Religion is not the Problem

"Darwin was wrong. Man is still an ape."
--Gene Kelly

"A preacher thundering from his pulpit about the uniqueness of human beings with their God-given souls would not like to realize that his very gestures, the hairs that rose on his neck, the deepened tones of his outraged voice, and the perspiration that probably ran down his skin under clerical vestments are all manifestations of anger in mammals. If he was sneering at Darwin a bit (one does not need a mirror to know that one sneers), did he remember uncomfortably that a sneer is derived from an animal's lifting its lip to remind an enemy of its fangs? Even while he was denying the principle of evolution, how could a vehement man doubt such intimate evidence?"
--Sally Carrighar, Wild Heritage

"Religion" per se is not the problem. The problem is that this remains a "planet of the apes" run by alpha males hopped up on testosterone. Alpha males are especially keen at seeking to dominate territory rather than share it, including intellectual territory. Hence, "true believers" of all kinds have their scriptures. They attempt to dominate via ink scrawls rather than the way other animals do, via urine markings.

Hitler preached an Aryan version of Christianity, and put Luther's book, On the Jews and Their Lies, on display in a large glass case at his Nuremberg rallies. Hitler's scriptures that his followers adored, were, Mein Kampf. Marx and Engles's Communist Manifesto promised "paradise" to those who followed its words and vision, a "worker's paradise." Maoism had its Little Red Book of numbered quotations from Chairman Mao that Maoists memorized, verse by verse, and held aloft just like a "Bible" of their beliefs. People tend to be attracted to books that make big promises, and feature authoritarian advice presented in the form of absolute answers. People even memorize passages from authoritarian scriptures, and afterwards learn to disdain other forms of reading, or books that question their particular "scriptures." Because once you've got a nice big "system" by which to understand the entire cosmos, no need to look at other such systems, the mind even makes minor excuses and adjustments, and rationalizes away difficulties presented to its "system," so that the general "system" remains intact despite challenges.

Also see Eric Hoffer's classic book, The True Believer, which points out the many psychological similarities between "true believers" in both politics and religion. One might even note that Lenin's body was laid out like a sacred mummy after he died, and venerated for decades afterwards. Reminds one of the way saint's bones were venerated in medieval Europe.

Further recognitions of mankind's alpha male nature:

"Protestants during the Reformation might have followed the more tolerant lead of theologians like Castellio and Denk; but they preferred Calvin and Luther--preferred them because the doctrines of justification by faith and of predestination were more exciting than those of mystical patience; and because 'Waiting on God' is a bore; but what fun to argue, to score off opponents, to lose one's temper and call it 'righteous indignation,' and at last to pass from controversy to blows, from words to what St. Augustine so deliciously described as the 'benignant asperity' of persecution and punishment. Choosing Luther and Calvin instead of the spiritual reformers who were their contemporaries, Protestant Europe got the kind of theology it liked. But it also got, along with other unanticipated by-products, the Thirty Years' War... and the first rudiments of modern Germany. 'If we wish,' Dean Inge [Anglican clergyman and Dean of St. Paul's] has written, 'to find a scapegoat on whose shoulders we may lay the miseries which Germany has brought upon the world... I am more and more convinced that the worst evil genius of that country is not Hitler or Bismarck or Frederick the Great, but Martin Luther... It (Lutheranism) worships a God who is neither just nor merciful... The Law of Nature, which ought to be the court of appeal against unjust authority, is identified (by Luther) with the existing order of society, to which absolute obedience is due."
--Aldous Huxley, The Perennial Philosophy (New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1945), p. 249

Lastly, the part that the conversion of the youth plays is also crucial when it comes to primate ideologies spreading. Russian communism started "Young Pioneer" programs to compel the youth to memorize communistic ideas, and join them together as "comrades," dressed alike in kakhi clothing with red scarves. Chinese communism forced their youth to undergo a similar regime. Among Catholics the largest denomination of Christendom (as large as all the rest of the world's other denominations combined) the Jesuits boasted, "Give us a child till he is five, and he is ours for life." Concerning smaller Christian denominations (and their dependancy on converts rather than birthrate and indoctrination methods), surveys from the past 200 hundred years agree that the majority of converts were in their mid-teens when they converted, and the odds of conversion grow increasingly slimmer as the person grows older. I am speaking of the general odds, as admitted even in this article in Christianity Today:

"In the late 1800s, Edwin Starbuck conducted ground-breaking studies on conversion to Christianity. Ever since then, scholars, attempting either to verify or disprove his findings, have repeatedly demonstrated them to be accurate. Most observers agree that what Starbuck observed is to a large extent still valid. From these studies we learn two significant things: the age at which conversion to Christianity most often occurs, and the motivational factors involved in conversion. Starbuck noted that the average age of a person experiencing a religious conversion was 15.6 years. Other studies have produced similar results; as recently as 1979, Virgil Gillespie wrote that the average age of conversion in America is 16 years. Starbuck listed eight primary motivating factors: (1) fears, (2) other self-regarding motives, (3) altruistic motives, (4) following out a moral ideal, (5) remorse for and conviction of sin, (6) response to teaching, (7) example and imitation, and (8) urging and social pressure. Recent studies reveal that people still become Christians mainly for these same reasons. What conclusions can be drawn from this information? First, the average age of conversion is quite young. Postadolescent persons do not seem to find Christianity as attractive as do persons in their teens. Indeed, for every year the non-Christian grows older than 25, the odds increase exponentially against his or her ever becoming a Christian.
Second, the reasons people become Christians appear to have at least as much to do with sociological factors as with purely 'religious' factors (for example, conviction of sin)."
--CT Classic: The Adult Gospel: The average convert to Islam is 31 years old. Why does Christianity attract mostly teens? By Larry Poston

Of course conversions to Christianity are not the only types of conversions people are most prone to in their youth. For instance, the odds of one's beliefs moving wildly to the left or right of the political spectrum, or joining a wildly different religion, also drop as you grow older. If only because the old imprinted teachings of youth tend to be the most long lasting.

In India there are hundreds of thousands of devout Hindus, raised that way since birth, and who remain more moved by the story of Krishna in the Hindu holy book, The Bhagavad Gita, than by the story of Jesus. Of course Hinduism also allows one to venerate Jesus as a manifestation of God. On the opposite hand, one Indian Catholic priest candidly told a British journalist, "Although my family had been Christians for generations and I had been through the full rigors of a Jesuit training, I still, in my heart of hearts, feel closer to the God Krishna than to Jesus."[Mark Tully, "Lives of Jesus," The Illustrated London News, Christmas Issue, 1996, p. 33.] In Indian courts of law, people swear with their hand on The Bhagavad Gita not the Bible, and there are even popular Indian books with titles like, The Bhagavada Gita for Executives by V. Ramanathan.
Source: Christian Experience


Perhaps the only way to escape the true believer syndrome is to study a variety of big systematic views and strive to understand what draws people toward each one both intellectually and emotionally, and also to keep in mind the difference between the things you know and the things you only think you know.

All great religions in order to escape absurdity have to admit a dilution of agnosticism. It is only the savage (whether of the African bush or the American Gospel broadcast) who pretends to know the will and intent of God exactly and completely.

We must respect the other fellow's religion, but only in the sense and to the extent that we respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart.

H. L. Mencken

We have infinite trouble in solving man-made mysteries; it is only when we set out to discover "the secret of God" that our difficulties disappear.

Mark Twain

Ignorance is preferable to error; and he is less remote from truth who believes nothing, than he who believes what is wrong.

Thomas Jefferson, Writings, Vol. II, p. 43

Let God alone if need be. Methinks, if I loved him more, I should keep him--I should keep myself, rather--at a more respectful distance. It is not when I am going to meet him, but when I am just turning away and leaving him alone, that I discover that God is. I say, God. I am not sure that is the name. You will know whom I mean.

Doubt may have "some divinity" about it.

Atheism may be comparatively popular with God himself.

When a pious visitor inquired sweetly, "Henry, have you made your peace with God?" he replied, "We have never quarreled."

Henry David Thoreau as quoted in Henry David Thoreau: What Manner of Man?

By Edward Wagenknecht

Believing hath a core of unbelieving.

Robert Williams Buchanan: Songs of Seeking

One does not have to believe everything one hears.

Cicero, De Divinatione, Book 2, Chapter 13, Section 31

A man must not swallow more beliefs than he can digest.

Havelock Ellis, The Dance of Life

I believe in Someone Out There--call Him God, since other names, like Festus or Darrin, do not seem to fit--but I am not entirely certain that He is all that mindful of what goes on down here. Example: Recently a tornado destroyed a town in Texas and dropped a church roof on a batch of worshipers. One of the few things left standing were two plaster statues, one of Jesus, the other of Joseph. The townspeople, according to the news, "looked at the statues' survival as a sign of God's love." Hold the phone. This sounds like the he-beats-me-because-he-loves-me line of thought. If the Lord in his infinite wisdom drops a concrete roof on the true believers but spares two hunks of modeling compound, it is time to
question the big Fella's priorities. If I have to be made up of plaster to command attention in this universe, something is amiss.

James Lileks, "God Has Call-Waiting," Notes of a Nervous Man

Who truly knows what the cosmos "is" and whence it came to be? I don't, and don't claim to know. Perhaps a Divine Tinkerer was toying with cosmoses for untold infinites (splitting zeros into +1 and -1 cosmoses; splitting "nothing" into cosmoses of matter and anti-matter), and finally came up with this one, not the most prosperous of cosmoses mind you, with death from cosmic collisions or radiation remaining a distinct possibility, with life restricted to only one-planet-in-nine in our own little star-system, which itself lay in one arm of one spiral galaxy with over one hundred billion galaxies out there--yet only two of those galaxies are near enough to the earth to be seen with the naked eye. (The two galaxies that are visible only appear as faint white dots in the nighttime sky. The rest of the white dots you see are stars in our own galaxy, along with a few "wandering stars" or planets, which appear as white dots too. Obviously the rest of the galaxies were not created to "light the earth, nor for signs and seasons on earth," since no one knew they were even there until after the world's largest telescopes had been built).

Some people say the choice is between believing in either a Designer or absolute randomness, and they say that the latter view does not make sense, but not for the reason they suppose. The trouble lies in the word, "absolute," not in the word "random." For they don't realize that discussions of "absolute randomness" are fraught with philosophical self-contradictions. If you grant for the sake of a thought experiment that "random" cosmoses exist, how "absolutely" random could such cosmoses be? Wouldn't some interactions or patterns repeat themselves in them? And repetition is a form of order. So to keep orderliness out, you would have to posit a force that knows every past interaction or pattern and also knows how to prevent them from repeating themselves. But such a force would constitute a form of "order" needed to maintain "absolute disorder." But if absolute randomness requires a form of order to keep itself absolutely random, then absolute randomness does not exist. In other words, given a random cosmos, some things in them would tend to repeat themselves over time, and some form of order would thus transpire. Perhaps even the most improbable events would take place given matter/energy and an infinite amount of time? Acknowledging this does not make me an atheist. I am simply admitting questions and limitations inherent in philosophical language and concepts.

But if the idea of "absolute randomness" doesn't make sound philosophical sense, then maybe the idea of "absolute order" is an equally sterile philosophical concept? Perhaps in the end, a "Divine Tinkerer," as I proposed in the first paragraph, might be considered as a realistic compromise?

One thing I do know is that we all hope for what we hope. We all feel. Searching for the meaning of life seems a bit of a daunting task given the shortness of life and the immensity of our ignorance--adrift in a cosmic sea of space on this lifeboat we call earth (and we haven't even gotten off the cradle planet yet). Perhaps it's not the meaning of life but the question of life that is meant to propel us all.



So many gods, so many creeds,
So many paths that wind and wind,
While just the art of being kind,
Is all the sad world needs.

Ella Wheeler Wilcox (1850-1919)



About belief or lack of belief in an afterlife: Some of you may know that I am neither Christian nor Jewish nor Buddhist, nor a conventionally religious person of any sort. I am a humanist, which means, in part, that I have tried to behave decently without any expectation of rewards or punishments after I'm dead. My German-American ancestors, the earliest of whom settled in our Middle West about the time of our Civil War, called themselves "Freethinkers," which is the same sort of thing. My great grandfather Clemens Vonnegut, wrote, for example, "If what Jesus said was good, what can it matter whether he was God or not?" I myself have written, "If it weren't from the message of mercy and pity in Jesus's Sermon on the Mount, I wouldn't want to be a human being. I would just as soon be a rattlesnake."

Humanism is an ideal so Earthbound and unmajestic that I never capitalize it (unless it begins a sentence). I use "humanism" as a handy synonym for "good citizenship and common decency." Humanists, having received no credible information about any sort of God, are content to serve as well as they can, the only abstraction with which they have some familiarity: their communities. Neither do they have to join the American Humanist Association to be one.

Kurt Vonnegut, God Bless you Dr. Kevorkian


To a lot of fundamentalists, God's love just isn't any fun unless you can find somebody else to deny it to.

Bruce Bawer, Stealing Jesus: How Fundamentalism Betrays Christianity

Fundamentalisms of various sorts remain popular partly because they allow people to project their fears, insecurities and frustrations on others, including threatening them with eternal damnation.

Fundamentalisms also provide a handy, ready-made vocabulary of contempt:
"Heretic!" "Blasphemer!" "Idolater!" "Infidel!" "Anti-Christ!" "Apostate!" "Schizmatic!" "Demon Deluded Servant of Satan!" "As Fit to Be Fried as Lucifer's Lamb Chops!"

Edward T. Babinski

Make a shorter URL to this article. Highlight link and "Copy To Clipboard"