• In total there are 0 users online :: 0 registered, 0 hidden and 0 guests (based on users active over the past 60 minutes)
    Most users ever online was 616 on Thu Jan 18, 2024 7:47 pm

Ch. 4 - Some minds on religion

#39: July - Oct. 2007 (Non-Fiction)
User avatar
Chris OConnor

1A - OWNER
BookTalk.org Hall of Fame
Posts: 17002
Joined: Sun May 05, 2002 2:43 pm
21
Location: Florida
Has thanked: 3502 times
Been thanked: 1307 times
Gender:
Contact:
United States of America

Ch. 4 - Some minds on religion

Unread post

Please discuss Ch. 4 - Some minds on religion within this thread.
User avatar
George Ricker

1G - SILVER CONTRIBUTOR
Junior
Posts: 311
Joined: Sat Nov 18, 2006 11:21 am
17
Been thanked: 3 times
Contact:

Re: Ch. 4 - Some minds on religion

Unread post

Author's note: This chapter talks about the impact of religious ideas on some minds. Does religion produce a mind-set that lends itself to manipulation and extremes of behavior? While most religionists don't fall victim to the extremes discussed in this chapter, is it not the case that the bad thinking induced in some minds by religious impulses can drive out the good? Should that have implications for our approach to religions in general?George http://www.godlessinamerica.com"Godlessness is not about denying the existence of nonsensical beings. It is the starting point for living life without them."Godless in America by George A. Ricker
MadArchitect

1E - BANNED
The Pope of Literature
Posts: 2553
Joined: Sun Nov 14, 2004 4:24 am
19
Location: decentralized

Chapter Four: Some Minds on Religion

Unread post

1. The claim that some evils absolutely depend on religion is historically dubious. One need only point to the terrorist activities of atheist anarchists, particularly in Revolutionary Russia and post-World War II Eastern Europe, the latter of which is harder to dismiss as an example of quasi-religious communist ideology. It's also notable that most of the examples of religious extremism that you've cited have a heavy political component. Before anyone accuses me of attempting to exonerate religion altogether, there have been plenty of examples of people performing atrocities in the name of religion without any apparant political connection. But the fact that political ideology plays such a prominant role in so many of what we take as instances of religious violence, added to the fact that the same sorts of violence have been perpetrated by staunch atheists, both with and without an overt political connection, ought to be sufficient to dispel the notion that religion fosters a sort of immorality that would not exist without it.

The two examples of infanticide you mention are almost certainly indicative of mental illness, so I find them difficult to take seriously as a critique of religion. Religion has obviously shaped the content of the delusions suffered by the two women, but the biological nature of mental illness makes it almost certain that they would have had some form of violent delusion anyway. These women were, in all likelihood, a mortal threat to their children with or without religion. Likewise, while you did not cite the example of two brothers, one a pastor of some Protestant congregation, who beat a child with heavy branches several years ago, I think it's worth noting if only to suggest that the same principle applies. Given the story as it was reported, I see no particular reason to suppose that the brothers woul qualify as mentally ill or impaired, but there does seem to have been a sadistic impulse independent of any involvement they had in religion. All three of these examples seem to illustrate the principle that the religious component in many instances of bizarre violence often serves to obscure to the casual observer the fact that other factors -- many genetic or otherwise biological -- would serve to make violence a part of the assailant's constitution regardless of their religious background.

Specific case studies have even suggested that many already troubled people turn to religion as a means of moderating their impulses. That's a problematic phenomenon: while many of them do have initial successes, and while some of the less troubled may effectively suspend their troubling impulses indefinitely, those for whom the impulses are ultimately overwhelming are usually only delaying a more overt manifestation. In the meantime, they can be embroiling themselves in circumstances that only complicate the situation. In some significant portion of cases of child molestation among Catholic priests, for example, the offenders were men who joined the priesthood in part as a way of controlling homosexual and pedophiliac impulses. (Incidentally, let me clear that I'm not calling homosexuality immoral or indicative of mental illness; nor do I mean to imply that homosexuality and pedophilia go hand in hand, so to speak. I'm merely noting that the social stigma still attached to homosexuality has made it a subject of the desire to suppress or control one's sexual inclinations.) The results were likely worse in the case of those who succeeded for some time in controlling their impulses, because that allowed them to fly under the radar of those who might otherwise have monitored their behavior more closely; in some cases, it no doubt resulted in their promotion to positions that would ultimately channel and facilitate the catastrophic outbreak of those impulses along certain avenues. All of which speaks to a need within religious groups -- and specifically in any religious tradition that stresses "redemption", since that has an obvious appeal to the troubled type -- to be particularly cognizant of the circumstances they create.

I am, however, willing to grant, to some degree, your criticism of examples of moral outrage bordering on and leading to violence; specifically, the hostile opposition to "abortion clinics" (which are often multi-use clinics or women's health organizations that include an abortion component) and attempts to have certain forms of expression (like the Harry Potter books) restricted or banned. There does seem to me to be a social or political (not to mention economic) element to both of these, but it's certainly less overt than in the case of, say, Rabin's assassination. Yet, to generalize these as indicative of religious thought is taking the argument farther than I think is necessary. They're mostly indicative of a trend in Judeo-Christian thought which says it's the place of religious groups to shape the entire society. But it's important to note that a trend like this is not something that spontaneously appears in religious circles: it's the result of specific historical circumstances and of the kind of social development that takes place in all cultural modes.
User avatar
George Ricker

1G - SILVER CONTRIBUTOR
Junior
Posts: 311
Joined: Sat Nov 18, 2006 11:21 am
17
Been thanked: 3 times
Contact:

Unread post

Mad: Methinks thou doth protest too much. I titled the chapter "Some minds on religion" because I wanted it to be clear the contents referred to what may happen to some people under the influence of religions. The statement there are some evils that depend upon religion for their existence refers specifically to the actions of those who murder others, and usually themselves in the bargain, in the belief their actions are in the service of a god. It should be self-evident that such a basis for action is unique to religious belief. Now I think that's clear from what I said and the context in which I said it.

Nowhere do I indicate that such behavior is a characteristic of many or even most religious believers. Nowhere do I indicate that people may not find other rationales for visiting murderous violence on people. Nowhere do I indicate that religious belief is the only reason people may find for doing bad things to other people.

It's likely the two cases of women murdering their children are examples of mental illness as you note. Whether the illness was exacerbated by some misguided religious impulse is problematic. I simply cited the cases as examples of ways in which religious belief may influence human behavior. It's entirely possible the women would have been a threat to their children without the religious beliefs attributed to them. It's also possible the threat might not have been so lethal. I don't think we have enough information to make that determination.

I don't doubt for a moment that religious belief can sometimes mitigate mental illness or, at least, provide some temporary relief. However, I also think there are times when religious belief exacerbates such conditions and makes them worse.

George
George Ricker

"Nothing about atheism prevents me from thinking about any idea. It is the very epitome of freethought. Atheism imposes no dogma and seeks no power over others."

mere atheism: no gods
MadArchitect

1E - BANNED
The Pope of Literature
Posts: 2553
Joined: Sun Nov 14, 2004 4:24 am
19
Location: decentralized

Unread post

garicker wrote:The statement there are some evils that depend upon religion for their existence refers specifically to the actions of those who murder others, and usually themselves in the bargain, in the belief their actions are in the service of a god. It should be self-evident that such a basis for action is unique to religious belief.
Self-evident how? If murder-suicide were unique to religiously influenced mania, I might see your point, but it clearly isn't. If your point is that only religious believers kill "in the service of god", then the point is not only self-evidence, it's question-begging. Where the claim of motive is the only factor that differentiates one violent act from another, then I have to wonder if there's really any benefit in drawing a distinction. The kids who shot up school campuses before turning their guns on themselves, for instance, have mostly been atheists. What in the situation would have been changed if they had claimed to have been inspired by God?

In most cases of religiously-inspired violent outburst, like the infanticides you mentioned, it seems likely to me that the "voice of God" was little more than a delusion manufactured in support of a violent action that the person felt inclined towards anyway. The recent spate of school shooting would tend to indicate that lack of religious belief is not sufficient to prevent that kind of impulse. So I'm not sure what end it serves to suggest that only religion can be responsible for that type of action.
It's entirely possible the women would have been a threat to their children without the religious beliefs attributed to them. It's also possible the threat might not have been so lethal. I don't think we have enough information to make that determination.
Granted that we don't have enough information to make that determination, what purpose does it serve to raise those examples? If a mentally ill woman had killed her child, claiming that she was told to do so by the president, would you argue that Republican forms of government may potentially dangerous, even if only in the hands of the mentally ill?

In part, what I'm trying to suggest here is that the reader's perception of what any given paragraph has to do with the rest of the work will inform how they interpret that particular paragraph. Maybe your point was simply (like the point Dennett made in his book) that certain people shouldn't be allowed access to religious ideology. But without having that made explicit for them, the reader is more likely to think, "What's the purpose of this example? The rest of the book has been about why the author rejected theism, and about how religious believers influence society. Therefore...." And I don't think it should be all that surprising if a reader interprets those examples in a broader context than you perhaps intended, so long as the question of what specific context you intended remains vague or open. And it wasn't clear to me -- and, mind you, I'm a pretty careful reader -- what part you intended this section to play.
User avatar
George Ricker

1G - SILVER CONTRIBUTOR
Junior
Posts: 311
Joined: Sat Nov 18, 2006 11:21 am
17
Been thanked: 3 times
Contact:

Unread post

Mad: Where the claim of motive is the only factor that differentiates one violent act from another, then I have to wonder if there's really any benefit in drawing a distinction.

Here's a quote from the chapter in question:

"All fanatics are dangerous. Religious fanatics are especially so because they believe the 'Truth' they claim has the sanction of a deity and therefore cannot be challenged by mere mortals. The thousands of victims of the events of Sept. 11, 2001, were some of the more recent additions to a long line of human beings who have been sacrificed to such 'Truth' by those who will permit no deviation from it." (p. 45)

You may think there's no benefit in drawing the distinction. I do. Once a person claims to be committing violent acts on behalf of a "God," then any attempt at rational discourse is doomed to failure. Such actions are not a direct consequence of religious belief, since most religious believers don't behave in such abhorrent ways, but such actions are, in my view, dependent upon such belief, else they lose their rationale.

Now, you may well claim that people who act in that fashion are insane. Would you extend that to state that all people who claim to communicate with a deity also are insane? If not, how do you distinguish between the two? Once you've allowed for the existence of any sort of deity, how do you know which version is correct?

George
George Ricker

"Nothing about atheism prevents me from thinking about any idea. It is the very epitome of freethought. Atheism imposes no dogma and seeks no power over others."

mere atheism: no gods
MadArchitect

1E - BANNED
The Pope of Literature
Posts: 2553
Joined: Sun Nov 14, 2004 4:24 am
19
Location: decentralized

Unread post

garicker wrote:Once a person claims to be committing violent acts on behalf of a "God," then any attempt at rational discourse is doomed to failure.
The same appears to be true when people claim to be committing violent acts on behalf of an ideal (eg. "democracy", capital R "Reason"), on behalf of an identification (eg. patriotism, nationalism, class solidarity), or simply on behalf of themselves. In fact, I can't think of many situations in which a person who had already committed themselves to a violent course of action changed that course in response to "rational discourse." They may be persuaded by the threat of an opposing force, or by a compelling indication that theit chosen course won't be effective, but "rational discourse" that argues from moral grounds probably isn't going to add anything new to the decision making process of a person who has already decided on a violent course of action, whether or not God was ever a part of that process.
Now, you may well claim that people who act in that fashion are insane.
In some cases, yes, but that's always an assessment you have to make based on the specifics of each case. I certainly wouldn't argue that everyone who justifies violent action by recourse to "God" or some ideology is insane.
Once you've allowed for the existence of any sort of deity, how do you know which version is correct?
I'd argue that you don't. And I'd extend that argument to other forms of belief as well. Once you've allowed for the existence of morality...? Once you've allowed for the existence of a standard of evidence...? Once you've allowed for a view of the external world...? We don't know that any of these are right. We believe one way or another, and there is no one, obvious, objective criteria for arriving at a belief.
User avatar
George Ricker

1G - SILVER CONTRIBUTOR
Junior
Posts: 311
Joined: Sat Nov 18, 2006 11:21 am
17
Been thanked: 3 times
Contact:

Unread post

Mad: We believe one way or another, and there is no one, obvious, objective criteria for arriving at a belief.

But this is what I find puzzling. Having taken that position, how is it that you didn't understand that what I would present in this book would be my beliefs on the subjects of atheism, gods, religions, etc. You seem to be saying, on one hand, that all anyone can ever offer are their own beliefs on a given subject, but on the other hand, I'm somehow at fault for not making it clear--which I think I did--that what was contained in my book was my view of the issues under consideration.

George
George Ricker

"Nothing about atheism prevents me from thinking about any idea. It is the very epitome of freethought. Atheism imposes no dogma and seeks no power over others."

mere atheism: no gods
User avatar
George Ricker

1G - SILVER CONTRIBUTOR
Junior
Posts: 311
Joined: Sat Nov 18, 2006 11:21 am
17
Been thanked: 3 times
Contact:

Unread post

Mad: The same appears to be true when people claim to be committing violent acts on behalf of an ideal (eg. "democracy", capital R "Reason"), on behalf of an identification (eg. patriotism, nationalism, class solidarity), or simply on behalf of themselves.

At the risk of beating this dead horse beyond all recognition, I have to ask this.

Do you honestly think it's as easy to persuade someone to fly a jet plane loaded with human beings into a building populated with many more human beings, knowing he or she would not survive the experience, on behalf of a political (or some other) agenda as it is to persuade a religious believer to take such action, believing it was the will of the deity that person worshipped?

I think religious belief adds a whole new dimension to the possibilities.

George
George Ricker

"Nothing about atheism prevents me from thinking about any idea. It is the very epitome of freethought. Atheism imposes no dogma and seeks no power over others."

mere atheism: no gods
Niall001
Stupendously Brilliant
Posts: 706
Joined: Thu Sep 18, 2003 4:00 am
20

Unread post

Do you honestly think it's as easy to persuade someone to fly a jet plane loaded with human beings into a building populated with many more human beings, knowing he or she would not survive the experience, on behalf of a political (or some other) agenda as it is to persuade a religious believer to take such action, believing it was the will of the deity that person worshipped?


Well the Tamil Tigers never seemed to have any problems. Indeed, they've used the tactic more than anyone, but it just didn't get any coverage because Sri Lanka doesn't count in the western media. I know that (supposed?) experts like Robert Pape claim that it is nationalism rather than religion that motivates suicide attacks. He argues that they are motivated by strategic secular goals.

Here's a link to a brief debate he had on the subject:

http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/temp ... p?CID=2401
Post Reply

Return to “Godless in America: Conversations With an Atheist - by George A. Ricker”