Why do you call the "God" of the standard religions a fantasy?
When you do that, aren't you insulting them and creating the same problem you claim exists in those "intolerant" religions?
A Concerned Yoan, was troubled by our reference to other religions as "fantasies." Yo noted that
There are many people who identify as members of traditional religions who I would not call "infantile," or "deluded" in any way (depending on how watered down their beliefs are from the original). They are actually good people, and I don’t think Yoans intend to or should suggest that they aren’t.
Shouldn't there be a recognition of the fact that many religious organizations in the world, while perhaps based on specious ideas and necessarily watered down to dilute the message embraced by more fanatical believers, are actually a force of good in the world, preaching kindness, tolerance, community service, respect, etc. Where’s the evil in Reform Judaism, Unitarian Universalists, the World Service of the YMCA, or in that guy who lets us use the Church for our Gatherings?
Also, in The Word, Yo blames religion for all the horror and evil in the world: “Human inhumanity always flows from the path of untruths, the path followed by all the childish, infantile religions of lies.” But what about other deservers of the blame—like simple selfishness or individual greed? I understand that there are ideologies that try to justify selfishness and greed. And I also understand that some of these ideologies fall under the Yoan conception of "religious" in that they are actually quasi-religious belief systems. For example, when Ayn Rand’s “Objectivism” is melded with Christian anti-Communism, the result can be a fanatically held quasi-religious conviction that government is evil, and that anything done in the name of diminishing the power of government is justified in the eyes of God. Beyond rejection of governmental regulation, such beliefs have been used to eviscerate necessary social programs, justify murder, support dictators, and to overthrow democratically elected leaders. So, OK, I fully acknowledge that even quasi-religious ideology can be used to do serious damage to people; it has been used as a justification for rampant, uncontrolled, and often cruel corporate globalization, with its massive, ugly exploitation of what is essentially slave labor (see Naomi Klein’s No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies).
So, I do understand why Yoism attributes so much evil to religious and quasi-religious ideology. But this critique is not at all clear in "The Word." Instead, there the charitable and even loving aspects of the traditional religions seem to be ignored. Beyond appearing biased, this seems uncharitable and even self-aggrandizing in a manner that is all too typical of religions. Indeed, the Yoan critique of the standard religions seems to be that they all claim to be "the best" source of The One Truth and they put down others' beliefs for being blasphemous, profane "false religions." Are we not engaging in the same type of behavior?
Engaging the issue: The problem of disrespecting others
This is obviously a sophisticated and carefully thought out concern. We must struggle to engage this issue as fully as we can. We all share our Concerned Yoan's worry: We certainly don’t want to make people who hold other religious notions feel disrespected. Indeed, this is one of the most common issues with which Yoans struggle. But we have to find some way to state the truth: The traditional religions belong to the infancy of humanity. A dangerous infancy, at that.
And the day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerve in the brain of Jupiter. But may we hope that the dawn of reason and freedom of thought in these United States will do away with this artificial scaffolding, and restore to us the primitive and genuine doctrines of this most venerated reformer [i.e., reason and free thought] of human errors. (Thomas Jefferson, Letter to John Adams, April 11, 1823)
A religion like Yoism represents the next step into adulthood, empirical responsibility, facing Reality (the Word/Manifestation of God/Yo). No matter how we say this, there are those who will feel insulted when we say that Yoism = Childhood’s End.
Childhood's End: An Explanation of Traditional Religion for Children
Even supporters of traditional religions acknowledge that—in addition to whatever good may come from such traditions—religion simply has been intimately involved in the most destructive events in humanity’s history: Without religion, the “other deservers of the blame” mentioned in our Concerned Yoan's challenging question, which can indeed lead to murderous violence, never become transformed into organized mass murder and genocide. Without religious (and/or pseudo-religious) ideology, greed and selfishness rarely turn into organized group violence way beyond that needed to obtain the greedy, selfish goal. Thus, while greed and selfishness can justly be asked to bear blame for certain evils in the world, without religion and religious (and quasi-religious) ideology, they do not become transformed into the greatest evils humanity has known.
With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion. (Steven Weinberg, Nobel Prize winning physicist)
It is precisely because those good religions our Concerned Yoan mentions are “watered down” that they are both capable of being (relatively) good and have (relatively) little impact in the world. Yoism is trying to tap the incredibly powerful force of religious devotion and commitment without unleashing its dark side. Only by acknowledging its dark side do we have a chance. Only by understanding how dangerous nuclear fusion (dynamite, fire, etc.) can be, could they possibly be harnessed without producing horrible destruction. Since only by wielding such a powerful instrument, do we have a chance of having impact in a world that is locked in the throes of such powerful forces, any shying away from the full acknowledgment of the dark side of religion must be shunned. If we decide to pick up a potent, dangerous tool in the attempt to use it for good, if we want to have a chance to use it safely, we must be ever aware of both the power and danger involved.
Any activity pursued in behalf of an ideal end against obstacles and in spite of threats of personal loss because of conviction of its general and enduring value is religious in quality. Many a person, inquirer, artist, philanthropist, citizen, men and women in the humblest walks of life, have achieved, without presumption and without display, such unification of themselves and of their relations to the conditions of existence. It remains to extend their spirit and inspiration to ever wider numbers. If I have said anything about religions and religion that seems harsh, I have said those things because of a firm belief that the claim on the part of religions to possess a monopoly of ideals and of the supernatural means by which alone, it is alleged, they can be furthered, stands in the way of the realization of distinctively religious values inherent in natural experience. ... The opposition between religious values as I conceive them and religions is not to be bridged. Just because the release of these values is so important, their identification with the creeds and cults of religions must be dissolved. (John Dewey "A Common Faith," 1934)
Knowing this, we must not back down from our attempt to speak what we have come to understand to be true. If we water down our statement of our beliefs, we too will become nothing more than a Sunday social event, like many "open-minded, tolerant" religious groups. Of course, we are not advocating closed-minded intolerance. But consider that "tolerance" is infantalizing disrespect that blocks real engagement with others, "We will tolerate you." How insulting! Just so, watered down statements of our Truths weaken our community and show disrespect for others. Rather, Yoans stand in the strength of our beliefs and we seek to engage all others. At the center of our beliefs—at its very core—we emphasize our respect for the divinity of all human beings, especially those with whom we disagree. We will neither weaken ourselves by watering down our Truth, nor will we disrespect others by tolerating them. We seek full engagement and respectful, loving life with all humanity.
Yoans have no wish to show disrespect for those truly good religious folk described by our seeker. Indeed, most Yoans are very troubled when strong statements of our beliefs seem like they could cause others to feel disrespected. Especially since the beliefs and actual practice of many people we know are so closely aligned with Yoism, not only do we not want to insult them, we want to invite them to join us, either as Yoans or as cooperative partners in projects of benefit to our community. Despite this deep concern, we seek to have Yoism become a powerful, healthy force in our personal lives, our communities, and in the larger world. And wishy-washy, word-mincing expressions of ideas do not attract much interest, do not garner the necessary commitment for effective action, and do not satisfy the need to know that ones life is aligned with what feels right and true. So, we are caught "between a rock and a hard place."
There is no perfect solution: Yoans are individuals
We know that there are religious fundamentalists who will be terribly offended when we propose believing in anything other than their cherished truths. We can try to engage them, but we know that with many we will simply fail: Engagement is only possible when both parties are willing to try. Some Yoans are willing to try harder and longer than others. Some more quickly become frustrated and feel the effort is wasting precious time. Yoans are individuals.
But if, as Yoans do, you see what humanity is facing, then you know that there are times when we will just have to live with the fact that some otherwise decent people will be angry with us because they feel we do not respect them. We are simply too worried to wait until everyone agrees with us before we take action. Almost all Yoans agree that "Anybody who isn't worried, isn't paying attention." Indeed, if you can see what is coming, do you not have to take responsibility and act, even when others may disapprove? While for some Yoans they will be frequent and for some they will be rare, for all Yoans there are times when we will simply have to act like the quintessential Yoan in the following video:
Sometimes There's Just No Time to Explain
So, are our claims justified?
In order that we may fully and knowingly (and thus carefully) tap the immense power of potentially dangerous religious belief, we must be willing to state what appear to be clear truths with the unequivocal certainty they deserve. So let’s take a careful look at the issue at hand. Is reference to traditional religions as "fantasies" a gratuitous insult, similar in its factual basis to most other religions' claims that they are The One True Religion? Or is it an empirically valid claim that can be verified by anyone, anywhere?
We believe we can justify our claim—not based on the authority of some religious text or divine person, but rather—based on the authority of direct human experience everywhere, anytime, by anyone. We believe that the acknowledgment of the illusory nature of most religious claims can become an important part of an overall system of beliefs that can help guide us toward greater human freedom and justice, toward a healthier future for our species, and away from the same terribly destructive, dead end paths that have characterized our history.
The Song of Ozacua is a parable written for "grownup children," living in the post Nine-Eleven World, (the NEWorld).
Also consider the problem of the tension between the divinity of the individual and the need for group identification. Those who, like Timothy Leary, believe in the sanctity of the individual and work toward freeing people from collective delusions and the chains of irrational social structures can inadvertently end up supporting solipsistic, irrelevant hedonism. This was the fate of the Leary-led "Hippie Revolution," which was thoroughly co-opted by those who were willing, to a significant degree, to subvert their selves to supraordinate corporate goals or religious ideologies. To see how South Park's Trey Parker approached this issue, take a look at The Trouble with Trippies.
Seven reasons to believe that traditional conceptions of God are wishful fantasies
[See Kissing Hank's Ass, for yet another, an eighth reason to doubt traditional religious belief.]
There are at least seven reasons to consider the standard religious conceptions of God to be wishful fantasies similar to a child's magical thinking:
They appear to be wish-fulfilling projections of a comforting, magical, authoritative parental being into existence (see Freud's The Future of an Illusion ), a magical supernatural being whose supernatural powers contradicts all empirical data and must be taken on faith from supposed authorities who have witnessed miracles.
The evidence regarding miraculous events that contradict personal experience always comes from supposedly impeccable authorities whose credentials are all actually highly dubious in that there is no way to verify their integrity and veracity (see Hume on Miracles and, in contrast to Hume's arguments, see the religious claims made in Fantasy Faith).
The vast majority of religious believers believe the religion (or some variation thereof) that they were taught when they were growing up. And yet, they all seem to believe that they just happened to be born into The One that is True.
Almost invariably, we are confronted with the strange fact that most religions claim that God(s) spoke to actual people when the Truth was first delivered to humanity and has since fallen silent.
Then we have the incredible hubris inherent in the notion that humans—who can't even comprehend (truly visualize) the data of the world we know to exist (e.g., infinite space or space curving back on itself, a universe of 100 billion galaxies each containing 100 billion stars, the mind boggling paradoxes of quantum physics, how time began at the moment of the Big Bang, etc., see Proof of the Existence of Yo)—could understand the Creator of the profoundly incomprehensible universe well enough to know His nature and His wishes!
We are confronted with the common "blasphemy" inherent in making the force/being that created the unimaginable universe into a weak, insecure narcissist, typically a macho, egotistical humanoid with petty jealousies, easily injured pride, and a rapacious capacity for wanton violence when His feelings are hurt.
And, finally, we have the explanation that has been developed that shows how the tendency to believe in false religious ideas has been shaped (by natural selection through evolutionary history) into the human psyche, i.e., is adaptive (see Kriegman & Kriegman, 1997). If along with a capacity to distinguish truth from fiction, we also have strong, adaptive tendencies to believe in what is not true, then our convictions and beliefs in things that cannot be proven (or disproven, for that matter) should certainly be taken with a grain or two of salt.
Reason II: Evidence from impeccable authorities
How can we have impeccable but dubious authority? Well, the fact that religion A's authorities were people of near perfect integrity, infallibility, and wisdom is either self-evident or easy to prove to members of religion A. Yet, the much greater number of followers of other religions find religion A's claims to be of dubious, unconvincing quality, at best. So, it seems that the evidence to support the unimpeachable authority pointing to the miracles of religion A, requires belief in religion A! A rather circular situation that arises frequently because of Reason III.
Reason III: Everyone claims that they have the one, true religion
It is obvious that all the religions—the vast majority of which claim that theirs is the only truth and that the others are false—can't all be correct. So, if people (including ourselves) believe the religion of their upbringing, what are the chances that we just happened to have been born into the One True Faith? Not very likely when you consider that the world's largest religion, Christianity, comprises less than a third of the world's population and is divided into numerous sects that, often as not, claim that the other versions of Christianity are as wrong as the non-Christian religions.
Homer Converts to Catholicism!
I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours. (Stephen Roberts)
Reason IV: The once articulate, but now mute God
Remarkably, fundamentalist Christians claim that the Bible is the literal, inerrant word of God. What is so bewildering about such a claim is that these fundamentalists believe that the Gospel was written by Mathew, Mark, Luke, and John 60 to 100 years after Jesus died. Still, if an almighty God wanted to inspire/dictate/tell them how to write the story as He wanted, we suppose that would be possible. However, these believers also acknowledge that the Bible was originally written in Greek AND that we have no copies of the originals.
Even the fundamentalists admit that all we have are THOUSANDS of copies of different manuscripts that were transcribed by hand over the three hundred years after the death of Jesus by scribes in many scattered Christian communities. And when scholars check, they see that often the text was changed and altered as it was copied. It wasn't until Constantine's conversion that Christianity was made "the law of the land" and a group of Christian leaders was convened to decide what the Bible should and should not contain. Since none of this is disputed, the notion that the particular Bible you can hold in your hand today is the same as some original Greek version of the Gospels is simply untenable. Given the way fallible humans decided by committee politics, violence, and fiat which versions of which repeatedly altered and revised manuscripts comprised the "true" Bible, the claim that YOUR Bible is "the exact, inerrant word of God" seems rather far fetched, to say the least.
Islamic Scholar Declares the Prophet Muhammad Wasn't!
Misquoting Jesus: Part I
Jon Stewart Interviews Bart Ehrman
And here's a visual representation of the numerous contradictions in the Bible, the supposed word of an infallible God.
Misquoting Jesus: Part II
Stephen Colbert Interviews Bart Ehrman
My earlier views of the unsoundness of the Christian scheme of salvation and the human origin of the scriptures have become clearer and stronger with advancing years, and I see no reason for thinking I shall ever change them. (Abraham Lincoln)
Ricky Gervais on the Bible, Genesis, and Original Sin
Indeed, the majority of religions tell their followers that at some point in the (usually distant) past, the Word of God was delivered directly to one of their religion's prophets/founders. Often, this is said to be during a period of time when God spoke to humans. It seems like a rather curious and unlikely fact that almost all believers just happen to live in the time of God's silence.
Of course, there is always someone who claims to be hearing the Word of God. In "civilized" societies, most of these individuals are hospitalized, medicated, or ignored as they are considered to be babbling nonsense. In more fundamentalist societies, they are usually killed (see the tale about the fellow known as "Jesus"). But on occasion, these voice hearers generate a following of fellow believers, usually from their shared religious community of origin. The larger, established religious community always rejects this new vision as heresy and a new sect starts to come into existence.
Again, is it just ironic that when any of the existing religions first began, the established religions considered its claims to be nonsense? Certainly, existing religions invariably find new claims to have an extremely flimsy basis. However, if a new sect survives and is able to establish itself, the vast majority of its believers will once again live in the time of the Mute God and will treat any new claims as nonsensical (and potentially dangerous) babble.
This explains the curious fact that nearly all existing believers believe in a Dumb God who once spoke. Since this requires believers to turn to "impeccable authority" (again, see Hume on Miracles), it is no surprise that those in charge of these religions—who derive their power from their claim to be able to provide the correct interpretation of the words of the Impeccable Authority—insist that God's words were only spoken to/through that Impeccable Authority. They then insist that the vast majority of those who are currently hearing God's voice are deluded or wicked (especially if what God is saying to them contradicts anything the priests believe to be true).
Reason V: The limits of human understanding
Consider that human brains were designed by natural selection for functioning in the "mid-world," not the macro- or micro-worlds. When we attempt to understand the macro-world (infinite space or the number of stars and galaxies in the universe, infinite mass resulting from [and time halting] at the speed of light, events at the moment of the Big Bang 14 billion years ago) or the micro-world (what an electron is made of, or the forces that bind the atom) our mid-world models break down. There was no evolutionary need "to design" (or, no selective pressure "to shape") a brain that could comprehend the large-scale architecture of the galaxies or the sub-atomic quantum world.
Thus, our psyches are structured to function in a mid-world, while we are simultaneously aware of phenomena beyond our mid-world experience in both the macro- and micro-worlds. We then use mid-world metaphors (creating models) to aid us in attempting to grasp the nature of the unknowable (i.e., that which we are unable to know/experience directly) macro- and micro-worlds. Ultimately, however, our mid-world metaphors break down and we are left with profound paradoxes and impossibilities that cannot be encompassed in models based on our experiential mid-world.
The claim that we can understand many of the essential details of a creator or creative force (if such a being is considered to be the meaning of "God") "behind" the world—a world that itself is a Divine Mystery that is profoundly paradoxical and beyond our comprehension—is bizarre hubris. A brain not designed to be able to visualize the context (the macro- and micro-worlds) in which the mid-world of our experience exists can hardly be expected to understand the way such contexts came into being or are manifested.
Reason VI: A defective God's overweening need for adoration
The standard, major religions believe that an Infinite Creator acts and is like a jealous man (see the Old Testament) with petty human concerns, such as an infantile need to be adored and a chronic craving for adulation. If you think about it, their very notion of blasphemy is blasphemous; it supposes that an infinite, omniscient, omnipotent being has hurt feelings if you or I don't worship Him! (And the pronoun "Him" is appropriate because the standard God is usually described as acting like a macho, narcissistic tyrant.)
In the Old Testament, for example, God is angered by the Israelites and decides to destroy them. Moses intervenes and points out that if he destroys them, then followers of other gods will conclude that Yahweh, the God of the Israelites, didn't have the power to deliver on his promise (to bring them into the land of Canaan as conquerors). So, they will conclude, in order to hide His weakness, He destroyed His people out in the middle of the desert where no one would see. God relents because he wouldn't want to provide ammunition to those promoting other gods, ammunition that could be used to dis' Him (Num. 14:13-16).
What a petty, egotistical God! He behaves like a street hoodlum, a gang leader. Moses (the Omniscient One's adviser!) is able to read his Almighty God's virtually infinite, infantile egoism, and he reminds God that killing all the Jews could be misinterpreted and used to "sully His rep," mess up his claim to being the most powerful God, The Creator of the Universe. It is wanting to avoid this outcome that is key to stopping God from committing genocide! Such a depiction of God is "blasphemous" in that it makes God into a petty, macho, male bully with an infantile, addictive craving for adoration and praise. Paradoxically, if such a God existed, He would be insulted by such a characterization and He would surely smite thee for blasphemy!
Do you think this is ancient history? Think again!
Modern day fundamentalists still try to employ this technique for getting God to do their bidding. For just one example, consider the preacher in the video below. Apparently, he thought that his invocation prayer at a McCain rally would be answered if he reminded god to make sure that McCain gets elected so an Obama victory wouldn't sully His rep! No kidding; take a look!
BTW, the notion that The Almighty Creator of the Universe responds to this type of appeal to his ego is not some weird fundamentalist's notion, not just some accidental choice by the McCain campaign of an unfortunately embarrassing pastor. It is a weird belief, alright; but it was shared by McCain's running mate, Sarah Palin, and two thirds of those who supported McCain and who believe The Old Testament is the literal truth, i.e., that Moses really did get the Almighty Creator to change his mind about committing genocide by appealing to the Infinite's infantine narcissism.
The Disposition of the Bible God
However, when after much puzzling you get at the key to his disposition, you do at last arrive at a sort of understanding of it. With a most quaint and juvenile and astonishing frankness he has furnished that key himself. It is jealousy!
I expect that to take your breath away. You are aware—for I have already told you in an earlier letter—that among human beings jealousy ranks distinctly as a weakness; a trade-mark of small minds; a property of all small minds, yet a property which even the smallest is ashamed of; and when accused of its possession will lyingly deny it and resent the accusation as an insult.
Jealousy. Do not forget it, keep it in mind. It is the key. With it you will come to partly understand God as we go along; without it nobody can understand him. As I have said, he has openly held up this treasonous key himself, for all to see. He says, naïvely, outspokenly, and without suggestion of embarrassment: "I the Lord thy God am a jealous God."
You see, it is only another way of saying, "I the Lord thy God am a small God; a small God, and fretful about small things."
He was giving a warning: He could not bear the thought of any other God getting some of the Sunday compliments of this comical little human race—he wanted all of them for himself. He valued them. To him they were riches; just as tin money is to a Zulu.
(The Archangel, Satan, in a letter to the Archangels Gabriel and Michael describing what he had learned from observing humans and their religious beliefs. In Mark Twain's Letters From Earth)
The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully. (Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion)
Whoops! Saint Richard left out just plain erratic, error prone, and self-contradictory. The supposedly infallible God, can't even keep His story straight. Here's a visual depiction of the remarkable number of contradictions in the Bible.
See the Song of Ozacua for another exploration of the issue of needing to speak our truth, while also trying to avoid denigrating others.
Homer Simpson's Proof of the non-existence of God
It is most difficult to understand the disposition of the Bible God, it is such a confusion of contradictions; of watery instabilities and iron firmness; of goody-goody abstract morals made out of words, and concreted hell-born ones made out of acts; of fleeting kindness repented of in permanent malignities.