I've been reading a series of books by David Weber called the Safehold series. Weber is an interesting writer. I'm not really a "fan" as in I adore his works and all that but his books do keep one busy. The plot of Safehold is complicated. It begins eight hundred years before the main part of the story gets underway at a time the human race was at war with a race called the Gbaba that was determined to extinguish humanity from the universe. Humanity was loosing the war. As a last ditch effort they build some large ships, put a few thousand humans in stasis, and set off across the universe as far away from the evil Gbaba as possible in search of a planet where they could resettle.
Eventually they found a planet that was similar to earth. They called it "Safehold" for obvious reasons. But that's when things went to shit.
The crew of the ship were exceptionally aware that the evil alien race searched for signs of technology. If humans remained a backwards race without technology they were probably safe from the evil aliens. So, what the crew did was create a religion that dictated every aspect of daily life. They took bits and pieces of religious texts and put them together to create a religion very similar to orthodox christianity. "The Writ," which was the "holy book" they created, detailed everything humanity would need to survive. It explained how to make tools, how to have proper hygiene, etc.. There were other texts added to fill in any gaps. It also included exceptionally cruel and torturous penalties for "heresy." And it proclaimed an afterlife, heaven and hell, like christianity.
The next thing they did was use mind altering techniques to wipe the memories of all the people in stasis and establish new identities and personalities and a solid belief in the religion, called the The Church of God Awaiting. The idea was to lock the human race into a 17th century culture. The Writ forbade technology and gave specific instructions on how to decide what violates it. The original plan was to set it up where the humans on Safehold would learn the truth long enough after they were settled to insure they were safe from snooping Gbaba and so they could progress back into space and develop ways to conquer the Gbaba.
The problem was, some of the officers who led the expedition were megalomaniacal nutcases. They were led by a guy named Langhorn. They far exceeded their orders, completely wiped the early history of humanity from the survivors in stasis, and set themselves up as demigod "Archangels" in the church. Their advanced technology appeared to be supernatural to the programmed lot of humans they placed on the planet. langhorn more or less took the place Jesus holds in christianity.
A few officers rebelled, tried to restore knowledge of human history and break the hold their superiors had on the planet, and keep Langhorn's bunch from destroying everything the human race once stood for. But there was a war and they failed. Their compound was destroyed. The leader of the rebel officers was called Shan Wei. Her name became synonymous with the devil.
With me so far? Fast forward to the beginning of the first volume of the series. An android with the personality of a long-dead woman solder (Nimue Alban) was hidden away by Shan Wei's husband and programmed to wake up 800 years later. That android was given the task of finding a way to break the hold Langhorn's group had on the human race, reveal the truth, and lead the human race towards a technological future in which they could develop advanced weaponry and defeat the Gbaba. A mainframe computer, tools, weapons, etc., were all left for the android Nimue to use.
The main story is all about how the android goes about doing what it/she was supposed to do. I've finished four volumes, waiting on the fifth, and a sixth is due out later this year. Weber is ridiculously detailed, extremely proud of his ability to describe weaponry and sea battles, and drags shit out forever. It's a guy story, for sure. I've butchered this synopsis but you can read about it in more detail here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Off_Armageddon_Reef.
So what the hell does this have to do with anything? Quote from the link above: "In many ways this book is about the human condition at its core." Weber pegs human nature pretty well (though his notion of valor and honor is considerably overblown). The story has an interesting set of twists.
First, there's "Mother Church." The hierarchy, led by "The Group Of Four," lives and rules from a temple built by Langhorn and company, exceptionally high tech, extremely secure, and luxurious. The Temple is in the town of Zion (duh). The temple is taken for granted and the technology that keeps it functioning is entirely mysterious to them. The "Group of Four," dominated by the Great Inquisitor (an entirely gluttonous, licentious, self-serving maniac), rule with an iron fist. As one would expect, power has corrupted "Mother Church." The Group, along with most all other top leaders, are in it all for money and power and play lip service to god.
Then there's Nimue, who takes on the roll of a seijin named Merlin (Weber isn't always very original!) who befriends the king and crown prince of a nation far from the temple, believing their wonderful, happy land, called Charris, (an idealistic USA with a benevolent king. No, not so original either.) is the perfect place to start changing things. But the Group in Zion are already pissed off at Charris, try to destroy Charris using combined naval fleets of other countries, but with Nimue/Merlin's help Charris kicks ass (of course). There the story begins, a tale of sea battles, honor, glory, and gore.
I am getting to the point. On Safehold the church is supreme. All of humanity has a solid and unshakeable faith in god, Langhorn, and Mother Church. Eventually some people, like Charris' King, his bride, top leaders, etc., not only discover that Merlin is not quite human but learn the truth entirely. This happens because a single monastery in Charris (of course!) has the secret tucked away in its archives. By the time you frustratingly get to the end of the fourth volume the war to save the planet from the evil leadership of the church is clearly a war to restore humanity its history entirely--humanity just doesn't know that! To all but the tiny few it's a Holy War between Mother Church (corrupt and evil) and the Church of Charris (reformist and dedicated to "truth" according to The Writ.) The little nucleus of Merlin, the King and Queen, etc., as well as the archbishop of the Church of Charris, already know the REAL truth, that the whole damn religion is itself a sham and a lie. But they know the way people think so they pursue the holy war without a hit about the truth.
SO, here's this big war waged by a good kingdom (that becomes and empire) with the "truth" of god (which is itself a lie) fighting the evil Group of Four who defend their corruption and power but proclaim they are the True Church, led by humans who know it's all a bunch of shit but they can't tell anyone or they'd freak everyone out, loose their power, be labeled heretics and be cut to bits in very nasty ways according to the writ. Fucked up, huh?
Weber is fanciful, graphic, not always very original, but pretty good at describing the thoughts and motivations of people in a somewhat realistic fashion. In the book, people either stand for Mother Church and grind their teeth over the corrupt leadership or go over to the other side and follow the reformers. It's a bloody, ugly, horrible eighteenth century war with swords and pikes and muskets, and it's all for NOTHING! It's all over a fake religion dreamed up by people who would be gods themselves.
NOW, if you're still here, the point is that this story parallels human history very well. Deliberately so, I think. Atheists tend to blame christians/muslims/jews en masse for their stupidity and inability to recognize bullshit. But this is not only unfair but misdirected. When a human being is programmed they are not entirely, or not at all, to blame for what they do because of that programming. Religious people do horrible things, stupid things, really dumb things, in the name of the religion that is programmed into their head. They can and should be blamed for such things as murder and genocide, of course, but their daily screwball antics and their stubborn refusal to listen to rationality and reason exists because it's how they were programmed. The little people doing the deeds have been programmed to follow their leaders and stuff their ears when "the devil" speaks.
On Safehold, the leaders are corrupt but Mother Church says they're still the ones people should follow. On our little planet the church has splintered and there are different religions but right down at the core of them all is the absolute belief that leaders must be followed. Some churches who call themselves "independent" like Baptist or Assemblies of God STILL have that hierarchy which tells them what is good and bad. They're not as "independent" as they claim to be. They follow.
The real culprits, the ones atheists should go after with bared teeth, are the megalomaniacal sons of bitches who sit at the top and whose whole purpose is to gain power, prestige, and money. The Pope, kings and queens, "church fathers," denominational leaders, theologians, etc., all those people are the true menaces to humanity. Expose the self-serving bastards who compiled the bible. Destroy the reputation of Luther and Calvin, who were both egotistical assholes. Prove that the idiotic talking heads on TV are not who they claim. Expose Dominionists like Robertson. Rip the upper level of every religious denomination to shreds. Destroy the foundations and eventually the whole thing crumbles. But don't think that by pissing off your Baptist neighbor you'll accomplish anything.
While I'm at it, I hear a lot of people blame their parents. There are some parents who don't indoctrinate, they abuse. They deserve to be condemned (and locked up!). But many parents, like my own, are doing like every good Safeholdian family does, they're teaching what they learned life is all about. They're wrong, but that changes nothing. North Korean parents teach their kids to revere Kim Junk Whatzisface like a god. Muslim parents teach their kids Islam. My parents taught me to be a "good Baptist." I don't blame my parents. I blame those fucking leaders of those fucking churches who poured bullshit in my head and I blame myself for being too stubborn to see truth for myself.
Most people will not turn loose of their "faith" when the foundations are gone. They'll search for something else, something more valid to them. They will suffer loss. They will have more and more doubt. Eventually some will finally recognize the whole idea of a creator god is stupid. Some never will but they will at least not be fanatics any longer when the foundation of their fanaticism has been destroyed.
Too many atheists hack away at god, make fun of Jesus or Muhammad, denigrate the bible, and go all out to make christians look like total idiots and ignore the real villains. I admit, it's fun to make fun of stupidthink. But all we accomplish a lot of the time is to push people back into their fanatical ways. We push religious fence-sitters back over onto their religious side because we put them on the defensive. Just like on Safehold, to curse Langhorn is to blaspheme! But to tell the truth about how corrupt the Group of Four are, well, that's something that only the most fanatical (and power hungry themselves) will deny. A "Fuck Jezus" t-shirt is funny to us. It is highly offensive to them. No, religion does not deserve respect. But human beings do. After all, if we piss on our neighbor we prove we are exactly what they say we are.
Atheists who have been such from their youth simply cannot understand. All they tend to see is the corruption, the power hungry leaders, the stupid and horrible things that has been done in the name of religion. They see all the ugly stuff. They're looking at religion from the outside in, even from across the street. They hardly understand life on the inside, the elements of love, of belonging, of trust and faith, that are as much a part of religion as the horrible stuff.
Yes, it would be good that humanity could put the bullshit behind it. But it can't. It can't because humanity has not advanced far enough, evolved enough, to cast off superstition entirely.
There is an evolutionary change going on in the minds of humankind. At least it seems like it. The youngest generations are beginning to turn away from fanaticism. There's a real possibility of a brave new world ahead. But the transition is going to take time and patience. However much we atheists of my generation want to see mythology and the corrupt power of religious leadership go away, it won't happen over night. We'll be well advised, as we wait, to prove that religion is a "house built upon sand." We shouldn't break into the house with an ax and piss on those inside. We should, instead, turn a big hose called reality upon the base of the house, wash the sand away, and let the house come down as it certainly will. And we should prove that life outside of religion has meaning and possibilities, that it's not just an empty state of nothing in the head or heart.
Patience is something I do not have much of. It pisses me off that I will not be around to see the world move away from religion just like it pisses me off that I have to wait to SEPTEMBER and pay a high price for a new book just find out what the hell happens on Safehold. Waiting! Ain't it a bitch?