Distribution of World Religions
While writing Part I of this essay the other day, I had an epiphany (a moment of sudden revelation, not a manifestation of something divine). I thought I’d better write it down before I forget…I am of that age. So if there is some repetition here, from Part I, forgive me, but this is important (maybe all of you already know). It suddenly struck me that…
God is an Atheist Hoax!
One of the most irksome and unsupported bits of Jabberwocky is the idea that non-theists (atheists, agnostics, etc.) have no morality on which to base their lives. No one has ever successfully demonstrated a causal link between lack of religious belief and immoral behaviour, although a logical association is certainly possible to conjure up, and the correlation is certainly obvious, and for good reason. When you go looking for law-abiding people, you tend to find them among groups dedicated to abiding laws.
But we all know that correlation does not equal causation, and to extrapolate to the idea that non-theists are immoral is illogical. To conclude that non-theists cannot be moral is ridiculous, and there are lots (billions) of counter-examples. Examining the issue conclusively is probably a waste of time. There are simply too many confounding issues.
Human History and Law/Morality
The earliest evidence for something human is millions of years ago. Various forms of our pre-historic ancestors date back 1 to 3 million years. Our modern form of human…bipedal, increased brain size, with longer childhoods and increased differences in gender appearance (sorry ladies, apparently ancient hominids were more feminine, or at least, more easily differentiated from males), leading to social learning, language and other cultural pursuits…developed no less than 50,000 years ago. It took a while to get out of the hunter-gatherer stage, but about 10,000 years ago civilizations, in terms of agriculture and communal living, began to develop.
The timing is mildly important, because the laws as codified in the Bible and set down on paper (or papyrus, or stone, I suppose), were written about three thousand years ago. And yet, historical evidence of formal laws date back to four or five thousand years. While the Old Testament dates back to about 1200 BC, parallel civilizations in Greece, Egypt, Rome, India, China and Mesopotamia all had codes of behaviour.
The point is, there is good reason to believe humans are capable of producing, and indeed did produce laws to live by long before the god of the bible gave his rules to Moses.
Suppose there is no god to hand down rules. Almost by definition, the final arbiter of rules to live by, if you are inclined to believe in an absolute morality, is God. This, at least, is the argument given by William Lane Craig. Existence of absolute morality implies a god. In fact, this argument is circular because existence of absolute morality is God.
I cannot really think of any other method of getting to absolute morality. Could there be a supreme sets of laws somewhere that has no living embodiment, no intellectual existence? If there were, one could never prove it, not without some live (even if historical) being to defend it.
Could there be two supreme intelligences, both giving different accounts of an absolute morality. This is even more complicated than one god, and puts the definition of supreme in question. So lets agree for the moment that absolute morality and God are essentially the same thing.
Non-Theists and Relative Morality
We all ‘feel’ that there is a right and a wrong to most, if not all questions. Sometimes, in fact, we are sorely puzzled by the position taken by others, and we look to colleagues to agree with us, essentially expecting such agreement out of hand. It may be that this feeling of knowing, this empathy or understanding of some human plight, is basic to our biochemistry and DNA. Or it simply may be tacit, almost subliminal, learning, often by modelling behaviour from those we know, respect and love.
This overwhelming feeling of ‘knowing’, what I have referred to (metaphorically) in the past as ‘listening to the voice of God,’ may indeed be a stimulus to concluding the existence of absolute morality, and thus that God exists.
I have argued, also in the past, as have others in publications, that morality is a result of natural selection and communal living. Rules of behaviour leading to control of anarchy and chaos tend to improve the survival of communities and thus promote the dissemination of DNA. Such sensations as empathy, guilt and fairness would then lead to a general understanding of what is considered ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ without really thinking about it much, reinforcing that feeling of some ‘voice of God’.
Morality thus arises in us as a selection advantage.
Short-Cuts to Morality
We were all, once upon a time, non-theists. We may have thought periodically that maybe some god existed because we didn’t understand things like thunder and lightning, but at some point, formal theology didn’t exist.
Gradually all these non-theists evolved morally, and taught their children and their community members. But, as always, a group or groups misbehaved, and would not respond to general rules. “So you say…but I believe otherwise.” With all the work to be done, who has time to explain the need for communal behaviour to these recalcitrants and miscreants? So the non-theists used threats of violence, and punishment, but implementation was always a problem that could only be settled by more threats of violence and chaos.
“You need to do this.”
“Who says?” Bingo.
“God says.” Brilliant. In one fell swoop, a whole bunch of problems can be addressed.
Atheists created God in order to keep theists in line. And it worked. The theists took the bait, hook, line and sinker. They ran with it.
The non-theists returned to their fields, content they had taken care of law and order, and the theists ran with it. The concepts of God and redemption, forgiveness and sin, Hell and everlasting torment, Heaven and everlasting paradise, all became carrots and sticks for new theists who needed moral tutelage. Before we knew it, the whole thing had run amok.
Hundreds of religions, sects, cults, hundreds of rules monitored and implemented by clever people who saw a sinecure. A whole new industry of largesse. A whole new industry of control . Methods to keep people in line, to obtain power, to control entry into the elite, to justify inequities like slavery and economic gaps, anti-democratic power distribution.
Subtle refinements, such as supporting the poor and the sick gave justification to protection from taxation or military service, influence peddling and power-mongering.
And the ever-present promise of forgiveness, if only you would choose the right church, the right religion.
Survival of the fittest lead to survival of the church, using the same basic rules. If you take the fears and exploit them, create a political base of believers, you can win by force of ‘conscience’ others to your side by supporting their favourite cause: white nationalism, jingoism, racism, anti-Semitism, even slavery and elitism. Even anti-science disdain for experts. Even excuses for property hoarding, misogyny and other inequities and iniquities. Even protection of paedophiles because the image of the church is more important than anything secular.
Even war: “Onward Christian Soldiers.” Religion is the great recruiter. Only family competes successfully with religion when it comes to recruiting for a fight.
So the original good idea of using an all-powerful all-knowing god to enforce rules of civil behaviour in people who do not feel the empathy required for fairness and ethical or moral behaviour has been used by those self-same guiltless heartless people to achieve their own goals. Of course, not every theist is a psychopath. Very few, in fact. Most are good-hearted kindly people who have been gathered up by all these arguments, who believe earnestly in the idea of loving their neighbour and helping where they can. They believe non-theists about them will suffer badly if they do not comply and convert. They are full of good intentions, with their eyes firmly fixed on the values and morals of the past, of the original contractual obligation with the non-existent God. A few will recognize it for what it is, a hoax, though very few will see that the hoax was originally the atheist’s hoax. And maybe the original huckster thought, “Maybe there is a god, and if there is, he would do this, providing a tool to control the community. Maybe the concept of the god is faulty, but you have to admit, the tool it is a great idea!”
And little by little, people would add to the tool, to promote ideas they favoured (for example, celibacy of priests, once they’d had their fun), to remove adversaries from positions of power (excommunication of non-believers), to promote friends in high places (royalty by divine right), to advance their personal views of moral behaviour (protection from legal consequences for people discriminating against homosexuals), to control competing religions (entry into heaven only through Jesus Christ).
Religion As A Tool
Viewing religion as a tool to solve community control issues addresses a number of problems, largely by providing a forceful reason for believing. It clarifies a powerful incentive to the development and continuation of an idea which has no visible evidence. People support this idea of organized religion because it works, because it has worked in the past, and because many others agree.
It explains why there are religions in most cultures on earth, whether they be theistic or not, because of its civil order need. If one geographical section of the world was largely out of reach, it developed a parallel but similar structure to control its people, a different religion.
It explains why something with virtually no evidence can persist in the minds of intelligent people. But it also explains why the strength of its arguments falters as the populace becomes more educated.
It explains the need to proselytise. It explains the desire to encompass all. It explains the incredible popularity of religion. It explains the public display of what many might expect to be a very personal relationship, the believer and God. Non-believers need to believe, or need to be seen to believe. Even non-believers know they need to be seen to believe. And so they do. And so they hide their true belief.
It explains why religion cannot change, because God had to be always right to provide absolute morality to all people. After all, absolute morality cannot change…it’s absolute. It explains why holy books can never be revised. It explains why certain contentious parts of the Bible get ignored.
The tool is weakened by disbelief, by non-acceptance. So impossible parts of the story are skipped, contentious parts are reinterpreted, certain policies are characterized as parables, myths, fantasies or literary devices.
“We don’t stone people for apostacy.”
“But the Bible says…,”
“No. No. That’s just literary license.”
“Well, how am I going to figure out what is correct, God damn it…”
“Don’t take the Lord’s name in …” and punishment is applied.
Yes, viewing religion as a tool explains its popularity, its past almost total acceptance, its intransigence, as well as its inconsistencies.
God is an atheist hoax. And it got away from us. Boy, did it get away from us!