An ongoing commentary on the world - from an atheist, materialist, libertarian and progressive viewpoint - by Mark Owen, who is wholly responsible for any views expressed here.
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|Religious faith has
Where is the Magna Carta of faith, the seminal document that sets the course of the collective spiritual life of humanity?
There is no such document.
There is, however, an assumption. It is assumed by the religions of the world that something came before. Somewhere back in the dim recesses of the millennia a deity set in motion the whole saga of human life - and faith. This is the unwritten assumption; it is merely an assumption as there is nothing in writing, no account carved in stone, no clay tablets announcing the beginning of all things. no tangible evidence of the deity’s fiat.
It is left to self-elected prophets and seers to delineate the forms and structures of belief.
From whence came the ‘enlightenment’ expounded by these purveyors of religious instruction? I suggest the origins of religious thought and dogma are to be found in the immense collective repository of human imagination.
Zoroaster thought an angel spoke to him by candlelight. Muhammad thought an angel spoke to him in a cave. Moses thought Yahweh spoke to him in a cloud. Saul of Tarsus thought he met Jesus on a hot dusty road. The Buddha gained his insights as he sat beneath a tree. Joseph Smith found some magic plates and conjured up his religion.
There is no original source for religion, no document to which we can go to determine what is true and what is false. Religious belief is always channelled through intermediaries. Convenient, isn’t it? No way of checking the veracity of the claims made. It all comes down to the subjective experience of the individual prophet, eventually filtering down to the individual believer.
And yet - this lack of source material in no way stops the bold assertions from the purveyors of faith, e.g. that the Christian Bible is ‘the word of God (i.e. Yahweh)’ or that Allah instructed the world through the Koran. This is why those who make such claims never seek to justify their assertions; it is impossible to do so. Not that this stops them!
And a significant segment of mankind believes these tenuous claims and subjects itself to the demands (sometimes outrageous) of faith, with not a shred of confirmatory evidence to support them.
Let us consider a few of the claims. Moses, who led the Israelites into the Promised Land, for example came down from the mountain (and which mountain is a matter for conjecture, as the supposedly reliable ‘holy scriptures’ specify two different mountains!) and told the people they would see God - Yahweh as the Jewish deity was called. But Moses seems to have deceived the people for in the event Yahweh did not put in the scheduled appearance.
Let’s move on to the Christian era. St Paul reported on the ‘other world’ - having been in contact, so he said, with Jesus, allegedly risen from the dead. But if we read his own report we find there are two conflicting accounts of this supposed encounter with Jesus. As for the others, well, we only have Muhammad’s word that he encountered the angel Jibral (Gabriel) in his cave. Or that Zarathustra encountered Ahura Mazda in the temple.
In truth, Muhammad’s religion was derived from earlier sources, among them the Syriac Christian Church. And Makkah (Mecca) where the Prophet was born, was a place where a multitude of deities were worshipped so there are doubtless elements of many belief systems incorporated into Mohammad’s theology.
Since the days of these ancient conduits of divine knowledge there have been hundreds more. Are any of these others more authentic? Joseph Smith (founder of the Mormons) with his magic plates? Or any of the hundreds of self-appointed prophets of cults like the Moonies or the Fundamentalist Latter-Day Saints?
All of this seems to me to be a shaky foundation upon which to build a vast system of belief. The objects of faith are surely built not on reality but on pure fantasy, strengthened by certain tricks of the human mind. Voices heard where there really are no voices, e.g. as with auditory hallucinations (even I’ve experienced such). Things seen where there is nothing to see. The scientific understanding of maladies such as schizophrenia and our increasingly detailed knowledge of the workings of the human brain are uncovering the origins of our supra-sensory experiences. Speaking in Tongues is not a religious phenomenon but a curious artefact of the human mind. To feel a sense of mystery in the bush at night is not evidence of another world but of simply being human.
Thus, no religion can be traced back to some beginning, some starting-point, some First Cause. All are the result of the accumulated imaginings of well-meaning, often self-deceived, seers on one hand and malevolent fraudsters on the other. Yet how many human beings have become enslaved by this vast deceit? I think of the sacrificial victims in times past, slain to propitiate a supposed deity. I think of the thousands of martyrs who died for their faith - burnt at the stake, decapitated, hanged, chained for years in noisome dungeons. I think of the thousands caught up in mad cults. And I think of cruel laws based on nothing more substantial than small-minded tribal bigotry (e.g. Leviticus 18:22).
Chiefly I think of the enslavement of the human mind, that wonderful end-product of evolution.
Slaves - break free!
- Mark Owen, piperpost.net, 13 November 2016.
The promise of life after death
In recent days we have read the story of a 14-year-old girl, ‘JS’ (as she is known, to preserve the family’s privacy) whose body has been cryogenically preserved. JS died of incurable cancer but she died holding onto a glimmer of hope - of resurrection, of a future cure being found for the death-dealing disease.
There was a legal battle over the decision to preserve her body - suspended frozen in a tank of nitrogen. Ghoulish in a way but defended by the practitioners of this allegedly life-affirming science. The girl’s divorced parents were at loggerheads, her father opposing the plan, her mother supporting her daughter and willing to pay - with help from friends - the substantial sum for the procedure.
The matter went to a court in the UK, where mother and daughter lived. The judge wisely asked JS to write down her reasons for having her body preserved in this manner. JS wrote a moving letter in which she said in part: ‘I have been asked to explain why I want this unusual thing done. I’m only 14 years old and I don’t want to die, but I know I am going to. I think being cryo‐preserved gives me a chance to be cured and woken up, even in hundreds of years’ time.’ In the end the court acquiesced to her wishes and her father came around, commenting: ‘I respect the decisions [my daughter] is making. This is the last and only thing she has asked from me.’
The judge, Mr Justice Peter Jackson, commented: ‘I was moved by the valiant way in which [JS] was facing her predicament. It is no surprise that this application is the only one of its kind to have come before the courts in this country, and probably anywhere else. It is an example of the new questions that science poses to the law, perhaps most of all to family law … No other parent has ever been put in [the] position [of JS’s father].
The announcement of the court’s decision was delayed until after the death of JS. Her body has since been moved to the USA, to a facility there.
The case raises several issues. The hope of JS for what is effectively a resurrection is no different to the hope of Christians who die. Her hope may or may not be fulfilled. My own view is that the science is doubtful, but at least there is a very remote possibility of a resurrection of sorts. Christians, however strong their beliefs, have even less certainty of life beyond death, i.e., no certainty whatever! The concept of resurrection is surely one of the great lies of religion, the promise of life after death lacking any supporting evidence. See my paper: The Resurrection - World's Greatest Fraud?
Another issue is the the one of choice. JS was given the right to map her end-of-life course. Thousands of us want the choice to do likewise in the form of assisted suicide, but are hindered by pathetic politicians who will do anything to rob us of such freedom of action.
- Mark Owen, piperpost.net, 19 November 2016
Another Christmas - Merry & Deadly!!
Ding! Dong! Merrily on high!
The cash registers are ringing.
Joy to the world, at least to the world of commerce. To so many businesses, especially in retail, Christmas means one thing - salvation - the restoration of a sagging balance sheet. In fact, for many businesses the Christmas half of the year is almost the only time they make any real money.
Such businesses have an obscure series of events a long time ago to thank for this bounty.
A young man, Jesus by name, moved among the people of Palestine ‘doing good’. He was some kind of self-appointed prophet who drew on the common experiences of people to convey spiritual teachings; that much we know fairly certainly. People followed him. Nothing formal though - no church or assembly, no mass movement. This Jesus fellow would be staggered if he attended one of today’s evangelical megachurches or stood in the forecourt of the Vatican contemplating the parading fashion show of crimson-robed cardinals.
Jesus, as happens to all of us, eventually died. Put to death by an unholy alliance of Romans and Jews. Soon the memory of his good works would fade and there would be little left by which to remember him. He left no writings; quite possibly he was illiterate. Contemporary references to his very existence are hard to find. Yet - he is remembered, more than remembered, he is honoured and treated as a divinity; vast numbers of people pay homage to his name. How come?
It seems that a handful of Jesus’ more enthusiastic followers convinced themselves that they were ‘onto something,’ a way of life that was more exciting than their humdrum existence. Seizing on a few words here and a few words there uttered by Jesus, they began to build an ever-expanding structure of belief. The prophet’s words, sometimes misinterpreted, sometimes added to, and very often misunderstood, were recalled by these enthusiasts as they began fashioning what was to become a whole new world-conquering religion.
If you read the accounts of some of the movements of our time you will soon discern the motivational power of the new. Anyone who has studied the rise and expansion of cults like the Children of God, the Moonies, Scientology and - Jihadism - will see the same elements - the challenge and excitement of the new, the promises, the hopes, the beliefs that impel so many young people to abandon the known path and embark on a new way of life. Why, some Christians even have a name for it - the New Birth.
At first the chief constructors of this edifice of newness were a small group of men of lowly status, men with little to lose, accompanied by a handful of women. Significantly it was these women who provided the greatest initial impulse to the church’s growth when they claimed Jesus was not in fact dead at all but had ‘risen from the dead’. They had seen him. Or had they? [For a full discussion of the alleged Resurrection read my paper - The Resurrection - World's Greatest Fraud?].
Many factors played their part in developing Christmas as a significant festival. There was never any certainty about the date of Jesus’ birth but one date is as good as another! The Orthodox Christians thought it was 6 January while the Western church decided 25 December. This is unsurprising in a way as this was the festival date celebrating Mithra, the solar deity! Mithraism was one of the popular faiths of the day.
But as word of a fancied resurrection of the prophet spread, one man above all ensured the expansion of the new faith and the development, in time, of the edifice of the church. No, not Peter, as claimed by the Church of Rome, but Saul of Tarsus, otherwise known as Saint Paul. It was Paul who provided confirmation of the fact that Jesus really was alive. He had, he claimed, met him on the road to Damascus.
St Paul (aka Saul) had an amazing encounter, so he reported, with Jesus of Nazareth. Paul was 'yet breathing out threatening and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord' (Acts 9:1), on the road to Damascus, and at midday (Acts 9:1-22), Saul was dazzled by a light even brighter than the sun. Saul fell to the ground and a voice came from heaven. It was the very voice of Jesus, who forthwith commanded Saul to travel to Damascus (blinded for the next three days) where he would receive further instructions as to the future course of his life.
(See further my critical comments on this encounter: The Road to Damascus: the Road to Delusion.)
In the end none of this mattered. There was little need to provide proof of the Christian beliefs. The growing church, with a little help here and there from the secular powers, became an ever-expanding self-elected and self-sustaining body. The next stage in its development was to claim for itself power of life and death not only over its members but all western society. So the ceremonies of religious faith became ceremonies honoured in society at large, e.g. Christmas.
Ultimately the rise of secular society and the decline of faith saw the almost complete transformation of the celebration of the birth of Jesus into the loud crazy jingle-jangle of the modern Christmas celebration. It would hardly matter to Jesus, as he died two thousand years ago (and stayed dead!). It only matters to those Christians who still think the tenets of their faith are real. And it certainly matters to the families touched, as too many are, by the peculiar phenomenon of Christmas violence.
- Mark Owen, piperpost.net, 27 November 2016
Ancient law denies justice to sexually-abused children
Ultimately the One of the tribal gods of the Middle East was Yahweh (or Jehovah). In time the Israelites elevated this Yahweh to the status of the One True God. And the dominant men of the tribe began formulating many rules and regulations. They claimed these came from Yahweh but in fact they were obviously dreamt up by the elders as a means of exercising control over the people.
Some of these ancient rules have little bearing on our lives today, no matter how stridently religious people assert the claim that they do. Let us, for example, take the most famous set of Old Testament rules - the so-called Ten Commandments. I use the term ‘so-called’ as there are, in fact, more than ten. But let’s look at the ones best known as part of the group of Ten.
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy! The reason? ‘In six days Yahweh made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day.’ (Exodus 20:8). The primitives of the tribe of Israel may have believed this fantasy but in our time we know the earth was not created by divine feat a few thousand years ago but has a much older history.
Honour thy father and thy mother (verse 12). Should you honour the parents who neglect and starve you? Or the father who sexually abuses you?
(Before we move on, I cannot help but draw attention to the commandment - Thou shalt do no murder (verse 13). This one seems to have been forgotten not only by the Israelites (Psalm 2:8-9) but by the Church in later times, which murdered thousands.)
Beyond the Ten Commandments there are rules and regulations that have little application to modern society, many of them extremely trivial. Even a subject such as menstruation gets a mention! And many modern cults draw upon these obscure instructions - selectively, of course! - to pursue their peculiar doctrinal emphases. Thus an Old Testament reference to Two Witnesses has been employed by the Jehovahs Witnesses cult, in Australia (and, I think, elsewhere) to cover up sex crime.
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse states that children ‘are not adequately protected from child sexual abuse’ in the cult. A key complaint is that anyone alleging such abuse must produce two witnesses. This, it is claimed, is an accordance with the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 17:6). Clearly much abuse occurs in situations that lack any witnesses, let alone two! No wonder the Royal Commission was told that more than 1,000 members of the cult had allegedly been abused over a period of 60 years but not a single case had been referred to police.
The Jehovahs Witnesses cult and its offshoot the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Australia are due to appear before the Commission again next March. It is a pity the Commission isn’t also examining the dangers faced by children of the cult’s members who are often denied blood transfusions due (again!) to the cult following the laws of a primitive Middle Eastern people.
- Mark Owen, piperpost.net, 30 November 2016
[Recommended read: SEX IN THE SECT - by Vicki J (1995). Recalls a childhood growing up in the cult in Australia and the sex abuse she suffered.)
Bullying and gender discrimination
One of the miseries of life for many school children (and even for some adults - as we have learnt in recent times from the experiences of medical professionals, public servants and others) is bullying.
It was never a great problem for me in my school days although I was often made fun of because of my skinny un-athletic body and complete lack of sporting ability. Fortunately, although the comments often hurt I lacked the aggression needed to respond, either physically or verbally. I just tried to ignore the bullies and go on my way.
It is not always that easy for many. I remember some boys being reduced to tears by the bullies in my high school. An easy way to have a bit of fun at someone’s expense! Easy, yes, and surely a manifestation of sadism. After all sadism on one definition is the experience of pleasure gained from the suffering of another. Under the guise of ‘a bit of fun’ cruel words and/or actions can reduce an otherwise happy child to a state of anxiety and leave him or her depressed and miserable. The experience casts a shadow over their lives that may remain with them to some extent for the rest of their days.
Why some children are targeted and not others is an important question that is dealt with in various textbooks and studies. But undoubtedly sexual orientation is one of the not uncommon reasons for bullying. This appeared to be the case in the death of American teen transgender girl Leelah Alcorn in 2014. Leelah’s is a complex story involving religious and parental pressures, the bullying coming in the form of misguided efforts to ‘transition’ her to the male persona of her birth. It is a tragic story, one which ultimately led Leelah to take her own life.
And here in Australia we have our own case of suicide involving a child affected by problems of sexual orientation - the tragic suicide of a Queensland high school boy, Tyrone Unsworth, 13. While the school denied being aware of any bullying Tyrone, it is reported, experienced physical violence directed at him because of his ‘femininity’. On one occasion he was attacked outside the school with a fence paling by another student. His injuries required surgery and following this event Tyrone was too afraid to return to school. Eventually it was all too much for him and he took his life.
Children need to be taught to tolerate those who are ‘different’. Unfortunately some (although, to be fair, not all) elements of the religious community, especially Evangelicals and some politicians, refuse to acknowledge the legitimacy of such differences. As a result young people are sometimes directed into doubtful (and dangerous) programs designed to ‘fix’ their orientation. As is so often the case, where people turn away from science and scientific evidence and embrace superstition disaster may follow. The notion that heterosexuality is the only correct sexuality is derived from the superstitious belief in ancient ‘sacred’ texts’.
All this is good reason to support the Safe Schools program opposed by some of the same people who want to treat sexual orientation as a form of aberration. Sexual orientation is not an aberration but the outcome of natural variations in our genetic makeup, the sort of variations that in other contexts result in the complex and fascinating products of evolution.
I don’t know if they had the Safe Schools program at Tyrone’s school but if they did it might have saved a young life.
- Mark Owen, piperpost.net, 03 December 2016
Science: A faith to live by.
The passing millennia have seen a long procession of religions. Many have blazed brightly for a time, e.g. the Zoroastrians, the rump of which is now seen in the Parsees, a relative minority. Others have lasted far longer, the major world religions, e.g., Paganism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Shinto.
All these faiths have evolved from within the human psyche; none has a rational basis in history nor prehistory. As I have written elsewhere, there is no beginning, no moment of revelation when a god has announced his or her presence, launching religion on the world. As for proof - no matter the vaunted triumphs of religious faith, its failures are manifold.
Too easily believers hail answers to prayer, conveniently overlooking those many times when prayers were met by the emptiness of the non-answer. Only silence from the heavens! How many of those of a multiple of faiths who prayed to their various gods for the lives of passengers on Malaysian flight MH370 have now realised no answer came? Prayers were even plastered on public signboards, the whole grim episode bathed in the prayers of tens of thousands. Surely if prayer worked it should have worked then.
Prayer is just one irrational aspect of traditional religion. There are many others. Belief in life after death, the existence of another dimension called, variously, heaven or paradise, the ultimate triumph of right over wrong (although defining what is right and what is wrong is a vexed question), and such mystical elements such as ghostly apparitions or communication with the dead.
Now while all these beliefs have evolved from the collective human psyche they have no reality unless there is some way to genuinely test them. And the only way to do that is to employ what is called Science. This, too, is based on belief, on faith. but science has one major element lacking in all other belief systems - its discoveries, the knowledge it dispenses, is repeatable. Science tells us that if you put Chemical A with chemical B it will produce chemical C and an explosion. You can repeat this over and over and every time C will result, as will the explosion. Science deals with evidence, not fanciful ideas. Science deals with reality.
Whenever humans turn away from science they go astray. The starting point is ‘god’ himself (or maybe it should be ‘herself’?). The very idea of a god-created universe is unscientific. The evidence for this long-held idea is entirely lacking. True, in times past some of the church fathers came up with supposed evidence for the deity’s existence but anyone who has studied these alleged ‘proofs’ will know they are untenable and illogical (another subject I have dealt with elsewhere).
Curiously, as the modern world is being transformed by the products of science - computers, knowledge of DNA, medical advances, transport (even flights beyond earth) and so much more - there continues to be a reluctance on the part of a large section of the world’s population to embrace the enlightenment science brings. And not only among the less well educated. People whose intelligence and education should teach them otherwise are so often seen turning from science to voodoo in their decision-making, all the more alarming when such people govern us.
Debate over climate change is just one area where we see this time and again. The denial that gender differences are a natural product of evolution is another. Alarmist notions about the use of vaccines yet another. And the idea that human life is subject to ‘karma’ or that things are ‘meant to be’ takes humans back to the primitive world of our forebears.
Some claim science is not without fault. The fact is science when truly used is self-correcting. What is deemed to be a fault is often nothing more than a misinterpretation of data or, perhaps, rarely, a deliberate distortion of data. Science involves an ongoing process of studying, testing, assessing, correcting and evaluating data. Science may sometimes appear to be faulty but there is far more certainty to be found in our lives by belief in science than belief in any of the thousands of conflicting religions that haunt men’s minds.
- Mark Owen, piperpost.net, 21 December 2016
Elsewhere on this site:
ABOUT THIS SITE
Writings by Mark Owen
1. RELIGION IN GENERAL
10 Reasons why I am an Atheist
Armageddon and All That Jazz
The Origins of Religion
How the Lies of Religion Kill Innocent People
Curse the gods and die!
Religious fascists and the conscience vote
The Armenian Genocide
2. CHRISTIAN RELIGION
Meet the First Christians
Some Errors in the 'Infallible' Bible
The Resurrection - World's Greatest Fraud?
The Scandal of Child Sex Abuse in the Church
In Which we Tremble for the End is Nigh
A Cardinal Speaks Out of Turn
The Truth About Christmas
The Power of Prayer
The Non-Catholic Church Abusers
When fantasy overtakes reality
Apoplectic archbishop deplores gay rights
The Road to Damascus: the Road to Delusion
3. NON-CHRISTIAN RELIGIONS
The Origins of Islam
Moses and Myth
The Mormon Madness
Jehovah's Deluded Witnesses
4. SOCIAL & MORAL ISSUES
The Family That Shoots Together May Not always Stay Together
Drugs - Let's End the War and Secure the Peace
Taking Charge of One's Death
Populate and Perish
Captives for a Decade - the Cleveland Sex-Slaves.
Ceremonies of Initiation - or exercises in sadism?
Irving Klaw and the bondage photo trade
Delight in the Sensual
Fear of nakedness
6. AND ETCETERA . . .
on the Web without reference to me, provided the following is attached:
© Mark Owen - http://www.piperpost.net'