Thursday, 21 July 2011

The God Delusion


I read this book some months ago, having blown my cover too many times to recall, and with Ramadan I found it difficult to post this before now, I have decided to do so but to my regular visitors a warning
As the title implies, if you are devout believer in God or Gods you may well find this post offensive, so please click away now.
To the casual reader this post is very long, and very wordy.

When I first started to question faith I did so from a selfish viewpoint, the faiths I had grown up with and specifically the one I was expected to follow left much to be desired, in my view at least with regards to the position of females in society, many would argue my conclusions but let us leave those discussions for now.

Having rejected some of the elements of the religion it seemed logical to start questioning others, and rather quickly thereafter to conclude that the whole “message” was a hoax, a very good one but nonetheless a hoax.

And at that point I felt a great sense of relief.

What a load of time I had saved, I didn’t need to read the whole convoluted and confusing text and argue each verse and all its possible explanations to find the errors, or go through each ritual and track back its roots in the ancient history of the people of the region, or delve into several assertions of miraculous pre-scientific knowledge hidden in text and prove their errors.

I did not need to do any of this for myself, and frankly that was all that mattered. It was never in my plan to change to world, or collect converts; it was sufficient for me to find that my doubts had co-sharers, and that there were many more logical alternatives to the angels and the eternal damnation.

But when the ground beneath our feet is dissolving, when our entity, our past, our life-long truths are being eroded, and in the name of a variety of versions of a single religion millions of our people are being displaced, tortured, massacred and worse, those close to me all seem to be trying to make sense of the events by concerted effort to further their knowledge in the religion itself (and embracing it even more wholeheartedly) or in the history of the region.

Every house I visit shows the evidence, the books abound, the history of Al Hajjaj, the history of the Abassids, the history of the Inquisition, the history of Islam, and the history of Iraq written by all manner of authors.

I even found a book published by some American church funded organisation called “What is the difference” which is a set of arguments to use against followers of other religions to convince them of the superiority of Christianity.

After resisting for a while I also succumbed.

True to form however I was more interested in why people follow religions in the first place rather than which of the selection of religions, sub religions, sects, and sub sects is the truer version of God’s message.

I started with a book in Arabic written in 1931 by Iraqi poet Maroof Al-Rusafi, and published in 2003, the premise of the book titled the Mohamadian persona was to very politely and rather apologetically suggest that maybe, just maybe Mohamed was only a genius, the greatest genius ever to have stepped forth on this magnificent earth to be sure, but maybe only a genius, and that the Almighty in all his greatness although clearly having all the wondrous features described by the genius Mohammed, maybe just maybe had not really said all those things in the Koran.
The method used was to do the whole “look here, in this bit of this Sura the grammar is odd, in this line of this Aya He surely cannot mean this because that would mean that” and so on.

I found it very hard going, and was unable to complete the book.

A book I managed to complete recently was published in 2006, by Richard Dawkins titled The God delusion.

From a Christian background and with a career in evolutionary biology, the author argues his case that not only is God a delusion but that religion is a force of great evil. The book relies very heavily on the theory of evolution; the concept is that if science can refute the religious idea of creationism then the belief in God should just dissolve.

It is not an easy read, and as I read late at night when my concentration is less than perfect I needed to read several sections repeatedly, and did not entirely follow the logic behind some of the chemistry and physics origins of earth sections.

The stated goal of the book is to “raise consciousness” in four separate elements.

1. To make people aware that they can question, and that ultimately they can leave “their” religions, yet remain happy, balanced, moral and intellectually fulfilled.

2. That if evolution is accepted as an explanation for all the incredible variety past and present in living creatures on earth, then it is likely that in time physics and chemistry will prove that the non living elements around us also evolved rather than were necessarily “created” by a super-powerful God / Gods of religions.

3. That to indoctrinate children in parental religious belief is a form of child abuse, and that we should all of us flinch whenever we hear a phrase such as “Catholic child “or “Muslim child” instead of a “child of Muslim parents”.

4. That being an atheist is something to be proud of, it nearly always indicated a healthy independence of mind.

I have no problem with his first three conscious raisers, and in this book I found another; the non-benign nature of “Non-fundamentalist, sensible religion, which may not be damaging young minds, but it is making the world safe for fundamentalist by teaching children, from their earliest years, that unquestioning faith is a virtue”

I am not convinced with his fourth statement mainly because it is arrogant.

The book has been reviewed by both sides of the argument elsewhere, I would like to quote some sections I especially liked.

“American polls suggest that atheists and agnostics far outnumber religious Jews, and even outnumber most other particular religious groups. Unlike Jews, however who are notoriously one of the most effective political lobbies in the United States, and unlike Evangelical Christians, who wield even greater political power, atheist and agnostics are not organized and therefore exert almost zero influence. Indeed organizing atheists has been compared to herding cats, because they tend to think independently and will not conform to authority.”

So there you have it, herd the American atheists and America will stop meddling in our affairs.

“God is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction; jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust unforgiving control freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sado-masochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”

Although this description of the God in the religious textbooks is true, this is the sort of description used to soften one up, usually before waging war against the people of this unpleasant character, often a war wrapped in a few “ we have no problems with the people, just the leader” pacifiers.

Sociologists studying British children have found that only about one in twelve break away from their parents’ religious beliefs.

Hopeless then! In fact this is rather frightening if you think how followers of orthodox forms of the three monotheistic religions place such importance on hyper-reproduction.

Why do we so readily accept the idea that the one thing you must do if you want to please God is believe in him? What’s so special about believing? Isn’t it just as likely that God would reward kindness, or generosity, or humility, or sincerity? What if God is a scientist who regards honest seeking after truth is the supreme virtue? Indeed wouldn’t the designer of the universe have to be a scientist?
Why should God value dishonestly faking belief or even honest belief over honest scepticism?

Now this bit I liked very much, oh the arrogance of us scientists!

In his intriguing argument of natural selection being more likely than design as the producer of the variety of living creatures and their wonderfully complex organs I liked the “Climbing Mountain Improbable” argument, so if you imagine a mountain with a structure of complexity or great beauty being the summit, the design theory for creation requires that the summit is reached in a massive jump from the ground and requires the workings of a God, however, rather neatly evolution goes round the back of the mountain and creeps up the gentle slope in small steps.

The message from the intelligent design theory to the scientist: If you don’t understand how something works, never mind; just give up and say God did it. You don’t know how the nerve impulse works? Good! Please don’t go on to work on the problem, just give up and appeal to God.

I can imagine many imams sympathising with this train of thought.

Though the details differ across the world, no known culture lacks some version of the time-consuming, wealth-consuming, hostility-provoking rituals, the anti-factual, counter-productive fantasies of religion.
The old Northern Ireland joke “Yes but are you a protestant atheist or a catholic atheist” is spiked with bitter truth.

So true, except in our case the joke will start with: and before I behead you for being an atheist are you……?

It made very interesting reading, although it answered some of my questions about the how and why of religion, it did not really convince me strongly to stop my agnostic-atheist-agnostic indecision.

I have for some time felt that (giving people the benefit of doubt) the three Middle Eastern religions were started as social experiments in reform, based on human ideas of right and wrong, which have in common this singular mighty God as the filler of all gaps in knowledge and trump card used to answer all unfathomable questions. That in itself does not mean there are no beings out there who are more intelligent or more powerful than us, although they did not create us, nor have any interest in our daily activities, they may have mistakenly made contact with earthlings and hence the whole Gods in the sky stories (you can see I have watched way too much Star Trek).

What I had lazily wanted, and unsurprisingly did not find was the absolute scientific proof for the absence of God. I admit my expectations were unrealistic, after several thousands of years of argument and counter argument it was unlikely that I would find the proof in a paperback from Waterstones.

The book puts forward several arguments for the low probability of His existence, but because all the scientific evidence is not available yet, it resorts to luck or chance repeatedly to explain away certain tricky questions, maybe statistically more likely than a God but I am not a mathematician, and struggled to understand it all so I suspect the vast majority of people would still hedge their bets and go for what the elders told them was the truth rather than what a few scientists say – this propensity to believe our parents and elders is of course a very useful evolutionary feature, and also makes religious belief so easy to spread and is dealt with in some detail in the book.

What this book, alongside a couple of documents I received by email after a previous posting, and the chance discovery of the blog of a well respected and internationally renowned British colleague who is “praying for the salvation of Christians from the damaging effect of Islam” and “is preparing for the imminent return of Jesus” did, was raise my consciousness to the similarities between the delusional thought process going on in some very intelligent and occasionally very powerful American and British Christian minds and those going on in some Muslim minds.

I respect the fact that the main arguments of the author are kept within Christianity, it is an uncomfortable truth that even someone like myself will feel a stirring of indignation if non-Muslims have a go at Islam while putting forward their alternative religion as being so much more peaceful / more genuine / more progressive etc. and also why I was initially so impressed by Ibn Warraq’s “Why I am not a Muslim” when I read it several years ago (although I wonder about the motivation of someone who goes on to write a book called In Defence of the West).

One thing that intrigued me about the book, and even more so about the author's website was an uncomfortable sense of the absolute conviction of Richard Dawkins and his followers in the superiority of his theories.

It reminded me of the absolute conviction I have seen in so many religious people, the superiority of their faith and often fatally the superiority of their sect, I have never understood how people can quite happily ridicule the rituals of yearly visits to burial places, from the lofty height of the “superior” ritual of anual pilgrimage to a gold draped meteorite, or how people can confidently assert that a book written two thousand years ago was clearly altered, from the altogether more solid position of leading their lives and condemning others on the basis of the actions or words of a man conveyed verbally for a few hundred years.

Although clearly conviction in scientifically proven fact is different “ fundamentalist know they are right because they have read the truth in a holy book and they know, in advance, that nothing will budge them from their belief…..When a science book is wrong, somebody eventually discovers the mistake and it is corrected in subsequent books. That conspicuously doesn’t happen with holy books” and science can repeatedly and with ease that increases with time refute religious myths, this has not yet made much difference to the proportion of the world’s population who still follow one of the three religious “gifts” our part of the world has given to mankind.

It is fascinatingly irritating how the exact word of God is extremely flexible at times, allowing a variety of interpretations of a piece of text when the literal meaning is proven wrong “well the six / seven days were never meant to be taken literally, it is symbolic” whereas when it comes to other parts of text they must be obeyed to the letter and offenders must be punished in “literally the way God states” and no we cannot change this because we cannot possible know any better!

Human knowledge has not yet reached the point of scientifically refuting the existence of God, in time it may well be able to do so but whether that will change the course of humanity is another matter.

Richard Dawkins presented a BBC programme last year titled “The root of all evil” and in this book he asserts that the world would be a better place without religion “imagine no 9/11, no Israel-Palestinian conflict, no Northern Ireland conflict etc”, elsewhere in the book Richard Dawkins is fairly certain that all the problems in Northern Ireland would be over in a decade if it weren’t for separate schools and rarity of mixed marriages, well as is clear in my country where previously one third of marriages were inter-sect, and as far as I am aware there were no such things as sect specific schools none of this protected people from worse fates than those seen in Northern Ireland.

Returning to my point about the superiority of personally held belief, I think it is this very human failing of arrogance (of which I am as guilty as the next person) rather than the religion itself that is the root of all the human suffering caused in the name of ideas, whether they cloak themselves with religious mythology or admit that they are the brain child of social reformers, or just plain power greedy mind manipulators.

Because this conviction in the superiority of personally held belief is such a widespread human character, according to evolution it must have some very powerful survival advantage.

This is my simplistic thinking; I am sure others will improve upon them.
I suppose if you have no maps, no aerial views of the world and yet you build your boat and set sail, because contrary to everyone else’s opinion you are absolutely sure there is land beyond the water you make the survival of your genetic makeup more likely if you are proven right, so the gene for conviction survives, likewise any of a whole host of human discoveries that at the time must have seemed magical or fanciful, the ability of human beings to be absolutely convinced they are right based on a hunch or subjective evidence or even occasionally without a shred of evidence has on the whole probably meant we have advanced our knowledge, and thus our chances of survival, it is in some occasions an evolutionary advantage for people to be absolutely sure they are right.

It may be the terrible but unavoidable price we pay for this advantage of arrogance “misfiring into arrogance of the superiority of personal delusion” that millions of people need to die for, or as innocent bystanders of “holy” wars fought by others in the name of these firmly held delusions also called religions.

In time I suppose humans will evolve out of this monotheistic version of the delusion, just as we evolved out of all the other ancient religions. However history tells us that in the meantime what tends to happen is the replacement of one religion or ideology with another more “modern” or more “pure” version of the religion / ideology which spreads - to quote the author – “like a mind virus” spontaneously, or at least when its’ followers kill off enough of the dissenters.

Who knows maybe the Darwin / Dawkins arguments will be the new religion, but I dread to think of all the rituals and fanciful stories woven by the followers of the enlightened prophet Darwin and his great disciple Dawkins (and their sons and rightful heirs displaced by someone else) fighting those “non-believers” in a few hundred years time!

saminkie said...
You said you questioned your faith from a selfish point of view, and I wanna say that what you did was the right thing. You got to view your religion (and other religions) selfishly, or if you like to use a better word, egocentrically, or use the sentence (from a personal point of view) to be deplomatic.

Regarding the word, a hoax, am not that good in english but doesn't mean deception? That implies that the religious men/women and prophets knew that it is wrong. I thinkl they really believe of their religion…most of prophets (I think) believed thathey were prophets…they did not attempt to decieve..but…whether they were true or wrong..this is the question..

Anthropology was the science that gave me the best explanations about religion and why people follow religions in the first palce as you qeustioned…and you know what?...i think it was in Iraq where it all started, there in the south, in the marches, where the 4 rivers of the sumerian heaven that it all started, you can see how much is taken from sumerian stories and ideas into the mandies (sade2a manda2eyoun) religion and then to other religions…it is a heritage of believes changing over thousands of years….

3eeraqimedic thank you for that frank bright courageous post…
31 October 2007 07:54

saminkie said...
Am reading these days TOTEM AND TABOO of Sigmund Freud and it is about the origins of Taboos…and believe me 3eeraqimedic it is more enjoyful to read Freud than to read Richard Dawkins, cause I think Einstein had made physics inaccessable to the nonprofessionals in physics and after him all professionals in physics and related things like richard Dawkins is really tuisting the mind in a bizzar way…I think many of them have some mental bizzaries…some schizotypal traits…(that doesn't mean psychiatrists and psychologists are not bizzare sometimes, Freud himself is neurotic)…
31 October 2007 07:54

saminkie said...
Did you hear about the God gene?
31 October 2007 07:55

3eeraqimedic said...
Dear Sami
I had transiently forgotten your interest in world religions, well thank you for "publicly" commenting on this post, selfish / egocentric both do not sound very complimentary.

As far as the hoax is concerned I felt that I had been tricked hence the use of the word.
Only the people themselves whether prophets disciples or religious leaders can know whether they genuinely believe what they say, or realise they are deceiving people but think it is in their best interest, or deceive them intending to gain from the deception, I did go on later to say that they probably were social reformers who used the tools available at the time to spread their ideas.
And yes religions are all our fault and boy are we paying the price!

I must admit I have not read Freud possibly because I had pre-judged him as rather single-minded!! I will take your advice though.

And finally no I have not heard of the God gene, is that some gene that makes you more likely to be religious? But I will look it up.
31 October 2007 21:10

Little Penguin said...

Like Saminkie, I applaud your willingness to discuss a subject of this scale in front of people. When it comes to matters like this, there's nothing to be ashamed of. It's those sheep who are spoon-fed their beliefs that should snap out of their intellectual siesta and start thinking for themselves.

Many will (and have) been offended by this post, but I didn't. If anything, it shows you've got a functioning intellect..

The question of the need for religion can be tackled from endless viewpoints.. Marx said it's an opium of the masses.. Weber says it's a remedy for times of distress.. He says this and he says that.. Personally, I feel that I can't afford to rely on my very own moral evolution to come to a conclusion as to what is right and what is wrong. I can't live half a century and then realise that I should've done something differently.. Religion, albeit restrictive for the vast majority, is necessary for the smooth functioning of human societies.

Be it an indefinable superpower that defies logic and physics and metaphysics and chemistry and all that - or a wooden horse.. both will do their bit to maintain some sort of social order.. How just and reasonable and socially satisfying this authority is depends on the kind of regulations that it serves to maintain.. Hindus categorise people in accordance to their castes, some Muslims are so matriarchal is disgusting, some Christians are so celibate they turn into peadophiles - these aspects of religion are unpleasant indeed, but that shouldn't be anyone's excuse to claim the absolute rebuttal of the need for a religion..

In any case, it's not purely a question of texts and miracles and praying and starving .. it certainly involves a degree of intuitive desire to cling onto something beyond our comprehension..

I would go on but i've an anthropology essay to finish..


P.S: hope you liked the Iraq poem..
14 November 2007 19:32

Little Penguin said...
sorry.. patriarchal.. certainly not matriarchal.
14 November 2007 19:43

3eeraqimedic said...
Little Penguin
Well well I had you down as one ptential offendee (is that a real word?) pray tell me who did I ofend? or at least tell them I am sorry, but I have never hidden my position regarding religion on this blog (although in the real world it is another matter)
One of the things that Richard Dawkins stresses repeatedly is that just because we need a delusion does not make it any less of a delusion, and although rules are clearly needed for functioning society why follow illogical or even potentially dangerous rules?
Beyond our comprehension I can accept, but I just can't square that with the messages as allegedly sent by such a powerful being.
Dear me I should have just stuck with my original "At this point I had a great sense of relief" and stopped there!
15 November 2007 00:19

Comment deleted
This post has been removed by a blog administrator.
17 December 2007 02:38

3eeraqimedic said...
An open message to visitors
Do not use my site as an advertising tool for your “oh so innocent” little campaigns for “modernising Islam” which include rewriting history to suit your whims and fancies, trying to erase crimes committed by Christians and Jews and criminalising freedom fighters and national patriots.


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