latest brutal fundamentalist attacks I find myself drawn to question whether or not the religions of the world, as self described moral arbiters, are now (or have ever been) truly fit for purpose?

From the crusades to the inquisition, from the burning of witches to the ritual sacrifice of children, from the institutional pedophilia of the catholic church to the slaughter of young girls for the “crime” of learning to read, there can be little argument that human history is replete with a litany of barbarous acts carried out in the name of religion.

jesus to jail

But what is it about religious faith that drives some people to embark on murderous repressive rampages against their fellow human beings? Is it their faith that actually drives them, or are they simply consumed by homicidal fantasies and religion conveniently allows them to cloak their dark desires in a veil of piety?


Jonestown massacre – suicide

If religions are, as they claim, providing the moral structure and framework under which human societies can and should live, then how exactly are we supposed to interpret, understand and deal with the actions of those who repress, brutalise and kill predicated on the belief that it will please their God, (and/or secure them some lavish reward in the afterlife)?

Seriously, what traits and characteristics can we reasonably attribute to an entity (divine or otherwise) that would engage in, or be delighted by such atrocities? Because to my mind merciful, benevolent, loving, and kind are not topping the list.



Admittedly these are not new questions, the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus was posing such questions as far back as 300BC:

“Is God willing to prevent evil but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able, and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither willing nor able? Then why call him a god?” Epicurus

But with 84% of the human family still adhering to the idea of a sentient, all knowing, personality based deity these questions remain just as relevant today as they were two to three thousand years ago.

As there has never been any definitive earthy proof as to the existence or form of God, it could be argued that each of us is free, within the bounds of our chosen faith, to define God in accordance with our own preferences. Even within the confines of a particular faith’s scriptures there is a smorgasbord of choices from which we can construct our own personal versions of God.

As a Christian you are free to choose the angry, vengeful, jealous God of Deuteronomy or the loving God of John 4:16 or Galatians 5:22-23.

As a Muslim you could go with the God of Quran 2:191, “And kill them wherever you find them, and turn them out from where they have turned you out. And Al-Fitnah [disbelief] is worse than killing… or you could align your heart with the more moderate God of Quran 25:63: The worshipers of the All-Merciful are they who tread gently upon the earth, and when the ignorant address them, they reply, “Peace!”


I have never met two people who have the exact same idea of who or what God is, and thus it appears to me that regardless of brand affiliations, God is pretty much what ever we want God to be. Kind of like the Subway sandwich of spirituality, we can put whatever we want into our God, and leave out or ignore any bits that aren’t to our taste.

But surely, if we are to assign responsibility for determining our ethical structures and moral conduct to a God, (or a set of scriptures, or a particular religion), then we need to be very wary of being seduced by our own subjective desires and interpretations.

twin tower pencils

If we accept the premise that any God we hold is actually a mirror reflection of our own preferences and tendencies, then how can we possibly use such a God or religion to accurately determine what is right or wrong without being swayed by our own predilections?

The fact is we can’t. With or without God, when it comes to determining what we hold to be right or wrong we are fundamentally on our own! What Gods and religions do seem to do for us however, (if we chose to interpret things that way), is grant us a free license to perform actions that are clearly harmful to others, blame our victims, and envelop ourselves in a shroud of moral righteousness and respectability while we are about it. It’s like the ultimate get out of jail free card.

That said, the search for absolute truth has always been difficult, and there are very few things that can be readily accepted by all peoples as unquestionably true, but I have managed to find a few. For example:

1.Human beings can not live in an atmosphere of liquid methane.

2.Human beings are not fish.

3. If you stop breathing you will eventually die.

4. If you do not eat you will eventually die.

5. You will eventually die.

Admittedly these “truths” are not really all that helpful when one is seeking to define indisputable parameters for righteous moral conduct, but then again on all evidence neither is God or religion!

No matter what we believe we all must take responsibility for our actions. If we go forth into the world with the will to harm others, then we need to understand that we are ultimately acting out the violence, hatred and defilements of our own hearts and minds. God and religion have nothing to do with it!

religion war


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  1. Peter Ball

    with what I saw in Vietnam – there is no God

  2. OldMate

    History shows religion as no friend of humanity. Blind faith without reason or evidence never leads anywhere good.

  3. Ian Joyner

    The only gift you can give is love. A present is a metaphor for that gift of live. A present given without love is a curse.

    The gift of religion without love is a curse. That is what we have seen in Sydney and Paris.

    “Men of good will who carry on that on that work will be divinely guided to use the new knowledge for constructive purposes and the betterment of human life.” – Paramhansa Yogananda on the splitting of the atom in Bhagavad Gita.

    It is better to put the love of God into people, not the fear of God.

  4. Lyle Upson.

    hi, this is a well written thoughtful article with little to challenge … hence i will post it to my FB wall

  5. Letitia McQuade
  6. Graham Houghton

    Toweringly excellent.

  7. John Kelly

    As an Atheist, I simply do not believe there is a god. That doesn’t mean that I know there is no god. Ask a committed believer and they will insist that they know there is a god. When asked to show how they know, they cannot provide any rational proof of what it is they believe. They fail, yet they believe. They call it faith. In having faith, they are abdicating their right to doubt. Yet, Thomas the apostle doubted so much he insisted on placing his fingers in the hands and side of Jesus before he would believe. When Jesus appeared before him, Thomas was not punished for his disbelief, in fact, he was rewarded. He placed his fingers into the wounds in Jesus’ side and hands and he believed (John 20:27).
    Well, when I can see, hear and talk to Jesus in a rational way, I too, will believe. Failing that, I am not aware of any other man-god that I could believe in and follow. i have never experienced anything in my life that I could not explain in a rational way, so I have no reason to believe there is some omniscient, omnipotent being out there, or for that matter, any life for us after death.

  8. Dame-Alison White

    For most of my life I was a committed non-believer. Following years of questioning and investigation I could not believe in any religion. I still can’t.

    HOWEVER, I experienced something last year that convinced me that there is a force that we cannot comprehend. A force that is pure enveloping love – all consuming and delicious. I experienced this in the context of a Christian ceremony (and at the time I was convinced somebody had spiked the muffins).

    I’m not sure that this force is purely Christian – but that Christianity, as other religions,merely tap into it.

    I might be nuts – but what I felt is as real as the love I bear for my children.

    I still retain my suspicions about organised religions tho – they appear to be merely convenient edifices for some to gain power over others.

  9. Lyle Upson.

    in my own research as relevant to my writing project, i am studying the concept of worldview in relation to communication barriers … on this topic of God, as indicated in the article, we each have an interpretation, thus 7 billion different definitions for the single term, God

    as such, some of your readers might be interested in this book. It is easy to read and not lengthy (130 pages) … From Science to God, by Peter Russell isbn 978-1-57731-494-3

  10. Kaye Lee

    Regardless of beliefs, I find the practice of worship incredibly wasteful. I do not understand the point of it. Assuming there is a god and that his aim is for us all to be good to each other and to protect his creation, would he really want us wasting billions of dollars on ornate edifices and ceremonies? If we don’t pretend to eat his body and drink his blood will we no longer hear the song of love? Why would god require chastity? Does god want the Vatican to be the biggest player on the world stock market and to collect art works that are beyond valuation? It all seems so contradictory.

    My “god” is nature and my conscience is my guide. All religions have some form of “do unto others” – that’s good enough for me.

  11. miriamenglish

    There are three easy answers to religion posing as having any credibility:

    1. All religions dismiss all other religions. They say that their belief can’t be dismissed by logic because faith is all that’s required to see its truth, yet they easily dismiss faith in all other religions. It is the only thing that all religions get right: that all the other ones are wrong.
    2. It is simple to dispel the idea that a soul exists. See my short description of this at my website. Without a soul there is no sense in religion.
    3. The scientist Gregory Paul decided to find out for once and for all whether there was anything to the religious insistence that religion gives moral guidance. He collected statistics from many countries around the world and compared them. I think he was expecting to find no correlation, but instead he found a negative correlation — the more religious a place is, the worse their morality; the more atheist a place is, the more moral they are. This result, surprising to some, was published in the Journal of Religion and Society. They’ve since made it impossible to access the article as a normal web page, but it is possible to find it there as PDF:
      If, like me, you dislike cumbersome PDF files, I’ve reformatted into an easier-to-read HTML page. In 2005 Phillip Adams interviewed him about the research and his methods and conclusions.

    You only need to look at the scriptures of various religions to see how absurd they are. The flood myth appears in many of the old religions, but people usually don’t look past the silly idea of fitting two of every animal on an ark, and don’t notice the morality of a god who after screwing up his creation so badly decides rather than fixing it, by perhaps reasoning with people and providing a good example, he decides it’s easier to just murder everyone and start again. Yes, folks. All those babies and puppies and kittens and songbirds were just too evil. And there are other obviously silly things like Mohammed flying up into the sky on a winged horse, or the dubious sanity of Abraham, willing to cut his son open as a sacrifice (goodness knows the impact on the kid if this was a real event), or the psychopathology of a god that destroys the health and murders the family of his biggest fan (Job) on a whimsical bet to prove that he’ll still bow down to him. How incredibly repellent are these stories when viewed through modern, moral eyes?

    In all these supposedly moral religious books there is no comprehension of just how unspeakably wrong slavery is. Jesus never condemned it, but told slaves to obey their masters. You would think that an all-knowing, just, and compassionate god would understand this. And speaking of justice and compassion, where is either in the decision to torture people for not believing in such ridiculous religions? Any amount of torture for this “sin” is bad enough, but torture forever??? If nothing else that alone should persuade anyone that even if such a god did exist it should not be bowed down to. And what’s with all the bowing and scraping anyway? For years I worked building 3D virtual worlds on the internet. I have a great interest in building artificial intelligences and long ago I decided that if I ever manage to populate one of my worlds with such creatures I would never want them to bow down to and worship me. I’m not that insecure or needy. I would just want them to ignore me and get on with living good lives. In fact I wrote a short play on this very topic. As an example of my approach, when I was the creator of a social virtual world some years back, the people who visited the world wanted to refer to me as the god of that world, or at least the manager, but I asked them all to refer to me as the janitor.

    A god who requires praise isn’t worthy of it any more than a dictator is, especially if it threatens punishment for not worshipping.

    All religion is organised insanity.

    Thankfully, all over the world religion is in decline as we become smarter, more peaceful and more moral. When I consider how powerful modern technology makes the individual, it is a great relief that we are abandoning such lunacy. I only wish we were abandoning crazy bloodthirsty Bronze-Age gods faster. Our very existence may depend upon it.

  12. Kaye Lee

    Parts of my family are very religious. Because it meant a lot to them, I investigated having my children christened (so their grandmother would stop crying about them spending the afterlife in purgatory). Neither the Anglican nor the Catholic Church would agree to a non-denominational “welcome to the House of the Lord” type ceremony. They both obliged me to make promises I knew I would not keep so, much to some family members’ despair, my children remain unchristened. That has not stopped their grandparents speaking to them about it still. On the plus side, a Vatican committee that spent years examining the medieval concept of limbo published a much-anticipated report in 2007, concluding that unbaptized babies who die may go to heaven. Phew!

    And then there is Galileo….

    On February 15, 1990, in a speech delivered at La Sapienza University in Rome, Cardinal Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict XVI, said

    “The Church at the time of Galileo kept much more closely to reason than did Galileo himself, and she took into consideration the ethical and social consequences of Galileo’s teaching too. Her verdict against Galileo was rational and just, and the revision of this verdict can be justified only on the grounds of what is politically opportune”

    I mean seriously…….

  13. deanyz1

    All I know is that I became concious of my existence in this world and have adapted to it. What was before? Nothing. What is after death? Nothing. After the next coming nothing, will there be another conciousness of existence? A reincarnation? Ego and memory wiped. A new life to adapt to. But a different level of conciousness based on karma. Spiritual evolution?
    MY concept of “God” is that it is a collective noun for all that is.

  14. John Fraser


    Ratzinger got away with more than Abbott.

    But Abbott is making up lost ground.

    Rat …. zinger ………. a lot of people most likely think thats another one of Shortens.

  15. John O

    Religion causes nothing but poverty, hardship, discrimination and suffering. You really don’t need a thousand words to explain something that simple.

  16. Mike

    Someone forgot to tell those terrorists those virgins were male

  17. Mal Fisher

    A very thoughtful article and the author’s insight into this issue is spot on

  18. johnlord2013

    The ability of thinking human beings to blindly embrace what they are being told without referring to evaluation and the consideration of scientific fact, truth and reason,never ceases to amaze me. It is tantamount to the rejection of rationale explanation’

  19. johnlord2013

    ‘Commitment to the use of critical reason, factual evidence, and scientific methods of inquiry, rather than faith and mysticism, is the best way of providing solutions to human problems’

  20. revolutionarycitizen

    The Soviets, Maoists and Stalinist North Koreans are or were all atheists and their very human belief in ethics never stopped them from committing the worst atrocities known to mankind.

    We often forget that we are all human, religious or otherwise, we are all human and must bear the responsibilities alone for that which we do.

  21. Mike

    Letitia McQuade

    A few years back my autistic son’s psychologist brought up the topic of faith which I replied that will be their choice and faith isn’t my belief, I asked her does she believe in the almighty, she replied with having a belief but not in the traditional sense and explained that it’s healthy to believe in something, something to have faith in. Well today I’m still pondering that reply

  22. miriamenglish

    RevolutionaryCitizen, those things you mention are all examples of irrational belief in something and deep commitment to it based upon faith only, regardless of facts. Religion is the most common of these kinds of beliefs, but there are many others that are harmful too. There is racism — the belief that some miniscule genetic difference makes one superior or inferior; there is economic “rationalism” which is anything but rational and believes in the invisible hand of the market fixing all things, despite all the evidence to the contrary; there is aristocracy (or any of its variants) where a group of people believe that they are worthy and others are not, the proof being the circular argument that they have the things that make them worthy so of course they are worthy. There are many more. As I say, religion is the most common, and I think, the most damaging. Unlike many of the other belief systems it actually encourages and rewards ignorance of things that might undercut it. A racist might accidentally develop a friendship with some other person and come to question their beliefs; a free marketeer might be confronted with the insanity of banks destroying markets and see a problem with unregulated markets; a member of the privileged class might see a poverty-stricken genius and realise the folly of classist society, but a religious person has great difficulty questioning their religion because often it is cast as temptation by the devil.

    Letitia, I’ve always been puzzled by people (like your doctor) who say that a person has to believe in something, or that belief is somehow good for you. I am the happiest person I know and I don’t believe in anything. I know plenty of deeply unhappy people who cling desperately to all manner of beliefs. It strikes me as incredibly counterproductive. Believing in something makes you more likely to be wrong because it makes it difficult to change when more information becomes available. Isn’t it easier (and more fun) to simply ride information like a bird? When another wind comes you let it lift you higher, enabling you to see further. People who keep themselves tethered to inflexible beliefs don’t ever get to experience the exhilaration of riding free on knowledge, letting it take you wherever it goes. In fact they fear it. Why? I really have no idea. Why would people fight against reality? Why would they defend (sometimes to the death!) broken beliefs? Why would they ferociously maintain a mistake? It has always been a great puzzle to me.

  23. revolutionarycitizen

    It is a matter of perception, no-one has an open mind, we see things through the lens of our own creation, even religious people can not escape the biology of the human brain.

    Like racism, racism isn’t actually created from an idea, it is an idea created from biology, humans are herd animals and as such are biologically driven to be herded with members of the same herd. Which in itself isn’t dangerous, it is a natural requirement that helps fulfill our prime biological directive, mate and pass on our genes to create another generation with the same genes. It is when you add something more to it than that does it become dangerous, it is when people attach some non-existent value beyond the biology does it become dangerous.

    Religion, or even lack there-of is much the same, it exists primarily as a means to segregate the herd, and much of it is rather valueless, and what isn’t valueless is a matter of perception. It is when you begin adding greater values to things that don’t warrant them is where the danger lay.

    And that is also true of anything that is an “ism” and regardless of what “ism” it happens to be, because all “isms” revolve around an idea that is entirely open to changes in perception but ultimately require some measure of faith and adherence, and when faith and adherence over-come perception and human perception it becomes dangerous.

    And that is because human perception is shaped by experience and learning, and anything that can over-come that is going to be dangerous.

    Like people believing they can fly whilst hallucinating, and then trying to fly even though everything they’ve learnt and experience before hand telling them it’s a bad idea.

  24. stephentardrew

    What do you do if you have no religion and a strong predilection for science and logic yet at certain times in life experience a profound sense of infinity and love. I can assure you that neurophysiology cannot explain such experiences. I would imagine their are a substantial number of people who are trapped in the same situation. One then becomes alienated because neither the ideologues, agnostics nor atheists demonstrate any tolerance for such difficulties. A deep study of physics, time, counterintuitives, paradox and infinity leads to one conclusion. We are primitive epoch relative dunderheads and if we think otherwise lets see how well science and religion have worked towards the alleviation of suffering and inequality. Scientist are the master of war after all. Who else builds the weapons. Religion drives me mad and dogmatic atheists are just narrow minded absolutists. One must ask what is the difference when both practice absolutism in an epoch of not knowing and substantial ignorance.

    So I sit with no one however I know enough about science, time, quantum mechanics, gravity, relativity, dark energy, dark matter, inflation, paradox, grand unification, M-theory the inability to unify gravity and quantum mechanics, consciousness, free will and so on, to realize we are completely in the dark as to the nature of reality.

    Each of us should witness our overarching urge to be the knowers of truth when in science there is no truth only epoch relative proof. People who do not have a deep understanding of science claim too much when so much is up for grabs. Two hundred, or two thousand even a millions years further evolution and we are the future primitive ants of a forgotten epoch.

    A bit of humility helps.

    Psychologist consistently demonstrate that to survive people need a sense of mystery awe, wonder and hope. To deny it is to cause untold distress and anxiety. We need to think long and deep about our assumptions. I have learned to stand alone in my own insight free from the approval of others.

    I say this with much reticence however honesty is the best policy.

  25. eli nes

    Thanks, I have long tried to argue that god seems unable to do anything but the devil has a field day. Epicurus nailed it.
    The point that religion is by men for men seems to be lost on women. The ‘fact’ that women were first born painlessly from a man peacefully sleeping seems also to be accepted by women.
    (We athiests are so helpful in blaming the victims)
    ps for those who are desperate for a ‘in the beginning’ try ‘mobius’!

  26. Jexpat

    Many fine sentiments have been expressed in this thread.

    Unfortunately, my experience with and observations on organised religions and cults (there is considerable overlap) lead me to conclude that most of them, with some notable exceptions, are quite authoritarian and dogmatic. Their leaders and at least a sizeable plurality-if not a majority of their followers tend to subscribe to this bit of advice, rather than Ian Joyner’s above:

    “….it is better to be loved than feared, or the opposite?

    The answer is that one would like to be both, but since it is difficult to combine the two it is much safer to be feared than loved, if one of the two has to make way.

    For generally speaking, one can say the following about men: they are ungrateful, inconsistent, feigners and dissimulators, avoiders of danger, eager for gain, and whilst it profits them they are all yours. They will offer you their blood, their property, their life and their offspring when your need for them is remote.

    But when your needs are pressing, they turn away.

    The prince who depends entirely on their words perishes when he finds he has not taken any other precautions. This is because friendships purchased with money and not by greatness and nobility of spirit are paid for, but not collected, and when you need them they cannot be used.

    Men are less worried about harming somebody who makes himself loved than someone who makes himself feared, for love is held by a chain of obligation which, since men are bad, is broken at every opportunity for personal gain. Fear, on the other hand, is maintained by a dread of punishment which will never desert you.

    ~Niccolo Machiavelli

  27. miriamenglish

    Stephen, I see no contradiction between having no religion, having a great affinity for science and logic, and feeling a profound sense of infinity and love. It is natural that we feel these things when faced with the appropriate triggers. I feel the emotions flooding my brain as exquisite hormones mix in my bloodstream upon viewing the latest extraordinary pictures from Hubble.
    And I I tingle with drowsy affection that tingles my fingertips, curls the corners of my lips, and hoods my eyes when I touch the one I love. Again, perfectly sensible when seen as functions of the brain and hormonal system. This knowledge enhancing rather than diminishing my enjoyment.

    I assure you neurophysiology can explain such things. Certainly, it is still a growing science, but maturing very rapidly. Not only can we see what makes parts of those emotions work, we can see what happens to those who are missing parts through injury or disease. No mysticism needed.

    Consider knowledge as being like a spotlight illuminating an infinite plain. As we learn, so the spotlight enlarges, illuminating more, and as it grows, so does the edge of the spotlight. That edge represents the questions we have. As we learn more we naturally have more questions. It is wrong to think that we know nothing merely because of feeling overwhelmed by proliferating questions. It is also wrong to assume that because some of what we accept will turn out to be wrong later, that we know nothing. We do have great understanding of the world if we care to learn, and we have more information available to us than any people ever before in history, and with the advent of the internet we don’t have to be a member of the ruling class to access it.

    We can ride the winds of change and never stop learning. That is something truly amazing. No other creature gets to do this.

  28. miriamenglish

    Machiavelli’s advice doesn’t apply to this era. People get smarter and more gentle and more moral with every year (though there will always be throwbacks like Tony Abbott and his band of thugs). We have come a very long way since Machiavelli’s time.

    In fact, I wonder if his advice ever really applied. People consistently make stupid mistakes regarding fear. For instance, many people think torture works, when all the evidence indicates it is utterly ineffective; people who don’t know anything will say whatever they think the interrogator wants to hear, making it impossible to sort out misleads. On the other hand if someone has genuine information the torture generates hate so intense that the victim tends to never give up their information. A similar error is made when nations bomb other nations during war, attempting to break the civilians to persuade them to get their leaders to give up. It never works because the population sees the terror bombings as done by inhuman monsters and they fear losing because of what they might suffer at the hands of those monsters. Another example: bullies and thugs think they are able to rule those around them with fear, but they inevitably come to a sticky end when, either those they terrorise get sick of taking it anymore, or else they are knocked off by the next candidate bully or thug.

    Fear doesn’t work, at least in the long term. Love and respect are far more powerful and effective.

  29. Jexpat

    Oh Miriamenglish but it does. In spades.

    Take but one example: the Catholic diocese over the past several decades with its war on women and gays, its paedophilia and at least until Francis came along, hypocritical promotion of right wing extremism through intimidation.

    Much the same -and worse can be said of Mormons and their efforts (along with their control via fear over their “flock”).

    We could go on and on down the list.

    As to people growing smarter and more moral every year, I truly wish that were the case (just as I wish that the atmosphere and oceans were cooling down every year) -but my own observations have tended rather emphatically to show the opposite.

  30. Annie B

    Letitia ……. a superbly written article, covering so very much, so thoroughly, so thoughtfully and with much wisdom. Thank you.

    The fact that your article has opened such commentary as seen here, says everything about you as a writer …. there are not many who could bring forth such an extraordinary array of genuine feeling, deep thought, respect, honesty ( about their own feelings ), research, knowledge, beliefs and all with lack of pretense.

    Brilliant – absolutely brilliant.

  31. Annie B

    To miriamenglish and Jexpat.

    Agree that Machiavelli’s ‘advice’ is probably not relevant in one sense ( he was born in the 15th century and is seen as founder of political science and political ethics – in my opinion the words ‘political ethics’ is an oxymoron ! ) ….. there are many ‘machiavellian’ traits in people in this world today – perhaps more so than yesteryear.

    It has however gone beyond politics, into domestic life, work life, neighbourhoods, families ……. I am very sad to say. Machiavellianism is alive and well and living among – and within, us. It is demoralising, it is cruel manipulation, and it is specious. …. it also masquerades wonderfully in many churches and religions.

    Each century has had its own forms of fear mongering, and its own understanding of what love is, much the same as each country, race of people etc. have had these forms of fear and understanding of love.

    If fear can be aligned with hate – ( which it can be and is rightly so, in many instances ) …. and fear [ hate ] and love are two sides of the same coin. …… which is a very long held theory …. then it simply amounts to the fact that we can be both …… or more predominantly one – or the other. We can all love ( whoever, whatever ), and we can all have a dark side. …… Depends on many many factors, as to what we choose to do as adults and which ‘path’ we aim for.

    As to both your comments about people being smarter, gentler – more moral……. I agree – we are definitely smarter ( in concept and knowledge ). And in some respects we have more gentleness -.-.-.-.- but morality, ( values and principles of conduct ) ? … On that we have sadly regressed.

    I wish I could have ended this on a more positive note.

  32. Annie B

    p.s. … I want to make clear my use of the word fear. …. I meant the fear perpetrated by one or some, onto another or others … in order to dominate and demoralise.

    NOT fear as in ‘ being afraid ‘ …. i.e. personal fears or phobias that come from within the individual.

  33. Douglas Evans

    Thanks Letitia McQuade I enjoyed this piece. It raises a lot of profound questions. The title suggested to me another simplistic ‘new atheist’ broadside against formal religion but on my reading the position presented is more subtle than that. Here are a few random thoughts provoked by the piece.

    You wrote: “But what is it about religious faith that drives some people to embark on murderous repressive rampages against their fellow human beings? Is it their faith that actually drives them, or are they simply consumed by homicidal fantasies and religion conveniently allows them to cloak their dark desires in a veil of piety?”

    Unfortunately you don’t seem to seriously address this important question. What is the answer? Is religion the cause or simply the excuse for the sort of barbarism that motivates this piece? You seem to assume the former and present later in the piece scriptural evidence of the dark aspect the deity in both Christianity and Islam as evidence. But is there a single answer to this important question? What of other religions? Can they be treated as one? For example what of Buddhism that acknowledges no deity, does not demand faith of its adherents and explicitly and unambiguously disavows violence? When Christians and Moslems go on the rampage perhaps it can be claimed that their religion sanctions or even demands this behavior but when those who identify as Buddhists do likewise it certainly cannot.

    It is interesting that ‘humanist’ critiques of formal religion almost never question the reasons for its ubiquity? So often it seems to be regarded defacto as some sort of primitive aberration that we are in the process of outgrowing. But is this so. The Pew survey you refer to seems to dismiss this possibility.

    The best writing I have discovered on the shortcomings of contemporary religion (albeit now generally 60 or 70 years old is by Carl Jung. In respect of Christianity Jung agrees the Christian message has lost its ‘collective’ potency. However he argues this in no way diminishes our ‘hard wired’ individual need for spiritual nourishment. He further argues that purely rational ‘secular’ substitutes are incapable of satisfying this need. Food for thought for humanists?

    You wrote: “what traits and characteristics can we reasonably attribute to an entity (divine or otherwise) that would engage in, or be delighted by such atrocities? Because to my mind merciful, benevolent, loving, and kind are not topping the list.”

    Specifically on this topic as it applies to Christianity the best bit of writing I know is Jung’s ‘Answer to Job’. It can be found online and it is really worth reading for anyone seriously interested in this topic. It was Jung’s last major piece of writing and he considered it his best. In it he writes:
    “At one moment Yahweh behaves as irrationally as a cataclysm; the next moment he wants to be loved, honoured, worshipped and praised as just. He reacts irritably to every word that has the faintest suggestion of criticism, while he himself does not care a straw for his own moral code if his actions happen to run counter to its statutes. One can submit to such a God only with fear and trembling, and can try indirectly to propitiate the despot with unctuous phrases and ostentatious obedience. But a relationship of trust seems completely out of the question to our modern way of thinking.” Jung seems to be with you on this one.

    Jung was a genius and I can’t recommend his writing on this topic highly enough. He addresses the dilemma of whetehr or not the deity can be regarded as all loving all knowing with remarkable thoroughness.

  34. Douglas Evans

    Stephen Tardrew I agree with every word.

  35. miriamenglish

    Jexpat and Annie, we are getting smarter with each generation. It is known as the Flynn Effect. Exactly why it occurs is much debated, and there are many theories. That it is due to nutrition doesn’t seem to hold up when you consider that the observed increases even occur in extremely poverty-stricken places. My own thinking (because of my interest in neurophysiology) is that the enriched early life of children now causes their brains to grow many more internal connections, making them smarter. This is true even in backward places. In the first world children are no longer “seen and not heard” but are showered with stimulation from their earliest days.

    As for morality, just look back to the 60s when Australian Aborigines were not allowed to vote as they were considered less than full human beings, women couldn’t borrow large amounts or buy very expensive items without the signature of a man — husband, father, brother — children were still regularly subject to physical beatings at school, animals had no rights at all because you owned them body and soul, it was a man’s business if he beat his wife and if he did it was thought that she probably drove him to it so it was her fault, there was no real attempt to consider rape a crime because the woman was considered the cause. I could go on… and this is just a bare 50 years ago. Step back another 50 years and things were much worse. Human life had much less value than today. And things worsen the further back in time that you look.

    Humans are definitely becoming more moral as they grow smarter. I don’t think this is an accident. It seems clear to me that, generally speaking, great intelligence must lead to better morality. It plays an important part in a lot of the Science Fiction stories I write (free for reading or download from my website It gives me great hope for the future. The main thing that worries me is the current race between our increasing rationality and the great destructiveness of our capabilities. Whether our intelligence will increase fast enough to save us from self-destruction is a bit of a gamble and too close to call at the moment, though I think there are good indications that we will narrowly manage to fix things in time. Many places around the world are opting majority renewable energy and some even moving to 100% renewables, with solar panels being adopted faster than mobile phones were and wind power now cheaper than coal; right-wing corruption is declining even as it paradoxically appears to grow (Tony Abbott was not actually voted in, he got in on preferences through lots of small fake parties, and the Republicans did not win the recent midterm election in USA on numbers as 20 million more people voted Democrat, but their non-proportional system distorted the result); the religions are becoming more vocal even as they shrink in numbers and gradually die of disinterest — churches are closing down all over the Western world because they’re unable to attract enough flock. They’re being sold to people to renovate as homes or turn into restaurants.

  36. Douglas Evans

    Anomander. I really enjoy Tim Michin. I admire his talent, his energy and his irreverent humor but he’s a crap philosopher. I came to him pretty late and only read the graphic novel version of ‘Storm’ just before Christmas. Do you know it? It’s a very pacy rant attacking unevidenced mysticism from a not very informed ‘rational-sciency’ viewpoint. It’s also an animated movie that I think I found on YouTube as well. I had a laugh then began to think. It got me going and I spent a few hours writing a response. Won’t waste space summarizing but it seemed to me that the position he advocated was as weak as the one he was attacking. He’s a great artist but, as I said, I think he’s a crap philosopher and shouldn’t be taken seriously on the topics of science or religion.

  37. corvus boreus

    Douglas E,
    This, for me, is probably Mr Minchins’ best work thus far;
    A very solid speech.

    Ps, I agree that the basic premise of ‘Storm’ breached Tims’ own words about the dangers of creating false dichotonies through absolutism(although, in his defense, it is a poem based upon a drunken rant).

  38. Douglas Evans

    Miriam English:
    You wrote: ‘All religions dismiss all other religions. They say that their belief can’t be dismissed by logic because faith is all that’s required to see its truth, yet they easily dismiss faith in all other religions.’ This is untrue. All religions do NOT dismiss all other religions. All religions do not depend on faith. You don’t need to go past Wikipedia to dismiss these assertions.

    You wrote: ‘Without a soul there is no sense in religion.’ As I remember it Buddhism has no role for, or need of an individual soul. Sorry.

  39. Kyran

    I can’t help but comment on a subtle difference between “religion” and “faith”. I have no regard for any delusional idiot who commits an atrocity in the name of any god. I have even less regard for corporations that hide behind a religious tome of any sort, whilst amassing fortunes (largely tax exempt) in homage to their god.
    I have, however, met people of “faith”. Mr Kelly suggested “In having faith, they are abdicating their right to doubt”. When discussing this with them, it remains the part of the argument I just don’t get. They have agreed, wholeheartedly. My approach is from the need for a factual or evidence based “dogma”, theirs is the acceptance of their faith. They are not attempting to persuade or convert and, regardless of which ideology they follow, I am certain of only one thing – their sincerity. I might add many of them do not attend religious services on any regular basis.
    I think stephentardrew was probably more eloquent than I have been. May I suggest re viewing “The Man who sued God” as homework for everyone? Take care

  40. Douglas Evans

    corvus boreus thanks. It is a good speech but quite possible to quibble with his concept of the relationship between science and art and, although he was expressing a personal viewpoint, his dismissal of the need to find meaning in our existence. I’m still catching up with Tim Minchin who I think is very interesting (but tricky). I take your comments on Storm it was a dramatization of drunken rant but the key element of my roughed out critique went along these lines. We live in dichotomous, polarizing times. The public stage is increasingly populated with noisy partisan bigots who are already overfed and bloated. When you have the public’s ear it is important not to feed the bigots. They do not respond ‘Well that was a good laugh but of course he was pissed and the position he argues is just as shaky as that which he criticizes’. No they seize on such a piece triumphantly waving it like a battle flag shouting ‘See! See! I told you so!’

  41. corvus boreus

    I broadly agree.
    Tims espoused atheism is another dichotomy that claims certainty over the ultimately unknowable. A definitive statement against the possibility of metaphysical underpinnings to existence runs against a foundational principle of science, that of disprovability.
    It is why, of the writings catagorised as theological texts I have read, the ‘Tao te Ching’ by Lao Tzu reosnated most with me, as it opens with a cautionary verse that basically states that you cannot know or define everything and a warning against the definitive parameters of abolutism. Agosticism is, I think, a better ‘pidgeonholism’ for how a critical thinker should view theological ponderings than Atheism.

    I also disagree with his dismissal of the validity of a search for meanings within life, which is a foundation of philosophical thought.
    Meaning includes context, the examination of which is a critical part of rational analysis and decision making.

    In the end though, Mr Minchin is a comedic talent with a perspicacious mind, a pithy turn of phrase, and a rare ability on the piano, rather than one of the worlds’ leading scientific or philosophical voices.

  42. mandy2000au

    I would like to add to Letitia’s five truisms,
    6. I was born.
    Perhaps now is the time to chuck out the dogma, and start from scratch.

  43. corvus boreus

    The two truths according to corvus.

    It is.
    I am within It.

  44. miriamenglish

    Douglas, thanks for noting my error. I am grateful.

    True, Ba’Hai (is that the spelling?) and a couple of other faiths believe (against all evidence) that all faiths can somehow be reconciled with each other. And there are some honestly remarkable people who are trying to do that, for example the brilliant nun Joan Chittister (yes, I can admire some religious people while despising religion). Out of the roughly 1,000 major religions in the world, there is a vanishingly small number that believe in universal brotherhood of all religions. Meanwhile not even the proliferating factions within any of the major religions are able to reconcile their differences.

    Buddhism doesn’t believe in any gods, but they do believe in souls — they believe (without any evidence, of course) that reincarnation is the continuation of the soul into another life. Mentioning buddhism, I recall someone mentioned above (but I can’t find it) that buddhists aren’t violent as the christians and muslims are. This isn’t entirely correct buddhists have the same propensity for violence, witness the slaughter of peaceful muslims in Sri Lanka by buddhists and their militant monks, the repressive buddhist society that used to exist in Tibet was not what the frankly wonderful Dalai Lama makes us think of, and never forget that the kamikaze suicide bombers of Japan were buddhist.

  45. miriamenglish

    Douglas, one thing I missed in my reply to you… you said that not all religions rely upon faith. I’m a bit surprised that you would say this. Can you please give me an example? I’m not being sarcastic. I genuinely would like to know of an example.

  46. stephentardrew

    Mirriamenglish: You cannot account for statistical outliers that will trend towards the mean. Nor can you assume to know about time in fact in relativity and quantum mechanics there is no time and there is, of now, no know way to extract time from the standard model, or relativity. When the likes of Daniel Dennet go from determinism and incompatibilism and then turn towards compatiabalism, arguing for free will, the whole edifice of determinism and reductionism crumble. It is demonstrably proven that reductionism excludes the gestalt functioning of the thing-in-itself so the whole is in effect more than the sum of its parts. With the onset of exponential growth in technology and general artificial intelligence, and as selective pressure morphs into subjective space, virtual reality and imaginative realms of potentiality then subjective space will become as demonstrably real as objective reality. This Kuhnian paradigm shift will be incommensurable with the old narrow idea that only the external world is real and subjective space is an illusion. Within the probability matrix of potentialities every event, no matter how fleeting, is, in essence, real, actual and an essential necessity to the fabric of reality otherwise they could not occur. When subjective space becomes as real and more dynamic than objective space and the paradoxes and counterintuitives of micro physics supervene onto conceptual space the whole edifice of materialism will be up for grabs. Remember both inflationary theory (there is empirical evidence for it) and M-theory (previously string theory) lead to virtually infinite universes and in the case of M-theory some 10 to the 500 possible types of universes, some sustainable and some not, then it would seem infinite universes are an essential part of inflationary cosmology. So if infinity is applicable to maths ,calculus and the meta-matrix of infinite universes our closed finite epoch relative ideas are ridiculously primitive and naive. Reference to neuroscience and the assumption that neurophysiology can solve consciouses is completely unproven so before you make such assertions explain the broad dilemmas and paradoxes that infect every part o science and mathematics logically and rationally and if you cannot your assumptions are fallacious guesses and approximations of a narrow epoch relative primitive mind.

    There is not enough room her or time to discus the range of paradoxes and counterintuitives that supervene from the particle realm onto manifest reality nor the emergent potentialities that evolve through the aegis of complexification and self organization. Statistical outliers are forever present in a complexing and self organizing universe simply because every future and past moment in time exists in bloc. Time is both actual collapses of the wave function and probability waves states that require flow which cannot be derived from the current axioms of physics. Similarly calculus without infinity is meaningless and to argue that infinity is a human construct is ridiculous when, in a deterministic universe, humans create nothing. Libet’s time delay between action potentials and thought throw another complex spanner into the works. Ockham’s Razor works well for reductionism however reductionism cannot render the context of the gestalt whole that blends time, space perception logic and rationalism with the domain of abstract potentialities reflected in art literature, imagination and the vast dynamics and potentialities of subjective space. We need another law of evolved complexity and emergentism that counters Ockham’s reductive assertions.

    Dennet’s, and others, suggest that a true deterministic universe would not need consciousness because if everything is determined there is no need for self-reference therefore we should be mindless automaton zombies. However, as mathematician Jaron Lanier demonstrates, we are self-referring subjective zagnets caught between determinism, causation, pre-Darwinian complexification, self organization, natural selection and a post Darwinian epoch of subjective experience that will radically enhance human perception and consciousness. Now step two hundred years into the future and tell me that your empirical assumptions are the only assumptions worthy of philosophers attention. Even the distinction between applied and abstract mathematics is being questioned by the likes o physicist Max Tegmark who reasonable argues that all mathematical formalisms, abstract or not are correlative facts not derived abstractions. Most mathematicians do not admit it but, in general, accept mathematical Platonism. In that case Georg Cantor’s set theoretical axioms of infinity have direct application to the fabric of reality whatever that is. In fact we have not comprehensive idea what reality is other than what we derive from evidence and those things we cannot solve due to paradox, incompleteness uncertainty and counter intuitives. Our intuitive minds are very poor reflections of the facts that arise from science and experimentation. Nor can those proofs predict what will happen in the far future and as Thomas Kuhn so ably demonstrated are incommensurable to our past assumptions.

    There are a raft of philosophical considerations not discussed here that completely undermine any assumption that we understand more than a fraction of the potentialities written onto the probability matrix of deep time. You over simplify what are damnably complex considerations.

    Too much dogmatic opinion and not enough open and reasoned analysis of the facts.

  47. Douglas Evans

    Miriam English
    Hasty reply as I pack the car for the annual pilgrimage to the beach.

    (cut and paste from from Buddhanet hope it makes sense. If not try the whole piece )

    Anatta or soul-lessness
    This Buddhist doctrine of rebirth should be distinguished from the theory of reincarnation which implies the transmigration of a soul and its invariable material rebirth. Buddhism denies the existence of an unchanging or eternal soul created by a God or emanating from a Divine Essence (Paramatma).

    According to Buddhism mind is nothing but a complex compound of fleeting mental states. One unit of consciousness consists of three phases — arising or genesis (uppada) static or development (thiti), and cessation or dissolution (bhanga). Immediately after the cessation stage of a thought moment there occurs the genesis stage of the subsequent thought-moment. Each momentary consciousness of this ever-changing life-process, on passing away, transmits its whole energy, all the indelibly recorded impressions to its successor. Every fresh consciousness consists of the potentialities of its predecessors together with something more. There is therefore, a continuous flow of consciousness like a stream without any interruption. The subsequent thought moment is neither absolutely the same as its predecessor — since that which goes to make it up is not identical — nor entirely another — being the same continuity of kamma energy. Here there is no identical being but there is an identity in process.

    If there is no soul, what is it that is reborn, one might ask.

    Well, there is nothing to be reborn.

    When life ceases the kammic energy re-materializes itself in another form. As Bhikkhu Silacara says: “Unseen it passes whithersoever the conditions appropriate to its visible manifestation are present. Here showing itself as a tiny gnat or worm, there making its presence known in the dazzling magnificence of a Deva or an Archangel’s existence. When one mode of its manifestation ceases it merely passes on, and where suitable circumstances offer, reveals itself afresh in another name or form.”

    Birth is the arising of the psycho-physical phenomena. Death is merely the temporary end of a temporary phenomenon.

    Just as the arising of a physical state is conditioned by a preceding state as its cause, so the appearance of psycho-physical phenomena is conditioned by cause anterior to its birth. As the process of one life-span is possible without a permanent entity passing from one thought-moment to another, so a series of life-processes is possible without an immortal soul to transmigrate from one existence to another.

    Buddhism does not totally deny the existence of a personality in an empirical sense. It only attempts to show that it does not exist in an ultimate sense. The Buddhist philosophical term for an individual is santana, i.e., a flux or a continuity. It includes the mental and physical elements as well. The kammic force of each individual binds the elements together. This uninterrupted flux or continuity of psycho-physical phenomenon, which is conditioned by kamma, and not limited only to the present life, but having its source in the beginningless past and its continuation in the future — is the Buddhist substitute for the permanent ego or the immortal soul of other religions.

    This is how I remember it being presented. Mind you I once asked a respected Buddhist teacher whether, according to Buddhist teaching our accumulated experience was subsumed into some sort of collective amalgam after death. He was emphatic, no ‘mother mind’ – ‘our’ individual mind stream is thought to continue from one life to another. The evidence for this? Who knows? This was the only point I remember at which evidence was perhaps subsumed by belief. But it is at a point so far removed from the conduct of our individual lives as to be virtually irrelevant. Buddhist teaching is that faith is unnecessary and for purposes of the way we live our lives this is what I found to be true also.

  48. Erotic Moustache


    I think you’re basically right – there is no religion on the planet that isn’t faith based, to some extent, and that includes Buddhism. But there’s a danger there in the sense that at the same time Buddhism is most emphatically not a religion. Is that a paradox? Not really, it’s just that much in the same way as religious Taoism is not really Taoism, religious Buddhism is not really Buddhism. The religious face of both spiritual philosophies has developed out of the natural tendency for human beings to move in that direction. Buddhism, more properly, is a method; specifically a method for the attainment of liberation from ignorance (generally referred to as “enlightenment”). It ought not and actually does not involve faith on any level – if actual Buddhism is in evidence.

    Now, almost every Buddhist community and tradition will lay some sort of claim to this authenticity – i.e. that they are not merely a religion. I reject that more or less outright. I’ve yet to come across any such community that isn’t ostensibly religious and drenched in faith based notions – e.g. transmigration as that is conventionally understood. As Douglas said, that’s not really what Buddhism genuinely argues (and the Buddha most certainly didn’t) , but outside of a couple of traditions like Zen, it’s routinely “believed” (and even in some Zen communities).

    It’s a pretty complex state of affairs, but I think your contention that all religion is faith based is tantamount to a truth by definition.

  49. stephentardrew

    Douglas Evans:

    Nagarjuna is the seminal core of contemporary Chan and Zen Buddhism however many reject his appeal to give up all dogma, sutras and beliefs for non-attached witnessing and absorption in the thing-in-itself. No sin, no karma, no reincarnation, no good, no evil. Zen historian D. T. Suzuki criticizes Nagarjuna for taking away individual responsibilities and karma which is just the type of ignorance you get from traditionalists. Though I have no religion as such I think Nagarjuna is one of the greatest philosophers ever with a real focus upon love and compassion. He understood the causal conditions of life and the deterministic nature of evolution and though not overtly opined he obviously understood the primary axioms of science and determinism.

    He was the first to fully articulate non-dualism as a philosophy of deconstruction until you come to the very source of being in emptiness “Sunyata.” It cannot be called anything however to give it expression it is called sunya, emptiness, void, though it is none of these.

    Very deep understanding that fits with contemporary physics and cosmology.

  50. miriamenglish

    Douglas, sorry to divert you on your way to the beach. I hope you have a great day. You might read my reply when you return. Essentially I think the buddhists are using a common religious trick of using paradox to confound their audience into not thinking too much about what they say. Either something continues from one life to another or it doesn’t. If it does then it doesn’t matter if it is called a soul or Flying Spaghetti Monster Sauce, it is essentially the same argument. If nothing continues from one life to another then why call it reincarnation? In fact why surround it with any religion at all? Buddhism is an odd religion because it is “supposed” to be merely a philosophy, not a religion, but the religion angle crept in early on and has continued. Until recently buddhists believed that a woman couldn’t achieve nirvana; she had to conduct herself as well as possible so that she could be reincarnated as a man, and only then was nirvana available. What hokey crap. That said, I have to admit that out of all the loony beliefs buddhism is the one that most closely approaches my conclusions about existence. We do indeed shift and fluctuate from moment to moment, disappearing each night as we lose consciousness and reappearing in the morning as our mental machinery starts up again to inherit the previous day’s memories.

    Stephen, after untangling all the jargon and over-complicated sentences that seem intended to impress and confuse, it is still difficult to see the point of your argument. I never said that infinity is a human construct. I was describing how my emotional reaction to infinity is not mystical and is a real thing. The same with love. Much of the rest of your reply seems to be saying that because it is all so complicated we should throw up our hands and abandon any pretense at understanding. This is something I see people do a lot. It is wrong. If I open the back of an old mechanical clock and show you the workings, you can see that there is nothing beyond your ability to understand there. You don’t actually need to count the numbers of teeth on each cog to see how it works. There is a similar situation with the brain. We understand, in broad strokes, how many functions of its work, including consciousness. The detailed circuitry for much of this hasn’t been delineated (is currently being traced out), but we know how damage to particular structures affects it and we are close to “counting the teeth on the cogs”. It is clear there is nothing mystical in the brain’s ability to operate this way. I never said we know things with total certainty; I said that the best solution is to go where the information takes us. Many things we do know and these things will likely be correct forever. Some things will be found to be based upon incomplete knowledge or false assumptions, and that’s okay so long as we move on to what the new information brings. Stone Age people might not have known how to smelt metal but they could flake rocks expertly to make excellent tools and they knew about food plants and the habits of prey and predators. Some information is timeless. It is counterproductive to throw up one’s hands in panic and say “it’s all too complex and we can never know it all”.

    You seem to see new information as a hopeless crumbling of the ground beneath our feet and that we should give up hoping to ever know anything, but I see this new knowledge not as a cause for despair, but as the greatest adventure.

  51. Douglas Evans

    I think the Buddhist point of view is that what continues from one life to another is a tendency, a ripple in the cosmic pond that may be modified by a lifetime of experience but as has no real personal dimension. As I understand it In our lifetime we are the bearers of this mind stream but it is not ‘ours’ hence there is no personal component to reincarnation.
    I have a volume of Nagarjuna on the shelf but have not disturbed it much over the years. It is dense, dry and difficult. However he was much revered by the teachers I knew in my Buddhist days. Don’t have time to say much more here. I’m getting the wifely death stare. Both of you I’ve written quite a chunk about this stuff from a somewhat different point of view here. Would be grateful for any comments you have. Should note that I keep referring to Buddhism because most so called humanist critiques of religion either ignore or completely misunderstand it and I find that it often disproves these critiques. I don’t refer to it because I am a Buddhist. Now I gotta go to the beach for two weeks. I might look again tonight if I can get online.

  52. Jexpat

    Annie B. wrote “…we are definitely smarter (in concept and knowledge). That may be true- or may not be, with regard to “concepts” as an element of abstract reasoning.

    In a large and I suspect growing proportion of our population, Bessie the Cow… is Dead.

    Likewise, I would argue that our populations are not becoming “smarter,” but have substantially regressed in terms of critical thinking skills and its scientific and numeracy components.

    There are any number of factors contributing to the decline: the pedagogy of “teaching to the test,” watering down or over-specialisation of curricula, reinforcement of belief via widespread siloing effects or conversely regression to the mean, brought about increasing worldwide web penetration, the degradation of journalistic standards and ethics (which have promoted dishonesty, wilful ignorance and even Kakfaesque absurdity into virtues) the ubiquity of commercial advertisements from cradle to grave, etc.

    Getting back to the OP, a question arises as to what role organised religion, and in particular, the rise in and legitimisation and promotion of anti-science fundamentalism plays in the dumbing down of society or rejection of rationality in public discussion and public policy making.

    Leaving out emotional short circuiting (which can often trump reason, even in the best of us) there is considerable evidence from Southern and Lower Midwestern US states to suggest that religious dogma impedes the ability of individuals to act in their own self interests- as well a impeding the larger process of representative democracy from achieving utilitarian outcomes (the greatest good for the greatest number) and also protecting vulnerable minorities from persecution and abuse.

    And lest we think we’re immune from this here in Australia, witnesseth the heated opposition to perfectly reasonable proposals such as a choice of Death with Dignity for terminally ill patients.

  53. stephentardrew

    Miriamenglish: These are the facts of science and if they are not even nominally understood then one cannot make assumptions about time and mind. Difficult yes. Worth the effort yes. I am not trying to be a smart arse philosophy of science is a complex subject and most informed scientist are not in any way absolutists.

  54. stephentardrew

    Doug: Have some thoughts and material you might be interested in re-Nagarjuna. As usual the acolytes make things a lot more complex than they are. In fact Nagarjuna is eminently simple if one is willing to give up all beliefs. What makes him hard is the dogged resistance of dogmatists. While a bit busy will get back to you on your blog. Let me know what is best for you.

  55. Annie B

    @miriamenglish ( January 10, 2015 at 8:27 am )

    With respect, I do take your points … and agree with many of them – but a couple I cannot.

    Morality. …. One could list the dynamics of morality under 10,000 ( most likely many more ) different sub-headings. Is it political, is it in human interaction, is it simply to do with good manners, is it to do with what some think is their right, over and above others, is it, is it, is it .. ad infinitum. ? …. Morality is complex.

    You expressed a concern of your own in your writing on this particular post : … “The main thing that worries me is the current race between our increasing rationality and the great destructiveness of our capabilities.” … …. and you have a good right to be concerned about that.

    The leveller ( if such a word is appropriate ) or the ‘equaliser’ on this problem ……. would be morality – or the understanding of what morality is , which imho is becoming less and less apparent in our world. …. I cannot make a book of this comment by listing the ways this IS becoming less apparent.

    Will show just one – and it is simple, basic and at the bottom of the chart ( maybe ). …. that is of the young and their reluctance to say please, thank you, and to show respect. ……. Not all young are the same – some have been raised to ‘older’ standards of good manners and respect for those who know more than they do. …..through life experience.

    Some might not think good manners is important, but it IS a basis – and IS indeed important. It establishes and embeds respect, and morality …….. i.e. ” morality – principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong or good and bad behaviour. “

    Perhaps I am fortunate – I know more well mannered young teens, than rude, aggressive little shites. And that underscores your own argument. But then that’s just me – not everyone. …..

    I demand respect from the young, and correct them ( have had to on occasions in my own family and elsewhere ) …… to use proper language and good manners in what they do, achieve, and accept. Education, at even this small level – can do no harm, in introducing senses of ‘morality’, to be a basis for future good living and life.

  56. miriamenglish

    Stephen, you reply, “These are the facts of science…” but you were denying absolutism earlier. And here you’re trying to dismiss me, calling me absolutist. Did you even read what I said? Perhaps you missed the parts where I said that some knowledge will, of course, turn out to be wrong, that conclusions must always remain open to revision on new information. Now try re-reading your original post. Perhaps you’d been partaking of a little too much wine, because your manner is pretty clearly meant to give the impression of superiority, hinting at vast knowledge, while using obfuscation to convey little actual information. You generalise about multiple universes and the difficult nature of time, and overstate how hard it is to truly know some things, as if that should somehow unravel everything, while we all still happily and reliably use complex technology every day, and while Numenta’s open source AI is getting on with the job of successfully simulating aspects of the brain (actually, “simulating” is the wrong word because it copies the actual architecture of the cerebrum to do its job).

  57. miriamenglish

    Annie, I know how you feel, and I sympathise, but what is worrying you is an eternal illusion. It is worthwhile knowing that some decades ago an Assyrian clay tablet dating to approximately 2800 BC was unearthed bearing the words “Our earth is degenerate in these latter days. There are signs that the world is speedily coming to an end. Bribery and corruption are common.” People always feel that things are getting worse, even though there is plenty of compelling evidence that the reverse is true. It is a trick of the memory. My experience with youths of today is filled with admiration. They are so much more knowledgeable and considerate and interested in improving the future than kids were when I was their age. (I’m 62 in a couple of months.) They still make many stupid mistakes (as I and my peers did), but on the whole they are far better people than my generation was, thank goodness.

  58. Annie B

    Jexpat …..

    Your comments ( January 10, 2015 at 1:54 pm ) …… were complex. … That is not in any way a derogatory statement.

    Worldwide web penetration – yes ( has it been good – – – or not ?? )

    The degradation of journalistic standards – yes …… ( there are now just ‘reporters’ … few are journalists remaining, in the true sense ).

    ” Kakfaesque absurdity ” ……. it is interesting that Franz Kakfa, in his last breath and dying wish, wanted all his publications to be burned. …… I think he might have had an epiphany and a total change of heart at that moment in his life / death. He had hardly been a promoter of good and positive thought, had he.


  59. miriamenglish

    Annie, here is a better and more relevant quote, this one from Cicero (106–43 BC): “Times are bad. Children no longer obey their parents, and everyone is writing a book.” For thousands of years people have been thinking this, but people have actually become more generous and thoughtful and helpful and accepting of others (except perhaps in USA, with its socially corrosive puritanical emphasis on fear and hate).

  60. Annie B

    @miriamenglish ………

    Your comments are always welcome to me, and always very interesting – thought provoking.

    Ref. the Assyrian clay tablet – all those eons ago. ….. I did not know that, but it doesn’t surprise me one bit. There is a heavy proportion of one of the American sects / cults ( Pentecostals ) that espouse the idea that the ‘end times’ are near and they are overbearing about the whole thing. ( dare I bring an MP into this debate – Morrison is Pentecostal !!! – hmmm ) ……..

    So, in fact, nothing much has changed – generally. From then to now. …….

    Cicero ( 106-43 years BC ).. … had through his writings and philosophies, an enormous impact on the use of Latin, and then European languages. I am not sure if his original writings / understanding of the written word was Aramaic or Greek. …….( just an aside – I can’t find it through searching !! ). But, in whatever language, he said a lot of mouthfuls that have aided the world since. ( Pages of his quotes are uplifting and inspiring. … Should be taught in all schools !! )

    Thing is, if one were to look at the ‘times’ of life cycles, generations, centuries, cultures, local or global events, wars and religious pursuits ( the ‘ dark ages ‘ … the Crusades, bad Popes, evil cults, yesteryear and today etc. etc. ) one would find the same threads repeated – over and over again …….. a) all is right with the world, b) we are in a big bloody mess, c) the end of the world is nigh, d) nobody will survive e) all will right itself in the end – [ perhaps through Mother Nature herself ] ??? …. the Positive and the Negative – something we all share, and have all been through, throughout the ages. To not experience positives and negatives, is to not be truly alive – and ‘with it’ ( so to speak ).

    I am not sure what you mean by ‘eternal illusion’. ….. I can safely say that nothing surprises me, so I think ‘illusion’ is not on my agenda. And I am not one to consider that ‘life has no meaning’ … it means a daily learning about life and its complexities …….. IF one is inclined to listen and learn. Those that don’t listen and learn, miss out.

    Finally, you mentioned the U.S. of A ,,, ” with its socially corrosive puritanical emphasis on fear and hate” …….. I couldn’t agree more with your analysis of that country and it’s collective mind-set.
    While there are many good hearted and kind people in the U.S. — there is always that undercurrent running through the populace. ….. And they try to sell it to the rest of civilisation. …. Bah humbug to that.

    Wanting to end on a positive note, the following are pages of wonderful quotes attributed to Cicero himself : ……. I presume they are legit.

  61. Annie B

    @stephentardrew …….

    Your understanding of Zen Buddhism would be, I think – profound.

    Personally, I love the concept of emptying the mind … and ” to know nothing is to realise all.” Which then must be emptied – to get to the next stage of realisation.

    I cannot now find the reference to the exact words in my books on Zen … but it is similar and means, I guess – “Less is more” ( or something similar ).

    Could you please enlighten me on the exact phrase I am looking for. … I am sure you would know it.

    I am currently looking up references to Nargajuna. Looking forward to reading more.

  62. Annie B

    To miriamenglish …….

    Forgot to mention – ref your post today 10 Jan 10.21 a.m. …….

    “and never forget that the kamikaze suicide bombers of Japan were buddhist.”

    Kamikaze pilots and anyone ending their own life to end others lives for ‘honor’ – ( in Japanese ancient culture ) was based on the SHINTO religion …. NOT on Buddhism.

    “Kami” is the word for divinity, god or spirit, and ‘Kaze’ means wind. …. So guess that means ‘spirit of the wind’ or ‘divine wind’ which was given to pilots who committed suicide in their planes to bring about death of the enemy.

    Prior to and during WWII Shinto was predominant, although it had always resided peacefully with buddhism. After the kamikaze were not as successul as the Japanese had hoped, Shinto lost some of its historical prominence, and was replaced to a degree, post war, by more Buddhist ideals ……. but I believe that has now reverted back to the ‘old’ days, and the two ( Shinto and Buddhism ) live peacefully together. …. Neither has a set format of worship, beliefs or dogma. They are both ‘spiritual’ exercises ( for want of a better description ).

  63. miriamenglish

    Thanks Annie. 🙂 You might also like to see some of the wonderful stuff available on Project Gutenberg. They have about a dozen of Cicero’s books available there.

    All the tens of thousands of books on Project Gutenberg are free. It is a fabulous resource.

    I looked further into the Assyrian clay tablet quote after posting it (I should have looked before posting it) and I’m now wondering about its authenticity. I think the one attributed to Cicero is genuine though.

    You’re right that there are always people who think everything is going to the dogs and at the same time there will always be starry-eyed optimists (I count myself as one of the latter most of the time), however there does seem to be considerably more reliable evidence that the optimists are correct in this matter. Steven Pinker shows in his book “The Better Angels of Our Nature” and his talk on this topic that humans are getting better.

  64. Annie B

    To – miriam e ….

    I am currently reading Steven Pinkers’ “The Better Angels of our Nature” …… recommended to me a few weeks back by stephentardrew.

    I read this book in ‘bursts’ …. along with two other books I am reading at present. …. I will have a look at the links you have posted .. and thank you.

    I have not yet read Cicero, but I figure I would love reading his incredible insights into humanity and the ‘state of being’ … that he observed and remarked upon. …. An extraordinary man for all ages, I would think.

    Would hope that reading Ciceros’ works, is part of the secondary school curriculum. !!

  65. miriamenglish

    Thanks for correcting me Annie. I was sure that Shinto was a form of Buddhism, but you’re right. It is a quite separate belief system. Interestingly, I also found that I’m not the only one with this misconception. It appears to be quite common, even among Japanese themselves. How odd.

  66. Annie B

    Miriam ……

    Perhaps ‘modern’ Japan sees them integrated … as they have similar but not the same, systems of ideals, and they co-exist peacefully. Thus some misconception amongst young and modern ( Western influenced ) Japanese.

    Shinto – in Japan, ‘was’ imperial. What prevails now is anyone’s guess, as there is a fair amount of Catholicism there now as well – which is a belief system more than a spiritual journey ( although Catholics would be defensive in reply to that observation !! ).

    However, I stand to be corrected on how much Catholic practice there is now in Japan.

  67. stephentardrew

    Miriam I am sorry if you think I was calling you an absolutist. Far be it for me to label anyone. Just putting across another point of view. Sorry if I offended you. I was not calling you absolutist but both narrow minded ideologues and logical empirical scientist when there are too many holes in our understanding to make any definite statements about peoples experience. Arguments from statistical outliers is valid when the mean represents know proofs but cannot deal with time relevant future trends that are yet to become apparent within two deviations of the of the mean. People may have revisionary experiences that do not fit the current paradigm and because they are a small minority are rejected as somehow deviant.

    The problem is to discriminate between magical, mythology and religious ideology; scientific reductionism; and logical empiricism given the universe is actually continually complexifying and self-organizing future trends that emerge out of complexity and are not redolent in the present fabric of empirical proof. Future trends are the unknowns that provide a sense of mystery awe and wonder leaving the door to creativity open. As for General Artificial Intelligence that is a philosophic can of worms that no-one has the answer to and, though I think it is more than likely we will enhance rational AI, it will surprise us when it attacks the questions I posited in my first post. It will also lay waste to irrational and illogical nonsense in a way that will certainly anger a lot of people. I was not trying to be superior the fact is these questions are vital too our understanding of our place in the universe and until they are understood we cannot lay claim to absolute knowledge. In fact Godels incompleteness theorem tells us as much. It is actually based upon Cantor’s set theoretical work on infinity. No matter where we look calculus, the standard model, language, mathematics, and so on, infinity will not go away so there is aways infinitely more than we think we know yet to be revealed.

    I happen to be a meta-theorist and these difficulties are the nature of the beast.

  68. Jexpat

    Annie B:

    “Worldwide web penetration – yes ( has it been good – – – or not ?? ).”

    There’s really no way to formulate so broad value a value judgment.

    One can only observe its impact on “smaller” or narrower aspects- much as researchers have done in dedicated peer reviewed journals -often following up on earlier work with other forms of mass media, which still has merit, even as it’s limited by the heretofore unique interactive (and nearly instant and expansively interactive) nature of the medium.

    Letitia McQuade asks in the OP: “…what is it about religious faith that drives some people to embark on murderous repressive rampages against their fellow human beings?”

    I would ask in conjunction: what is it that amplifies and reinforces these sorts of urges?

  69. John J.

    The author writes: “…there can be little argument that human history is replete with a litany of barbarous acts carried out in the name of religion.” The words as written in sentence form actually mean- as far as I can tell- that it is difficult to argue that history is full of examples of religious barbarism. This, combined with a general lack of editing, do not instill confidence in the reader (not in this reader any way). In my opinion, radical atheism is not the solution to violent religious fundamentalism. Much of the analysis is reductive, simplistic and convenient, cherry picking what supports the point of the author without any objectivity whatever, it seems to me. The tired, worn out examples of the crusades and the inquisition are offered (not Christianity’s finest hours, but events with complex historical, political and sociological influences, many of which have little or nothing to do with religion), as well as “… ritual sacrifice of children.” What religion are we talking about? If I were to mention every crime committed by atheists and secular regimes, I could also come up with a long list. The author’s main claim is apparently that people simply do terrible things, and that religion- rather than moderating this tendency- provides self-justification and rationalizations for believers. This is obviously too often true. 1) Do not secular and atheistic ideologies do the same? Think communism and even some forms of capitalism (when it begins to look like plutocracy). 2) Frankly, the author completely disregards those cases where religion does or did offer moral direction. Historically, one might consider the effect of Christianity on the brutality of the Roman empire. This is just one topic always neglected (and ‘always’ is hardly an exaggeration) by the anti-religious (*see Hans Kung’s ‘Brief History of the Catholic Church’- a critical work by a progressive, reformer priest). On a personal level, I know many kind, spiritual persons who live the message of the Gospels (a message that has to be distorted if it is to justify violence- if you don’t believe me, just read them!). So, in conclusion, I assert that this author is keenly aware of humanity’s predilection for violent brutality- brutality that the author admits is not so much caused by, but enabled and justified by, religious belief- but somehow places the blame, unjustly, almost entirely on religion. Thus making of religion an easy, convenient scape-goat, rather than engaging in the more strenuous and thoughtful task of coming to terms, in a constructive and sophisticated way, with the phenomenon of ‘man’s inhumanity to man.’

  70. miriamenglish

    John, it always dismays me when people try to call atheism an ideology, or to group them together under some unifying banner, but atheists (I wish there was a better term) are not a group any more than those who don’t collect stamps are. Atheists, in the words of one brilliant computer professor, are normal.

    It also constantly surprises me when people deflect criticism of religions by claiming that much of what is done in their name is actually done for other purposes, and that there are other mitigating circumstances. It surprises me, because nobody seems to actually listen to the people doing these horrible acts when they claim to be doing it for their god.

    Religion is one of many irrational belief structures that helps people commit otherwise unjustifiable atrocities. Some others are racism, various political beliefs, and the belief in a class-structured society, but religion is the easiest to justify because it relies on faith (unfortunately, a nice-sounding word for gullibility) so it is the most powerful evil-doer of them all.

    I know a lot of good christians, buddhists, a hindu or two, and a few muslims. Some religious people, like the amazing Benedictine nun, Joan Chittister, I consider heroes. Religion doesn’t automatically make people bad, but it opens the door to justifying evil in a way that no belief does and it protects itself from questioning more effectively than any other meme. I have a very sweet and kind Aunt who is christian, but I understand with sadness that this makes it possible for her to rationalise terrible acts despite her lovely nature. During the second World War, all those devoutly christian Germans who did those awful things to Jews and gays and colored people and handicapped were not intrinsically evil; christianity convinced them that it was right to do so. Have you ever looked at Hitler’s speeches? They are full of god and christian family values — he was devoutly christian. All those christians in Bosnia who mass-murdered their muslim neighbors didn’t suddenly turn evil; christianity enabled their actions. The muslim fools who murdered those people recently in Paris were responding to their religion in doing so. In each of these cases, and many more, religion really is the central motive. Look at what they write, what they say, and who they act against.

    Voltaire said it well: “Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities.”

    The Nobel-winning physicist said it even better: “Religion[…] With or without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.”

  71. miriamenglish

    Jexpat, you asked, “what is it that amplifies and reinforces these sorts of urges?” with regard to religious faith enabling murderous rampages.

    I’d suggest it’s their easy access to absolute, unquestioned certainty. If this gives them an unshakeable belief that there are leprechauns at the bottom of the garden, then they are merely a cause for amusement, but if their immutable conviction is that you deserve to die, and that they are god’s instrument in carrying out his will… well, that’s worrying.

  72. stephentardrew


    There are many terms I will try a few. Own being; Sunyata; the-thing-in-itself; non-duality; suchness

    The Septuagint on Emptiness:

    This is my particular interpretation of this text to remove confusing Sanskrit metaphors so the text is more conducive to those who are not familiar with Nagarjuna. For all of the reams of text and commentaries this is the bare bones version of Nagarjuna. Bit long but in essence very short. I do not accept any religion however what Nagarjuna says is conducive with relativity time, or should I say the lack of discernible time, and what is called Mankowski space, and of course my personal experience.

    1. All things lack substance and are empty.
    2. Without one there cannot be many and without many there cannot be one.
    3. Things that are causally connected are temporary and cannot be established in own-being or suchness.
    4. Being established in own being how could permanence (own-being) create impermanence (causation).
    5. Things that exist are correlative and therefore cannot be simultaneous.
    6. The dualities of pleasure and pain cannot have a real object because they are temporary.
    7. If own-being were recognizable things that arise as subject and object could not occur because when there is no gap between subject and object there is no subject or object.
    8. True being does not vanish nor can it have shape or form, nor can it move in time.
    9. So how could the temporary impermanent nonexistent have immovable timeless own-being in suchness?
    10. The thing-in-itself can neither arise from itself nor from something else since it is non-dual and undivided having no subject or object of perception.
    11. When there is division dogmas occur.
    12. Therefore the duality of the becoming world is temporary and impermanent.
    13. Liberation is in the realisation that nothing arises or ceases yet everything arises and ceases as all things are, in essence, empty of form and void (sunya).
    14. Past present and future do not exist because they are unfixed and mutually contradictory as there is only one now and since they are not established in the timeless they are merely mental discriminations.
    15. And so origination, duration and cessation do not exist in permanence, suchness and own-being since they are impermanent and to be voided (sunya).
    16. Belief in karma is due to discrimination since karma lacks own-being it is impermanent and empty (void).
    17. It is not possible to accumulate that which is empty of own-being: that which is temporary and does not endure.
    18. Karma arises out of the conditions of the world and as such karma is like a city of the dead: a mirage.
    19. Karma has passions as its cause and because karma is caused it is empty of own-being.
    20. The thing-in-itself has no origins or end in cause since it is causeless void and non-dual.
    21. When one realizes karma is empty of form karma does not arise anymore in fact karma does not exist.
    22. Karma is a construct of passions in fearful divided minds.
    23. Gautama Buddha (Tathagata, “thus goer”) created a phantom which is empty as the phantom is created by the phantom, which is created by the phantom ad-infinitum and consequently, karma is an infinite regress and therefore is empty, void (sunya).
    24. Nagarjuna then uses a caveat stating that “it is and is not stated by the Buddha’s with intention so it is not easy to understand,” However Nagarjuna understands the implications clearly and precisely voiding the teachings (sutras) and the Dharma. He is astute and humble enough not to directly confront the conventions of Buddhism nevertheless the implications are clear. He also denies dependent origination in his Seven Stanzas on Voidness 8-14 yet tends to step around it in other works.
    25. Voiding Karma and self-cause leads unremittingly to compassion and love.
    26. If a mind grasps at insight how could it perceive an absence of form in own-being when suchness eradicates all divisions of self and other?
    27. What we perceive with the senses is part of the unified whole which mind deconstructs and discriminates into categories that fail to instantiate the thing-in-itself.
    28. When sense perception occurs immediately with contact, and if there is no recognition or reaction, then contact in the immediate now is empty (sunya), void of form, neither dependent upon empty (sunya) nor non-empty (asunya) as mind is immersed in non-dual timeless, birthless, deathless suchness.
    29. Consciousness depends upon internal and external sense perception and because it is dependent it is also impermanent and being impermanent is non-existent and empty (sunya) “like a mirage or an illusion.”
    30. In terms of insight impermanent things that change are, in the absolute sense, temporary passing, empty and non-existent.
    31. Because desire, hatred and stupidity are dependent upon causation and temporal continuity they lack own-being and therefore they are empty (sunya).
    32. Even the imagined and imagination are empty being born of dependence upon original perceptions and by those conditions are voided (sunya).
    33. Nagarjuna demolishes all mental construct and categories because they lack permanence while the thing-in-itself, suchness, is changeless and omnipresent.
    34. If we understand the truth of form without emptiness and emptiness without form then there is no-thing left upon which the mind can discriminate as self is enshrouded in quiescence.
    35. And so karma formations are like a “city of the dead, illusions, mirages, nets of hair, foam, bubbles, phantoms, dreams, and wheels of firebrand.”
    36. “Being and non-being born by cause and conditions are empty” of own-being.
    37. “The worldly principle that ‘this rises depending upon that’ is not violated. But since that which is dependent lacks own-being, how can it exist? That is certain?”
    38. The paradox, of course, rests in the term existence since changing things have no permanence and therefore cannot be timeless and permanent in immediate being.
    39. Regardless of change the thing-in-itself, suchness is changeless forever flowing through yet stationary and immovable without shape or form.

    Hope this helps Annie.

  73. stephentardrew

    Annie just as a post script I thought this little gem would be of interest.

    8. Great compassion penetrates in to the marrow of the bone. It is the support of all living beings. Like [the love of a] father for his only son the tenderness [of a Buddha] pervades everything.

    121. The four bases of power form the root, viz. will, mind, energy and deliberation. The four infinite foundations are love, compassion, joy and equanimity. (Sanskrit terms removed)

  74. corvus boreus

    It helped, and more than just Annie.
    Thank you stephentardrew, that was a superb encapsulation.

  75. corvus boreus

    Defining terms, I think faith is certain belief, not necessarily subject to evidential influence, and religion as a ritualised and codified collectivisation of faith.

    The problematic aspect of theology, as with any ideology, is when it becomes dogmatic. Inflexibly absolute certainty with no capacity for critical self assessment. It is an attitude that easily lends itself to acts of hostility in response to rational inquiry.

    The desire for certainty certainty is one of the painful desires mentioned in the Buddhist ‘noble truths’. It can be a desire for surety of your own opinion, or the desire for a concrete form for an abstract concept. Buddhist teaching and practices are broadly more concerned with contextual contemplation and considering consequentiality than ritual devotions to manifest deities.

    A large number of other branches of religion have manifestations of divinity that often require or desire devotions and sacrifices.
    The generic term is gods or deities. Most have variations on anthropomorphic form.

    The Abrahamic schools of religion(corvid term; paterno-monotheists ‘one-dad-god’) restrict worship to a (sexually differentiated)single god. It takes the (possibly divine) infinitity of expanse and the complexity and diversity of the matter and life that exists in our tiny corner of it, and confines it within the will of an object in the image of a human male(with attendant attitudes like violent behavioral petulance and genital fixation).
    Within the defined religions with this broad group (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) there are number of schismatic factions and sects, many claiming absolute truth of interpretation. The desire of many these various religious gangs to impose their dogmatic belief systems upon societal policy and other people in general is a major source of division and conflict, both current and historical.

    In the state religion of Imperial Japan their predominate blend of Buddhism and Shinto(traditional animism) had been altered by the addition of ‘god-emperor’ worship, a cult of fanatical devotion to a proclaimed ‘human deity’.

    I am still yet to uncover an atrocity that can be majorly contributed to rational agnosticism.

  76. Kaye Lee

    I think we have much to learn from our Aboriginal brothers and sisters about spirituality. If you view yourself as a custodian of the land then you have respect for nature which is the basis for much of their spirituality.

    I was lucky enough to spend some time with two Aboriginal sisters who were part of the Stolen Generation, raised separately with white families, who together now do what they can to help others in a myriad of ways.

    They took me out into the bush and talked to me about “seeing” which was so much more than looking at things. It was quiet contemplation with all senses aware of the land, the plants, the animals, the smells, the sun and the wind, the harmony. They told me that I too am a custodian of the land, that we all are, not just Indigenous Australians.

    They had no anger for their past saying that all experiences in life, good or bad, teach us things. They had no despair about the future saying life is a spiral with windows of opportunity that come and go…if you miss one then the timing just wasn’t right, another is coming.

    These very spiritual women spoke to my heart.

  77. John Fraser


    Hawaiians have a similar outlook.

    Perhaps it would have been better for Australia's Indigenous population if Cook had visited Hawaii first.

    Lunch anyone ?

  78. DanDark

    Kaye said “I think we have much to learn from our Aboriginal brothers and sisters about spirituality. If you view yourself as a custodian of the land then you have respect for nature which is the basis for much of their spirituality.”

    You don’t have to be Aboriginal to have these traits, it’s a state of mind, anyone can do it, there is a difference between looking and seeing, not every shut eye is sleeping, not every open eye is seeing…..

  79. stephentardrew


    I spent some time while opal mining in Adamooka with a couple of elders who took my friend and I into the desert and we were told not to speak a word. For some time they just pointed and nodded as we saw things we would never have observed by ourselves until the world lit up an glowed with incredible radiance. How the hell do you explain that? I can,t. When we returned there was this unspoken recognition that what we experienced was not to be spoken of.

    Somethings just happen and are best left alone for they are what gives life its sense mystery and wonder.

  80. Michael Taylor

    Stephen, having spent some time in the Flinders Ranges and the Anangu Pijantjatjara Lands I can safely say I know what you’re talking about.

  81. Michael Taylor

    BTW, I have a cousin in Andamooka.

  82. Annie B

    Thank you so much stephen, for the time and effort you have put into answering my questions.

    Many of the points in your post, speak loudly to me – others I struggle with. …. I am a kindergarten pupil compared to you, when it comes to philosophy, Zen, spirituality and a myriad of other truths of being ( and non-being ) plus the teachings of Integral Yoga, which Indian in origin co-exists with buddhism and the ancient Jainism . …… You have mentioned ‘sanskrit’ terms being removed – and sanskrit is used in Hindu, Buddhism and Jainism – in forms peculiar to the regions in India that they originated from / in.

    Your very final comment “The four infinite foundations are love, compassion, joy and equanimity.”… these are being challenged across the globe, in every sphere, in every religion, every way of life, on at least a daily basis. It ‘appears’ to be worse now – because of what we know as terrorism, but what radical Islam knows as the “defending of their faith and leader Mohammad ” ( no excusing them – but it’s on what they allegedly base their ‘need for ‘ violent reprisals ) …. which leads us back to the very questions put in the article written by Letitia.

    I think it has always been challenged, and IS a challenge to keep these four described gifts / foundations as quoted by you, to the fore in our lives.

    Again thank you …. your post is so very much appreciated.

  83. stephentardrew


    It’s OK deep time will take care of it all. We only see the surface waves of the infinite ocean of foreverness. In other words shit happens. It’s the cosmic joke writ large. The point about non-dualism is its absolute simplicity in that it negates all polemic discourse for direct witnessing of the thing-in-itself. When you stop searching then you return to the very source of your being. Then, as a detached witness, you can just watch it all go by without attachment while, contemporaneously, participating knowing that it is all impermanent. Doesn’t mean it does no hurt or their will not be pain along the way. After all we all must die and that is our release from duality of pleasure and pain; love and hate and thinking. No magic texts or reams of obtuse debates just straight out simplicity. The physics of time maps onto this paradigm beautifully. However for another day.

    “The four infinite foundations are love, compassion, joy and equanimity.” Pretty well says it all.

    Not for everyone but that is the way it is. Good to share with others though.

  84. Annie B

    @John J ………

    Several of your comments hit a discordant note with me. ……. the first being

    …….. ” In my opinion, radical atheism is not
    the solution to violent religious fundamentalism.”

    I am not at all sure what ‘radical atheism’ might be. …. If an atheist, there would be no hiding behind the concept of a deity ( as an atheist does not believe in deities ) ….. in order to conduct lethal doings. In fact, I put it to you, that atheism, could never in fact be radical. ….. It has nothing to preach or proselytise or be radical about.

    Therefore, it is not possible that it could be a solution ( or not ) to violent religious fundamentalism.

    The second is ….

    ….. ” If I were to mention every crime committed by atheists
    and secular regimes, I could also come up with a long list.
    The author’s main claim is apparently that people simply do
    terrible things, and that religion- rather than moderating this
    tendency- provides self-justification and rationalizations for believers. ”

    As you further noted on that – it is ” obviously too often true.”

    I think if Letitia had wanted to include the instances of secular and / or atheistic violence, she’d have surely titled her article thus : Religion ( and while at it, Atheism, Secularism, Agnosticism ) …… what are they good for ? …….. but she’d have needed to write and publish a book to cover the subject …. which could be subtitled simply ” Violence – – its meaning, and origins “.

    Religion stands out like a sore thumb, waiting ( and I suspect wanting ) to be analysed. Because it promotes itself, it dictates, it uses fear tactics to keep ‘followers’ true to whatever church or organisation it represents. AND many religions insult all by making claims they have no right to …. i.e. ” we are the ONLY
    ‘ true ‘ church, with the absolute truth ” ….. all the others ? Pffft. …. I’d like just 50c for every time I have heard the ‘we are the only ones with the truth ‘ mantra, that many churches and their followers spruike. …. I’d be rich.

    Your final comment – about man’s inhumanity to man, struck the right chord. … That IS what we should contemplate and try to find answers for – but it WOULD embrace religion, probably to begin with, and hopefully would ask the ‘religious’ – why is it so.

  85. Annie B

    Thanks to all who have mentioned the indigenous ways of … ‘ seeing ‘….. as opposed to looking at. … They are vastly different experiences. Aboriginal spirituality is quite beautiful, but closed minds would not hear of that or give it credence.

    The old saying “Silence is golden” ….. is a wisdom. Much can be observed, far more clearly when silence reigns, instead of filling the air with inane chatter.

    Personally, my garden, my dog and my chickens – often teach me more than anything else can. And I get great joy at simply looking at clouds and their formations. ……. Trees – I adore – anything that grows into beauty ( even most weeds have a beauty ) is wonderful. And my horses ( sadly, I don’t have any now ) …. were the best of the best to me. Such magnificent, glorious creatures, who appreciate and investigate …. silence. …… which is fascinating to watch .. and see.

    Will leave it at that.

  86. gangey1959

    Thank you Laetitia.
    This is a can of worms with no lid.
    First things first, and I cant resist, solely for stephentardrew… shut up Sheldon.
    I decided to dice “Religion” at the tender age of 8 because I was not presented with a Freddo Frog for attending 4 Sundays of Sunday School in a row because they were not all in the same month.
    I have two brothers of different Anglican faiths, and an ex-partner’s Catholic family to deal with as well,
    Beyond that, I have little to no knowledge or exposure.
    If the various combined Christmases I and my step children endured are any indication, ANY for of organised religion, the various leaderships thereof, and the followers too, are all just a rort of humanity as a whole.
    I do believe there is something greater than all of us. I believe in neither a “Kind and Benevolent” nor a “Vengeful” god. Of any name.
    I feel very strongly that those people who are devout practitioners of their faith, and who go and seek absolution from their sins on any sort of regular basis go out on all of the other days of their lives sinning willfully, desperately hoping that their one day a week will keep them safe. From what? Laetitia McQ#5 We will all Die. After that, who knows?
    I just hope that the rest of us, who live our lives as honestly as we can, and who desperately hope that the good we do each day outweighs the not so good, can finally rest in peace when we too reach #5

  87. Douglas Evans

    Hi Michael I sent a comment a couple of hours ago, admittedly a bit long. It hasn’t appeared. Wondering if it finished up in your spam folder as has happened before or………?

  88. Michael Taylor

    Hi Douglas. It’s not in spam. I’ve gone through the spam back to 10:00AM and it’s not there.

  89. stephentardrew


    This is a misconception it has nothing to do with religion but everything to do with humility and love. The textures of our minds are shaped by what we see and feel and if those feelings are conducive with scientific axioms then all the better. I have sound foundations in the philosophy of science and mind and have a deep understanding of the profound paradoxes and inconsistencies that cannot be resolved using propositional logic. Logic itself fails when it comes to paradox and counterintuitives and without them we would not have a mind. The textures of our reality are far more complex than empiricism and reductions can explain when the unified gestalt whole is inevitably more than the sum of its parts. Furthermore we are blind to future evolutionary potentialities and to foreclose upon understanding and insight is rather naive and self-defeating. Nagarjuna was a philosopher trapped in a Buddhist enclave yet he was a free critical thinker and that is how I try to live my life. To think one knows is to forget the infinite textures waiting unrealized in the matrix of potentialities. The only way to go beyond fixed opinion is to jump into the ocean of the unknown while carrying the axioms of science and its profound paradoxes and limitations with you. Stagnation and fossilization is not my thing while so much is up for grabs. One has to want to know the unknowns and then attack the problems head on. No two peoples insights will be the same however they can be built upon proof and the excitement of mapping out those proofs and encapsulating paradoxes, incompleteness and counterintuitives onto future potentialities.

    There are infinitely more things to realise than can be captured by mice and men.

  90. patriciawa

    “my garden, my dog and my chickens” are enough for Annie B and along with clouds and trees teach her enough.

    I agree, though for me chickens are a noisy and messy crew. Other people’s gardens are great teachers too! My dog,Tacker, and I walk every day past lovely trees and flowering shrubs and then through an ordered garden cared for by rostered members of a church community. Notionally an agnostic I have become part of that community because of our shared .attachment to the garden.

  91. miriamenglish

    John, unfortunately if Captain Cook had visited Hawaii first he wouldn’t have made it to Australia. The nice, peaceful, spiritual Hawaiians clubbed and speared him to death.

  92. miriamenglish

    I feel a niggling worry when people talk about native peoples as being more spiritual in some way than white people. It strikes me as accidentally racist and illogical, and not in line with the facts. I begin with the belief that all humans are just humans — black, white, red, yellow, brown — we are just humans who are all prey to the same failings.

    All over the planet you can follow the wanderings of humans onto new landscapes by viewing the extermination of the megafauna and destruction of entire ecologies. When the American Indians entered North America via the Bering Strait almost all the megafauna went extinct. When the Maori invaded New Zealand all the megafauna went extinct and they deforested three quarters of the country. When the Australian Aborigines entered this country about 50,000 years ago all the megafauna quickly went extinct. In Australia this had drastic ripple effects on the fragile ecology. Without the forests and grasslands maintained by the diprotodons and other large herbivores, and with the people using fire on the landscape, the interior turned to desert and the inland sea dried up. Eucalypts, previously confined, I believe to part of the North West, loved the fire because it destroyed their competition so they flourished, making Australia perhaps the most fire-prone place on Earth. Of course there are plenty of apologists who say local climate shifts did the dirty deed, but it seems to me too much of a coincidence that it always happens right after humans enter the scene, and humans are certainly capable of precipitating the changes in weather patterns by exterminating herbivores and cutting down trees.

    All people that I’m aware of conducted war upon their fellows. The American Indians frequently plundered and murdered neighboring tribes. What little documentation of Australian Aborigines that there is, talks of them often warring among groups too. The Maoris became enthusiastic warriors after they exterminated their main food source, the Moa. At that time fortifications sprang up around all encampments. By all accounts they conducted horrifying wars upon each other, as the English found out to their great surprise when they expected to walk over another group of “inferior” blacks, only to find these people were even more ferocious than they were.

    The only thing I can say in favor of the native peoples of the world is that without high technology they took a lot longer to wreak great damage upon their lands than “civilised” Western humans did. Look what we’ve done and are still doing to Australia — of the pitiful remnant forest when whites arrived, 90% is now gone along with all the animals and plants that lived in them. And we want to gear up for faster destruction! Much of the land is turned to salty wasteland or vast tracts of disastrous monoculture and the most fertile parts are paved over with tar and cement… in just two hundred years. It took the earlier inhabitants thousands of years to turn this country into near desert.

    All the different races of the world — they are us. We are them. We are all the same deeply flawed humans. We need to learn from this and fix it.

  93. stephentardrew

    Yes but there are the wise and creative amongst us who can help change the course. The more pathways we explore the better. Though we need to change there are many ways to move to a more just and equitable societies. That is the thing about evolution it explores diversity not mono-culture. Petere Singer is one of many who have a very well thought out approach to poverty and inequality based in moral philosophy and he is one of our wise elders. Do many listen to him? Just because cultures are dysfunctional does not mean there are not many wise and profoundly insightful individuals within those cultures. Who knows who the next Einstein, Jeffrey Sachs or Peter Singer will be however we can be rest assured that in every culture there are wise and insightful individuals full of compassion ready to explore alternatives.

    The elders who are respected change agents in any society are the minority and exist regardless of the commonality for human dysfunction, frailty and brutality.

    I could provide a long list of ethical and caring people from many cultures and institutions who are actively working towards a better world. Evolution and democracy are about diversity however that diversity should be held to the flame of scientific proofs nevertheless many scientist cant be trusted to be the purveyors of goodness because they are the ones employed to make the weapons.

    The fact is that for some 30,000 years since Cro Magnon man emerged there have been very little changes in our DNA so what is needed is a less emotionally reactive intelligence which may come from general artificial intelligence, genetic engineering, neural implants or development of psycho-neurological substances. We may very well have to chose to modify our overactive limbic system to dampen down the primal tooth and claw fight flight imperative. The problem is an engineering problem based upon the causal evolution of human beings that carry primitive baggage we may well need to dampen or eliminate.

  94. Annie B

    To Miriam ……. ref your comment –

    …..” I feel a niggling worry when people talk about native peoples as being more spiritual in some way than white people. It strikes me as accidentally racist and illogical, and not in line with the facts.”

    I think it was Kaye who first introduced the subject of Aboriginal spirituality, and others – including myself – joined in on that subject alone.

    I cannot speak for other commenters on this … but can for myself. ….

    When writing my initial reply, it was from the thought of their deeply ingrained beliefs in their ‘Dream Time’ and the stories passed down from elders to children – over and over about the ‘dreaming’ and what it all means. …. The stories are most often analogies, and I would imagine be spoken of in the specific dialects of the different tribes of Aboriginals, here ……

    Their art is absolutely different to anything else … ( except for e.g. Albert Namatjira – who painted landscapes in an almost old fashioned ‘white’ ( ? ) tradition ) …. and their art is very much admired and respected.

    They have a much greater sense of devotion to land, it’s contents, how to survive in hostile environments and how to live off the land, using flora which we have little or no knowledge of ( unless it is being studied by Uni students et al – most always with the assistance of Aboriginals ) – –

    They understand this country, far better than we do. … and therein lies part of their very specific spirituality, of which we have little knowledge.

    It is by no means ” racist or illogical ” ….

    Personally, I admire the true Aboriginal spirit and respect the lessons they could teach us ‘whites’. ….

    No offence intended by this post, btw.


  95. Annie B

    Miriam …. one more thing.

    You mentioned the extinction of megafauna – ( I am presuming you are speaking of smaller dinosaur type animals ? ) …. which were extinct ( in the case of Australia ) much longer than 50,000 years ago and long long before Aboriginals crossed via the north, to Australia. Many millions of years ago, in fact. ….

    ( from Wikipedia ) :

    ” Australian megafauna comprises a number of large animal
    species in Australia, often defined as species with body mass
    estimates of greater than 45 kilograms[1] or equal to or greater
    than 30% greater body mass than their closest living relatives.
    Many of these species became extinct during the
    Pleistocene (16,100 ±100 – 50,000 years B.C.) ”

    Just one of the megafauna remaining in Australia today, sits on our coat of arms, and is in danger of starvation as they have increased to plague proportions in many areas. … and that is something that must continue to be addressed, as to the best ways to deal with overpopulation of kangaroos, in the most humane ways possible.

    The reverence that Native American Indians have for fauna – or megafauna ( e.g. bison ) …. is legendary, and it was the white settlers that killed some 50 million bison for food, sport, and to deprive the Native American Indian of their most important natural asset – – –
    ( from ) …. so the Native Indians coming across the Bering Strait, had little if anything to do with that at all. That’s just one animal, admittedly. !!

    There remains today – much ‘mega-fauna’ – both here and in the Americas, at least going by the weight ratios given above as to what constitutes ‘mega-fauna’. ….

    But you are correct – many thousands of species are extinct now – never to be seen again, and I suggest it had nothing to do with the incoming of Natives, rather it was the ‘settlers’ in various new world areas, who were to blame. And if we are to include South Pacific natives who populated New Zealand – ( Maori ) … then sadly, they did indeed hunt the Moa to extinction. … What else they did, I have no idea – except as you mentioned, to deforest large tracts of land …. something ALL peoples, have continued to do – up to this very day.

    There has been megafaunal extinction in many parts of the globe – by natural attrition, by indiscriminate killing ( way back, the killers / invaders, were ignorant and knew no better ), and by the destruction of habitat, by natural or man-made means.

    If I have the wrong end of the stick, please advise Miriam. … Would be interested to know. What I believe to be mega-fauna ( from research ) might not be what you were talking about. … And I think we might be a bit off topic here. 😉

  96. miriamenglish

    Annie, don’t worry, I didn’t take anything you said badly. Likewise nothing I say is meant to hurt anybody.

    I grew up in the bush and I love it. A little more than a decade ago I moved back out into the country again (though not the bush that I grew up in and do greatly miss). I feel strongly that we have a custodian duty for the land, not out of any love of the land (though I certainly have that), but out a desire for self-preservation. Without the ecosystems that provide us with so many free services (cycling and cleaning water and air, maintaining soil fertility, pollinating our flowers, and so on) we risk our own destruction.

    When I mentioned racism in the view of tribal people as being more spiritual, please do note that I prefixed it with the word “accidental”. I know people generally feel this way not out of deliberate racism, but often as a reaction to the overt racism of those who unthinkingly dismiss tribal people as being less than technological people. But it is an overreaction to a bad thing and doesn’t solve anything. When we look at native people around the world we are not seeing some other kind of people; they are genuinely us. I mean this quite literally. There is less genetic variation among all humans on the planet than there is among individuals in an average tribe of chimpanzees. We are all truly brothers and sisters. It is not a metaphor. (And this lack of genetic diversity puts us at great risk, but I won’t talk of that here.)

    In Australia the megafauna were plentiful before the early humans first came here 50,000 years ago. There were herds of diprotodons (wombat-like grazers the size of volkswagons). There were many species of the up to 3 meter tall short-faced kangaroo, which had a face almost like a human with eyes pointing forward and long arms like a human and a short, thick tail. The frankly terrifying marsupial lion had the strongest jaws of any animal known, with large stabbing teeth in front and enormous shearing teeth along the sides. It had incredibly powerful arms with large, sharp claws, and its small back legs indicate it wasn’t speedy, but was apparently an ambush killer, perhaps like the fabled drop-bear which bushies like to scare tourists with (the marsupial lion features in my free novel flying). Of course the thylacine or marsupial wolf lived on mainland Australia back then too. A giant, scary, predatory waterfowl (humorously called the “demon duck of doom” by paleontologists) prowled the land. There was a large land crocodile, giant venomous goannas, giant pythons, many more wallabies, including a carnivorous wallaby, and if I remember right there was a much larger eagle.

    Australia was covered in forest and grassland with a large inland sea. When the forests were damaged on the coastland Australia’s fragility would have quickly become apparent. Unlike many other places around the planet, our country doesn’t get fed wet winds over much of its land. It would have relied upon the so-called “conveyer belt effect” where moisture evaporating from coastal forests moves a little inland to fall and then evaporate again and fall further inland, and so on. If a thin strip of coastal forest is lost (and humans have always preferred the coast) then everything further inland dies. Killing the grazers and predators and burning the vegetation would have led inexorably to desert, and without the rivers that fed it the inland sea dried up.

    This pattern of destruction has repeated itself over and over again around the world. Every time humans enter an area the megafauna quickly go extinct. Please note that I’m not blaming them. I’m just saying what happened. We can’t do anything about it now. Humans do what humans always do. If we see potential food animals we kill them, if we are threatened by predators, we kill them, if we see forest we chop it down or burn it, if we see grassland we burn it. I’m simply saying this is what we’ve always done, but now it finally risks being the death of us if we can’t learn from it. Romanticising ancestral people or other people today closes our eyes to the damage that all humans do to their environment. They are not different. They are us and we are them, and we all need to lift our game if we are to survive.

  97. Douglas Evans

    Been thinking about this article and the comments that followed it. Casting round on the web discovered this video which it seems to me has a lot of thought provoking material for participants in this discussion. I really recommend it. PS. If for some reason you can’t connect to it on YouTube it can be found also on this page.

  98. Douglas Evans

    Oh meant also to say thanks for looking for my lost comment Michael T. Appreciate your effort.

  99. Annie B

    Thank you Miriam … your time and consideration in reply, is sincerely appreciated.

    Like many readers do ( of anything ) …. I jumped on two words “racist and illogical” that stood out, and spoke loudest … apologies for ignoring ( or perhaps not even seeing ) the word ‘accidentally ‘ … I really should give up making comments in the wee small hours of morning. !! Sleep would be wiser.

    I do agree totally – and have said so many times ( to be howled down by quite a few I might add ) …. that we are all truly brothers and sisters. We are of the human race / species – no matter our colour, creed or language. There’s good in the bad, and bad in the good. The twin faces of human nature, ( without going into a thumping long epistle about all that. )

    While I might devour a TV documentary on paleontology, I have never made any in depth study of the mega-fauna you speak of. …. and I appreciate that you have replied with such vigour and knowledge. I admit to not having a huge interest in pursuing this subject. I did know about the thylocine ( which scientists are trying to re-create using cell based cloning ) and had read about the marsupial lion type creature. And of course the good old crocodile lives on – from the ancient past. And that, sadly, is about it for my knowledge on this subject. …

    One thing that has always fascinated me ( and it will happen again this year, if the rain continues to the degree it is at present in Queensland ) …. is the way the rivers flow down into the Lake Eyre basin, how migrating birds ‘ know ‘ when it is going to happen ( or not ) ……. and how fish are ‘resurrected’ for want of a better word, when the lake fills. Was always under the impression ( I plead ignorance ) … that Australia has always and forever been 3/4 desert dry for 99% of the time.

    “Learn at least one new thing every day ” ……. I love to learn, and you have helped me do that – for today.

    Again, thank you.


  100. miriamenglish

    Steven, I owe you an apology. There is no excuse for me being rude to you and I’m ashamed of it. My reason, though not an excuse, is that I’d just come from an aggressive woman who was proud to call herself a practiser of witchcraft and who derided me when I tried to share some information with her reassure her that the world is not spiralling into the moral decay that she believes it is. She had the stupidity to declare that she was wiser than I would ever be. I don’t deal well with confrontation and left that discussion upset. Then when I commented here and you wrote what I thought were condescending, deliberately obfuscatory replies I thought with dread, “Oh no, not again.” But I was wrong. I’m sorry. Even given that background though, there was no excuse for my rudeness. Having read more now of what you write I see that you simply have a style of writing and thinking that I misread. My genuine best wishes to you.

  101. stephentardrew

    miriamenglish: You owe me nothing It’s all a bit of fun and exchange of ideas I don’t get offended. I enjoy your posts and respect your sharp intellect. No offense taken. We have bigger fish to fry.

    In art and love.

  102. stephentardrew

    Oh by the way Miriam I can be a bossy arse so a good jab now and again doesn’t hurt.
    I have also suffered from dyslexia and can reread what I write a dozen times and still miss spelling mistakes and poor punctuation which can make my writing confusing.

  103. Harquebus

    The worst thing about religions are, they all target kids for indoctrination.
    The beauty of religions are, there is no way anyone can come back from the afterlife to say, “There’s nothing there”.

  104. Harquebus

    BTW: Convince someone to do god’s will and you can convince them to do anything.

  105. aortic

    I was brought up in a fundamentalist faith and it took me many long years to shake the spectre of eternal damnation off. It is nothing short of child abuse.

  106. Annie B

    I am not atheist, but am agnostic. ….. I acknowledge a higher power of some kind, creator maybe, but have no clue as to what / who / how that might be.

    Letitia said in her quite extraordinary article : ….. “But what is it about religious faith that drives some people to embark on murderous repressive rampages against their fellow human beings? Is it their faith that actually drives them, or are they simply consumed by homicidal fantasies and religion conveniently allows them to cloak their dark desires in a veil of piety?”

    I suggest it is the latter.

    Most references in religion were written in ancient times ( Christian, Islam, Judaism ) and those ancient times were barbaric, vicious and unforgiving. Shinto, Hindu, Zen etc. – I believe, most probably date back even further. They were slightly different in their approaches, but came from similar ancient philosophies and ways of life.

    So – modern day ‘worship’ and ‘following’ is of ancient screeds, written with some positives toward loving, nurturing and compassion, but much of what was written then, contained threat, promises of dire consequences for certain actions, death, drought, pestilence – you name it, if it could promote fear – it did. … And these writings still do. They instil negatives, rather than positives – and instil fear – which promotes nothing good.

    A person raised as e.g. Christian, who is driven to commit a reprehensible act – would not first, sit quietly and think – “The Bible told me so” … before committing the crime. But if he / she has been exposed in any way ( through TV doco’s, books, newspaper articles, film, Bible / religious instruction or church attendance ) to these ‘ancient’ religious teachings, then somewhere in the back of his/her mind, is perhaps a justification ….. an idea that surfaces, but is not consciously recognised – that he/she is justified in pursuing gratification, revenge, or blood lust. That is the dark side of the human being, overcoming the good and often ably abetted by their exposure to religion and religious beliefs per se.

    I do not believe that learning about love, common decency and lawful living, can come from ancient written screeds which radical followers of ANY religion, pursue. The Christian bible itself is full of anomolies, is very inconsistent – and has relied on human intervention through centuries, to decide which ‘writings’ go where – and what constitutes ‘the Bible’. … so how could it possibly be the ‘word of God’ … or of any deity ?

    I think Dame-Allison White said a great deal : “I still retain my suspicions about organised religions tho – they appear to be merely convenient edifices for some to gain power over others.”

  107. nazish

    all good things have potential to be exploited. morals, kindness, forgiveness, generosity all stem out of religion as well, and many a relious people have contributed to human civil society. further more i think its the corruption of human nature thats seeps in everything. patriotism is good but at times it has led to genocides. religion is just a tool and should be a tool for spirituality, an emotional or esotric need. when it becomes hegemonic behest etc thats when the trouble starts. right now many countries in third world go through as much violence for democratic ‘purposes’ . the world wars have been fought for power and hegmony. some fought for national raccial superiority etc , point being we can screw up any good thing by losing sight and balance. religion is also one ssuch institute..

  108. miriamenglish

    Religion was never a good thing. It was always a delusion that sometimes got used for good, but more often for bad.

    Arguably the worst thing about religion is that it excuses and even elevates gullibility to a praiseworthy quality — they call it “faith”. When logic and good sense fail to show why your imaginary best friend is better than someone else’s there’s always faith. Just believe and it will be alright, don’t question. When we tell you that religion is where morality comes from, don’t question why atheists all through history have been some of the kindest, smartest, most moral of people. When we tell you that religion is good, but some naughty people misuse it, don’t question how genuine all those deluded crusaders were, or how real was the belief that the inquisition torturers were in thinking they were saving people from eternity in hell by getting them to confess while their flesh is torn from their bodies, or how honestly Hitler declared to the German people in speech after speech that they must follow the Christian god and protect family values. Never mind how truly those people felt they were doing god’s work and the highest possible good on Earth. We know they were wrong. How do we know they were wrong? Not because they were deluded people driven crazy by a lunatic belief system that they refused to question. No. We know they were wrong because our god tells us so. We have a different special purpose. But don’t worry, gentle reader. Do not be afraid. We are good religious people come to liberate you from bad stuff for a god who loves you so much he demands you worship him forever or else he will torture you forever. Isn’t that the very definition of a good and just thing?

    Religion[…] With or without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.
    — Steven Weinberg, Nobel Prize-winning physicist

    Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, refuses to go away.
    –Philip K Dick

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