Religion, as it's generally encountered, is a bunch of silly make-believe.  Its practitioners often seem aware of this, but they worry that if they quit their game, life will become unbearable.  But was it always intentionally deceptive, or could honest philosophy have once been involved?  I wonder this because I was pondering how existence might have begun a few years ago, and I came up with the idea that what initially must have existed could have only two properties: identity and lack of cause.  I felt pleased with this idea.

Identity can be thought of as a recursive logical structure.  Something is what it is what it is, etc.  This idea has a couple things in common with a very basic observation.  Our universe is several orders more large and complex than it needs to be in order to make one's head spin, but is nonetheless (really or virtually) contained within a quite tiny three dimensions.  Well, if it "emerged from nothing" by virtue of a technically simple self-referential fact, then it makes sense for it to be unimaginably expansive and repetitive at the same time.

A while later, I drove some billboard that I don't remember any more while continuing to ponder this, and it suddenly occurred to me that the trip sequence part of Exodus contains a couple parallels with the ideas that I came up with.  I hadn't (and still haven't) read it in probably more than a decade, but I remembered how the bush claimed to be god, and said that he is who he is, and has no name.  If you remove all of the cheese, and there's a lot of it there, you end up with the same idea that I thought was pretty clever when I thought of it- that the universe derives from a thing that is what it is and has no cause.  I was very upset about this at first, wondering if my Catholic upbringing had imperceptibly tainted me forever, but then I came up with this idea.

Could religions as we now know them have once hosted attempts to legitimately understand things, and then ended up devolving into nonsensical yet somewhat practical (or just addictive) social rituals like those practiced by ancestral tribal cultures, while also being corrupted by charlatans and greed?  General stupidity and disinterest, as well pressure from outside, would certainly have made it very difficult for ancient societies to pass along any sort of abstract concept for several generations.  The components of the idea would dissolve into childish symbols for the sake of easy transmission, but would then take on lives of their own, with the fractured meanings not approaching the original's in terms of depth or attempted validity.

Successful religions always exhibit mechanisms that deter people from leaving, as well as mechanisms that lead to their own spread.  But they also tend to have some blatantly abstract, sometimes horrible bits that have no clear meaning and that do nothing but frighten and/or confuse people without providing any clear benefit to any society, modern or ancient.  Could a few of these parts be the remnants of complicated speculations that have been subsequently splintered and rotted?

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I found this thought-provoking:

CAN THERE BE A DECENT HUMAN CIVILIZATION WITHOUT RELIGION?
Robin Ince in the Huffington Post:

There are many pessimistic, sometimes apocalyptic, predictions of what happens to human beings when they lose religion.

What of the sense of community?

How will we face death?

What of charity, empathy and altruism?

A strong and fair society needs all these things, but does religion really provide them?

Some agnostic and atheist intellectuals eulogize the powers of religion. Of course, it's not needed for them. They can survive without it because they have read Plato in the original classical Greek, Attic dialect and all, and are financially secure enough not to need the pew, sermon and parish fete. They are thinking of others not as strong as them; how kind, how patronizing.

So what of those societies like ours that are reaping the benefits of fervent religion and the joy, community and altruism it brings.

In the rich nations list, Japan and Sweden vie for the least religious, while the USA seems to have a clear lead as the most. Poor Japan and Sweden must be in a parlous state, and yet...

...Why does the USA have murder rates five times worse than Japan and Sweden, incarceration almost 10 times worse than Sweden, a higher suicide rate amongst the young (and as Al Alvarez wrote in his study of suicide, The Savage God, the more religious the nation is the less likely it is to declare suicide as cause of death). The U.S. has twice the mortality amongst under fives than Japan and Sweden. Let's not forget the statistics on sexual disease and abortion; number one for gonorrhea, number one for syphilis and number one for abortion, not by a little bit, we are talking 40 to 50 times more than Japan and Sweden. Thank goodness the USA has religion, or imagine what state it would be?

More here (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robin-ince/post_5600_b_3896025.html).

I've mentioned this in other discussions, but I can't stress too strongly, the value of this site, and the connecting sites:

How to Answer Theist Arguments

A seminar series for atheists and freethinkers

Learn, Grasshoppers - learn all you can!

Thanks for the link, arch; the few theistic arguments I've heard in recent years haven't merited any effort and I've become rusty.

Twelve hours ago, a theist gave me some exercise. He claimed that atheists are responsible for the 20th Century wars and defended his view by mentioning Hitler and Stalin.

Another man and I pointed out that these two had both been theists and had studied for the priesthood, but our theist friend refused to accept this info as important.

Our theist friend claimed too that the Nazis had no religion. I told him they had, but had only the support of a documentary I'd seen that said their religion combined elements of paganism and other beliefs. I need to do some research and get back to him.

Tom - never a problem - share these with him:

"Who says I am not under the special protection of God?"
-- Adolph Hitler --

"Secular schools can never be tolerated because such a school has no religious instruction and a general moral instruction without a religious foundation is built on air; consequently, all character training and religion must be derived from faith ... We need believing people."
-- Adolf Hitler --
April 26, 1933, from a speech made during negotiations leading to the Nazi-Vatican Concordat of 1933.

Or better yet, give me a shot at him - I eat guys like that for lunch, and A'm hongry!

....I had a Jehovah Witness for breakfast.....should keep me going for a few hours. :-)

...and for "afters" try some of this Hitler speech on your friend.....

Yum! They don't come here anymore --

arch, I told you of the guy who blamed atheists for 20th Century killings. I decided to do some cognitive dissonance on him.

I was in seated in the dining room with a guy who knew both of us. He stopped and I reminded him what he'd said. Then, saying I'm an atheist, I asked how many people I'm allowed to kill.

He backed off so fast that I didn't see him shift gears. There followed an amiable chat about much else in our lives.

That's funny.

I recall a discussion we had in a class in college in Social Psychology - the discussion was prejudice. Imagine a person who had been raised in a racist environment to believe - just to pick a color - that all Black people are intellectually inferior to Whites. Then he's show a photo of a Black person, with verifiable proof that he had an IQ of 125. The first thing that springs to the prejudiced mind, is that this person is an exception. The instructor was trying to get us to ask ourselves, how many exceptions to a "rule" is required, before it ceases to be a rule.

Possibly your friend now sees you as an "exception" - truth may well be, that you have more in common than you have differences, and this could also be true of other "types" against whom we have, for one reason or another, become prejudiced.

The first thing that springs to the prejudiced mind, is that this person is an exception.

Another thing springs to some conservative minds: the test is biased against white people.

This conclusion would spring immediately to the minds of people who don't think they are prejudiced, like the Southern Dems (whose ancestors had owned slaves) the Repubs recruited in the late 1960s. The effort had a name: Nixon's Southern Strategy.

Couldn't agree more - the South, which was once solidly Democratic, flipped faster than a flapjack.

Thanks, arch.

I searched Wikipedia on both Hitler and Stalin's connections with religion. Both were brought up Catholics but quit early. Stalin briefly considered studying for the priesthood.

I didn't find Hitler's "special protection" remark. I found words from several speeches Hitler gave.

The guy I'm dealing with will say, as I do, that what politicians say in speeches is pandering.

He's also a Francophile, and as you know Hitler did France no favors.

I might do some cognitive dissonance -- remind him that he'd said atheists were responsible for the killings in WW2, tell him again that I'm an atheist but since I don't rule any nations I won't be able to kill millions and will have to content myself with killing him.

NSA, are you reading this?

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