On the “Good Works” of the Church

Andy Hoke

Religious discussions and debates seem to rage as much in 2014 as in any other time. Those arguing against religion are regularly stalled when asked to respond to the question about the 'good works' of the church. This term is in fact a false assumption, in fact the notion itself is insiduous.

The 'good works' case is ordinarily summoned when a Christian (or other variety of believer) has no choice to concede that doctrine not only condones but instructs people to commit nearly every variety of atrocity. Few atrocities are absent from Christian Biblical doctrine and practice. While there are dozens if not hundreds of version of the Christian bible, they all include most of the same instructions which clearly diminish the quantity and quality of human life.

The plain fact of nature is that while most organisms do compete for finite resources, most organisms actually operate communally. Bears, ants, dolphins, apes, bees and countless other species conduct themselves in such a way as to help each other survive, and in many different ways.

Why is this important to the discussion? It's important because religion falsely claims that humans would have no morality without God, or that human morality would be (or is inherently) wretched were it not for (whatever) specified doctrine.

Religion lays a claim on what is inherently good about people. I categorize such conduct as robbery.

Bear in mind the specific context in which this variety of discussion usually takes place: to offset the (admitted) atrocities that were committed at the specific direction of the holy. One assault is to be forgiven because or another??

“But that's unthinkable!” said Dagny. “Of course;” came the reply “that's how we get away with it” to paraphrase Ayn Rand. It's unthinkable, and that's how they get away with it.

To fully appreciate the impact of religion in society, you must think the unthinkable. In essence the proposition is that, to escape responsibility for one atrocity, you commit another, surrender your inherent good. To escape responsibility for evil acts, another evil act is committed. You are forced to deny your inherent good nature. You aren't good inherently, you're bad.

This act may be considered forfiture and/ or confiscation. It's a sociological process, a chemical reaction that has evolved over centuries. This variety of transaction in lay terms is simply 'messing with your head.'

As Voltaire pointed out, “Those who can make you believe absurdities can also make you commit atrocities.” A few atrocities to which Christianity openly admits include genocide, genital mutilation and slavery – these are based on absurdities that respectively justify ethnic cleansing, deems the human form to be defective, and reduces many of our fellow human beings to the status of mere property.

These are all unthinkable absurdities, and this is only a quick glance at a very long list. This process – the acceptance of an absurdity can only yield atrocity. It is an institutionalized, fully engineered failure of the mind. Unthinkable. Absurd.

The short list several sentences ago only include sabotage of other humans, but appreciate the context. To forgive the atrocity by accepting a new one???

And, it worse than that. These atrocities are only the conceded side effects. Unthinkable but believable thoughts persist. The simplest reason that religion persists is that they elbow their way into, they have to put their spin on easily identifiable major life events, namely conception, circumcision, baptism, puberty, marriage and death.

It's worth pointing out that all of these events seem to me to be consistent with Dr. Strassman's work concerning endogenous DMT production and religious experience. The Ayahuasca learned how to trigger this centuries ago (the DMT experience), as did and do shamans and mystics from most other lands.

I have heard it put that religious communities are composed of a) believers and b) experiencers. I suggest that from a sociological point of view, we are witnessing the competing marketplace of different varieties of the same cultural mental disorder. Unthinkable, right?

Religion seems to make use of the Forer/ Barnum effect, whereby people will choose or decide to believe this or that. Unthinkable, but not unbelievable. To demand or extract belief is coercive complicity. When something cannot be thought, it must be believed.

It cannot be thought that people need to kill each other. It cannot be thought that we must mutilate newborns' genitalia. It cannot be thought that some people ought to own other people. None of these things can be thought, but they are most certainly believed.

The license to assault your fellow human is institutional atrocity, but this is unfortunately only a side effect of the greater crime: a diminished self. The routine of regular and institutionalized societal appreciation of the notion that you are flawed, broken, evil and worthless without X.

It's the equivalent of 'standing on the hose.' People are inherently amazing and wonderful. We are as a species slowing ridding ourselves of absurdities such as willful, subservient diminution and justifiable wrath.

As these absurdities go the way of the dinosaur and duck-billed platypus, we should become more a species who is willing to think the unthinkable, rather than believe the unbelievable.

So in your next debate when the Catholic priest or other advocate changes the conversation to assumed to be offsetting good works of the church, appreciate the absurdity. You face the irrational in the usual and predictable way. Do not hate, instead empathize. This person perceives and therefore makes real and continually generates absurdities. How do you deal with the believer of the unthinkable?

Religion stands on the hose by inserting themselves between you and your thoughts. It splits the mind, you cannot think what you believe, and vice-versa. This is cognitive dissonance. This is messing with your mind.

Just as Jesus offers vicarious redemption of sins to avail you of transgressions, the ledger works the other way as well: what is inherently good about you is confiscated while you deem yourself inherently broken and in need of a perpetual and particular remedy.

If anyone bothers to read, watch or listen to this point, I'm not here to offend. Instead I see suffering and feel compelled to do what I can to alleviate or minimize a variety of it. Absurdity promulgates suffering.

I know, it's unthinkable.

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Comment by Andrew Bradford Hoke on July 6, 2014 at 8:31am

Sentient Biped, Pat and Loren, thanks for your thoughts and remarks.

I'm reminded of the Shirky Principle - Institutions will try to preserve the problem for which they are the solution. Furthermore, religion has most certainly created the problem for which they are the solution: they have convinced people that they are fundamentally bad, and only the church can make them good, that they are doomed unless you do what you are told. That's some serious 'messing with your head' ism. 

Comment by Loren Miller on July 6, 2014 at 7:18am

In the 2009 Intelligence-Squared debate on the topic, "Is the Catholic Church a Force for Good in the World," Ann Widdecombe, who spoke in favor, made considerable reference to the billions of dollars expended by the church for charitable work around the world and complained that Christopher Hitchens had supposedly cherry-picked a number of sins which the RC church had committed, saying that "history is irrelevant."

In his post-debate comments, Hitchens' debate partner, Stephen Frye fell on that like a ton of bricks, suggesting that a criminal under suspicion would say, "Oh, you would bring up that burglary and that theft," and outlined sins which the church continues to commit to this day.  That the church has actually begged forgiveness for its sins clearly indicates that it's aware of its transgressions and wants to sweep them under the rug with the practice of forgiveness as it has in the past.  In the modern day, this is something we should in no ways permit.

The challenge that Hitchens posed some years ago is operant here: "Name one moral action performed by a believer that could not have been done by a nonbeliever."  There is no such action.  Indeed, too much of the supposedly good work the church has undertaken has been negated by its insistence on dogma and proselytism, never mind its misguided views on sex which have caused both suffering and death for those under its thumb.

That the RC church and others have done some good work in the world is reasonably obvious.  Whether that work is nullified by issues such as the above-mentioned sins and other less than meritorious acts committed by believers in authority has been debated (see above) and the catholic church LOST that debate - BADLY - and other such houses of faith making similar claims likely have their own skeletons in their closets.  What's that old biblical phrase?  Oh, yes:

You have been weighed, you have been measured, and you have been found wanting.

Comment by Pat on July 6, 2014 at 6:42am

I can readily understand why theists start touting "good works" and change the subject to charity as a justification for their belief system. They think it shifts the burden of proving the proposition of a celestial being away from them. It doesn't. But they hope others will fall for the trick.

Being altruistic has absolutely nothing to with with the existence or non-existence of their deity. Being good to others vs. being bad to others neither proves nor disproves god(s). I'm reminded of the Haitian earthquake in 2010. Israel flew in field hospitals - point for Yawheh and against Jesus. The U.S sent medical and hospital ships - point for Jesus. Cuba sent in teams of doctors and nurses - no god points there. And, no god points for China's $12M+ donation. Allah's team barely made a showing. But, there were some good American Baptists kidnapping children for Jesus. Ohh, and lest we forget. the Richard Dawkins foundation coordinated donations from atheists. Proof positive there is no god?

Comment by Sentient Biped on July 6, 2014 at 12:00am
I hate to be a cynic, but christisn good works too often seem like the worm on a hook. Those who swallow that worm, say goodbye to freedom, hello Filet-o-fish. The missionaries have spread misery snd persecution, and racism, around the globe.

Plus there's all those folks whose checks and greenbacks nestle softly in the golden collection plates, thinking they are saving life and soul of some poor unfortunate heathens on another continent, when in reality most goes for plush digs in gated mansion-hoods, private jets, and plastic surgeries for pastor and spouse and offspring. Good works indeed.
Comment by Andrew Bradford Hoke on July 1, 2014 at 10:58pm

Hey Michael. I agree with you.

Religion applies organization to a community. For quite a while I hoped to discover that what is bad about religion is inferior to what is good about it. At this point, I see less and less good.

Furthermore what I once was suspected was bad, I am now sure is insidious. This is a criticism of the reality of religion in this day and age.

Comment by Michael Penn on July 1, 2014 at 10:28pm

What good work? Any good work of any church was always done with cultivation in mind. That way it would all come back to them again later when they had everyone in their grips.

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