Gods Deconstructed

Beliefs and their objects, dismantled.

Archive for the month “May, 2012”

No Gods or Demons Required

Are values implanted by belief in gods? Is it necessary to believe in gods to see demons?

There was a time when most human beings believed in many gods. They ruled the world. A volcano or earthquakes was attributable to angry gods who must be appeased; if something predicted by the gods didn’t happen then it must be the fault of demons.

Gradually, the gods were displaced by belief in one god and, in Christianity anyway, demons were replaced by a single demon called Satan. In Judaism and Islam multiple demons, named shaitans, remained embedded in their beliefs. Indeed, Islam shows its belief in multiple demons in the stoning of the shaitans during the Hajj.

However, we do not need to believe in gods and demons to see gods and demons in our lives. All we need do is rename them as rights and wrongs. We can have personal rights and wrongs and society’s rights and wrongs. And, just as we find when we study religion, the two do not always have to coincide. In fact, very often they are at odds.

It is often said that Margaret Thatcher was brought up to respect the Methodist work ethic. Some call it the Protestant work ethic but it is mostly associated with Methodism. We know that Thatcher felt strongly that people should be rewarded for hard work but she also believed that hard work should be professionally and fairly applied. Looking back at the history of Methodism, though, we can see that a god was not a requirement to instil the work ethic; the work ethic was as much developed in the coffee bars of the 18th century as it was in chapels and churches. Anyway, Thatcher introduced her version of the work ethic into her politics not to please her god but because she believed it would be good for society.

As an example, we can consider the medical profession. I experienced the worst side of the medical elitism prevalent before Margaret Thatcher when one of my twin daughters was severely brain damaged during her birth. We were told that the cord was wrapped around her throat. Further investigations revealed that this was not true. My wife had been given an injection to contract her uterus before the second daughter was delivered and she was crushed inside my wife’s womb. However, not one medical specialist would agree that negligence was a contributing factor. Indeed, one said he had no intention of destroying the career of a fellow doctor and made it clear he would be a hostile witness.

A couple of years later, Margaret Thatcher handbagged the medical profession. She told doctors in no uncertain terms that they were incompetent and unprofessional and must start putting their patients first. So what had gone wrong? From the perspective of their personal rights, they had been right to put their profession first. Any failure by a doctor would put strain on the whole profession and the status and earning potential of every other doctor would be put at risk. From society’s perspective, doctors had become aloof, not caring if they treated patients fairly or not. By the time Thatcher had finished, doctors were encouraged to report incompetent or dangerous behaviour on the part of their colleagues and persuaded to understand that such behaviour made it more likely that the profession as a whole would be brought into disrepute.

Things worked well for some years but, as always happens, personal values began once again to re-emerge. This time there was no Thatcher. There was Brown, and Brown collapsed in morbid fear at the threat of a strike by GPs and handed GPs everything they had asked for. The most important thing to note in respect of this post is that Brown had also been brought up as a protestant Christian. He was supposed to have had values similar to Thatcher’s instilled in him; instead, rather than his values coinciding with society’s, his values were based on his personal survival as a politician.

Having rid themselves of polytheism and embraced monotheism, humans are now able, if sufficiently mature, to rid themselves of gods completely. Gods and demons can be replaced by recognising that rights and wrongs are values which can be personal or societal and that the two can conflict. If any, then, which set of values, personal or societal, are more important?

Humans are creatures which have survived and multiplying by cooperating. A single human could not hunt and kill a mammoth but a group of humans could. A single human male might compete with another for the attentions of a human female but could not promise to feed his conquest by himself. And without supplying food he and his mate could not survive.

It appears, then, that the story of Jesus was wrong to concentrate on the individual. Sure, the individual is important and should be respected but if individual, personal values are allowed to erode society’s values then the very survival of the human race is put at risk. We do not need to believe in gods and demons to see the value of that.

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Women in Islam

Primitive as it may sound, fear is used to control women in the fastest growing religion in the world. Although some enlightened Islamic scholars teach that men and women were created equal, all too often Muslims are instructed to believe that women are mere receptacles for the seed only men receive from Allah. Many Muslims are also taught that women cannot exist by themselves but must be owned by a man, first by their fathers and later by their husbands.

As Muslims are required to use birth as a form of warfare, to ensure the world is eventually populated by Muslims, women are expected to be pregnant for the majority of their reproductive lives. A woman’s life in Islam is still too often a life of drudgery and danger, with many women succumbing to death during childbirth.

Young women who see the freedom women in the West enjoy and want it for themselves are in particular danger. Women who disobey the man who owns them are often considered to have left Islam, to have become apostates. A true Muslim is considered to have a duty to kill all apostates, hence the many reports of young women disappearing or being murdered by their families. I can feel nothing but sympathy for a woman who chooses obedience over death.

In a few Islamic states, women do have a better life now but it has been a hard and costly fight to gain the rights and respect they deserve.

An introduction to the role of women in Islam can be found at http://www.islamswomen.com/.

Gods Disconnected: Secular Power

It’s not that long ago that the leaders, or more often the leader, of a particular religion held immense power over the governments and political elite of many countries of the world. In fact, it was often the case that political leaders were expected to serve a significant role within the religious establishment of a country.

Even today, religion has a major role in, for example, the British monarchy. Although the situation is beginning to change, the Church of England still expects the monarch to be a member of the Church and to undergo an investiture which is presided over by the Church leader. To cap it all, the religious elite of the Anglican church, the archbishops and bishops, have privileged and reserved seats within the second chamber, the House of Lords.

Since the enlightenment, some countries have managed to shake off the yoke of religious privilege, most notably France and, to a lesser extent, the United States. In the case of the United States, however, the separation of church and state is constantly under attack by those who desire power without the limitations of putting themselves forward for election.

In too many countries church and state are still very much part and parcel of the same institution. Religious leaders have the power to insist that politicians cannot rule without the overseeing presence of the established religion. What is the established religion? It is the religion with the most followers or the religion which ensures it is established by using threats of physical violence and intimidation.

Even within religions, however, there are differences of opinion. Take Islam. Sunni Islam allows politicians to be elected on their own merit whereas Shia Islam demands that the political head of the country must come from within the religious hierarchy. ‌Within Christianity there are differences. The Catholic Church insists that a Catholic country must take the pope as it’s ‘spiritual’ leader and that the political leaders must abide by Catholic doctrine. The protestant church allows more leeway in the direction political leaders take a country, as long as church leaders are consulted over matters they consider moral or spiritual.

In recent years, people of many countries have decided that they no longer want to be ruled by dogma and have told church leaders they are not interested. However, this situation can never be considered absolute. Members of church congregations are told by their leaders to harry the public and politicians, to insist that religious leaders have their lost status reinstated. In the ongoing battle, intolerant attitudes towards ethnic, sexual and religious minorities are re-emerging.

There is something of significance to note here. Rarely are the arguments about gods and/or what gods want. Spiritual to a certain extent, often taking the form of: you can live a spiritual life without materialism; give your money to the church and free yourselves from want. No, the arguments are not about gods but about religious leaders taking, or retaking, power over the secular world. In their efforts to gain power over the secular world, religions’ leaders have disconnected their own gods.

Obama’s rebellion deserves pulpit rebuttal

Obama’s rebellion deserves pulpit rebuttal (OneNewsNow.com).

What a brilliant example of the reasons I found belief in gods so destructive. Obama said nothing that could be construed as calling people to rebel against any sort of god or religious text. What he actually said was that he supports marriage between people of the same sex.

OK, so some characters in the Bible show their prejudice against what we now call gays and lesbians. We could argue that they didn’t know any better, especially Saul/Paul, but is that true? The Greeks were well traveled throughout what we laughingly call the Holy Land – and one thing the Greeks knew quite a lot about was nature. As a Roman, Saul/Paul was almost certain to have met Greek travelers and philosophers. Unlike the Greek masses, what Romans called ‘the mob’, many learned and wealthy Greek and Roman men are well-reported to have had a penchant for young males. And women were not to be left out, as the few texts that remain of Sappho’s work attest.

It was reported that Socrates was made to drink hemlock because he was leading young men astray. However, homosexuality was well-known among men of Socrates status so that was obviously a concocted charge. No, Socrates was put to death because of his ‘infernal’ questioning of Greek society and values. In fact, from all accounts Socrates was as open-minded and forgiving as Jesus was said to have been. So where did the prejudice arise?

Given the clues within the Bible, together with archaeological evidence and the translation of hieroglyps, we can tell that the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt, if it actually happened, must have been during the reign of Ra-meses the Great. That places the Exodus at around 1350 bce, somewhat before Greek civilization became established and well-known, i think it is admissible for the Israelites to have developed their own prejudices against homosexuality for a couple of possible reasons. Could they have been a reaction to Egyptian beliefs, which are thought to have included the requirement that the Pharaoh masturbate a statue of Ra to ensure the sun returned each morning? Could they have been a reaction to the small number of Israelites who would have been around at the time of the exodus (unlike the implication in the Bible, the Israelites are now known to have been a small tribe of nomads who eventually settled in what is now known as Israel)? Such a small tribe would be likely to have insisted that homosexuality was frowned on because of the need to increase the population as quickly as possible. We are still unable to prove conclusively what caused the rise of homosexual prejudice, we probably never will, but we can make educated guesses.

What we can be sure of is that Saul/Paul is the writer who was most responsible for establishing the prejudice against gays and lesbians we see from Christians today.

So far I haven’t mentioned personal preference. It is often apparent that some men and women are violently opposed to homosexual behaviour because they just do not lkike it. Personally, I’m not bothered whether my friends are gay or straight; I have friends who are gay, friends who are straight – I am straight, by the way – and I feel at ease with either. I also know both gays and straights who I feel are total shits and I wouldn’t have them as friends if the end of the world was nigh. No, I have an equal opportunities attitude to my friends and enemies.

That wasn’t the way I was brought up, however. As a child I knew no-one who was gay; being homosexual was illegal. For reasons I will not go into here, I was encouraged to feel antipathy towards gays. And until I learned the difference between gays and paedophiles I knew no better.

The most important thing is that I learned to open my mind and reject, especially religious, authority and bigotry. I taught myself not to be afraid of gays and lesbians by being amongst them and learning that they are human beings just like myself, except with different sexual preferences. What I will no longer do is try to impose my own beliefs and prejudices on other people

To me, those who try to impose their own prejudices on homosexual men and women, especially by claiming their religion requires it, are more contemptible than I have words to describe. And to claim that Obama is against religion because he is more open-minded and less bigoted than extreme Christians is worse than contemptible. It is pathetic.

About the writer …

I was pretty much agnostic until the death of my father and one of my daughters within a month of each other. A relative said I should read the Bible for comfort. For the first time in my life I studied the Bible intensely. Part way through, I thought: who on earth could believe such rubbish? How could a homicidal maniac who implored his chosen people to smash the heads of their enemies’ children against a wall be, at the same time, a loving, personal god. I read the Koran, and decided it was the most foul and bloodthirsty tome, imploring genocide and world-domination. After that, I decided that all religions are man-made excuses for excluding those who do not conform to the philosophies developed by a cacophony of leaders over the centuries. My atheism was born.

I am now an iconoclast. I would rather question and destroy traditional political philosophies than support a particular idea. It is for others to build new philosophies from the ruins of the old.

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