There are several issues with "The End of Faith" which I think can be profitably discussed.
1. Recent events have shown how easy it is for large numbers of people to rapidly
adopt beliefs for which there is no empirical evidence. In the past few years
a majority of Americans have been led to believe that Iraq had (or has)
"weapons of mass destruction". Similarly, many believed, and still believe,
that Saddam Hussein was involved in the 9/11 activities.
These examples indicate that there is more involved that just religious
faith. All societies have national myths that are largely believed.
If intolerance and mass hysteria are to be controlled in the future
this propensity to belief needs to be analyzed.
2. Western Europe has become much less religious in the past half century.
This may be why they are less involved in global adventurism, or perhaps
they are just war weary. However, even without a religious underpinning, we
still see great disparities in life styles within a single society.
The rich are still rich and the poor are still poor. (Perhaps to a
slightly lesser degree than in the US.) Treatment of minorities and
immigrants is discriminatory. One could say this is a vestige of
the Christian orientation of Europe, but it seems more to be
related to a dislike of the "other". Even Denmark has started to make
immigration a political issue.
3. Given the apparent ease with which people can be led to new beliefs,
the question of motivation for this action must be addressed. In most
cases mass beliefs are mediated by an elite class. These can be clerics,
royalty or political leaders. Their motivation in fostering these
beliefs is rooted in power and economic control. During the middle
ages peasants were distracted from their economic disfavor, compared
to the land owning class, by hopes of at least a better "after life".
The same claims can be made today in much of the Muslim world. A small
oligarchy controls almost all the wealth and uses religion, nationalism,
tribalism and other distractions to keep the populace under control.
The forces of propaganda are too strong and too sophisticated for most
people to resist. Even if they wish to, the punishments that a society
can impose are frequently enough to suppress rational thought. Look
at "1984" as an example of state-imposed conformity.
4. Seeking inner enlightenment or peace may be a great goal, but the
concerns in the book relate to the destruction of large segments
of modern civilization. As long as "might makes right" is the guiding
principal for most of society, appeals to rationalism will have
little practical effect. The essential question that remains unasked
and unanswered is: How do we get a society to become more equitable
when this inevitably implies that some elite class will have to
give up some or most of there unprivileged? The elite has the levers
of power and wealth at its disposal. The threat of force, and the
application of small amounts of wealth to buy the support of key
segments of the population, cannot be countered by appeals to "reason".
The book has done a great service in fearlessly questioning the
forgiveness intelligent people are giving to faith issues in modern
society. What is needed next is a plan of action. The results of the
past election have led some liberals to think that perhaps they
should retreat into religiosity to gather support, rather than making
a forceful appeal to reason and economic justice.
Wow. Way to go Robert! You are singing the tune I think most needs to be sung. Your question is indeed the true and tough question. How to get humans to give up the crutch of belief? How to get humans to discuss and solve problems by coming to conclusions through rational analysis of the evidence? I think the only way to do this is through education and public discourse. Somehow some way it needs to be shown that belief of any kind is unnecessary and even counter productive. For a model I offer the scientific method. In science belief is looked upon as an obstacle to knowledge and understanding. Though you often hear scientists talking about believing things they really are not. What they are expressing is a conclusion that they feel can be defended by an examination of the evidence. It is my whish that scientists and rational thinkers stop using the word believe to describe their conclusions because it is only causing confusion, allowing unsubstantiated belief to masquerade as logical discourse.
Thanks for introducing this topic
The only hope I see to overcome the power of the elite to generate beliefs in the general population that perpetuate conditions that are not in their best interest is to educate people to think critically and skeptically. To do this it will be necessary to show that belief is an obstacle to knowledge and understanding. In the U.S. today the elite and powerful realize that the most likely place for this to happen is in our schools which is why they are promoting prayer in the classroom and creationism in science. Our secular school system is the only place where children are exposed to an alternative to the mind numbing indoctrination of belief systems. Let us hope and fight for a Supreme Court that can protect the schools from the tyranny of the majority voter point of view. If Mr. Bush and the religious republicans have their way through carefully chosen appointments I fear our best hope will be lost. I ask all you conservatives voting republican please let your voices be heard. Don’t let your fear of a liberal agenda creeping into the schools blind you to what is really happening. That the public schools have a liberal agenda is a lie told to keep the children of the U.S. from truth.
Okay, you men and women of science, here comes a little psychology to ponder ... it’s called the Drama Triangle and understood by psychoanalists to be an unhealthy guideline for our relationships as it is fueled by both guilt and shame. It goes something like this ... I’ll try to be brief ...
The drama triangle is a well-known concept in the field of psychotherapy, originated and published by Stephen Karpman in 1968, and is an integral part of the model of psychotherapy called Transactional Analysis. It describes a dysfunctional way of relating, with three nodes: persecutor, rescuer and victim.
Briefly, someone appears to be in need, I say ‘appears’ because s/he may not need help but if help is wanted, s/he wants help of a certain sort, not any help. A second person offers to rescue: rescuing is not the same as helping as it flows from the need of the rescuer rather than the need of the about-to-be victim and is thus imposed rather than offered. Thus, the recipient of the rescue is likely not to appreciate the so-called help and can respond in one of two ways within the drama triangle: either as victim, resenting the unasked for help, or as persecutor, when the ‘rescued’ turns on the rescuer and in some way persecutes him/her for the imposed rescue. We can stay within a drama triangle, choosing a role or accepting a role offered to us, but both choice and acceptance are choices. We can also make the choice to leave the drama triangle and not choose or accept the roles. To believe we have no choice means we are choosing the role of victim.
There is an excellent description of how the drama triangle works by Lynne Forrest at Lynne Forrest - The three faces of victim .
From the Lynne Forrest website, I took the main steps to follow to get off the Triangle:
In order to get off the Triangle, we must first decide to take responsibility for ourselves. We then begin to allow ourselves to acknowledge and express our true feelings, even when doing so is uncomfortable ... Learning how to sit with guilty feelings without acting on them ... Getting honest with ourselves and others is a primary way to get off the triangle.
I bring up this Drama Triangle because I see that the mainstream religions all work from within this triangle, especially Christianity with their ultimate rescuer, Jesus Christ. Christianity essentially demands its followers to enter into this unhealthy dynamic, guaranteeing its followers dysfunctional relationships. I figure, if it’s unhealthy psychologically, it’s got to be unhealthy spiritually.
Funny thing happened on my little trip across the web ... I found the Christian point of view of this here triangle. They define the triangle alright, but then they come to some rather strange conclusions about the whole thing. They don’t actually offer or see a way out of it, they just offer band-aid ways of dealing with it.
The Drama Triangle, according to http://christianeducational.org/pdf/handouts/DramaTriangle.pdf :
The Standard Roles
The persecutor or villain victimizes the victim
The victim struggles in the persecution and seeks to be rescued
The rescuer enters, defeats the villain and saves the victim
Has a great need to be dominant, recognized as superior; fears loss of control, prestige, image, etc.
Believes himself to have been a victim and protects himself from ever being one again
You can find a persecutor by tracking his victims
Needs validation and affirmation; a great need to be rescued by someone or something
Avoids taking responsibility; everything is out of his control
Postures himself to be rescued, but then turns on the rescuer and sees him as another persecutor
The cycle of abuse; victim becomes persecutor
The Messiah complex; the downside of being “Christ like”
Has a character weakness: a great need to be needed; may feel insignificant without a victim to rescue; adrenalin junkie
Can get out of his depth or ability and can drown, becoming a victim himself
Direct the victims to the real rescuer: Christ
How to Diminish the Drama
That may be impossible in a fallen world; we hate
to be bored
Learn to deal
Hold the victim responsible as much as possible
Forgive the persecutor/villain; the failed rescuer; this defuses the drama
Avoid being too much of a persecutor, victim, or
rescuer; the 50% line
(Bold type added by me ...)
If we take the Psychology Report, we receive advice to be honest and responsible. And then, from the Christian Report, we get, futility, abandonment, more persecution, and avoidance. There is good news though ... if you take the Christian advice, you’ll only be dysfunctional 50% of the time ...
As for each of us doing our little part to work towards change ... I’m on a quest to get psychology introduced into the primary and secondary school systems. My thought is that emotional intelligence (from Daniel Goleman’s book) is equally important as academic intelligence in preparing children for life. Learning the basics of psychology from an early age would create emotionally sound minds, critical and rational enough to handle any brain washing attempts.
So much for being brief ...
One thing I didn’t mention in my original remarks concerns education.
As Ray mentioned, good education is a way to promote critical thinking.
The difficulties to achieving this are many.
Firstly, many parents don’t want children taught things that contradict
their own personal beliefs. Hence the continuing fights about evolution,
Secondly, the avenues for informal education are limited. In earlier days,
whien the Catholic church had greater influence, people were prohibited
from reading the Bible, books were banned and free thinkers killed.
Nowadays, we have media consolidation to contend with. Most people
get what limited information they receive from TV or newspapers. These
are controlled by large corporations which need to keep on the good
side of government and thus, tend not to be critical of the makeup of
society, even if they occasionally investigate specific political acts.
The underlying structure of society is not open to discussion, so how
are people going to be exposed to new material?
An interesting book which tries to reveal how the actual operation of
our society has changed in the past 50 years (as compared with the
civic myths we are fed) is “The Sorrows of Empire” by Chalmers Johnson.
His thesis is that the US has become militarized, that is the military is
no longer a tool of political policy, but has become a power center of
its own, with its own goals and priorities. This has happened in the past
with dire consequences: Rome, England, Germany, Spain all saw their
country’s ideals subverted to militarism for a while, only to fail as an
empire eventually, and fall into a decline from which they never recovered.
The use of beliefs, civic or religious, is one of the principal techniques used to control and distract the people once a country heads down the militaristic path. Just look at the Nazis, for an extreme example.
Are we now like the Weimar Republic in 1934?
I am glad you mentioned civic belief as well as religious belief. There are many types of believers bringing an end to conversation on many topics. One example would be the many individuals who label themselves “Conservative” or “Liberal” to indicate a preferred “belief” in one point of view over another. The need to be true to their chosen label often blinds these individuals to seeing anything of value in the position of someone of the other label. I have found that most often self proclaimed Liberals and Conservatives refuse to see any part of the opposite poles argument as having merit. But it is the agreements between opposing arguments that give the opportunity for compromise and progressive solutions. As an example look at what happened to the health care proposals of the Clintons. In my opinion both sides had good and bad points in their arguments. If the good parts of each approach could have been put together it is my opinion that some sort of health care plan could have been developed. Because neither side could see any thing good in the others ideas the whole thing failed. We are now going to be treated to the same thing all over again with the attempt to “fix” Social Security.
I have found that if you are truly open to both sides of an argument and try to converse with either side about the good and bad sides of their argument each will accuse you of being in the others camp. This has certainly been my experience. To my liberal friends I am a conservative and to my conservative friends I am a liberal. It seems that any attempt at compromise or mediation polarizes you and makes your attempts moot.
I whish this could somehow change but I am totally at a loss as to how to do it.
I suggest you check out a PBS Frontline special called Rumsfeld’s War.
I found it enlightening.
“Guest” mentioned the Clinton health plan debacle as an example of partisan blindness to good ideas. In actuality, the desired scenario of both sides working through the good and bad ideas was well underway until certain political operatives pointed out that passage of the major health plan would benefit democrats for generations.
Then the republican strategy shifted to all out opposition. So it was a political strategy, not an ignorant blindness that led to the train wreck.
Back to the thread. I think all we can realistically do is learn what we can from the book and continue to grow in our knowledge. Apply what we learn in discussions and debates. Don’t shrink from standing against blind faith. We need to be the elites who set this agenda. Hell, we’re talking a non-fiction book of philosophy here. The fact that we’ve read it means we are by definition part of the intellectual elite. Let’s just get on it.
Recommend the book to others, recommend that your local library buy it. If you can afford it, buy it and give it to your local library. One of the first things I’m going to do is read it again. I want to read it enough times so that I can spout the arguments without a blink…thekeez
Thekeez is right on again!
Some how some way the word must go out. There should be enough sane rational atheists and believers in the U.S. that will try to listen and think objectively on the social political issues of our day. I think the problem is we (the elite) lack a voice and presence. The only place you can find elite thinkers in any concentration the University and public education and both of these are constantly under attack. You never see the balanced rational approach on the news, or on talk shows, or in news magazines or on talk radio. What you hear are polarized arguments from one side or the other. There is no talk of compromise. It is clear that neither side wants the other side to get any credit for doing something that’s good for the country.
Look at Social Security, the Republicans fought and lost the battle over Social Security and it was passed into law along with all the other programs from the Franklin Roosevelt administration. Ever since they have been trying to get rid of it or weaken it. Why? Well there are several, but one of the big ones is, Roosevelt was a Democrat and they have had to hear how great he was all these years. Now along comes Bush and because he thinks he has “earned some political capital” he is trying to do what no Republican has been able to do, alter Social Security. I have to give him credit for his strategy. First weaken it, then, kill it. Use generational economic conflict to do it. Do it in a way that runs up so much debt that there will not be enough money left after interest payments to sustain it. And while all this is happening he can pose as the president that saved Social Security for future generations.
Maybe I not listening to or reading the right sources but I have not heard of a single Republican in congress that has come out publicly and strongly against the Bush approach. It is hard to understand how all Republican congressmen/ women could possible think this is a good idea.
The objective, open minded, thinking compromisers of the U.S. need a forum. We need non polarized talk shows and news presentations. News and talk shows where labels are not used and where ideas are discussed for the value and practicality they have for solving problems. Where the call in lines are not labeled Republican or Democrat or Independent. Where the call in lines are not labeled Conservative or Liberal or Independent. Where the call in lines are not labeled support the President or do not support the President or no opinion. I sometimes wonder if I am the only one that has complained to C-Span about this type of labeling on their call in shows. They say it is the best way to get diversity of opinion but I don’t buy it because they interview and screen each caller before they put them on hold. The objective analysis of the pros and cons of any issue in a nonpartisan manner just does not happen in the current media. Some how people like many (not all) writing on this forum have got to find a way to make this a reality. Are there any great organizers out there who think they could pull this off? I’ll pay my dues and subscribe to your magazine.