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Religion-erasing magic wand?

Enter here to explore ethical issues and discuss the meaning and source of morality.
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Lord Muck oGentry
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Religion-erasing magic wand?

#1 Postby Lord Muck oGentry » September 19th, 2007, 1:07 am

Spotted this discussion yesterday on JREF:
http://forums.randi.org/showthread.php?t=93721

As you can see, I have already expressed an opinion on the JREF thread: given the opportunity to wave a magic wand and so eliminate ( by non-violent means) all religious sentiment from humanity, I should prefer not to do so.

To avoid any misunderstanding: I am a pretty hard atheist. But I have some scruples about acceptable ways of changing minds.

What do others think?

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Gurdur
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#2 Postby Gurdur » September 19th, 2007, 1:11 am

I would say the ability to be able to imagine religion is part of what makes us human.

I.e., not the religion itself, just the ability to be able to imagine it if one wants to.

So no, I would not be in favour of diminishing free will and imagination. Certainly, it means we pay a price for it all; we pay a price for what makes us human. But I prefer it to all the alternatives.

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#3 Postby Lord Muck oGentry » September 19th, 2007, 1:23 am

Gurdur wrote:I would say the ability to be able to imagine religion is part of what makes us human.

I.e., not the religion itself, just the ability to be able to imagine it if one wants to.

So no, I would not be in favour of diminishing free will and imagination. Certainly, it means we pay a price for it all; we pay a price for what makes us human. But I prefer it to all the alternatives.


Interesting point, Gurdur. If I understand you correctly, we are both unhappy with the maxim Error has no rights.

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Gurdur
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#4 Postby Gurdur » September 19th, 2007, 1:25 am

To be blunt:

To err is human.

Not to be allowed to or not to be able to err is subhuman.

I prefer being human to being anything else.

Thanks, BTW, for making this thread. It's a point which has been on my mind for a long time.

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#5 Postby Lord Muck oGentry » September 19th, 2007, 1:49 am

Gurdur wrote:
Not to be allowed to or not to be able to err is subhuman.



Thanks, BTW, for making this thread. It's a point which has been on my mind for a long time.



Amen, brother! :)

I shall hie me hence to the JREF, where it seems that the forces of errorsrightsupheldness are hard pressed.

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#6 Postby Oxfordrocks » September 19th, 2007, 9:55 am

Racism, sexism, slavery are all things we have overcome (to a greater or lesser degree) to become better humans.

While there is still hell of a long way to go (Religious dogma ,poverty, hunger,war etc..), to do away with these problems with a magic wand would take away some of our humanity.

Life is a learning process.
There are three fundamental questions for anyone advocating staying in EU.

1. What, precisely, are the significant and tangible benefits of staying in the EU?
2. What damage to the UK and its citizens will be caused by leaving EU?
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#7 Postby Deacon Doubtmonger » September 23rd, 2007, 7:48 pm

Gurdur wrote:I would say the ability to be able to imagine religion is part of what makes us human.

Alas, it seems to be "human" to impose one's imagination on others as well. Stem cells might point to a cure for Mrs. D's blood-protein deficiency -- but God W. Bush imagines a superbeing, then imagines it speaks directly to him, then imagines it tells him "no" to stem cells ... and damned if his imagination ain't binding on Mrs. D, making her a lifelong human pincushion in blood labs during coumadin therapy.

Damn straight I'd wave the wand ... especially for Mrs. D :love: :love: :love: .

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#8 Postby Lord Muck oGentry » September 25th, 2007, 12:39 am

Deacon Doubtmonger wrote:
Gurdur wrote:I would say the ability to be able to imagine religion is part of what makes us human.

Alas, it seems to be "human" to impose one's imagination on others as well. Stem cells might point to a cure for Mrs. D's blood-protein deficiency -- but God W. Bush imagines a superbeing, then imagines it speaks directly to him, then imagines it tells him "no" to stem cells ... and damned if his imagination ain't binding on Mrs. D, making her a lifelong human pincushion in blood labs during coumadin therapy.

Damn straight I'd wave the wand ... especially for Mrs. D :love: :love: :love: .


This just in from Reuters Galactic:

"In an astronomically improbable coincidence, the natives of Earth, a small and backward planet in a little-known part of the galaxy, have experienced, without knowing it, two episodes of planet-wide mind-control separated by only a few seconds.

In the first episode, a native of Earth, given access to a magic wand, discharged it, for reasons that appear to be be moral or political or both, so eliminating religious belief from the planet. The wand, we understand, had no other effect, and it is now inert.

In the second episode, a passing starship appears to have discharged a gas into the atmosphere of the planet, so reversing the effect of the wand, and also inducing religious belief in those inhabitants who previously lacked it. Like the the wand, the gas caused no physical damage to the natives, and it now appears to be inert. Since the personnel of the starship have not been identified , it is impossible to say whether the effect was intended or not."

DD,

Have the irreligious people of Earth been harmed by the starship, if the effect was intended? Or, if it was not, have they suffered a misfortune? My answer to both questions is yes. What do you think?

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#9 Postby Deacon Doubtmonger » September 25th, 2007, 9:18 pm

Lord Muck oGentry wrote:Have the irreligious people of Earth been harmed by the starship, if the effect was intended? Or, if it was not, have they suffered a misfortune? My answer to both questions is yes. What do you think?

The only way this scenario wouldn't constitute harm or misfortune to the irreligious would be if the gas induced the exact same religious belief in everyone, with no ambiguity as to "interpreting" it.

And of course, the god(s)/goddess(es) in question would have to actually exist, and deliver on the claims and promises made both by them and for them by whoever passes for "clergy." Otherwise, the peace fails the moment a prayer goes unanswered and someone doesn't accept the priest's dodges about why. Or when 99 people pray for healing and stay sick, but the fellow up the block cures the hundredth by giving him the juices of certain plants and doesn't invoke a superbeing at all. Thus does the first atheist come about -- and one wonders what harms will soon be dealt him by the religious ...

Besides, I must confess that every time I hear someone crowing about the supposed power of prayer, I imagine a Monty Python sketch:

HOST: Tonight on Worship in the World Today, we discuss the power of prayer. Our guests are (camera cuts to each when named) a tumor ... a checkbook ... on location, a field of dry brown corn ... and American televangelist Billy Joe Squidgett ... who will pray for each. Reverend Squidgett.

REV: Ah shall BLE-YESS the LORD at all TAHMS and His PRAY-UZ shall CONSTANTLY be in mah MOUTH-UH! (Turns to the tumor.) LORD-UH ... CAST THAH HOLY MAHGHT DAOWN AND HEAL-UH! HEAL-UH! HEAL-UH!

(CUT TO tumor, as large and slimy as before. CUT back to the rev ...)

REV: FATHER, IN THE NAME OF JESUS, AH DECREE INTO EXISTENCE ... FAH-NANCES! MONEY! DELIVERANCE!*

(CUT TO checkbook, its balance still in red ink. CUT back to the rev ...)

REV: LORD-UH ... LET THAH HOLY WAW-TUHS FALL FROM THE SKAH!

(CUT TO cornfield, the sun blazing unmercifully upon it. CUT to host ...)

HOST: That's it for tonight's episode of Worship in the World Today ... join us next week, when the Right Reverend Arthur Gormley-Booberkins will attempt to answer the Riddle of Epicurus while standing on his head and drinking a bottle of washing-up liquid. Good night.

___________

*An actual quote from Dallas televangelist Robert Tilton, cited in The Real Frank Zappa Book

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#10 Postby Lord Muck oGentry » September 25th, 2007, 11:14 pm

DD,

If you enjoy comedy treatments of religion, you may like this:
http://www.susjed.com/multimedija/video ... iths'-Rant
I certainly did.

On the main topic, I may have failed to get my thoughts across. Using the wand is objectionable IMO for the same reason as using the gas. Leaving the question of consequences aside, for the moment at least, I object to the act itself, which I see as coercive.

If we are to say instead that using the gas is objectionable but using the wand is not, we need to find a relevant difference. One way is to say that religious belief is erroneous and irreligion is not. And it could be said that no excuse is needed to change erroneous belief by coercion: error has no rights.

Or we could accept that coercing believers out of their belief is harmful, but go on to say that this harm is outweighed by the harm caused by belief itself. So those in the grip of error have some moral protection, but not enough to help them here.

Of course, other approaches are possible.

I'd be interested to know what you think on these questions.

Regards

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#11 Postby Alan C. » September 27th, 2007, 11:22 pm

I think, if religion was stripped of it's undeserved privileges IE tax breaks, bishops in the house of Lords, preachers in prisons, schools, hospitals et-al, it would die a natural death, and we'd all be better for it.
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#12 Postby Lord Muck oGentry » September 28th, 2007, 12:01 am

Alan C. wrote:I think, if religion was stripped of it's undeserved privileges IE tax breaks, bishops in the house of Lords, preachers in prisons, schools, hospitals et-al,

it would die a natural death,

and we'd all be better for it.


Alan C,

I admire the general sentiment. :)

But what methods are justifiable if "it's dead but won't lie down"?

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#13 Postby AndyPep » September 28th, 2007, 10:50 am

Lord Muck oGentry wrote:But what methods are justifiable if "it's dead but won't lie down"?


To my mind, none. If this really is the case, then it means that there is a significant proportion of people for whom it is a natural part of their existence, and any attempt to change their minds will necessarily be coercive.

What should be done, IMHO, is to concentrate on physical, visible realities instead of listening to unsubstantiated imaginings. In other words, try to ignore, sideline or bypass the irrelevant comments emerging from the religious groups. We have to start by removing their privileged positions in the media, so that arguments and debate can remain ad rem. This is probably Utopian, but we have to try.

It worries me more that the Internet has given the crackpots a platform that attracts the desperate and then the conspiracy theories, or plain bad science, is taken up by mainstream discussion as though it has some merit.

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#14 Postby Deacon Doubtmonger » September 28th, 2007, 4:57 pm

Lord Muck oGentry wrote:If we are to say instead that using the gas is objectionable but using the wand is not, we need to find a relevant difference. One way is to say that religious belief is erroneous and irreligion is not. And it could be said that no excuse is needed to change erroneous belief by coercion: error has no rights.

I wouldn't bar the rights of all error, but the nature and scope of that specific error concern me. I wouldn't mind religious impulses so much if those feeling them would keep them to themselves ... but implicit in almost all of them is the premise, "Only WE have the One True Impulse, and everyone must agree with and acquiesce to it, and those who don't are vile, wretched, depraved, deluded, evil sinners who will be punished by our God for their disagreement, and maybe we shouldn't wait around on Him and should punish them ourselves."

Consider: Mrs. D spends the rest of her life at sharply increased risk for heart attack and stroke no matter how well she cares for her health, and anyone who tries stem cell work toward a cure in the US will be arrested and jailed ... because a president said, "God has forbidden this ... and His will is binding upon you."

A child dies because his Christian Science parents say, "The Lord forbids us blood transfusions ... and His will is binding upon you."

And as for September 11th, I have a personal stake there too: some of my employer's finest personnel worked in the WTC, and only through the quick thinking of one of them were all able to escape uninjured. As for the fate they might have met ... "Allah has declared you evil and deserving of death, plus He promised each of 72 virgins in the afterlife if we pull it off ... and His will is binding upon you."

To my mind these are all forms of coercion, and none of the coercers can offer any objective, rationally defensible basis for their actions, nor even prove their superbeings exist, much less have any claim in the matter. But under the religious impulse, they need not; they need only say, "Superbeing said it, I believe it, and that settles it ... and His will is binding upon you!"

That's the relevant difference. With that coercive element present ... yes, I'd still wave the wand.

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#15 Postby Lord Muck oGentry » September 29th, 2007, 12:58 am

AndyPep wrote:
Lord Muck oGentry wrote:But what methods are justifiable if "it's dead but won't lie down"?


To my mind, none. If this really is the case, then it means that there is a significant proportion of people for whom it is a natural part of their existence, and any attempt to change their minds will necessarily be coercive.

What should be done, IMHO, is to concentrate on physical, visible realities instead of listening to unsubstantiated imaginings. In other words, try to ignore, sideline or bypass the irrelevant comments emerging from the religious groups. We have to start by removing their privileged positions in the media, so that arguments and debate can remain ad rem.

This is probably Utopian, but we have to try.



AP,

If I've understood you correctly, I heartily agree with that, and with Alan C's suggestion upthread about removing religion from its privileged position.

Your point about Utopianism gets to the heart of the matter- and identifies a possible weakness in my position. If I thought it impossible to meet our obvious moral obligations without resorting to an impossibly rose-tinted view of humanity, then I would simply accept that I have got this question wrong.

It doesn't come to that IMO. But you may want to look at my reply below to DD, once it's posted.

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#16 Postby Lord Muck oGentry » September 29th, 2007, 2:17 am

Deacon Doubtmonger wrote:
Lord Muck oGentry wrote:If we are to say instead that using the gas is objectionable but using the wand is not, we need to find a relevant difference. One way is to say that religious belief is erroneous and irreligion is not. And it could be said that no excuse is needed to change erroneous belief by coercion: error has no rights.

I wouldn't bar the rights of all error, but the nature and scope of that specific error concern me. I wouldn't mind religious impulses so much if those feeling them would keep them to themselves ... but implicit in almost all of them is the premise, "Only WE have the One True Impulse, and everyone must agree with and acquiesce to it, and those who don't are vile, wretched, depraved, deluded, evil sinners who will be punished by our God for their disagreement, and maybe we shouldn't wait around on Him and should punish them ourselves."



To my mind these are all forms of coercion, and none of the coercers can offer any objective, rationally defensible basis for their actions, nor even prove their superbeings exist, much less have any claim in the matter. But under the religious impulse, they need not; they need only say, "Superbeing said it, I believe it, and that settles it ... and His will is binding upon you!"

That's the relevant difference. With that coercive element present ... yes, I'd still wave the wand.


DD,

Please forgive me for filleting your post. I've done so only because I agree that the examples you offer ( stem-cell research, Christian Science, WTC) do indeed show the foolish or evil actions that can flow from religious belief.

What remains is your first and last paragraph. With the first paragraph, I generally agree - provided you let me make some reservations about the difference between clergymen who advocate bombing abortion clinics and clergymen who think that Hell exists but contains not even the worst specimens of humanity ( CofE joke).

As to your last paragraph: you seem to be saying that because in these cases ( again: stem-cell research, Christian Science, WTC) coercion or violence is present, we are justified in using coercion to eliminate not only the harm done but also the belief from which the harm flows. Against that , let me suggest that we already have mundane ways - laws, which may be changed if we choose, and institutions to enforce those laws- that offer protection against coercion or the threat of coercion or talk that incites to coercion.

I look forward to your reply :)

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#17 Postby Deacon Doubtmonger » September 30th, 2007, 10:45 pm

Lord Muck oGentry wrote:... I agree that the examples you offer ( stem-cell research, Christian Science, WTC) do indeed show the foolish or evil actions that can flow from religious belief.

It's entirely possible we disagree on the definition of "religious." To clarify mine, it's pretty narrow and is concerned with the standard of proof involved -- or in this case, exemption from proof. My fear is that such foolishness and evil become immeasurably easier to bring about if the perpetrators can hide behind a steady diet of, "These ideas are holy and sacred -- meaning that they need not be submitted to scrutiny, proof, discussion, debate, or disagreement of any kind ... and those who would do so are evil and sinful and deserve punishment in both this life and the next for the simple act of having done so."

By that definition of "religious," I'd definitely wave the wand. My position might change if your definition differs.

Lord Muck oGentry wrote:... and clergymen who think that Hell exists but contains not even the worst specimens of humanity ( CofE joke).

Might I ask an explanation? Not many Americans are familiar with CofE theology.

Lord Muck oGentry wrote:As to your last paragraph: you seem to be saying that because in these cases ... coercion or violence is present, we are justified in using coercion to eliminate not only the harm done but also the belief from which the harm flows. Against that , let me suggest that we already have mundane ways - laws, which may be changed if we choose, and institutions to enforce those laws- that offer protection against coercion or the threat of coercion or talk that incites to coercion.

I wouldn't trust those laws as far as I could throw them.

First off, they don't even exist in the Islamic world, where church IS state -- and even if they had, they would not have been sufficient to stop the WTC terrorists, who would have eluded them, and carried all the justification they needed for their acts in their own heads.

As to the child of Christian Science parents, the criminal-negligence laws only help if the police and child-protection agencies are tipped off in time; if the parents can conceal their refusal of treatment until the child dies, the most zealous subsequent prosecution of them won't bring the child back.

As to talk of coercion, the First Amendment allows any of our clergy to scream bloody murder about how their freedom of speech is being abridged if anyone wants to stop their talk, no matter how hateful.

Plus, there's a strong dominionist streak in right-wing US politics that holds that the US is a Christian nation founded on Christian principles and should therefore be governed by biblical law. If these people ever manage to seize power (a good possibility in a 90% churched country), they would gut all those protective laws in a heartbeat -- whereupon gays could be jailed, as could anyone having an affair, and divorce would be outlawed now matter how miserable or even abusive a marriage became. (Oops -- it's not really abuse: "Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church ..." (Ephesians 5:22-23)) And all on no other basis than, "Bible says it, we believe it, and that settles it ... and the Bible is binding upon you via the civil power!"

But again, this is all based on my admittedly narrow definition of "religious." I look forward to both your definition and your reply. :)

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#18 Postby Lord Muck oGentry » October 2nd, 2007, 11:22 pm

DD,

Thank you for the detailed reply.

May I put off replying until the weekend? For the moment at least, other matters call.

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#19 Postby Deacon Doubtmonger » October 3rd, 2007, 4:02 am

No hurry. :)

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#20 Postby Lord Muck oGentry » October 8th, 2007, 12:15 am

DD,

Sorry for the delay.

Let me deal with the CofE joke first. The clergyman is a stock figure, who finds himself in a quandary when he is challenged about eternal suffering in Hell. He can't deny the dogma without impiety, but his natural kindness rebels at the thought of such suffering. So he resorts to the idea that God prompts penitence in the wicked in their final moments, so cutting the sentence from Hell to Purgatory. He isn't very bright, perhaps, but there isn't much harm in him.

On to my definition of religion. Off the top of my head, I'd say it was a set of beliefs, values and practices, relating to the supernatural and often to a deity or number of deities seen as having created the world. In a wider sense, it would include religious sentiment or impulse- for example the common thought that " There must be something out there."

You will see that my definition distinguishes belief or impulse from practice. That, I suspect, is what divides us here. In my view we are entitled to use force, including lethal force in the extreme case, to protect ourselves from practice that turns to violence. And if the magic wand question had been about stopping attacks on the WTC or London Underground, my answer would have been different, because these are examples of violent practice.

But what people believe in the privacy of their own thoughts is another matter. There are many religious people who wish me no harm at all, and do not deserve to be subjected to mind-control. There are also those who dither about religious belief. They are potential allies, but I don't want them godless if godlessness has been forced on them. And there are those atheists who, like me, entertain religious thought or sentiment
or impulse precisely in order to be sure that our godlessness is honestly won. I don't imagine that my mind will change, but I want to be able to make it up myself.

Thanks again for your thoughts. I shall have to finish for the time being, but I'm enjoying this discussion.

Regards


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