Sunday, April 13, 2008

Objectivism & Religion, Part 2

Man, the religious animal. “Man is by his constitution a religious animal,” averred Burke. This statement, if taken as a generalization, is hard to refute. Evidence for it confronts us on all sides. Most people throughout civilized human history have believed in the religion of their tribe or country. In recent centuries religion has waned among the educated classes; yet what we find is not so much a move from religion toward enlightenment as simply a move from theistic religions to non-theistic belief-systems that are religions in all but name. Thus intellectuals and other such delusional people have become acolytes of the religion of Democracy, the religion of Socialism, the religion of Humanitarianism, the religion of Marx, the religion of secular humanism. There is even, sad to say, a religion of science! I’m not referring here to real science, which involves experiments, empirical criticism, peer review, etc., but to irrational beliefs connected to science, such as the conviction that all (or most) human problems could be solves if everyone exchanged their religious views for “scientific” views.



No one has explored this facet of human nature more exhaustively than the Italian sociologist Vilfredo Pareto:

As various religions succeed one another in history, their forms may be as different as one please, but after all they are all expressions of religious sentiments that vary but slightly. The modern free thinker enforces, in the name of Science, Holy of Holies, a morality but slightly differing from the code that the God of the Israelites proclaimed for His people, or the code that the Christians received from their God; or the codes that now one, now another, of the ancient peoples received from gods or from lawgivers legendary or divine….

Similar uniformities are observable even in phenomena much less important. In ancient times people who were sick made pilgrimages to the temples of Aesculapius in order to regain their health. They were succeeded in the Middle Ages by devout Christians who prayed to their saints for health and visited shrines and relics. Nowadays they would recognize descendants in the throngs that flock to Lourdes, in the devotees of “Christian Science”…

To such are still to be added the practices of those many medical quacks whom Daudet happily dubbed “deathers.” In their regard the credulity of the ancients has its perfect counterpart in the credulity of the moderns. At no time in history have quacks flourished more abundantly on the money of simpletons than they do today [circa 1905]; and in many countries the law protects such priests of the goddess “Science” just as religiously as it protected priests of the pagan gods of old—sometimes even more so. Believers gather in droves in those clinics and sanitoria which are temples of the modern quack. Some of them get well, if Mother Nature chances to look upon them with a kindly eye; but all of them contribute to the collection box of the high-priests of the goddess “Science” and their acolytes—among whom, let us not fail to count the pharmacists who sell their drugs at 1000 per cent profit; and the inventors of those patent medicines which shoot across the sky of publicity like meteors, cure every conceivable illness for more or less extensive, and often very brief, periods of time, and then are gone; not without leaving huge fortunes in the pockets of certain traders on public credulity who exploit the poor in spirit under the kindly eye of the legislator. And there is no argument, no fact, however obvious, however striking, that can avail to open the eyes of the fools. (1695, 1697)


With the improvements in medicine, the situation has somewhat improved in the hundred years since Pareto wrote. But it has hardly been a complete improvement. Quackery still survives in many forms, and is often resorted to as a last resort, when conventional medicine fails. Quackery, of course, is one of the more negative elements of religion. However, it is not as negative as Pareto paints it; science now recognizes the existence of placebo effects. Now in medicine, it is generally better to supplement placebo effects with conventional medical treatment, since science-based treatment is considerably more efficacious than placebo effects. But that is not true in all venues in life. There may be areas of life dealing with psychology of motivation or one’s general attitude toward existence which might be best served by the “placebo-like” comforts of religion.

In any case, whether religion is positive or negative in its overall impact on an individual or on society as a whole, the evidence strongly suggests that it is here to stay. Most human beings are incorrigibly religious. Even when they turn secular, their basic religious orientation remains. So why, then, should we waste our time quixotically inveighing against it? A far wiser policy for the statesman or the social leader is to try to cultivate the positive and discourage the negative elements in religion. Trying to argue people out of religion is a complete waste of time. Debates may be instructional or entertaining, but they’re not going to change many peoples’ minds.

Arguing people out of religion, far from being a good thing, may actually be a bad thing. What happens when people stop being religious? They become secular. Their religion simply takes another form; but it's usually a worse form. Centuries of trial and error have purged the religions of the civilized West (mainly Christianity and Judaism) of many of their worst excesses. The secular equivalents of religion, on the other hand, being rather new developments, have not undergone this sifting process. That is why various secular equivalents of religion may prove harmful while a religion such as conventional Christianity may prove, in its overall effects, beneficial.

25 comments:

Jay said...

Trying to argue people out of religion is a complete waste of time.

I suspect most atheists would settle for being able to live on their own terms. Let the religious form voluntary associations whose members do not get abortions, reap the benefits of stem cell research, whatever else the current spokesmen deem contrary to His will.

Atheists would still snicker at them, but the problem would more or less be solved. Why wont this happen? Because there is a fundamental power-lusting facet of religion. It is not enough for religious people to simply practice their beliefs. For many of them, the circle of virtue is not complete until they have coerced others into doing so as well.

gregnyquist said...

"I suspect most atheists would settle for being able to live on their own terms. Let the religious form voluntary associations whose members... Why wont this happen? Because there is a fundamental power-lusting facet of religion."

I would say that thre is a fundamental power-lusting facet to politics and that religion really doesn't have much to do with it. Religion is sometimes used as a tool by power-lusting (actually status lusting, but it amounts to the same thing in the end) individuals, and in that case, political motives generally dominate.

There are two main reasons why religious people are bent on meddling with the social order, one which is fairly benign and understandable, the other which is a bit insane and deplorable. The innocent motive is merely the desire to protect their children from exposure to "immorality," which can mean anything from having a whorehouse move into the neighborhood to having their children taught evolution in the public schools. I can sympathize with this motive. Ideally, a religious person should be able to raise their children in neighborhood where there's no whorehouse or smut peddlers, and they should also be able to decide whether their children are taught evolution (just as atheists parents should be able to decide whether their children are taught creationism).

The other insane motive for meddling has to do with a long-standing sentiment among intensely religious people, namely, the belief that God will punish many in society for the transgressions of the few. This sentiment exists not only among fundamentalist Christians, one finds it throughout history among many different religions. Sophocles play Oedipus the King features it, where Thebes is being punished by the gods for the transgressions of Oedipus. I once had a fundamentalist Christian tell me that he was somewhat afraid to fly because if there was a serious moral transgressor on the plane God might cause the plane to crash. Apparently God, despite his great puissance and omniscience, is a bit a clumsy punishing sin these days; He must kill a bunch of innocent people to punish one person. Be that as it may, this primitive religious attitude motivates the very religious to be excessively concerned about the behavior of other people, even when that behavior in no way affects them or their children.

Jay said...

...the belief that God will punish many in society for the transgressions of the few.

Certainly, that's one issue. There's also what Red alluded to on the last thread; charlatan politicians who pander to religious sentiments of the masses. However, much like altruistic sentiments, politicians can only do this successfully to the extent those sentiments are unchallenged. This seems to be another goal of militant atheists: imploring the common man to question his religious beliefs and see what (if any) value they truly hold.

Red Grant said...

____________________________

There may be areas of life dealing with psychology of motivation or one's general attitude toward existence which might be best served by the "placebo-like" comforts of religion. - Greg
____________________________





Would your reasoning above apply to tenets of Ayn Rand's "Philosophy" as exemplifed by Howard Roark?

if her "philosophy" provides one with the invigorating motive and of "placebo-like" comforts for one's motive, then,

you wouldn't object?



Why in the first place do you go after Ayn Rand's "Philosophy" in this blog?

Isn't it to expose philosophical fraud regardless of whether it provides one with "placebo-like" comfort for one's motive for one's action or not?






____________________________

In any case, whether religion is positive or negative in its overall impact on an individual or on society as a whole, the evidence strongly suggests that it is here to stay. - Greg
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You can make the similar case for cockroaches.




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So why, then, should we waste our time quixotically inveighing against it? - Greg
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Evidence suggests that the cockroaches are here to stay, and most probably will long after the human race.

Does this mean then you believe people shouldn't try to exterminate swarms of roaches in their house just because they are here to stay?





____________________________

A Far wiser policy for the stateman or the social leader is to try to cultivate the positive and discourage the negative elements in relgion. - Greg
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What would be the postive and the negative elements of Christianity?



Judaism?



and Islam?





____________________________

Trying to argue people out of religion is a complete waste of time. - Greg
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Indeed, I tend to agree on this one, so what advice would you give in neutralizing Islam's threat(as you see it)?





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Most human beings are incorrgibly religious. - Greg
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Are you one?





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Centuries of trial and error have purged the religions of the civilized West(mainly Christianity an Judaism) of many of their worst excesses. - Greg
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What were their[Christianity and Judaism]worst excesses that have been purged?


and who was ultimately responsible for the purging of many of their worst excesses?

Wasn't it ultimately the secular forces that were responsible for purging many of the excessess of the peoples claiming to practice (falsely) the Christianity and Judaism?





____________________________

...while a religion such as conventional Christianity may prove in its overall effects, beneficial. - Greg
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Beneficial in what way?




Do the followers of conventional Christianity believe in war?

Did Jesus preach war for either political or religous purpose?

Aren't the Christians supposed to follow the teachings of Jesus?

str1977@googlemail.com said...

I don't see the relation of the posting to Ayn Rand or Objectivism.

Jay,

"I suspect most atheists would settle for being able to live on their own terms."

Well, that's what they got but they are still not statisfied.

As for Red Grant's ridiculously formatted posting:

It is also a waste of time when atheists with no knowledge of Christianity and Jesus' teaching at all suddenly want to lecture Christians about it. Memo: Christ was no pacifist.

Jay said...

STR,

I submit to you the following:

1) Taxpayer funded faith based initiatives. (Entire populace forced to pay for religious activities.)

2) Tax exempt status for churches. (No tax breaks for atheists.)

3) Intelligent design slowly seeping into public schools. (Distortion of reality in schools we are forced to pay for.)

4) Forced volunteerism in public schools. (Students coerced into slave labor under threat of not graduating.)

Can you now begin to see why some atheists are not satisfied?

JayCross said...

While we're at it:

5) Presidential ethics committees considering stem cell questions from religious points of view, whose decisions will impact theists and atheists alike.

gregnyquist said...

"I don't see the relation of the posting to Ayn Rand or Objectivism."

Well it's really quite simple: Rand would never have accepted the view that man is a religious animal; yet posts on religion are going to rely heavily on this idea. So I have to get it out of the way so it won't lead to difficulties later on.

gregnyquist said...

Jay,

I think your complaints fall into the category of small potatoes or minor nuissances. Let's examine a few of them:

(1) Faith based initiatives.—Of course, each initiative must be judged on its own merits, but that doesn't mean that they might actually be doing something that needs to be done and doing it in a way that is more efficient if left to a bureaucracy. Let's say that faith-based initiative involves setting up a mission for the homeless. Well, that may turn out to be a cheaper way of dealing with these dysfunctional people that wander about on our streets defecating in front of business, vandalizing property and harrassing people. Keep in mind, you're going to have to do something about these people. Even rounding them up and throwing them in jail costs a boatload of money.

(2) Tax exemption for Churches.—You don't think there's any positive social benefits of churches? Regular church attendence tends to be correlated with lower crime rates and better overall behavior. Fundamentalist churches, for example, often put a lot of pressure on their congregations to keep on the straight and narrow, which means less dysfunctional people running about in society. I think that's a net gain.

(3) Intelligent design in schools.—Does this really matter? The fact is, the overwhelming majority of people don't care about this issue. I'm not even sure they're capable of understanding the issue. I agree with H.L. Mencken on this issue. If a strong majority of the local community wants intelligent design taught in their schools, why shouldn't they be allowed it? It's their school system; they're paying for it through their property taxes.

Neil Parille said...

Jay,

As far as tax exemptionion for churches, I believe that atheist organizations (and most non-profits) are tax exempt. So I am not sure that there is any difference in treatment.

It's true that there are people who want to introduce certain religious ideas into public schools, but the schools would still be quite secular. I'm sure secular people aren't happy with some money going to "faith based" charities, but how does that compare with the hundreds of billions of dollars that religious people are forced to spend on secular public schools (some which are militantly secular and leftist).

I get the impression that secular leftists are behind the drive for forced volunteerism in the schools.

JayCross said...

It's their school system; they're paying for it through their property taxes.

That would be fine: if atheists could withdraw from those schools and get a tax credit covering what they would have paid toward the school. Although, this is leading us astray toward the general debate about compulsory government schools, but the fact remains: religion does not belong in schools, even when it is thinly veiled in scientific jargon.

Neil,

how does that compare with the hundreds of billions of dollars that religious people are forced to spend on secular public schools (some which are militantly secular and leftist).

Religious people should be able to withdraw their kids and their money from those schools. A private market would let religious parents send their kids to religious schools and secular parents to secular schools. I would hope for secular schools in Lisa Van Damme's mold moreso than the militantly leftist ones.

Red Grant said...

____________________________

As for Red Grant's ridiculously formatted posting: -str
____________________________






Hey, did you get to check out my homepage of the week? Cool song, eh?

Don't be shy, share with us your profile.





____________________________

Memo: Christ was no pacifist. - str
____________________________




Did Jesus preach war and violence for religious and political purpose?

If He did, please show me the verses.










"You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.'

But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray fo those who persecute you,

that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He cause his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteousness.

If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?

And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?

Matthew 5:43-48

http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew%205:43-48





____________________________

It is also a waste of time when atheists with no knowledge of Christianity and Jesus' teaching at all suddenly want to lecture Christians about it. - str
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It's embarrasing when people who call themselves "Christians" without even knowing the teaching of Jesus and even worse doing the opposite of what Jesus preached and get corrected by Non-Christians, isn't it?

Red Grant said...

Edit:

...and sends rain on the righteousness.


Should have said:


....and sends rain on the righteousness and unrighteousness.

Red Grant said...

____________________________

You don't think there's any positive social benefits of churches? - Greg
____________________________







What kind of overall social benefits?






____________________________

Regular church attendance tends to be correlated with lower crime rates and better overall behavior. - Greg
____________________________



"Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery." - Luke 16:18

http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke+16:18



But Bill Johnson is also a therapist and federal probation officer. His work experience has caused him to note that it's awfully popular to be Baptist.

"When I interview criminals going into prison or coming out of prison, most of them are Baptist," he said, laughing.

http://www.adherents.com/largecom/baptist_divorce.html



Is that why the Bible Belt has the higher murder rates than U.S. average?

http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1355/is_n12_v94/ai_21020057




____________________________

Fundamentalist churches, for example, often put a lot of pressure on their congregations to keep on the straight and narrow, which means less dysfunctional people running about in society. I think that's a net gain. - Greg
____________________________






Is that why "Fundamentalist Christian" couples have the highest divorce rates in the nation? (Incidently, atheists have the lowest divorce rates along with perhaps Lutherans.)


Is that why the Bible belt has higher murder rates than the U.S. average, much less Netherland?

Is that why the Bible belt has high teen pregnancy rate, along with high STD rates?

Is that why the Bible belt has high rate of people living together without marriage?



http://community-2.webtv.net/tales_of_the_western_world/BIBLEBELT/

Damien said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Damien said...

Greg,

Its strange, but despite Rand's hatred of mysticism, didn't you point out that she hypocritically embraced it at one point? And didn't she in doing so also embrace ideas that were anathema to scientific research? I think it was in your book Ayn Rand Contra Human Nature.

gregnyquist said...

Damien,

I wouldn't quite say that Rand is religious, at least not in the theistic sense. But there are religious elements in Rand's thought. Although Rand despised the content of religion, she did like religious emotions. She just wanted them fixed on non-religious objects, such as her ideal man.

I would also add that Pareto would not have hesitated to call Objectivism a religion, with reason as its holy of holies. Pareto would have regarded many Rand doctrines, including her political doctrines, as non-empirical, non-scientific, as mere rationalizations of wishful thinking.

str1977@googlemail.com said...

Jay,

going through the points submitted by you, I see that you have no serious complaints to make about atheists not being able to live on their own terms.

But if you meant, atheists (or rather one atheist, I do not want to implicate others that have not voiced such opinions) not being able dictate their narrow opinions to others, you do have a point.

str1977@googlemail.com said...

Greg,

I see. But from the posting the relation wasn't clear at all.

Red,

Yes, your formatting makes it harder to read your postings.

No, I did not check out your homepage. I will not change "my profile" as this is not meant to tell anything about me.

"Did Jesus preach war and violence for religious and political purpose?"

No, but that doesn't make him a pacifist, nor does it oblige Christians to be pacifists. Christ hardly talked about war, only two occurences came to mind: one "the wars and rumours of wars" expression, the other a parable about a king going to war which however is more about properly considering your means.

"It's embarrasing when people who call themselves "Christians" without even knowing the teaching of Jesus and even worse doing the opposite of what Jesus preached and get corrected by Non-Christians, isn't it?"

It is, if that happens. And it surely happens. Only your example is way off as you are making unwarranted conclusions from a few bible verses and then use these conclusions to measure actual behaviour. Maybe you should inform yourself about what Christian churches actually believe before you judge individual Christians.

Red Grant said...

____________________________

Did Jesus preach war and violence for religious and political purpose? - Red Grant

No, but that doesn't make him a pacifist, nor does it oblige Christians to be pacifists. - str
____________________________





Isn't a pacifist someone who reject war(in a worldly sense and by worldly means)?






The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world.

On the contrary, they have divine power to demonish strongholds. - 2 Corinthians 10:4




____________________________

It's embarrasing when people who call themselves "Christians" without even knowing the teaching of Jesus and even worse doing the opposite of what Jesus preached and get corrected by Non-Christians, isn't it? - Red Grant

It is, if that happens. - str
____________________________





Indeed.




____________________________

And it surely happens. - str
____________________________





Indeed, again, because it surely happened in this thread.



____________________________

Memo: Christ was no pacifist. - str
____________________________





The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world.

On the contrary, they have divine powers to demolish strongholds. - 2 Corinthians 10:4




____________________________

Memo: Christ was no pacifist. - str
____________________________





But I tell you love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. - from Matthew 5:43 - 48




____________________________

Only your example is way off as you are making unwarranted conclusions from a few bible verses and then use these conclusion to measure actual behaviour. - str
____________________________





Does this mean then you believe that Jesus commanding to love one's enemies(worldly) and pray for them is unwarranted?

Does this mean then you believe the Christians should or at least are permissible to hate their worldly enemies and should not or at least are permissible not to pray for them?



____________________________

Maybe you should inform yourself about what Christian churches actually believe before you judge individual Christians. - str

Memo: Christ was no pacifist. - str

But I tell you love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you. - from Matthew 5:43-48

Memo: Christ was no pacifist. - str

The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. - from 2 Corinthians 10:4
____________________________

Damien said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
JayCross said...

you have no serious complaints

Like hell I don't! How convenient that, rather than refute a single point I made, you simply assert that they aren't serious. Why aren't they?

not being able dictate their narrow opinions to others, you do have a point

On the contrary. It is religious people (some of them) who form voting blocs and use the political system to dictate their narrow opinions to others.

Damien said...

JayCross,

Its not just the religious that form voting blocks and try to force their narrow agenda down other peoples throats. A lot of people do it. Even people who won't admit to doing it. Do you know what a radical feminist is? Do you know what a communist is? Do you know what black nationalists are? Do you know what white nationalists are? Do you know what a neo-prohibitionist is? How about radical environmentalists?

JayCross said...

Damien,

Of course I do, and voting blocs are generally all bad; they are a horrific offshot off the Electoral College system. However, religious blocs are especially harmful, since we have a separation of Church and State whereby religious laws are unconstitutional.

Damien said...

JayCross,

Your correct to point out the fact that religious law are unconstitutional. I also believe in the separation of church and state.