Divine Right: The Truth is a Lie — An Atheist Defends Atheism

Initially, I was going to post this as a rebuttal to refute the letter written by Bruce Sheiman and any misconceptions that fence-sitters may develop after reading Mr. Sheiman's book, "An Atheist Defends Religion." Mr. Sheiman's letter to a reader is re-printed in another thread that was posted by Noisican under the Ethics and Morals forum. Since my rebuttal to Mr. Sheiman's position is too long for a reply post on that existing discussion, I believe it merits its own discussion.

Mr. Sheiman's position (in short) is that since religion offeres many people comfort, happiness, and a sense of purpose in life, then it is only right to defend religion as a social good. I find several things wrong with that.

First, in the most well-known religions since the time of the Neolithic Revolution during the time of Hammurabi's Codified Law, religion caused more suffering than it brought happiness and comfort. History and archeology shows us by the excavation of ancient sites and analysis of recovered grave goods alone that for everyone who received "comfort" from religion, many more did not.

From the beginning of the Neolithic Revolution up through the end of the Bronze Age, the Iron Age, and into the 19th century, women (half the human race) were frequently targeted for becoming fodder for religion — from ritual sacrifice to appease the gods/God, to extra punishments, torture and execution for violating gender-defined roles promoted and dictated by religion. Ruins of ancient ritual sites show us that victims of human sacrifice did not die nice, peaceful deaths. Many were unwilling. For them, the idea that religion brought them "comfort" or "happiness" is highly questionable. They were hewn down before the prime of their lives without getting much of the benefits that makes life worthwhile living.

In polytheistic religions in Meso-America as well as in ancient Europe and the regions known as the "Fertile Crescent", victims of human sacrifice were often violently killed in their youth. This does not even include all the atrocities and human rights violations that have occurred, and which are being occurred today, in the name of Abrahamic monotheism.

Additionally, religion always seemed to explain why some people were spared the cruelties of war and natural disasters, but not others, and this set a lot of people up for marginalization. It promoted an ideology that God (or the gods) favored this or that group, but not others. It's downright despicable when you think about it.

It's selfish and inconsiderate to say, "God spared me/my family" in a natural disaster. What kind of message does that send to others who weren't so fortunate? That they or their loved ones weren't "worthy" enough of God's favor to be spared? Or how about, "God was on my child's team's side" at high school sports events. What about the parents of the children on the other school's team? Why wasn't God on their team's side?

It is more than insulting to hear these kind of statements. But it is even more of an insult to my intelligence to be told that this is all somehow OK just because some people are benefiting from religion, because such "benefits" frequently are not without expense or loss suffered by too many others. Women are still being told today across the US and other nations in the world that any extra suffering they're forced to bear as a consequence of divine decree from god will be made right in the afterlife. A preoccupation with the afterlife dismisses the importance of enjoying the one life you've got right now, and the importance of social responsibility to doing your part to make life suck just a little bit less for yourself and everyone else while you're here.

It is the weighing of benefits v. costs that must be examined honestly and painfully before making any apologia for religion as an overall social good.

As a fellow author, I respect Mr. Sheiman's honest endeavor to produce a book of compelling introspection. But his is not a position I can agree with. As one author to another, I would recommend reading his book but I would also have to recommend reading mine, Divine Right: The Truth is a Lie, which is the antithesis to his noble effort.

As an atheist, and especially as a woman, I take greater comfort knowing that there are other like-minded men and women — from young to old — who recognize the importance of purging harmful dogma from societal influence. A preoccupation with an afterlife diminishes the value placed on the quality of life in THIS one. I would find greater comfort knowing that as a woman, it wasn't my predestined lot in life to have to suffer extra punishment, pain, misery, and injustice with the justification that I'll get my reward in some afterlife. So yeah, having harmful religious influences criticized and estopped from making so many people suffer in this life — knowing that in the end I'll be "worm food" — is a greater comfort for me than any false hopes and empty promises offered by religion ever could be.


Tags: afterlife, comfort, human, justice, philosophy, reality, religion, rights, social, theism, More…truth, values

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Heh, I was going to give you a response, but it looks like I would be repeating much of what was already suggested by others. Cheers. :)
Christians of various sects do plenty of bad stuff today. Perhaps you weren't aware of the religiously-defended cases of child neglect leading to death that happen periodically in this country, or the forced marriages by Christian cultists to underage girls. Then there's the faith healing fraud that robs gullible people of their hard earned cash. There's groups like Blackwater, whose Christian fundamentalist leader is responsible for countless unneeded deaths overseas. There's also a strong movement on the religious right which hopes to bring about the conditions described in Revelation to speed what they believe will be the second coming of Christ....

If I were to go on summarizing as briefly as I can, I would easy quadruple the length of this already-long post. We have plenty of things to worry about from modern Christianity.


Holy bloggosphere, Batman! LOL! I don't know whether to give you a big cyber hug, or ask your permission to be so bold as to give you that hug! You have, in this post, summed up the jist of what my book, Divine Right: The Truth is a Lie, is all about — the fact that there is a continuum of extreme harm being occurred today by modern Christianity as a present culmination of cumulative harms over time which have yet to be rectified, remediated, redacted (where possible), and even so much as apologized for (which I'm not holding my breath for that).
Wow. Your examples are exceptions (and there are always exceptions -- you know, like the atheistic exceptions Hitler, Pol Pot, Kim Jong il, Stalin, and the list goes on). Your exceptions are reprehensible, to be sure. But they characterize less than 1% of the 2 billion Christians. When you expect that among 2 billion people that everyone of them acts like Jesus, it is clear your outlandish expectations are driven by your anti-religion bias. Christians built Universities like Harvard, hospitals, the Red Cross, libraries. But you focus on this or that cult leader. Tell me how much sense that makes?

You are on the extreme end of the debate. You are the kind of people I warn against in my book.

Bruce

Bruce
First of all, I think it's cool you both wrote books... but seriously, do you have to drop that into every point in a debate? Just because you wrote a book doesn't mean that makes you THE expert in this issue. There are books warning against people like you, like Rush Limbaugh, like Glenn Beck, like Barak Obama... etc, etc, etc.

The problem here is that the examples Jaq makes are not the exceptions. In fact, I would say they are the models depicted in the Bible. I'm sure you know the track record of priests in the Catholic Church. The testimonies against them are mounting by the day and are now in the thousands. I'm sure more and more people will come out about the sexual misconduct as they are less afraid and realize they're not alone.

Seriously. Do you really want us to list off all the so-called Christians who have been murders, rapists, sexist, abusive, slave-holders... in the the name of Christ? In the Old Testament, the standard of discipline was stoning! What do you do when your teen smarts off? Stone him. What do you do when your wife tries to defend your life by grabbing your assailant by the balls? Cut her hand off. What do you do when someone comes into your community talking about "other gods"? Kill him. What do you do if someone picks up stick on the Sabbath? Stone them. What do you do when the voices in your head tell you to sacrifice your own child? Sacrifice them. What do you do when two angels are visiting and the angry mob wants to rape them? Offer your virgin daughters instead. What do you do when other cities worship "pagan" gods? Burn their city to the ground leaving nothing alive (including kittens and puppies). What do you do when your slave disobeys? Beat him within an inch of his life.

The list goes on and on and on, Bruce. Like I said before, Christianity has done great things DESPITE its doctrines. How can you not see this? These are NOT exceptions! King David had a man killed because he slept with his wife, and THIS is the guy we're supposed to model our lives after; this is a man God considers righteous! Abraham was poised to kill his own son, and he was another man Christians are supposed to emulate. Lot was the only righteous man in Sodom and Gomorrah... he offered his own daughters to be raped by a mob in place of two strangers!

All the key characters in the Bible are despicable! Even Jesus wasn't as saintly as everyone has made him out to be. He openly admitted he was not here to bring peace, but the sword. He knew following after him would cause a rift in families; he actually called people to leave their families for him. He was also racist, although I'll have to look up the verse where he initially denies a woman healing because she was a Gentile (not Jewish) and called her a dog. He says that he came for "the lost sheep of Israel"... NOT everyone else.

Jeez, Bruce, I really think you need to read the Bible to get a better handle on just what you're defending. Could you do me a favor and read Deuteronomy? I'm serious. It's a great starting point. And since Jesus says, in Mark 5:18, "I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished" it is all still relevant. If you don't know what he means by "the Law", you should read Deut. All of it. Thanks.
"Christians built Universities like Harvard, hospitals, the Red Cross, libraries."

But with Universities, hospitals, the Red Cross (a secular institution, by the way) and libraries, it was not done in accordance with religious duty, but rather by societal demands. Try again, Bruce.

"You are on the extreme end of the debate. You are the kind of people I warn against in my book."

Then let me be the first to call your book a flat-out fraud.
Frink:

I would suggest that you ALL read my book before you criticize what you do not know. The reason I am no longer posting anything here is that it is 12 against one, and no one in your group is interested in any opposing point of view. Every criticism you level at me or at religion can be reversed and sent back to you.

I have met many atheists and many believers. In my experience, the former have been contemptuous; the latter nice, Christian-like. And I do not think they are being nice to win points in the heavenly sweepstakes.

The truth is you guys are all followers. There's not a free-thinker among you. You all sound off like Dawkins and Hitchens, and use the same formulaic and hackneyed arguments. Nothing original.

If you cannot see that you are the same as your religious fundamentalist peers, that's because it is in your self-interest to think otherwise.

If you want to be fair (for once), read my website and blog -- oh, and yes, my book. Then we can discuss something more than the abstract and more than what you only think my writing is all about.

My blog is updated about once per week. I would be honored to engage you there instead of here where you have a numbers advantage and I am defending a book you have not read.

Adios. Bruce
Originality is not necessary when we're dealing with a book that is over 2,000 years old. There are only so many arguments a person can make on an issue. Originality does not necessarily lend itself to validity, so please don't bother trying to appeal to my need to be "original".

You're a follower, too, Bruce. Don't pretend that you're not serving your own self-interest as well. If you admit that you are, then don't taunt us with that as though it were negative or abnormal. Of course I have a problem with religion because of self-interest. Why else would I have a problem with it? It affects me on a day to day basis. It affects the schools I might send my future kids to. It affects policies that will be made, bills and laws that will be passed... religion has ingrained itself into every aspect of our lives.

You're no more interested in an opposing view-point than we apparently are. I've conceded points you've made though, while you've conceded none. And don't think everyone here on this site agrees. Frink and I have definitely disagreed on some issues, but we actually listened to the arguments the other made.

I'll check out your site if you provide a link, but I don't know why I should be inclined to change my position if you're not. You are guilty of everything you accuse us of.
I've got things to do, so I'll make this quick.

1) You're assuming far too many things about the rest of us to be complaining about presumption.

2) Most Christians I know are nice people. They're just people. Normal people who have families and feelings of their own. People whose personalities have more to do with their attitudes than their religion. We don't seem to have a disagreement here.

Likewise, most atheists I know are nice people for the same reasons. What you seem to be doing is A) saying that because nice Christians exist, we should just turn a blind eye when the not-so-nice ones misbehave; and B) saying atheists are generally assholes because they don't care for religion. The first proposition is irresponsible and poorly supported while the second is plain ignorant.

3) "If you cannot see that you are the same as your religious fundamentalist peers, that's because it is in your self-interest to think otherwise."

What you're essentially saying here is "if you don't see things my way, then it's because you have an agenda." So much for reasoned arguments.

4) The only purpose you seem to have here is self-promotion. If what you've said here is any indication of what's on your website or in your book, I'm not particularly interested in reading it. I prefer reasoned arguments over fanatical diatribes.

Nothing personal, Brucie.
Wow. Your examples are exceptions (and there are always exceptions -- you know, like the atheistic exceptions Hitler, Pol Pot, Kim Jong il, Stalin, and the list goes on). Your exceptions are reprehensible, to be sure. But they characterize less than 1% of the 2 billion Christians. When you expect that among 2 billion people that everyone of them acts like Jesus, it is clear your outlandish expectations are driven by your anti-religion bias. Christians built Universities like Harvard, hospitals, the Red Cross, libraries. But you focus on this or that cult leader. Tell me how much sense that makes?

You are on the extreme end of the debate. You are the kind of people I warn against in my book.

Bruce


Uh, wow Bruce. Extreme? Oh yes, fighting for the human rights and equal Constitutional rights of women who, as a group, experience treatment of their bodies as state and church property...and whom are viewed and treated as nothing more than vaginal respirators with no purpose for existing other than as breeding livestock. But how extremist of me to fight such injustice! I mean, how dare I, right?

Listen, I have been more than respectful towards you. CaraColleen has been more than respectful towards you. To call me an "extremist" is ironic. Am I fanatic for fighting for human rights for women and girls? You bet! But am I strapping a bomb belt onto myself or family members to take out "the enemy" in order to do so? Hell no! Am I shooting "pro-life" doctors who deny rape victims EC as part of the standard police rape kit at Catholic hospitals under the "conscience clause" of their right to "freedom of religion"? No. Instead I am speaking out (spoke out at a human rights conference in London back in October) and writing passionately about these injustices being occurred today — in the name of religion. I am exposing the purveyors of those injustices with the pen, not skewering them with the sword or the Judas chair, the rack, the stake, or...well, you get the point.

I am not supporting with my vote and money forced birth ("pro-life") policies that essentially resort to the use of fetuses to maim, torture, traumatize and possibly kill women and girls — religionists and religious apologetics do that. Because the notion prevails deeply ingrained that women's sole existence is to bear an infant, according to Genesis 3:16. Therefore many less famous despots across the nation in positions of privilege and power in every community (doctors and nurses in ER's, pastors, policemen, etc.) use their belief to promote health and other public policy and propose legislation that denies a woman her right to life in subordination to potential male life. Want an example? Try this on for size:

A poll in 1965 found that a majority of Americans supported the American Law Institute’s abortion law model: A woman was entitled to an abortion if her physical or mental health were endangered, if she had been a victim of rape or incest, or if there were fetal deformities. 12 states agreed, but reform became bogged down. Catholics argued on the floor of state legislatures that abortion was murder and that the innocent unborn had a greater right to life than mothers did.

In a Georgetown Law Journal article, Eugene Quay argued that a woman who was willing to sacrifice her child for her own health was lacking something. “It would be in the interests of society to sacrifice such a mother,” he wrote, “rather than sacrifice the child who might prove to be normal and decent and an asset.”

Guess what. One doesn't have to be an Ignatius Layola, Rodrigio Borgia (Pope Alexander VI), or the two Dominican friars from the College of Cardinals that authored the Malleus Maleficarum to qualify as a dangerous religious extremist.

The most dangerous people of all are those who allow injustice to occur by being indifferent to others' suffering because of normalized abuse, discrimination, and cruelty. I am talking about the average Joe and Jane Doe pharmacist or ER staff who deny women info on, and access to, Plan B. I am talking about every rabbi and mohel who genitally mutilates baby boys (circumcision) in the name of a mitzvah in keeping with a religious covenant as one of "God's chosen" (I come from a Jewish background so I think I know a little about this sort of thing). Of course, circumcision is another brutal practice that has become normalized and is now standard procedure in every hospital across the US.

I am talking about the Christian Scientists (the followers of Mary Baker Eddy) who deny their diabetic child insulin and let their kid die in the name of "freedom of religion" because their faith makes medical benefits repugnant to them.

I am talking about the average Jehova Witness family who denies their wife or child a blood transfusion to save their life.

I am talking about all the little girls who grow up in Quiverfull families, programmed to believe that they MUST place their uteruses in God's service and if they die before age 35 from endless cycles of pregnancy and birth, so be it — and the little boys who grow up to be tyrants for Christian husbands because they're taught from the cradle that women are their property and that serving her husband in submission and that the hazards of childbirth are women's sole redemption and salvation as having inherited some mythical ancestor's punishment for the "original sin" in Genesis.

I am talking about all the FLDS families that go along with "blood atonement" under the noses of authorities not eager to prosecute since they also share the same "beliefs"; or who throw out their "surplus sons" on the command of their sect's "prophet" so that seedy old Mormon men can impregnate as many "fresh young cows" (yes, that's really how they think of women and girls) — the idea is to keep the ratio of females to males highly imbalanced in those communities so that "Elders" can get as many plural "celestial wives" as they can to beget babies by in order to achieve godhood on Kolob (as long as they never remove their magical underwear with their magical name inscribed in it).

I am talking about the normalized idea in our society that women somehow "asked for it" or "deserved it" if they're raped (which one in five US women are before age 25).

I am talking about the normalized acceptance in societies of "honor killing" rape and molestation victims and gays by stoning in Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, etc.

I am talking about nations that are theocracies where life is so horrible for women and girls that many in desperation resort to self-immolation (they set themselves on fire to kill themselves rather than submit to brutal ownership and chattel slavery under patriarchy).

And on theocracies, right here in America there is a very dangerous undercurrent known as the theonomy movement that seeks to scrap the US Constitution in lieu of Mosaic Law which would be binding on ALL Americans, replete with stonings and amputations as prescribed in Deuteronomy and Leviticus.

As an "extremist" Atheist and strident Feminist, I fight these things without calling for or promoting the shedding of one ounce of blood — I fight to protect my human rights and the human rights of others (whether they are male or female, theist or non-theist). And I do so with very strong rhetoric, since that is what I have found works (unfortunately).

And last but not least, Hitler was NOT an atheist! He was very much a good little Catholic boy who, if only admitted to art school, would have done good with his life (and spared millions of others). Had you done your research and homework a little more thoroughly, you would find that Hitler ADMITTED to have fashioned his dreaded SS after the Jesuit Order! Here is my back up for this:

"The Third Reich is the first world power which not only acknowledges, but also puts into practice the high principles of the papacy."
~ Franz von Papen

"I am just carrying on with the same policy which the Catholic Church has adopted for 1500 years when it regarded the Jews as dangerous and pushed them into ghettos...because it knew what the Jews were like and perhaps I am doing Christianity a great service." ~ Adolf Hitler, conversation with the bishop in Germany regarding his "Final Solution" to the Jewish question.

During WW II, the biggest cheerleaders of the Roman Catholic Church were fascist dictators: Adolf Hitler (Germany), Benito Mussolini (Italy), Franco (Spain), and Ante Pavelic (Croatia). You can read all about the horrors of Jasenovac in Chapter 3 of my book...if you've got a strong stomach and a box of Kleenex because it WILL make you cry (or get very disgusted). Ustase brutality against Serbs, Jews, Gypsies and Roma at Jasenovac even made hardened Nazi war criminal Reinhard Heydrich shudder in revulsion and sickened dread. Catholic Ustase cruelty and methods of torture were unparalleled....the Taliban however, is probably a very close second.

Now, I know that there are shmucks who will brutalize and oppress others in any kind of patriarchal hierarchical regime whether religion is involved or not. But please, do not insult my intelligence by saying that Hitler was an Atheist when he clearly was not, or claim that Christianity is no longer the engine driving human and civil rights violations of women and girls around the world today when it clearly is.

Yes, there are good Christians/Jews/Muslims/Buddhists and etc. But I believe that the people who are good would still be good whether they were theists or not. But religion can, and often does, lend credence and legitimacy to atrocities that motivate otherwise good people to do some very bad things.

"Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction."
~ Blaise Pascal
I think Religion has analogy with Nicotine addiction. Although smokers claim that a cigarette gives them relaxation from daily stress, it’s the lack of nicotine that is causing them the additional stress they would feel if they weren’t addicted to it in the first place. Similarly, religion people claim that faith gives them strength at times while they fail to mention that their faith often makes them frightful and confused at many occasions
I don't know about that. Smoking cessation is congruent with weight gain, but religious cessation is not. Plus, when's the last time you've heard of irate smokers orchestrating a pogrom of torture and targeted gender-based human rights deprivations? I think religion can be more harmful than the strongest of opiates. But the operative words here are "can be."
It's not too bad a comparison really, consider it under this angle: there have been several studies over the years which suggest that married and religious people seem to exhibit better health and remission time. Of course this is only an indirect consequence of religion, the whole 'tight-knit' community concept. If atheist were a 'tight-knit' community we'd see the same trend...

So if one agrees (which I don't always) that 'health' must include weight correctness, then yes, atheist might weigh more. And stretching it even more, one might conclude that an average-weight person leaving the tight-knit community (church?) would have a greater probability of gaining weight. :)

As for torture and pogroms, I was tortured and pogromed by my parents' attitude to smoking as a kid, so I can see this side :) I spent 17 years of forced pills, surgeries, tests, punishments, school absenteeism, due to sickness, because not only of my parents' addiction to nicotine, but also by their condescending attitude to global rights to clean air. Consider too the cigarette companies. Focusing their advertising (by their own documents) on pre-teen addiction building is torture by another name.

I put religions and cigarettes in a quasi similar dark emotional space. They have both caused myself and humanity much grief.

Furthermore, as an atheist since birth and never having been a smoker, I find no cause to even consider any benefit to either, since any benefit is counteracted many times over by negative consequences.

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