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27 February 2010

My Thoughts on RD.Net meltdown and a post

So I'm sure that people have already posted their thoughts on the RD.Net meltdown of the forums and such. I really don't have a lot to add to it. I think that it has been an interesting portal into human emotions though. In my opinion, Dr. Dawkins was totally within his rights, and setting up a new format is again within his rights. The method may have been less than ideal, but so what. It does highlight that we are emotional animals though. The reactions have been a bit out of sorts I think, but that's what sitting at a keyboard in your pajamas allows.

Anyway, I found this post on the new forums that have been set up, and I wanted to share it. it basically sums up some of my thoughts quite well:

The Sweary One wrote: Anyone who is familiar with my posting history here will know that I am a vocal opponent of religion. I doubt that I need to argue my credentials in that regard. With that in mind, there’s something I’ve been pondering recently, and I think it’s valuable enough to post here.

I think there’s a marked tendency developing for people to trivialize religion in order to dismiss it. And I think that’s a problem. It doesn’t lend itself to critical thinking. When people deride religion’s historical significance and its place in the development of human culture and society, they’re being intellectually lazy.

More than that: given the of beastie that the human is, religion or something like it was probably an inevitable aspect of our cultural and social development. I have no desire or need for it, and am actively opposed to it, but the key point here is: in a modern context. In as much as ‘fortunate’ means anything, I’m incredibly fortunate in that I live at the time that I do. That I exist at a point in human history when vast swathes of knowledge are available to me virtually instantly, where my intellect is free to discover, when education is so wholly and widely available. A time and place in which I don’t have to spend every waking hour struggling to put food in my belly, in a society in which I don’t stand liable to suffer state-sanctioned torture and murder for refusing to kowtow to men in funny dresses who claim to have the ear of god/s.

And most importantly the history of human knowledge is available to me. I get to be a non-believer because of all that has happened in the world before me, and because much of that has been recorded. And throughout that history, religion has played a major part. Trivializing that is simply to ignore history. It’s also a symptom of falling victim to confirmation bias.

In order to maintain intellectual honesty, it in necessary to acknowledge the place and importance of religion in that history. It is also important to acknowledge what religion actually is. I’m struggling to come up with a decent description of the word that fits the reality. Faith is often a part of religion, but it is by no means the whole. The same goes for superstition, social hierarchy, and many other aspects. Not one of these things is central to religion, or defining of it. Religion seems to me to be one of those words that seems trivial to define but on closer examination defies easy description. It’s an amorphous, non-binding meta-category, and anything but trivial.

But I would like to go back a little, and give a really rough stab at defining religion from a different perspective to what we may have seen in the past. Religion is a conglomeration of evolved behaviours, rooted in the justification of those behaviours, in a social, tool-using ape capable of thinking abstractly and recursively. See? Even that doesn’t really convey much. But it’s reasonable to go with it for now, and give a little explanation for it.

A social animal, by virtue of the fact that it’s a social animal, will by necessity have behavioural tendencies that dictate to some degree its social interaction. These will manifest, in part, in the establishment of a hierarchy. At its simplest, the establishment of hierarchy comes down to who can kick the shit out of whom. Once the ape starts being able to ask questions (“Who made you king?) then answers need to be given in order to maintain that hierarchy (“Fucking God did, that’s who. Someone kill that mouthy cunt.”)
That’s not all. Pretty much any question to which the answer isn’t readily apparent attracts that sort of answer. The tendency to assign assumed agency comes into play very readily, and when people start asking difficult questions (“Hey, king, why hasn’t it rained for three months?”) it’s actually good for social stability for an answer to be provided, even if it’s total gobshite (“Because you’ve pissed the Raingod off. Someone kill that sacrilegious cunt.”) – because revolt and the like never, in the short term, makes things better. The long term is another matter, and beside the point.

If one were to take a (bullshit) view of human cultural evolution from the (bullshit) stand-point that it was somehow intended to produce, say, me, then it could be said (bullshat) that religion was a sort-of stop-gap. It was only because of the existence of religion (and its intimate relationship to social stability and abstract thought) that the modern world (and, hence, me) even exists. As I say, that’s bullshit, but only because human cultural evolution doesn’t have a goal.

It was, after all, the Church that nurtured the development of reason in the ill-named Dark Ages. It was the only institution that could do such a thing. Trivializing and dismissing that is reactionary dumbfuckery. It’s as ridiculous as dismissing the work of Pythagoras or the Brotherhood that bore his name on the basis of their religiosity.

I am not religious, and I am an opponent of religion. I think we have discovered enough about reality that religion, as it has existed, is rendered unnecessary. Religion in the form of dogmatic organizations based on ancient ideas now rendered ideologically ridiculous becomes harmful. But trivializing its importance throughout history is just foolish.

4 comments:

JD Curtis said...

So what do you think of his comments Lunk? He raises some interesting points.

Larian LeQuella said...

Did you read? I already told you what I think of his comments in the post, before the quote from "the sweary one".

See, that's the problem with theists, they see words in front of them, but unless someone tells them what they should mean to them, they just can't make heads or tails of it. :P

Ivan3man said...

I am reminded of Nehru's views on religion:

"India is supposed to be a religious country above everything else, and Hindu and Moslem and Sikh and others take pride in their faiths and testify to their truth by breaking heads. The spectacle of what is called religion, or at any rate organised religion, in India and elsewhere has filled me with horror, and I have frequently condemned it and wished to make a clean sweep of it. Almost always it seems to stand for blind belief and reaction, dogma and bigotry, superstition and exploitation, and the preservation of vested interests. And yet I knew well that there was something else in it, something which supplied a deep inner craving of human beings. How else could it have been the tremendous power it has been and brought peace and comfort to innumerable tortured souls? Was that peace merely the shelter of blind belief and absence of questioning, the calm that comes from being safe in harbour, protected from the storms of the open sea, or was it something more? In some cases certainly it was something more.

"But organized religion, whatever its past may have been, today is largely an empty form devoid of real content. Mr. G. K. Chesterton has compared it (not his own particular brand of religion, but others!) to a fossil which is the form of an animal or organism from which all its own organic substance has entirely disappeared, but has kept its shape, because it has been filled up by some totally different substance. And, even where something of value still remains, it is enveloped by other and harmful contents. That seems to have happened in our Eastern religions as well as in the Western."
[From his autobiography.]

JD Curtis said...

You didnt really put any quotes around where the "sweary one" began and where he stopped. can I assume that the entire entry after the words "sweary one" are his and that you pretty much agree with him or her?