The Root of All Emptiness?
 [WARNING: Its time to talk religion. Regular readers who are either likely to be offended or bored by this recurring topic should move along now (life's much better fun elsewhere), and the converted won't need my preaching. However those of a closed-minded bent may want to take heed of the wise words of U.S.U.R.A. Let's face it, I'm only doing this 'cos I care about you...]
I watched the venerable Richard Dawkins getting all hot under the collar about religion in the first episode of his documentary "The Root of All Evil?" on Sunday night. As pure chance would have it, I've just discovered that we watched on Dawkins' 66th birthday. Coincidence? Or something more...!
Poor chap. At least atheist nonentities like me can just try to forget about religion's deleterious effect on humankind. Poor old Dawkins - as Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University, he can't really escape infuriation by exposure to ardent believer.
And, when faced with Ted Haggard (hate and stupidity-filled closed-minded aggressive US Christian evangelist ignoramus, recently outed I see) and Yousef al-Khattab (formerly Joseph Cohen, an American-born Jewish Israeli Settler now converted to Islam and also a hate and stupidity-filled closed-minded ignoramus), I don't know how he managed to resist the attack urge. You could see the restraint straining across his face like a dog straining on a lead, as these highly objectionable individuals spewed out their hate-filled poisonous bile - it got pacifistic old ME shouting at the television "PUNCH HIM!"... Did I mention the phrase "hate-filled"?
Still, there's not much that I should say. Believers will ignore me, and the agnostic hopefully shouldn't need my own rationalevangelism. And I don't really want to piss off the majority of people who think differently to me on this, including most of my friends and family. But sometimes I can't help myself. Its fair to say that, for people of strong faith, their gods and prophets must be one of the most defining aspects of their being. Likewise for me my complete lack of faith is something which defines who I am, and I'm incredibly proud of this - its probably one my most best attributes (that, along with being a kind, loving, caring, funny individual, and modest with it too, ha ha).
Of course, they shouldn't need to make programmes like this. They should be properly teaching this stuff in schools, if only to promote debate. Despite coming from a religious family, I came to "My Truth" only through education, through science, through an understanding of the psychology and sociology of belief systems. In fact one of my important moments at school was when I asked to opt out of prayers during morning assembly - somehow I really felt like I had made a breakthrough life decision, a real relief, no matter how hard these thing sometimes are.
And when you hear Dawkins arguments it always strikes me how obvious it all is. Many of us have came separately to many of Dawkins arguments. However repetition leads to belief leads to truth, no matter what the real truth is. And sadly it does look like we now need anti-spiritual leaders to counteract the increasing reach of the spiritual leaders in this information age.
One of the hooks of the documentary was of religion as a danger - terrorism and far-reaching policy shaped by irrational belief and self-interest. My own concerns about religion aren't quite as sociopolitical.
I'm much more concerned with the mental health effects of belief in the irrational. If you are prepared to entertain such beliefs - whether its a god, astrology, ghosts or psychics, whether you suffer from triskaidekaphobia or you think that homeopathy is something more than placebo, then you're creating a chink in your mental armour.
If you are prepared to believe in anything on the basis of "faith" and in the face of all scientific evidence to the contrary, then you are vulnerable, susceptible to doubts about all aspects of life. As the dictionary so rudely puts it, "Susceptible: credulous, dupable, easy, exploitable, gullible, naive." I feel ashamed to say it, but if I see someone poring over a horrorscope I can't help but disrespect them; meet someone who turns out to be a fellow rationalist and they start out at a point of higher esteem. Before then invade Poland, that is*
For, however strong your belief, however much you shout it out loud, deep down there must be a small part of you saying "Hmmm, but what if...", and if you can't trust in something so accepted by society, how can you trust in anything at all.
And that's far from healthy for one's mental health.
As that great philosopher Mr C from The Shamen once wrote, "Believe in yourself you know what you'll find There is no "can't" in a trouble-free mind".
And talking about vulnerability, it actually really saddens me when I hear people state that they hoped there was "something more" out there or that they wished they could believe in a god. This lack of fulfillment that too many people feel is one of those things that really breaks my heart. Its bad enough that people feel so empty nowadays within their own lives that they wish that there was some superhero (or, to be realistic should you believe the belief myths, supervillain tyrant) offering everlasting life to alleviate the pain of life on earth. Its the sort of thing that evangelical religious groups tend to seize upon to "save" or enlist the vulnerable.
As one example website that I stumbled across puts it:
Those who are honest with themselves will admit that at some point in their life they felt an emptiness that nothing could seem to fill. Most of the time some people either stay "numb" to that emptiness by trying to satisfy it artificially thru alcohol or drugs, some stay so busy with work or hobbies trying to fill that empty spot that they develop the ability to ignore it, and some even try to fill that empty spot thru various religions yet still feel like "something" is still missing.
That is because there is an empty spot in each of us that only God Himself can truely and completely fill and satisfy, anything else is just a temporary "band-aid" that only covers the emptiness but never genuinely fills it.
They may indeed believe this to the bottom of their hearts, but it doesn't stop it from being abhorrent.
When my thinking-glands are making me over-paranoid I sometimes wonder if this one reason that Consumerism is so closely entwined with US Christianity. Consumerism creates emptiness by equating happiness with an unattainable flow of material (and digital) possessions. It is, after all, the American Way - wars are fought to spread this Freedom around the world (and America is, after all, God's blessed land.) Christianity steps in to fill the spiritual void of those ripped off by Consumerist ideas, and corporate Christianity works its hardest to amplify the effects. But then I realise that I'm being a berk.
Not that all is this going to matter much, when evolution has its last laugh (H5N1 anyone?)
And one last quote from Dawkins whilst I'm here:
"We are all atheists about most of the gods that societies have ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further"
* In-joke for all those religious defenders who incorrectly claim that Hitler was an atheist, ad bloody nauseam.
[QUOTE]: If you are prepared to believe in anything on the basis of "faith"...then you are vulnerable [/QUOTE]
Not that I disagree with the great Dawkins, but if God/gods no longer exist (and let's face it, Uncle Nietzsche proved that long ago) then all we're left with is our fellow human beings. Was a time when people had faith and trust in them (I'm thinking politicians here) but much of that trust has been betrayed (do I really need to cite any examples?). So what do we have left? And is it then so surprising that people cling to whatever gets them through, even if part of them knows it's irrational?
Ultimately, humans, being herd animals, will always be easy to lead, whether by priests or by warlords. Dawkins, in his considered and relatively gentle 'attacks' on religion is really only tackling a tiny part of the human problem. There's a lot more work to be done.