Effect Measure

There is a misconception that because I am an atheist and poke fun at religion in this space every Sunday that I must have contempt for religion for its own sake. It’s true I find many of the pious contemptible, but not because they are pious. You can be stupid in all sorts of ways and that’s just one of them. Nor do I go after religion and the religious because they believe in one of the many gods people have made up. There are a lot of ways to be irrational. Look at Wall Street. No, I go after religion because it represents a particularly nasty form of tribalism, a set of beliefs that distinguish some human beings that are in any meaningful way indistinguishable on the basis of what superstition they hold. It’s like discriminating against people who carry a lucky rabbit’s foot but a hundred times more consequential. If religious views were just some kind of personal enthusiasm, like an interest in knitting, I wouldn’t care. No one says that non-knitters are inferior or should be killed or denied membership in your country club. But alas, religion isn’t so benign. It erects artificial barriers between people and then attacks those on the other side of the barrier. As a form of tribalism, religion is frequently deadly and can’t be broken of its vicious habits.

Why single out the religious form of tribalism? It’s a fair question. There are other deadly tribalisms: racism, sexism, homophobia, nationalism/patriotism. Of that list, racism, sexism and homophobia already receive their share of condemnation (except among some of the religious, of course). But only nationalism and patriotism, often combined with religion, are more a deadly tribalism than religion. I made a tactical decision that going after religion is more fruitful than going after nationalism, although they are both cut from the same cloth. The same people so proud to be Italians or Greeks (or Americans) would switch their allegiances given a fickle accident of birth. The same for Catholics and Jews. It’s just a lot easier to see the flaw in believing in a particular Invisible Sky Jefe.

The day that religion becomes just another interesting personal enthusiasm, like being a Yankees fan or having a hobby like knitting, that’s the day I’ll stop picking on it. Unfortunately that day is still far off. Until then, I’ll keep posting stuff like this:

Comments

  1. #1 Zachary
    June 28, 2009

    Thanks for saying this, Revere. I couldn’t agree more.

  2. #2 Catherder
    June 28, 2009

    Well said, well said.

  3. #3 Ben Hyde
    June 28, 2009

    All good, and yet there are overwhelming functional benefits from tribalism in it’s many forms religion included. eh?

  4. #4 dubiquiabs
    June 28, 2009

    @ Ben #3 “…there are overwhelming functional benefits from tribalism in it’s many forms religion included. eh?”

    How would you know that? Eg, when you put, say, nukes into the mix, might the harms from tribalism perhaps overwhelm the “overwhelming” benefits?

  5. #5 Michael Erickson
    June 28, 2009

    I am an (amatuer) evolutionary paleontologist/biologist, and I understand your point. All I will say is that, I know you don’t beleive in him, but Jesus loves you. P.S. And in the spirit of kindness, no nasty remarks please – I never made any to you all.

  6. #6 MikeG
    June 28, 2009

    Yes, I know Jesus loves me, But I read enough Revere to know to make him wear a condom.

    Bless you, too, Michael. Bless your little heart.
    In the spirit of kindness.

  7. #7 Michael Erickson
    June 28, 2009

    Thank you.

  8. #8 Crudely Wrott
    June 28, 2009

    Ben at #3:

    All good, and yet there are overwhelming functional benefits from tribalism in it’s many forms religion included. eh?

    There are two possible senses of “overwhelming” that present themselves.

    First, that the benefits of tribalism did, perforce, emerge during periods of history when tribalism was either a novel or rapidly growing trait of early homo and that due to their authority by virtue of early establishment have been incorporated into various religions subsequently created by tribes.

    In this case, it would seem that the benefits of tribalism may have overwhelmed religion at religions very birth. Whatever code or dogma might have been imagined and elevated to a set of moral absolutes would have been informed by the ethics of pre-religious tribalism. In which case, religion has no right to promote itself as the font of proper living.

    A second case might be that the advent of religion acted as a filter of tribalism and became more adept at actually codifying accepted behaviors within a dogmatic system. The equivalent of distilling the wisdom of the day into an easily communicated narrative. This would give religion a firm foundation upon which to assume moral authority.

    In this case, the proliferation and endurance of basic moral values across the full width of various religions and populations of varying dedication to faith seems to say that morality is independent of dogma and faith. That is, that the basic ethics that inform human morality seem more likely to be an emergent trait than an imperative imposed from any nonspecific source up to and including anybody’s pet prime source.

    In either case it would seem that religion may have been a mere foil for the better parts of tribalism or to have played at best a supporting role in terms of creating, promoting and thereby maintaining what civilization currently recognizes as acceptable morality.

    In all, I find it rather amusing and count myself fortunate to be here, now, watching the story continue playing out.

  9. #9 another
    June 28, 2009

    Michael Erickson:

    Seems to me that in order for someone to love me they must, in fact, exist. So your statement, though not necessarily nasty, is a falsehood.

    Telling lies is not much of a kindness.

  10. #10 Michael Erickson
    June 28, 2009

    I’m done on this thread. Good day.

  11. #11 another
    June 28, 2009

    And a good day to you, sir.

  12. #12 Crudely Wrott
    June 28, 2009

    Drat! Michael ran off before I could acknowledge his kindness and reply with my own.

    Jesus must have been a nervous and flighty person if I can believe the testimony of Christians that they are becoming more like him everyday.

    Michael, I never knew ye, and never knew reason not to regard you with favor. I hope you are enjoying your amateur scientist status and take full advantage of it. May you learn much and be delighted.

  13. #13 Michael Erickson
    June 28, 2009

    I did not run off because I was nervous of flighty, it’s because I didn’t care to spend all day arguing back and forth. There are more important things I could be doing. By the way, I’m not particularly “enjoying” my amatuer scientist status, that’s why I’m working to become a prefessional. Have a nice day.

  14. #14 Comrade PhysioProf
    June 28, 2009

    The day that religion becomes just another interesting personal enthusiasm, like being a Yankees fan or having a hobby like knitting, that’s the day I’ll stop picking on it.

    Burn in hell, Red Sock fans!!!!!!!!!

  15. #15 maryinhawaii
    June 28, 2009

    To be fair, the religions you are picking on as a form of tribalism (quite appropriately) are the monotheistic trio: Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

    The religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism and Taoism IN THEIR TRUE FORMS (per the original tenets, not in their corrupted pagan forms) are not tribalistic and exclusive. Pure Hinduism actually teaches that virtually any path the person chooses towards enlightenment is ok, as long as it gets him/her there.

    As a matter of fact, the bottom line concept of religious or spiritual experience is that we are all one in God, and that we are thus all one with each other. The quest of religion is to awaken man to that truth, to break down the artificial barriers of ego so that we all love each other as self. That was even the original teaching of Jesus (as per the golden rule). So religious belief as it is intended can actually be a very good thing, as Ben points out.

    It is the organization, politicization and corruption of religious teachings that have turned them into these monsters pf tribalism used – as you correctly point out – too often as excuses for hatred, exclusion, and war. But don’t blame “God” for that.

    And I might add that, atheist or not, the good works you have spent your life doing mean to me that you have a much strongly reality on that connection with your fellow man than do most of the religious hypocrits I’ve seen in my lifetime. So I don’t think it matters much if you believe in “God” or not, I’m pretty sure He believes in you.

  16. #16 Ragout Legume
    June 28, 2009

    Presuppositionalism, anyone?

  17. #17 melbren
    June 28, 2009

    My daughter is a student at Berkeley; one of her friends posted the following on her Facebook: (I thought it was cute)

    “I want to be an atheist, but at the same time, I don’t want to hurt God’s feelings….”

    This is the same girl who proclaimed:

    “I’m not waiting until I’m married to have sex—I’m just waiting til I’m skinny.”

    (Who couldn’t love this kid?!!)

  18. #18 bmil
    June 28, 2009

    You’re not against religion. It takes total religious fervor and fanaticism to believe in evolution.

    You don’t like how religion breaks people down into tribes…you mean the way so-called scientists, evolutionists and atheists such as yourself separate yourselves from those who
    believe in god. You form your won little tribes and won’t even allow anyone on the other side of the fence DISCUSS the option of GOD? Your little TRIBE works fiercely to prevent freedom of speech and though to protect your tribe and belief system..and then you mock and attack anyone who disagrees with you.

    PLEASE…spare me the lecture on being disgusted by those who are ‘pious” you are displaying the same kind of contemptuous piousness by your disregard for people who have different belief systems from yours.

    and trust me… it takes a lot of belief to be an atheist-it takes a lot of smug condescension to have absolute certainty of knowing how the world came into existence-to promote it and to disregard anyone who does not agree with you.

    Get OVER yourself you ludicrous hypocrite and stop slamming people who have different belief systems from your own.

    Honestly-you make me laugh because you are such a hypocrite!! And a fool for being blind to your own hypocrisy.

  19. #19 bmil
    June 28, 2009

    Oh-and the world coming into existence via evolution is still a theory….because it hasn’t been PROVEN.

    A theory that is riddled with faulty testing and data, scientists owning up to scams and changing results to keep their faithful followers in line. The constant political attempts to mute any one who descents.

    You come from a proud tribe Revere.

    Interestingly enough-you scientists haven’t solved any real problems: people still kill, lie, steal, cheat and die. All the science in the world hasn’t changed that.

    Like Solomon said, “there is nothing new under the sun.”

    So spare me your version of absolute truth and your version of morality.

  20. #20 Crudely Wrott
    June 28, 2009

    Just for the hell of it, bmil, imagine for a moment that tribes came before religions. I alluded to such earlier.

    If the act of small groups banding together for mutual benefit predates the advent of religion in any meaningfully structured fashion, than it is ingenuous to worry about

    . . . how religion breaks people down into tribes…

    I assume you have a back-up concern?

  21. #21 C. Corax
    June 28, 2009

    bmil, you have some typos in your post:

    Interestingly enough-you religious haven’t solved any real problems: people still kill, lie, steal, cheat and die. All the religion in the world hasn’t changed that.

    There, all better.

  22. #22 Crudely Wrott
    June 28, 2009

    I guess bmil doesn’t consider the lack of polio in current generations a problem solved.

    What would he call it, given the man hours involved in making it so?

    So many questions, so few answers.

    At any rate, bmil, fare thee well. (If such is God’s will. If it is not, well . . .;)

  23. #23 Here and Gone
    June 28, 2009

    There are hundreds of reasons why I’m an athiest, least of all this:

    I don’t need any imaginary friends.

  24. #24 Dylan
    June 28, 2009

    bmil: Which part of “blow me” don’t you understand?

  25. #25 cicely
    June 28, 2009

    bmil:

    Oh-and the world coming into existence via evolution is still a theory….because it hasn’t been PROVEN.

    This is a stunningly common misconception. The world coming into existence, the beginning of the universe….these are not evolution’s concerns. The beginning of life, though obviously of interest to evolution, isn’t evolution’s concern (that would be abiogensis). The changes in living organisms over time…that’s evolution’s concern.

    At least aim your snark at a valid target.

  26. #26 Jimmy
    June 28, 2009

    Religious tribalism is the only form of group I can think of where intense feelings of self-resentment, shame and even ambivalance are the motives for participating. Not only does religion encourage these feelings but glorifies them. And these pernicious feelings drive one to persecute everyone around- family, lovers and enemies alike. Insanity to be sure.

  27. #27 tymbuktu
    June 29, 2009

    GREAT post. Thanks a lot.

  28. #28 Jason A.
    June 29, 2009

    #25:

    Oh-and the world coming into existence via evolution is still a theory….because it hasn’t been PROVEN.

    This is a stunningly common misconception. The world coming into existence, the beginning of the universe….these are not evolution’s concerns. The beginning of life, though obviously of interest to evolution, isn’t evolution’s concern (that would be abiogensis). The changes in living organisms over time…that’s evolution’s concern.

    At least aim your snark at a valid target.

    Not to mention the ole ‘just a theory’ idiocy. There are few ways for someone to show their complete ignorance of the topic more quickly.

    bmil#19:

    Interestingly enough-you scientists haven’t solved any real problems: people still kill, lie, steal, cheat and die. All the science in the world hasn’t changed that.

    Religion was the dominant social force for thousands of years, and the average lifespan was stuck at 30-40ish the whole time. Science has been the dominant force for a couple hundred, and we’re up to the 70′s. Guess that doesn’t count.
    I’m glad to know you think people in Bible times were getting helicopter evacs to the emergency room when they had their car accidents, though.

    If you want to know why people are against religion, bmil is a perfect example. Extreme self-righteousness and certitude rooted in pure ignorance and intellectual incuriousity.

  29. #29 flea
    June 29, 2009

    Bravo!

  30. #30 Chris J
    June 29, 2009

    Michael Erikson’s first comment seems rather odd. Jesus loves us, and yet it took him/God 9 billion years to get round to creating this planet, and 3.5 billion years of evolution just for humans to come about.

    It’s not the kind of thing that makes me think there’s a supernatural power out there who cares for me somehow, especially as even an amatuer evolutionary biologist should understand no supernatural force is required to ‘guide’ evolution.

    Michael may be right when he says he has better things to do than arguing all day, but I get the impression he knows deep down his points wouldn’t stand up to much scrutiny, and he doesn’t want to risk losing the comfort his religion brings him.

  31. #31 Michael Erickson
    June 29, 2009

    I know good and well my points would not stand up to, not much scrutiny, but to no scrutiny whatsoever. That’s because religion is not science. I can’t prove that God exists, that Jesus exists, that anything you can’t see or touch exists. I just feel it in my heart. BTW, I never said that God/A Supernatural Force is required to “guide” evolution. Evolution is a natural process, not a God-guided one. Please don’t put words in my mouth. I would also like to remind you that plenty of evolutionary biologists beleive in God/Jesus, and it does not interfere with their science at all. Tell it all to Robert T. Bakker and Mary Higby Schweitzer, not to me.

  32. #32 suzyf921
    June 29, 2009

    Organized religion causes antibiotic resistance in Uganda….

    “We found that 1.2% of HIV-positive individuals initiating ART in a prospective observational cohort study discontinued therapy as a result of their belief that they no longer needed therapy because they had been spiritually healed. Four of six of these individuals restarted therapy, but three required second-line salvage therapy. Treatment interruptions of a fixed dose combination have been associated with virological failure and drug resistance.”

    from: Belief in divine healing can be a barrier to antiretroviral therapy adherence in Uganda. Wanyama J, Castelnuovo B, Wandera B, Mwebaze P, Kambugu A, Bangsberg DR, Kamya MR. AIDS:
    11 July 2007 – Volume 21 – Issue 11 – p 1486-1487.

  33. #33 Chris J
    June 29, 2009

    Michael,

    I didn’t say you were claiming evolution is God-guided, just that people who accept evolution should understand it isn’t.

    Which kind of throws a wrench into the idea that humans are the ultimate purpose of the universe, or that we’re somehow special, as Christianity implies. Humans almost went extinct at one point!

    Evolution disproves original sin, which in turn makes the whole point of Jesus’ death meaningless. That’s the basic foundation of Christianity gone.

    Suffering in the world is no longer due to the fall of man, as the Bible says.

    You don’t feel anything in your heart, because the heart is an organ for pumping blood around the body. It sounds poetic, but it’s not accurate. You feel it in your brain, which tricks us all the time. You’ll find out when you dream tonight – or just look up some optical illusions.

    People who accept evolution and believe Christianity (including scientists – there are Muslim scientists, does that make Islam true?) have to address two questions, to themselves if not here.

    What was the point of Jesus’ death?
    Why is there suffering in the world?

    I don’t want to drag you back here if you really don’t want to talk about it, but if those questions were answered you’d be saving a lot more souls. Something that important I would have thought you’d make the time for. Won’t you have enough time to do what you want if this is just the start of your eternal life?

  34. #34 Madame Furie
    June 29, 2009

    Love the “But that’s not MY religion you’re talking about” argument from buddhists and hindus. I actually believed it myself for a while.

    Go over to Asia to see how these religions are actually practiced and have been for thousands of years. Then come back and tell us they aren’t just as superstitious as any other theistic religion. Reincarnation anyone? Karma?

    Religions are all at their core concerned with an afterlife, a “purpose”, a “spirit” or “soul” outside the natural realm that is neither empirically verified nor necessary in order to lead an ethical and moral life. They are all based on magical thinking and demand intellectual laziness of their followers.

  35. #35 Otto
    June 29, 2009

    “Religions are all at their core concerned with an afterlife, a ‘purpose’, a ‘spirit’ or ‘soul’ outside the natural realm that is neither empirically verified nor necessary in order to lead an ethical and moral life. They are all based on magical thinking and demand intellectual laziness of their followers.”

    Tish tosh. You assume that by dismissing (dualist) supernaturalism you somehow demonstrate the validity of (presumably monist) materialism. What’s intellectually lazy is pulling this version of the old rope trick, viz., failing to subsequently address “mind.” Do you fundamentally view yourself as a poorly constructed (nondeterministic) wind-up doll? If so, what do you make of “your mind”? Does it “exist” in a “temporal realm” such that “it” changes “over time”?

    How would you dismiss monist idealism (which straightforwardly deals with the “philosophical issue” of suffering)? Or, for that matter, a version of this view that denies ontology entirely (a position that raises few materialist eyebrows when it comes to the big bang)?

  36. #36 River
    June 29, 2009

    Madame Furie (“Religions are all at their core concerned with an afterlife, a “purpose”, a “spirit” or “soul” outside the natural realm that is neither empirically verified nor necessary in order to lead an ethical and moral life.)”

    Actually, I would argue that religions are all at their core concerned with the avoidance of pain and suffering, not of others (though that’s the claim), but for self. Strip away the myth and every religion I’ve looked at has been based on some formula or another for managing or denying emotional pain.

    I say: Eat the pain! Not in amounts disproportionate to what’s warranted by the situation, but exactly as it is. And eat the joy, too. The disappointment and the satisfaction, the love and anger, the lust and envy and passion…. Every messy, challenging, wonderful, dreadful, wouldn’t-miss-it-for-the-world emotion. Eat it, and know it, and don’t let it destory self or other. Then digest it, slowly, carefully, and ultimately be strengthened by it.

  37. #37 Victoria
    June 30, 2009

    River,

    A super huge BRAVO from me!

  38. #38 Abber
    June 30, 2009

    There’s no need to justify picking on religion as far as I’m concerned, but it was a well put argument all the same. And thanks for the Bill Maher clips. Like any other observational comedy, it’s funny because it’s true.

  39. #39 Michael Erickson
    June 30, 2009

    Chris J,

    “…or that humans are somehow special”

    We are sort of special, but only because we have a soul – we have the ability to tell right from wrong, and therefore can choose between God or Satan, Heaven or Hell. That’s the ONLY thing that makes different from any other animal. The Bible even admonishes that humans are “like animals”, and that it is “vanity” to beleive we are superior to other animals.

    I know what a heart is, and what its actual purpose is.

    “What was the point of Jesus’ death?”

    To save us from our sins. At some point in their evolutionary history, humans were given souls, and the ability to choose good from evil. They chose evil, thus, the Original Sin. That’s why there is suffering in the world – as long as their is sin (which will be until Jesus returns), there will be suffering. Now, all of this is unprovable and leaves no sort of physical trace whatsoever – so how does evolution disprove it? It can’t be proven or disproven.

    I hope I’ve said all that needs to be said. Bless you.

  40. #40 Otto
    June 30, 2009

    “There’s no need to justify picking on religion as far as I’m concerned….”

    Awesome! Could you spell out the chain of reasoning that allows one to decide just when “picking on” requires “justification”?

  41. #41 Chris J
    June 30, 2009

    Hi Michael,

    The geneological line from Adam to Jesus is about 4000 years. 4000 years ago, humans had spread far and wide, so even if a couple of humans were tested in a secluded garden, we are not all their descendants and have therefore not inherited any of their sin.

    There’s no reason to believe we have a soul either, but even if that couple was given one, again, we wouldn’t have all inherited it.

    Studies show that animals are more compassionate than we give them credit for.

  42. #42 Chris J
    June 30, 2009

    Sorry, I meant 6000 years ago. ><

    Oh, also suffering has nothing to do with sin if there was suffering before humans even evolved. Unless you want to say death, earthquakes, volcanoes, disease, tsunamis and all the rest didn’t exist until just recently?

  43. #43 Chris J
    July 1, 2009

    However it’s approached, it just doesn’t seem to work. Even if it’s said all humans were tested at the same time, did they all give birth to Cain, Abel and Seth? Are those characters and all who follow just made up?

    People around the world had their own religions, until one day the one true god gave them a soul, made himself known and tested everyone – but they all failed. All the Hindus of the time saw that Yahweh was real, not Krishna, but then after the test they all suddenly forgot and only a small group of humans in the middle east kept the story alive. Perhaps this is how it happened?

    The ‘sophisticated’ Christians may laugh with the atheists at the literal fundamentalists, but at least they understand the two can’t be mixed. People such as Michael are only showing they don’t know a great deal about the book they claim to follow, and I continue to wait for an explanation that would make sense, from any evolution accepting Christians.