An essay donated by Susan Humphreys
"An Atheist defends Religion"
(Part 2 of two parts)
“Enlightened” thinkers also call for a different approach. Don’t blame or fight the oppressed; fight the oppressors.
If we want to encourage people to change, to make better choices, we have to acknowledge and tap into their strengths and abilities as well as their freedom to make their own choices. Belittling and demeaning them and their abilities is not productive. Again this is Psychology 101.
How do we go about this “fighting”? On page 88 he proposes a false dichotomy: pursue his “firebrand” (another militant term) activism or the “nice guy” approach. It is obvious he doesn’t think very highly of the “nice guy” approach. Presenting false dichotomies, only two choices, is a common tactic of people who generally believe that it is “my way or the highway”! Religious leaders do it all of the time. At the end of this section in his book, it is also obvious that he realizes there is a third option, p. 89 “This is done with frank, honest talk without regard to political correctness, combined with compassion for the individuals afflicted with theism.” He seems to be one confused individual. He needs to get his own message straight. The “firebrand” approach doesn’t fit with this last statement.
One more point on page 34 he states:
“Like the Borg of Star Trek, religion makes a person a part of its collective. When we fight religion, we fight against humans who seek to protect and expand the collective because they are victims of said collective.”
This is his BIGGEST error, in my opinion. What’s wrong with being part of a collective? It is part of human nature. We are pack animals, and a pack is a collective for better and sometimes for worse. Again basic Biologic Science.
People have been scratching their heads in bewilderment over the reasons why some young people from relatively privileged backgrounds are running off to join Islamic Terrorist groups. Honestly we know why they are doing this, they want to be part of a collective, they WANT to belong to something. It is the same reason why people join country clubs, historical societies, chambers of commerce, or churches. We just have to figure out ways to get young people and others involved in collectives that are constructive, not destructive.
Silverman’s whole book is about getting people involved in a collective, a group with a common purpose.
I know many people that are active in their church (their religion). Their social life revolves around their church and its various activities, and the friends they have made through their church. Take this involvement away from them and they would be lost and adrift. Despite his claims on p. 26, some people do need their Religion. I am capitalizing the word Religion here to show that I am using it in the broader sense of the word, not just as another word for Theism, their belief in a God/s/dess/esses. Their Religion is the whole package--their belief in a deity or deities, their belief in the doctrines and dogmas of their particular Church, their membership in a community, their social activism, their sense of well being, feeling of security (even if based on false promises)….
One of the purposes of religion, I discussed this in one of my essays for the Religious Tolerance web site, is to build a strong community, to help a group of people learn how to work cooperatively together for the benefit of the group, the collective. This is one reason why churches, and religious people have stuck it out, survived all of these thousands of years, despite the persecutions, the attempts to destroy them. This is why solitary confinement of prisoners of war or of criminals in our justice system can be such a destructive tool. Depriving people of the strength they gain from being a part of a group is a powerful and destructive weapon.
This isn’t to deny that there is a downside to this collective idea, as with all things in life there are good aspects and bad aspects, a good thing can easily degenerate and become a tool of oppression. I think Mr. Silverman understands this.
By the way, this concept of seeing the good and bad in all things comes from Chinese Philosophy/Religion! It is the symbol of Yin and Yang, two complimentary parts of one whole. In all things good there is an element that is not so good, just as in all things that are not so good there is an element that is good, all assets have an element that is a liability and all liabilities have an element that is an asset. Even folk wisdom is aware of this reality: “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” and “look for the silver lining, when dark clouds hide the sun.” Mr. Silverman’s failure to recognize and acknowledge the good side of the issue is a serious short coming on his part and is a serious failure of the American Atheist organization.
One lesson I have learned from my study of Biology and Physics, from Psychology and Sociology, from Philosophy and Religion, is that singly we aren’t much but together we are everything. The power and strength of the collective can not be denied, for better and worse.
In Physics for example, all matter is made up of energy. Energy in a closed system we are told is neither lost nor gained it simply changes form. Our Universe, I think, is a closed system. Matter, rocks and tables, plants and animals, are made up of collections of chemicals, chemicals are made up of collections of molecules, molecules are made up of collections of atoms, atoms are made up of collections of what I call little A/O bits, (for Alpha and Omega bits). After all, God in the Bible claims to be the Alpha and the Omega. They are little bits of raw dormant energy.
In the Bible, Genesis 1: says, “In the Beginning…the earth was a formless void.” Many think that “void” means that nothing was there. Why use the word “formless”, if nothing was there, the word is redundant. There is a second meaning to the word “void” (when we say a contract is null and void, worthless and without effect). With this meaning the word “formless” makes sense.
In the Beginning what was there was without effect and worthless until it took form.
What was there?
John 1: “In the Beginning was the Logos”. Logos has been mistranslated as “Word”. To the Greeks it meant the processes that govern the Universe. As I pointed out above, from Physics we know the Universe is made up of energy, this raw energy was there and the processes that govern energy (animate the universe) were already at work building forms (matter) so that energy could do its work. Without form, the energy was useless and without effect.
Both physics and the Bible point to a TRUTH -- what I call the power of WE:
Alone we are nothing, but when we join forces in a collective we are everything.
I think this is what Mr. Silverman really objects too, he calls religion “weak” (p. 34). But it isn’t; it is powerful, and I think he is afraid of that power. I think he sees his only weapon against it is that of vitriol, belittling and demeaning it. However, his weapons are counterproductive to his goals.
There are other ways. Again Religion has much to teach us about these other ways, good lessons and bad lessons. He should study the “Art of War” from Chinese Philosophy/Religion!
The only way to beat an ideology is to offer a better one that fulfills the needs of the people that the old ideology filled and exploited.
We need to help religion and religious people channel their energy/power and the energy/power of the collective into a more positive force for good for ALL people, not just a force for good for a few at the expense of the “others” -- all of those that are different in some way.
If we attempt to “do away with” religion we, as in ALL of us, will need to devise other alternative ways to help people become a full and active member of the “collective” -- a collective that includes ALL living things, plants, animals, people and our planet. If we don’t, most people if left to their own devices and their selfish, self-centered interests will self-destruct and bring the rest of us down with them.
Over the centuries religions have helped people become better people and they have helped people become worse people. By worse I mean more self-centered, self-righteous, judgmental, hypocritical, intransigent. This is the basic Yin and Yang of life.
One size does not fit all, and this goes for religion, secular organizations, as well as clothing. We are different, and those differences are neither bad nor good, although they can be used for bad or good. This is why I think we still need Religion. We aren’t advanced enough as human beings to do away with it all together because we don’t have at this point a better system with which to replace it.
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Original posting: 2016-FEB-22
Latest update : 2016-MAR-17
Author: Susan Humphreys