The Subtle, Lethal Poison of Religion

by nvrgnbk 10 Replies latest jw friends

  • nvrgnbk

    The Subtle, Lethal Poison of Religion

    On Sunday the New York Times reported on the recrudescence of "faith-based" teaching in Russian public schools:

    A teacher named Irina Donshina set aside her textbooks, strode before her second-graders and, as if speaking from a pulpit, posed a simple question:

    "Whom should we learn to do good from?"

    "From God!" the children said.

    "Right!" Ms. Donshina said. "Because people he created crucified him. But did he accuse them or curse them or hate them? Of course not? He continued loving and feeling pity for them, though he could have eliminated all of us and the whole world in a fraction of a second."

    This grisly vignette, which almost perfectly summarizes the relationship between sadism and masochism in Christian teaching, probably wouldn't delight all those who think that morality derives from supernatural authority. After all, the Russian Orthodox Church was the patron of Czarist autocracy, helped spread The Protocols of the Elders of Zion to the West, and compromised with the Stalin regime just as it had been allied with earlier serfdom and chauvinism. It is now part of Vladimir Putin's sinister exercise in the restoration of Russian supremacism and dictatorship: an enterprise that got off to a good start when our President admired Mr. Putin's crucifix and "looked into his soul". (Question: has Putin ever been seen wearing that crucifix again, or did his cynical advisers tell him that the Leader of the Free World was such a pushover for the "faith-based" that he would never check?)

    So, and as with Salafist madrassas, it's easy to see how wicked it is to lie to children when it's done in the name of the "wrong" faith. But Ms Donshina's nonsensical propaganda is actually a mainstream statement of what the truly religious are bound to believe. Without god, how could we tell right from wrong, or learn how to do the right thing? I have never had a debate with a religious figure of any denomination, however "moderate, where this insulting question has not come up.

    Yet is it not positively immoral to argue that our elementary morality and human solidarity derive from an authority that we must simultaneously (and compulsorily) love, and also fear? Does it not degrade us in our deepest integrity to be told that we would not do a right action, or utter a principled truth, were it not for fear of punishment or hope of reward? Moreover, we are told that we begin sinful and must earn our redemption from an authority whose actions and caprices (arranging a human sacrifice in Palestine in which we had no say, for example, and informing us that we are all guilty of it) were best summarized by Fulke Greville when he remarked ruefully that we are "created sick; commanded to be sound". This abject attitude, of sickly love for the Dear Leader combined with dreadful terror of him, is in fact the origin of totalitarianism. And there is nothing ethical about that.

    I should like, for the continued vigor of this discussion, to repeat the challenge that I have several times offered the faithful in print and on the air. Can they name a moral statement or action, uttered or performed by a religious person, that could not have been uttered or performed by an unbeliever? I am still waiting, after several months, for a response to this. It carries an incidental corollary: I have also asked large and divergent audiences if they can think of a wicked action or statement that derived directly from religious faith, and you know what? There is no tongue-tied silence at THAT point. Everybody can instantly think of an example.

    I don't rest my case but I have stated it as concisely as I can and I look forward to reviewing, and replying to, anyone who might be good enough to respond.

    Christopher Hitchens is a columnist and author whose latest book is entitled “God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything."

  • Tara

    How interesting. I agree with him.

  • compound complex
    compound complex

    Hey Never:

    Great and thought-provoking read. Thanks.

    Intra-denominationally speaking, you can read an already published text of a true-believer's fervid convictions and think him a Jehovah's Witness. Then you find out it was Steve Hassan talking, a former Moony.

    I will never see the preference of the "brotherhood" - good, bad and ugly - over "worldly" people. You know, Never, there are some lovely atheists out there ...


  • CyrusThePersian

    Religion may have at one time had a purpose, as a kind of "glue" to hold societies and cultures together, but today that is no longer relevant.

    Today religion merely poisons peoples' minds to different cultures. In the past that was OK to some extent because of great distances between peoples. Today however, xenophobia as fostered by religion simply is no longer tolerable in a global society. This can be plainly seen in the hostile stance between Muslim and Christian fundamentalists.

    Christopher Hitchens is right, (even if his writing style may come across as a little bombastic) Religion has seen its usefulness come to an end. The sooner we as a society can shuck off this anachronism the better.


  • metatron

    Whoa! Slow down that dump religion freight just a second! If religion persists - against all logic-

    then there must be a severe need for it. Take a good look at Russia - they are literally a dying nation

    , losing 700K to 1 million in population a year. They are ruled by oligarchs and ex-KGB men

    (Putin criticized his electoral rivals as not ruthless enough and Russians thought it was a good point!)

    Much the same goes for countless other hopeless nations - and people.

    I will never forget or disavow the wisdom of Jesus when he said "I have many things to tell you but

    you are not able to bear them at present" This is good counsel even in politics ( or especially

    in politics!). The proper way to get rid of oppressive religion will come by means of a 'technical

    fix' in extending human lifespan and general prosperity.


  • BurnTheShips

    A Response to Hitchens' "God Is Not Great"

    Father Cantalamessa Analyzes Attack on Religion

    ROME, SEPT. 24, 2007 ( Here is the text of a commentary written by Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher of the
    Pontifical Household, in response to an essay on religion and evolution written by Christopher Hitchens.

    * * *


    A few weeks ago an anonymous benefactor saw to it that I received a free Italian edition of an essay by the Anglo-American journalist
    Christopher Hitchens, titled "God Is Not Great," subtitled "How Religion Poisons Everything" (Giulio Einaudi, Turin/New York 2007).

    I'm quite sure his aim was not to provoke me, but to help me out of the deception I find myself in as a believer and as a TV commentator
    on the Gospel.

    Let me say at once that I'm grateful to my unknown friend. Many of the author's reproaches against believers of all religions -- the book
    treats Islam no better than Christianity, which shows considerable courage on the part of the author -- are well founded, and
    must be taken seriously so that the same errors of the past are not repeated in the future. The Second Vatican Council states that the
    Christian faith can and should benefit even from the criticisms of its attackers, and this is certainly one of those cases.

    But Hitchens, in my view, makes a mountain out of every molehill. He claims to follow the Gospel principle of judging the tree by its
    fruits, but as for the tree of religion, he only considers the rotten fruits, never the good ones. The saints, the geniuses and
    benefactors given to humanity by the faith or nourished by it, count for nothing.

    Using the same principles -- I mean, by considering only the dark side of an institution -- one could write a "black book" about any of
    the great human realities: the family; medicine (just think what it was used for at Auschwitz); politics and science, and about the
    author's own profession, journalism (how many times has it been, and still is, in the service of tyrants and serving the interests of
    powerful groups!).

    No one is exempt from his criticisms. Francis of Assisi? "A mammal who was said to have preached to birds!"

    Mother Teresa of Calcutta? "An ambitious Albanian nun" made famous by the book "Something Beautiful for God," written about her by Malcolm
    Muggeridge. In other words, Mother Teresa is just one of many products of the media age!

    Pascal concludes his account of his discovery of the living God with the words: "Joy, joy, tears of joy." And C.S. Lewis describes his
    conversion as being "surprised by joy," but for Hitchens "there is something dreary and absurd" in these two authors, as in all
    believers: a fundamental absence of happiness. ("Why does such a belief not make its adherents happy?")

    Dostoyevsky is one of the main witnesses for religion, but the arguments put into the mouth of the rebel atheist Ivan are given more
    attention than those of the pious Alysosha who, as is well known, reflects much more closely the thought of the author himself.

    Tertullian becomes a "church father" so that his "credo quia absurdum" -- I believe because it is absurd -- can be interpreted as the
    thought of Christianity as a whole, whereas it is well known that when he wrote these words (here interpreted outside of their proper
    context and in an inexact way) the Church considered Tertullian a heretic.

    Strange that the author should criticize Tertullian, because if there is one apologist he resembles, like a reversed reflection in a
    mirror, it is precisely the African: The same energetic style, the same will to triumph over his adversary by burying him under a mass
    of apparently -- but only apparently -- insuperable arguments: quantity replacing quality of argument.

    An English reviewer (J. Cornwell of The Tablet) has compared the author of this book to "a tired old prizefighter throwing weary punches
    at an inert punching-bag while the true champ he'd like to duff up is absent from the gym."

    He does not demolish the true faith, but a caricature of it. Reading the book, I was reminded of the sport of clay pigeon shooting: The
    ready-made targets are hurled into the air, and the marksman, aiming his shots with fine precision, blasts them to bits effortlessly.

    Hitchens attacks the various religious fundamentalisms with an opposite kind of fundamentalism. In the Italian secular newspaper La
    Repubblica, Renzo Guolo wrote: "Hitchens' work looks like the militant manifesto of a world that appears polarized between the
    disturbing champions of fundamentalism, with their crazy projects for new, totalitarian ethical states, and the supporters of an
    integral neo-secularism which undervalues the search for meaning on which many are engaged in this age of the 'end of the

    Hitchens shows signs of another kind of fundamentalism too: Although with the opposite intention, he reads Scripture, especially the Old
    Testament, in exactly the same way as certain biblical fundamentalists of the American evangelical variety -- literally, without any
    effort to contextualize or interpret the text historically. This enables him to speak of "the nightmare of the New Testament."

    But Christopher Hitchens is an intelligent man. He foresees that religion will survive even his attack, just as it has survived countless
    others before it, and he goes to the trouble of providing an explanation for this embarrassing fact.

    "Religious faith," he writes, "precisely because we are still-evolving creatures, is ineradicable. It will never die out, or at least not
    until we get over our fear of death, and of the dark, and of the unknown, and of each other."

    Religion is only a provisional, intermediate state, connected with the situation of man as "an evolving being." Thus the author tacitly
    assumes the role of one who has single-handedly broken through this barrier, anticipating the end of evolution and "returning" to
    earth, like Nietzsche's Zarathustra, to enlighten poor mortals about the way things really are.

    I repeat: One cannot fail to acknowledge the author's extraordinary erudition and the relevance of some of his criticisms. The pity is, by
    trying to win the argument hands down, he fails to convince.

  • metatron

    "a provisional, intermediate state" with man as an "evolving being"

    Those are very wise words. I applaud them.


  • changeling

    Good one. I quite agree.

    I read his book. It's interesting but a bit redundant.


  • greendawn

    Religion is a basic human necessity, unfortunately it is always perverted and abused but still we shouldn't throw out the baby with the bath water. Perhaps one day there will be a really straight religion.

  • Gopher

    I think this saying will be true at some point in the future:

    Astrology was replaced by astronomy. Alchemy was replaced by chemistry. Religion was replaced by rational philosophy.

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