Some of humanity’s technological innovations are things we would have been better off without: the medieval rack, the atomic bomb and powdered lead potions come to mind. Religions tend to develop ideas or concepts rather than technologies, but like every other creative human enterprise, they produce some really bad ones along with the good.
My website, Wisdom Commons, highlights some of humanity’s best moral and spiritual concepts, ideas like the Golden Rule, and values like compassion, generosity and courage that make up our shared moral core. Here, by way of contrast, are some of the worst. These twelve dubious concepts promote conflict, cruelty, suffering and death rather than love and peace. To paraphrase Christopher Hitchens, they belong in the dustbin of history just as soon as we can get them there.
Chosen People –The term “Chosen People” typically refers to the Hebrew Bible and the ugly idea that God has given certain tribes a Promised Land (even though it is already occupied by other people). But in reality many sects endorse some version of this concept. The New Testament identifies Christians as the chosen ones. Calvinists talk about “God’s elect,” believing that they themselves are the special few who were chosen before the beginning of time. Jehovah’s witnesses believe that 144,000 souls will get a special place in the afterlife. In many cultures certain privileged and powerful bloodlines were thought to be descended directly from gods (in contrast to everyone else).
Religious sects are inherently tribal and divisive because they compete by making mutually exclusive truth claims and by promising blessings or afterlife rewards that no competing sect can offer. “Gang symbols” like special haircuts, attire, hand signals and jargon differentiate insiders from outsiders and subtly (or not so subtly) convey to both that insiders are inherently superior.
Heretics – Heretics, kafir, or infidels (to use the medieval Catholic term) are not just outsiders, they are morally suspect and often seen as less than fully human. In the Torah, slaves taken from among outsiders don’t merit the same protections as Hebrew slaves. Those who don’t believe in a god are corrupt, doers of abominable deeds. “There is none [among them] who does good,” says the Psalmist.
Islam teaches the concept of “dhimmitude” and provides special rules for the subjugation of religious minorities, with monotheists getting better treatment than polytheists. Christianity blurs together the concepts of unbeliever and evildoer. Ultimately, heretics are a threat that needs to be neutralized by conversion, conquest, isolation, domination, or—in worst cases—mass murder.
Holy War – If war can be holy, anything goes. The medieval Roman Catholic Church conducted a twenty year campaign of extermination against heretical Cathar Christians in the south of France, promising their land and possessions to real Christians who signed on as crusaders. Sunni and Shia Muslims have slaughtered each other for centuries. The Hebrew scriptures recount battle after battle in which their war God, Yahweh, helps them to not only defeat but also exterminate the shepherding cultures that occupy their “Promised Land.” As in later holy wars, like the modern rise of ISIS, divine sanction let them kill the elderly and children, burn orchards, and take virgin females as sexual slaves—all while retaining a sense of moral superiority.
Blasphemy – Blasphemy is the notion that some ideas are inviolable, off limits to criticism, satire, debate, or even question. By definition, criticism of these ideas is an outrage, and it is precisely this emotion–outrage–that the crime of blasphemy evokes in believers. The Bible prescribes death for blasphemers; the Quran does not, but death-to-blasphemers became part of Shariah during medieval times.
The idea that blasphemy must be prevented or avenged has caused millions of murders over the centuries and countless other horrors. As I write, blogger Raif Badawi awaits round after round of flogging in Saudi Arabia—1000 lashes in batches of 50—while his wife and children plead from Canada for the international community to do something.
Glorified suffering – Picture secret societies of monks flogging their own backs. The image that comes to mind is probably from Dan Brown’s novel, The Da Vinci Code, but the idea isn’t one he made up. A core premise of Christianity is that righteous torture—if it’s just intense and prolonged enough–can somehow fix the damage done by evil, sinful behavior. Millions of crucifixes litter the world as testaments to this belief. Shia Muslims beat themselves with lashes and chains during Aashura, a form of sanctified suffering called Matam that commemorates the death of the martyr Hussein. Self-denial in the form of asceticism and fasting is a part of both Eastern and Western religions, not only because deprivation induces altered states but also because people believe suffering somehow brings us closer to divinity.
Our ancestors lived in a world in which pain came unbidden, and people had very little power to control it. An aspirin or heating pad would have been a miracle to the writers of the Bible, Quran, or Gita. Faced with uncontrollable suffering, the best advice religion could offer was to lean in or make meaning of it. The problem, of course is that glorifying suffering—turning it into a spiritual good—has made people more willing to inflict it on not only themselves and their enemies but also those who are helpless, including the ill or dying (as in the case of Mother Teresa and the American Bishops) and children (as in the child beating Patriarchy movement).
Genital mutilation – Primitive people have used scarification and other body modifications to define tribal membership for as long as history records. But genital mutilation allowed our ancestors several additional perks—if you want to call them that. In Judaism, infant circumcision serves as a sign of tribal membership, but circumcision also serves to test the commitment of adult converts. In one Bible story, a chieftain agrees to convert and submit his clan to the procedure as a show of commitment to a peace treaty. (While the men lie incapacitated, the whole town is then slain by the Israelites.)
In Islam, painful male circumcision serves as a rite of passage into manhood, initiation into a powerful club. By contrast, in some Muslim cultures cutting away or burning the female clitoris and labia ritually establishes the submission of women by reducing sexual arousal and agency. An estimated 2 million girls annually are subjected to the procedure, with consequences including hemorrhage, infection, painful urination and death.
Blood sacrifice – In the list of religion’s worst ideas, this is the only one that appears to be in its final stages. Only some Hindus (during the Festival of Gadhimai) and some Muslims (during Eid al Adha, Feast of the Sacrifice) continue to ritually slaughter sacrificial animals on a mass scale. Hindu scriptures including the Gita and Puranas forbid ritual killing, and most Hindus now eschew the practice based on the principle of ahimsa, but it persists as a residual of folk religion.
When our ancient ancestors slit the throats on humans and animals or cut out their hearts or sent the smoke of sacrifices heavenward, many believed that they were literally feeding supernatural beings. In time, in most religions, the rationale changed—the gods didn’t need feeding so much as they needed signs of devotion and penance. The residual child sacrifice in the Hebrew Bible (yes it is there) typically has this function. Christianity’s persistent focus on blood atonement—the notion of Jesus as the be-all-end-all lamb without blemish, the final “propitiation” for human sin—is hopefully the last iteration of humanity’s long fascination with blood sacrifice.
Hell – Whether we are talking about Christianity, Islam or Buddhism, an afterlife filled with demons, monsters, and eternal torture was the worst suffering that Iron Age minds could conceive and medieval minds could elaborate. Invented, perhaps, as a means to satisfy the human desire for justice, the concept of Hell quickly devolved into a tool for coercing behavior and belief.
Most Buddhists see hell as a metaphor, a journey into the evil inside the self, but the descriptions of torturing monsters and levels of hell can be quite explicit. Likewise, many Muslims and Christians hasten to assure that it is a real place, full of fire and the anguish of non-believers. Some Christians have gone so far as to insist that the screams of the damned can be heard from the center of the Earth or that observing their anguish from afar will be one of the pleasures of paradise.
Karma – Like hell, the concept of karma offers a selfish incentive for good behavior—it’ll come back at you later—but it has enormous costs. Chief among these is a tremendous weight of cultural passivity in the face of harm and suffering. Secondarily, the idea of karma can sanctify the broad human practice of blaming the victim. If what goes around comes around, then the disabled child or cancer patient or untouchable poor (or the hungry rabbit or mangy dog) must have done something in this or a previous life to bring their position on themselves.
Eternal Life – To our weary and unwashed ancestors, the idea of gem encrusted walls, streets of gold, the fountain of youth, or an eternity of angelic chorus (or sex with virgins) may have seemed like sheer bliss. But it doesn’t take much analysis to realize how quickly eternal paradise would become hellish—an endless repetition of never changing groundhog days (because how could they change if they were perfect).
The real reason that the notion of eternal life is such a bad invention, though, is the degree to which it diminishes and degrades existence on this earthly plane. With eyes lifted heavenward, we can’t see the intricate beauty beneath our feet. Devout believers put their spiritual energy into preparing for a world to come rather than cherishing and stewarding the one wild and precious world we have been given.
Male Ownership of Female Fertility – The notion of women as brood mares or children as assets likely didn’t originate with religion, but the idea that women were created for this purpose, that if a woman should die of childbearing “she was made to do it,” most certainly did. Traditional religions variously assert that men have a god-ordained right to give women in marriage, take them in war, exclude them from heaven, and kill them if the origins of their offspring can’t be assured. Hence Catholicism’s maniacal obsession with the virginity of Mary and female martyrs. Hence Islam’s maniacal obsession with covering the female body. Hence Evangelical promise rings, and gender segregated sidewalks in Jerusalem and orthodox Jewish women wearing wigs over shaved heads in New York.
As we approach the limits of our planetary life support system and stare dystopia in the face, defining women as breeders and children as assets becomes even more costly. We now know that resource scarcity is a conflict trigger and that demand for water and arable land is growing even as both resources decline. And yet, a pope who claims to care about the desperate poor lectures them against contraception while Muslim leaders ban vasectomies in a drive to outbreed their enemies.
Bibliolatry (aka Book Worship) – Preliterate people handed down their best guesses about gods and goodness by way of oral tradition, and they made objects of stone and wood, idols, to channel their devotion. Their notions of what was good and what was Real and how to live in moral community with each other were free to evolve as culture and technology changed. But the advent of the written word changed that. As our Iron Age ancestors recorded and compiled their ideas into sacred texts, these texts allowed their understanding of gods and goodness to become static. The sacred texts of Judaism, Christianity and Islam forbid idol worship, but over time the texts themselves became idols, and many modern believers practice—essentially—book worship, also known as bibliolatry.
“Because the faith of Islam is perfect, it does not allow for any innovations to the religion,” says one young Muslim explaining his faith online. His statement betrays a naïve lack of information about the origins and evolution of his own dogmas. But more broadly, it sums up the challenge all religions face moving forward. Imagine if a physicist said, “Because our understanding of physics is perfect, it does not allow for any innovations to the field.”
Adherents who think their faith is perfect, are not just naïve or ill informed. They are developmentally arrested, and in the case of the world’s major religions, they are anchored to the Iron Age, a time of violence, slavery, desperation and early death.
Ironically, the mindset that our sacred texts are perfect betrays the very quest that drove our ancestors to write those texts. Each of the men who wrote part of the Bible, Quran, or Gita took his received tradition, revised it, and offered his own best articulation of what is good and real. We can honor the quest of our spiritual ancestors, or we can honor their answers, but we cannot do both.
Religious apologists often try to deny, minimize, or explain away the sins of scripture and the evils of religious history. “It wasn’t really slavery.” “That’s just the Old Testament.” “He didn’t mean it that way.” “You have to understand how bad their enemies were.” “Those people who did harm in the name of God weren’t real [Christians/Jews/Muslims].” Such platitudes may offer comfort, but denying problems doesn’t solve them. Quite the opposite, in fact. Change comes with introspection and insight, a willingness to acknowledge our faults and flaws while still embracing our strengths and potential for growth.
In a world that is teeming with humanity, armed with pipe bombs and machine guns and nuclear weapons and drones, we don’t need defenders of religion’s status quo—we need real reformation, as radical as that of the 16th Century and much, much broader. It is only by acknowledging religion’s worst ideas that we have any hope of embracing the best.
Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington. She is the author of Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light and Deas and Other Imaginings, and the founder of www.WisdomCommons.org. Her articles about religion, reproductive health, and the role of women in society have been featured at sites including AlterNet, Salon, the Huffington Post, Grist, and Jezebel. Subscribe at ValerieTarico.com.
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You are on a roll Valerie, and I thank you for it. This article cuts right to the core of why I refuse to participate in religious organizations and belief systems.
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Thank you, George. I just wish the topics I write about would become irrelevant and obscure. :)
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The question is whether these are really “religious ideas” (whatever religion might be), or religious terms for ideas grounded deeply in general human psychology. On what basis do you choose the former? (After coherently defining religion, of course.)
Are you hiding behind an “incoherent” defined religion to defend religion?
Or are you defending religion because, well you see.. “general human psychology” is at fault, not religion.
Of course those are not really “religious ideas” because nobody can “coherently define religion”, so it must be “general human psychology” that does religious abominable things.
The fact that a term has fuzzy boundaries doesn’t make it meaningless. Yes, religion has its roots in human biology and psychology. Andy Thomson’s lecture “Why We Believe In Gods” (available on YouTube) and Pascal Boyer’s book “Religion Explained” offer a window into the cognitive and developmental foundations on which religion is built. And yet these concepts and the harms that the do–the impulses they amplify–are best described as religious and best thought of as part of that human sector known as our religious enterprise.
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In case you haven’t noticed, human beings who call themselves atheists and agnostics or who really don’t think about the subject do abominable things, too, and a lot of those abominable things can be categorized in the above ways as well.
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Of course they do. But isn’t the whole self-proclaimed point of religion to make us better—to lend support (even divine support) in opposition to these tendencies. The fact that all people behave badly comes as a surprise to no one. But religious teachings that disinhibit bad behavior are like medicines that poison you.
Yes the purpose of religion is ‘to make us better and to lend support in opposition to those bad tendencies’. But unfortunately one of those tendencies that our basic humanity has instilled within us is desire of pleasure, fleeing from pain, and a fight for survival. It is the responsibility of the individual to first realize that the innate tendencies need to be in complete control of the individual and not some external pressure and that the teachings of many religions seek to aid that process of controlling ourselves for the betterment of society as a whole (but individual change being the first, most important step). Unfortunately, some people act their wills upon religious concepts and then make it like the poison you speak of. And again it is the responsibility of the individual to seek that which s/he does not understand instead of having complete blind faith.
Religion is not medicine that poisons you. It is the people whose innate desires overtake them that concoct their own versions of religion that make all religions seem poisonous.
So given that our sacred texts are replete with violence, misogyny, tribalism, etc., would it be fair to say that it was the human writers whose innate desires overtook them that concocted their own versions of religion that make all religions seem poisonous?
Undoubtedly, with religion the idea is that one is true while the others have been altered or are the innate desires of man trying to bring change (for good or bad) to a community/world with a divinely inspired message. And that’s where the hard work begins and where unfortunately where many people begin making judgments.
I personally have not read all sacred texts, nor understood the contexts of ‘revelation’ of the verses of all text, nor understood the language of origin of all the sacred texts, nor have understood the entirety of the message and how it was passed down and protected from generation to generation, etc etc. There is much we do not understand and I ask you the same: Have you done a thorough analysis of all sacred texts and all the mentioned parts of truly understanding what the religion desires to teach, no matter which religion it is?
You make a hodge podge of all religions by pointing out little parts of the entire whole of multiple ideologies and putting all these claims together and claim that as proof of the ideologies shortcomings. I do applaud that you have done some research and cite your sources, but you miss out on the big picture as you get one view of a massive concept that is beyond just one perspective.
For example, God’s Chosen people: Many religions wish for the world to follow their ideology and people convert/revert every day. What happens to the idea of being chosen when those who are ‘chosen’ one day can choose to not believe in the religion or a man who at one point wasn’t chosen, converts tomorrow? Diving deeper, answers to this may come up; is it cultural influences that brought about this idea or is it a core idea that will not be changed. Just as you describe it, ‘gang symbols’ define a group of people. But even outside of religion, ‘gang symbols’ do the same in secular society.
Heretics. Secular society: Treason
Holy War. Secular Society: World Wars
Blasphemy. Secular Society: Treason again
There are so many parallels to be drawn and so much people do not understand. But by giving a sentence or two about numerous concepts about varying religions as proof of the fallacies of the entire concept of religion is a fallacy in itself. You prove nothing but the ignorance that many have towards religion and even the ignorance that religious folk have in the idea of questioning what they believe.
The question you ask about whether the human writers of sacred texts were overcome by their innate desires is a very important one to answer. One that requires a much more thorough examination than what your article contains. I apologize if I seem condescending in any way. But an examination of religion as done in this article is an unfair representation of the religions you speak about.
Your question is a red herring, but it’s all too obvious why you ask it. It really doesn’t matter whether these ideas are grounded in human psychology or not. The problem is that religions of various sorts adopted them and are now unable to see past them.
You’re so set on the notion that there can’t be anything wrong with your TRUE faith, that you can’t even step back for a minute and acknowledge that there are some bad ideas there (no matter what their origin is).
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The roots or beginnings of religion are quite irrelevant because religion promotes these ideas. Modern religion is just a continuance of earlier beliefs organized or not.
Reblogged this on Tiffany's Non-Blog.
Fantastic article!!! I have questioned most of these points myself and have always been given extremely vague and sometimes quite ridiculous explanations by church leaders. This is very refreshing!!! Thank you!
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Valerie, I’m a friend from days past. You, Jeanene, and I were a fearsome threesome back in the day. I’m honored that you named me in your book. My thinking on religion has followed yours fairly closely over the years…and caused angst with family and friends. I just found your blog and your book last year. Gave it to my scientist son and my attorney brother. Both concur with your logic and your views. You were always the smartest one in every class. Would love to talk with you some time. So proud of what you’ve accomplished and how you are speaking out! We’ve come a long way baby! -Kay
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A Cancer patient didnt bring it upon himself vis a vis Karma. Rather karma would be applied here as suggesting suffering from previous life or in advance of a better future life. Karma is all about balance of negative and positive energies. And it doesnt have to be believed but how is that one of the worst when praying to a false god instead of taking medication or holy dietry laws banning people from certain foods or not allowing your child to have a blood transfusion. All these things are surely much worst than Karma?
I included karma in the list because the negative effects of this concept affect hundreds of millions of people. That said, it was hard to choose what to include. I certainly could have kept going, and the ones you mention are doozies.
1. Karma does not always attribute the situation to be of fault of the victim.
While it is wrong to victim blame, at times it is clear that the ‘victim’ was at fault for his/her situation. For example, a person commits a murder and only until years after are they imprisoned for it. That can be seen as karma. The distinction needs to be made that the victim can sometimes be the criminal. Karma doesn’t say EVERYTHING is due to past actions etc etc. Also most people who even believe in a concept of karma more likely believe it due to societal influences rather than religion and that is a problem in itself. Lack of understanding of the roots of belief in karma and the role it plays in religious ideologies that preach karma, makes karma not a religious ideology any more, but what people have made it become over the years.
2. Karma can also play a positive role for hundreds of millions of people as a way to remind them to abstain from doing something that is wrong even if it is something as ‘small’ as saying a lie.
One of the biggest problems with at least some of the points you bring up in your article is that it is the lack of understanding of the entire religion and how various beliefs play a role in the ideology. There are at least two sides to every story.
When people start picking at bits and pieces of a concept, the ideology is corrupt and no longer is what it was intended to be. The biggest problem today is the lack of knowledge, the desire to learn that which one doesn’t understand and the patience to agree to disagree.
Most doctrines or dogmas can be interpreted in a way that is not harmful and thankfully for many believers their basic humanity helps them to overcome some of the darker implications of their own teachings.
Define ‘basic humanity’ as it seems to change every now and then and differs from place to place. Those dark implications you mention can be argued to be an effect of this ‘basic humanity’ you speak of.
Reblogged this on The Syed Atheist.
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You missed one Valerie:
Number 13: Apocalypticism :)
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You’re right about “Apocalypticism” – Religionists push the idea of “end of the world” to scare people into embracing their religions. In the end, it becomes a wishful thinking or even a contribution to the “end of the world”, just as “punishment” of those who don’t believe in that religious idea.
Good point. Apocalypticism is deadly dogma. I know from personal experience. At 16 I got sucked into and trapped for years in an abusive apocalyptic cult, the Children of God. Jesus was supposed to return in 1993, kicked the anti-Christ’s ass, and we should be in the 1000 years of heaven on earth, the millenium, by now. I got out with my life (nothing more), but some didn’t.
I think the most dangerous idea that you overlooked is dominion. The idea that the world and all it’s resources are there for simply for man’s use.
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I cannot thank you enough for writing this. It is utterly fantastic.
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Uh, Valerie? You say the Buddhists think Hell is metaphorical, and then you post a link that essentially says “It’s not a metaphor, your mind makes it real, and incidentally there are some people who end up in Avici until the heat death of the universe, then when a new universe is born, they end up there too, and suffer forever with no limit.” PLEASE read your content closer…..
Thank you again. Here is how I revised it. “Most Buddhists see hell as a metaphor, a journey into the evil inside the self, but the descriptions of torturing monsters and levels of hell can be quite explicit.”
Valerie, *no* >< They do *not* believe it's metaphorical as in "doesn't exist," more like "separate KIND of experience, endless total suffering, which humans can no more understand than the hell-beings can understand *human* suffering, with its not-always-on nature and possibility of ending someday." This is the impression i got from it anyway
If you've studied the Pali canon or other sutras you'll see in addition to "exists" and "does not exist" there also seems to be a category for "exists and does not exist" and "neither exists, nor not-exists."
Hi Valerie, I do not know you, I am Spanish, but I came through your article and with your permission I will make a link in my facebook. I completely agree with your analysis and I think that all these dangerous ideas were displayed to dominate the society. It is difficult to be really free and survive, so people is glad feeling they belong to a group which excludes all other people and which is always right. This is the deep reason, I think, for the religions to exist. Self criticism in religion is impossible because the ideas remain as untouchable as God is.
Oh, and Jews: http://www.chabad.org/holidays/JewishNewYear/template_cdo/aid/989585/jewish/Kaparot.htm
Excellent article. A couple of qualms or questions. I believe ritual slaughter is still performed for Jews and Muslims, but now it’s called readying the carcass for human consumption. It began as a gift to God (Allah) and morphed through the ages into the only meat that can be consumed by true believers. The idea is to be humane AND to drain the blood before cooking (which differentiates it from blood upon the alter sacrifice.
Genital Mutilation is a protective mechanism rather than ritual torture. (Please don’t misunderstand. I am NOT condoning the practice. It is a horrible torture for women that should not be practiced.) But it was born in societies where men are dominant and the one gift a poor girl can offer is her pure virginity (closing the outer labia) and her lack of knowledge of sex and sexuality (cutting the clitoris). Women do it to their daughters and grand-daughters to protect them from a bad reputation and to insure they will be marriageable when the time comes. Agreements in Islamic cultures are with a hand-shake, including questions of marriage and virginity. Everyone in the family is responsible for themselves and for every other member of the family. If a girl is closed up, she cannot be anything but a virgin. If her senses are dulled, then she has no desire to sin against 1) Allah, 2) the family; 3) her husband.
If a girl loses her virginity prior to marriage she is apt to be stoned to death and accused of agreeing to premarital sex rather than a possible rape. But we in our society, also question and judge victims of rape, so much so that it is estimated that 75% of the women who have been sexually assaulted do NOT report a crime.
Male mutilation, were are told has everything to do with cleanliness. That’s not true in this day and age. It’s a sign of group identification. Other men will know they are in the company of males who share their religious values; in the case of females they are mating with men who share their religious values., or at least that was the original rational. In the case of Jews, cultural and religious affiliation passes through the female, but it is incumbent upon her to choose a mate from her religion.
Today the practice is mostly robotic among non-Jews and even some Jews who are not orthodox. In fact it is torture, there is no medical necessity and while it offers some protection for some groups, they are people who do not have access to clean water and the hygiene habits after sex are perhaps inconvenient or even impossible. Those groups may wish to continue the practice in an effort to control HIV/AIDS and/or HPVs.
Of course, there are so many different types of Hinduism–others condoning ritual slaughter and others condemning it–that it is impossible to pinpoint a general Hindu attitude towards the practice.
That said, I think the common practice is to consume the animal after offering it, like a sacralised steak party (although, that particular link you shared is something I have not looked into yet in detail). And that goes not only for the wide variety of meat-eating Hinduisms, but also for other historical and contemporary polytheisms.
Yes, I think that most cultures practicing animal sacrifice subsequently consume the meat.
I wonder, is it really religion or culture that is at the heart of this? I have a devout Muslim friend who says Jihad, etc. is more of a cultural thing due to ignorance and lack of education – even though these things are written in the Quran.
Jihad has an external and internal manifestation. There are groups of people who wage ‘holy war’ in the name of ‘Islam’ and there are definitely cultural influences along with political agendas and personal desires at the core of people who act like such.
And it is true, lack of education and horrible cultural influences are core factors of things like this. People are swayed so quickly by emotion that rational and reason go flying out the window.
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What makes people go on and on discussing something they are not willing to first understand? This is man’s downfall. Discuss until words become meaningless; they become weapons; no one can hear what another is saying or the originator of the discussion gives up. If you would discuss the pros and cons of religion, first know what it is you are discussing. What is religion? How did man become religious? There’s a very simple answer – the one nobody wants to hear, or even consider. Why? Because if people dared to know the truth of it, the system would go “tilt” and man would be forced to face his real status on this world. Where does religion come from? The question is the same as, who built the Great Pyramid and similar constructs man could never have built? And not surprisingly, the answer would be the same to both. What’s wrong with man that he chooses to abandon himself; giving up his personal power and authority to forces he knows nothing about, but insists he does? Back to the beginning, dare face the truth of your species’ inauspicious beginnings and you will know why you are saddled with religious, political and economic problems you choose to believe you can only talk about, hope for change that never comes and in the end keep that wheel turning. It doesn’t matter if you believe in gods, a God, science or the tooth fairy: the result will always be the same. Religion is rooted in your DNA. You did not “invent” it though it followed many channels over the last quarter billion years, it’s part of an old controlling implant. It translates as a need to believe in something superior to yourself. When you stand alone and dare think that you really are alone and no one “out there” cares for you, it frightens you. You have a desperate need to belong to someone, or something. So the God you stopped believing in morphs into something other: money, love, science, pleasure, education, politics, family, race – it really makes no difference, for to your controlling system, it all comes to the same thing: it has all the power and you have no control over your fate. The key to realization and understanding isn’t in endless discussions about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin but in self-empowerment; in de-programming of one’s mind and in beginning to dare look at alternatives to what has never worked and has no hope of ever working. You have a real and hidden history your system(s) do not want you to know: learn it, face it, change everything. Sure you can go on with the angels on the head of the pin discussions, but if you arrive at a number, you can be absolutely sure that someone else will challenge your findings with “erudite” questions, like: were your angelic test subjects full grown, or children? More room on the pin for small ones, so you did not do your homework. Or, what type or pin did you use? How large the head? Who manufactured the pin, the Chinese, the Americans, the Japanese? Was the head of the particular pin you used in your calculations flat, or rounded? Were you holding the pin in your hands at the time, or was it stuck in a piece of cork board? Did you use a level on the pin? And you can be just as sure that dozens of people will enter that fray with an endless number of counter-arguments, statistics drawn from ancient Greek philosophy or “pertinent” quotes from some Hindo, Christian, Jewish, Native American sacred texts or beliefs from White Buffalo Calf Woman and Aleister Crowley or Sherlock Holmes. Isn’t it high time for man to grow up?
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very well said… and i’m still left wanting for more.
I believe the original post was only pertaining to religion, per se, but your comment shed additional light.
wondering, though, where (the beginnings) of DNA will take this discussion to…
Thank you, Raj. It was my sincere hope that someone would notice I wasn’t attacking anyone, just trying to remind the discussion that to discuss something properly, one must (not should) know exactly what one is talking about. And for those who wonder what I mean by “religion is in your DNA” there’s some good research available as an alternative to the “case closed” arguments of religious teachings and scientific fiats. For starters, one could read Zecharia Sitchin’s Earth Chronicles [this is archeological research, not science fiction!] then go from there. The evidence is available, but it’s like cancerous tumors and laetrile research, and those who stand to lose too much when truth is made known. Another point: public opinion is the least trustworthy information about anything because it is totally controlled and manipulated.
Missed out the one I hate the most. Although it does parallel many already mentioned here, The idea that the sin can follow a bloodline, Its both used in Original sin in the bible – That the actions of someone thousands of years ago are why we should hate everything – and also in general – many children are punished and condemned from birth because of the actions of their parents that should not affect them. I also agree that this precedes religion, however religion helps spurr this on.
Ooh, yes. That one is a horror.
Correct me if I am wrong, but isn’t the concept of Original Sin a Christian only thing? Also, with all the various sects in Christianity, do all of them believe in this concept? And I can’t think of any right now, but what are some examples of religions that punish the child for the actions of the parents (I can only think of original sin again which seemingly blames Adam and Eve)?
Currently, my knowledge fails to produce any other example of a religion bringing forth the idea that sin follows a bloodline with the exception of Christianity and so it makes me question if you are blaming all religions for the concept that only 1 (please correct me if I’m wrong) holds? The purpose of my question is to bring to mind that we should not discard all faiths based on the ‘fallacies’ of one.
Genetic inheritance perhaps? Over breeding, incest, cannibalism, polygamy, spread of venereal disease, lack of access to life giving resources, poverty, isolation etc. it’s complicated, but there is an early sense here of guiding people toward balanced and ethical living with regard to their sexual and breeding habits. In light of what we know about our DNA in this the modern era, the sins of the fathers not read too literally may simply contain a great dollop of early uncommon sense.
Very good point. Of course, just to upset the social applecart, I like to ask this politically incorrect question of those who take the non-interventionist view of Earthian history. Who were the “wise individuals” who would steer the race that long ago away from the negative factors you mention? Another question: why would some “special” individuals who presumably all “evolved” from the same muck and mire, possess this knowledge and not all? It’s all fine and dandy to beat up on organized and even dis-organized religions, but who is going to answer THE question about man’s peculiar place in earth natural society? Throughout my life nothing has astounded me more than the deafening silence regarding man’s strange appearance and definitely unnatural development. What are the power wielders afraid of should ordinary individuals begin to insist on getting real and meaningful answers about Homo Sapiens appearance and subsequent development? If one re-reads your comment, how can anyone fail to question this whole made up “history” of either/or: biblical literalness or evolution, case closed? How about a third possibility that would make way more sense than the two man is “allowed” to choose from?
As to glorified suffering, there is this: The Flagellants Attempt to Repel the Black Death, 1349 The Flagellants were some zealots who whipped themselves, thus their name. They did so to show God how much they were willing to punish themselves for their sins. Sins that presumably provoked God to punish people by sending plagues and droughts and famines and the like. The Flagellants became rather popular during the Black Death, though the Church hierarchy frowned on them.
More broadly, it’s the whole idea that natural disasters and other calamities are punishments for people’s sins by God or karma or whatever.
The problem of the way Valerie has gone about this article, as I have pointed out in another comment of mine, is that she tries to prove that a concept that is shared by numerous ideologies is ‘bad’ because of what a few of said ideologies have done. And then goes onto explain why they are bad by giving a sentence or two about those few ideologies. Again I do appluad that in some cases you have sources, but I also may question them at some point from the ones that I have read, but there is a lot of information, so good job on that Valerie and this article is definitely a good way to foster dialoge (which I presume is the main purpose & its working :)).
In response to glorified suffering though I do not think that the punishments that where sent by God can be counted as glorified suffering and proof of why it is looked up upon in religions. The article you wrote about Christianity and God’s punishments in the Bible are punishments God put upon people, not what a person did to another.
That is where I stand to differ, that the actions of God cannot be taken to be what humans act upon since (in most faiths) God is all-knowing and His actions are seen as justice. But what people do definitely can be judged as good or bad.
Monks flogging their own backs: why do they do it? What is the purpose and what do they seek to attain from it? Is it the same reason as the matam of Shia Muslims? Do Sunni Muslims, or other Muslim sects, practice this? Are Muslims the only ones to practice matam?
Does matam do harm to those who choose to not partake in it? Why is it labeled as bad when it is an inidividual personal choice upon themselves?
Asceticism: just because an inidividual (for example) chooses not to drink alcohol, eat pork, or take drugs, why is that considered bad? Rather in many personal experiences, when people learn I don’t drink, they praise me for it? (and I don’t drink because of reasons that I have come up with by learning the affects of alcohol upon the human body and it happens to coincide with my religious beliefs and the reasons that it brings forth to abstain from alcohol, further strengthening my faith. One of the problems I find with religion in general is the idea of blind faith. That I feel should be #1 on this list.
Fasting: an individual chooses to not eat or drink for the daytime, why is that bad? What are the rules and regulations in place for fasting as the various religions have different ways to practice this act? Is one form of fasting bad compared to another. Does fasting have any contemporary significance in a society where numerous food related illnesses are present such as obesity, bulemia, anorexia, etc or even where people are constantly searching for a new diet to slim down sometimes disregarding an entire food group?
What is the divinity that is trying to be reached and is it just a form of spiritual cleansing or are their physical benefits to some of these actions which you go to classify as bad because it leads to something worse in SOME cases?
Also at the onset of many of these religions it was not only the poor (who had no access to treatment or any form of control over pain) that were part of the movement. There have been individuals who had the means to free themselves of physical pain, but chose otherwise, why?
Now the examples of glorified suffering you bring up are in many cases a persons choice to act in a way that affects themselves only, why is that bad? Surely you cannot say an individual does not have a right to act the way they wish to if they do so with a sane conscious (definition of sane can also be argued)
When it goes onto hurting others, now is that still glorified suffering or something else, like holy war, for example(in the case of hurting enemies as you say)?
For those who are helpless and have faith in a higher being, is it better to let them suffer while being treated or alongside medical treatment, give them hope that their maybe a greater reason for this pain that we may not understand here as the affects of placebo are tried and true in helping people overcome trials in their lives?
I do believe that the child beating movement is rather harsh, but is that still glorified suffering or a human trying to play God? Now that this ‘suffering’ is being acted upon another human, is it still ‘glorified suffering’ as you began to describe it with the monks, or the shia muslims, or the concept of fasting?
@lpetrich, I want to say that glorified suffering as many of these concepts in this article, have varying meanings depending on which ideology you are looking at. To generalize this topic to pertain to the beliefs of billions of people, is unfair and requires a far more in depth analysis.
As you can see, there are so many questions that aren’t answered, but the conclusion is still the same: Glorified suffering is bad. Is that a fair judgement?
I think you are missing the concept of trade offs. Instead you are trying to weigh a matter up and say if it is good or bad whereas i think it can be simultaneously good in one aspect and bad in another aspect. Often one persons gain is another persons loss.
If you look at trade off between quality of an item versus price. For the purchaser higher price is mostly considered worse and higher quality considered better. Most times as you improve the quality the price gets worse. However for the seller the increase in price is better but the extra time, effort, materials to make it is viewed as a down side.
If you buy a sports car you might find that for top acceleration you have to go to a 2 seater model so then you can’t fit in your wife & 2 kids. Is the sports car good ? The sports car has prioritized acceleration at the expense of internal space. It is good in one way and bad in another way. However if you like to get an excuse not to have your kids around then it is still an advantage to have a two seater, until you miss them and then it is a disadvantage to have left them behind.
“Fasting: an individual chooses to not eat or drink for the daytime, why is that bad? ”
What harm does fasting do, what benefit is there from fasting? Fasting could save you money on that day that you could put to other uses but fasting could leave you with less energy to do your work, you might not do your work so well because you are distracted by hunger.
What if you flogged yourself but there was no cosmic God to take any notice ? Romans 13v10 says Love does no harm to its neighbour
Damaging you skin is doing harm to your skin so isn’t taking good care of yourself.
What if your action was actually displeasing a god when you thought it would please ?
There are reasons not to drink alcohol, such as you are going to drive a car in the next 4 hours and it would impair your ability to drive, also your country might have made it against the law for that reason. However if you aren’t driving that day then you might enjoy the taste of alcohol or think a little wine is good for the stomach. However alcohol costs more than fruit concentrate. In the old days it was not possible to preserve fruit juice unless it was made alcoholic but now technology allows for long term storage in sealed cartons. In the past alcohol was often safer than water which might have been polluted. Does making beer from barley deprive other people in the world from food or is it the case that the left over draff is not much reduced in nutrients, so when fed to cattle, over all there is not much harm from making beer. Does making ethanol (for car fuel) from wheat or corn cause some people in the world to go hungry ?
The old scriptures are too two dimensional, black & white. Was it just lack of paper and ink that prevented the priests writing a more full account or had they not considered the matter in depth or were the scriptures just like bullet points to get the debate started ?
Wow. This was an extraordinary piece.
And the comments were excellent as well!
Thanks so much for writing this piece. It’s a re-readable worthy!
And thank you, John Loftus, for posting a link to this piece on your blog.
Thanks Valerie for this insight. It’s a gem…
First and foremost, there are no absolutes when it comes to the karma. Karma by itself and according to Hinduism(at least), is not about good behavior, rather Karma literally means action(s). It’s closely associated with “dharma” which means duty (religion) or “supposed behavior”. There is no absolute here either. Dharma depends on your situation, it is not a blanket view but rather a highly personalized view. For example, for many people “murder” (or violence) will not fit in their dharma, but there are exceptions like soldiers. A soldiers’ dharma is to resort to violence to protect people who depend on them for protection; if a soldier does not follow his dharma (which is to fight) his karma (actions) affect may be other people and himself as well. The concept is based in causality, and when your karma follows your dharma, your life is peaceful otherwise it is not. Of course one’s understanding of their dharma is where a person is really defined and once a person can figure out their dharma (and thus, the effects of his karma) it leads to self realization. Hinduism believes nothing is permanent, even hell or heaven. According to your actions(karma) you are either suffer/enjoy in hell/heaven but you are still part of the entire cycle of birth and death; thus the goal of a Hindu is to try to come out of this circle of birth/death. While this may seem a fatalistic view, the concept of dharma and karma is also closely based on expectations and how expectations (of both other people and our own) many a times cause our actions to be different from our duty.
The point I am trying to make is that the current notion of karma, especially with respect to western philosophies is an incomplete one. It tries to enforce “good” behavior (which is an absolute) according to western philosophies and hence results in victim blaming…where as it has nothing to do with it. Everyone suffers and enjoys because of other’s actions (whether rightly or not), it is just that we try to introspect when we suffer rather than when we enjoy and that is where the blame comes. If one does poorly (again to our or other’s standard) we usually blame others.
Finally, the entire concept of dharma or karma has nothing to do with religion. In fact, one of the ways to get freedom from the cycle of birth and death is to adhere to your dharma and follow it with karma. The other ways are by way of devotion (again requiring belief in god(s)) and by way of knowledge (nothing to do with god(s)/religion).
Interesting, but I get prickly when people repeat commonly made mistakes as facts, especially about Islam which is often gleefully mischaracterised right now.
Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) existed before Islam (and may still exist after Islam is gone) therefore it can’t be a problem OF Muslim cultures themselves. There are predominantly Muslim countries in which it doesn’t exist while it also exists in predominantly Non-Muslim countries, therefore FGM and Islam are mutually exclusive things that sometimes happen to geographically overlap. One might find a stronger FGM regional correlation to poverty or poor education than a specific religion.
Not a Muslim myself but I believe facts will set us free.
Yes. Many of these ideas predate the religions in which they currently get carried forward. The problem is that religion sanctifies these ideas, putting them beyond question and causing a developmental arrest in the culture as a whole. Regardless of where it came from, many Muslims believe that it is a part of their religion, a divinely sanctioned practice. So, whether or not Muslims agree on this (none of these teachings is ascribed to by every member of the religion in question; most Hindus do NOT engage in animal sacrifice for example), the practice has become incorporated into religion and consequently needs to be excised.
But you said “in some Muslim cultures” specifically, ignoring the Christian and
Animist traditions in which FGM is also happening. If those religions also perpetuate it then why single out Islam? When you say that the subjugation of women is the reason Muslims do this, are you suggesting non-Muslims are doing it for some other, less barbaric reason? I wouldn’t know because you don’t even mention its existence outside of the Muslim context.
Finally to say that it’s a Muslim problem because they believe FGM is a part of their religion is a weak correlation, akin to defining terrorism as a Muslim problem because SOME Muslims believe it has a basis in their religion. In fact both problems are broader than that and transcend the belief systems of their practitioners.
Syncretising practices into faiths happens in every tradition, it’s not reasonable to assume that it’s only Muslims doing it.
Reblogged this on Renovatio.
Interesting response from a progressive Christian writer. http://thepietythatliesbetween.blogspot.com/2015/01/when-you-blame-religion-what-are-you.html
“… twelve dubious concepts … belong in the dustbin of history just as soon as we can get them there.
Or as E.O. Wilson said: We should “diminish, to the point of eliminating, religious faiths”
As a species, we’ve got to figure this thing out.
Valerie, you’re a great writer of good ideas, and there are a lot of smart people on this discussion forum. Therefore, let me ask if you’re up to a challenge? Would you be willing to consider, just consider, a non-conformist concept that explains exactly why man is stuck with his religions and why the answer to the dilemma of violence will not come from scientists or their science and technology? If you and the people I’ve “met” on this forum are not just about talk and really care to find a solution to man’s predilection with violence and destruction, I am willing to supply a bit of information that could send the truly curious in a direction which your power Matrix is desperate to keep you from engaging. I would post my concepts, ideas and information on my blog at WordPress. The point of the exercise at first would be to do a little bit of thinking outside the box; a bit of imagination; of mind-stretching. The upside, you find a door you didn’t know existed. The downside? Spending a bit of time on some esoteric research that you may decide has no foundation.
Thank you for asking in such a gracious way. I am fully occupied with a variety of endeavors at this point, and I choose to continue focusing on the commitments I have made.
Thanks for your reply Valerie. I fully appreciate the fact that your are very busy and what I was proposing does require quite a bit of study, so I’m off the hook too… yea! I am really enjoying the quality of your posts and the responses they generate. I’ll continue putting my two-bits in when I feel they are needed; take care o’ you.
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Hi Valerie. I have only just come upon your site and posts. I believe the “Abrahamic” faiths have no net positive effect in our world at this time. That said, I think your critique of what I regard as the Buddhist concept of Karma is underdeveloped misleading and damaging to a very powerful element of the Buddhist philosophy. I would appreciate the opportunity to discuss what I regard as this ‘confusion’ at your convenience. Karma, ‘action’ can be thought of as the essence of personal responsibility. That is, we have to regard our experience, the ripening of our Karma(our past actions), as taking place in the moment, but having had it’s seed planted anytime from a moment ago to several lifetimes ago. There is also the notion that as beings become more and more purified(holy?) their residual imperfections become more and more difficult to detect. So they elect for more and more challenging rebirths. It is not about ‘blaming the victim’. At worst, it is responding with the same compassion and loving kindness as one would with any other sentient being. At best, it might be to recognize a great lifelong sacrifice that produces the circumstances that challenge one’s ability maintain one’s meditative stability, loving kindness and compassion.
Just stumbled on this. (2015!) Maui Wowie. I “like” MOST Valerie’s Jan 30, 11:05 PM post: “As a species, we’ve got to figure this thing out.” Um, The Thing: How to achieve a peaceful- and thus equitable- and “cosmically” (“Physicsly”) compatible world community. So’s to continue surviving and evolving. A couple of subjective terms there; just part of the deal. “Define Religion”?? Ideology. Let it go. We’ve gotta’ start listening (back and forth), and negotiating. With our unfathomably diverse homo sapient species here on our finite Planet. (Yup, I thinking our time frame is that short.) Anybody got any further ideas about how to give it a push? Anyhow, also, I’m (genuinely) curious. “Shatara46” seems to be signaling that she has some heretofore undisclosed information relevant to all this. Shatara, could you briefly outline it? Or cite a reasonably n “condensed” source to consult? And BTW, there are no “scientific fiats.” Science is a continuous process of discovering possible new insights into reality. All are Tentative. Meantime, some of them “work” for useful purposes. I.e. all of our “life infrastructure” to date.
Cheers and Bravos to Valerie and all.
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ALL religion is total BS. It’s all about Belief in the UNbelievable. Crap concocted by Stone Age (or Near-Stone Age) goat-herding idiots, used to control the masses (of Sheeple). It’s not only irrational but dangerous. It’s Ignorance in its purest form, handed down from generation to generation (usually through brainwashing). The more religious a person, the more Deluded that person (and believe me, the more they Scare me!). It ultimately boils down to Conformity which keeps these things alive as everyone apparently needs to belong to one or another cult of these crazies.
If, on the other hand, you reject religion and become an Atheist (like me!) then you automatically are a member of The Most Hated Group Of People On This Planet (according to the Pew polls). And you’re, guess what, Discriminated Against for not believing in mass-accepted BS!
As an American, if I advertised my Atheism I wouldn’t be able to run for public office (if I wanted to!), and I’d be put down by most people. Not too bad though, because if I lived in the Middle East (in Muslimland) there are a dozen Islamic countries under Sharia Law where Atheists are PUT TO DEATH simply for being Atheists! So I guess I shouldn’t complain, though in the various jobs where people found out I was a non-believer I was discriminated against: passed for promotion, raises, etc. My last 9-to-5 job amongst religious loons ended with my being framed and fired–because I casually let it slip unofficially while sitting in my car on a break that I believed in Science rather than Religion! My co-workers began to Talk and build BS atop BS until they were frightened of me and of being in my presence (it’s fun finally seeing Christians and Muslims finally getting together though in cooperation!).
In America I see Religion displacing Science. The country slowly being taken over by evangelicals thanks to the sleazy fusion of the Republican Party with the Moral Majority a generation ago (so much for separation of Church and State!). I see the world coming to an end some day most likely through an all-out religious conflict of the Christers vs. the Allaholes since both claim to have the one true god and religion and will be protected by Him whom they fight for!
The best article I’ve read on religion this year (and maybe politics as well).