Wednesday, 30 May 2012

If we could convict 'god' of war crimes...

Former Liberian President Charles Taylor has been convicted of war crimes and handed a 50 year prison sentence for "aiding and abetting some of the most heinous and brutal crimes in recorded history" (Judge Lussik) though he never personally laid a finger on any of the victims.  He has never admitted any wrongdoing.  Upon reading this story, I immediately saw a parallel in the god of the Abrahamic religions who is also responsible for many of history's greatest atrocities, yet denies any wrongdoing.

"You can't blame god for the evils done in his name" is a popular refrain among Christians when confronted with the brutal history of their religion.  From the flood of Noah in Genesis to the genocidal cleansing of Canaan in Joshua to the wine-press in the book of Revelation, from the sectarian wars of the early Church to the Crusades to the European an early American witch hunts to the war in the Balkans, the history of Christianity and pre-Christian Judaism is soaked in the blood of millions (I won't address Islam as I simply don't have enough familiarity with Islamic history or how Muslims react to it).  Yet, though much of this violence was directly commanded by god - at least according to the not-so-historically accurate biblical narrative - or carried out in his name by his appointed representatives on earth, his followers insist he bears no guilt whatsoever for any of it.  If the god of the bible truly existed, the fact that he never physically touched any of the victims, but only acted by proxy, would in no way mitigate his responsibility or absolve him of the guilt for those crimes.  But Christianity, true to the nature of it's central tenet, prefers a scapegoat on which to place the burden of guilt.  There are three typical responses given by Christians when acting as lawyers in defense of their religion's role in historical bloodshed.  
For some, it is Satan himself who is responsible for all this death and destruction.  Though even a cursory reading of the bible will show that god's nemesis is not big on killing humans.  In fact, the only ones he ever killed were Job's children, and he did so only as part of a wager he had made with Yahweh.  No, the adversary is hardly the author of Christian bloodshed, and even if he were it would only prove how profoundly impotent and powerless the grace of god and the Christian message is at guiding his people and protecting them from the temptations of the devil. 

Other Christians will ascribe the guilt to "man's sinful nature".  Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit causing them to lose their state of grace and acquire a fallen nature.  Ultimately, this gets blamed on the talking serpent - later identified as Satan - despite that it was inept Yahweh that had placed the tree in the center of the garden of Eden rather than keep it safe. If your prized possession was stolen through such willful negligence, your insurance company would rightly deny the claim and the adjusters would call you an idiot behind your back.  But no so with Yahweh.  His negligence in the garden of Eden myth is never addressed, unless to say it was part of his plan all along.  Instead, Satan bears the responsibility for the temptation, and humankind bears every bit of guilt for every sin ever committed since - well, they get to transfer that over to Jesus in order to be forgiven, but it's their fault for doing the crimes in the first place.  Christianity has a strong tendency to give credit for anything positive to god, and to lay blame for anything negative at the feet of individuals.  They are taught that from the beginning of their existence they have a nature corrupted by the hereditary original sin of Adam and Eve, but even though they did not eat the forbidden fruit themselves, when they do wrong they must ask forgiveness.  Yet when they do good they should not be proud of having chosen to do good, but to credit god for their own human decency.  In fact, the bible only has one instance of a human thanking another human, but hundreds of instances of humans thanking god for good they have received at the hands of fellow humans.

The third defense presented by Christians is to simply cast aside anyone whose actions might tarnish their reputation by claiming that the offender is not and probably never was a "true Christian."  In this twist on the everything good is of god doctrine, the definition of Christian is manipulated such that by definition anyone who does wrong is, at least for the purposes of publicly acknowledging responsibility, retroactively excommunicated.  This is commonly referred to as the 'no true Scotsman fallacy', but in my opinion it should be renamed as the 'no true Christian' fallacy since it is rarely used in any other context.    
 This false and artificial division of responsibility is a shield that allows this imaginary being to continue to cast his influence over human history while dodging any sort of responsibility for negative consequences by shifting the burden of guilt away from himself, and shifting credit towards himself.  He is essentially a parody of a corrupt dictator with delusions of grandeur that would be comical if not for the great tragedy that even though he is not real, his nefarious influence on humanity most certainly is.      

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Musings on the future of Humanity

This past weekend I attended the Imagine No Religion 2 conference in Kamloops, BC, Canada.  It was an amazing event and there were many very interesting and important messages in the presentations.  But I want to talk here about something I gleaned from tying together a few snippets from a few of the presentations that rather struck me.

Seth Andrews of the Thinking Atheist reminded us of just how recently it is that information was difficult to retrieve and often inaccessible.  Since I was born (in 1976) we have gone from the strongest computer being the Vic 20 and the easiest way to retrieve information being the card catalogue at your local library to having millions of phones in the hands of average people with computing power orders of magnitude greater than early generations of multi-million dollar supercomputers, and with access to more information in a matter of milliseconds than even existed for most of human civilization.

Dr. Andy Tompson pointed out that we are the first generations to be able to look into our own brains with medical technology and understand how our minds evolved and why we think the way we do.

Another presenter – I can’t remember which – pointed out that in most fields of science there now exists a body of literature so vast that no one scientist could even read all of it from just their own field even if they spent their lifetime doing so.

PZ Myers spoke of the fundamental incompatibility of science and religion and how religion hampers science.

David Eberth spoke about the political and social strength of the creationist movement and how it seeks to move society away from science and towards religion.

August Berkshire spoke of the inherent limitations and failings of religious morality compared to rational secular morality.

Dr. Christopher DiCarlo spoke of the need to broaden our scope when we look at problems and their solutions and gave examples of how narrow a band of thinking goes into so many important decisions in everything from education to hospital care.

Lawrence Krauss spoke eloquently of our growing understanding of the universe and its workings, making the “God is the best explanation for the existence of the universe” arguments of the theists from the conference’s opening debate seem even more arrogant and ridiculous in their childish certitude than they had when they were presented.

These stunning indications of human progress were starkly contrasted with reminders of the simplistic and anti-scientific mindsets of the religious and of the continuing bigotry and backwards thinking that shackles much of humanity to a primitive past and a mind-bogglingly egocentric lack of self-awareness from Maryam Namazie, Matt Dillahunty and others. 

Representatives of the Centre for Inquiry, atheist Alliance International and BC Humanists told us of the importance of getting involved and the work they were doing, and Desiree Schell taught us how to be effective activists for change.

It seems to me that, quite contrary to the na├»ve perception I had as a child that all the cool stuff had already been discovered and explored, we are actually living in a uniquely privileged moment in human history.  Humanity is reaching adolescence.  It is growing up, and becoming more intelligent, but still retains much of the immaturity and childishness of its more primitive infancy.  Another analogy that occurred to me is that humanity has built an incredible aircraft that sits on the runway, ready to take us to new heights, but is prevented from lifting off because of all the excess baggage we are carrying that weighs it down.  The heights we could achieve if we could only rid ourselves of all the divisiveness, of all the historical problems we have carried with us, of all the biased and intransigent ways of thinking we have inherited from both our evolutionary and cultural forebears!  The realization brings both immense hope and crushing despair.  Those heights are attainable!  They are within our grasp!  But we are being prevented from reaching them.  Humanity is – as has always been the case – its own worst enemy.  But we must not give into despair.  We cannot allow our goals to recede.  We cannot allow ourselves to be dragged back into the dark ages!  We must fight against ignorance, divesting ourselves of as much useless baggage as possible while helping improve the aircraft of rational enlightenment and scientific inquiry that will eventually lift us into realms we can now scarcely imagine!