12 April 2010

On Bailing Out Believers Banned from Paradise

Well, I’m sorry if it’s depressing, but all believers in the Abrahamic god (i.e., all religious Jews, Christians, Muslims, Mormons, etc.) are banned from eternal life. That is, although they apparently wish otherwise, all evidence points to the inescapable conclusion that, rather than being awarded eternal life in paradise, the fate of “true believers” is the same as for the rest of us: this one life is all that anyone gets; when people die, they’re dead; “dust to dust” (Genesis 3, 19). Fortunately for them, however, a way has been found to bail them out of their predicament of being banned from paradise. Below, I’ll outline first the problem and then the solution.

The source of their problem is described in their tale about Adam and Eve. Thus, after Adam and Eve ate fruit from the Tree of Knowledge (of good and evil), that is, after they developed capabilities to make their own moral judgments, their god made it perfectly clear (Genesis 3, 22–24):
He [God] said: “The man has become like one of us [gods], knowing good and evil; what if he now reaches out his hand and takes fruit from the Tree of Life also, eats it, and lives for ever?” So the Lord God drove him [Adam, along with Eve] out of the Garden of Eden to till the ground from which he had been taken. He cast him out, and to the east of the Garden of Eden he stationed the cherubim and a sword whirling and flashing to guard the way to the Tree of Life.
So, not only are believers in the Abrahamic god banned from eternal life in paradise, their god even established a security patrol, “the cherubim”, with “a sword whirling and flashing”, to prevent their attempts to thwart his ban.

For reasonable people, that’s the end of the dream of eternal life in paradise: this life is all we get; so, let’s make the best of it. Clerics saw, however, that many people (maybe most people) weren’t reasonable: they still sought eternal life in paradise, even though their god expressly prohibited it. Thereby, clerics of various persuasions saw potentials for lucrative con games – substantially compounding problems for “true believers”.

For example, Jewish clerics (following examples set by earlier Egyptian, Persian, and Indian priests) were the first in the Abrahamic religions to concoct a scheme to leech off the people, in spite of the clear communication from their god (or from earlier Jewish clerics) that the people had developed their own sense of morality and, therefore, the people had no need for any “moral commandments” (either from any god or any cleric). Yet, relying on the premiss that many (most?) people are unreasonable, the Jewish clerics concocted a host of “commandments” claiming that the commandments were direct from their god! But that’s silly: according to the above quotation from Genesis 3, 22–24, their god already recognized that humans had “become like one of us, knowing good and evil.” What craziness, then, for the clerics to claim that humans needed clerical help in defining morality – morality which just happened to include the requirement that the people were to pay the clerics for running their con game.

Next came the Christian clerics. Thus, seeing and no doubt envying the success of the Jewish clerics’ con game, Christian clerics decided to try to cash in on the people’s gullibility. In reality, though, the Christian clerics at first encountered substantial difficulties, because the Jewish clerics had already set prices (collection fees) on almost every “sin” imaginable: in total, there are (I think) 613 “commandments” in the Old Testament! Eventually, however, an insane fellow named Saul (later called “Saint” Paul) identified a new “sin”, allegedly committed by everyone and therefore a real money maker: “original sin”. According to “Saint” Paul’s crazy scheme:
1) The Abrahamic god either lied or changed his mind (even though he expressly stated that he never does either, e.g., see Numbers 23, 19; 1 Samuel 15, 29; Psalm 110, 4; Hebrews 7, 21);

2) Their god’s revised plan (according to Paul) was to kill his innocent son, Jesus, to atone for the sin of all humans (a sin allegedly derived simply from our being the progeny of Adam and Eve, who disobeyed their god and ate fruit from the Tree of Knowledge); and

3) Simultaneously, thereby, the Christian clerics claim that their god has no conception of justice (since they claim that he would sacrifice the innocent Jesus for the sins of the guilty, would punish innocent children for the alleged sins of their ancestors, and would judge Adam and Eve as guilty of disobeying his order when, before they gained knowledge of good and evil, it was impossible for them to know it was “good” to obey his order).
Now, admittedly, the above-outlined Christian scheme may seem bizarre. Consequently, to provide evidence that I’m not fabricating it, what follows is Paul’s own description of his scheme, starting in the New Testament at Romans 5, 12 [and to which I’ve added some notes in brackets].
Mark what follows [says Paul, and I’ll add: for it’s the mark of a man gone mad]. It was through one man [Adam, of Adam and Eve fame] that sin entered the world [Riiiiiiight], and through sin, death [Thus, in Paul’s deranged mind, death is not the natural course of all life, for the benefit of genetic survival (that is, through experience, DNA molecules found it to be efficacious to use only temporary hosts, with finite lifetimes, thereby providing more opportunities to adapt to changing environmental and biological conditions); instead, according to Paul, death is a punishment for sin], and thus death pervaded the whole human race, inasmuch as all men have sinned [and inasmuch as possibly no one, in the history of the world, has ever promoted such a stupid idea. How could Paul not have noticed that plants and animals also die? Or did he think that they “sinned” too? Every little bunny rabbit is a sinner? Daffodils sin?].

For sin was already in the world before there was law [viz., the Law of Moses – but, what a stupid statement! On the one hand, the “law” of causality was in existence, as were “laws” to promote the survival of each species’ genes, long before humans came on the scene, and on the other hand, how could anyone possibly break a law (i.e., “sinned”) if the law didn’t exist?!], though in the absence of law no reckoning is kept of sin. [Well, then, if it’s not “reckoned”, how is sin described? Further, in the absence of the “law” of causality, all is chaos!]

But death held sway from Adam to Moses, even over those who had not sinned as Adam did, by disobeying a direct command. [So, “the good” is to obey! – even though Adam didn’t know what ‘good’ meant!! Thus, even if people were so naïve as to buy into the silly story about Adam and Eve (fabricated thousands of years before Paul by people who were even more naïve), surely they could see that Adam didn’t sin, because he wasn’t permitted to know the difference between right and wrong. Therefore, Adam couldn’t know that it was ‘right’ to obey and ‘wrong’ to disobey! God might as well have told two bunny rabbits not to eat clover and not to have sex. For Paul (or God) to then claim that the bunny rabbits ‘sinned’ (because they ate clover and had sex) is crazy!]

But God’s act of grace is out of all proportion to Adam’s wrongdoing
[I should certainly hope so, because Adam did nothing wrong!]. For if the wrongdoing of that one man brought death upon so many [It didn’t! How could anyone be so stupid as to claim that all people die because Adam ate an apple!], its effect [i.e., I guess, the effect of his “wrongdoing”] is vastly exceeded by the grace of God and the gift that came to so many by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ. [That is, God had Jesus killed to “atone” for Adam’s having eaten the apple! But how about, instead, if God had first told poor old Adam how to distinguish right from wrong and that he was supposed to obey?!]

And again, the gift of God [viz., eternal life] is not to be compared in its effect with that one man’s [viz., Adam’s] sin; for the judicial action, following upon the one offence, issued in a verdict of condemnation [Paul always wanted to be a lawyer, doncha know!], but the act of grace, following upon so many misdeeds [hello?], issued in a verdict of acquittal. [A lawyer gone mad!] For if by the wrong doing of that one man [Adam] death established its reign [it didn’t], through a single sinner, much more shall these who receive in far greater measure God’s grace, and his gift of righteousness, live and reign [in?] the one man, Jesus Christ. [Here’s a guy, Paul, fascinated by Roman law and perplexed by the question: “Why did Jesus die?” So, he invented a story – which is totally bizarre!]

It follows, then [in the twisted legal mind of “Saint” Paul, because for sane people, nothing could follow from this craziness – except, one would hope, incarceration of Paul in an institute for the insane!], that as the issue of one misdeed was condemnation for all men [in Paul’s astoundingly warped sense of justice! Can anyone with a functioning brain believe this crap? My great, great, great… grandfather ate an apple, so I’m guilty (and so is everyone else) and my sentence is the death penalty! What better word than ‘bonkers’?!], so the issue of one just act is acquittal and life for all men. [What sort of justice is this? Supposing, just for the sake of argument, that Paul’s insane ideas aren’t crazy; then how, pray tell, is it “just” to kill a totally innocent person, Jesus, for the “sins” of the “guilty”?!]. For as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners [That is, everyone’s a sinner, and subject to “the death penalty”, because Adam ate an apple!], so through the obedience of the one man [Jesus: obedient because he let his father kill him!] the many will be made righteous. [Thus, the only way that Paul saw to get out of his craziness was to double it!!]

Law intruded into this process to multiply law-breaking [that is, I guess, the Law of Moses introduced more ways to sin – as if the purpose of laws is to break them!]. But where sin was thus multiplied, grace immeasurably exceeded it [so it was “grace” for Jesus to let his father kill him!!], in order that, as sin established its reign by way of death, so God’s grace [viz., killing his son] might establish its reign in righteousness, and issue in eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Christian clerics then claimed that if people would just believe Paul’s craziness (and the associated inconsistencies, injustices, and immoralities of their god), then the people would be permitted to live forever in paradise (even though it was expressly against their god’s will) – provided, of course, that the people pay the new breed of Christian clerics for running their new con game

Subsequently, Muslim clerics decided to concoct their own con game. Perhaps they were perplexed by the complexity of the Jewish clerics’ scheme and were intrigued by the Christian clerics’ application of the principle, “less is more.” I suspect, however, that the Muslim clerics were most impressed by the power, prestige, and profit that could be gained from the people's gullibility. In any event, the Muslim clerics concocted a still-simpler con, claiming that their god didn’t forbid Adam and Eve to learn about morality (by eating from the Tree of Knowledge) but instead said (Koran 7, 19):
O Adam! Dwell you and your wife in the garden; so eat from where you desire, but do not go near this tree, for then you will be of the unjust.
According to my dictionary, ‘unjust’ means “not based on or behaving according to what is morally right and fair.” The Muslim clerics then claimed (and still claim) that by eating the fruit of the tree, Adam and Eve immediately became immoral:
…so when they tasted of the tree, their evil inclinations became manifest to them, and they both began to cover themselves with the leaves of the garden.
But that’s crazy! If Adam and Eve didn’t realize what was ‘evil’ until they “tasted of the tree” (i.e., if it was only after they ate fruit from the Tree of Knowledge that “evil inclinations became manifest to them”), then necessarily, prior to eating the fruit, they couldn’t have known what was ‘good’: it’s impossible to distinguish anything if no contrast is available! Consequently, Adam and Eve couldn’t have known that it was ‘good’ to do what their god said (and ‘evil’ to do otherwise), because without their knowing ‘evil’, it was impossible for them to know what was ‘good’. It then follows, logically, that their god is either unjust (punishing people without first letting them know the difference between ‘good’ and ‘evil’) or their god doesn’t exist.

But like all clerics before them, Muslim clerics counted on people being illogical. As a result and continuing to develop their con game, they promoted even more illogic and new ‘evils’ as ‘good’! Thus, they promoted (even demanded, under penalty of death): 1) That people believe that the clerics’ god existed (in spite of zero evidence to support the claim), 2) That people believe that their god was just (in spite of obvious evidence to the contrary), and 3) That people abandon their own judgments, replacing them with the clerics’ judgments – which just happened to include the judgment that the Muslim clerics should be paid plenty for running their con game!

As a result of such skullduggery by clerics of the Abrahamic religions, believers (in such nonsense) have been trapped in some truly “unholy” conundrums and irreverent predicaments. For example, the clerics permitted (in fact, even encouraged) their followers to believe that they could achieve eternal life in paradise (in spite of their god’s expressed ruling to the contrary), but by seeking such, the people violated their god’s expressed will! Thereby, followers of the Abrahamic clerics were (and still are) trapped in a terrible predicament: by opposing his ruling on their fate (“dust to dust”), they thereby break the first and claimed-to-be the most important of their god’s alleged commandments, i.e., to love and obey him. If they really did believe that their god exists, one would think that “true believers” would change their ways: they should immediately stop believing that they have any opportunity for eternal life in paradise, for fear of invoking their god’s wrath for their irreverence toward him!

Fortunately, help is available to bail out believers banned from paradise. All they need to is to return to the state that their ancestors allegedly achieved during their previous tenure in paradise, i.e., the ability to make their own moral judgments.

For those who wish to change their ways but are worried that they may no longer have the ability to define morality by themselves, I’d encourage them not to worry: it’s all rather obvious. For example, the highest personal morality is just to always use your brain as best you can; in a word, Evaluate! In other words, trust your own judgment; in more words, hold beliefs only as strongly as relevant evidence warrants.

As for interpersonal morality, many people have analyzed the problem and provided succinct summaries. A few illustrations, most with links to where further descriptions are available, are the following.
• Remember that, “what goes around, comes around.”

• “Love one another – within limits”, e.g., sometimes it’s necessary to do onto others, before they do it unto you!

• “Be kind – but with keenness”, e.g., sometimes it’s kindest to be cruel.

• Recognize that, everyone has an equal right to claim one’s own existence.

• “You ought to do what you would most want to do if you were reasoning correctly and aware of all the facts.” [Richard Carrier, Sense & Goodness Without God.]

• “Any kind of thing is bad if it, or the pursuit of it, increases the misery of living things upon the whole… Anything is good if the pursuit of it pleases somebody and does not increase misery…" [Richard Robinson, An Atheist’s Value (1964).]
Moreover, as the Oxford philosopher Richard Robinson (1902–1996) also described in his 1964 book An Atheist’s Values, humans esteem more than just our moral values. For example, we have practical desires for truth (or reliable knowledge) and aesthetic desires for beauty, and we have learned that it’s moral to pursue them (since, on the whole, they decrease misery and increase pleasure):
There is a great good for which the best one-word name is ‘Truth’ or ‘Knowledge’… The contemplation of Beauty, and especially the Beauty of nature, is an immense solace and joy, calming and cheering. It is shareable by all…
The morality of pursuing truth or knowledge, and the importance of holding our beliefs only as strongly as relevant evidence warrants, were described well in the 1879 essay The Ethics of Belief by the mathematical physicist William Kingdon Clifford (1845–1879, who introduced the idea that energy and matter are different types of curvature of space, an idea developed about 30 years later by Einstein in his General Theory of Relativity):
Belief, that sacred faculty which prompts the decisions of our will, and knits into harmonious working all the compacted energies of our being, is ours not for ourselves, but for humanity. It is rightly used on truths which have been established by long experience and waiting toil, and which have stood in the fierce light of free and fearless questioning. Then, it helps to bind men together and to strengthen and direct their common action. It is desecrated when given to unproved and unquestioned statements, for the solace and private pleasure of the believer; to add a tinsel splendor to the plain straight road of our life and display a bright mirage beyond it; or even to drown the common sorrows of our kind by a self-deception which allows them not only to cast down, but also to degrade us. Whoso would deserve well of his fellows in this matter will guard the purity of his belief with a very fanaticism of jealous care, lest at any time it should rest on an unworthy object, and catch a stain which can never be wiped away…

Every time we let ourselves believe for unworthy reasons, we weaken our powers of self-control, of doubting, of judicially and fairly weighing evidence. We all suffer severely enough from the maintenance and support of false beliefs and the fatally wrong actions which they lead to, and the evil born when one such belief is entertained is great and wide. But a greater and wider evil arises when the credulous character is maintained and supported, when a habit of believing for unworthy reasons is fostered and made permanent.

If I steal money from any person, there may be no harm done by the mere transfer of possession; he may not feel the loss, or it may prevent him from using the money badly. But I cannot help doing this great wrong towards Man, that I make myself dishonest. What hurts society is not that it should lose its property, but that it should become a den of thieves; for then it must cease to be society. This is why we ought not to do evil that good may come; for at any rate this great evil has come, that we have done evil and are made wicked thereby.

In like manner, if I let myself believe anything on insufficient evidence, there may be no great harm done by the mere belief; it may be true after all, or I may never have occasion to exhibit it in outward acts. But I cannot help doing this great wrong towards Man, that I make myself credulous. The danger to society is not merely that it should believe wrong things, though that is great enough; but that it should become credulous, and lose the habit of testing things and inquiring into them; for then it must sink back into savagery.

The harm which is done by credulity in a man is not confined to the fostering of a credulous character in others, and consequent support of false beliefs. Habitual want of care about what I believe leads to habitual want of care in others about the truth of what is told to me. Men speak the truth to one another when each reveres the truth in his own mind and in the other’s mind; but how shall my friend revere the truth in my mind when I myself am careless about it, when I believe things because I want to believe them, and because they are comforting and pleasant? Will he not learn to cry, “Peace,” to me, when there is no peace? By such a course I shall surround myself with a thick atmosphere of falsehood and fraud, and in that I must live. It may matter little to me, in my cloud-castle of sweet illusions and darling lies; but it matters much to Man that I have made my neighbors ready to deceive. The credulous man is father to the liar and the cheat; he lives in the bosom of this his family, and it is no marvel if he should become even as they are. So closely are our duties knit together, that whoso shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all…

If a man, holding a belief which he was taught in childhood or persuaded of afterwards, keeps down and pushes away any doubts which arise about it in his mind, purposely avoids the reading of books and the company of men that call in question or discuss it, and regards as impious those questions which cannot easily be asked without disturbing it – the life of that man is one long sin against mankind…

To sum up:

• We may believe what goes beyond our experience, only when it is inferred from that experience by the assumption that what we do not know is like what we know.

• We may believe the statement of another person, when there is reasonable ground for supposing that he knows the matter of which he speaks, and that he is speaking the truth so far as he knows it.

• It is wrong in all cases to believe on insufficient evidence; and where it is presumption to doubt and to investigate, there it is worse than presumption to believe.
Consistent with Clifford’s evaluation, Robinson’s summary is also penetrating:
Religion is more of an evil than a good because it is gravely inimical to truth and reason… [Religious] Faith is a great vice, an example of obstinately refusing to listen to reason, something irrational and undesirable, a form of self-hypnotism… It follows that, far from its being wicked to undermine [religious] faith, it is a duty to do so. We ought to do what we can towards eradicating the evil habit of believing without regard to evidence…
In sum, then, religious people who have bought into clerical con games are engaged in horrible immoralities, including:
• The immorality to believe in the existence of any god (in the absence of any evidence),

• The immorality of believing that their alleged god is moral or just (when the evidence presented in their own “holy books” strongly suggests otherwise), and

• The immorality of yielding their own judgments (e.g., about morality) to anyone – and especially to any group of blatantly immoral, con-artist clerics.
Yet, although believers in the Abrahamic god have been highly immoral, hope for them is still available. To extricate themselves from their clerics’ con games, a first useful step might be for them to see that their imagined god is immoral, perhaps necessarily so. Thus, as Robinson points out:
There may be another harmful aspect to the capture of morality by religion. It may be that the gods are inevitably immoral, that is, that any god that ever has been or will be conceived acts immorally in some ways. We can, of course, all easily see that other people’s gods are immoral. Zeus behaved immorally; so did Moloch; and so on. I suggest that you will find that your own god is immoral too, if you can bring yourself to apply to him the moral standards that you apply to men. Surely it is immoral to condemn people to everlasting fire, or to blame them for the sins of their ancestors. Surely it is immoral to be omnipotent and yet allow the vast and continuing miseries of living things, or to demand that people believe without regard to evidence. All such conventional phrases as “God’s ways are inscrutable” are in use partly because they help to prevent us from seeing the immorality of the god we have conceived.

Now it seems likely that this immorality of all the gods so far invented is not an accident, but a necessary consequence of the religious impulse. It is probably connected with the element of worship in religion. One cannot abase oneself before a perfectly moral person, because a perfectly moral person treats one as an equal and as having a right to one’s way of life.
But beyond recognizing the likelihood that gods are necessarily immoral, people who seek to break free from their childhood indoctrination in the god idea will need to develop the courage to be honest with themselves, and thereby, acquire nobility. To help them find such courage and honesty, Robinson relays still more (in the conclusion of his book), even showing theists the way to arrive at a real paradise:
Cheerfulness is part of courage, and courage is an essential part of the right attitude. Let us not tell ourselves a comforting tale of a father in heaven because we are afraid to be alone, but bravely and cheerfully face whatever appears to be the truth.

The theist sometimes rebukes the pleasure-seeker by saying: “We were not put here to enjoy ourselves; man has a sterner and nobler purpose than that.” The atheist’s conception of man is, however, still sterner and nobler than that of the theist. According to the theist we were put here by an all-powerful and all-benevolent god who will give us eternal victory and happiness if we only obey him. According to the atheist our situation is far sterner than that. There is no one to look after us but ourselves, and we shall certainly be defeated.

As our situation is far sterner than the theist dares to think, so our possible attitude towards it is far nobler than he conceives. When we contemplate the friendless position of man in the universe (as it is right sometimes to do), our attitude should be the tragic poet’s affirmation of man’s ideals of behavior. Our dignity, and our finest occupation, is to assert and maintain our own self-chosen goods as long as we can, those great goods of beauty and truth and virtue. And among the virtues it is proper to mention in this connection above all the virtues of courage and love.

There is no person in this universe to love us except ourselves; therefore let us love one another. The human race is alone; but individual men need not be alone, because we have each other. We are brothers without a father; let us all the more for that behave brotherly to each other. The finest achievement for humanity is to recognize our predicament, including our insecurity and our coming extinction, and to maintain our cheerfulness and love and decency in spite of it, to prosecute our ideals in spite of it. We have good things to contemplate and high things to do. Let us do them.
As well, as Edward Fitzgerald (1809–83) wrote in his version of the Rubaiyat by the great Persian mathematician, astronomer, and poet Omar Khayyam (1048–1131):
A Book of Verses underneath the Bough,
A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread – and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness –
O, Wilderness were Paradise enow!

Some for the Glories of This World; and some
Sigh for the Prophet's Paradise to come;
Ah, take the Cash, and let the Credit go,
Nor heed the rumble of a distant Drum!

Ah, make the most of what we yet may spend,
Before we too into the Dust descend;
Dust unto Dust, and under Dust to lie,
Sans Wine, sans Song, sans Singer, and – sans End!