Sunday, April 12, 2009

Blasphemy Time

Well, it's Zombie Awareness Day, and I've been skimping on my blogging this week, despite resolving to do more. Oh well. It's a dark and stormy night beyond my window (despite being almost 11AM now), so definitely zombie weather.

I really enjoy The Brick Testament (and I'm glad to find they've started on Revelations, and even updated while I was typing). I had done a share of skimming the Bible and finding absurdities on my own. The experience made up a large chunk of my journey to atheism. Reading The Brick Testament's excerpts from Jesus's life and teachings, however, got me deeper into a certain opinion that many of you have already arrived at anyway:

Christianity started as just another rebellious apocalypse cult.

Now, I imagine there are going to be various thoughts, many of which are going to be variants of "Well, duh!" I thought I'd lay this out anyway, since TBT really boosted my confidence in the hypothesis to levels that I found it more disturbing. A couple millenia of history initially had me numbed to the feeling, like it was a quirk of history: It doesn't take a genius to infer that all religions started small, but I tended to think of most being a sort of ghestalt of superstitions that standardized over time, kind of like we've seen with UFO believers in recent decades.

The difference I felt was kind of like this: When followers looked at David Koresh, they saw Jesus. When non-follower Christians looked at him, they saw a crazy man using cult recruiting tactics. Well, now when this ex-Christian atheist looks at Jesus, I see David Koresh and his ilk. Here come the examples, illustrations, and other stuff I've given some thought to:

Jesus's Birth: He gets fathered by the holy spirit, to a virgin woman who is discovered to be pregnant. In short, this is an absurd claim that makes me wonder if it was Big Lie marketing: That someone could suggest she got pregnant by magic instead of an affair or some other old-fashioned method, and do so with a straight face has a certain power for some people: "If he was just trying to sell me something by lying, he would tell a more believable lie, therefore he must sincerely believe it." In addition, to "prove" the truth, they add on something of a coverup, Herod, the Big Bad Government Man tries to off the magic bouncing baby and does the horrible deed of killing lots of babies to get Jesus, as well as display how evil he is and how desperate he is to get rid of the competition. Sounds like a lot of cults and conspiracies circulating about these days: They spin everything they can as persecution (though to be fair, some instances can be real persecution) and advertise the government's distaste in them as "evidence" of their truth. Pretty much the gadfly corollary writ large. Of course, communications in the day were poor, so nonlocals would likely only have travelers' word for it.

Baptism: What Chosen One would be complete without the clouds parting and deep voices from the sky?

Satan's Temptations: Hero's Secret Test of Character... Only "secret" part is it's out in the desert where no one would see him go through it.

Walking on Water/Moving Mountains: Set up for allowing a follower to blame himself if he doesn't have enough "faith" to do magic.

On Marriage and Castration: Ritual castration's popular among cults, isn't it?

On Wealth/Accept Communism or Die: Cults usually have a solid form of income from new recruits.

The First Book Burning: I doubt it was the first, but you know how cults like to control information and eliminate the competition. They want believers to think they've got a unique magic of their own, too.

Speaking in Tongues: SkepDic's got some of the details covered. To me, it seems a lot like hypnotism, so-called qi-attacks, and those preachers who knock down believers with a wave of their hand: It's shaped by cultural expectations. If I recall correctly, people back then thought crazy people and epileptics were magic. Glosolalia happens in schizophrenics and I don't have trouble imagining it happening with an epileptic, so a crowd suggestible to quiver and gibber probably wasn't hard to find back then.

The Parable of Many Murders: Putting God up as a landlord and humanity as a bunch of savages who won't pay the rent. Manufactured guilt for a crime not commited, since that absurdly patient landlord doesn't exist. Jesus puts himself up as the landlord's son, so you'd better not disrespect him or the fictional landlord boogey man'll get you.

On Family: Cults love to divide families. Anyone who's had a falling out with their family has a neon sign saying "recruit me" floating over their heads. Hating oneself also saves cults the effort of breaking someone down before building them up in their image.

On Prayer: I usually prefer to read it as an endorsement of modesty in your piety, though I suppose it could also be read as suggestion of secrecy. Definitely one of the shakier things in my thoughts, but there it is.

On Self-Defense: I'm definitely a fan of non-violence most of the time. It can get ridiculous to the extreme, but if you think of this as a principle of non-violent protests, it's easier to win sympathy when you're not resisting The Man. Of course, this sympathy can be used for good or for evil.

Dogs and Pigs: Smells kind of like a metaphor for... What's the term Scientologists use for critics who supposedly can't be cleansed of their thetans?... Ah, yes: DB.

On Hell: In my understanding, Christianity pretty much invented the place (or rather copied it from other religions), since Judiasm didn't originally have an afterlife. When you've got a punishment no one has evidence of, you have to compensate by making it more extreme... You know, kind of like how your mother told you to tie your shoelaces for fear of tripping and breaking your neck, rather than honestly tell you that there's a chance you might stumble and skin your knees and elbows?

On the Law of Moses: If a cult's a spinoff of an existing religion, they'll often claim that they're not the ones changing anything, and that it's the mainstream church that's corrupted things.

On Peace: The usual apocalypse stuff.

On Giving: Taken to this extreme, I think it dips into the communism thing.

Anyway, I've linked and rambled enough for now. Drop your thoughts in the comments and keep your eyes open for zombies.


yakaru said...

I love this picture from the brick testament

People get killed by the beasts of the earth - including a monkey wielding a sword!

debra said...

BD- Why would Atheists spend so much time talking about God? I mean, it seems like that line- thou doth protest too much.
I saw a video on Youtube and I was wondering if this is the real way to explain Atheism. No quoted Holy Scripture needed here...."You're Going To Die".

Bronze Dog said...

We usually have God shoved down our throat, often by the government.

I go on about it as part of the process of encouraging more people to speak up. Knowing there are other people who think the same thing sends a message that you're not alone.

Usually, I find myself asking theists why they're so afraid of criticism. There are a LOT of Creationist blogs and such out there that delete comments that ask tough questions, no matter how politely they're asked.

MWchase said...

This actually ties into something that KoF and I were saying a while back... Debating Nick was pretty draining, and we would both have loved to take on, say, astrology or homeopathy.

If I had less work, I might even have tried to work out homeopastrological principles, just for the fun of taking them down.

Anyway, see my comment at yet another 'Debunking X' blog, for one example of how the government privileges certain religions.

Tom Foss said...

Debra: Why would Atheists spend so much time talking about God?Any number of reasons, actually. Here's an incomplete list:

1. They find it interesting: I've always been fascinated by mythology, from the classic Greek and Norse and Egyptian pantheons to the more modern mythologies of superheroes and aliens, and I'm fascinated by religions for the same reason.

2. They find it threatening: Many atheists talk so much about religion for the same reason that abolitionists talked so much about slavery--not because they "doth protest too much," but because they "doth protest." Religious believers are trying on numerous fronts to make their personal beliefs into public policy, from teaching creationism in the classroom to outlawing same-sex marriage to forcing secular governments to comply with Sharia law. Not to mention all the places where religious beliefs already have been made into public policy, such as blue laws regarding the sale of alcohol and the National Day of Prayer. And further not to mention all the other ways in which religion intrudes into the public sphere, with preachers acting as Presidential advisers and door-to-door religionists peddling their wares on Saturday mornings. Atheists often talk about religion because religion affects their lives, often in negative ways.

3. They want to promote solidarity: One reason that you see atheists speaking so frequently and publicly right now is that they want to let other atheists, skeptics, and other nonreligious people know that they're not alone. Nonbelievers tend to be isolated, surrounded by believers and often afraid to voice their convictions for fear of being ostracized. One of the most common letters that prominent atheist personalities get is a variation on the "I never knew anyone else felt this way!" letter. Atheists speak out in order to form a community, a safety net for those who are coming out of religion, so they know that there are like-minded people out there.

4. They want to challenge religion's privilege: Right now, religion seems to have a privileged place in society. We can criticize people for their political beliefs, we can debate scientific conclusions, and we can have heated arguments over your preferred sports teams, but as soon as someone says "well, that's my religious belief," the belief is supposed to be beyond criticism. We're supposed to treat such convictions with kid gloves, not questioning their validity or whether or not they're reasonable. It's "impolite" or "disrespectful" or "militant" to question whether or not someone's religious beliefs are based on any good reasons, because "everyone is entitled to their own beliefs," which apparently means that everyone is entitled to not have any of their beliefs questioned at all. Many atheists find this state of affairs ridiculous, as it takes a whole set of ideas--some good, some bad--and exempts them from the fair criticism with which we judge all other ideas, and for no good reason. What has religion done to earn such a privileged status among ideas? Why should we automatically give religious beliefs "respect" instead of asking them to earn that respect? Some atheists speak out against religion to encourage others to speak out against religion, so eventually we, as a society, realize that "Jesus is coming back, so we don't have to clean up the environment" is just as deserving of criticism as "global warming is a myth cooked up by greedy scientists."

5. The same reason anyone talks about their opinions: they think they're right, and they want to convince other people that their position is right. Why does anyone talk about anything? Yesterday I talked my brother into trying something I made for dinner--was I protesting too much? Did I really not like the dish? No, I was trying to tell him that I had the same skepticism about the dish when I first tried it, and I think he'd actually like it, like I did. And I was right.

"You're Going To Die".Haven't watched the video here, Debra, but I guess this brings up another reason: some atheists speak out against religion because they want other religious believers to reconsider their faiths. In many cases, atheism requires one to reexamine some of the things they took for granted when they were religious, and one of those things is the afterlife. Since I don't have any reason to think there's a Heaven to work toward, it's in my best interest to spend my time here on Earth wisely, and to make the most of the one life I know I'll have. I can't imagine wasting so much time and energy pursuing religious beliefs that aren't true, hoping for a Heaven that will never come and fearing a Hell that doesn't exist. Instead of looking for my pie in the sky when I die, I've got to find my happiness and rewards here, and I'm inclined to make this place a little happier for everyone else. If I saw my friends wasting money and time on a scam, I'd try to get them to stop, because that would be in their best interests. To some atheists, religion is just such a scam, suckering believers out of their time, money, and effort, promising them rewards that will never come and threatening them with dangers that don't exist.

So, in other words, one reason atheists speak out against religion is that we care about religious believers, and we think they're being played for fools.

If I told you that I could call down alien death-rays on your house to burn you alive from the inside out, but if you give me ten percent of your gross income and some of your time, I'll make sure you get revived on my pleasure planet after you die here on Earth, would you believe me? If you saw your friends and family writing their checks to me and planning out their beachfront pleasure planet property, wouldn't you try to talk them out of it?

There are lots of reasons that atheists talk about religion, Debra. "Because they secretly believe it's true and are afraid" doesn't even make the list.

Anonymous said...


Why did you spend so much time here on a skeptical blog talking about a conspiracy you know we didn't believe in but one in which you obviously desperately wanted us to so you could feel validated, and then delete all the comments without giving any reason? I mean, it seems like that line- thou doth protest too much.

And no, that isn't the real way to explain atheism. Technically, that could be the way to explain anything related to life.


If I told you that I could call down alien death-rays on your house to burn you alive from the inside out, but if you give me ten percent of your gross income and some of your time, I'll make sure you get revived on my pleasure planet after you die here on Earth, would you believe me? If you saw your friends and family writing their checks to me and planning out their beachfront pleasure planet property, wouldn't you try to talk them out of it? Did you forget who you were talking to?!! I'd be surprised if Debra doesn't already have that direct debit set up. And some cans of beans, just in case.

Anonymous said...

Curses, that last paragraph is missing a new line - the bold part is Tom's quote the rest my response in case anyone is confused!

Rhoadan said...

I'd like to point out that talking about religion and talking about God are not the same thing. Religions don't necessarily need a deity. Ethical Culture and some sects of Buddhism for example are considered religions, but do not require gods. Religions may also include multiple deities. Almost any religion pre-Zoroaster, but for extant religions, see Shinto, Hinduism, Wicca, and sects of Buddhism that don't ignore deities.

My impression is that most atheists spend a lot more time talking about religion than talking about God, for reasons already listed by Tom Foss. When they do talk about God, they actually talk about characteristics imputed to God and why the evidence doesn't add up, something which annoys theists no end.