Tuesday, 10 January 2006

Why the religious will inherit the earth

Richard Dawkins makes some very interesting points in his critique of religion on channel 4 last night. I agree with him whole-heartedly that Gods and Devils are constructs of the human mind, and are responsible for more human misery than almost anything else. They are the root of much that is wrong with the world, especially if you include the atheist faith of Marxism/Leninism.

What he doesn't do however is take his ideas from his excellent, if repetitive books and apply them to the question he is dealing with.

If you look at the archaeological record, you'll notice that the human condition worsens significantly on the development of agriculture. You only need to look at modern subsistence farmers to coroberate this. Farmers were smaller, weaker, sicker and died younger than their hunter-gatherer forebears.

So why did farming spread?

Well, farmers are organised and able to support large populations on a given piece of land. They are able, indeed compelled to field armies to defend their land and are therefore able to push hunters and pastoralists onto the most marginal land, where they sadly now remain.This is despite the hunter-gatherer being an altogether more impressive physical specimin, used to killing who, one-on-one, would have no trouble dispatching a rickets-ridden farmer. The poorly organised hunting bands however didn't stand a chance.

Even nomadic herders eventually succumed: The riches available to the controllers of an agrarian society seduced those pastoralists who occasionally over-ran them, from the Chariot peoples of Mesopotamia to the Mongol Hordes into giving up nomadism by forming a warrior aristocracy over their conquered subjects. This didn't help the individual farmer though. Serfdom, slavery, conquest and subjugation are hardy perrenials in the Farmers' lot.

So societies develop according to Darwinian strengths, not nessesarily in keeping with the goal of improving human happiness.

Religious societies have several advantages over the secular, in the battle of ideas, as well as the battle of cold steel. A Society with a strong conviction of right and wrong; life and death, is more likely to go out and spread those ideas and have the will to see any fight to its bitter conclusion. The old addage that "there are no atheists in foxholes"(though I know of at least one) demonstrates the military advantages of religious faith.

look at societies who have gone and created empires: Victorian Britain (and 21st Century Uncle Sam): Muscular Christianity; The Aztecs: The blood thirsty cult of Huizilopochtlid who demanded war to feed his need for Human sacrifice: The Abbasid and Umayyid Caliphates had all the force of a new religion driving them as far as central France, 200 years before the first Crusade; The Crusades: Religious armies maintained an expeditionary kingdom for 500 years in Jerusalem.

Naturally the British, and the inheritors of Pax Brittanica, the Americans, are the most restrained of this lot. Our religiosity has been thus far tempered by scientific rationalism, curiosity, tolerance and humanity. Neverthe less it is Religious belief which has helped create the sense of purpose and unity nessesary to go out and do great violence to people who disagree.
Furthermore, it is axiomatic that religious societies have more children than post modern, secular ones.

So by Dawkins own rationale, the religous "meme" confers real, quantifiable darwinian benefits to societies that adhere to them, despite the misery and violence that this undoubtedly causes, not to mention the opportunity cost of intelligent people wasting their time on theology when they could have been inventing a cure for cancer. So whilst Dawkins is right that Faith is silly*, unthinking obedience to the paranoid droolings of ancient schitzophrenics, he must also see the potential advantages and almost inevitable sucess these ideas confer. That is why he fears religion so greatly.

So what can the free thinkers of Europe, North America (outside the bible-belt) and the pacific rim do in the face of the unthinking hate of the faithful? The rational atheist must take a leaf out of Professor Dawkin's book and go out and by persuasion, destroy faith. However the very questionioning nature of societies and belief-systems founded on free thought means we lack the conviction to argue sucessfully against blind faith. As Dawkins put it last night: "the walls are too strong". Our refusal to accept that anyone (especially ourselves) have the answers leads us to a kind of benign agnosticism which will mean that we cannot see evil, or its causes without blaming ourselves to some extent.**

That is why we'll lose. The secular need conviction. We NEED to hate religon as much as the faithful hate Atheism. We need to disrespect the faith and persuade the faithful to open their minds. We need to know we are right and if you believe in God, you are wrong.

Failure to follow this path is WW III and a return to the stone age as fast-breeding bible-belt tub-thumpers take on the bearded loons of the Middle East in an apocalypic battle that, once Iran has Nukes, will finish us all. Overstating my case? This is uncontroversial on the nuttier wings of the American evangelical movement and you don't seriously believe that Iran's desire to get nukes is purely defensive do you?

So your faith might be Benign, "faith optional" Church of England or Reform Judaiism, but it's a slippery slope to the suicide bomber's vest or the Crusader's sword. After all, once you accept the idea that "this is the word of God/Allah/Jehova" (delete as applicable) you'll start to belive things as ridiculous as the Rapture, 72 virgins and Biblical Israel is your God-given home.

Reject the whole damn lot and in the words of William S. Preson Esq. and Ted Thodore Logan "Just be excellent to each other." Surely you don't need God to tell you that?

*i'm sorry Cradams, but yes. Silly.
** Read the Guardian for the "mea maxima cultpa" school of problem-analysis


Momentary Academic said...


What a way to begin a Tuesday morning. Here we find ourselves on slightly different sides of an issue.

Perhaps religion developed in the human world in order deal with etiological issues that we couldn't explain in ancient times. Perhaps people still need religion to explain why things happen to them or to other people. Yes, it has been the cause of war and other misdeeds in the world, but even without religion, desire for space or land drove people to war--religion is an easy platform to use.

But what about the people who need God to help them when they are sick? Or when someone else is sick or dying, or dead? Not everyone can be rational and self-aware enough to be able to live a perfectly empirical lifestyle.

If people need to go to church, let them go. I don't believe in Evangelicalism, but I'm not going to stop my grandma from going to mass, and I'm certainly not going to tell her that it's pointless.

Goodness, this is spinning out of control. There's so much more I'd like to write, but it would take forever.

I'll save my full answer for a public debate.

Jackart said...

Whilst most manifestations of religon are benign or even positive, there's no reason why positive stuff like this has to be religous: something other than God could be used as the psychological panacea.

The Negative effects of religon (for good people to do evil things requires faith) mean that we'd be much better off consigning God to the intellectual dustbin, where he belongs along with the flat earth and goblins.

So whilst I wouldn't tell your Grandma to stop going to mass, that would be disrespectful, I do have arguments, and heated ones, with my theist friends, including you, to try to point out something you already know, if only you'd let yourself: that God is dead.

I'm certainly not going to pussy-foot around the issue out of misplaced respect for institutions who are masively wealthy enough to defend themselves.

People get offended when I attack religon because intellectually, they know it's indefensible. Faith requires that light is not shone in on the magic. People are told that church is sacred so often that they believe it. It's just the Emperor's new clothes.

Momentary Academic said...

You're certainly welcome to your beliefs (or not-beliefs as it were) about the existence of the divine. If you haven't noticed, I've neither defended nor denied the existence of God (or gods) for that matter.

I think that it is certainly a matter of personal choice. If I want to go to a Buddhist temple because that gives me some kind of inner peace (for example, as I am not a Buddhist), I certainly wouldn't want anyone shouting at me from the rafters that God is dead.

You are certainly entitled to your opinion (and if you've noticed, I've not really given mine).

Cradams said...

Your patronising tone does you a massive disservice and ruins an otherwise intelligent post. Again. Why do it, Jackart?

Anyway, aside from that, I think it's rather weak to try and squeeze Marxism/atheism into the equation on the grounds that inclusion may be permissible if you classify Marxism/atheism as a faith (or faiths). You're really talking about a belief system. Which can't be included in the argument, unless the broader point is about collective beliefs, sociologically. Which isn't what you or Dawkins is arguing against.

The reason you are doing so is, of course, that Stalin and Mao are two big anomalies otherwise.

On one other point. Your most recent response to momentary academic. I can tell you why people get upset when you argue with them about religion (and many other issues). It is because you come across as blinkered (displayed in your frankly baffling conclusion that people react because they know that religion is intellectually indefensible) and bigoted. Everyone else strives to allow for other opinions in universally acknowledged 'grey areas' such as faith. You do not, because you rashly and arrogantly conclude that your belief is correct, and therefore everything else is "stupid", "silly" or just plain "wrong".

Argue all you like against religion, high taxes, the European Union, illiberal measures, eco-warriors etc. But if you do it in a consistently dismissive (and sometimes offensive) manner, don't be surprised if people get frustrated, and then eventually bored of discussing or debating with you.

Jackart said...

I take your point, Cradams. My bafflement at the concept of faith can come across as dismissive.

My aim is more to give seed a debate than to offend, but I am aware calling something as central to some as faith "silly" is provocative. But to call a rival position "intellectually indefensible" is I accept a step to far. Perhaps I should have said "Empiracally indefensible"

I'll try and contol my rhetoric in future. Failure to do so has landed me in hot water in the past!!

Wolfie said...

I can agree with the thrust of your argument, although I'll agree with the others here that it would be of some value if you were to tone down your passion a notch. You have touched upon something here which I have been arguing in the wilderness for some time now. That western universalism combined with individualistic humanism is intrinsically weak in comparison to the spread of Islam (and evangelical Christianity), in part as you say because it offers no hope to the poor or bereaved but more importantly it is socially isolationary. Marxism attempted to bridge this essentially barren premise but was an abject failure because it attempted to manufacture a unifying force based on entirely false premise of human nature in the guise of collectivism. Western philosophy/theology is in decline, as is our society but tragically everyone is too busy gorging themselves in the consumerist frenzy to notice that we are in serious jeopardy. Our society is based on a nihilistic and self-destructive fatality and unless there is a philosophical renaissance around the corner then as you say; the religious will inherit the earth.

Ross said...

The rapturous should have no monopoly on passion. If theists can bombard us enlightened ones with megaphones, we can make forceful points. I only wish I could do so as convincingly as Jackart.

matthewmtt said...

You are correct that the religious will inherit the earth. The Imams clearly see that: they understand that Europe is the colony now. They are the Cowboys and you are the Indians. It's like the bumper sticker says, "If you outlaw guns, only the outlaws will have guns." Likewise, when you marginalize religion, (as you have done) only the marginalized will have religion. That's why France's impoverished ghettos display more cultural confidence than the wealthiest enclaves of the capitol.
You have multi cultured, aborted and anti religioned yourself to the brink of extinction.

A teenager in most European cities these days has a choice between identity with a robust, confident Islamic society or a tentative, post-nationalist, cringingly apologetic European Identity.
Because you have marginalized Christianity you soon will have effectively replaced it with a religion that is antithetical to free thought,free speech (witness the cartoon jihad)
and tolerance for others, least of all atheists.
Almost by definition secularism cannot be a future. It is a present tense culture that over time disconnects a society from cross generational purposes and a belief in something greater than the here and now. Which is exactly why there are no examples of a sustained atheist civilization. Really, Post- Christian European culture is already a post-culture, and with its surging Muslim population (birth rates of about 3 or 4 to 1) sadly will soon also be post European. Obviously you believe that we American people of faith,
(85% by the last poll I read, not just what you refer to as the bible belt, profess a belief in God) us gun totin, sister marryin, pick up truck drivin, people of faith have it all wrong. That we should be more clever like you. I suppose that explains why we are so far behind you smart folks in technology, per capita income, military power, higher education, and overall standard of living.
Not to mention that those of you who are left in about 60 or 70 years will be forced to wear birkas and beards if you want to pass unmolested through your streets, and God help you if you are gay.

Thank you, but no thank you. This all makes me quite sad because I like most Americans, love England and acknowledge that most of what is great about America stems from our English heritage. But I refer to the England of your fathers, which so many of you seem to have such contempt for. I pray that there will be some kind of turn around in your great nation before it is too late.

Anonymous said...

I'm Christian, and obviously I disagree with you. I'll also say that even if you look at the situation from a purely utilitarian viewpoint, many impulsive, below-the-mean-IQ groups behave MUCH better if they are raised by Christian parents, in a Christian neighborhood, who take them to a Christian church and on Sunday and send them to a Christian school during the week. The freewheeling 60s, 70s, and 80s were a disaster for the lower classes, and led to the artificially-low birthrates that are now used as a reason for importing huge numbers of unassimilable foreigners to both your country and mine, as well as a host of other social pathologies.

In the USA (where I live) 50% of kindergarten-age children are now non-white. Upper-class existentialism may be fine for your kids, but I don't want it for my kids, AND I DON'T WANT IT FOR THE KIDS WHO WILL BE NEAR MY KIDS.

I enjoy your blog and I share your frustration with the direction in which the West is headed, but I would find your blog just as interesting without the vulgarity & profanity. I'm betting that some of your attitudes will change quite a bit once you have children of your own to educate and raise. At least in your country you have the option of state-funded Anglican schools. We would kill for that over here.

Anonymous said...

Well said anonymous 6:52

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