Religion, Atheism and Dogmatic Thinking

The Inquisition Tribunal as illustrated by Francisco de Goya.

Via orwellwasright:

Someone recently asked: “Should the oppressive content of monotheistic religions be respected and left alone or challenged and questioned?” It’s a loaded question which, needless to say, provoked a lively debate on the nature of religion as a force for oppression and negativity in the world today. As one person expressed it: “Christianity is a restrictive, damaging, violent, oppressive, totalitarian, hypocritical, patriarchal cult that has caused 2000 years of pain, suffering and misery to countless millions.”

It’s not hard to see why so many people think this way – religious wars and persecution have, over the centuries, killed untold millions; the tenets of Holy scriptures used as a justification for a litany of crimes against humanity, from the Crusades in the Near East and the conquest of the New World and subsequent genocide of the indiginous population, to the horrific Inquisition and the frequent slaughter of heathens “in the name of Our Lord Jesus Christ”.

Today, religious institutions continue to come under intense criticism, often completely justified, as is the case with the ongoing scandals of child abuse and corruption or encouragement of violent extremism (something fundamentalist Christians are as guilty of as their fundamentalist Islamic counterparts). Judaism, too, is often deliberately equated with Zionism, in order to absolve the state of Israel any culpability for its crimes against humanity committed against the Palestinian people and other Arab neighbours.

The considerable atheist backlash against religious organizations and their impact on the development of the species is understandable – and yet, ironically, sometimes these reactions betray another type of close-minded dogmatism, one which seeks to deny that religion has any form of value whatsoever and should be entirely discarded in favour of a new ideology; a kind of “militant atheism” whose adherents set out to attack religion whilst propagating their own perceived certainties. It is an irony which is perhaps best summed up by the foundation of the first “atheist church” in London earlier this year; while calls to stamp out religion altogether resound with Evangelical zeal.

A legitimate response to the view that religion is a destructive force in the world is that the institution has perverted decent and right-thinking tenets for its own nefarious ends; that Holy scriptures intended to enlighten and liberate have become warped into dogma and orthodoxy – tools of control to manipulate the masses. The ambiguous nature of these texts – the allegories and parables loaded with hidden meaning and symbolism – are, by their nature, open to misinterpretation and abuse.

But while this may be true, to suggest that this quality makes them somehow inherently flawed on account of their institutional manipulation and therefore ultimately worthless is to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Christianity, for instance, has a rich and diverse history which denies simplistic characterization. Compare the Christian Gnostics or Neoplatonists with the early Roman Christians where Greco-Roman pantheism still played a role, to the Catholic church and the huge schisms of the Protestant Reformation, and it is clear how impossible it is to define Christianity as any one thing. There are probably more Christian denominations scattered around the globe today than at any other point in history, with an influence as equally varied.

Few would deny that the current economic system is one of the most destructive forces in the world today, exacerbating poverty as the divide between rich and poor continues to grow exponentially. Loans made with excessive and abusive interest rates plunge millions into debt, an immoral practice known as usury. All the main religions, from Judaism and Christianity to Islam and Buddhism, have condemned this practice, with numerous references found throughout the Hebrew Bible, New Testament, Qur’an and even the ancient Indian Vedas. Few would disagree that the world would be a significantly better place without the unscrupulous practices of modern day moneylenders.

Christ drives the Usurers out of the Temple, a woodcut by Lucas Cranach the Elder in ‘Passionary of Christ and Antichrist’

The luminous poetry of William Blake – a religious man hugely critical of the church – may well be one of the finest examples of the reconciliation of the rebellious nature against religious orthodoxy existing paradoxically within the framework of faith in God; a man who understood that “men forgot that All deities reside in the human breast” and sought equality and liberty for all. Heavily influenced by the Gnostics, Blake has been described by some as a visionary anarchist.

Other historical religious groups have spearheaded radical political movements: the 17th century Diggers were a group of Protestants who sought to reform the social order and create a system of small rural communities based on egalitarian principles – they were to influence the San Francisco Diggers of the 1960s, the community anarchists and radical activists of Haight-Ashbury. Their influence was felt again in the revival of anarchism and the anti-road movements in the UK in 2011. Russian writer Leo Tolstoy’s views on anarchism were pacified by his devotion to Christianity. In his 1900 essay “On Anarchy”, Tolstoy wrote: “The Anarchists are right in everything; in the negation of the existing order and in the assertion that, without Authority there could not be worse violence than that of Authority under existing conditions. They are mistaken only in thinking that anarchy can be instituted by a violent revolution.”

William Blake is one who recognised how the profound spiritual truths of religious texts were sunk into obscurity by the institution of the Church. He condemned the sophistry of theological thought, which endorsed individual repression where “sin” bound men’s desires, while at the same time excusing acts of evil and injustice. These criticisms still stand today, not least in the manner in which religious institutions often deny that any kind of spiritual understanding can come from within. The Gnostics and many others were persecuted by the Roman Catholic Church after the Council of Nicea in 325, and the Church ended up becoming self-proclaimed arbiters of “spiritual enlightenment” whereby the average person could only encounter the divine through the medium of the priest.  The pulpit often stands as an emblem for the spreading of dogmatic ignorance in the form of false wisdoms, subverting Christ’s teachings with skillful sophistry to protect its own wealth and authority.

As the mainstream monotheistic religious institutions continued to dominate and expand their global influence, “dissenting” groups such as the Gnostics were forced underground where they would become part of a rich Western tradition of esoteric wisdom and hidden knowledge, incorporating the occult teachings of the ages, from Hermeticism and the Kabbalah through to alchemy and the Rosicrucian Enlightenment. Isaac Newton, a founding father of the modern scientific method, was profoundly influenced by the occult and was described by John Maynard Keynes in 1942 as “not the first of the age of reason, he was the last of the magicians”. As well as being a practicing alchemist, he believed he was specially chosen by God for the task of understanding Biblical scripture. These characteristics certainly cast a new light on a man who is often thought of as the archetypal materialist scientist. Newton ushered in an era dominated by the mechanistic view of the universe which went on to exclude the alchemical and religious views that Newton himself considered of vital importance.

William Blake’s “Newton”

Newton’s broad-ranging study of the occult coupled with his profound influence on shaping modern scientific thought exemplifies the way in which freedom from ideological restrictions of any description encourages thinking with the potential to create new paradigms. Dogmatism which inhibits these paradigm shifts can be scientific as well as religious, as has become increasingly apparent in the recent developments into the study of consciousness. Graham Hancock’s TEDx talk The War on Consciousness, in which he discussed the role  of ancient and sacred visionary plants and shamanism in our understanding of the mind, is a prime example of the negative impact of such scientific dogmatism.

After only a short time available to the public on the TED YouTube channel the organization removed the video, claiming the presentation “contained serious factual errors that undermine TED’s commitment to good science” and accusing Hancock of “pseudoscience”. After failing to qualify these accusations with any supporting evidence and facing an intense backlash from the public, TED was forced to backtrack and retract their initial statement. The video was uploaded in an obscure location on their blog, with TED maintaining that Hancock’s views were well outside “orthodox scientific thinking”.

For many, the expression “orthodox scientific thinking” lay at the heart of the decision to remove Graham Hancock’s talk from their channel – the attacks on his credibility and the petty, unprofessional accusations, unsupported by any kind of rigorous analysis of specific details which he could refute, were little more than masks to hide what was fundamentally an ideological issue. TED demonstrated that they represent precisely the kind of materialist scientific thinking which Hancock explicitly stated in his talk was incapable of dealing with the difficult questions of consciousness. A paradigm which precludes even the possibility of the experiential validity of shamanic altered states of consciousness and refuses to question the position that consciousness resides entirely in the brain inevitably greets such ideas with automatic ridicule and rejection.

Yet progress is only ever made when orthodox thinking is challenged – the scientific method itself involves proposing hypotheses as explanations of phenomena not fully understood. In taking the position of the rigid sceptic in dealing with Hancock’s approach to consciousness, TED, whose slogan is “Ideas Worth Sharing”, demonstrated that conformity to established doctrines takes precedence over radical new ideas truly worth sharing.

Just as the “oppressive content” of monotheistic religions should be rigorously challenged, so too should we challenge scientific materialism when it seeks to deny explorations into new avenues of inquiry which contradict its ideological position, as well as atheism when it calls for the abolition of religion and everything associated with it. But we should also recognise the positive aspects of different beliefs and integrate them in order to gain a broader understanding with the potential to surpass “conventional wisdom” (which, as history shows us, more often than not turns out to be untrue). As Einstein said (and Newton appeared to understand), “Everyone who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of the Universe – a spirit vastly superior to that of man, and one in the face of which we with our modest powers must feel humble.”

  • echar

    Loans made with excessive and abusive interest rates plunge millions
    into debt, an immoral practice known as usury. All the main religions,
    from Judaism and Christianity to Islam and Buddhism, have condemned this
    practice, with numerous references found throughout the Hebrew Bible,
    New Testament, Qur’an and even the ancient Indian Vedas.

    Yet how many of them do we see tearing down their idols or selling their land/ill begotten opulent gains (I am looking at you The Vatican) To ease the suffering of the have-nots, to feed and clothe the babies, or selling their sometime?

    The good that can be gained through these organizations can be gained through other communities. Yet before these other communities can form they have to wade through the poisonous lies, pitfalls, and psychological traps. Which are laid through ancient and persistent social engineering.

    • jnana

      You may not see any but there are plenty. They’re just not publicized in mass media. Christian and other spiritual communities are growing across the world. The values they share are much more egalitarian than yer average atheist’s. It s a misinterpretation of scripture that leads to a non-egalitarian attitude and most importantly, ignorance of the Spirit.
      The only people who judge the Spirit of Christ as oppressive are those who are blind to the actual Spirit. They are prejudiced and are only choosing to look at the wickedness of certain “followers”. If anyone actually communes w/ the Holy Spirit they would know it as Love and their True Self, and Creator of their Self.

      • echar

        Do you mind being direct please? It appears you are making assumptions and judgements of me, that may be prejudiced. As for the concepts you have mentioned, they are concepts, nothing more.

        • jnana

          I didn’t make any judgments of you, specifically, unless you judge the Spirit of Christ as oppressive. The only thing I did say towards you, is that you may not see religious people selling their land, tearing down idols, and relieving the sufferings of others, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any doing that.

          otherwise, I was commenting on a certain type of person, not you specifically. cause I don’t know you and don’t presume to.

          as for the concepts. well, concepts are ideas. And ideas and beliefs are what precipitate action in the world.

          • echar

            Thank you :)

          • Andrew

            Feelings usually precipitate action in this world, although ideas usually influence them (and vice versa).

      • mannyfurious

        Yeah, but… that “misinterpretation” is a willful one. People don’t accidentally misinterpret religious texts. They just want some kind of authority that gives them the right to be assholes. Why do you think so many “pick and choose” what to believe and what not to believe in a given text? They pick and choose what gives them a right to be greedy and selfish and judgmental and ignore the rest.

        • jnana

          I wouldn’t say its a conscious and willful decision to misinterpret texts. At least, not always. There have been many Xians who I’ve tried to talk to about Jesus. How he told his followers to abandon the world, sell everything, and all that. I talk to them about how the early church shared everything in common. The majority of Xians are taught from pastors and preachers who claim that Jesus wasn’t being literal about that, or that those were different times. These pastors tend to be rich, mind you. Its ironic how they refuse to take those passages literally, but God says homosexuality is an abomination. So yeah, they do tend to pick and choose, but that’s mostly because they are taught that way and many Xians feel guilty should they believe different than they’re taught.
          But, y’know what same could be said about any person, religious or not. They tend to pick and choose ideas that fit with what they want to be true. Many atheists don’t want to believe in God, for that might mean a certain moral responsibility, especially when its about sex.
          I “became” a Xian about 5 years ago. I had no intentions to be one and had always hated Christ. I was more into Buddhist/shamanic beliefs. Eventually, my prejudice towards jesus was shattered and I became a bit open to his ideas. I try to be open to how I should interpret them, letting the Spirit guide me. I have been pressed into conforming to mainstream or different sectarian interpretations, but I see how they’re guilt-driven. for example, I don’t believe god created the world, but instead a demiurge. most xians will tell me im wrong and the canonical bible is right. it is tough sometimes to believe differently from the majority around you when you go to church. especially when you respect them. I accept that I may be wrong, but I just cant honestly believe otherwise.

          • Microhero

            You should believe whatever makes the most sense to YOU and YOUR reality, if that makes you a better happier person, and you don’t push your beliefs on others.

            The problem is any organized form of religion tends to remove and discourage the individuals ability to find their own truth, often dismissing them violently as enemies of the faith, if they openly do..

            That… is about power over others, and the source of all the problems..

            Also, sex is what makes the living world go.
            Yup! it’s all about sex, everywere and all the time… We aren’t separate from that, nor can we be. It is none of anyones business, how, when or with whom, you have sex, as long as it is consensual and responsible. Of course in order for that to be, people need to be educated and aware of their sexuality rather than forced to ignore it or see it as sinfull. The demonization of sex is probably the most enduringly harmfull concept that most organized religions have pushed on people troughout the centuries, and the most blatantly sexist and repressive of women too.

          • jnana

            you shouldn’t force yer ideas of sexuality upon me or others. When you say people need to be educated, you mean educated about yer “progressive” “liberal” beliefs about sexuality.
            Perhaps there is a reason its seen as sinful. Just cause it makes the world go round don’t mean it aint troublesome. War and bloodshed, too, make the world go round. And its not just religious who “demonize” sex(and few major organized religions actually do, celibacy is actually rarely promoted). There are other philosophies that see sex as a force for oppression. For example, some lesbian feminists think that all (hetero) sex is rape. I’d go further and say all sex is mutual rape. But we are like frankensteins creation, neither created ourselves nor the world we live in. Don’t get me wrong, Im not judging you or anyone. I have compassion for our plight and understanding.
            Those who always give into their impulsive sexuality, and othr impulses for that matter, without considering the actual harm it causes others, are weak in self-control. And the less you practice self-control the weaker it gets. We should not encourage and promote sex. That is like discouraging mental or physical exercise. It is a good practice to obey reason over fleshly impulse. It will strengthen us in other areas, too, be it impulsive anger or hard drug use.
            Sex is more often than not a cause for trouble. Why ignore that? I understand that bliss is good and sexual union can bring 2 lovers closer together and create mystical appreciation. But sex is a paltry imitation of True Union. Although it gives us an understanding. 2 objects in space and time can never truly unite. Although we try. And we all long to unite with our long lost other half.

          • Andrew

            Nothing personal, but saying “all sex is mutual rape” is some pretty sick shit. But then I was raped once, so perhaps I’m biased.

          • jnana

            its an idea that I think may have credence. im not sure if its true, maybe it mostly is and it is the rare spiritual individuals who know how to have sex spiritually.
            by mutual rape, I mean, both people are coercing each other and manipulating each other. that its not a choice, but is forced on each other biologically and psychologically.

          • Microhero

            I deny my view as “liberal” as that is a label that boxes in my perspective, and conveniently alows you, and others to see my opinion as a part of a limited context. I also don’t aim to impose my opinions on you or anyone, nothing in my post so indicated, the purpose of these forums is to share ideas and to provide feedback on other’s, as such i don’t really care for providing feedback to people I mostly agree with. Although my position oposes yours you shouldn’t see me as oposing you. I do not!!

            Now, When I say sex makes the world go i’m not refering to the human world but the natural one of which we are inseparable, so when you see war and bloodshed I see violence and agression, which unfortunately are also a part of our nature, although clearly and always serving the higher purpose of self preservation(SURVIVAL) and perpetuation (SEX).

            Sex is troublesome as humans are troublesome. Violence and agression will obviously be associated with it because of its natural relevance, but it is not by repressing it that you will rid humanity of that violence, rather you will turn those impulses into unhealthy behavioral derivations that also generate violence and agression besides the lingering sense of guilt and wrong doing that eventually leads so many to such extreme acts.

            Bonobos are one of the most sexually promiscuous social creatures that exist on earth,, they are also one of the most peacefull with strong stable social groups. they also share other nice traits with humans, as a natural sense of justice and equality. I do not assume to compare you to a bonobo, but i’ll gladly assume to compare myself to one…

            Also when I argue the need for sex to be consensual and responsible I am clearly refering to all ” Those who always give into their impulsive sexuality,(…) without considering the actual harm it causes others” and themselves… Thus the need for education, obviously on but not limited to sexuality..

            The farther we parted from our natural selves the more troublesome our societies have become. I don’t advocate a return to origins, only a realization and recognition of the importance of our animal nature, in our personal and social wellbeing.

          • jnana

            I love nature and accept her w/ all her foibles. but I intend to practice freedom as much as possible and don’t choose to accept limitations. I aim for total freedom.
            I understand where yer coming from, though. and I do agree that most religious views on sexuality are skewed. i misperceived some of yer arguments and assumed they were something else. but, yeah, i have my own ideals and cant knock anyone for theirs, especially if they intend no harm.

    • http://www.flickr.com/photos/stevebenson/ Stephen Benson

      In a world where decades of covert policy have promoted religious leaderships over the secular, leftist and nationalist, we will have to argue in religious as well as secular political terms. And the prohibition of usury strikes to the heart of the matter.

      Interestingly, of the mainstream religions of the book, Islam seems to try hardest to live up to this scriptural injunction.

  • http://www.humblewonderful.com/ Tony C.

    I enjoyed this piece. Arguments which attempt to establish Christianity as a “good” or a “bad” thing are just juvenile history to suit current political agendas anyway.
    http://humblewonderful.blogspot.com.au/2012/03/folly-of-appraising-christianity.html

  • BuzzCoastin

    Dogmatic Thinking arises through indoctrination systems
    culture & school
    Dogmatic Thinking is maintained through ignorance & unconsciousness
    people tend to stick their heads in the sand in times of confusion
    leaving no opening for experience
    it is experience & reflection upon experience that breaks Dogmatic Thinking

    • Microhero

      Dogmatic Thinking is an oxymoron…

  • cakey pig

    Science without religion is lame. Religion without science is blind.
    [Einstein]

    • jamal iraqi

      I bet you he was talking about anything but Abrahamic religions.. Science can be a great religion to follow, based on evidence, fact, reason and truth.. Unlike most faiths that go against the very basic human nature and needs that science addresses; needless to say indoctrinates people and turns them to dogmatic robots.

  • Archie Dux

    People select a dogma that most closely matches their own interpretive preferences and propensities. Once the dogma is selected, it is used to sort and filter data from the outside world, so that the mind becomes unable to perceive data that contradict or do not fit in with the dogma.
    Human nature: people like ruts.

    • mannyfurious

      Exactly.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/stevebenson/ Stephen Benson

    The problem with these scientificist atheist types like Dawkins is a) they know nothing about religion except superficilaities, and don’t want to learn, and b) they don’t recognise the faith-based nature of most people’s belief in science.

    • Matt Staggs

      I think the guy is a major troll who has more in common with his “enemies” like Pat Robertson than he does reasonable people across spectrum of belief. To be fair, I probably would have really liked him when I was in high school.

      • Andrew

        Perhaps it’s a stage of development people have to go through, religion being for children and atheism being for adolescents.

        • Andy Dilks

          I disagree – religion is a more simplistic form of philosophy, i’d suggest

          • Ted Heistman

            The theologian said to the Philosopher: “Philosophy is looking in a dark room for a black cat who isn’t there.”
            The Philosopher replied:

            “Ah but the Theologian finds the cat!”

          • echar
          • Ted Heistman

            Yeah, Thanks I think I heard this third or forth hand in Freshman philosophy class. ..

          • echar

            you are welcome.

          • Matt Staggs

            Superstition is being afraid to step into the room for fear of crossing the black cat.

          • http://www.flickr.com/photos/stevebenson/ Stephen Benson

            You can’t magically give science a tool the rest don’t have. Science is dividing the room into a grid and methodically examining each square, sealing it on completion so the cat can’t move there.

            And if they all had a flashlight, philosophy would look for the shadow of the cat on the wall.

            The other two are too puerile to respond to…

          • echar

            You clearly found the black cat.

  • Chattur’gha

    That first picture reinforces my belief that people with silly hats are not to be trusted.

  • Hocketeer

    I just can’t see the point of people voluntarily labeling themselves as this or that. Really being something or other is difficult or nearly impossible to maintain, because at least some of the time one isn’t quite that what one so self- righteously claims to be. The label is indeed absurdly platonic, while imprinting and perfecting the art of self-deception onto the labeled.

    The only thing we usually do more or less reliably all the time is breathe.

  • jamal iraqi

    The war is not really about religion.. It is about dogma..

  • Daniel Gill

    I commented this on FaceBook I might as well just repeat it here,

    Some contrast,

    from the dust jacket or whatever of Ghosts Of War In Vietnam by Heonik Kwon

    This is a fascinating and truly groundbreaking study of the Vietnamese experience and memory of the Vietnam War through the lens of popular imaginings about the wandering souls of the war dead. These ghosts of war play an important part in postwar Vietnamese historical narrative and imagination and Heonik Kwon explores the intimate ritual ties with these unsettled identities which still survive in Vietnam today as well as the actions of those who hope to liberate these hidden but vital historical presences from their uprooted social existence. Taking a unique approach to the cultural history of war, he introduces gripping stories about spirits claiming social justice and about his own efforts to wrestle with the physical and spiritual presence of ghosts. Although these actions are fantastical, this book shows how examining their stories can illuminate critical issues of war and collective memory in Vietnam and the modern world more generally.

    some reviews,

    “The voices of Americans lost, dead, maimed physically or psychologically, fill the bookshelves. For the most part the voices of Vietnamese, living or dead, are unavailable. In his powerfully moving and beautifully written book, ‘The Ghosts of War in Vietnam,’ Heonik Kwon enables those voices to be heard. The ghosts of Vietnam’s wars are not metaphorical but vital presences through which Vietnamese understand their recent history, reflect on all that has happened since and attempt to resolve the contradictions of the present. These are ghost stories that will haunt you. No other book I have read about contemporary Vietnam so thoroughly, painfully, and intelligently illuminates both the country’s past and present. Ghost of Vietnam is an indispensable book.”
    - Marilyn Young, New York University

    “Through a rich, supple and creative analysis of what the author persuasively argues is the omnipresence of ghosts and ghost stories in wartime and postwar Vietnam, Ghosts of War in Vietnam addresses the complexities of war and memory in Vietnam in ways that will undoubtedly have a transformative impact on the study of the American war in Vietnam, the relationship between decolonization and the Cold War and the nature of historical memory in the post Cold War era. It will without question become one of the indispensable works on war and memory in the modern era.”
    - Mark Philip Bradley, Northwestern University

    “Heonik Kwon has written an outstanding book: Part history, part anthropology, part literary study, it opens up the study of the Vietnam War in a way that no other work of scholarship has done. By giving ghosts of many forms the place they deserve in the Vietnamese tragedy, Kwon tells us much that we need to know about the war, its aftermath, and about issues of death, displacement and commemoration in today’s Vietnamese society.”
    - OA Westad, Cold War Studies Centre, LSE

    “In this extraordinary work Heonik Kwon provides a deeply compelling and consistently insightful account of the attempts by ordinary Vietnamese to free the ghosts of war and offer them a place of habitation. It is at once a powerful and highly original intervention in cold war studies and one of the very best accounts of commemoration as moral and creative practice. A marvelous, virtually pitch-perfect exemplification of anthropological sensibility, this is a book that will be widely read and taught.”
    - Michael Lambek, Department of Anthropology, LSE

    “Highly recommended” -Choice

    ‘unique and revealing’. -New York Review of Books

    “Ghosts of War in Vietnam is anthropology at its best. It will without doubt become a classic text of anthropology, and I hope one that is crucial to international relations, religious studies, sociological theory, political science, cold war studies, and conflict, war, and peace studies.” -Alpa Shah, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

    ****

    from T. M. Luhrmann’s When God Talks Back: Understanding The American Evangelical Relationship With God

    influenced by spiritualism, yoga, and LSD, the Jesus People movement in the hippie era of the late 60s attracted many people back to the teachings of Jesus Christ, spiritual gifts, and mysticism.

    Its legacy has been the doctrine or belief in spiritual warfare, the idea that a Christian is thrust into the middle of a cosmic battle for their souls between angelic and demonic forces, after the experience of being Born-Again. It has wrecked havoc on the mental health of Americans.

    This same spiritual destiny, interpreted differently, has mended and healed the wounds of Vietnam’s war torn past.

    “In October, there was another conference. During the evening prayer sessions, someone had a “prophetic word” for the pastor that he should be doing more work with spiritual deliverance – the code word for the process of diagnosing demonic possession and then delivering the host person of the demon’s presence. They decided that they should pray again for Sarah. The man who joined them was more direct and authoritative than anyone who had prayed for Sarah before, naming and commanding and shouting at the demons that inhabited her. Afterward she still felt awful, and now she felt hopeless. She knew that none of the prayers had worked and that she still had demons. The pastor remembers that she cried out in anger: “I’m stuck with these demons. What do I do now?” She left the church. Within weeks, she was hospitalized for major depression. Over the next six months, Sarah went in and out of the hospital. She had two suicide attempts, one of them serious. She was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. She tried a series of antidepressants, none of which seemed to work. Eventually she agreed to electroshock therapy, and slowly over the course of many months, the bleakness lifted. Had the demonic exorcisms made things worse? Sarah’s family thought so. In fact, they laid the illness at the door of her faith. “They blame the depression on being born again. Here I’d hoped to be a good testimony and a good witness to them, and it’s sort of worked the other way. When I told them that I was thinking of going back, they were horrified that I would go back to the place I was ruined.” Her new Christian therapist was appalled at the prayer she had been receiving at the church. The therapist wasn’t charismatic and didn’t believe that Christians could be demonized or, for that matter, that people could really speak in tongues.”

  • jamal iraqi

    Extremism breed extremism.. Militant atheists have a valid reason to exist and to openly express their disdain with religion and its negative impact on humanity regardless its deep roots and culture… At least militant atheists do not destroy, oppress, kill or commit other immoralities while justifying it in the name of a god. Militant athiesm is not a dogmatic organization and it will never be so keep worrying on the more horrifying and significant impact of religion on this earth..

    • Eric

      “At least militant atheists do not destroy, oppress, kill or commit other immoralities while justifying it in the name of a god. ”

      I’m so tired of this tripe. The 20th century handily proves that atheists acquiesce to mass murder at least as readily as religious people. The common factor is PEOPLE, and this should come as no surprise to someone familiar with the religious idea that people are in a fallen state in need of redemption.

      • http://www.flickr.com/photos/stevebenson/ Stephen Benson

        Yup. The common factor is always people, especially their desire to belong to and identify with groups, to define this belonging by excluding and hating others, and their confusion of this belonging with belief, and of that belief with reality, reason, logic…

        Religion only one of many flavours.

      • Microhero

        It’s about power! Both the need of some to have it, and the tendency of most to delegate it.

        It is much easier for anyone to have someone tell them what is and must be, and just go on with their daily business of surviving, so it is no wonder that most do..

        We are an inquisitive species, but as successfull as it alows us to be, it also creates within, a constant and sometimes overwhelming sense of doubt. Religion is very efficient in exerting power as it provides relief of these doubts, with the most imaginative and by any means unprovable answers corresponding to the deepest and most unaswerable questions. So by a kind of magical move you are relieved of your burdens simply by taking it in on faith. You can see why this is so powerfull.

        I think scientists in general know that any answer they find can only lead to more questions and they accept it as a part of their personal pursuit of knowledge. In a way they too have the same unanswerable questions but accept it and aim towards getting as close as possible to those anatainable answers. building on what others did before.

        It is not as easy to use science to exert power over the individual in a purely intelectual way, as it requires a lot of previous knowledge and a active learning and critical stance. Nevertheless science is and always was used to exert power over many, by means of tecnology and secular institutions.

  • rhetorics_killer

    “Newton ushered in an era dominated by the mechanistic view of the
    universe which went on to exclude the alchemical and religious views
    that Newton himself considered of vital importance.”

    I will temper: the 17th century is known for being the apex of alchemy, its apogee.. He (Newton) lived in this very time when both occult and scientific fields were entangled, free from the prejudice ‘newborn’ scientists would later crystallize. The eighteenth century would have been a tighter challenge, for such a mind.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/stevebenson/ Stephen Benson

    Not what I said or meant. I said “the faith-based nature of most people’s belief”. Most people have not practised empirical method in the pursuit of knowledge, they believe the guys in white lab coats, their teachers, the TV.

  • Matt Staggs

    Does a Göring reference count for purposes of considering the thread Godwinned?

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/stevebenson/ Stephen Benson

    I used to love this quote until I learned it was Goring not Lenin… although Wikipedia now tells me it’s neither, actually from a play by Hanns Johst.

    “Wenn ich Kultur höre … entsichere ich meinen Browning!”