Unbridled blasphemy

As I was gumming down a bowl of soup that some diet-friendly misanthropic nihilist might have invented, I noticed a banner which read, “Maybe God is the answer?” That was the message verbatim.

Now, most of my regular readers know my cynicism about religion and might consider it hypocrisy that I joined a catholic university, but let’s move past that for now. Please note that this is not a slight on Christianity but on religion in general. In fact, my kind of atheism is strangely ecumenical as it unites all religions while calling them crazy. What hurts me deeply is the marketing of religion that is done today. Many a graduate student can testify to being accosted by a missionary with the dangling carrot of free tuition in exchange for accepting Jesus Christ as their personal savior. “God wants you to give till it hurts” is one of the many lines smoothly delivered by buff evangelists as they continue to mercilessly fleece poor innocent people.

Another cheap shot especially practiced by religion is that it attacks people when they are the weakest. Terminally ill patients are often known to have complete conversions during their last hours. While the religiously fanatical lobby notches this in their victory column, it can also be explained as a form of mental anesthesia that people crave when their fear, desperation or pain gets too much to handle.

The Hindu, Muslim and other religions are not far behind in their hypocrisies and their endorsement (and sometimes instigation) of atrocities. They too captivate people when they are most mentally feeble.

Richard Dawkins, the geneticist & acclaimed atheist, says that religion is the best product to sell because neither its virtues nor its promises are vulnerable to scientific testing. This is a product whose qualities you cannot experience until you die. The funniest part is that the people who tell you what happens after death lack serious resume points in the experience category themselves. If, in a scientific discussion, someone throws conjecture after conjecture at you without a shred of data to back them up, you would show that person the door. Yet, we grant religion a free pass and complete immunity from all logical accusations.

Sam Harris says that most people who follow one religion are atheists with respect to others. They believe in no god but their own god. Atheists, Harris says, simply go one god further. Bill Maher notes the pejorative connotation of the word atheist in modern times, and prefers the word rationalist. A rationalist is simply a person who does not conform to an ideology in principle but questions everything and is a natural skeptic. You need to convince such people, and not preach to them or command them.

I have met many people who argue that as I cannot disprove the existence of god, there has to be a god. To this, the great philosopher Bertrand Russell proposed a theory that there is a small teapot orbiting the sun and that its orbit lies between that of Mars & Earth such that it is too tiny to be seen by the most powerful telescope. As we cannot disprove the existence of said teapot, it must exist, and we are free to worship it. This kind of juvenile logic would be rejected by most children if said in the context of the teapot, and rightly so, for it is impossible to prove a negative, and hence the burden of proof should be shouldered by the people who claim the existence of any object.

The least these religious people could admit is that they don’t know. I would still respect that. It is their unwavering certainty in the face of many a contradictory proof that baffles me the most.

A friend of mine once gave me a patronizing smile during one such argument and said, “We must not critique these stories & fables in religious texts, but merely take the good out of them.” Is that not a critique in itself? Does it not take critical thinking to separate the grain from the chaff? And who is to decide which is which? Are we free to choose?

I consider it an offense to be told to suspend my critical thinking for any reason whatsoever. Richard Dawkins opines that we can lead perfectly moral and decent lives without being taught so by religious scripture. Having considered that, let us weigh the damage wrought by religion against the little (not unique) good it does. It pains me to visit ground zero in NYC. That horror would not have happened if there was no religion. If there was no promise of an afterlife, no one could have convinced young men to throw their lives away and take many others with them. There would have been no Holocaust. Closer to home, we Indians have seen enough brutalities committed in communal riots to know what I’m talking about.

If you woke up one day and saw that Princess Diana was speaking to you, you would suspect that you were hallucinating. Substitute that with the voice of god (which, by the way, you have no way of identifying) and you might just be called a prophet or a messiah.

I am very cynical & venomous on this subject simply because of the time, money, energy and other resources I see being wasted on this selfish mental anesthetic. Let’s face it. We humans fear the unknown. Death is the ultimate unknown. So no matter how incredible the explanations offered to us are, we swallow them down just like I swallowed that soup-we have a void to fill, and when we are really desperate, anything goes.

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18 thoughts on “Unbridled blasphemy

  1. That was… quite heavy for my taste.. But good attempt.. And you know what, this is such a topic that anything and everything cannot ever justify either of the sides.. So at times it feels a waste of the time and the energy to even think about it.. just follow what you believe.. let others do what they feel like so far they dun interfere with ur path.. Anyways.. Hallelujah 🙂 !!

  2. I really look forward to read the new posts, for each one provides food for thought. I dont exactly remember where I heard the phrase but it said that “religion is an evolutionary byproduct” or something like that and I also remember reading something funny which was like ” if one person suffers from delusion then it is insanity but if many people suffer from delusion it is religion”. The thought that there is some supreme power on which you can blame your misdeeds or vicissitudes of life is highly attractive. ( I admit it I do it many times).Since you have quoted many great people i will take the liberty to quote, the only religious saying I have ever bothered to remember “If GOD did not exist it would be necessary to invent him.”

  3. i am still trying to resolve this.. if one stuck to the semantic definition of religion, one is left with something quite crass, and doctrinaire. i myself have been more interested in the religious scriptures, in that they are period time-capsules, intellectually challenging, and logically stated arguments (sometimes). .. yea, faith is hard to have. it doesn’t conform to the physical laws – to have faith is like jumping off a bridge with a bungee rope (and having faith in its durability). but religion as peddled by the crass has never appealed to me. but spend some time considering that which you cannot grasp, or understand. after all being strictly atheistic is also doctrinaire, and a reasonable person should not subscribe to that any more than institutionalized religion.

    • Alok,

      Rejecting a hypothesis when no supporting evidence exists, or if it does not add anything to our understanding of phenomena is not doctrinaire, as you put it. Yes, it entails holding obdurately on to epistemological reasoning and philosophy of naturalism, but that’s something even most ardent theists do in all their activities, except for in the matter of existence of their God.

      Most questions in life do not receive the kind of sanctuary from inquiry that that of existence of God does, the important question is why?

  4. @phoenixIt is heavy I agree, but I needed to get it off my chest..@AnonymousThanks for the compliment@avalok ishwarBeing dogmatically atheistic is wrong, but agnosticism does not imply a 50:50 chance of god existing@buddyJust because prayer and a belief in god might bring people some peace (however false it may be) it is not reason enough to prove that god exists…given that, let us consider the harm that religion has done

    • Liberal,

      I believe, you’re aware of the pertinent terminology.

      Agnosticism: It is impossible to ‘determine’ if God exists or not.

      Negative (weak) atheism: Given the current level of knowledge and arguments put forth, I do not feel there’s sufficient reason to believe that God exists.

      Positive (strong) atheism: I have proved that God does not exist (e.g., if a litmus paper does not turn red in a solution, you’ve proved that no acid is there in it. But obviously, for that acid must have one fixed behavior, i.e., turning the dye red on reacting with it., which is not the case with God. We do not know how God behaves, there are just imaginative guesses).

      I’d consider myself a negative atheist, but with time probably I’m moving towards positive atheism.

      With regard to agnosticism, I’d like to ask, applying the same standards that you do for other things to determine their existence/nonexistence, what is different about the issue of existence of God that it become indeterminate?

      Any conclusion we draw is at best an estimate – say, ‘law’ of conservation of mass and energy. They only indicate how ‘nature’ has behaved up till now, and doesn’t mean it is impossible that observation does not fit into the pattern. Yet, in daily life we consider it an inviolable law, because our observations instill in us a confidence that crosses certain critical threshold that enables us to take decisions in life relying on them. Thus, such laws are actionable. However, by definition, God is erratic in behavior, and because of that no fixed predictions can be made regarding behavior of the God, hence it is not possible to point out, “see, God behaved differently from your prediction, so your hypothesis is disproved”. So, it is important to remember that any hypothesis must be falsifiable, for it to even be considered for testing. 🙂

  5. Man is certainly stark mad. He cannot make a worm, and yet he will be making gods by dozens.– Montaigne (1553 – 1592)

  6. can a human being construct a mosquito? can anyone stop tsunami from happening? why are some lucky not to have died in an accident while others died ? can we control nature caused disasters? can we critically analyze everything in our life? why is faith important? where does it come from? Do we hv all answers??

  7. Apart from Bill Maher, George Carlin was another awesome fellow who hated religion in general. Here’s a 10 minute video clip on his skit 🙂

    Incidentally, the whole Russel’s teapot thing is the classic argumentum ad ignorantium or argument from ignorance. I believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster!

    But the one thing we overlook is that there’s a powerful need for people to find meaning in the universe. It’s not easy to accept that nothing we do makes a difference in the end. In a way, it hurts our ego. Religion on the other hand makes us very important. Important enough for god to keep track of and pass judgment on.

    I myself sometimes get depressed by the meaninglessness of everything. Albert Camus calls the human condition “The absurd” and that’s exactly what it is. But believing in god is a cop out and intellectually dishonest.

    • Teetering on the edge of irony I would say that Carlin is a god for atheists! You said it man…the god theory attaches a comforting significance to each individual life. However, Darwinian evolution provides something much more. It is an elegant, parsimonious explanation of descent with modification from single celled organisms to humans, and as Carl Sagan put it:

      How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded, “This is better than we thought! The Universe is much bigger than our prophets said, grander, more subtle, more elegant. God must be even greater than we dreamed”? Instead they say, “No, no, no! My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way.”

      • He wrote “Contact?” That’s one of my favorite books/movies!

        Incidentally, I just can’t stop thinking that maybe our universe has a ridiculous explanation. Maybe some huge organism farted and that was the big bang and our universe is just one of the little droplets…(Gross, I know!).

        But what if it’s true? It’s then curtains for any chance of us finding out the “true” meaning of what’s happening. We’ll simply be unable to comprehend what’s happening…

        I think Douglas Adams got it right. The universe is mind bogglingly confusing. And it’s designed so that if anyone figures out what it is, it instantly replaces itself with an even more complex solution.

        ….There are those who claim this has already happened.

  8. “…when we are really desperate, anything goes.”

    I agree.

    One could ignore the resources wasted in the name of religion – if religion was not misused to control freedom of a huge percentage of population.

  9. Pingback: No Religion | Pearltrees

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