Jan 5, 2015

Blaming Religion

Crossposted from Reflections Journal.

I noticed a link on my Facebook feed this morning to a Salon article on the "6 reasons religion may do more harm than good." The first reason listed: religion promotes tribalism.

Religion divides insiders from outsiders. Rather than assuming good intentions, adherents often are taught to treat outsiders with suspicion. “Be ye not unequally yoked with unbelievers,” says the Christian Bible. “They wish that you disbelieve as they disbelieve, and then you would be equal; therefore take not to yourselves friends of them,” says the Koran (Sura 4:91).

At best, teachings like these discourage or even forbid the kinds of friendship and intermarriage that help clans and tribes become part of a larger whole. At worst, outsiders are seen as enemies of God and goodness, potential agents of Satan, lacking in morality and not to be trusted. Believers might huddle together, anticipating martyrdom. When simmering tensions erupt, societies fracture along sectarian fault lines.

No fan of tribalism, me, but religion is hardly unique in this tendency.

Case in point: In a link right under the one for that article, I noticed another Salon article, really a book excerpt, on "toxic atheism." In it, atheist Chris Stedman describes the same kind of tribal exclusivity, judgment, and othering among his compatriots.

I sat down on the couch, carefully balancing a mint julep in one hand and a plate of hors d’oeuvres I couldn’t name in the other, intensely aware of how out of place I must have seemed. Next to me on the couch were a woman in her mid-40s with a shimmering peacock brooch and a man in his late 30s wearing a denim shirt and a tan corduroy vest. I introduced myself and asked what they’d thought of the panel. They raved: “Wasn’t it wonderful how intelligent the panelists were and how wickedly they’d exposed the frauds of religion? Weren’t they right that we must all focus our energy on bringing about the demise of religious myths?”

I paused, debating whether I should say anything. My “Minnesota Nice” inclination warned me to let it be, but I had to say something. So I started small, asking them to consider that diversity of thought and background fosters an environment where discourse thrives, where ideas are exchanged, and where we learn from one another.

I was stonewalled: “We have the superior perspective; everyone else is lost,” said the woman with a flick of her hand that suggested she was swatting at an invisible mosquito.

As a former Evangelical Christian, these words were hauntingly familiar, and they represented a kind of sure-handed certainty and dismissal — a kind of fundamentalist thinking, really — that I’d hoped to leave behind with my “born again” beliefs.

Our conversation continued, and I offered up petitions that the positive contributions of religious people be considered with equal weight alongside the negative.

“I understand what you’re saying,” I said, trying to weigh my words carefully, “but how can we discount the role religious beliefs played in motivating the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. or Mahatma Gandhi?”

“Oh, I get it,” the man jumped in with a sneer. “You’re one of those atheists.”

I wasn’t sure what he meant, but it didn’t sound like a good thing. I shifted my weight from one side to another — another nervous habit — and picked at an hors d’oeuvre that I thought might be some kind of cheese.

“What do you mean, ‘one of those atheists?’”

“You’re not a real atheist. We’ve got a name for people like you. You’re a ‘faitheist.’”

Not a real atheist. I’d heard words like that before — in my youth, when I was told I couldn’t be a real Christian because I was gay. Once again I didn’t fit the prescribed model, and I was not-so-gently shown the door.

This tribal, group-think behavior can be seen in all walks of life, religious and secular. It can even be observed in web communities made up of people who've never met face to face -- people who have bonded over interests as divisive as politics and as uncontroversial as needlepoint. People form cliques and in-groups. It's what we do. The reason may be as simple and obvious as evolutionary biology -- follow a strong leader, stay with the group, and survive.

Both of the above articles describe extremist ideology and it's painfully obvious that religion has no lock on such extremity. As Stedman points out, the New Atheist movement is not so much atheist as it antitheist. Religious scholar Reza Aslan explains how the political reforms of the Enlightenment, which sought to separate the state from organized religion, were contorted into movements at least as oppressive and bloody as the worst theocratic excesses.

Yet in the century that followed the Enlightenment, a stridently militant form of atheism arose that merged the Enlightenment’s criticism of institutional religion with the strict empiricism of the scientific revolution to not only reject belief in God, but to actively oppose it. By the middle of the 19th century, this movement was given its own name – anti-theism – specifically to differentiate it from atheism.

It was around this time that anti-theism reached its peak in the writings of the German philosophers Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Marx famously viewed religion as the “opium of the people” and sought to eradicate it from society. “The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness,” Marx wrote in his celebrated critique of Hegel.

In truth, Marx’s views on religion and atheism were far more complex than these much-abused sound bites project. Nevertheless, Marx’s vision of a religion-less society was spectacularly realized with the establishment of the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China – two nations that actively promoted “state atheism” by violently suppressing religious expression and persecuting faith communities.

Atheists often respond that atheism should not be held responsible for the actions of these authoritarian regimes, and they are absolutely right. It wasn’t atheism that motivated Stalin and Mao to demolish or expropriate houses of worship, to slaughter tens of thousands of priests, nuns and monks, and to prohibit the publication and dissemination of religious material. It was anti-theism that motivated them to do so. After all, if you truly believe that religion is “one of the world’s great evils” – as bad as smallpox and worse than rape; if you believe religion is a form of child abuse; that it is “violent, irrational, intolerant, allied to racism and tribalism and bigotry, invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry, contemptuous of women and coercive toward children” – if you honestly believed this about religion, then what lengths would you not go through to rid society of it?

The relentless obsession of New Atheists with Islam as what Sam Harris calls "the motherlode of bad ideas," fills Karen Armstrong with very justifiable fear.

It fills me with despair, because this is the sort of talk that led to the concentration camps in Europe. This is the kind of thing people were saying about Jews in the 1930s and ’40s in Europe.

This is how I got into this, not because I’m dying to apologize, as you say, for religion, or because I’m filled with love and sympathy and kindness for all beings including Muslims — no. I’m filled with a sense of dread. We pride ourselves so much on our fairness and our toleration, and yet we’ve been guilty of great wrongs. Germany was one of the most cultivated countries in Europe; it was one of the leading players in the Enlightenment, and yet we discovered that a concentration camp can exist within the same vicinity as a university.

The secular state is historically new, but as previously discussed, that brief history is replete with bloody wars and grotesque atrocities that would make a Medieval Inquisitor blush.

"Religions seek power," writes Valerie Tarico, rounding out her list of 6 criticisms of religion. "Think corporate personhood. Religions are man-made institutions, just like for-profit corporations are."

Yes! Precisely! Religions are like a lot of other organizations. And we need to stop blaming institutions for the human nature that created them.


  1. Off the topic...but have you seen/heard this? wtf


  2. LOL!! No, I generally avoid videos that have the words Illuminati or Madonna in them.

    So, Madonna is Illuminati because she she has an eye? What am I missing?

  3. Nothing! Just so ridiculous, hope there is no video in the making.

  4. Also, I've tried watching "Noah" the other day...again, wtf?? and not because it isn't biblically accurate. What a depressing load of some seriously twisted crap.

  5. ....and what created our human nature? I so need to find someone to blame lol. Demiurge?

  6. Elena, it's a good question. I do think evolutionary biology is a good explanation. The tribal cohesion that helped us reach this point has a downside and it becomes an even bigger problem in large, complex societies. I also think Demiurge is a good theory. Neither of those theories negate the other. And there could be a host of other factors. But it is what it is. I think it's pretty hard to argue at this point that human beings are dangerously submissive to authority and to the tyranny of the mob. We have a hard time thinking for ourselves. And we have to do both, cooperate with each other and individuate. Finding that balance is tough.

    On the Noah thing, I haven't seen it. It seems like people from all walks of life hated it and for conflicting reasons. Why did you hate it?

  7. Well, I can't say I "hated" it, but I couldn't even finish watching it...it was painful for me, for many reasons. Short answer, just without any conscious thinking and reasoning while watching, everything in me was telling instinctively: "this is sooo not what we (humanity) need to be fed at this moment in history. Something is not right. What are the real intentions of making such a film?"
    Obviously, people from different walks of life interpret works of art in numerous ways, depending on the knowledge and experiences of each viewer. This movie is no exception … there are numerousdifferent ways to interpret the plot and ideas of the movie. It is not dumb either, none of Aronofsky movies are, there are always powerful messages...But I think for the general public it can present some dangerous ideas (I'm pretty sure you'll see what I mean if you watch the movie, not that I recommend). It can be viewed as promoting a hatred for humanity...the Creator and Noah are full of it, it seems. It's also elitist...,violent...omg don't even get me started how many things I find wrong with this movie. But having familiarized myself with a bit of Gnostic teachings recently, there is another layer possibly to this movie, only it's so blurred it produces more confusion, imo.

  8. Lol, maybe I did hate it after all.

  9. More questions: How much of this so called human nature is our true nature? Is it only human nature responsible for the religious institutions and the way they've turned out or is it archontic interference also? Probably both. Those forces taking advatage and feeding off of our current ignorant imprisoned(?) state, although it is shifting.
    My dad is one hardcore atheist, religiously hating religions and he contradicts himself all the time, lol.

  10. I haven't seen Noah, but I think I see where you're going with this. It's the story of a God sanctioned genocide. It's a horrifying story that we were taught, ironically, is all about God's benevolence. I wrote this up here:


    The Old Testament God is not a nice guy and there are those who think Jehovah is actually Yaldabaoth. I wrote this up here, but I do feel the need to caveat that I can no longer endorse John Lamb Lash's work. He's an adequate resource where he's quite possibly stolen other people's work. It has been asserted that he is a plagiarist among other things. But worse than that he has now contorted his views regarding Jehovah into a ruthless anti-Semitic agenda. Sucks when you become what you oppose. Anyway:


  11. Spasibo!

    Ps. I appreciated the Russian poster above :-) And thanks for the link with Ukrainian news which aren't negative for once. And we were raised with the belief that our ancestors had no real culture, were just savages living in dirt pits until foreigners helped us....Our official history in text books runs no further than 1000 years ago.

  12. LV, I really appreciate this statement:

    "This tribal, group-think behavior can be seen in all walks of life, religious and secular. It can even be observed in web communities made up of people who've never met face to face -- people who have bonded over interests as divisive as politics and as uncontroversial as needlepoint. People form cliques and in-groups. It's what we do. The reason may be as simple and obvious as evolutionary biology -- follow a strong leader, stay with the group, and survive."
    IMO what the group think does is keep artificial systems spinning. Example: I think about the victim, persecutor, savior protector triad is a pernicious man-u- fact-ure.

    It is a codified triangulation we keep playing various sides concerning. BUT is it really human nature? That is my question.

    The group think cannot deal with the complexities of human experience IMO. Human interaction is way more complex and nuanced and IMO, we focus on "rules" over learning the subtle interplay of feeling empathy. I think empathy is a learned behavior.
    Who can teach my understanding of learned empathy (how to feel what others feel and understand it IS their feeling and understand how to respond and how to "engage" feeling in healthy ways) who has lack of empathy? Therefore the narcissistic society is continued.

    I depart strongly from some in this idea that empathy is learned (or perhaps a natural human trait is developed through learning). BUT, we do know that when children are kept in cribs for the baby years and not allowed to crawl and move and explore, they have poor motor skills life long as a result. The sad cases of studied orphans and institutional neglect (and abuse) in certain places are terrible studies of deprivation's warping of human beings.

    Personally I desire to experience the correction of social harm from ignorance and craven ugliness of with-holding love. Negation of "love" serves the system by pitting one against the other (persons and groups).

    IMO when others are targeted as the problem and a religion arises to control the "morality" of behavior, we are left less skillful. No feeling, no learning IMO. What if we knew life is about becoming the knowers of how our actions impact through feeling the consequences? The emphasis of "group" to "individual" IMO would shift.

    Society IMO is staying frozen in a pattern..

    Sure we have "bad things happening" and certainly people are injured. However, it is the social realm of creating whole systems to serve the reaction people feel to the problem observed (and the meaning given to it) and the saviors and the solutions that IMO are serving no one but narcissist "religion of all kinds" (even athesim is IMO a religion) that is only about its own self survival.

    You referenced JLL lately. hhe has an idea to form a Kalika war party and he some very bizarre ideas IMO. If he were to join fores with another female leader of the newage, they might look like the Q&K of kookoo in conspiritual land. They each are FOR the victim, persecutor, savior triad as a necessary convention IMO.

    Alas these two spokes people probably may never marry their perspectives as they stand at different POV on the necessity and meaning of the triangle, so each "leader" will need a separate group.

    IMO, the bind in socially engineered group think is retarded.

  13. Maggie, do you have any links on JLL and the KWP? I've stumbled on a few things and they're very concerning. As we discussed a while back, he seems to have gone screaming of the rails and RIR is right there with him on the crazy train, it looks like.

    On the human nature question, I'm right there with you. These are questions I've wrestled with for a long time. I think there is strong evidence that some of this hardwired, the bigger question is why, because we don't really seem to make much sense as a species. And, yes, this tendency toward group-think and submissiveness is constantly exploited.

    "Naturally, the common people don't want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship.... Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country." ~ Hermann Göring

  14. I just checked in today after being off computer. In my own life, I am interacting with work (in a deli leading to having something to do with food I appreciate), in love (trying out being in a BF/GF interaction) and multiple systems that seem to be breaking like vehicles, water pipes.

    I have been appreciating water so much after indoor camping. I love water. I love clean and hot baths with sea salt. I am so happy I had one tonight.

    If I could just wish it true, I'd gather us freer thinkers without agenda and need to cord energetically (saw the Teal entity episodes and it is sickening). We'd weave together into an enlightened support system where we could be comfortable with stretching the limits of conforming without priest, guru, science expert or chief...just humans helping one another create an environment supportive to thriving.

    I can't help but expect this will happen despite the kookoo kings and queens who want us to remain enthralled by our power-less-ness.

    I love you LV and all...you are really true ones.

    I know you have much more loving to self things to do than listen to JLL spew but here is a playlist. To tell the truth, I did not listen to all of it.


  15. See, I was going to bitch about the fact that our phone and internet went down last night, just as I was posting about all the screenshots I've uploaded from the teal entities melee on FB. Is that what you're referring to when you say "episodes" or is there more? Anyhoo, you've reminded me that there are worse things than losing comm for an evening. I know how it is, though. Our well went down last summer. That was a fun week.

    Thanks for the JLL video. I take it that's the RIR interview I've been putting off watching... heavy sigh...


Opinions and ideas expressed in the comments on this page
belong the people who stated them. Management takes no
editorial responsibility for the content of public comments.