IOT Part 4: The Misanthropy of Religion
Independence of Thought series Part 4: The Misanthropy of Religion
In The Blank Slate by Steven Pinker, there’s an appendix called Donald E. Brown’s List of Human Universals. It is a compilation of traits, concepts and behaviors common to all cultures. Traits that were “near universals” were omitted. The complete list is a couple hundred items, and it’s really a phenomenal read. It’s refreshing to understand that most of what we struggle with on a daily basis is not new, and it connects us to our ancestors–who we probably have much more in common with than our modern selves would like to admit. It’s also interesting to note how religion has become misanthropic by decrying so many traits which are an unavoidable part of being human. Here are just a few examples:
Self: concept of the individual as responsible for itself
Most of the religions would like to see the self subjugated to God or supernatural beings. They often refer to the human as the “lower-self” or the “unreal-self.” While at the same time holding up a “divine-self” so far removed from the human as to resemble a cartoon super hero. This breaks down our self-esteem, and causes us to mistrust our own intellect, judgment, and capabilities. An example of this would be the religious platitude: “With god, all things are possible.” Why not just say “All things are possible”?? The first is a statement of subservience, incompleteness, and incompetence. The second of confidence, hope, and optimism.
Materialism is mortally opposed by most religions, since they traffick in the spirit. Eastern religions especially focus on the emptiness and unreality of the material world, which adherents refer to as maya or samsara, which, loosely translated means illusion. This denial has spilled over into western religions as well, and spawned the overuse of the cliche that material goods don’t make us happy. Most of the world lacks adequate material goods, however, and charitable organizations spend most of their budgets procuring them for the needy. So there are very important, legitimate reasons why people chase after material goods, and they have to do with Maslow’s universal human hierarchy of needs.
Use of mood and mind-altering substances
This differs from religion to religion. The Quran banned alcohol. Pope Innocent VIII banned cannabis in 1484. Since the majority of Americans seem to feel they live in a ‘christian’ nation, we are still carrying out the not-so-Innocent pope’s instructions through our brutal and useless drug war which has made this ‘land of the free’ the top jailer in the world. Even chocolate was banned for supposed psychoactive effects by the Jesuits in 1677. Christians cite a particular biblical passage: Galations 5, where Paul lists numerous human practices that he claims prevent a person from quote “entering the kingdom of god.” Included among these is the concept of “sorcery” which comes from the greek word pharmakeia, which many have interpreted to refer to drug use. It’s clear the reason why religions oppose mood altering chemicals, is because people often have transformative and ‘spiritual’ experiences. Religions don’t want the competition.
Religions don’t want people to take risks. If the faithful take risks and lose–that negatively impacts the propagation of the religion. People might die or go bankrupt, and there would be less resources available to support the church. And since we know that risk-taking is also necessary for success, this discouragement hurts many believers. Risk-taking also involves the conquering of fears–which the religious establishment might worry includes the ‘fear’ of god. The aversion to risk, along with desire that people put their fate in ‘god’s hands’ so to speak. Generally, this is also what predisposes churches to become conservative institutions which attempt to promote safe but static societies and oppose, among other things, risk-taking such as gambling (unless of course we are talking about bingo where the church is the beneficiary). Since both churches and gaming establishments are basically competing for people’s entertainment dollar, they make natural adversaries. Gambling, by definition, can lead to loss, which can devastate a person. But like many human pitfalls, that is something strong individuals know they have to watch out for—the same way they need to watch their weight or control their drug or alcohol consumption. “Here there be dragons” should be word enough to the wise.
Body adornment or modification
Body modification is usually prohibited by religions on the basis of vanity. The Christians have their prudish prophets, Peter, Paul, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Isaiah, to thank for much of this doctrine. Stories of Jezebel, and all manner of harlots and seductresses frighten women—notice it’s only women—into the idea that body adornment leads straight to hell. This is transparent patriarchal nonsense. It’s different only in degree from the Islamic burqas. And the idea that women are somehow responsible for male arousal. Many of the world’s tribal religions did support body adornment, but were quickly “set straight” by missionaries who abhorred their “backward” practices. Again it comes down to self-ownership: Christianity, Islam and orthodox Judaism have the doctrine that your body is a sacred temple and belongs to God—it does not belong to you. This is an outrageous example of misanthropy.
- Judge not, that ye be not judged.
- For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.
- And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?
- Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?
- Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.
Judging others is a common human trait, right? And who does it more than anyone else? Religions. They judge all other religions, the judge people in general, and they judge them based on their own standards, and yet, Christians quote Matthew and say, “Judge not lest ye be judged?” Right? The point is, our brains are primarily judging engines.
We have two primary modes of thought. Pattern recognition, and ranking. Ranking involves making judgments, which involves comparing currently recognized patterns with the ones we’ve previously stored. Some of those judgments involve other people, who we interact with. We need to properly read people at first meeting, so that we can make a prediction of what to expect from them. Those of our ancestors who did it faster and more accurately prospered and evolved.
Unfortunately, ranking can lead to jumping to conclusions, or stereotyping. But it is a necessary function of placing things and people in categories. A sound humanistic imperative can be seen to judge people appropriately. But we can only learn to judge appropriately if we do a lot of it and learn from our mistakes. Religions don’t want us to judge people for ourselves. They want us to treat everyone the same, you know, “we’re all god’s children.” While this may be an attractive sentiment for some, relieving them of the need to grapple with the issues of human inequality and hierarchy, it has the effect of protecting opportunists who hide in religious communities behind masks of religious conviction. A policy of refraining from judgment sets people up to become victims.
One of the most important and central activities of all humans is our sexuality. It’s involved in forming our identity, social position, and eventual procreation, it’s involved in absolutely every aspect of our lives. The religions have always known this, and have memetically evolved to take advantage of it. They know that the drive for procreation is a more core-level basic human instinct than religion. By tying the two together through the push-pull of guilt vs. church-sanctioned marriage, they get inside our brains, and vastly multiply the number of neural pathways we humans have devoted to religion. Consider for a moment: billions of people all over the world are so indoctrinated that they are not capable of experiencing a sexual feeling or act disconnected from religious guilt and religious law. Their brain has been hard-wired this way through insidious brainwashing which began at birth. It’s an unspeakable human tragedy.
To be fair, religions don’t have a monopoly on lying. But they are some of the strongest voices raised up indignantly against this widespread human practice. All humans use language to manipulate, misinform, or mislead, beginning with pre-lingual sounds and gestures (previous post).
Religions condemn people for what are mostly socially justifiable “little white lies.” But then they lie to their own children about big stuff, like their certainty about god, the universe, and everything. When they’re done with the kids, they lie to the adults also. Christians threaten their litany of fire and brimstone, and Buddhists and Hindus trot out the “wheel of rebirth,” new age fundamentalist religions such as CUT where I was raised get you to fear the “second death,” or death of the soul. These are all pernicious lies, with no basis in fact. They all presuppose an afterlife and the existence of an angry god. They place these lies in people’s minds at such an early age that most people are unable to ever get rid of them.