Debate or Change
It is over 200 years since the Enlightenment offered the dream of freeing the Western world from the dead hand of the God of Abraham (TGOA), yet we still go round in circles debating his existence. “You cannot prove the existence of God.” “You cannot disprove it.” And so on ad nauseam, while the uncommitted and uninterested shrug their shoulders and say the jury is out, so forget it. One or other church still has its hooks into the fabric of most states in the Old and New Worlds, militant Islam has become a rallying point for protest against real or perceived Western imperialism in the Middle East, epitomised by the creation of the state of Israel, itself a permanent source of religious and international tension. Israel is also the focus for the lives of millions of American Zionists and End Timers for whom all issues are irrelevant other than the fulfilment of biblical prophecy and the advance of their own particular flavour of the Christian eschaton, creating a fundamentalist symbiosis with extreme Islam, a spiral of intolerance and violence eclipsing efforts to tackle the real problems of the world. Meanwhile the characteristic misogyny of Abrahamic religion not only continues to blight the lives of millions of women and children but has largely excluded female/maternal/matriarchal balance from the governance of nations and institutions. And monotheistic myopia, arrogance which deems all other religions and their peoples as inferior, still militates against equable engagement with other cultures and justifies ruthless exploitation and genocide.
Unfortunately, apart from reassuring the sceptical reader that they are on the right page, recitations of the evils of religion will do little to change matters. To the faithful they only confirm the hostility and ignorance of “New Atheists”. In the same way that a recitation of faults never changed the neighbour-from-hell, insight is useless when arguing against faith. Believers will fall back on faith and the impossibility of disproving the existence of God (if you rely on logic and scientific method that is, but more of that later). And so the debate goes on, about the existence of this or that flavour of god, and whether science and religion are compatible or overlapping, but little changes, and despite the fact that the Church of England is losing market share, much of it is to more virulent sects, (hardly surprising under a man who believes that religion has something to do with humanity and compassion) and a suspicion looms that all the debates are smoke and mirrors, creating an illusion of business and action while the important things are happening elsewhere.
THE CHRISTIAN AND ISLAMIC AGENDA
If reason and argument in public debate is not the answer where do we start? A clue lies in how Christianity and Islam maintain their influence. Christian and Muslim leaders know their theses are irrational, and they also know that the surest way to ensnare the uninitiated with irrationality, and keep the numbers up, is to get them young. The indoctrination of children produces deep-seated proclivities, permanently setting logic gates in a one-way trip to certainty, while having religion as a legally established part of mainstream education ensures that the maximum number of children are infected for a minimum effort. There is also a by-product, instilling in the minds of the unconverted young an impression that Christianity is so important and ancient that dissent gainsays the voices of the centuries. It is this subliminal indoctrination that allows the privileged position of religion in education and legislation to be accepted as the norm and to go largely unchallenged.
Current educational legislation, with compulsory daily Christian worship, dates no further back than the 1944 Education Act. Despite the rapid decline in public worship since then, this was strengthened by further Acts in 1988 and 1998. The legislation provides for mandatory religious education (RE) which should “reflect the fact that the religious traditions of Great Britain are in the main Christian.” Christianity thus remains an integral part of the background to most children’s’ education, creating an image of the permanence and authority of religion and the church.
Then there is intelligent design and creationism (ID/C) which promotes a manifesto entitled “The Wedge Strategy”. This states “design theory promises to reverse the stifling dominance of the materialist worldview, and to replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions.” It goes on: “If we view the predominant materialistic science as a giant tree our strategy is intended to function as a ‘wedge’ that, while relatively small, can split the trunk when applied to its weakest points.” IDC proponents believe that the weakest point in the trunk is Darwinian evolution, and the wedge is intelligent design.
IDC has its centre in the Discovery Institute in Seattle, and it has an offshoot in the UK, an organisation called Truth in Science which in 2006 sent an ID/C information pack to thousands of teachers in UK secondary schools. This organisation is headed by a Professor Andy McIntosh of Leeds University, who is on record in the Evangelical Times in 2004 as saying that he could not accept any other account of the origins of life than the creation recorded in Genesis, and arguing that getting creationism into schools was the best way to convert non-Christians. The Truth in Science website still offers resources for the teaching of ID and also claims that “Nearly three in ten [teachers] said they either disagreed or strongly disagreed with the government’s guidelines on teaching evolution… ” This implies – and was reported in the broadsheet press as – 29% of teachers think intelligent design should be taught in schools. What they do not say is that “nearly 3 in 10” refers to the 29% of those that responded to an e-mail survey, which amounted to 3.3% of those actually canvassed, which was a fraction of the teachers in the UK. Truth in science?
In addition to the subversion of young minds, Christianity and Islam also claim legal privilege against discrimination and defamation, largely through human rights and equality legislation, stretching the meaning of the provisions from protection of the individual to protection for the entire religion. Thus in the United Nations Council for Human Rights the 57 nation members of the Organisation of the Islamic Council have forced through a resolution, fortunately non-binding, equating “Islamophobia” with racism and attempting to outlaw any defamation or criticism of Islam including “hostile glances”. Similarly in the UK, Christian and Islamic lobbying has affected the unified Equality Bill currently before Parliament, in which it is proposed not just that individuals be protected from discrimination on religious grounds, but that religious organisations be given the right to discriminate against individuals for not belonging to a particular religion.
The Vatican also uses its unique status as a sovereign state, which gives its seats in the UN and EU, to promote religiously biased legislation and to impose religious dogma on policy in education, AIDS and human rights. The supremely ironical example of this religious abuse of international institutions came in 2002 at the United Nations Children’s Summit in New York when the US and the Vatican allied with the Sudan, Syria, Iran and Iraq (all US designated sponsors of terrorism) to defeat a raft of proposals including a ban on the execution of children and young people under 18. A wonderful example of the power of religion to bring nations together in peace and harmony.
This brief overview of religious activism in the UK and elsewhere is intended to show that (a) religious recrudescence has little to do with popular religious sentiment and a lot to do with political machinations, (b) the stakes are not philosophical truth and clarity, they are freedom of speech and thought, and democracy itself. Countering today’s religious activity will involve mobilising public opinion sufficiently to influence policy, and for that we need more than philosophical argument.
If the dead hand is to be lifted, and the negative impact of TGOA on humanity and the planet mitigated, a different approach is needed. Reason is not the antidote to faith. Argument or confrontation simply increases resistance, entrenches dogma and even creates martyrs. The need however is not to convert the faithful but to convince the uncommitted and those not emotionally invested in faith that Christianity and Islam are antagonistic to their interests. The constituency of the uncommitted is far larger than the religiously active and represents a vast potential for change. The aim here is to show them that TGOA does not act in their interests, and the reason is that he is a fiction, because we now know when, why and by who he was invented, and that the structures built on that fantasy – the Bible, the Qur’an and all their consequences, because of this foundation on falsehood, are not just misleading but toxic to humanity and the planet we live on.
The key to change lies in the fruits of modern archaeology and historical studies which have demonstrated emphatically that TGOA, the God of Judah and Israel, inherited, acknowledged and adopted by both Christianity and Islam, and the source of all monotheism in the world today, is a fiction, and a politically inspired fiction at that. The argument has been some 200 years in the making, but this is the case in short. There were two kingdoms, Israel and Judah, which emerged in the eastern highlands of Palestine/Canaan at the beginning of the first millennium BC. Their peoples were, and always had been, Canaanites, and their religion was originally Canaanite polytheism, This became henotheism (the worship of one God as supreme among many) when the god YHWH (later to become Yahweh or Jehovah to Christians; unpronounceable in Judaism and rendered as Adonai) was adopted by a nationalist political faction in Israel in the eighth century BC. The political ambitions of the YHWH faction unfortunately brought about the obliteration of their young kingdom by the Assyrian emperor, Shalmanesar V, in 724 BC.
Many Israelites took refuge in the neighbouring kingdom of Judah and the YHWH faction continued their nationalist activities there, nurturing a dream of re-creating Israel. YHWH became the focus of the Israel faction, and eventually having achieved power in Judah, they repeated their forebears’ mistake of trying to punch above their weight in the imperial struggles of the eastern Mediterranean. (Palestine/Canaan was a nexus of trade routes between three continents and was coveted by every empire from the ancient Egyptian to the British.) The result of this political ambition was a reprise of the fate of Israel. Judah was crushed by the Babylonian emperor Nebuchadnezzar in 587 BC, and a large part of its population taken into slavery, the Babylonian Captivity, which however ended when the Persian Emperor Cyrus conquered Babylon in 539 BC. Amongst the spoils he found the Judahites, who he returned to their homeland, now a small province, Yehud to the Persians, some 60 by 40 miles square, in the fifth satrapy of the Persian empire.
The Judahites had taken their worship of YHWH with them into bondage, and as their fortunes waned his stature had waxed. From being the only God for a true Israelite/Judahite to worship, he had become the Only God. And the Yehudim, as the Persians now referred to them, set about rearranging and rewriting the story of their people and their God to explain to themselves how they had come to be where they were, and why they and their God deserved better. And that self-justifying propaganda rewritten as history is what we know today as the Old Testament.
The process of revealing that the Old Testament is not just fiction but political fiction, written by a set of big-time losers to persuade themselves that it wasn’t their fault, has taken 200 years. It started with the 19th century textual and philological work that showed that Moses and the prophets could not have written the Old Testament as was claimed by the church, and continued with 20th century archaeology and historical studies that asked why such outstanding events as the sojourn of the Israelites in Egypt, the Exodus, and the setting up of the kingdom of David, stretching from Damascus to the Red Sea, are never mentioned in the history and records of the contemporary civilisations and empires . The process culminated with a revolution in late 20th century and 21st century archaeology and scholarship, when the archaeologists stopped digging to find the Bible and started interpreting their findings free from religious filters and agendas. The result was the revelation of the brief rise and fall of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, and the making of their creator god. The fall of Israel and Judah and the rise of their pseudo-god is well documented in, amongst others, The Bible Unearthed, Finkelstein and Silberman, (Simon & Schuster 2002). This was made into a BBC Television series of the same name, but even today the significance of its revelations has not sunk into the general consciousness.
Christianity and Islam base all their claims on the existence and the authority of TGOA. Take away that god and that authority, as these findings do, and you are left with two ideologies which seek power by proselytising, propaganda, violence and interference in government. In other words political ideologies – but ideologies not intended or designed for the benefit of humans in this world, and therefore parasitic or cancerous, soaking up energy and resources to no end other than their own survival and growth.
But does it matter if faith is based on falsehood if the ends are good? In adopting TGOA as their own creator deity, Christianity and Islam have created a fantasy world, the supernatural or transcendent, and set it up to rule this world, and in doing so have created a labyrinth of supernaturally inspired rules, commandments, assumptions and beliefs about this world and its ordering, directed towards a supposed need for divine approval. These are not only misguided but are by their very nature toxic to human beings and the world itself. It is this connection between the tenets of Christianity and Islam and their toxic outcomes that must be made clear in raising awareness amongst the inactive majority about the real impact of faith in TGOA. The following are a few examples out of many possible of the consequences of drawing logical conclusions from the great falsehood.
Because TGOA created the universe he is assumed to have had a purpose, and that purpose creates the linear view of existence, bringing into play the eschaton, the end of all things when the purpose is fulfilled, a concept not generally found in non-Abrahamic religions which tend to have a cyclic view of existence and are not timebound. Thus today we have the cults of End Timers and Rapture believers as a feature of American Christianity asserting that there is no need to worry about, or even care for, the environment because of the imminent second coming of the Messiah and the end of the world, to hasten which other American citizens are pouring millions of dollars into support for hard-line Israeli Zionists in an effort to bring about the conflict of the risen Christ and the Antichrist in the battle of Armageddon, the Millennium and the Day of Judgement.
Why is TGOA male? Because he was originally one of a family of Canaanite gods with human characteristics. But that remnant of his Canaanite divinity translated into a monotheistic ideology has been an unmitigated disaster. In this worldview TGOA created man in his own image and woman was an afterthought, and that story still dominates the worldview of more than 2 billion people today. Pope John Paul II wrote in 2004, in his Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Collaboration of Men and Women in the Church and in the World, referring to the first three chapters of Genesis, “In it the revealed truth concerning the human person as ‘the image and likeness’ of God constitutes the immutable basis of all Christian anthropology.” This document, signed by the Pope, was drafted by the then Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI. Apart from condemning women to the status of inferior beings, the authority of scripture subordinates all human relationships to the relationship between man and God, a true misogynists’ charter. (For a detailed exposition of the outcomes of this mindset see Does God Hate Women?, Benson and Stangroom, Continuum 2009.)
Another corollary to creating an all-powerful creator God is the worldview mandated through sacred texts. The chief characteristic of Abrahamic worldview is dualism – the idea that there are two dimensions of existence, the natural and supernatural. The latter is the one inhabited by TGOA and the demons and hangers-on invented over the centuries by overheated imaginations. The supernatural is also the final destination of the supernatural part of the human being – the soul. It will surprise many to hear that the immortal soul and its supernatural home are virtually unique to Abrahamic religion. Even in Buddhism, which features reincarnation, there is no soul, and in fact attachment to the idea of an inherently existing self which exists after death is classed as one of the defilements of mind which must be erased if the devotee is to achieve nirvana. However this idea of duality is embedded throughout Western and middle eastern cultures. Even unbelievers will accept the idea of an eternal soul, and there are psychologists who assert that the desire and search for the transcendent or supernatural is an innate human characteristic, or who define religion in terms of belief in the supernatural and supernatural entities.
These are only a few examples out of many of the toxic outcomes of Abrahamic faith and their impact on the world we know. So how can its effects be mitigated?
WAYS AND MEANS
The first priority in tackling the power of priests and imams is to stop the rot in education. The objectives being (a) to protect young people from religious propaganda, indoctrination, proselytising, misinformation and coercion in schools and (b) to provide an effective and objective education about religion as a prerequisite for learning in both schools and universities. The significant difference will be that instead of arguing from the point of view of a secularist/humanist minority, as The National Secular Society and of the British Humanist Association currently have to do, in future, arguments can be based on the right to protect children from religious propaganda touting demonstrable falsehoods, and with the ultimate aim of having Christian and Islamic organisations barred from the educational arena as parasitic political ideologies.
The current position of religious education in schools (RE) is highly anomalous in that while mandatory it is not part of the national curriculum, with control of the syllabus in the hands of local authority Standing Advisory Committees on Religious Education (SACRE) and Agreed Syllabus Conferences (ASC), quasi-political bodies from which, for instance, Humanist representatives are excluded. The 1988 Education Reform Act also requires that the RE syllabus should “reflect the fact that the religious traditions of Great Britain are in the main Christian.” Thus, while RE is not permitted to proselytise or promote any particular faith, its provision is largely partisan and uninformed.
Knowledge of religion and religious systems is essential to the understanding of virtually all arts or humanities and to many of the “soft” sciences, as well as to ridding science classrooms of ID/C. But religion cannot be studied in a vacuum – many religions are culturally specific and cannot be understood outwith that culture. You would not for instance expect to hear of many Jains or Shintoists who had not been born into Jain or Shinto communities or who had converted to those religions. Any objective study of religion needs to consider religion and culture together. In the circumstances RE cannot be allowed to remain as an “amateur” subject under the direction of local god-botherers. The whole subject needs to be redefined, included in the national curriculum, non-partisan syllabuses worked out and standards and qualifications for teachers set up, which would include degree courses. The problem of course is getting any political party to sign up to such radical reform, which is why mobilising uncommitted opinion against the current situation is so important.
The next step in that mobilisation is promoting general awareness of the disingenuousness and toxic nature of Abrahamic religion. But it is not a simple question of dramatic revelation and instant change. We need to appreciate the extent to which monotheistic/Abrahamic concepts are embedded in our lives, and throughout Old and New World cultures. There are atheists today who still think that life in general must have a conscious purpose, or that belief in the transcendent is innate in the human psyche, not realising that these concepts are virtually unique to Abrahamic religion (and their derivatives such as Baha’i or Rastafarianism). As anyone working with addiction will attest, the first step in changing behaviour is to get acknowledgement that there is a problem. This involves bringing to the forefront of the consciousness things that people are normally aware of only as background, much of which will have been around since childhood, enabling people to see them in the cold light of day, together with their antecedents and consequences.
Some examples have already been given – the linear view of existence deluding millions of people about the purpose of life, endangering the environment and dangerously exacerbating international tension, while the accidental gender of TGOA blights the lives of millions of women and children, and the Abrahamic worldview gives the dark robed ones unbelievable levels of control over the minds of the faithful, and even undermines Western psychology.
These are only a few amongst many, the full exposition of the toxic effects of Christianity and Islam will have to wait for another day and place, but you can start working on your own examples by taking the four pillars of Abrahamic religion and working out their logical corollaries. The pillars are (a) asserting the existence of the single supernatural and omnipotent god, (b) asserting the truth of sacred texts which support that existence, (c) a class of hierophants who act as guardians and interpreters of the sacred texts, (d) a worldview derived from the texts and mandated by the priestly class.
Some of the corollaries are the unconscious consequences of this model, e.g. the claimed authority of sacred texts breeds “the joy of being right”, one of the most dangerous emotions known to mankind, and one which naturally leads to confrontation, conflict and violence, becoming particularly destructive when allied to clerical preference for identifying with and reinforcing the will and power of the state. Others are logical structures that the dark robed ones build on the original assumptions, e.g. sin and punishment and rewards in the afterlife, and having to invent Limbo, in which the souls of unbaptised children have to wait until the day of judgement (necessary because the idea of unbaptised souls going straight to heaven would undermine the necessity for church and clergy, the ultimate abomination).
The exercise of working out the consequences of Abrahamic assumptions can become quite depressing, and it is not much helped when you begin to realise that any unpleasant aspect of monotheistic religion can generally be traced back to origins in this model, while the positive aspects can usually be attributed to the natural social characteristics and creative talent of human nature. It becomes even more interesting to realise that very similar models to the four pillars can be found in totalitarian political ideologies – communism or fascism – which begin to look like post-enlightenment imitations of Christianity with a human Big Cheese – Stalin, Mussolini, Pol Pot etc – instead of TGOA, the Bible substituted by Das Kapital, The Little Red Book, Mein Kampf etc and The Party or the SS acting as the hierophantic guardians. They also tend to have their own unique worldviews to impose on the masses – historical dialectic, eugenics and lebensraum for the master race etc. All of which begs the question, are totalitarian ideologies godless religions, or are Christianity and Islam totalitarian ideologies masquerading as religions?
THE POLITICAL FRONT
Alongside drives for education and awareness their needs to be a political agenda. The NSS and BHA have been working for years against religious privilege in the political arena, on behalf of non-believers of the UK. Unfortunately they are limited to campaigning as minority interest groups. That effort needs to be enhanced and supported by assertion, on a wide front, of the prima facie case that Abrahamic religion is based on demonstrable fictions and that (a) children should not be exposed to Abrahamic indoctrination outside the home and family environment and (b) Abrahamic religions should be treated as special interest groups with no status or privilege not attaching to any other such group. The ultimate objective would be the disestablishment of the national churches and the identification under law of Abrahamic religious organisations as political movements.
It would be futile to expect any of the major parties to adopt such policies in the near future, but this still has to be a long-term goal, creating a level of public awareness and opinion that eventually forces one or more of the parties to realise that they stand to lose more votes by protecting organised religion than by stripping it of its privileged status. A useful comparison is to think of how long the struggle against tobacco has been going – over 50 years ago. With change of this magnitude it is not unreasonable to think in terms of generations, but if change can be achieved in the educational arena, future generations will include more people aware of, and wary of, the illusion and deceit intrinsic in Christianity and Islam.
This has been mainly about English-speaking people, typically in the UK. There is another plane on which the works of TGOA can be seen, that of major world issues – armed conflict, degradation of the environment, suppression of human rights, AIDS, poverty and gender equality, and a similar process of raising awareness of the impact of Abrahamic religion as a contributory cause or as an obstacle to mitigation in these fields is called for. This is a far larger canvas, on a global scale, in which the suffering of the victims dwarfs our concerns for freedom of speech and democracy in the UK. The scale of injustice and suffering can numb the mind, but it is all part of the same problem, needing witness and exposure to mobilise popular opinion behind those already at work.
It must be stressed that nothing here is intended to impinge in any way on any individual’s freedom of religion. This is aimed solely at limiting the political power and influence of Christianity and Islam. Any campaigning needs to include measures to engage with and reassure individuals that their rights are not being targeted and that there is no question of confrontation or threat. There is no reason why people should not carry on practising their preferred religion if they accept that it brings no rights or status that do not attach to any other special interest group, just as multitudes of Christians and Muslims already do today. Amongst Christianity for example the Friends (or Quakers) have a way of life and practices that are unexceptionable to all but the most bigoted. It would come as no surprise to find that many people, who perhaps take their inspiration from the Sermon on the Mount rather than Leviticus, might find Jesus sufficient to their needs without burdening themselves with TGOA and all that he brings with him.
This has been a polemic against organised Abrahamic religion with no axe to grind with any other religion, which also implies, correctly, that I do not see atheism as the necessary alternative to Abrahamic religion. There are a myriad alternative ways of leading a happy, fulfilled and spiritually rich life, either with or without committing to a belief or system or shutting yourself off from the world, and it cannot be said too strongly that taking away the fiction that is TGOA does not make human beings in any way less spiritual. And is atheist such a useful label? It means defining oneself in terms of a construct in someone else’s imagination. That is too much like fighting a battle on ground of the enemy’s choosing.