A Journal for Western Man

 

 

 

An Essay Questioning the

Validity of Religions

G. Stolyarov II

Issue III- September 6, 2002

 

 
Humans have, throughout their existence, wondered whether beings so advanced as themselves and surroundings so complex as their own could have had a supernatural origin. Indeed such an idea seems appealing to many a humanist, for it labels our species as unique and apart from all the savage and primitive critters that surround us. Whether or not it was for the better, religion has played a crucial role in the development of every society and at one time was even vital to technological progress. Yet in a scientifically advanced world such as that of our time, another lifeline to progress has been created, belief in only that which one knows to be true. Do the major religions of the world today have a strong enough base and sufficient proof to be upheld in the minds of educated men? That is what we shall now explore.

During humankind's first steps from a nomadic existence to an agriculturally-based one, tribal solidarity was required more than at any previous or subsequent age. The doctrines of individual rights and free market capitalism had not yet been developed, and in order for a group of farmers to survive against the petty raids of whimsical barbarians around them (usually a stronger people, else they would not have taken to migratory hunting of large game), they needed to coordinate their defenses and lives in general, so that they would not only be able to produce a sufficient output of crops to feed the community but also preserve these from the clutches of avaricious foreigners, for whom there was no constant income of goods. But how would the people of a newly formed settlement, with the mobile life of an animal still engraved on their instincts, act with such efficiency? How could they stay attached to their tribe's permanent territory? A more charismatic person, a priest, would have to explain that the new land was holy and destined for a people by an all-powerful superbeing, denying whom would be a grave folly. How would the pre-Western, pre-Scientific Method era people realize when to sow and reap the fruits of their labor? A priest, once again, would invent the myth of Osiris rising from the dead at the time of the Nile floods, which would be a signal for planting, while the collection of food would have to be completed prior to the arid season, when the evil Seth had killed Osiris. What would motivate a people to unify into massive armies for defense of the land and an occasional raid on an enemy growing in power? A crafty priest would convince them that they are a god's chosen people, above all others, and have been assigned the holy mission of purging the countryside of any infidels. As a matter of fact, the latter explanation had survived even in religions of the present day, for we read in the Bible's Book of Joshua how a chieftain of the Israelites, "blessed by the heavens," committed genocide against the native dwellers of Canaan. Contrary to popular belief, the author sees neither holiness nor virtue in mass exterminations of foreign children, but such evidence from the Bible supports the fact that religion was not created with the purpose of civility or genuine morality. Had the contrary been true, then God would have damned Joshua for disobeying his sacred commandment, "Thou shalt not kill." Religion, from the earliest times, had existed to ensure but one thing,
tribal security.

Such would explain the "Love thy neighbor" clause from as far into history as the New Testament, yet would justify in the eyes of religious zealots the countless persecutions of foreigners that were committed by the devotees of every religion, no less atrocities performed by Jews than Assyrians or Romans. The implication that the early tribal worshippers have squeezed from a seemingly innocent premise is that of “loving one’s neighbor and furiously resenting an outlander.” One's neighbor is yet another member of a tribal community and would need to be protected in order to ensure that the initiatives of an individual did not intervene with the “benefit” of the whole, i.e. the caprices of its autocrats. Such was the early thought pattern, a form of bloody socialism that had been passed down through the ages.

Yet from this tribal mentality were spawned certain foundations of virtue without which the present level of human decency would never have been acquired. Theft on a local level, an act against the community, had become an act of shame only with the advent of religion. Adultery, a disruption of the family structure essential to a tribe's survival, had also been condemned in the words of the priests who controlled the first societies. Yet despite the less than pure motivations of early religious principles, they have had the impact of stability and even, to some degree, personal security upon the cultures that obeyed them. A society in which theft and adultery are permitted, on the other hand, is destined for collapse from within. A society which abolishes the former and condemns the latter, however, entails genuine advantages for the particular individuals comprising it.

However, keeping in mind the aims of a religion, we may also find that other less obvious principles have been established to retain tribal solidarity. The forebears of the Jewish/Christian/Muslim faiths (which all had common foundations as the only three major systems for worshipping a single supreme being. They shall be referred to here as the Monotheist Branch of Religions) have had as significant holy laws the prohibition of idolatry and the utterance of God's name in vain. Idolatry, the worship of relatively mundane objects in comparison with the great Holy Spirit, would mean opposition to the faith itself and thus a separation from the structure of the tribe, which the latter could not permit. Had all people been free to choose their means and object of worship, the newly formed nation would have fallen apart due to a lack of a common ideal to keep the society tightly bound. It would have been likely that agriculture would still have been pursued by the people for their own rational self-interests, but the power would have been deprived from their early leaders, who had more than coincidentally dubbed themselves intermediaries of the deity or deities. Religion, from the earliest times, was a utensil for perpetuating the social hierarchy of the status quo through bestowing supernatural authority upon it. It only yielded progress when the said hierarchy had been freshly established and itself a byproduct of advancement, as a theocracy, no matter how repressive, is an amelioration of the destitute nomadic collective driven by destructive animal impulses.

As for the speaking of God's name "in vain," the original intention of such a principle was to restrain people from using God in order to
contradict the will of the authorities. Thus, religion had slowly evolved from a means to settling a horde of migratory savages into a permanent location to a method of conserving through millennia the then new system, which was rapidly becoming obsolete. Monarchs later replaced priests as rulers of slowly evolving states, yet their will to conserve their power was no different from that of the previous elite, and thus they had used the religious principles already firmly ingrained in commoners' minds in order to retain it without excess struggle against the plebeians. Such were the origins of the Western Divine Right, the Arabic Caliphate, and the Chinese Mandate of Heaven.

The structures that existed before the advent of strong crowned figures resisted the slight twist to their ideas at first. Those struggles we can observe in the conflicts between the emerging European kings and the Popes of Rome during the early second millennium AD, which ended with Philip IV's relocation of the Papacy to Avignon and the emergence of the theory that kings transmitted God's will onto Earth, thus possessing a "divine" authority. The priests who did not submit to this new system were quickly cast aside from the political scene, since, though they had charisma, the monarchs were free to utilize a significantly greater force than the Holy Catholic Church could hire through its funds. Eventually, manipulation through subtle intimidation gave way to outright control through means that no one had the shame to conceal. Those churchmen who valued their power rallied to gather even greater support for the new Earthly "apostles" of God. Thus, the Catholic Church was slowly being fitted into the framework that the kings created to harness its power and use it to enhance their own. What was the most efficient way for a king to carry out swift cleansing routines against potential opponents? To declare their views to be opposite the will of God and the heavenly scheme of things. And whom to utilize for the purpose of stopping an act of "heresy" than the Church itself? Thus the monster of Inquisition came to be, devouring in its flames all the avant-garde writers, scientists, thinkers, all the suspicious nobility, anyone who stood out sufficiently to attract the attention of a monarch and challenge the system of widespread ignorance that the latter developed to govern his state with the minimum effort.

With the Church subdued and any potential malcontents held at bay, the kings were free to set their eyes elsewhere, to expand their territorial domain into new lands. The first such wave of expansion came during the Crusades, when the Church's power was waning but still possessed some influence. Then Christian slaughtered Muslim and Jew, and acts of massive brutality were committed among peoples who all followed the same God and the same Old Testament. And why? All for a strip of land considered to be the home of Jesus Christ, whom both Christians and Muslims sought to please by possessing it! How was it that supposedly devout followers of God would turn on each other and murder in His name? (One may keep in mind that, according to Christian fatalist dogma, absolutely everything that happens is part of God's grand, unfathomable scheme of things.) To that the author proposes one hypothesis: that God is cruel and enjoys watching petty sufferings of His pawns. Yet a justification of that will follow later on. Currently we shall continue our exploration of the follies of Monotheist religions. A second period of tumultuous development came during the period of "Gold, God, and Glory". While certain priests and conquistadors attempted to free Native Americans from forced labor which they had been shackled with by overt worshippers of many bloodthirsty gods, and relocate them to missions (where they would perform a bit more learning and uncoerced labor), the new "Christians" conducted, "by God's will," countless bloodthirsty rebellions against the Holy Fathers of the Church.

Despite (or because of, depending on the way one views history) internal conflicts and an elevation of opulence and splendor, the Catholic Church had begun to face armed opposition from both more moderate believers (Lutherans) and the radical Christians (Hussites, Calvinists). Over a century bloody wars of Reformation were waged throughout Europe, all struggles between God's children attempting to please the Great and Merciful through offerings of human blood. In the meantime, to the east, the Orthodox "Children of God" from Russia were being persecuted as a result of their own Reformation, this time instituted by the Czar Alexis to strengthen his new autocracy and weaken the old customs representing a more-or-less feudal society. Simultaneously, Russians and Catholic Poles were slicing open each other's heads in order to "prove" the "superiority" of their beliefs. Even in the Catholic ranks there existed a conflict between the Jesuits and Dominicans that was far from non-violent.

Yet these conflicts at the end of a theocratic age were followed by one of the most progressive concepts known to this day, the separation of church and state. A new series of "enlightened" rulers found the religious structure of their time increasingly fallible due to nonstop internal conflicts, so they resolved to set it aside and rule through their own reasoning, which, though far from perfect itself, was certainly less bloody than the dogma of the Church. They turned to the works of Monsieur de Montesquieu, who had first formulated the separation of powers doctrine, as guidance for their reforms. Beginning with Henry VIII in England and expanding with Louis XIV in France, Peter I in Russia, and Frederick II in Prussia, the concept of a government separate from the Church soon encompassed the entire European continent with the exception of Spain and Italy, whose influence over worldly events weakened significantly as a result. "Divine right" prevailed for some longer time, yet it was nothing but figurative then. The new monarchs were learned and even humanist to some extent. They encouraged arts, sciences, philosophies, and societies thrived. That was the epoch in which the most important contributions to the overthrow of dogma were made.

But this essay is not intended to relate a history of religion to the reader. Once again, such would be a million-page endeavor, since blunders and atrocities committed in the name of a god were so frequent in the past and still exist in the present (since one realizes that the Enlightenment did not completely eradicate superstition and fanatics of the far left are reviving it while these very words are being written). We are on the search for the essence of the subject, the moral that can be used in order to reduce such atrocities in the future. The author believes that Herr Marx had made a slight error when calling religion "the opium of the people," for opium is a potent narcotic which slows action. It is true that dogma slows progress, but action and progress had never been synonymous. Progress inevitably consists of action, but not all deeds are for the good of men. Instead, religion is a powerful stimulant (calling it cocaine would make for a good metaphor), inciting people to all the wrong deeds, just like a drug of that nature would. It is, when applied to stale and obsolete infrastructures, a utensil of retrogression and stagnation, but passivity is not its means for achieving such. Both it and the actual stimulant plants false thoughts and impulses into the human mind which have absolutely no relation to the world of things or the world of ideas. Such misconceptions inevitably bring about suffering. As the reader may remember from past deliberations on the subject of virtue, the difference between it and dogma is that the latter applies itself in such a way so as to harm other people or restrict such activity that poses no genuine danger to anyone. Dogma will always be at the heart of a religion, since in its roots lies a concept that is not founded on anything other than speculation.

For all the author knows, a Supreme Being may well exist, even if there is no way to prove its existence. M. de Voltaire had once suggested that such a structured universe as our own could not have been formed out of chaos but must have been designed intelligently. He compared the mechanisms of the cosmos to those of a watch and, just like a watch needs to have had a watchmaker, the functions of our surroundings suggest that they were invented with a purpose in mind. Dr. Hawking, formulator of the Big Bang Theory, suggests a perfectly scientific claim that God initiated the explosion of the original singularity, which led to the beginning of the universe. He states that, since during the first microsecond of time nothing behaved in any comprehensible manner, that was the time when God created the Laws of Science, which the cosmos had been regulated by ever since. This Deist interpretation bifurcates religion and reality, and henceforth permits its advocates to thrive in the material world by applying reason and not depending on capricious cosmic favors. Although this author questions both Deism and the Big Bang Theory, their advocates are inherently incapable of inflicting harm to denizens of this Planet Earth from religious and/or “scientific” principles and thereby our differences can be articulated in a humane, purely verbal fashion. But just like the atoms of a watch cannot comprehend the nature of their watchmaker, how is it possible for humans to have concocted such detailed and unlikely systems of worship? Would the Supreme Being (or beings, for that matter, since nothing points to the existence of only one. But since they seem to have acted in coordination with each other's efforts if and when they designed the universe, they shall be referred to here as the Creative Entity) even communicate with the creatures that he had made if we do not converse with our watches? What basis, then, is there for the Bible or for any other form of literature that attempts to explain the nature of a God? If the author's reasoning here is not sufficient to the unyielding reader, one historical example from recent past will absolutely disprove whatever is written about a great, omnipotent, merciful, and rewarding God.

Although most of the stories presented in the Bible are contradictory in themselves, the author shall give a little ground to that book's advocates to prove that his reasoning can triumph even under such conditions. Let us assume that the great God did indeed save Moses and his tribe of Israelites, numbering in the tens of thousands at most, from pursuit by the Egyptians by causing the Red Sea to recede before them. Such was the act of the "Great and Merciful" to save his "chosen people" from persecution. Why, then, did the "Great and Merciful" ignore the pleas of six million of his "chosen," who were brutally murdered by the Nazis during the Holocaust? That is certainly an inexplicable inconsistency. Or is it?

There may be several rational explanations for such behavior by God, which the author will relate here now.

Number one: A Creative Entity does not exist. Perhaps the flight of the Israelites was horribly exaggerated, since no written records of the Exodus existed before the reign of Solomon some three centuries later. Having been passed down by word of mouth, the story was twisted and hyperbolized by every generation until it became a myth of divine power instead of a simple tale describing a journey of a small tribe of exiles. Since we cannot yet fully comprehend the nature of our world's creation, we cannot state with certainly that our universe did not form because a singularity exploded on its own, without any external help, or that the universe as a whole had existed indefinitely back through the ages, and that the sole acts of creation were the explicable reconfigurations of structures formed by its matter. Some may then question the means by which the advent of life came about due to a more than minuscule chance of a one-celled organism developing at random. Yet one must understand that the first life forms on Earth appeared some two billion years after it was created, and in such a lengthy period of time it is not unlikely that this small chance of an organism forming was realized at least once. Thus, since a Creative Entity does not exist, it could not have saved a people who had the misconception of being its "chosen tribe." (Which in itself is a contradiction. Why would the Lord of All attach Himself to a small tribe when he could have worked to aid all of his "children?")

Number two: The Creative Entity is cruel and enjoys not only seeing human suffering but giving them hope that they will be saved while in reality augmenting their miseries instead. Or it may be something similar to the Aztec Huitzlopochtli, who was said to have required human blood to rise every morning. Perhaps saving the Holocaust victims was not part of "God's grand scheme of things," but think about it. What is the purpose of a scheme that does not value so sacred a concept as human life?

Number three: The Creative Entity is dead. Herr Nietzsche would explain this with much greater clarity than the author of this piece. That, however, explains why the number of God's miracles gradually decreased as time progressed and disappeared altogether sometime around the 970s AD, when the caliphs of Arabia, supposedly spiritual descendants of Mohammad, had become secular rulers of fragmented states increasingly practicing the tenets of their faith in name only. Even assuming that all events from Late Genesis to the last of the Letters to the Last Testament of the Koran had actually taken place (which is doubtful), there is nothing that would invalidate the theory of God's death. Quite the contrary, had He remained alive, there would have been a Super-New Testament relating His most recent miracles to the masses.

Number four: The Creative Entity is alive and functional, but he is neither omnipotent nor omniscient. Just like we humans sometimes do not understand the mechanisms behind our wristwatches, neither does God comprehend the events of our universe in their entirety and complete detail. After all, it may very well be that a vast world of superbeings exists out there and that a certain watchmaker sells His wares, the universes that He creates for a living, to customers who may not be enlightened in the technicalities of universal creation and upkeep. It may very well be that the Creative Entity has limitations when it comes to fiddling with matters so small as those that concern our species. There is even a scientific possibility that the Creative Entity dwells within black holes and other singularities (that is a possible means of explaining their power of attraction and lack of adherence to the Laws of Physics, but their very existence, as well as this theory, remains on shaky footing at best), but since we do not witness the effect of such natural phenomena upon our planet, we can conclude that God's sphere of influence does not encompass the domain of Homo sapiens sapiens.

Number five: The Creative Entity is both alive and omnipotent, yet He is neither merciful nor forgiving, since He imposes inexplicably harsh punishments on anyone who violates even the least significant of His precepts even once even by accident (i.e. every single human being who had ever lived, lives, or will live).

No matter which of these five variations of rational thinking about the Creative Entity the reader sides with, they will understand that it is simply not possible for God to be at the same time living, omnipotent, and merciful, despite whatever dogma the Bible wishes to bludgeon into people's minds. Of course, adherents of the Monotheist faiths will attempt to contradict the author's arguments by stating that God is indeed merciful and grants even moderate sinners a place in Heaven after death. The author, however, will reply that not only are such beliefs the most ridiculous fairy tales (once again, no proof-- no acceptance) but that they are possibly one of the most harmful concepts to humankind.

Let the reader think about the following: if a commoner is presented with an illusion that they would be guaranteed eternal bliss after death if they but followed a set of dogma, would they attempt to improve their position in the world that actually exists during their present life? It is doubtful, since the primary intent of any religion is to grant influence and authority to the priests while preserving the conditions characteristic to a Neolithic agricultural village, where such clergymen would have the amplest chances to enhance their own material well-being through tithes, taxes, and overt confiscations and marauding during “holy wars”
in the present life through spreading tales about the next. These tales may have morals, but those morals are not necessarily the most beneficial to the ideal of technological progress, for, as the reader may recall, Adam and Eve were banished from heaven after having tasted a fruit from the Tree of Knowledge.

Of course, if the populace remains ignorant, they become more susceptible to being herded as sheep are, their wool used to warm the pastor's bulky hide and its meat occasionally used to supplement the bulk of that hide. Is that, most esteemed reader, the proper way to exist, as a pawn of men while believing oneself to be a pawn of God? Is it even proper to be anyone's pawn at all? Fear, hatred, and pointless symbolism, the hidden essences of any major faith, have been holding back advancements in technology for millennia now. If those could be rid of, then the author would see no problem in even the most outlandish theories about a Creative Entity, since those certainly have a right to exist in a world of free thought, but only in a world of free thought. If a religion persecutes those who are not of it, how can its followers be certain that they will not someday be persecuted by the next dominant set of dogma that comes along? As long as one uses reason and common sense to guide his
actions, it does not matter which deity or absence of deity he believes in. That is included in the primary principle of virtue that governs the deeds of right men. With it, we may someday attain a blissful salvation in this world. Without it we are doomed to a true Hell, a Hell on Earth.

G. Stolyarov II is a science fiction novelist, independent filosofical essayist, poet, amateur mathematician, composer, contributor to Enter Stage Right, Le Quebecois Libre, and the Ludwig von Mises Institute, Senior Writer for The Liberal Institute, and Editor-in-Chief of The Rational Argumentator, a magazine championing the principles of reason, rights, and progress. His newest science fiction novel is Eden against the Colossus. His latest non-fiction treatise is A Rational Cosmology. Mr. Stolyarov can be contacted at gennadystolyarovii@yahoo.com.

This TRA feature has been edited in accordance with TRA’s Statement of Policy.

Click here to return to TRA's Issue III Index.

Learn about Mr. Stolyarov's novel, Eden against the Colossus, here.

Read Mr. Stolyarov's new comprehensive treatise, A Rational Cosmology, explicating such terms as the universe, matter, space, time, sound, light, life, consciousness, and volition, at http://www.geocities.com/rational_argumentator/rc.html.

 

 

 

 

 

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