Pity the poor children

Published this week was the transcript of a recording of a Muslim in Britain teaching his son to hate. The Muslim's name is Parviz Khan. He pleaded guilty to plotting the kidnap and butchery of a British Muslim soldier (cutting his head off “like a pig”), a butchery that he “planned to film and release for propaganda purposes.” Below is some of the transcript of his “shouting at his five-year-old son when he made a mistake” reciting the Koran:
“Who do you kill?” asked Khan.
“America kill,” said the boy.
“Who else you kill?” said Khan.
“Bush I kill,” said the boy.
“And who else?” demanded Khan.
“Blair kill, both people kill”…
Then the pair began chanting at each other.
Khan said: “Kuffar [non-believers]” the boy said: “Kill.”
Khan said: “Mushrik [polytheists]” and the boy said: “Kill.”
Then it continued with: “Hindu?… Kill… Sheedi [blacks]?… Kill…”
Such hideousness stirred memories of hideous images in my mind. For example, last week I saw the video of kids in Iraq being trained as terrorists by Al Qaeda. That brought to mind my seeing little kids in Pakistani madrassas (they can’t be called schools), rollicking back and forth as they read or recited the Koran. Think of kids forced to memorize such hate from the Koran as is listed here.

Of course, it’s not just Muslim kids who are subjected to such stupidity. Through the Atheist Blogroll (see link on the right) I went to the Atheist Media Blog and unfortunately watched the video “Cutting Edge: Baby Bible Bashers”. The grownups shown are adults? They're Christians? Pity the poor children!

In turn, that Christian hideousness reminded me of what I didn’t want to remember about the “Pastor” Fred Phelps, the “god hates [this-than-and-the-other thing]” leader of the Westboro Baptist Church. Among the many Phelps videos available on the web, maybe have a look at this one: the poor little kids (Phelps’ grandkids) obviously don’t understand what they’ve been taught to hate.

Which brought to mind the horrible but valid line by the TV-cartoon character Homer Simpson: “Kids are great… You can teach them to hate what you hate…”

Any normal sense of decency demands to know: how could parents (such as Phelps’ oldest daughter) treat their children so horribly? But then, the answer is obvious from reading the book Addicted to Hate by Jon Michael Bell (with Joe Taschler and Steve Fry) about the Phelps family: throughout their lives, Phelps beat his children (both boys and girls), as well as his wife, mercilessly; throughout their lives, they’ve lived in terror.

In turn, although the authors of the book didn’t provide many details (probably because they’re lost), there is the following about Phelps’ own father:
Fred’s father was a veteran of World War One, and throughout his life suffered from the effects of a mustard gassing he’d taken in France. He found work as a detective for the Southern Railroad to support his family. The railroad security force or “bulls”, as they were called, had a reputation for brutality when they patrolled the yards to prevent the itinerant laborers, washed out of their hometowns by the Depression, from riding the freights. “My father,” says Pastor Phelps, “oft-times came home with blood all over him.” Suddenly he stands up, turning his face away, and exits.
I'd bet that Phelps learned how to hate and to abuse children from his own father, just as Hitler no doubt learned how to hate (especially Jews) from his own father, who beat Hitler mercilessly – apparently responding to his own beatings for being a “Jewish bastard”, after his mother had been impregnated by the son of the Jewish family who had hired her as a maid and who wouldn’t let their son marry her (Hitler’s grandmother).

Thereby, what the writers of the Simpson series failed to mention is that the most effective way to teach kids how to hate is to show them hate.

In particular, I’d bet that the Muslim who was recorded teaching his child to hate was taught how to hate by his own family, since emotional, physical, and sexual abuse of children (both boys and girls) is rampant in Muslim countries. For example, the following is from an assessment by Jamie Glazov entitled “The Sexual Rage Behind Islamic Terror” published at FrontPageMagazine.com on 4 October 2001:
Throughout the Islamic Middle East, men and women are taught to be vehemently opposed to pleasure, especially of the sexual variety. Men are raised not only forbidden to touch women, but to even look at them. Sex before marriage is not just a sin – but a criminal offence. It is punishable by a severe beating at best, and an execution at worst.

The sexual privileges that are allowed in Islamic cultures are permitted to men. Women’s sexuality and social independence represent major threats to male supremacy and are tightly controlled. Thus, as the Moroccan feminist Fitna Sabbah reveals in her book Woman in the Muslim Unconscious, there is a disturbing conflict in the Middle East between sexual libido and repression. A deep-seated fear of, and hostility to, individuality prevails, and its main expression exists in misogyny.

Socially segregated from women, Arab men succumb to homosexual behavior. But, interestingly enough, there is no word for ‘homosexual’ in their culture in the modern Western sense. That is because having sex with boys, or with effeminate men, is seen as a social norm. Males serve as available substitutes for unavailable women. The male who does the penetrating, meanwhile, is not emasculated any more than if he had sex with a wife. The male who is penetrated is emasculated. The boy, however, is not, since it is rationalized that he is not yet a man.

In this culture, males sexually penetrating males becomes a manifestation of male power, conferring a status of hyper-masculinity. It is considered to have nothing to do with homosexuality. An unmarried man who has sex with boys is simply doing what men do. As the scholar Bruce Dunne has demonstrated, sex in Islamic societies is not about mutuality between partners, but about the adult male’s achievement of pleasure through violent domination.

There is silence around this issue. It is the silence that legitimizes sexual violence against women, such as honor crimes and female circumcision. It is also the silence that forces victimized Arab boys into invisibility. Even though the society does not see their sexual exploitation as being humiliating, the psychological and emotional scars that result from their subordination, powerlessness and humiliation is a given. Traumatized by the violation of their dignity and manliness, they spend the rest of their lives trying to get it back.

The problem is that trying to recover from sexual abuse, and to recapture one’s own shattered masculinity, is quite an ordeal in a culture where women are hated and love is interpreted as hegemonic control.

With women out of touch – and out of sight – until marriage, males experience pre-marital sex only in the confines of being with other males. Their sexual outlet mostly includes victimizing younger males – just the way they were victimized.

In all of these circumstances, the idea of love is removed from men’s understanding of sexuality. Like the essence of Arab masculinity, it is reduced to hurting others by violence. A gigantic rupture develops between men and women, where no harmony, affection or equality is allowed to exist. In relationships between men, meanwhile, affection, solidarity and empathy are left out of the picture. They threaten the hyper-masculine order.

It is excruciating to imagine the sexual confusion, humiliation, and repression that evolve in the mindsets of males in this culture. But it is no surprise that many of these males find their only avenue for gratification in the act of humiliating the foreign “enemy,” whose masculinity must be violated at all costs – as theirs once was.

Violating the masculinity of the enemy necessitates the dishing out of severe violence against him. In the recent terrorist strikes, therefore, violence against Americans served as a much-needed release of the terrorists’ bottled-up sexual rage. Moreover, it served as a desperate and pathological testament of the re-masculinization of their emasculated selves.
In his powerful on-line book entitled Psychohistory: Childhood and the Emotional Life of Nations, Lloyd deMause presents compelling evidence for his thesis that:
…the ultimate cause of all wars and human misery is the parental holocaust of children throughout history – an untold story of how literally billions of innocent, helpless children have been routinely killed, bound, battered, mutilated, raped and tortured and then as adults have inflicted upon others the nightmares they themselves experienced.
In Chapter 4 of his book, deMause states:
It may seem simplistic to conclude that most of human destructiveness is the restaging of early traumas and that what we must do if we wish to put an end to war and social violence is teach adults how to stop abusing and neglecting and begin respecting and enjoying their children, but I believe this is precisely what our best scientific evidence shows.
It is of course extremely difficult (and as Karl Popper warned, it can be extremely dangerous) to conduct large-scale experiments to test psychological and social theories, but as deMause describes in his Winnicott Memorial Lecture, entitled “What the British Can Do To End Child Abuse”:
The results of outlawing the hitting of children are dramatic. In Sweden, the first country to abolish corporal punishment of children… [the law] not only has public support… [hitting children – even in its mildest forms – {has} been reduced from 53% to only 11%], but in addition, only 6% of younger Swedes today say they support corporal punishment. Practice in Sweden, as well as attitude, has changed… with only 3% of school children saying they had been slapped by their parents, and only one child in 25 years having been killed by their parent. The results of this dramatic decrease in hitting have been spectacular. The number of children needing social work care has decreased by 26%, the number of youth convicted of theft declined by 21%, the rates of alcohol and drug abuse by youths have declined dramatically, and the rate of youth suicide has also declined. What is most astonishing is that in Sweden and in other countries outlawing the hitting of children the populations actually began by being in favor of corporal punishment, but after their legislatures passed their anti-hitting law despite this pro-hitting mood, the general public gradually became more and more opposed to corporal punishment, without any dramatic intrusion by the state into family life.
I wonder if this experiment in Sweden is why, after a two-week visit, I expressed my feeling to my host that “Sweden is an island of tranquility in an ocean of insanity.”

In Chapter 9 of his book deMause goes even further:
That gods are usually perpetrators restaging early physical abuse is the answer to Freud’s question: “Why does religion seem to need violence?” When violence against children disappears, religious and political violence will disappear. Religions and politics as we know them will no doubt disappear also. Religions work by constructing sacred spaces that contain triggers for switching into trances in order to access people’s alters and obtain some relief from their tortures.
Consistently and as a case in point (see the second plot in my earlier blog), among all nations Sweden is most advanced in rejecting the god idea.

All of which brings to mind what the Buddha so perceptively said 2500 years ago:
In this world, hate never yet dispelled hate. Only love dispels hate. This is the law, ancient and inexhaustible.
We could now add: to dispel hate, violence, and all gods from the world, teach all children in the world to love – by showing each and every one of them that you care for their welfare.



Islam's Dark Ages Grow Dimmer

This week, Islamic clerics and colluding Muslim politicians have forced the Arabs farther back into their clerically imposed version of the Dark Ages. Here’s a brief summary of the news as given at the Middle East Media Research Institute blog:
The ministers of information of the Arab countries agreed on a document during their meeting in Cairo on Tuesday {2008/02/12} that would limit the margin of freedom of satellite TVs, in the event they “insult the [political] leaders and the national and religious symbols”. The document authorizes a host government to withdraw the license of any TV, or freeze its activities, that violate these rules.
Yesterday (2008/02/15), a more complete, Associated Press report by Maggie Michael contains the following:
Cairo, Egypt (AP) – Arab governments have adopted new rules meant to rein in satellite television talk shows that have become forums for rollicking criticisms of Arab regimes and discussions of taboo topics.

The “Charter of Principles” approved this week by Arab information ministers is being viewed by the region’s media circles as a concerted move to muzzle stations.

The charter prohibits criticism of Arab leaders and religious figures, warning in vague terms of the harm to social peace, national unity and public morals. It demands “adherence to objectivity, sincerity and respect to the dignity of the countries, nations and their national sovereignty.”

The new rules allow countries to suspend, terminate or refuse to renew the licenses of TV network offices that violate them. Qatar, whose government funds the popular station Al-Jazeera, was the only nation of the 21 Arab states not to sign the charter.

“Some satellite channels have deviated from the right path,” Egyptian Information Minister Anas el-Fiqi told the ministers who gathered in Cairo on Tuesday. “There are violations that have taken place, violations taking place around the clock, which require a serious stance”…
A case in point (of such “violations”) was recently described by Marwan Kraidy in a report entitled “Hypermedia and Governance in Saudi Arabia”. Saudi Arabia is ostensibly a monarchy, but behind the monarchs, it’s controlled by the fundamentalist (Sunni) Wahabi sect of Islam. This is the same sect that uses Saudi oil revenue to build mosques and spread Islam nonsense throughout the world, with a budget of approximately $3 billion per year (which is larger than the Soviet’s propaganda budget at the height of the Cold War) and similar to the Soviets, with the goal of emasculating the U.S. Constitution and similar Constitutions in other Western countries. The following paragraph is my brief outline of Kraidy’s informative report.

In Saudi Arabia, from the early 1960s when TV was first introduced until recently, all television programming was strictly controlled by the Wahabi clerics. During the 1990s, satellite TV became available, enabling Saudis to watch programs originating from other Arab-language stations. For 18 months starting in December 2003, the Lebanese “reality television show” Star Academy became available to Saudis, and it was enormously popular: viewers called in on their cellphone and sent text messages and e-mail to vote on the performances of contestants (both male and female).  The Saudi clerics also voted on the show, issuing the following fatwa (i.e., “religious ruling”):
…the Committee [the Permanent Committee for Scientific Research {cough, cough} and the Issuing of Fatwas] thinks that they [the Star Academy shows] should be banned and it is harem [forbidden] to watch them, finance them, take part in them, call them to vote or to express admiration of them…
The clerics were specifically and adamantly against “the free mixing of the sexes”, the “blatant promotion of immorality” (e.g., the display of women’s hair!) – not to dwell on the horror of people voting for what they wanted. These were the same Wahabi kooks that resisted the introduction of the bicycle into Saudi Arabia (calling it “the Horse of Satan”), and still into the 1960s, a special permit was needed to ride one!

Yet, in spite of the clerics’ ruling, the people continued to watch the program and to use their new communication technology to vote their preferences. Thereby, it appeared that humanists might be able to mark down an impressive win for modernization over barbarity.

But now, with this week’s signing of the new “charter” by the Arab Information Ministers, Islamic clerics in cahoots with politicians are obviously committed to pedaling backwards. The AP report by Maggie Michael (referenced above) continues as follows:
Call-in shows in particular are viewed by governments as potentially threatening or embarrassing, broadcasters say.

“Now any single individual can embarrass the government on TV,” said Ahmed Moslemani, host of “The First Edition” on Dream TV. “These talk-shows were like a disaster to the government, because the public doesn’t need opposition parties to voice their demands.”

In the past month, Clock TV – owned by Lebanese and Libyan investors – canceled plans to start a new talk show called “Hour by Hour,” after the Egyptian government objected to it, apparently because it feared it would become a new voice of criticism.

Khairi Ramadan, who was to host “Hour by Hour,” called the charter a “huge step backward.”

“Free speech in Egypt will not be the only victim here, it’s the whole Arab world,” said Ramadan. “There are serious fears of this charter and the bigger danger is to come.”
How, I wonder, could we help Muslims break free from their clerical chains? If we could succeed, we’d simultaneously defeat the Muslim supremacists – with much less drain on our budget and our soldiers’ blood.

Of course it would be best if the Muslims broke their chains by themselves, but the clerics have the poor people brainwashed into believing that their way is the way to a dream world of eternal life in paradise. Illustrative of the people's resulting obedient behavior is the following quotation, which summarizes ideas about government and society promoted in Saudi Arabian schoolbooks:
Western principles of democracy are not part of the Saudi political worldview. The Saudi regime is based on Islamic Law [Shari’ah], one of the basic tenets of which is complete obedience to one’s rulers – even if they are oppressive – as long as they do not order their subjects to do something contradictory to the Shari’ah. The Muslim subject should not only obey his rulers but also love them, whatever their nature, and be patient vis-à-vis their oppressive measures – if these are taken. [No dictator could wish for more!] The reason for this is: an organized government, even an oppressive one, is much better than anarchy. [As if there were no other options!] Within this framework, duties, rather than rights, should be the citizen’s main concern.
Would that there were some Muslim revolutionaries of the caliber of James Madison, who in 1785 said to the Virginia General Assembly:
What influence, in fact, have ecclesiastical establishments had on society? In some instances they have been seen to erect a spiritual tyranny on the ruins of the civil authority; in many instances they have been seen upholding the thrones of political tyranny; in no instance have they been the guardians of the liberties of the people. Rulers who wish to subvert the public liberty may have found an established clergy convenient allies.
And what a difference between this new Arab “charter” restricting TV and what Jefferson described about the freedom of the press in a 1787 letter to Colonel Carrington:
The basis of our government being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.
Failing the leadership of a Muslim Madison or Jefferson, could we help?

I expect that bureaucrats in our Departments of State and Defense would be too timid to produce similar (but soon to be eliminated) programs and then beam them to every Muslim household with a TV. I can imagine our bureaucrats and politicians would be too concerned with repercussions (e.g., to their own jobs) if the Saudis retaliated by restricting oil flow, arousing the oil-addicted American public.

As an alternative, could a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) do similar? An NGO, funded by anonymous donors could hire Muslim TV producers, directors, and actors (who will probably lose their jobs because of the new charter), set up shop almost anywhere (from somewhere in the Mediterranean area to somewhere in America), and beam satellite-TV programs to all Arab countries. Thereby, we could help drag the Arab world out of their clerically imposed Dark Ages into enlightenment.

As Jefferson wrote in an 1820 letter to William Jarvis:
I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion.
But the Arab “Information Ministers” (a euphemism for “Propaganda Ministers”) obviously prefer the assessment of Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi’s Propaganda Minister:
Not every item of news should be published. Rather must those who control news policies endeavor to make every item of news serve a certain purpose… It is the absolute right of the state to supervise the formation of public opinion.
All of which illustrates the wisdom in the remark by the brave ex-Muslim Salman Rushdie (against whom Muslim clerics issued a fatwa ordering his death for “insulting Islam” in his book The Satanic Verses):
Fundamentalism isn’t about religion; it’s about power.



I dunno…

For those familiar with the English language but unfamiliar with the way Americans massacre its pronunciation, “I dunno” is the usual way we pronounce: “I don’t know”. It’s sorta [sort of] like [similar to] the way we say “doncha know” or “donchano” [don’t you know]. Anyway, I dunno what this fellow Rowan Williams is up to.

As you probably know, he’s the Archbishop of Canterbury (AB of C), the head of the Church of England (C of E), “leader of the 77 million-strong worldwide Anglican Communion”, and this week, once again managed to stimulate calls for his resignation. Today, according to a BBC news report:

…at least two General Synod members have called for Dr. Rowan Williams to resign… Colonel Edward Aristead told the Daily Telegraph: “I don’t think he is the man for the job… One wants to be charitable, but I sense that he would be far happier in a university where he can kick around these sorts of ideas.”

Alison Ruoff, a Synod member from London, said: “many people, huge numbers of people, would be greatly relieved [if he resigned], because he sits on the fence over all sorts of things, and we need strong, Christian, biblical leadership right now, as opposed to somebody who huffs and puffs around and vacillates from one thing to another.”

Brigadier William Dobbie, a former Synod member, described the Archbishop as “a disaster, a tragic mistake.”

And you think you had a bad day! But then, British tradition seems to be that AB of Cs can’t be fired – by tradition, they execute them!

As you probably know, also (unless your internet connection is down – or you have more important things to do!), Williams got himself in trouble (this time) by stating during an interview on BBC Radio that adopting some (Muslim) Sharia [or Shariah] law in Britain seemed “unavoidable”, adding that “Certain provisions of Shariah are already recognized in our society and under our law, so it’s not as if we’re bringing in alien and rival system” and that Muslims shouldn’t need to choose between “the stark alternatives of cultural loyalty or state loyalty.”

Sensing potential votes (they’re good at that), politicians of all stripes leaped on him. Some examples (all from BBC News reports):

“The prime minister believes British law should apply in this country, based on British values.” [Spokesman for Prime Minister Brown]

“To ask us to fundamentally change the rule of law and to adopt Sharia law, I think, is fundamentally wrong.” [Home Office Minister Tony McNulty]

“[The] implication that British courts should treat people differently based on their faith is divisive and dangerous.” [Trevor Phillips, Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission]

“Dr. Williams seems to be suggesting that there should be two systems of law, running alongside each other, almost parallel, and for people to be offered the choice of opting into one or the other. That is unacceptable.” [Baroness Warsi, “shadow community cohesion minister”]

“Equality before the law is part of the glue that binds our society together. We cannot have a situation where there is one law for one person and different laws for another… There is a huge difference between respecting people’s right to follow their own beliefs and allowing them to excuse themselves from the rule of law.” [Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg]

Quite a tempest brewing in the British teapot! Yet, if you read Williams’ original speech, you might conclude (as did I) that it’s rather mundane and unfortunately quite pedantic. In a nutshell, it’s close to: “Look, if people want to settle their disputes by arbitration without involvement of the courts, then go for it; if they want to settle their disputes with the help of the local Imam, then fine; Jews have a long tradition of doing similar.”

But I can understand the reactions. In his BBC interview, Williams was “just plain stupid” (or better, politically naïve) to have taunted the British bulldog (confined by its own customs, bound by more than a thousand years of its own laws, and recently wounded by Muslim supremacists) with the raw meat of Shariah.

Further, it’s certainly not the first time that Williams has demonstrated that he’s “out of touch” with the people, particularly those in the C of E: approving the ordination of women and gay clergy, opposing the teaching of “intelligent design” in science classes, using Homer Simpson cartoons to get kids to think about morality, describing the Jesus nativity story as “a legend”, and so on. In sum, I rather like the guy!

Yet, what I don’t know – and in the limited time I have to waste on the question, I don’t plan to continue to try to find out – is whether the guy is a nut or a genius. That he’s intelligent seems clear, but it’s equally clear that he isn’t grounded in reality: he’s hooked on speculation; he obviously feels no need to test his ideas against data.

As one of many examples, consider his denial that believing in God is equivalent to believing in Santa Claus or the tooth fairy:

“The thing is, belief in Santa does not generate a moral code, it does not generate art, it does not generate imagination…”

Oh? Really? Care to test your claim against data?

Another example is in his 13 October 2007 speech criticizing Richard Dawkins:

As I’ve said, what we’re saying as religious people, is not that God is the explanation of this or that bit of the universe which we can’t otherwise explain; even the very beginning of the universe. We are saying that the nature of our relationship with the universe, a relation of understanding, thinking and exploring, rational expectation, that that very structure requires some comprehensive energy at another level that sustains it as what it is [Italics added]. And because that comprehensive energy at another level is not the product of other things, doesn’t have a history, isn’t the result of processes going on; it’s perhaps an appropriate object for contemplation, given that we are not going to find successful or comprehensive words for it, but can only gaze into what is undoubtedly mysterious, but not mysterious in a way which simply says this is a puzzle somebody one day might solve.

Really? A “comprehensive energy at another level”? A mystery that he doesn’t want solved? Sure: I can go along with the speculation (for example) that the universe was created by a symmetry-breaking fluctuation in “total nothingness” that “still exists outside our universe” (a speculation I examine in the first chapter of my book), but 1) until we get some data dealing with “total nothingness”, then it’s all speculation, 2) I certainly would like to get some data to try to solve the mystery (which might be possible in the Large Hadron Collider), and 3) I sure as hell ain’t gonna waste my time worshipping “total nothingness”!

As for the mystery of Williams, himself: that he’s a bleedin’ mystic is abundantly clear. For example, read some of his poems; it’s clear that, like a little kid in love with a fantasy hero, he’s madly in love with Jesus:

He is a stranger to them all, great Jesus.
What is there here for me? I know
what I have longed for. Him to hold
me always.

Also, read some of his speeches: it’s clear that he really has convinced himself that he knows God’s purpose – as if an omnipotent, omniscient god could have a purpose!

But I don’t know Williams’ purpose. Yet, maybe there’s a hint of it in the speech (referenced above) in which he criticizes Dawkins. Throughout the speech he refers to a play by Mick Gordon and A.C. Grayling entitled On Religion. Near the end of Williams’ speech he quotes the play, with the young man who’s decided to become a priest saying to his atheist mother:

I’m not trying to pretend it’s not dangerous, sometimes. I think that’s absolutely the case. I just think that one of the things to do in terms of a strategy (and I’m being realistic and pragmatic here OK?) because we have to ask ourselves: what sort of strategy for dealing with nutters are we going to adopt? Do we want an all out culture war between your pure enlightenment thinking and bad religion? Or is there a value, is there… let me put it another way: is the answer to bad religion no religion or better religion? Who’s more likely to defeat bad religion, good religion or atheism? [Italics added] That’s a question, a real question. So stop attacking me, Mum, because I’m your hope. You’re never going to turn the world’s religious into atheists. If that’s what your battle is, if that’s what you’re trying to do, you’re going to lose and so are we all. The best you can hope for is to turn bad violent religion into better religion, that’s what I’m trying to do.

I’d entertain the possibility that such is what Williams is trying to do: trying to turn bad religion into good religion. Perhaps that’s what this latest row (over Shariah law) is about: maybe he’s trying to turn “bad violent religion [as promoted by Muslim supremacists, “the nutters”] into better religion.” If that’s his goal, however, he’s facing a slight problem: as he could determine from readily available data, Muslims have a different opinion about which is the “good religion” and which is the “bad religion”. They’ll think he’s “the nutter”!

Therefore, just as he’s displayed political naiveté in his choice of words and in his apparent conclusion that he can speak as an individual while being head of his church, I think he’s being naïve if he thinks he can change other people’s opinions about their religions – so long as such opinions are based on speculations rather than data. I’d go even further: in my opinion (based on data trends), no religion (including his own) will survive if it’s based on the untestable speculation that the universe is controlled by some invisible lover in the sky. If he desires to turn “bad religion into good religion”, I’d advise him to consider what M.M. Mangasarian wrote almost a century ago:

“Religion is the science of children; science is the religion of adults.”



Your Most Important Assumption

We all adopt many assumptions or premisses: that our ideas exist, that we exist, that there exists a reality external to our minds, and so on. I doubt that I’d get much argument if I claimed that one of our most important premisses deals with “the nature” of “reality”, for example, if we assume that it’s entirely natural (as do all Brights) or that it contains various “supernatural entities”, such as goblins, ghosts, and gods.

In addition, we all make many important decisions, for example, those dealing with trying to survive, to help our families survive (whatever we consider to be the extent of our “families”), to uphold and promote our values, and so on. I doubt that I’d get much argument if I claimed, also, that one of our most important decisions is how to obtain knowledge about the nature of the reality external to our minds.

But I may cause some controversy with the claim (argued below) that everyone’s most important assumption is one’s decision about how to gain such knowledge.

In philosophical terms, my claim is that epistemology (the study of the grounds and nature of knowledge, itself – from the Greek word for ‘knowledge’, epistēmē) trumps all other branches of philosophy, such as logic, ethics, aesthetics, ontology (existence theory), and so on, including the philosophies of science, religion, politics, law, etc. In all other branches of philosophy, epistemology is fundamental, since it addresses the basic question: How does one “know” what one claims to know?

There’s no doubt that we all possess substantial knowledge: our abilities to keep our hearts beating and to digest food, our innate sense of morality, etc. Yet in general, we don’t need to use our analytical capabilities to make decisions dealing with such innate (or instinctive) knowledge. After a billion-or-so years of experimentation, Nature “programmed” such knowledge in our DNA. As examples, if a projectile is coming at your head, don’t think about it, duck! Similarly, if you see a child in danger, you’ll immediately try to save the child. Those species that didn’t pass on such knowledge to their offspring (to help themselves and their “families” to survive) are extinct. Much of ethics, therefore, is instinctive.

Much of esthetics, too, seems to be instinctive; it may even be inherent in the “nature of nature”, that is, derived from fundamental symmetries contained within reality, itself. But I don’t want to go into that, now. It’s a complicated subject at the frontiers of modern physics and the bases of “the standard model” of elementary particles and of string theory.

In contrast to our possessing such innate and maybe even inherent knowledge, to gain new knowledge about the reality external to our minds we must make a fundamental decision: How is such knowledge gained? Exploring possible answers to that question leads to what I consider to be everyone’s most important assumption. To begin to see why I consider it so important, consider options chosen by people in two different groups.

Theists, those who adopt the premiss that various “supernatural entities” exist in the reality external to their minds, thereby and subsequently decide that knowledge about reality can be gained by “listening to their hearts”, by “just having faith”, or similar. All such “methods” are various versions of the “proof-by-pleasure logical fallacy” (viz., if it feels good, it’s “true”). If theists have enough faith (so it’s claimed), they can move mountains – and if they’re unsuccessful, it demonstrates only that they don’t yet have sufficient “faith”!

Scientific humanists, in contrast, adopt the fundamental premiss that knowledge about reality can best be obtained – or even, can only be obtained – by the scientific method: “guess, test, and reassess.” They learn by experimenting. Oh, they might try the theists’ technique of moving mountains by “thought control” (aka telekinesis), but when that doesn’t work, scientific humanists (aka “practical people”!) use dynamite and earthmovers!

The fundamental mistake made by all religious people is to succumb to wishful thinking. That’s consistent with one meaning of the word ‘belief’, which with ‘lief’ the Anglo-Saxon root word meaning ‘wish’, then one meaning of ‘belief’ is “wish to be”. The farther theists fall into their fundamental error, the more “fundamentalist” they become. In the limit, in the depth of their depraved “thinking”, such fools fly hijacked airplanes loaded with passengers into skyscrapers, convinced in their fantasy that they’ll be instantly transported to a fictitious paradise, where they’ll live eternally with 72 perpetual virgins available to competently relieve them of their sexual frustrations. They “believe” it so – they wish it so – so (so they claim), they “know” it’s so.

Scientific humanists, in contrast, decide to try to gain knowledge about reality not from wishful thinking but via the scientific method – not because it “feels good”, not because they’ve been indoctrinated in the method since childhood (although they have applied it, by themselves, ever since they were babies!), but solely because it seems to work. If it stops working, if it’s found to have fundamental flaws (but it hasn’t yet, as far as I know), then they’ll abandon it – for whatever works better! Using the scientific method (“guess, test, and reassess”), ancient hunters made bows and arrows, ancient farmers planted seeds and domesticated animals, ancient engineers built irrigation canals and developed wheels, ancient doctors learned techniques of healing, and so on it has gone, out to an including building airplanes, skyscrapers, and the internet – which Muslim maniacs use to kill people.

I use the contrast between the behaviors of scientific humanists and theists (aka unscientific antihumans) to defend my claim that everyone’s most important premiss is one’s decision about how to gain knowledge about reality. My reason for this claim is that (as I’ll briefly illustrate below) one’s choice about how to gain such knowledge is more important than one’s choice of worldview, goals, values, principles, policies, plans, practices, etc., because one’s choice of how to gain knowledge dictates the rest.

Ayn Rand wrote something similar in her book Philosophy: Who Needs It?
Are you in a universe which is ruled by natural laws and, therefore, is stable, firm, absolute – and knowable? Or are you in an incomprehensible chaos, a realm of inexplicable miracles, an unpredictable, unknowable flux, which your mind is impotent to grasp? The nature of your actions – and of your ambition – will be different, according to which set of answers you come to accept. [Italics added]

In fact, if the scientific method of gaining knowledge is adopted, then it can be used even to test our other basic premisses, such as that our thoughts exist, that we exist, and that the universe is entirely natural. Thereby, ontology (the theory of existence) can be seen to be rather silly: existence isn’t a theory to be proven but a hypothesis to be tested – by application of the scientific method.

To illustrate why I consider our most important decision (our most important premiss) to be how to gain knowledge about reality, I’ll list the following abbreviated statements. I go into details elsewhere.
  • Whereas one’s claim of knowledge about reality leads directly to one’s worldview, therefore, how one chooses to seek knowledge defines one’s worldview. Thus, on the one hand, if you decide that knowledge about reality can be obtained only via the scientific method, you’ll conclude that the universe is entirely natural, thereby defining your worldview. On the other hand, if you decide that knowledge about reality can be obtained by wishful thinking (by just “believing”), then similar to all theists, you’ll conclude that the universe is filled with “supernatural entities” (from the “sacred spirits” of the shamans to the resulting gods and ghosts and goblins of “modern” mystics, from astrologers to clerics).
  • Whereas one’s worldview dictates the purpose (or purposes) one chooses to pursue in life, therefore one’s purpose follows from one’s choice of how to gain knowledge about reality. Thus, if your worldview is that the universe (including all life) is entirely natural, you’ll likely adopt the premiss that a prime purpose is “merely” to help intelligent life to continue (e.g., by attempting to expand knowledge). On the other hand, if you conclude that the universe is populated, for example, with one or more omnipotent and omniscient gods, you’ll likely adopt the premiss that your prime purpose is whatever some sufficiently skilled con-artist cleric dictates to be the god’s (or gods’) desires (e.g., “go forth and multiply”, “kill the unbelievers”, and similar stupidity).
  • Whereas values can be measured only against some purpose, then once one’s purposes are adopted, then one’s values can be established; therefore, values also follow from one’s epistemological choice. If, for example, you adopt the purpose to help intelligent life to continue by attempting to expand knowledge, then you would place substantial value on learning as much as you can and on sharing your knowledge. On the other hand, if you adopt the purpose to do as some alleged god desires (as dictated by some con-artist clerics), then you’ll place substantial value on doing whatever your clerics recommend (e.g., giving alms, paying tithes, having more children, etc., out to, in some cases, flying jetliners into skyscrapers).
Thus, a hierarchy of premisses is established, starting with the most important premiss (how knowledge is to be gained) and below which are premisses dealing with (in order): worldview, purposes, values, principles, plans, practices, procedures, and so on.

In his book The End of Faith, Sam Harris summarized well the stupid, fundamental assumption of all theists:
We live in an age in which most people believe that mere words – “Jesus,” “Allah,” “Ram” – can mean the difference between eternal torment and bliss everlasting. Considering the stakes here, it is not surprising that many of us occasionally find it necessary to murder other human beings for using the wrong magic words, or the right ones for the wrong reasons. How can any person presume to know that this is the way the universe works? Because it says so in our holy books. How do we know that our holy books are free from error? Because the books themselves say so. Epistemological black holes of this sort are fast draining the light from our world.

As far as I know (based on the scientific method, i.e., relying on experience), the only way to stop the light of the world from draining into such “epistemological black holes” is to do one’s best to enlighten others, not only to help them see that everyone’s most important premiss is how to gain knowledge about reality but also to see that the only sensible ways to gain such knowledge is via the scientific method. And thus this blog and my associated book.