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Ch. 11: "The Lowly Stamp of Their Origin" 
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Post Ch. 11: "The Lowly Stamp of Their Origin"
God is Not Great

Ch. 11: "The Lowly Stamp of Their Origin": Religion's Corrupt Beginnings

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Mon Mar 02, 2009 6:03 pm
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Quotes from this chapter


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wide selection of openly manufactured sausage religions ... cargo cult ... Marjoe .... Mormons ... Hobbes command ... is quite breathtaking ... planted the subversive thought ... forbidding Adam ... absurd and contradictory ....Erewhon ... bound around this myth ...cargo cult ... simulated landing strips ... Tanna ... John Frum ... Marjoe ... told to say that he had been divinely commanded ... mother would hold him under the water tap ... revenge ... explain how all the tricks are pulled ... racket of American evangelism was just that: a heartless con ...film Marjoe won an Academy Award in 1972 ... Mormons ... founded by a gifted opportunist ... convicted ... imposter ... Joseph Smith ... embarrassing to read ... Moroni ... gold plates ... eighteen months after his conviction for fraud ... mainly found in ... popular work byu a pious loony ... pitiful fake ...Dennett ... people can be better off believing in something than in nothing ... was he a huckster all the time ... religion ... cannot possibly get along without great fraud and also minor fraud ... wanderings of the Mormons ... great historical story ... stains ... crudity of its 'revelations' .. racism ... industriously baptising .... murdered Jews of Europe



Thu Apr 09, 2009 4:59 am
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What do you make of this chapter? With the following chapter on the end of religion, it forms a pair. Hitchens does a good job in the book of giving us different and varied views of his subject, I think. He offers us this look at how modern religions get going and catch on in order to suggest some general similarities in the origins of religions, but he doesn't say that religions can be reduced to these simple elements in some reductionistic fashion. He doesn't say, "See, Christianity is just like a cargo cult," for example. I think he's wise not to push the similarities too far. It is interesting, though, to have these modern examples in front of us. They illustrate how little help we humans need with latching onto a religion. Because of this eagerness in us, charlatans such as Joseph Smith and "Marjoe" may encounter little resistance to their schemes.

The most interesting idea for me was "belief in belief" as an explanation for the prevalence of religion even though most religions are based on improbabilities or on outright fabrications, as is the case with Mormonism. Hitchens says that Daniel Dennett was criticized for advancing this theory, but it seems to have explanatory power. Looking at the origins and progress of Mormonism, the tawdriness is so alarming that it seems anyone would see it and not be taken in. Yet this is an extremely successful religion, a religion that "works," in the sense that families can thrive on it and the church itself is in the mainstream. The absurdity of its theology appears to make no difference or to even be a strength! The rituals you hear about such as the wearing of special underwear and the baptizing of the dead seem silly, but they give us "ordinary mammals" (as Hitchens constantly and peculiarly says) objects in which to invest our need to believe.

Just a note: I'm taking the computer in for repair today, so I'll be incommunicado for a couple of days at least. Talk to you later.


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Thu Apr 23, 2009 11:31 am
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My first reaction to this chapter was that it was sort of too much all over the board for me. I’m still a little lost with the Tinkerbell analogy, but I’ve changed my mind about the chapter as a whole. I’ve learned a lot in reading this book, I didn’t know anything about “Marjoe” and found it very interesting that he later exposed all of the methods of deception that he had been trained to use. These revelations along with the fact that it hasn’t made an iota of difference are astounding. Do you remember when the “faith healer” Peter Popoff was exposed on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show? (http://www.apologeticsindex.org/487-peter-popoff) For all the satisfaction of seeing that happen, it also didn’t make any difference in the long run. Faith healers are still bringing in huge crowds and loads of money. So, the explanation of “belief in belief” makes sense. Sometimes exposing a lie has the opposite effect instead of discrediting the belief, it rallies the troops behind it!
Forgive me if I haven’t gotten to this part of the book yet, but is there an argument in here suggesting that religious belief/fervor may have a sort of evolutionary advantage for the believers? I’ve heard (but haven’t read anything about it myself) that Richard Dawkins has this view of why religion is so ingrained in us.



Wed Apr 29, 2009 6:22 am
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Thanks a lot for your response to the chapter. I had forgotten about "Marjoe," too, and mean to order this from Netflix. You're right, there seems to be no big downside for aspiring religious frauds when one of their role models is exposed, so strong is the desire to believe. And to me, it seems really strange to consider Mormonism in light of the few Mormons I've been acquainted with and those poor teenage boys who trudge the streets in the hot summers dressed in their black pants, looking for converts. Those people seem too average and totally conventional to believe in the weird mix that is Mormonism.

I had thought from reading The God Delusion that Richard Dawkins couldn't find an evolutionary advantage to religion, so he was puzzled about its persistence. He thought it had a negative impact on survival. I recall that he concluded tentatively that religion is simply a by-product of our mental constitution, but he said he couldn't go farther than this.

One of the critics of atheism, David Aikman, writes about the attraction for atheist authors of cargo cults that cropped up in the South Pacific. He says that the atheists want us to think that the logical inversions responsible for the cults (it must be that the runways, etc. can produce the goods that the visitors had in abundance) were operating as well in the dawn of Christianity. There were perfectly logical explanations for anything reported as a miracle, for example. Aikman is defensive about anyone making such a comparison between his own faith and a ridiculous-seeming faith like a cargo cult. But having new religions appear in modern times, with factual reporting of them occurring, does give us an advantage not available in ancient times. It is harder for new religions to avoid exposure as the products of the superstitions that they are. If such objective reporting existed 2000 years ago, would we have Christianity or Islam today?

Information on cargo cults:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cargo_cults


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Wed Apr 29, 2009 8:05 am
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Lois wrote:
My first reaction to this chapter was that it was sort of too much all over the board for me. I’m still a little lost with the Tinkerbell analogy, but I’ve changed my mind about the chapter as a whole. I’ve learned a lot in reading this book, I didn’t know anything about “Marjoe” and found it very interesting that he later exposed all of the methods of deception that he had been trained to use. These revelations along with the fact that it hasn’t made an iota of difference are astounding. Do you remember when the “faith healer” Peter Popoff was exposed on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show? (http://www.apologeticsindex.org/487-peter-popoff) For all the satisfaction of seeing that happen, it also didn’t make any difference in the long run. Faith healers are still bringing in huge crowds and loads of money. So, the explanation of “belief in belief” makes sense. Sometimes exposing a lie has the opposite effect instead of discrediting the belief, it rallies the troops behind it!
Forgive me if I haven’t gotten to this part of the book yet, but is there an argument in here suggesting that religious belief/fervor may have a sort of evolutionary advantage for the believers? I’ve heard (but haven’t read anything about it myself) that Richard Dawkins has this view of why religion is so ingrained in us.
Hello Lois, welcome to Booktalk. Your question about an evolutionary advantage for believers is a great one. Jehovah served as a unifying conceptual framework for ancient Judaism, a framework supplied for Christianity by the doctrine of the trinity. These memes have been highly adaptive, but where the framework has apparent factual errors it opens the gate for fraud, of the type described by Hitchens in his critique of Marjoe and the cargo cult. Christianity contains strong cargo cult elements, extending from the idea of universal miraculous abundance through the loaves and fishes to the doctrine of salvation through the atoning sacrifice of Christ. As I see it, if faith is to retain any evolutionary advantage it needs to learn from the critique Hitchens is making and make a genuine enquiry into the truth of its claims.



Wed Apr 29, 2009 6:43 pm
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Robert Tulip wrote:
Your question about an evolutionary advantage for believers is a great one. Jehovah served as a unifying conceptual framework for ancient Judaism, a framework supplied for Christianity by the doctrine of the trinity..... As I see it, if faith is to retain any evolutionary advantage it needs to learn from the critique Hitchens is making and make a genuine enquiry into the truth of its claims.

I don't see an evolutionary advantage for the species here, Robert. If you are referring to the peoples that the Israelites ethnically cleansed, then what evolutionary advantage did religion have for them? Later on, you could say that this supposed advantage of the Isrealites vanished, so this shows that we're not talking about an evolutionary concept at all. This is all an internecine matter of societies conquering one another, having nothing to do with the evolution of our species. Whether, generically, religion gave some edge to our survival in the early times of our species is unknown and disputed.


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Joseph Conrad, The Heart of Darkness


Wed Apr 29, 2009 7:27 pm
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DWill wrote:
I don't see an evolutionary advantage for the species here, Robert. If you are referring to the peoples that the Israelites ethnically cleansed, then what evolutionary advantage did religion have for them? Later on, you could say that this supposed advantage of the Israelites vanished, so this shows that we're not talking about an evolutionary concept at all. This is all an internecine matter of societies conquering one another, having nothing to do with the evolution of our species. Whether, generically, religion gave some edge to our survival in the early times of our species is unknown and disputed.
The comment was about an advantage for believers, not for the species overall. It could be that a short term evolutionary advantage of religion, manifest in cultural domination by believers, conceals a longer term flaw which is maladaptive. A furry coat is adaptive while the climate is getting colder but a burden when the world is warming, so evolution, whether of fur or beliefs, is constant and dynamic. Monotheism obviously had some strong adaptive traits to enable it to dominate the world, and the question stands as to whether it remains an adaptive meme.

I know you like to restrict evolution to genetic biology, but I suspect exactly the same evolutionary laws of competitive selection and cumulative adaptation apply in cultural and technological evolution as in genetic evolution. This would be a good question for de Waal too.



Wed Apr 29, 2009 7:59 pm
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Robert Tulip wrote:
DWill wrote:
I don't see an evolutionary advantage for the species here, Robert. If you are referring to the peoples that the Israelites ethnically cleansed, then what evolutionary advantage did religion have for them? Later on, you could say that this supposed advantage of the Israelites vanished, so this shows that we're not talking about an evolutionary concept at all. This is all an internecine matter of societies conquering one another, having nothing to do with the evolution of our species. Whether, generically, religion gave some edge to our survival in the early times of our species is unknown and disputed.
The comment was about an advantage for believers, not for the species overall. It could be that a short term evolutionary advantage of religion, manifest in cultural domination by believers, conceals a longer term flaw which is maladaptive. A furry coat is adaptive while the climate is getting colder but a burden when the world is warming, so evolution, whether of fur or beliefs, is constant and dynamic. Monotheism obviously had some strong adaptive traits to enable it to dominate the world, and the question stands as to whether it remains an adaptive meme.

I know you like to restrict evolution to genetic biology, but I suspect exactly the same evolutionary laws of competitive selection and cumulative adaptation apply in cultural and technological evolution as in genetic evolution. This would be a good question for de Waal too.

Robert, regarding your second paragraph, you do have some good company, such as Stuart Kauffman whom I'm constantly mentioning. But I continue to think in a literal, perhaps unimaginative way, that since ideas and cultural norms don't reproduce sexually, the most that we have here is parallel with a broad base--still potentially very important, but having clear dissimilarities in terms of mechanism and "laws"--between Neo-Darwinism and the processes of change in human societies.


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Joseph Conrad, The Heart of Darkness


Thu Apr 30, 2009 6:08 am
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I think the evolutionary advantage is not religion or supernatural thinking in itself, but the predisposition for obedience to authority (elders) which does have an advantage. Young that mind their elders to eat what they tell them to eat and avoid hazards like cliffs and predators are more likely to survive to adulthood and reproduce than those that blindly try to navigate a hostile world on their own. While this works great for practical survival, it misfires when someone starts asking questions about natural phenomenon and what happens when people die. Hence, the byproduct of animism, shamanism, priesthoods, common mythological themes, and religion in general. This is essentially what Dawkins said and I think it is sound. This byproduct, might have had much social advantage in the past of creating a group solidarity, but the consequences of this we are all pretty much aware of. It persists, like Hitchens said, because we are only partly rational -- part of our brain still lives over 100 thousand years ago on an African plain. So I think Hitchens would probably agree with Dawkins that there can be an evolutionary explaination of this deep human inclination to be "servile."



Thu Apr 30, 2009 11:01 am
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Thanks for that very solid post.


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No, it is impossible; it is impossible to convey the life-sensation of any given epoch of one's existence--that which makes its truth, its meaning--its subtle penetrating essence. It is impossible. We live as we dream--alone.

Joseph Conrad, The Heart of Darkness


Thu Apr 30, 2009 10:08 pm
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