Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Whispering Grass 2 - The New Atheists

"The Great Spirit is not perfect: it has a good side and a bad side. Sometimes the bad side gives us more knowledge than the good side." - Lakota (Sioux)

I am not an atheist. As far as I am concerned atheism is nothing but a reaction to the evils of religion. Atheism neglects faith then rejects spirituality. Having one does not mean you need the other. Spirituality is a quest for truth that seeks to learn the link between humankind and perceived godhead. Religion, and by that I mean organised faith, is a fascist state controlled by men who seek power, control, and abuse. I have friends who practise what they preach in the quiet of their minds. They do not need those who would instil their own doctrine, who would dictate their dogma onto others that only require a direct audience with the deity of their choice. Organised religion has nothing to do with faith but everything to do with power. Power corrupts. There is nothing so corrupt as a church whose only desire is to control those it ensnares with its dogma, its ritual, its arrogance and its manipulation of history. There is no religion on the moon and surely God created that too?

We see this abuse daily here in the UK. We see it wherever there is Church and State. It is wrong on that be assured. What need is there for faith teachings in school? The moral imperative lies not within the dogma of faith but within the fabric of humanity. It is the single one principle that defines mankind making it different from its fellow animals. Our codes and morals are older than gods they are part of what it is to be human.

We do not need, any more than those who believe in Yahweh, Jehovah or Allah, Rabbis, Popes or Imams. We do not need or require those to interpret God's words, to tell us what God is or isn't thinking. Books that have been written in languages both vague and historic are dated and fallible and more relevantly exaggerated. God is love. God is peace. God abhors violence. If any such book as retold by leaders of religion advocates anyone to break this code, this Golden Rule, then you can be certain that they or it are acting out of self-interest. It has nothing to do with God.

Having said that it would be equally foolish to attribute all the world's evils to religion. It would be wholly unjust. Not all that mankind has done can be laid at the doors of religion. Much can, though, and it is recent events, namely 9/11 and seeing fundamental Muslim's enacting their perverse justice that has given rise to Neo-Atheism. That group only presents part of the truth. It is the whole truth we need.

"The truth which makes men free is for the most part
the truth which men prefer not to hear.” - Herbert Agar

When Richard Dawkins published his rather beautiful 'The God Delusion' it dealt, in no small part with the Old Testament a book, if taken literally, reveals God to be short one crumb his cake.

The God of the Old Testament 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, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.” - Richard Dawkins

There is nothing particularly shocking in that statement to any sane person who has read that work assuming, as did I and it has to be said a great many Fundamentalists, that this was the word of God in actuality. It isn't. That is something I shall return to later in these posts.

New Atheism has sprung out of acts of violence enacted on innocent people since the horrors of 9/11. It is the rational man and woman's response to those events. That said, there is still that matter of taking literally that which isn't literal.

Here then are the books that have been published in recent years which are very much of an atheist slant. I like these books. I support their truths. However, they are not the only imperative. They are no more correct than the religions they deride but they do voice a valid opinion, one that challenges lazy thinking, one that begs less erroneous assumptions and asks for greater depth of knowledge and understanding of given texts before commitment to religious orthodoxies and one that begs Islam to educate its extremists and its followers by re-evaluating how the Koran should be read. Again, less literally and more symbolically giving greater understanding to the beauty inherent in the book whilst distancing Islam and Muslim from the more questionable doctrines.

This essay on the evils of blind faith came very shortly after the terrorist attacks on New York's twin towers. Obviously, 9/11 was the cause and effect of Sam Harris' acidic attack on not only organised religion but the existence of blind faith. Fuelled by, but not exclusively aimed at, Islam. The power inherent in the books uncompromising assault on faith is as palpable as is Harris' anger (understandably so) at the deaths caused by fanatics.

However, Harris does not point the finger at those so casually referred to as such, he fires both barrels at religion itself, its existence and the horrors we all have had to endure during its overlong history. Not just monotheists, with the usual suspects - Jews, Christians and Muslims but all faiths, all religions. "Mothers were skewered on swords as their children watched. Young women were stripped and raped in broad daylight, then doused with kerosene and set on fire. A pregnant woman's belly was slit open, her foetus raised skyward on the tip of a sword and then tossed onto one of the fires that blazed across the city." This was India, a battle fought between Hindu's and Muslims.

It was 2002. Sam Harris' anger, his outrage still captures the anger that we all felt and begs the same old question...how much of this horseshit must we take? It is a question that Harris asks again and again whilst highlighting how warped the very fabric of those three monotheists faith is. He illustrates this by quoting passages directly from The Bible and The Koran neither of which come out unscathed.

The Koran suffers worst. There are four consecutive pages of some of the most unpalatable filth you could conceive of. No matter how good a person you might be, no matter how kind, how just, how caring, if you do not accept and live by the word of the Prophet, by the dictate of Allah, you should be killed and suffer eternal damnation. This is mentioned again and again. It does make you wonder if Allah is so powerful, so clever and so good that he didn't make us all right the first time round. Jews fare only marginally better having suggested that all gentiles who do not accept the word of Yahweh should be stoned.

Then there is Jesus, a Jew, who, according to the New Testament obviously had no desire to form a church, quite the opposite in fact and certainly did not want to incorporate a new faith only to call it Christianity. The messiah said, in Matthew 10  this to his disciples - 'do not go among the gentiles nor the Samaritans but go only among the lost sheep of Israel.' Not Taoists or Buddhists then J?

Christianity gets a bashing too as Harris reminds us what that obnoxious faith as overseen by perverse individuals did in medieval times. Not just buggery but the torture of Pagans and of course to the Father of  Monotheist faith, the Jews.

All in all a good book and one that opened the floodgates for Dawkins and Hitchens to follow through. 

"You must stone him to death since he has had tried to divert you from Yahweh your God." Deuteronomy .

Harris doesn't simply attack faith with all its inherent faults but also offers a logical alternative. He takes the R from religion and replaces it with the R of rationale before showing us how philosophy, a science-based and intellectual process, reveals more about us, ourselves, by looking inward rather than looking toward an invisible, mythical friend whose doctrine is riddled with dogma and hate.

Harris goes further when comparing the Christian Bible to that of Jainism. It is this for me that puts Harris on another plane entirely. It isn't just Jainism he praises but goes further by suggesting those seeking wisdom should have travelled further east and not stalled at The Middle East. He doesn't go so far as to promote meditation but infers how positive a practice it is. 

“If you think that it would be impossible to improve upon the Ten Commandments as a statement of morality, you really owe it to yourself to read some other scriptures. Once again, we need to look no further than the Jains: Mahavira, the Jain patriarch, surpassed the morality of the Bible with a single sentence: "Do not injure, abuse, oppress, enslave, insult, torment, torture, or kill any creature or living being." Imagine how different our world might be if the Bible contained this as its central precept. Christians have abused, oppressed, enslaved, insulted, tormented, tortured, and killed people in the name of God for centuries, on the basis of a theologically defensible reading of the Bible."

There then followed a series of books disclaiming God and religion. The one that gets most irrationalist's blood boiling as they set loose the dogs of war is Richard Dawkins "The God Delusion." Of all the books on atheism I have read this is the gentlest. Rather than being a negative attack on faith, this book is a positive outlook on life. Dawkins is one of those irritating individuals who seem able to undertake a variety of tasks then prove themselves to be good at all of them. His one failing, apart from setting up, or helping to, a Neo-Atheist sub-sect, is of being coldly logical. Like Spock when telling Captain Kirk, 'There is life out there Jim but not as we know it.' Quite why non-religious people get so hot under the collar about Dawkins is beyond me. I like the chap if not his advocacy of new atheism.

Christopher Hitchens, famed for his 'Hitch Slap.' Now if you want someone whose every fibre rebelled against Monotheism, against religion, it was Hitch. God is most certainly not great (the myth of and Old Testament version) but this book assuredly is. Like Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens was one of the oddly named 'four horsemen of New Atheism.' Both Hawkins and Hitchens are/were humanists but the difference in styles is markedly different even if the message is the same. Whereas the Dawkins dissection of all things monotheist was clinically scribed, Hitchens laces his acid with a generous amount of humour. Dawkins elegant prose surgically removed any doubts about how unpleasant religion is with his direct and pure logical mind - leaving a feeling of how the Vulcan Mister Spock might view blind faith; Hitchens, no less vehement in his passionate dislike of religion, brings irony and a comic touch in much the same way Doctor Who would when faced with such gross stupidity and such woefully inadequate morals. 

Hitchens makes sure we remember how religion did and still does cause such grief; how religion continues to abuse children, women and those of the wrong racial ethnicity. However, he falls short in his condemnation of those who follow such faiths and fires all his bullets at the source of this evil - the churches and those who administrate the crimes against humanity.  Hitchens leaves no stone un-turned. He points the finger at all three monotheists faiths giving each both barrels.  Dawkins book is an uplifting revelation that shows how science, always challenging itself,  reveals more about humankind and the universe we live in than man made religion ever has or ever will. Hitchens attempts much the same but with more laughs. 

When re-visiting Ayaan Hirsi Ali's book, 'Infidel,' one is struck by the depressing way in which ordinary people not only accept that which is unacceptable but take its doctrines, wraps them in quasi-religious overtones before extolling their virtues as they practise them.

A book that left me feeling that I haven't lived, that for all my moans and whinges, I have suffered little compared to this woman. One of the so-called horsemen of New Atheism, her voice adds a female quality, a sense of perspective that was missing before but also highlights how foul a concept religion is and how better off we all would be without it. She shares her experiences, some rather harrowing, with brutal honesty.

Her story reveals fundamentalist Islam as being a vile, man-made aberration of faith; corrupt and dictatorial, cruel and uncaring and totally perverse. She does not point the finger of blame at those with faith but rather at the men who organise and manipulate those they seek to subdue. Having said that, she does not shy away from some horrible truths. It was her own Grandmother who circumcised her, who sewed her vagina to the smallest of holes and not her father who, absent far too long due to his political leanings and his philandering ways, was a progressive and liberal Muslim. At the end of the day, she tells us what we already know but does it by drawing on her own experience.

Religion is at worst evil at best misguided. As she herself says - 'Tolerance of intolerance is cowardice' and we all have for far too long tolerated monotheism. This book, this author hammers home the fact that religion has had its day and that it is high time it faded from the world and was consigned to the pages of history along with the bubonic plague which it resembles. She does suggest a way for Islam, a suggestion all Monotheist would applaud and that is for Muslims to 'cherry pick' moral rectitude's found within the Koran rather than follow by rote.  

There are some splashes of humour scattered sparingly...seeing a white man for the first time and thinking the sun had burnt his skin off...meeting westerners in Holland with their infidel ways but, by and large, this is a book about struggle. The thing that I liked best is that Ayaan manages to demonstrate how someone from the third world, poorly educated but with such a sponge-like brain, is able to not only challenge the stricter forms of Islam, confront if head on but also manages to educate herself against all odds. I shall never again complain about my poor education. She puts me to shame.

"To see what is right and not to do it is want of courage. " - Confucius

This Frenchman, a philosopher of note, knows his onions and yes, that is a pretty bad joke. Rather wordy at times but I like that. He still manages, with some snappy prose that wedges slabs of arguable fact, into his assertion. He not only decries organised religion, outlining its historical misdemeanour's, but also its clinging, warped pseudo morals that run like tramlines of convention through modern society. In other words, even with atheism on the rise, we are still trapped by its insidious doctrines. Some of the thoughts presented seem a little odd but without further investigation I cannot comment. He attacks not just the unpleasant past, not that far back in time either - the 20th century for Christians and contemporary issues with Muslim's, but also shows how atheism, by virtue of its existence, is still in thrall to monotheism. It is an absorbing essay. Well conceived if a little verbose at times.

It is with this final book that I find an answer to why the above authors, scientists some, philosophers others, react when seeing the evils of organised religion enacted on the average man. It is this reaction which I find equally as bad as that of religion itself. One cannot exist without the other. It is rather like that other bugbear of mine - the Servile State. A system supported by communism and capitalism which are both twins of the same parent. The same could be said for Theism and Atheism. They are twins and just like Cane and Abel offer no peaceful solutions only more tribes to follow. Their existence gives rise to further conflicts by the very act of having one thing that stands at odds with the other. There will be those who will join one side or the other and by doing so taking a stance. That stance is by default an aggressive one. By division, we create a conflict.

Atheism is a sanguine act of aggression. It promotes and supports change without recognising the spirituality inherent in humankind. It enables not just clear, logical thinking which we need but encourages others to vocalise and then support their words with a robust posture which could, which might lead to acts of outrage and ultimately violence.

"As soon as you concern yourself with the 'good' and 'bad' of your fellows, you create an opening in your heart for maliciousness to enter. Testing, competing with, and criticizing others weaken and defeat you." - Morihei Ueshiba

All and any form of violence, unless it is self-defence is wrong. We can, and sometimes we must protest our dislike for any one given thing. It might be political, it might be sexual, the one thing it can never be is violent. The act of violence negates all protest. If we want change, and I for one do, the only way to see that happen is by pacifist means. And yet, having said that had there been no division in the first place there could be no conflict.

I have expressed a dislike for religion, some would frame it as being organised religion. I see all Monotheism as being organised. I am not so confident when it comes to Hinduism or Paganism and certainly not Buddhism. None of those faiths are controlled by Rabbis, Priests or Imams. They are, by and large, verbal traditions that have little to do with temples or churches. By principle, their practices are passed down mouth to ear. There are few doctrinal documents that preach anything but love, sex and co-existing with others. There are no sets of instructions on what to do if you meet humans of different persuasions. No one is encouraged to stone or decapitate anyone.

I welcome these authors, these so-called New atheists. I enjoy the wisdom they share in their books. I like their irrefutable logic. What I do not like is their oversight of humankind's natural seeking of belonging. What was once mysterious is still remarkable. Knowing is not a reductive process. Showing us the mechanics of how some call God works does not reveal why we feel connectivity not only to each other but our fellow animals and much, much more. The creative and the absurd are our ways, our spiritual overtones to that Great Spirit, that thing that we are part of and yet which we still find remarkable, amazing and beautiful no matter how much we learn. Call it God, call it what you will, it still amazes, it still enthrals, it still invites our celebration of not only IT but also ourselves. At the end of the day is one not the same as the other?

By having, or forming New Atheism or Humanism all, you are doing is starting yet another unnecessary group. It will have its own agendas. They may start our benignly only for someone to reshape them into something other than that which they first were. For example, a right-wing thinker who detests Islam or  Christian Evangelicals and who then, upon seeing one of those groups perform what he sees as a sinful, corrupt act of violence, suggests that his group should retaliate. This is wrong. It is perfectly legitimate to defend a principle, to suggest a peaceful solution but the peaceful solution would not need to be sought if you didn't have groups which can only ever create division.

I see these stances being taken all the time. This is not helpful. Nor is it helpful to have Theism or Atheism. They cause people to defend their corners when there are no corners to defend only smooth curves.

"A human being is part of a whole, called by us the 'universe', a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separate from the rest - a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affectation for a few people near us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty." - Albert Einstein

Next: Jesus.

Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.

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