Thursday, October 30, 2014

Nothing to Kill or Die For

This rapey-bible pamphlet that a Florida atheist group plans to pass around is amusing enough, as far as that goes. Couple of points, though:

  1. While it's good and important that, over the last decade or so, atheists have organized and disseminated their thoughts enough to get out of the margins and into the mainstream radar, some of your more professional atheists -- Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Bill Maher -- might need to pause and ask themselves what their goal is. If it's simply to ridicule the idea of faith, as opposed to pure reason, or to poke fun at people of faith, that's fine. They're doing a pretty good job of all that, and in fact, many of their bolder assertions needed to be said. Hell, I've certainly done that here over the years, countless times.

    However, simply reiterating how religion poisons the mind or the debate or whatever doesn't convince or persuade very many people, and in fact probably angers more people than it convinces. That doesn't necessarily mean that the approach must be softened or diluted, but perhaps that the argument might be broadened, and different strategies might be applied.

    For example, one spurious argument floated by people of faith is the idea that atheists, unmoored to any codified value system, cannot by definition be as ethical as even the most louche person of faith must be, simply by dint of their professed belief. Now, you know and I know that that's a heroin-pure line of horseshit if there ever was, but perhaps putting some effort into debunking that canard would pay dividends. Can't hurt to try. The odds have to be better than repeatedly insulting people.

    Sometimes they need and deserve insulting, no doubt. But if we want to convince any of them -- and when you're as overwhelmingly outnumbered as atheists are, by religious people along the spectrum of belief -- you need more than one predictable punch in your arsenal.
  3. Like any good American atheist, I find the endless prayers and benedictions, at everything from sports events to school board meetings, to be pointless, tedious, even counter-productive on some levels. However, it's important to keep in mind that aside from Europe and China and maybe some urbanized parts of South America, the rest of the world, whatever their religion, is waaay more publicly pious and insistent than Americans. Here your various professional Christian lobbying outfits will get butt-hurt over the rapey-bible pamphlet, and maybe even take them to court, seek an injunction, tie things up until the atheist group decides to fight a different fight, whatever.

    But what do you think would happen if the atheist group decided to go after the Qu'ran instead of the Bible, decided that it would be good fun to put out pamphlets luridly pointing out that the 53-year-old prophet of Islam consummated his marriage with a ten-year-old? I think we all know what would happen in that instance, and it would not involve paralegals and indignant denunciations from talking heads on the nightly news. There would be violent riots and death threats, and the very real threat of violence.

Religion has always made people do and say strange things, and react violently to words and deeds that other people would just ignore and walk around. The promise of the last half-century of freer thought and more permissive, secularized culture, was couched in the idea (at least in part) that powerful technologies and newer ways of governing the masses would liberate them in a sense. In other words, a government that was no longer overly concerned with getting people to church, combined with the advent and democratization of technology, would allow individuals to truly self-actualize, to find their own path, one of many putatively parallel (more or less) paths to being engaged, well-rounded citizens.

Heh. Silly idealism, right? What no one counted on, in our post-scarcity technocratic paradise, was the greedheads pulling every damn thing to themselves, leaving the masses to fight over their crumbs, temporarily sated by their selfies and smartphone games, but mostly scrambling to pay $160/month phone bills and other routinely escalated prices of "normal" existence. No one counted on the median wage stagnating for forty goddamned years and counting, while the one-percenters raked in more than ever. It doesn't matter if the pie gets bigger, if the same few simply take more of it.

While there are certainly religious wealthy people, it seems incontrovertible that radicalized religious beliefs are mainly the province of the poor and marginalized, who have nothing left to lose, and nothing left to believe in or hope for. People who were promised an opportunity to be stakeholders in a great society, and instead given Honey Boo Boo and Bejeweled and a bullshit McJob that can be packed off to Shenzhen or Bangalore at a moment's notice.

G.K. Chesterton (supposedly) famously said something to the effect than if you don't believe in something, you'll believe anything. I would suggest a corollary -- that when your earthly masters have given you nothing to believe in but empty promises and self-serving bullshit, that many people may choose to grab onto ideas that, by their very nature, cannot be empirically disproven, and thus provide solace -- however temporary or false -- that what is around them refuses to.

If we want people to think for themselves, we first need to give them the luxuries of time (and by association, discretionary income) to actually do so. But the fact of the matter is that, religious or not, the people who own this country and own all the systems want compliant wage slaves to take what they're given, pray to whatever suits them, and go on about their way. They rent pseudo-intellectual assholes to lecture the proles on their morality. They know that most people like their useless warm-pink-blanky rituals and benedictions, are conditioned to expect them, and so they give them freely as routine placation.

But the masters are terrified at the prospect of an informed, engaged populace, just as the peons are every bit as terrified of losing their comfort mechanisms, without which they would have to face the fact that they are well and truly fucked. That's a much more compelling dilemma than simply trying to provoke people by flicking them shit for their beliefs.


Brian M said...

Wow. Just Wow Heywood.

You deserve more readers, man!

Heywood J. said...

Thanks, man. All I can say is the usual -- keep spreading the word.