Reflections on a Mote of Dust

sent in by Fweethawt

"We succeeded in taking that picture [from deep space], and, if you look at it, you see a dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever lived, lived out their lives. The aggregate of all our joys and sufferings, thousands of confident religions, ideologies and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilizations, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every hopeful child, every mother and father, every inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every superstar, every supreme leader, every saint and sinner in the history of our species, lived there on a mote of dust, suspended in a sunbeam.

"The earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and in triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of the dot on scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner of the dot. How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light.

"Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity -- in all this vastness -- there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. It is up to us. It's been said that astronomy is a humbling, and I might add, a character-building experience. To my mind, there is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly and compassionately with one another and to preserve and cherish that pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known."

-- Carl Sagan (1934-1996)

Viruses of the Mind

by John J. Palazzini

In his essay, "Viruses of the Mind", biologist Richard Dawkins described religion as a virus. A traditional virus is a sequence of genetic information that invades an organism and uses the resources of that organism to further replicate itself; likewise, a memetic virus is a sequence of information, an idea, that invades a human's brain and replicates itself via that brain's communication with other brains. In order to be successful, a memetic virus must readily copy itself and resist removal from its host. The idea of God, an omnipotent, eternal being who demands worship from humans, is the shining example of such a virus. This viral nature of God ensures that the idea will continue to cripple mankind and prevent progress for as long as we exist.

Religions, which can be thought of as variations of the God virus, command their hosts to "spread the good news" to other brains. While it is true that there can be religions that do not seek to spread themselves to other brains, these religions, like those that command their hosts to commit suicide, quickly oust themselves from the meme pool and are of no further consequence; most religions do seek their own perpetuation and these are the ones that demand our attention.

Religions employ a variety of methods to win converts. As a byproduct of the natural desire to self-preservation, humans crave immortality. God promises even more than this: an immortality filled with bliss in Heaven for you and those you love, and an immortality filled with pain in Hell for those you hate. Another favorite method is physical violence. History is filled with religious advocates killing and torturing those who refused to accept their god. The Crusades, the Inquisition, and the many religious wars described in the Old Testament and perpetuated today in the Middle East are a few examples. The most insidious method of conversion is that employed against the helpless young. The very moment a toddler can mouth the words, infected parents teach her to sing catchy religious jingles and to pray before she sleeps at night. Indoctrination is thus set into motion before the child even learns arithmetic or the art of reading. When she does begin to read, she is given childish (read more childish) versions of the same myths that infect her parents.

Converts are easy to win, but are they easy to keep? God is an even wilier foe in this arena. The first line of defense is simple ease of habit. It is far easier not to think than to think. Making life-changing decisions requires enough intellectual energy to discourage most curious individuals from the effort. But if some impetus overcomes this energy, God is already prepared. Religions come with built-in guilt mechanisms should the host begin to question the religion, something like a computer's discouraging statements when you try to delete some file necessary for its operating system. When guilt is conquered, fear still remains. Immortality in Heaven is double-edged: even after the host has realized that his god's existence is logically impossible, he clings to belief because if in the infinitely improbable event his god does exist, then he will face hellfire for eternity. Finally, even if the host is courageous enough to accept what his own reason tells him, he had better be quiet about it. Violence is still allowed in much of the world, and it is as effective for keeping converts as for winning them.

Unlike physical viruses, memetic viruses offer no hope for physical remedy. Any physical remedy devised for believing in God would violate the rights of the host, because she obviously would not consent to the treatment. The means would be worse than the end. The only hope for curing the believer lies in rational persuasion. But reason too, that precious prerequisite to progress beyond hunting with sharp rocks, is ineffective against the God virus. When the concerned atheist uses reason to prove that her god cannot logically exist, she abandons reason. She claims "God is beyond reason, for he created reason." Like Monty Python's literally disarmed and "dislegged" knight, the host will not admit defeat and accept reality, despite the utter annihilation of any meaningful defense. Yet, apostates exist, so rational persuasion must work some of the time.

The difference between those who accept reason in the question of theism and those who do not is neither one of intelligence nor education. Geniuses and PhDs (including scientists) have been theists, and even a child can understand why God cannot exist (and why, if God cannot exist, then he does not exist). The difference is strength of will. Strong-willed individuals have the courage to accept life without God; weak-willed individuals psychologically need something outside their own selves, so they remain hosts to the virus. If this is the case, then there might still be hope. We just need to redouble our efforts at persuading the strong-willed individuals we find, and, as they reproduce, eventually strong wills will outnumber the weak.

Unfortunately, this has been our default strategy from the beginning, and we are no closer to success than ever before. Even otherwise irreligious individuals now look to pseudo sciences like psychics and Tarot cards and place a theism-like faith in them. And traditional religion is far, far from faltering. This seemingly sound strategy is doomed to failure because a population of strong wills is not stable. In primitive societies, strong wills (capable of hard work, innovation, free thought, and scientific inquiry) will begin to spread among weak wills, because strength of will is necessary for life. But as these strong wills take over, the free rider problem arises, as relatively few strong wills are needed to provide for a much larger society. It becomes advantageous to be weak-willed. Weak wills will therefore always outnumber strong wills. Individuals psychologically incapable of accepting life without God will always outnumber the individuals capable of breaking free.

Sadly, we cannot hope to free mankind, for God is too strong a foe. If God actually existed, perhaps in the form of some super villain from the pages of a comic book, we in all our human ingenuity could surely have toppled him. But how can we defeat a pattern of electrical signals in the brains of billions of human beings? We cannot. Does this mean we should give up? God, no! Just because there is no life after death does not mean we should not live life to the fullest, and just because we cannot ultimately end the tyrannical reign of religion over mankind does not mean we should meekly offer up the white flag. We can save some, and we owe it to them and to ourselves to save as many as we can from the clutches of God.

Wagner-Modified Houts Questionnaire

It's been awhile since I was part of the Assemblies of God, and it appears they are getting more odd year by year. I suppose it is only natural that they develop increasingly weird programs, if for no other reason, than to stave off the boredom of banging the same old drum week after week.

In a vain attempt to reduce the mechanics of Christian service into something that ignorant parishioners can latch onto, the big book of lies (BiBLe) has been relegated to second place in favor of, shall we call it: "the scientific method?"

Well, there is no science in it, but it does make for some interesting reading.

Sure glad I got out when I did!

Here is a sample from the introduction:
GREETINGS! You are about to become involved in an exciting spiritual exercise. God has given you one or more spiritual gifts if you are a Christian, and discovering that gift or gifts will be a thrilling experience. You will be asked to answer the 125 questions found in the "Wagner-Modified Houts Questionnaire."

This spiritual gifts discovery instrument was originally suggested by Dr. Richard F. Houts, a professor in the North American Baptist Theological Seminary, in 1976. Subsequently it has been modified by C. Peter Wagner of the Charles E. Fuller Institute of Evangelism and Church Growth., and keyed in to his classic book, Your Spiritual Gifts Can Help Your Church Grow, now the best selling book in the field of spiritual gifts.

The copy you have in your hand is the fifth edition and the first complete revision of the original published version. Thousands and thousands of believers have been blessed by taking the Modified Houts Questionnaire. Constant feedback from them has enabled us to refine it to the point where it will give you a fairly accurate picture of what kind of ministry God expects you to be carrying out in your group of believers.

You can download and read the whole enchilada here: HOUTS is a HOOT!

It's good to know what we've escaped from.

A hearty thanks to Darren Mayfield for finding and sending the Hout's Hoot in to us.

Robertson says God says Bush will win

By Associated Press in the Oakland Tribune

NORFOLK, Va. -- Religious broadcaster Pat Robertson said Friday he believes God has told him President Bush will be re-elected in a "blowout" in November.

"I think George Bush is going to win in a walk," Robertson said on his "700 Club" program on the Virginia Beach-based Christian Broadcasting Network, which he founded. "I really believe I'm hearing from the Lord it's going to be like a blowout election in 2004. It's shaping up that way."

Robertson told viewers he spent several days in prayer at the end of 2003.

"The Lord has just blessed him," Robertson said of Bush. "I mean, he could make terrible mistakes and comes out of it. It doesn't make any difference what he does, good or bad. God picks him up because he's a man of prayer and God's blessing him."

The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, a frequent Robertson critic and executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said he had a prediction of his own: "Pat Robertson in 2004 will continue to use his multimillion broadcasting empire to promote George Bush and other Republican candidates."

In a reference to Bush's political adviser, Lynn said, "Maybe Pat got a message from Karl Rove and thought it was from God."

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