Thursday, March 18, 2010

A Cult Classic

There is an experiment one may do to see what type of atheist a believer would make. If you are an atheist, ask your theist test subject how they feel about as many of the following as they’ve heard of:

Christian Scientists
Church of Satanists
The Order of the Solar Temple
Heaven’s Gate
Branch Davidians
Aum Shinrikyo
The Church of Bible Understanding
The People’s Temple
The Church of the Lamb of God

Likewise, if you are a theist (and apparently read my site in order to electively fulfill your persecution quota), you may imagine what you would be like as an atheist by analyzing your answers to the above. Hell, if you’re Protestant, you could include Catholics, and vice-versa.

How do theists respond to these groups? I have found it is largely based on what the theist has heard about that particular organization. Most people have heard of Scientology, and most non-Scientologists are pretty critical of it. An alien bringing souls to Earth trillions of years ago (in a universe possibly only billions of years old, mind you) seems far-fetched to people, but it actually seems as plausible to me as some unexplained divinity blowing air into dirt thousands of years ago.

The truth is, most people know little or nothing about the actual beliefs or practices of Scientology. Most non-Scientologists are content with hearing the ridiculous parts of Scientology and making a judgment, whether they are atheist or Christian or Muslim or Jewish or Buddhist or agnostic or anything else under the sun.

Scientology isn’t very popular, but how do theists feel about Aum Shinrikyo? “Um Shin what-e-o?” Exactly. If I told you this is the name of the group who orchestrated the sarin gas attacks on the Tokyo subway which killed 12… I’m confident I could guess your stance, even (or especially) if you had not known about them before.

These are some of the more common responses to being asked how one feels about a foreign faith. The truth is, most people remain ignorant of beliefs outside of their own, and this is especially true of monotheists. Even though many of the organizations on that list are monotheistic off-shoots of major religions, members of the larger orthodoxy tend to either ignore or attack splinter groups.

My last question: how does a theist reconcile the silly stories and/or violence in one’s own religion, while these are enough to dismiss other faiths? Perhaps most monotheists can only judge a book by its cover. Hopefully, they close their Bibles and take a good hard look. [They won’t.]


  1. What the hell Ginx, the whole idea behind monotheism is that everybody else's god is crap. So asking how they feel about other gods is a loaded question. The same applies to atheists who believe all gods are crap. Therefore asking them how they feel about theism is a loaded question. It's the agnostics who can play this game.

  2. There are plenty of other responses. Some people don't react negatively. Most monotheists do, but some do not.

    As for atheists asked about these groups, it's up in the air. I have vastly different feelings on many of these groups. In fact, I have the most respect for the suicide-pact groups. Any religion that rids the world of its followers gets a thumbs up in my book.

  3. Well, how do you feel about Naziism and Stalinism, two atheist ideologies?

    I am a "theist", I do not think that "all other religions are crap", I am more along the lines that everyone should do what suits him (including atheism), as long as he damages no-one else.

    Many of the cults you cited have a history of harming or exploiting people. So I would recommend utmost precaution when dealing with them. This said, I am aware that cults certainly also have their positive sides. Otherwise people would not go there. So if someone can take advantage of the positives sides of a cult without being damaged by the negative sides and without harming other people, why should he not adhere to them?

    I knew an old lady who went to a cult and benefited greatly from it. She is a chronic pain patient, and other cult members would care for her the way no-one in her family would.

  4. PS: and I have to add that the power-structures that are so harmful in cults can also occur in other set-ups, like marriage, family, school, sports association, orchestra, etc...

  5. So, so so said, as a theist who doesn't believe other religions are crap, you therefore believe there are multiple gods? What the monotheists call mythology?

    And Ginx, if there is no "god", prime mover, whatever... then who sets your moral compass? Does it not seem logical that given there is no god, no heaven, no hell, only this life, that the order of the day is literally dog eat dog, survival of the fittest, take all you can because this is all there is? Yet, somehow there is a moral compass, I've seen it in your posts and positions. There is something, and it isn't logic because logic would tell you to get while the getting's good, there's something else within the human spirit that tells you right from wrong. Where does that come from?

  6. @ soso: The Nazis were overtly Christian. Stalin, Mao, and Pot were undoubtedly atheists and I clearly disagree with them. I see their fanciful stories of command economies and cultural cleansing for the myths they are.

    Clearly you are in the group I mentioned in my first comment, a theist who tolerates other faiths... but apparently not the lack of faith.

    I've said this many other times, but it bears repeating. I don't think there will ever be a human population without any religion in it, nor do we need to encourage the shedding of religion. Religion serves a vital role: to distract the morons while the adults are working. We don't need to pollute science with the dogmatic minds of believers who are not open to new ideas (though believers who are open are the most important, for it is often they who convince the fools to abandon tradition).

    Regarding other power structures, I agree whole-heartedly. I oppose the abuse of power in any circumstance, which is why my blog often covers seemingly non-related political issues which have nothing to do with "religion." Except... those who believe something that isn't true and force that upon others is so classically religious that I find myself drawn again and again to religion (for whatever reason).

  7. @Mr.C: I have touched on this a bit in my posts on secular morality. Regarding a moral compass... most religions of the past did not have gods who set a person's moral compass, so to speak.

    I also reject the basic principle of a "moral compass," but let's pretend for argument's sake that such a thing exists. Religion is not the compass, it is merely a magnet set next to your compass which holds it steady. Is it accurate? I'd give you odds of 1/360.

    People do take what they want. People exploit other people, animals, the land, even their own family. There is nothing inherent driving people to act socially acceptable. It takes education, learning. Yes, I can take Billy's toy. But then Billy might hit me or get his older brother or parents. I'm better off asking him to borrow it.

    I believe ethics is based on mutually beneficial interactions rewarding us over time. We accomplish far more from cooperating than from competing.

  8. Certainly merit in what you say. However, I would still argue there is an inherent moral compass that has nothing to do with religion or accumulation of learned values. As a child, you might take Billy's toy, but when Billy cries you will feel a twinge of regret, even though you might ignore it and cave in to greed. A better example would be someone you care for and wouldn't hurt because of it. I don't buy the Fruedian theory, and that's all it is, of the reason you wouldn't hurt that person is because you get more gain out of not hurting than hurting.

    There is definately a light and dark side of the Force. Yin Yang exsists. It is not a human contrivance. All things cannot be explained by evolution and all of its manifestations. This is not an argument for or against God. Only an argument that "proof" one way or the other is beyond mankind's grasp.

    A-theism is not a condition of no belief, but rather belief that something does not exist. That is why this is an Agnostic's game.

  9. Atheism has several manifestations. The word itself was initially applied to people who did not question the existence of gods, merely the worship of them (essentially sacrilege). Deists were accused of it, for example, because they viewed the universe as having been created and then left to operate on a set of rules.

    You may choose to interpret this as you wish, but I find the distinction to be important. I believe the burden of proof lies with the one making a claim. Those claiming the existence of gods have failed to convince me of their existence. It is not that I believe there are no gods (a statement of faith, which I have no evidence with which to support my claim). I simply lack the belief in gods. This is sometimes called negative or passive atheism, versus positive or active Atheism (I also like to capitalize this last one, because it is quickly becoming a religion unto itself).

    Morality is too complex to be inherent in human thinking, and we live in conditions that change too quickly for our genes to keep up. I have absolutely no doubt that the overwhelming majority of one's behavior is the result of conditioning. Guilt is also a learned behavior, and remembering that period of time is not reaching far enough.

    I cannot possibly remember my own youth at the point before moral instruction. I do know from babysitting small children that they will not hesitate to steal something while you're looking and then deny doing it while holding it in their hand in plain sight. I believe you give genetic coding (or possibly mystic powers?), too much credit.

  10. Let me think about this and I'll get back to you. BTW... not a debate, but a stimulating conversation.

    There is no doubt that external forces effect us, whether we know it or not. The oceans move to the moon, etc. Astrology attempts to intrepret these effects. It took me many years of observance and the study of such things as astrology, The Tao and bio rhythms to learn to feel the effects of the moon on me as it obviously affects women's cycles. I believe there is much more there than meets the eye. Good vibes, bad vibes, they exist and they affect you. I believe most of us are to "busy" and "noisy" and distracted to bring ourselves to a state where we can feel these influences. But they are there.

    I also believe ancient societies, uneffected by modern hubbub, were much more in tune to these things and there is far more truth in what they say than modern man gives them credit for.

    Having said that, I agree with you that social conditioning is indeed the overwhelming influence on one's behavior, but it isn't the only thing.

    I like your description of atheists and almost said that atheism itself has become a religion in my last post, but didn't want to offend you.

  11. I tend to simultaneously reject ancient wisdom as being mystically more important while acknowledging the human beings thousands of years ago were no less intelligent than human beings today; they merely had a smaller base of accumulated knowledge to work with.

    The moon has no actual effect on women, and most women have cycles that do not perfectly align to the moon. It is far more common, and medically documented, that chemical signals given off by other women have a far greater influence. Still, there seems to be stimuli in nature that animals key into that we do not. I am most interested in animals detecting natural disasters before they occur.

    As for astrology... I tend to put this into the same category as alchemy. While alchemists slowly devised the legitimate science of chemistry and astrology spawned the legitimate science of astronomy, the original practices were more artforms at best, fraud at worst. Let's put it this way... if astrology was accurate, wouldn't everyone born on Fess Parker's birtdday die today?

    I think there may be some component of instinct in our behavior, certainly when dealing with snap judgments or issues of basic necessity. However, these are driven by selfishness on a genetic level. The parents who give their life defending their children are rewarded with the persistence of their genetic material. In this case, assuming the decision is too quick to be deliberated upon, the instinctive action is essentially the "will" of the genes, fulfilling their "need" to multiply... though genes have no consciousness. Genes that promote their own proliferation are merely more prevelant by virtue of their nature.

    You won't insult me by saying some atheists treat atheism like a religion. I would be defensive if you suggested I was one of them, and I would be forced to excommunicate you from my blog...

  12. We must agree to disagree. There is far more instinctual influence in our behavior than you give credit to. The moon does have influence on women's cycles and it has been demonstrated throughout the ages, regardless of what so-called sience has "proved" to the opposite. Nearly everyday a "recent discovery" discounts earlier scientific theories that have been presented as fact. The most recent being dinosaur remaims that place them on this earth hundreds of thousands of years earlier than previously thought.
    Only but that we humans were as superior as we think we are.

  13. Then I have to ask: do you think female astronauts visiting Mars will have reproductive difficulty?

  14. "The Nazis were overtly Christian."
    Probably I do not know enough about the Nazis.

    There were certainly Nazis that remained catholic or protestant, since this was their original religion. But a really "good" Nazi had to leave the church.

    The Nazi movement tried to replace christian holydays with Nazi/Nordic holidays where they could. For example, they would not celebrate christmas, but "Yul".

    The ideology of the Nazis was a "new" ideology that rejected christianism. For example, they went to great lengths to eliminated the outdated idea of "pity". They tried to prove, based on "new scientific research" and examples in the animal kingdom that cruelty is better than pity.

    If they tried to promote religion in any form, they wanted to revive nordic polytheism. That's why they loved those Wagner Operas so much...

  15. "So, so so said, as a theist who doesn't believe other religions are crap, you therefore believe there are multiple gods?"

    I do not have to believe along with them. But I can accept that their religion has meaning to them.

  16. "but apparently not the lack of faith."

    I wrote "including atheism". Perhaps you missed that.

    By the way, I think that there is a continuum between "religion" and "ideology". So I do not really believe that there can be a complete "lack of faith". I suppose that any human being has a set of principles he builds upon.

    In your case, the basic principle seem to run more or less along the lines of the Univeral declaration of human rights. So while you are not theist, I suppose you still have a faith...

    Furthermore, abuse of religion can also happen to ideologies without a deity. The fact whether their is a deity or not is not always relevant.

  17. I don't really believe in human rights. I believe in treating people well, but I can't produce for you a single ounce of "rights." If something disappears the moment we stop believing in it, it was never real. It might be a real good idea, but as you stated, it's "faith." I wish I could say I was a humanist and I had faith in humanity... but the closest I come to trusting people other than my wife is when I'm driving.

    You are most certainly correct that Nordic mythology was making a comeback in Germany at the time, thanks largely to the operas of Wagner. I do not see this as a scheme of replacement anymore than the fascination with Greece or Rome in non-Germanic Europe and America. By this logic, the founding fathers were polytheists because they held pagan culture in such high regard (what with borrowing democracy and grand architecture, to name but two examples).

    Also, regarding yuletide celebrations: Christmas is itself an amalgamation of festivals like Yuletide, Saturnalia, and other heathen holidays. Jesus was most certainly not born on December 25th; most scholars place his birthday sometime in spring or early summer. What I'm saying is... Christmas is not even Christian.

    And finally: anyone of any background or ideology is capable of violence. I have never tried to imply that faith in gods is necessary for ignorance (let alone violence), merely that faith in gods is itself ignorant (albeit a largely harmless error with few direct repercussions).

  18. As Mr. Charleston said, this is an interesting "stimulating conversation" you guys got here.

    I might I have read too quickly through your comments but I was wondering, Mr. Charleston, if you could clarify something. When you say for example that "there's something else within the human spirit that tells you right from wrong. Where does that come from?"
    Are you satisfied with purely naturalistic answers?
    even when they reach a 'I don't know'?
    do you accept supernatural explanations then?

  19. as for where morals come from if not religion...they come from being socialized into morals. I don't think children who take things from other children feel a twinge of regret until their parents teach them that taking things from other children is wrong, and reinforces that every time they take things from another child. Eventually that parent's idea gets 'internalized' which is what those twinge of regrets is. And then that kid passes the same thing on to their kids later on.

    I was raised to believe that it is morally wrong to eat seafood and bacon (orthodox jewish), and I still feel a twinge of guilt whenever I eat seafood. But that twinge, which was weakens with exposure to seafood and distance from the community that reinforces that the more I eat it, the less I feel guilt. I feel absolutely no guilt over eating bacon anymore, because I eat that on a regular basis, so I've retrained my 'moral compass' not to feel guilt over that. Since I haven't eaten as much seafood, I still haven't quite overcome those feelings of guilt.

    Now rationally I know that eating seafood is not wrong, and most everyone would agree with the idea that eating seafood is not morally wrong, but the fact that I feel that feeling of guilt over something like that (same exact feeling I felt when I shoplifted some candy as a teenager) points to the specific cultural context of our morals, and the fact that "moral compasses" vary widely, and are not inherent as part of a 'soul' or something.

    As for where the morals came from to begin with? Well if you look at most of the common ones, most serve an evolutionary purpose- to preserve human relationships, because humans can't survive without human relationships and 'society'- we evolved to cooperate with each other because that was the best way to survive as a species. we can't just go into the woods and live off of the earth, even survivalists bring knives/guns and clothes and other things produced by human society. Morals like "Don't steal" and "Don't kill" and "don't act like a douche" are aimed at preserving a sense of community. In fact religion itself serves that same function because it encourages group relationship that come with built in social supports.

    as for the moon thing- Ginx- I'm not sure you are right here, but have to look further into what evidence there is, I definitely have heard that when women are only exposed to ONLY moonlight at night their cycles tend to sync up with it...the problem is that nowadays there is too much ambient light from cities, electronic devices, even your alarm clock, that mess with that stuff, so in modern times no one's cycle has anything to do with the moon. Or at least that's what I've heard, no idea if that's true or not, but the thinking is that it's affected by hormonal reactions in your body to light levels at night.


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