Lions and tigers and religion, oh my!
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31-08-2011, 09:08 PM (This post was last modified: 31-08-2011 09:41 PM by Ghost.)
RE: Lions and tigers and religion, oh my!
Hey, BnW.

Take them at whatever speed you want. But the focus is currently on religion to the exclusion of everything else. I’m not saying don’t deal with religion. I'm not saying solve the holistic problem or nothing. I'm saying there IS a holistic problem that is being ignored. It’s the ignoring it part that is of concern. You can say that most sane people don't think that ridding ourselves of religion will solve all of our ills and that might even be true, but those same people aren't touching the holistic problem or any subset thereof. If some people are focusing on cancer and some on AIDS, that's fine. But if everyone is focused on Cancer, regardless of if they think ridding ourselves of cancer will solve all our problems or not, AIDS is still being ignored. And yes, some people do think ridding ourselves of religion will solve all of our ills, or at least believe that we'll be able to solve our ills once it's gone.

I'll absolutely give you the fact that many of those nasty things you mentioned might not be taken up by whatever would, hypothetically speaking, come after religion were it eliminated. But if they just shift those abuses to other areas, then what have we truly gained?

Quote:But, it certainly makes it a lot more difficult to convince people to commit some of the atrocities we've seen throughout human history.

It won't. Because the mechanism used to convince them is not unique to religion. Don't get me wrong, it'll be a great quick fix. It might even last a while. Five years. Ten. A hundred. Who knows? But it can't last. It's like the scorpion and the frog. The scorpion will eventually sting the frog. Because that's its nature.

Hey, Nontheocrat.

Quote:"With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion."

The problem is that while that sounds good, it's demonstrably false. Zimbardo confirmed that. Milgram tells us it's false. Developmental psychology tells us it's false:

Quote:During and shortly after puberty human beings have an indubitable tendency to loosen their allegiance to all traditional rites and social norms of their culture, allowing conceptual thought to cast doubt on their value and to look around for new and perhaps more worthy ideals. There probably is, at that time of life, a definite sensitive period for a new object-fixation, much as in the case of the object-fixation found in animals and called imprinting. If at that critical time of life old ideals prove fallacious under critical scrutiny and new ones fail to appear, the result is complete aimlessness, the utter boredom which characterizes the young delinquent. If, on the other hand, the clever demagogue, well versed in the dangerous art of producing supranormal stimulus situations, gets hold of young people at the susceptible age, he finds it easy to guide their object-fixation in a direction subservient to his political aims…The instinctive need to be the member of a closely knit group fighting for common ideals may grow so strong that it becomes inessential what these ideals are and whether they possess any intrinsic value…

The process of object-fixation has consequences of an importance that can hardly be overestimated. It determines neither more nor less than that which a man will live for, struggle for, and, under certain circumstances, blindly go to war for. It determines the conditioned stimulus situation releasing a powerful phylogenetically evolved behavior which I propose to call that of militant enthusiasm…

In reality, militant enthusiasm is a specialized form of communal aggression, clearly distinct from and yet functionally related to the more primitive forms of petty individual aggression. Every man of normally strong emotions knows, from his own experience, the subjective phenomena that go hand in hand with the response of militant enthusiasm. A shiver runs down the back and, as more exact observation shows, along the outside of both arms. One soars elated, above all the ties of everyday life, one is ready to abandon all for the call of what, in the moment of this specific emotion, seems to be a scared duty. All obstacles in its path become unimportant; the instinctive inhibitions against hurting or killing one’s fellows lose, unfortunately, much of their power. Rational considerations, criticism, and all reasonable arguments against the behaviour dictated by militant enthusiasm are silenced by an amazing reversal of all values, making them appear not only untenable but base and dishonorable. Men may enjoy the feeling of absolute righteousness even while they commit atrocities. Conceptual though and moral responsibility are at their lowest ebb. As a Ukrainian proverb says: “When the banner is unfurled, all reason is in the trumpet.”
-Konrad Lorenz, “On Aggression,” pages 267-269.

This is the problem I have. People say religion is the problem and accept that as the explanation.

Peace and Love and Empathy,

Matt
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01-09-2011, 07:19 AM
RE: Lions and tigers and religion, oh my!
I'm still at a loss to understand what your point is. I understand your argument, but what's your point? Are you proposing we do something? Nothing? Or is this just an academic debate?

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01-09-2011, 08:12 AM
RE: Lions and tigers and religion, oh my!
Ghost,

I see part of what you are saying, most people in religion who do bad things do them because of other factors deeper than that. For example priests who molest children would be child molesters whether they had the church to protect them or not.

But the delusion, evil doctrines and desire for theocracy within modern religion are real and something I can do something about. In my child molesting priest example, the church is still evil for protecting the priests regardless of whether they caused the molestation. I will not throw up my hands and ignore the churches guilt because other factors are involved.

I don't think anyone here is under the illusion that removing religion from the world would make the Earth a paradise. But that doesn't mean we should give religion a pass.

I am with BnW here, I am at a loss for what you are trying to acheive with this post. Are you asking us all to leave religion alone and only pursue other evils?

I don't think we are ignoring that other problems exist in the world, but we are on an atheist discussion board, what did you think we would discuss here, needlepoint?

“There is no sin except stupidity.” Oscar Wilde
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01-09-2011, 09:44 AM
RE: Lions and tigers and religion, oh my!
Hey, Nontheocrat.

You're at a loss because despite repeated an implicit statements reaffirming that I am NOT saying give religion a pass, or let it off the hook, or ignore it, you think that's exactly what I'm saying. I have no remedy for that.

Honestly, I have no idea how to be clearer. And I think that the reaction to this idea has simply proven the idea.

People feel THAT religion is a problem. And I agree. But people can't say WHY religion is a problem. They kill people, they suppress inquiry, they convert the unwilling, they terrorise young children with visions of fire and brimstone are THE problems but they're not WHY the problems happen. THAT these things happen doesn't explain WHY they happen. So saying religion is a problem because these things happen is just all on the surface. To understand why they happen, goes my contention, you need to understand the larger context because there are mechanisms that all subsets of the larger context share that cause these problems. To me, this is all just rational inquiry and yes, I think that's more discussion-worthy on an Atheist forum than needlepoint.

Hey, BnW.

Something. More than what's being done now. I also want people to understand the larger picture and how it impacts the smaller picture and how expanding the effort helps not only the smaller picture, but is simply more effective.

Peace and Love and Empathy,

Matt
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01-09-2011, 10:22 AM
RE: Lions and tigers and religion, oh my!
Ghost,

I apologize for my prior misunderstanding. You have asked a much deeper question than I realized. I think I finally get it. Who knows I can be really dense at times.

Have you read "The God Virus" by Darrell Ray? He posits that ideas propagate and evolve similar to a virus and behave in a human as a parasitic infection. Much of the evil religion does could be looked at as mutations for self preservation. Of course the analogy can be taken too far, but it is an interesting idea.

“There is no sin except stupidity.” Oscar Wilde
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01-09-2011, 12:35 PM
RE: Lions and tigers and religion, oh my!
Hey, Nontheocrat.

Eureka!

That's awesome, dude.

I haven't read The God Virus but I am very passionate about memetics. I think the virus theory is crap (I'm familiar with it). It's about as reasonable as Eugenics. In the first place, memes are more like endosymbionts (just like our genes) than a parasitic infection and furthermore, this idea that some memes (the "wrong" ones) are like parasites and other memes (the "right" ones) are Jim dandy is just gobbledygook. Really, it's like saying that the gene for dark skin is a parasitic infection. That's retarded. Ideas do propagate and they absolutely evolve. That's memetic theory. But the virus thing is just a hackneyed attempt to use memetic theory in an overtly partisan way and in a way that completely misunderstands and misrepresents memetics. It hucksterism and it doesn't stand up to the most cursory scrutiny.

That being said, memes do play a strong role in all of this. But as a geneticist must call shenanigans on Eugenics, a memeticist must call shenanigans on this virus crap.

An example of how memes influence hierarchical organisations is that a meme like, say, unlimited growth, means that you're always trying to grow. So a religion with the unlimited growth meme might express that by going forth and constantly trying to convert people. But if they’re also power maximisers, then they’d be indifferent to what methods they used and to the ramifications of those methods because the goal is not just growth, but as much growth as possible as quickly as possible. If they gotta cut corners, or go for the jugular, so be it. The only governor on what methods they use is context (there’s no way the Catholic Church could get away with the Inquisition today because the context is different). A power maximising corporation with the unlimited growth meme acts exactly how they do today because they are all actually that thing. Corporations like Goldman Sachs happily collapsed the economy in search of maximising (profit) growth. Then there's Canada Post. It's a hierarchical organisation with a mandate: provide postal service for all Canadians. It will expand its operations so that it can meet that target, but it will happily cease expanding once the mandate is met. It doesn't have the unlimited growth meme and it’s not a power maximiser. But everything is in place because of its structure. Privatise it and see what happens. It becomes no different than UPS; a growth obsessed power maximiser.

Another more obvious influence of memes is, we believe in Christ, we believe in Allah, we believe that the God idea is harmful. Those three memes have extremely high representations in the Christian, Islamic and Anti-Theist meme pools. They both define those three social groups and make them (pretty much) incompatible with one another. If they’re not power maximisers and if a meme like, to each their own, is widespread in all three meme pools, then there’s no issue aside from the fact that the three social groups are simply in competition with each other; competition being absolutely normal. But if they’re power maximisers and if we find the meme, everyone must be made to live like us, poof, you got all the fixins for a pretty intractable zero-sum conflict.

When you look at things through the lens of hierarchical organisation, it becomes clear that the very powerful dynamic between memes, power, context and hierarchical structure is the root cause of everything shitty a hierarchical organisation does. Seriously, name it and I’ll show how.

Peace and Love and Empathy,

Matt
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01-09-2011, 12:53 PM
RE: Lions and tigers and religion, oh my!
So Ghost,

What would you say is the WHY behind religion being the problem?

I believe that religion was invented as a take-over of myth in order to propagate political power. ie MYTH + POLITICS = RELIGION

I would say then that religion becomes corrupted by the power of political rule. I have seen several examples of ministers who started as individuals who only want to help but become corrupt as they gain stature in their church.

Nothing is ever solely explained by such a simple answer, but I do think it is one of several WHY's in the mix.

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01-09-2011, 02:05 PM
RE: Lions and tigers and religion, oh my!
Hey, nontheocrat.

(I'll be perfectly honest. This conversation has opened up some new territory for me/forced me to be more specific than previously. So I apologise for any sloppy defining.)

Quote:What would you say is the WHY behind religion being the problem?

Well, I think it's reasonable to say that there are categories of religion. That being said, the WHY is that an organisation like, say, the Catholic Church is a power maximising hierarchy.

That’s generally speaking. I have more specific answers for more specific problems.

Creation stories are a universal trait of human societies. There isn't a single society on the planet that when asked how things came to be this way, they answer, "I dunno."

An organisation like the Catholic Church has done nothing special. Creation stories (and by extension, religions) are always an integral part of a social group's power structure. To have power is to have control of concentrations of three forces: authority, influence and coercion. What the religion is comprised of, memes, simply influences how power is used. Context influences how power can be used. And hierarchical organisation allows for much greater concentrations of power. When you have a hierarchy, with tremendous power, a belief system that extols power maximisation as a virtue and a context which allows them to do so, you have an explosive combination.

So while I don't think that I agree that religion was invented, but rather evolved, there is absolutely a relationship between story, politics and religion.

The reason they say that absolute power corrupts absolutely is because the more power an individual has, the more likely they are to exercise at least a portion of it, meaning they can do things the couldn't if they didn't have power. Then there's also the influence of context, memes and hierarchical structure itself. The higher you are on the ladder, the more power you have and the more pressures there are to exercise it and the greater the personal advantage when you do exercise it. Also, generally speaking, the more you exercise power, the more likely you are to advance further up the hierarchy.

Hmmm…. The utter complexity of this dynamic has really got me thinking.

Peace and Love and Empathy,

Matt
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01-09-2011, 04:12 PM (This post was last modified: 01-09-2011 04:24 PM by Efrx86.)
RE: Lions and tigers and religion, oh my!
The whole hierarchy thing is pretty interesting. I just re-read Dawkins's letter to his daughter from A devil's chaplain; he gives three "bad reasons for believing anything": tradition, authority, and revelation. And after reading the examples, all three of them seem to boil down to a figure of authority.

This gets me thinking... how can we tackle this whole hierarchy problem? And then I remember a quote from Carl Sagan I learned about a few days ago:

"If we are not able to ask skeptical questions, to be skeptical of those in authority, then we're up for grabs."

Which is what many anti-religionists ask/challenge religious people to do, to be skeptical about religion and question their preachers and their dogma. Such an approach wouldn't be different when dealing with other types of authority figures.

The hierarchical organizations that we call "evil" are the ones where authority is/was unquestionable and unchangeable. The Soviet Union, the Catholic Church, North Korea, the theocracy in Iran, etc. By being able to question our leaders or organizations, they aren't able to run their agendas freely or exercise absolute power, and they must accept change whenever it is required.

"When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty." - Thomas Jefferson.

Kinda reminds me of this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=izE4_Jd2dOw

People have to pick their battles though. Someone in Saudi Arabia who starts to question the Koran might be labeled an apostate and get incarcerated or killed. Someone in the Soviet Union who questioned the government would have been labeled an Enemy of the People and also gotten incarcerated or killed. We in less authoritarian countries should feel privileged that we don't have to go through such ordeals.

The God excuse: the last refuge of a man with no answers and no argument. "God did it." Anything we can't describe must have come from God. - George Carlin

Whenever I'm asked "What if you're wrong?", I always show the asker this video: http://youtu.be/iClejS8vWjo Screw Pascal's wager.
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02-09-2011, 09:39 AM
RE: Lions and tigers and religion, oh my!
Hey, Efrx.

Nice. I like.

Tackling hierarchy itself is one doozy of a pickle. There's one of two solutions, as I see it and both are astronomically difficult.

1 - Change hierarchy in such a way that it is no longer dangerous. That's a tough one because there's every indication that the problems with hierarchy are inextricable from hierarchy itself. There are some attempts to build in governors like policy governance or checks and balances or not for profit. The difficulty is that many of these things only act like a stop sign, they slow them down but they don't remove the mechanisms.

2 - Create an alternative structure that people can migrate to. That's a tough one because hierarchical organisations have demonstrated for 5 000 years that they do not like alternatives. It's actually not a like thing; it's that hierarchies have the ability to crush alternative structures because they do not possess the traits that allow hierarchies to crush them: massive resources, militarisation, economic might, cultural imperialism... So there's all manner of examples of egalitarian structures that have existed for tens of thousands of years, but none of them can compete directly with hierarchies. So finding a viable alternative is difficult.

So that's how we can deal with hierarchy in terms of long-term change.

In the short term, we live in them. So we need to understand them.

Both Sagan and Jefferson are right. I don't give a fuck what Republicans say, there is a class system at work in hierarchies. That being said, it's a little more complex than what Marx thinks. For Marx, there is a rulership class that controls the means of production (inputs, factories, distribution, intellectual property...) and a working class, the proletariats, who, because they do not control the means of production, have only their labour to sell. That's basically true, but, hierarchies are more complex. The bigger a hierarchy gets, the more managerial levels it needs. For example, a mom and pop store has two tiers. The owners, mom and pop. And the workers. It's a very simple organisation. Microsoft on the other hand has I don't even know how many tiers in their organisation. When you look at a hierarchical organisation in terms of how many tiers it has, the line between means of production and labourer begin to blur. For the people in the top tier, it's clear. For those in the bottom, it's equally clear. But it's the middle where it gets blurry and I mean blurry in the sense that the division between the two classes is not so cut and dry; there’s a lot of hybridisation. But what is cut and dry is that one tier has power over the tier below it. So the power dynamic consists of both class and the tier system.

Now the thing about hierarchy is that it cannot function WITHOUT power. Power is ubiquitous in social animals. Again, power consists of authority (I have the right to order you), influence (the ability to convince) and coercion (do as I say or else). Power exists in baboon troops, wolf packs, elephant seal colonies and every other animal social group. But power is LIMITED most of the time. A bull elephant seal only has his ability to kick some ass to back up his claims over mating females. A wolf alpha keeps their position by winning one-on-one challenges. Even in human egalitarian societies, power is present but limited. So it's no shock that power is an inherent component of hierarchy. What is different about hierarchy is that people at any given tier can control CONCENTRATIONS of power. Power is no longer limited, but it is nigh UNLIMITED (I don't know that there's ever been an organisation where someone had 100% power, but some have come pretty close, at least functionally so). The essential dynamic is that each tier within the hierarchy is trying to accrue as much power as possible because this makes its control of the lower tiers easier (it also makes it easier to compete with other hierarchies, but let's keep this internal for now). So the Pope, Stalin, GW Bush, Stephen Harper, the board at Coke, King Henry the Eighth and that supervisor of yours who is a total dick, want to have as much authority and as much influence and as much coercive ability as possible. But they are limited in how much power they can achieve by context (public opinion, legislation, prevailing conditions) and by memes (say no to big government, question authority, or conversely, support the troops/war or you're un-American, the Pope is the mouthpiece of God). The other issue they face is the lower tiers themselves. The lower tiers are always trying to LIMIT how much power the tier above them has. So they form voting blocks, unions, the ACLU, Amnesty International, or they get together and tell that supervisor that he's a penis, or better yet, tell his boss he's a penis.

The most important thing to take a way from all of that is that power dynamics are FLUID and not STATIC because each tier is pulling in opposite directions always. The top tier is trying to achieve LIMITLESS power and the bottom tier is trying to force LIMITS to power. And this dynamic exists between every single tier on the pyramid.

So that is the essential dynamic. Once we understand that, we get into specifics. Let's look at the Catholic Church. They're a decent whipping boy.

Their authority comes from God first and foremost. So the Catholic Church must maintain that belief. If someone comes along and says, the Bible's actually wrong about X, the Catholic Church must fight that. In times when they wielded much greater power and enjoyed a cultural context that allowed them to be draconian, they'd thumscrew the poor bastard or burn him at the stake. Today, it's a little harder because they aren't as powerful and the historical context doesn't allow them to torture or kill anyone for any reason. So they pretty much have to use words.

Their influence, as with everyone, comes from their ability to appeal to their constituent's intellect, passions, self-interest and sense of solidarity. Something like evolution is a threat to their ability to appeal to the intellect (although it seems to pose a greater threat to Biblical literalist Evangelicals).

Their coercion comes from a myriad of sources. First and foremost is the consequence of Original Sin and the necessity of salvation. They also have ex-communication... I'm sure there's others. Just blanking a little. No matter.

So the key to limiting their power and the power of any tier in any organisation, is to CONTEST their authority, DISPEL their influence and RESIST their coercion.

So without doubt, being sceptical, questioning authority, not caring about the afterlife, these are all things that limit Catholic power.

Now we get into the practical part. If you and I do all of these things, our effect on the Catholic Church is limited. If we stand on a street corner and call the Catholic Church stupid, we likely reinforce Catholic desire to help sustain Catholic Church power... What I'm trying to say, is that this sort of approach deals with effects and one has to go to every single group and deal with them individually.

But one thing we can all do, no matter who we are and no matter what we believe, is discuss the essential nature of power, the essential dynamic of power in hierarchical organisations and discuss how to limit power. Take that approach and people can figure our their own situation for themselves. You don't have to tell someone that Matthew 13:13 is false because you knew this chicken once... whatever… Bible scholar I am not... Any salesman can tell you that if you call someone stupid or you question a choice that they have made, you just lost yourself a sale. But if you discuss power, you don't ever have to bring up what they believe. All you have to do is discuss something incontrovertible. They may go back and ignore it because they feel they want to submit to Allah or because they want to follow the Ten Commandments, but they'll know WHY these things are happening and that can lead to some serious questioning.

MOST important of all, we shift the focus from saying, religion is dumb, to saying, this is the essential dynamic wherever hierarchy is found. So when jackasses like Dawkins and Hitchens start some organisation that is telling us to do X, Y and Z, we know to limit their power too.

This approach takes the evil and the nefarious moustache twisting out of everything. It simply recognises the demands of the system, regardless of who is at the wheel. We see that atrocity is the inevitable result of unchecked power, not the evil in man.

So yeah, someone in Saudi Arabia has to be careful because while he might want to get straight to work limiting the power of the Saudi Government, he still has to respect the fact that they DO have power, and that there IS a historical context and that there ARE memes floating around. The actual process of limiting unchecked power is difficult and quite painful.

That being said, we in less authoritarian societies have it good... for now. The power dynamic is always fluid. The USA Patriot Act is a perfect example of the deliberate increasing of power. If we accept that some inherent quality of religion is responsible for everything and if we don’t understand that the power dynamic affects us too, “then we’re up for grabs.”

I always loved this scene from Easy Rider. It so simply speaks to the general confusion that people have. Many people, in the States say, think they're free because they're free. They don't understand the essential dynamic and can't apply that knowledge to individual situations.

Anyhoo, for me, the battle against religion on its own lacks direction and understanding. If we teach ourselves the understanding of the power dynamic and the necessity of contesting authority, dispelling influence and resisting coercion, them we ensure that we remain free, not by accident, but by design. If we build alternatives, then we avoid the pitfall that Pirsig speaks of. We insulate ourselves from the power of more authoritarian groups. And if we approach others who are in shittier circumstances than us, those within those more authoritarian groups, we don't teach them that they're stupid and we don't teach them that they made stupid choices and we don't teach them that they're fools, we teach them how to address their own situation on their own terms. Their process of change is going to be long and it needs tools, not judgement.

I realise that this is a complex argument and that in trying to boil it down, I have glossed over certain things. Please know that I’m not saying that these things are true to the exclusion of other things. The rabbit hole is much deeper for every single one of these points.

Peace and Love and Empathy,

Matt
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