Yes, and then again, no. It is one central, crucial concept in Christianity that I find abhorrent, anti-hominid, and an abomination unto MY lord, DNA-nature-reason. In words attributed to a supernormal spiritual advisor, the late Aleister Crowley wrote, "The word of sin is restriction." In his case, he may have had Victorian morality in mind, but he made a point. The Superman envisioned by Nietzsche (one of Crowley's gnostic saints, after all) is perhaps nothing but a rehashing of Taoism's Superior Man (Crowley was a Taoist as well) "worships" reason and fact over superstition and myth. But both men excoriated Christian morality. Once one accepts dogma as truth, one capitulates to antiquated, presentist impositions of restriction -- strictures. But the problem with "sin" does not end there.
Sin is the child of guilt. I write on learning that Matthew Warren, son of Rick, has died of his own hand. The Warren camp is closing ranks, telling the press that his son, Matthew, died of mental illness. The word tossed around is "depression," in itself ridiculous because depressed people don't ordinarily commit suicide, while seriously, chronically depressed people are hard to distinguish from bipolar syndrome, and a minimum of six months is required before any clinical psychiatrist worth her salt pronounces the specific character of the mental illness. The Warrens have told us nothing. Frankly, I should imagine that poor Matthew simply caved under the heavy burden of so much guilt. He could never measure up to Rick. That was a monumental task. Herculean. Sisyphian. But the Matthew we are not being told about probably saw the gargantuan hypocrisy of Rick Warren and could no longer tolerate it.
"Sin" presumes dogmatic wrong. It makes no room soever for individual drives and essential orientations. One is automatically a sinner for eating pork or shellfish; one must rest on the seventh day as God did and go to church; one must not go in public without a burka. The list is endless and, as Yogi might say, it never ceases. Mosheh's code, the Decalogue, is allowed on courthouse grounds because it is not a statement of Judeo-Christian morality but an illustration of the basis of almost all Western law, the principles on which our own American law was founded. And it is, indeed! All of our law, with codified exceptions, is based on much of the Top Ten shalt not's. People revile Crowley partly because of his personal habits and behavior, but also partially because they misunderstand his message. He was full aware that his "Holy Guardian Angel" was in reality his moral compass, his subconscious mind: he had no right not to become a heroin-addicted debauchee. This was his "True Will" (i.e. his personal essence, the "spirit" understood by Sir Richard Burton when he wrote, "He noblest lives and dies who keeps his self-made laws").
Free-thinkers and atheists have muchin common with all three men. Facing reality, the atheist has no bogey man to prick him with a fork, nor supernormal "lord" to reign him in when he errs, and when he fails, the atheist has no God to apologize to, certainly not to "His" "representatives on earth," The Priesthood, purveyors of poppycock and champions of confidence games played by wolves in sheeps' clothing preying on the sheep. These cowards sell imaginary "remission" and "God's" forgiveness, thriving on human weakness and guilt. The Priesthood is a cabal of confidence men who sell myth and superstition as if it were truth, then de-shekel the suckers to build McMansions with air conditioned dog houses. (Now that the televangelist scandals appear to be abating, the lifestyles of the rich and famous megachurchmen are going to be the next wave.)
Matthew Warren's suicide is a sad thing as suicides of young people usually are. Young men and women with suicidal tendencies often turn around. One of my students who attempted suicide three times in college is today, at 57, a highly successful businessman with a happy personal life. The elderly are not as good a bet for changing and their suicides are often due to painful longterm health problems.
The Warren suicide casts a very dark shadow over Rick Warren's message and one wonders whether that was intentional.
Intentional? Like God ordered the death? Nope, didn't think you meant that. Is it the re-enactment of Abraham?
"Take that, Dad!" was most likely a message the young man wanted to convey. Too bad he didn't say it out loud, so that people could consider his thoughts and perhaps rethink their shallow religiosity. Oh! How I wish he had used his intellect and voice to express his angst. We could all have benefited.
I agree that atheists have fewer strictures than religious theists. However I do not think that Christianity is the worst catastrophe to befall humanity. It is our aversion to skepticism that is the greater tragedy. Understanding the nature of reality and the nature of empirical evidence may not cure all societal ills, but its a damn good start.
Indeed, "Understanding the nature of reality and the nature of empirical evidence may not cure all societal ills" and it is one that offers a higher probability of finding solutions that work.
I think that theocentric cosmology and anthropology (picture of man) etc may well have misguided our minds, wills and action, but lets not forget that our brothers and sisters have not had the hindsight of science for that long. In groups there are people who forge ahead into new territory, and others who stay behind till the last moment, perhaps waithing for safety in numbers. Sam Harris argued coherently against free will, but perhaps atheists are slightly prone to "fetishise individualism" (as the religious right are said to do in Sam's book "Free Will") when it comes to attributins of guilt on the philosophical level. The very same people whom when it comes to the treatment of conventional criminals, or 'deviants' to use a closer analogy, might try to be liberal in their understanding of the situation. Really many of us are just scared animals in the face of an oft cruel and unpredictable universe, and we cling to what works with good reason. People find secular utility in religion ("Darwin's Cathedral"), for instance Christianity can be seen as a type of breeding programme. I think that as well as the vitriol (althought opinions are welcome) atheist can try and raise the bar if possibile, and prove themselves in the face of existence and its demands to be worhty of trust in the sense that they are happy healthy wealthy and wise beyond the average theist. Then there might be a socially pragmatic as well as a theoretical pull towards a non-theist world view. I am not asserting atheist incompetence, but aggregation around secular philosophy ought to be fruitful beyond any theism (as you sow so shall you reap, therefore secular phronesis ought to reap benefit in the world beyond religion), yet I am not sure this is obviously true on evely level.
I think I have to agree with you, Debra. It isn't just consequentialist, though. Everything one does (even everyday minutia) is usually in response to stimuli. Just a thought.
I understand what you write and respectfully do not share your view.
The obvious surface hypocrisy can be identified as the first cause of much of human mischief. I am talking about a far deeper meaning. A religious idea that sucks the time, energy, resources and indeed the sacrifices of good people, not for the good of the people, but for power and status of individual megalomaniacs.
I visited many of the great cathedrals of the world and discussed with local people the status of those who cut the stones and cemented them together. The Egyptians had a pretty good record of taking care of the builders. The same cannot be said for the priests, bishops, popes of European countries. Have you read the histories of those poor folks? A very simple look into journals and letters describing exploitation unto death of many of those who put their money into collection plates and labor into church lands for the benefit of the church leaders.
Great cathedrals yield no freedom. They yield back braking labor, heavy tithing loads, and sacrifices of peasantry. I hold grand buildings as so much hubris of dominators.
Buildings and dioceses or protestant lands aside, what about mental health of those who fall for the delusions of demented leaders? Guilt and shame are taught, they are not a natural emotion. We have to teach self-hatred, and that is accomplished with words, verbal and written, and in attitudes of those who need to put others down in order to lift themselves up. The demonic demand obedience from those too young or too weak or too old to be able to stand tall and firm in their own wisdom. Kill the spirit of self-respect! Job done!
Whether mega-churches with great financial wealth and social status that bugger people out of their resources, or as small town holier-than-thou preachers and teachers of guilt and shame bugger the family who uses pick and shovel to put food on the table and roof over heads, the purpose is to dominate and manipulate others out of resources.
And of course bigotry is always a factor. My god is bigger than your god, my church is better than your church, my truth is better than your truth, my gender is better than your gender, my race is better than your race, and I could go on for the rest of the page. This is a mental illness of the highest order.
The fact is, we are participants in the most incredible fact of being alive and conscious on this full-of-wonder Earth, living in a galaxy rendering it's secrets to those who question, and exist as part of a universe of unknown dimensions, doing things that humans do, along side the worm that does what worms do. As to hierarchy, there is no reason to think humans have rank over worms. We simply exist together as part of the whole system.
The same cannot be said for the priests, bishops, popes of European countries. Have you read the histories of those poor folks? A very simple look into journals and letters describing exploitation unto death of many of those who put their money into collection plates and labor into church lands for the benefit of the church leaders.
Sorry Joan, but that sounds like a pretty harsh oversimplification.
We can point fingers at various points in the past all we want, but any nuanced overview of the period also has to acknowledge that -myths of the Conflict Thesis notwithstanding- the Catholic Church was one of the only institutions during the Medieval Period, with the infrastructure and potential to keep Ancient documents intact, set up an education system that would lift up literature and societal structure, bring basic technology like windmills to the people, and lay the foundations for modern science. And it did all of that and more.
If you've ever read Aristotle and other great thinkers of the past? You have Churchmen to thank for helping those books survive for centuries. Studied at a university? The foundations of the world's university systems were laid by the Church in the Early Medieval period. Studied science? Medieval Churchmen were the ones who made mathematics the language of physics and did so out of the Neo-Platonic conviction that God was rational and that he wanted humans to understand the world.
I'm not going to say that we'd still be in the Dark Ages if not for the Church. But the historical studies on the period do tend to argue that the Church accelerated the rise of Europe from its period of political instability and internal strife. And that needs to be mentioned alongside any discussion of the negatives.
And yes, I'm well aware that the hounds will now descend on me.
(Someone trying to retort with Galileo or Bruno in 3..2..1..)
Hmm... I certainly feel as though I fall more on the side of hating religion for specific reasons, rather than categorically. In this sense, I have no problem with Matt's comment above, and think we would be doing ourselves a favour to examine these ideas more closely.
For instance, a few months back everyone appeared to be (to my eyes) attacking not only the following man's opinions, but his credibility and resolve as an atheist as well, for posts similar to this:
I personally felt that a few of those who took part carried their accusations into something more resembling baseless diatribes against he and the church, than helpful rebuttals to his statements (apologies if that combs anyone the wrong way, it is simply my own observation). Indeed, his final send-off came across as indulgent and childish, but I couldn't really take issue with many of the themes he presented in his posts.
Why does it seem as though so many of us are unwilling to have an honest conversation about the few helpful acts of charity and cultural preservation that MIGHT have been lost if not for the church? Granted, it is a patent demonstration of negligence on the part of the pious to not observe the entire body of work which stains their religious beliefs, but has our anti-theistic militancy reached such astounding levels that we're now guilty of doing the same thing as the theists in also ignoring the entire body of work? Anyone of sound mind, given enough time, could very probably demonstrate that religion has accomplished 100 fold in harm what it's ever done in good; however, we must ask ourselves: are we occasionally guilty of the same intellectual negligence which causes us to not take theistic arguments seriously? Are we not being entirely honest about the historicity of religion, either?
Maybe it's because in the country I live in fundamentalism isn't an everyday threat that I see things this way, and I can appreciate and sympathize with those of you who don't enjoy this reality. That said, I hardly think we'll find ourselves in purgatory to acknowledge with theists that the church has indeed done at least a modicum of good in this world, because we can then illustrate the vicious and malignant nature of the rest of what it's done immediately afterward. At the very least, one party in the conversation will end up being completely honest, and I firmly believe that honesty is the only way to argue with someone lying to themselves.
"At the very least, one party in the conversation will end up being completely honest, and I firmly believe that honesty is the only way to argue with someone lying to themselves."
I really like this statement and will remember it. That's certainly always my attitude: I want to be honest about questions pertaining to both sides, and not become a pundit who can't be objective anymore. This is why I don't like to say I'm antitheist (instead saying I'm an atheist who thinks religion is mostly harmful and superfluous): that label implies that I hold myself hostage to take the anti-religious standpoint all the time, instead of being objective and deciding on the basis of the facts.
As for criticizing "the Church", I think there's a really basic divide that we forget most of the time. It's one thing to dispute the foundations of Christianity, like original sin or vicarious redemption, because there's indeed very few positive things to say about false beliefs of that kind, and we can point to specific instances where they cause harm.
It's another to point at a group of people (i.e. the Church or anyone else) and argue that they're equally negative as their beliefs. This almost never works because most people are innately good (however we want to define that) and have an ingrained and evolved compassion and desire to help other people. The Church had just as many of these good people as any group of people, and so they've always done a great deal of good things as well, that we're forced to ignore if we're in the business of antitheist rhetoric.
Religion has caused them to misspend attentional resources a lot, and occassionally cause a lot of suffering because of misguided beliefs, and that's what we should criticize. But trying to pretend like they're all bad people and did nothing but bad things, will never work and makes us look ridiculous.
Thanks for the post Matt - I like what you had to say about criticizing the church and I agree this is a practice that we should all adopt. I always try to avoid criticizing christianity by the entirety of their congregation, instead going after the ideas that they believe in. As someone who's married to a theist and has many friends and family who are still theists, I think this is almost necessary for me, in order to meet them on any kind of common ground.