Random thoughts about a vestige from the Middle Ages
There was a time when religious institutions played a key of part of people's lives and shaped the decisions of kings. These were known as the Dark Ages.
Off hand, I cannot think of a successful, fundamentalist nation.
God: product of wishful thinking
Jehovah: worship that? Never!
Afterlife: get rid of it!
Theocracies have no place in the modern age
The judiciary does not recognise god
Kosher and Halel are obsolete
I'm an atheist and I regard the theists as self-deluded. If you are offended by this, I don't care! The rest of the article gets worse. You can always email complaints to this address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Everyone who sees the complexity and magnitude of the universe wonders how it came into existence. Some people believe it is the result of a vastly superior being or beings i.e. gods. When asked how such a being did this, the reply that he (or she/it/they) is omnipotent. When asked why such an omnipotent being created bits that seem to undermine his own work, such as the human appendix, black holes or planet-threatening asteroids, the explanation is that he/she/it 'moves in mysterious ways'. These kind of answer is really saying "I don't know, I don't want to know and I don't care that I'm not even trying to know." People who use blanket answers and refuse to consider the new questions should not be regarded as a source of knowledge or insight. This compares to the scientific consensus that getting from the Big Bang to here was amazingly fortunate, but at least they consider rival theories.
The religious routinely pray to their god or gods and perform various rituals, yet they know they won't get a direct reply or an identifiable supernatural action. Despite doing everything they believe should get a god's benevolence, they are no better off than their heathen neighbours. Why do such people continue worship when they get no results? Perhaps they don't want to believe they're wasting their time.
Evidence of any god is woefully lacking. There have been no direct appearances or undeniably divine messages; nothing to finally prove the atheists and followers of false religions are wrong. A poor oversight by a being or beings that want to be worshipped. To some, this does not matter as this is does not prove that their god or gods don't exist. This is irrational, wishful thinking. Why is a belief, based on no real evidence, in a particular god more correct than a belief in another god, also backed by no evidence? Why not just believe you're a butterfly who believes he's a man? It is better to apply Occam's Razor and remove such pointlessly complex 'theories'. This just leaves the simpler explanation that no gods exist.
Supposing the god of the Christian bible exists, why should anybody worship him? Consider the cruelty, pettiness and stupidity of this god.
Some religions, especially the three monotheist religions, encourage selflessness and generosity with the promise of an afterlife in heaven. Benevolence is being encouraged by an appeal to greed. Too frequently, heaven is used to convince a population to accept hardship and poverty. It's also used to encourage people to commit suicidal attacks. The commanders issuing these edicts are, of course, human.
The afterlife is used to convince people that they or their loved ones won't completely disappear when they die. Yet there is no reliable evidence that any kind of afterlife exists. People believe in such comforts despite the most likely and possible explanation that they cease to exist. This is intellectual cowardice. And from this basis, people must believe they can stand up to corruption, intimidation and injustice.
Pascal's wager was written by the famous French scientist Blaise Pascal in the 17th century and argues that atheists should adopt christianity. The argument is that if the atheists are right, everybody will disappear when they die, even the devout christians. If the christians are right, the atheists will suffer eternal hell whilst the pious will enjoy eternal bliss in heaven. Hence, atheists should adopt christianity on the chance that it is correct, no matter how much they disagree with it or how unlikely it is.
There are a variety of flaws with this argument. First, it's not possible to go to heaven by simply pretending to be christian: christians are supposed to simply believe in god and christianity, rather than conclude with evidence and reasoning, and god can tell if someone is faking it. So, an argument using rationalism is advocating the abandonment of rationalism.
Next, christianity is only one of a number of religions that believe in an afterlife and Pascal's wager can be applied to all of them. There is no process to determine which is more likely. The wager becomes an arbitrary choice between christianity, islam, hinduism, judaism, paganism, buddhism and all the other religions that exist.
Pascal's wager is an exercise in probability: no matter what the negative effects of adopting christianity, it is always outweighed by the expected gain (potential gain × probability of it being true). A potential gain of infinity multiplied by any probability, no matter how tiny, creates an expected gain of infinity. However, whenever any comparison uses infinity, it is rendered meaningless. If you are unconvinced, then read on.
Judgement Day was meant to occur on the 1st of January, 2000 but this was delayed by the machinations of Satan. Judgement Day will occur at midnight at the end of this month and it has been decided that all humanity found on Earth at that time will be damned to Hell. This message serves as a warning to the faithful to save themselves and enjoy eternal communion with God by praying for their absolution and killing themselves before the end of the month. It does not matter if any non-believers read this as they will damn themselves by failing to carry out its instructions.
Every true believer christian must follow this command. The consequences of obeying or disobeying this command are described in the table below.
|Disobey command||Obey command|
|Command is bogus||Enjoy rest of life; eternal bliss after death||Eternal bliss after death|
|Command is genuine||Enjoy life for one month; eternal damnation after death||Eternal bliss after death|
Now, consider the consequences of the command in the same way as Pascal's wager, in terms expected gains. Let the potential gain of enjoying one month of life be 1, the rest of life be 500 and the probability of the command being genuine be n. Eternal bliss and damnation is forever, so the potential gain is infinity and minus infinity respectively. The expected gains are:-
|Disobey command||Obey command|
|Expected gain if command is bogus plus
Expected gain if command is genuine
|Expected gain if command is bogus plus
Expected gain if command is genuine
|((1 - n ) × (500 + infinity)) +
(n ×(1 - infinity))
|((1 -n) × infinity) +
(n × infinity)
|As anything added or multiplied to infinity is infinity|
|infinity - infinity||infinity + infinity|
Therefore, all true believers should pray and kill themselves before the end of the month. As I wrote before, as soon as a comparison uses infinity, it is rendered meaningless.
If I hear reports that anybody has killed themselves because of this website, I will not feel remorse or pity. I will celebrate the removal of an idiot from the genepool and forward the reports to the Darwin Awards.
A final counter-argument is that religion may be a trap. If a creator of the Universe does exist, it is obvious that his/her/its creation is amazingly intricate and runs on a coherent sets of rules of physics with no need for manual intervention. Clearly, this creator is highly intelligent and sophisticated. Why would such a being want to save and surround himself with the unthinking believers and mindless sheep? Such people would become uninteresting and boring in 5 seconds flat. It is far more likely that a creator would create religion as a trap to weed out the wilfully ignorant, the uninquisitive and the mindless.
All the rich, industrialised, first-world countries, such as USA, UK, Italy, Japan and Australia, are secular democracies. Is this a coincidence? I think not. One the most famous, theocratic states and home of Mecca and Medina, Saudi Arabia, is enjoying unprecedented wealth from oil. You'd expect a country flush with cash, like the USA, to proudly exclaim the virtues of its culture and to be at the forefront of various endeavours such as art, film-making, journalism, sport, science, technology, social progress or disaster relief charities. Yet Saudi Arabia is a closed society where few dare speak to foreign journalists. I cannot think of a Saudi success story in any of these categories or anything else. 15 of the 20 suspected terrorists behind the World Trade Centre destruction were Saudi. I don't think I'll count that as an achievement.
Now, the Iranian film industry earns some respect. This is the best success story from a theocratic state I can find. I'm not sure this counts as the reformist, Iranian parliament have being engaged in political fighting with the theocratic Guardian Council for decades. Such artistic acclaim isn't much against the Indian film industry, Bollywood. India, of course, is a secular, multi-ethnic, third-world country.
The time I heard an ordinary member of the public extol the virtues of his theocratic government was when an Afghan restaurateur exclaimed that the Taliban soldiers pay their bill when they leave. This compares to soldiers of the anarchic, feudal, Afghan warlords who perpetually fought each other. The actual creation of national government by the fundamentalist Taliban were a dramatic improvement over anarchy. I honestly can't think of anything else good to write about them. This is the only place in the modern age a theocracy, such as the Taliban, should have. Not that the Taliban wanted anything to do with the modern age.
Imagine that someone committed murder and was caught by the police. Upon interrogation, the perpetrator explains the reasons given by his friend. The police would then interrogate the friend to determine if he really is an accomplice. If the friend was an accomplice, a judge would declare he has no authority to issue executions and sentence him and the murderer to jail.
Now, imagine the murderer earnestly stated that god talked to him and explained the need for the murder. Would the police try to contact god directly to verify the story? Would they ask the nearest priest to contact god on their behalf? Would they send a message to god demanding that he stop issuing executions. Would they consider that the perpetrator's story might, possibly, be true? Would any newspaper demand to know why the police have failed to do any of this? Would a judge consider the execution to have been issued by a higher authority and that he had no jurisdiction? Isn't it far more likely that the police, the judiciary and the public would think that the person has a serious mental illness?
Now, imagine someone gave the police a valuable tip-off and told them that god told him to tell them. Would the police wonder if the source of information was divine? Isn't it far more likely that the police would think the person has a serious mental illness but is otherwise harmless?
In short, the police and the judiciary do not consider that god even exists (or, at least, that he communicates). People who believe in god (or, at least, that he communicates) are lunatics.
The food preparation and animal slaughter practices of islam and judaism have been rendered obsolete by industrial age understanding of microbiology, widespread use of detergents and refrigeration. This is a statement of the bleeding obvious but there are important points to be made. These practices exemplify the difference between ancient and modern wisdom. Whereas modern safety is built from rigorous scientific understanding, no such understanding existed in ancient and medieval times. Certain methods were adopted because they seemed to reduce food poisoning, even though no-one could explain why. It is wisdom without understanding but it is wisdom.
In modern times, these practices are an annoying waste of time compared to secular practices. The tragedy is that religious leaders could dump these obsolete methods whilst claiming the moral high ground. Rabbis and mullahs could exclaim that advocating practices since ancient times that have been proved correct demonstrates the wisdom of their religion. By stating that kosher and halel have fulfilled their purpose, they're demonstrating that their edicts exist for a purpose, which is understand and applied for their members' benefit, not simply because it's written down. They would give them the moral high ground to argue about practices and philosophies in genetic engineering, electronic surveillance or somesuch. Imagine a catchphrase such as 'Judaism: protecting mankind since ancient times'