27 September 2007

Two brilliant bits: One from from Christopher Hitchens and one from Sam Harris

Here is the one by Christopher Hitchens:
On Sunday the New York Times reported on the recrudescence of "faith-based" teaching in Russian public schools:

A teacher named Irina Donshina set aside her textbooks, strode before her second-graders and, as if speaking from a pulpit, posed a simple question:

"Whom should we learn to do good from?"

"From God!" the children said.

"Right!" Ms. Donshina said. "Because people he created crucified him. But did he accuse them or curse them or hate them? Of course not? He continued loving and feeling pity for them, though he could have eliminated all of us and the whole world in a fraction of a second."

This grisly vignette, which almost perfectly summarizes the relationship between sadism and masochism in Christian teaching, probably wouldn't delight all those who think that morality derives from supernatural authority. After all, the Russian Orthodox Church was the patron of Czarist autocracy, helped spread The Protocols of the Elders of Zion to the West, and compromised with the Stalin regime just as it had been allied with earlier serfdom and chauvinism. It is now part of Vladimir Putin's sinister exercise in the restoration of Russian supremacism and dictatorship: an enterprise that got off to a good start when our President admired Mr. Putin's crucifix and "looked into his soul". (Question: has Putin ever been seen wearing that crucifix again, or did his cynical advisers tell him that the Leader of the Free World was such a pushover for the "faith-based" that he would never check?)

So, and as with Salafist madrassas, it's easy to see how wicked it is to lie to children when it's done in the name of the "wrong" faith. But Ms Donshina's nonsensical propaganda is actually a mainstream statement of what the truly religious are bound to believe. Without god, how could we tell right from wrong, or learn how to do the right thing? I have never had a debate with a religious figure of any denomination, however "moderate, where this insulting question has not come up.

Yet is it not positively immoral to argue that our elementary morality and human solidarity derive from an authority that we must simultaneously (and compulsorily) love, and also fear? Does it not degrade us in our deepest integrity to be told that we would not do a right action, or utter a principled truth, were it not for fear of punishment or hope of reward? Moreover, we are told that we begin sinful and must earn our redemption from an authority whose actions and caprices (arranging a human sacrifice in Palestine in which we had no say, for example, and informing us that we are all guilty of it) were best summarized by Fulke Greville when he remarked ruefully that we are "created sick; commanded to be sound". This abject attitude, of sickly love for the Dear Leader combined with dreadful terror of him, is in fact the origin of totalitarianism. And there is nothing ethical about that.

I should like, for the continued vigor of this discussion, to repeat the challenge that I have several times offered the faithful in print and on the air. Can they name a moral statement or action, uttered or performed by a religious person, that could not have been uttered or performed by an unbeliever? I am still waiting, after several months, for a response to this. It carries an incidental corollary: I have also asked large and divergent audiences if they can think of a wicked action or statement that derived directly from religious faith, and you know what? There is no tongue-tied silence at THAT point. Everybody can instantly think of an example.

I don't rest my case but I have stated it as concisely as I can and I look forward to reviewing, and replying to, anyone who might be good enough to respond.

Christopher Hitchens is a columnist and author whose latest book is entitled “God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything."

Posted by Christopher Hitchens on September 26, 2007 1:37 PM

Now Here is Sam Harris explaining how to become one of the faith-based.

Religion as a Black Market for Irrationality
Christopher Hitchens has written, with characteristic candor and eloquence, that "[r]eligion is violent, irrational, intolerant, allied to racism and tribalism and bigotry, invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry, contemptuous of women and coercive toward children." This ten-fold indictment needs little support from me, as evidence of its truth has been crashing down upon us for centuries. However, I’ve been asked to provide such superfluities by the editors of this page. There is nothing like racing to the aid of a man who needs none.

Each of my essays for On Faith has highlighted one or another facet of Hitchens’ jewel of blasphemy. I recently argued that religion is “contemptuous of women” at some length. Here, I offer further thoughts on how religion is “irrational” and “invested in ignorance”.


Reason is a compulsion, not a choice. Just as one cannot intentionally startle oneself, one cannot knowingly believe a proposition on bad evidence. If you doubt this, imagine hearing the following account of a failed New Year’s resolution:

“This year, I vowed to be more rational, but by the end of January, I found that I had fallen back into my old ways, believing things for bad reasons. Currently, I believe that smoking is harmless, that my dead brother will return to life in the near future, and that I am destined to marry Angelina Jolie, just because these beliefs make me feel good and give my life meaning.”

This is not how our minds work. To believe a proposition, we must also believe that we believe it because it is true. While lapses in rationality can often be detected in retrospect, they always occur in the dark, outside of consciousness. In every present moment, a belief entails the concurrent conviction that we are not just fooling ourselves.

This constraint upon our thinking has always been a problem for religion. Being stocked stem to stern with incredible ideas, the world’s religions have had to find some way to circumvent reason, without repudiating it. The recommended maneuver is generally called “faith,” and it actually appears to work. Faith enables a person to fool himself into thinking that he is maintaining his standards of reasonableness, while forsaking them. There is a powerful incentive to not notice that one is engaged in this subterfuge, of course, because to notice it is to fail at it. As is well known, such cognitive gymnastics can be greatly facilitated by the presence of others, similarly engaged. Sometimes, it takes a village to lie to oneself.

In support of this noble enterprise, every religion has created a black market for irrationality, where people of like minds can trade transparently bad reasons in support of their religious beliefs, without the threat of criticism. You, too, can enter this economy of false knowledge and self-deception. The following method has worked for billions, and it will work for you:

How to Believe in God
Six Easy Steps

1. First, you must want to believe in God.
2. Next, understand that believing in God in the absence of evidence is especially noble.
3. Then, realize that the human ability to believe in God in the absence of evidence might itself constitute evidence for the existence of God.
4. Now consider any need for further evidence (both in yourself and in others) to be a form of temptation, spiritually unhealthy, or a corruption of the intellect.
5. Refer to steps 2-4 as acts of “faith.”
6. Return to 2.

As should be clear, this is a kind of perpetual motion machine of wishful thinking—and it leads, of necessity, to reduced self-awareness and diminished contact with reality. But it is reputed to have many benefits, and once you get it up and running you will be in fine company. In fact, from the looks of it, you will never be lonely again.


Hopefully you enjoyed that.

Matt Hughes Has Lost His God-Damn Mind

Dana White came up with a brilliant scheme to enhance the ratings of his fight organization, the UFC. The reality show, The Ultimate Fighter sucked in viewers and helped them get connected to some of MMA's (that is mixed martial arts for you un-initiates out there) rising stars. The marriage of SpikeTV and the UFC has been great for the sport. As the number of UFC fight nights increase- that is non-pay-per-view events on regular cable-so too will viewer attachment to the personalities of the sport. MMA is rapidly becoming like boxing and that is a good thing. Not all boxing fans can box, most of them in fact cannot and have never been in a boxing gym nevertheless, interest in the sport remains high. MMA events often languished as an event only for people who aspire to be in the sport. Now thanks to some savy promotional efforts all that has changed.

And that brings me to this season of The Ultimate Fighter and one of the team coaches, current middle weight champion Matt Hughes. As a fighter and a coach, Hughes is easily one of the best in the business. Or so I thought until last night. He is still one of the greats in the octagon, but man he went off the deep, god-damn end last night when he instituted a bible study hour.
"I want you guys to study the book of Ester. And tell me who do the people in that story remind you of here?" I think that was his theological jumping off point. He was gracious enough to tell them, now you don't have to read it if you don't want to." It was with that comment that I thought about the immense ostracizing potential that situation had. Say 1 in 10 people don't believe God then you have managed to create an environment where at least one person suddenly doesn't belong.
That one person appeared to be my new hero Mac Danzig. Who walked off and slept on the edge of the ring for the hour his training time was wasted while his teamates learned about talking snakes and positively verbose and incindiary shrubbery.
Okay those things aren't in the book of Ester but the point I want to make is that bible is a damn silly book.
As the tediousness of Matt's bible hour wore down to a close Coach Matt approached the prone Mac and said "Now..you don't have to read it, but I you know...it is an interesting book."
Mac slowly pulls off his hood and gives a polite nod, (the man I wish this guy would knock off the god-damn prosylityzing nod). Matt must of have saw an opening that didn't exist and he said again, "Like I said, you don't have to, but it is a really interesting book."
Mac's response was brilliant. "Uh...its just a story."
In the personal vingettes, segments where the fighters get to chat about their views on the show, peers and coached in a more or less confidential way Mac elaborated.
"I didn't come to this show to get in touch with my fucking spiritual side. I came here to train and win a contract for the UFC. Not that bullshit."
Matt Serra, the coach of the opposing team, also echoed my thoughts when he learned of the Hughes bible study hour. He said, "What the fuck?"

At the end of each show the one fighter from each team is pitted against one another The two fighters have to fight to stay in the competition for the big UFC contract and to earn points for their respective teams. I was happy to see Serra's godless team win. Not because I think that proves athiesm is right, its just nice to not have to hear how it was God that gave the other team the win.
An interesting side note...Fighters swear as if the pasttime is in danger of going out of style. The often demean one another in an effort to gain obvious psychological advantages. I think it particularly hilarious that Team Hughes does this as much as Team Serra.