15 May 2011

Religion, terrorism, and name calling

Contradictions are interesting.  We all have them.  Perhaps you know someone who is anti-abortion but cheers when a missile strike destroys a convoy in Afghanistan carrying innocent people as well as a suspected terrorist.  Or someone who claims to be a Christian and yet lives a life of sheer excess.  Perhaps you know someone who lays claim to atheism yet won't step on a crack for fear of damaging his/her mother's back.

All of these instances are contradictory to the core belief system.  The mistake that is often made when contradictions such as these are observed is to label any of the people who practice them as hypocrites. Name calling is a convenience meant to eliminate any necessity to understand something in greater detail.  The easiest action to perform is to label something by naming it.  The act of naming something implies that there is understanding of that thing.  By calling the people who commit suicide bombing attacks "terrorists" and "evil" the government instills in the public opinion a certain level of understanding.  The public associates these groups as malevolent in reaction to the names themselves assigned to the entities.  The larger problem with this type of propaganda is that for many people there is no further investigation to uncover why or the underlying reasons for people to use themselves as weapons of destruction. 

What is an act of terrorism anyway?  If the US or one of its allies kills a thousand innocent civilians, is it an act of terrorism?  What is meant by the concept of evil?  Is invading a sovereign nation evil?  Is it evil to kill someone without cause?  These are nebulous terms and the meanings can shift from one person to the next or depending on which country is carrying out the action.  So understanding them is arbitrary.

God and the religious
One objection to the argument that a benevolent god exists is the presence of terrible unnecessary suffering of innocent life in the world, or what is commonly referred to as the problem of evil (here's that thorny concept yet again).  H.L. Mencken once said, "[y]ou can never underestimate a human being."  Imagine the most malicious action, crime, or offense someone could perform and you'll find thousands who have and thousands who have committed much worse crimes against humanity and/or against nature - many times in the name of religion. 

The religionist has no explanation for this.  What's surprising is how many Christian apologists use the same tactic to address the problem of unnecessary suffering.  They try to explain away the problem by describing god as having a motive for allowing innocents to suffer that's so utterly complicated we mortals cannot possibly understand.  It's an absolutely disastrous counterargument because the whole premise of Christianity, and Judaism and Islam, is to develop a "relationship" with the Lord.  It seems to be a daunting obstacle to not understand why an omnipotent, omnipresent, benevolent super-being would allow the hideous crimes of mass genocides, fraternicides, rape, child molestation, torture, senseless acts of brutality, the slow death of malnutrition, etc. when this omnipotent creature could blink and the level of pain reduced substantially without much impact on our relationships with it.

Just a slight reduction in the amount of pain that innocent people suffer through wouldn't create too much of a problem, would it?  People could still have an option to choose to love god or not.  But unfortunately this doesn't happen.  The only cases where pain and suffering have been diminished is when people intervene, many times religionists but not predominately so and definitely not exclusively.   

In this case the fact that so often the counterargument to the problem of unnecessary suffering is of the same nature from a variety of people is an indication that some very effective indoctrination is taking place.  Obviously philosophers and thinkers far more intelligent than the writer of this entry have thought about these issues and argued over these issues for hundred of years.  They came up with a pat answer that has been passed down form generation to generation without much question.   Through a sleight-of-hand naming trick religionists are playing the same game as politicians using the words "terrorist" and "evil". 

(The most interesting position that I have heard was from a Muslim who argued that allah is everything.  Allah is wicked and good.  But Allah never promises to be only benevolent.  Interestingly from that standpoint there may as well be no allah or god because a supernatural being becomes irrelevant.  On the other hand, if there is a god that creates suffering, there's no guarantee that the afterlife will be pleasurable.  It is just as likely that eternity will be filled with torment.)   

The answer to the problem of evil doesn't address the problem with any further level of understanding.  Using "god" and "evil" and the "nature of god" as concepts that have no pinned down definition causes inconsistencies that cannot be reconciled.  These concepts in the end exist as arbitrary notions without value and without meaning.  What god wants becomes devoid of any actual significance because god becomes an unknowable conceptual device.

This all begs the question: What's the problem with there being no god?  It might straighten out a lot of conflict in the world if people just accepted the idea that religion is myth.  Then we can get on with tackling the real problems that our children are going to inherit from us if they live that long. 

Let's stop arguing and fussing about this god or that god and this religion or that religion.  Let's be rid of the whole idea altogether.   Perhaps then we can address the tangible issues like the environmental devastation people are inflicting on the Earth, the inequality of wealth, education, justice, and health in the US and globally.  Afterall, a stitch in time saves nine.

Marx called religion the opiate of the masses.  It's time to get rid of one of civilization's sedatives, plenty others left.  Get rid of religion and go get involved in the real world.

So let's all get involved.  If you have any ideas on how to get more involved in addressing our global problems, please post them online.  Let's get the ball rolling by getting rid of one cause for so much division and war.

Some places to start: http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/getinvolved/
An Alternative to Competition
In a later blog entry, I will set out an argument for why competition is actually harming innovation and productivity.  But in today's entry, I'd just like to post a brief word about it.

There is a plausible alternative to competition in a classroom setting.  That is cooperation and collaboration.  Rather than calling on one person to answer a question, call on groups to answer questions.  A teacher ought to inspire a hunger for learning and a desire to solve problems by communicating with others.  It's a positive approach that can become effective with practice and will instill longer retention rates.  Teaching should revolve around authentic learning experiences not fabricated examinations. 

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