The Sign of the Cross

© 2004 by Tim Simmons

“All right, Mommy, just be patient.”

Outside the run-down shack that Lottie Moore calls home, the mid-summer air begins to cool slightly as the remaining rays of sunlight recede into the Mississippi night, draining the warm pastel orange from each cloud. Shadowy mountains emerge from the distance, as if summoned by some unseen signal. A distant blue-white flash on the horizon briefly illuminates a wooden cross affixed to the top of the roof.

“It won’t be long now, Mommy.” The cyclic grinding of a can opener droned beneath the high-pitched petitions of Lottie’s gray and white cat while a small television blared from the living room. The cat seemed to mimic the circular motion of the can with its body by turning endless circles. “It’s your favorite. Tuna flavor.” Lottie dumped the contents into a small plastic bowl, mashed it a few times with a fork and placed it on the floor.

“There you go. Now, you say your prayer before you eat that.” Lottie said as she walked back to the sink. The cat took a few sniffs, turned toward Lottie and meowed plaintively. “Well, you're not going to get anything else. If you don't eat that, you'll just have to do without.” Lottie opened the kitchen closet and tossed the empty can into the trash. “The LORD will not suffer the soul of the righteous to famish: but he casteth away the substance of the wicked - Proverbs 10:3.” Lottie paused and looked at her cat. “You aren’t wicked, are you Mommy? Is that why you aren’t eating?” The cat answered with a soft meow. “Well, I guess the Lord knows. Nothing is kept hidden from him, Mommy. He knows if you’re hiding any sin in your heart. O God, thou knowest my foolishness; and my sins are not hid from thee – Psalms 69:5. It’s better to confess it and get it out into the open and ask him to forgive you.” The cat meowed again and walked toward Lottie. “That’s right, Mommy. Just tell the Lord and he’ll make you white as snow again.”

A sub-sonic rumble softly shook the foundations of the lone house then reluctantly faded. Outside, pine trees swayed and creaked in the warm night air.

“Well, if you aren’t hungry then it’s your own fault. You must not have been sincere with your confession, Mommy. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness – you know where that one comes from. You’ll either starve or repent. It’s your choice.” The television program halted abruptly and a weatherman began speaking. Lottie turned off the kitchen light, walked to the television and turned the volume control up.

The following counties are under a severe thunderstorm warning: Wilkinson, Adams, Jefferson, Claiborne, Hinds, Madison – Lottie reached up to her chest and put her hand over the cross that hung beneath her night gown. Be prepared to take cover if situations warrant. Now back to your regularly scheduled program.

Lottie walked to the window and cracked the curtain slightly, peering up into the night sky. An occasional flash of lightning could be seen to the southwest. She turned and walked past the small coffee table where she kept her Bible prominently displayed and always open. A moment after she sat down in her recliner the cat leapt into her lap with a meow that always had the quality of inquiry. “Now, lay down and be still.” Lottie ordered. Mommy stared at Lottie for a second more, turned a few times then laid down.

“There’s really nothing on. But the Lord’s always there, Mommy. Let’s see what he has to say to us tonight.” Lottie leaned toward the coffee table, holding Mommy secure, and picked up the Bible. She pointed at one of the open pages and began reading. “Mark 5:11” she pronounced smiling at Mommy. “Now there was there nigh unto the mountains a great herd of swine feeding. And all the devils besought him, saying, Send us into the swine, that we may enter into them. And forthwith Jesus gave them leave. And the unclean spirits went out, and entered into the swine: and the herd ran violently down a steep place into the sea, (they were about two thousand;) and were choked in the sea.” Lottie shivered and a loud boom rattled the windows. Mommy twisted around and tried to jump but Lottie grabbed her just in time and pulled her back. “There, now. Just lie down.” She said, petting her gently. “It’s okay” she soothed. Reluctantly Mommy curled up again. Lottie flipped some pages, pointed and began reading aloud. “Now when Jesus was risen early the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had cast seven devils. – Mark 16:9.” Lottie looked up and stared blankly at the television.

A crack of thunder snapped just outside the little house and Lottie almost dropped her Bible. Mommy jumped onto the coffee table and bounded for safety down the dark hallway. “It’s just thunder, Mommy. You don’t have to be afraid. Come on. Come to Nanny.” Lottie called. Lottie waited. “Well, be a fraidy-cat, then.” A soft sound like frying bacon began. Rain. Then, a complete downpour drowned out the man on the television. Lottie went to the window again, clutching her crucifix with one hand and holding the word of God with the other. She parted the curtain with the Bible and watched. A blinding flash was immediately following by an explosive crash of thunder. The wind was now whipping in angry gusts. The television program went briefly silent.

We interrupt this program to bring you a special weather report. A tornado warning has been issued for Hinds and Madison counties. A tornado has been reported touching down about ten miles north of Lynchburg. It is traveling northeast at about thirty-five miles per hour. If you are in the path of the tornado, seek shelter in – the television went black as Lottie pushed the power button.

“The weather is in God’s hands and no amount of worrying can change it. God frowns upon worrywarts. It just means they aren’t trusting him completely. Nothing takes the worry away like reading God’s word!” Lottie exclaimed as she sat down again and flipped a few pages and began to read a random passage out loud. “Matthew 17:15 - Lord, have mercy on my son: for he is lunatick, and sore vexed: for ofttimes he falleth into the fire, and oft into the water. And I brought him to thy disciples, and they could not cure him. Then Jesus answered and said, O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I suffer you? Bring him hither to me. And Jesus rebuked the devil; and he departed out of him: and the child was cured from that very hour.” Lottie paused and looked up at the ceiling. “Halleluiah! No demon can withstand the power of Jesus.” she rejoiced while raising an upturned palm to the ceiling.

The small lamp beside her recliner flickered for a second then stabilized. Lottie stood up. “Better get a candle.” she mumbled. The rain continued to fall in thick sheets, whipped against the west side of the house by malicious winds. A high-pitched crackling immediately preceded an explosion that rocked the house as lightning struck somewhere close by. The lamp flickered again and Lottie stared at it. The light stabilized once more then oddly it grew brighter. It grew brighter still and then began to fade in a strangely even manner - as if the voltage were being varied by a control somewhere. A small sputter and the living room became darkness. Lottie felt her way into the kitchen and flipped the light switch out of habit. “Oh, Lord! I must be getting senile.” she quipped. Fumbling through a drawer, she managed to find a candle and some matches.

As she lit the candle she began to sing an old favorite of hers from her childhood. “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine ooooh, this little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine. Now, where is that candle holder?” Now able to see, she rummaged through another drawer and not managing to find a proper holder, she took a cup from the cabinet and slowly walked back to the living room. In startling synchronization, a monstrous cacophony of thunder ripped through the air outside the little shack just as Lottie set the candle on the table. Wind bullied the house incessantly and the rain did not let up.

“Mommy!” Lottie called. Lottie sat back into her recliner. She spoke out loud. “Lord, this little light is all I need to see your light. Show me your word.” Turning several pages she began reading out loud. Turning to the Gospel of Luke, she read another random passage. “Then he called his twelve disciples together, and gave them power and authority over all devils, and to -”she halted in mid-sentence. A loud metallic sound similar to the sound of a trash can being hit with a baseball bat managed to sneak past the din of the storm and into Lottie’s living room. Lottie walked to the window and pulled the curtain open. It was too dark to see anything, especially with so much rain. She reached over toward the door and flipped on the outside light switch. “No power. I know I’m senile now!” she said. Then a flash of lightning that seemed to echo several times illuminated the landscape as Lottie watched through the window. A shape, perhaps a man – no, not a man…much larger than a man - something dark just standing there in the rain not fifty feet from the window. Lottie froze. She jerked the curtain closed and ran to make sure the door was bolted and locked.

Her pulse quickened as competing explanations fought for supremacy. The thought that kept pushing its way to the top of her consciousness she would not entertain. She backed away from the door a few steps but continued staring at the doorknob. A trick of the storm, that’s all. Maybe it was just an optical illusion - the dark area between objects… the negative space. Not something but nothing. Or perhaps it was just a lost soul trying to find shelter and the rain on the window distorted the shape somewhat. She couldn’t bring herself to open the door for the pour soul even if he was drowning in the storm. Maybe he would knock and she would say “Who is it?” and he would answer “I’m lost, wet and need a spot to dry off and rest.” She would then let him in to find out that it was only a man wandering lost after all. After several minutes no knock came. Perhaps it was nothing after all.

Lottie turned away from the door and resumed her place on the couch. “Lord, I need you.” she said and began reading again. “And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall – ” A flash of lightning outlined a large silhouette on the curtain. Lottie stared and slowly put her Bible down on the couch. She stood and took a few steps toward the window and hesitated. “Who is it?” she yelled. Seconds later, a huge crash of thunder made her jump backward, almost tripping over the small coffee table. The wind turned vicious and lightning electrified the skies but the shadow Lottie saw on the curtain was now gone. Thunder gave way to what seemed like a steady roar, which grew louder by the minute. The house began to shake softly and pictures fell from the mantle above the fireplace. Lottie fell to her knees.

“Oh, Lord, I pray and I beg you to deliver me from this evil! Your word says that if we ask anything in Jesus’ name that you’d grant it if we have faith. Lord, I believe you are faithful and I have faith in you, oh, Lord.”

Immediately the roar became muffled and the shaking was gone. The rain stopped and the wind died down almost instantly. Lottie jumped to her feet and began walking back and forth with her hands raised and palms faced upward saying “Halleluiah, Lord.” again and again. All that could be heard outside now was a soft low humming that would have been inaudible had the TV been on. But Lottie did not notice. Nor did she notice the faint red glow where the curtain and the windowpanes met. She remembered stories about the eye of a storm being quiet or the moments right before a tornado being oddly still. Could this just be the calm before the storm?

Then Lottie heard what sounded like deep muffled voices just outside the living room door. The thought she had suppressed earlier surfaced again. As curiosity temporarily overcame her fright, she got up and walked toward the window. She put her hand, now shaking visibly, on the curtain but could not force herself to peek through. She hesitated. The living room door exploded inward in a spray of splintered chunks and Lottie fell backward, tripping over the coffee table and landing between it and the couch. Three creatures, each larger than any man and making loud voice-like sounds, rushed through the door. They paused, looking left and right. Lottie looked up - and screamed.

The creatures lumbered closer to Lottie and one of them spoke. Lottie clutched her cross and recited her verses. “The LORD is my light and my salvation- whom shall I fear? – Psalms 27:1” she mumbled softly. One of the creatures lunged at Lottie, its head coming within a few feet of hers. It let out an ear-shattering yell then raised its hand in her direction. Tremors gripped her and she closed her eyes. A thought flashed into her mind. Maybe showing her cross and rebuking the demons might send them away like Jesus did. She gained new resolve from one of her favorite verses: If God be for us, who can be against us? – Romans 8:31. With her eyes still tightly closed, she pulled the cross from beneath her nightgown and held it out toward the nearest creature, her arm shaking so much that it appeared she was waving it quickly back and forth. She knew that the demons could not harm her if God was on her side. She held it up the way she remembered from the old vampire movies and commanded, “In the holy name of Jesus… Get thee behind me, Satan! – Matt-”

The red flash only lasted a moment. The silver crucifix hung in mid-air for a split second and then fell to the floor, landing in a newly formed pool of blood and water. One of the creatures walked up to the puddle and retrieved the cross. They turned and were gone.

Three space travelers visit an old, run-down shack in the heart of Mississippi. They ask no questions for there is no need. They see the sign. Before leaving Earth, they scout several other cities and relay their findings to their superiors, informing them to send ten thousand attack squads. Three intergalactic terrorist scouts on a mission to find terrorist planets speed away from planet Earth and begin the three-year journey back to their native galaxy where terrorists are not afraid to be seen – a place where terrorists have adopted a simple sign to represent themselves: the sign of the cross.

The End

An illustrated Guide to religious and philosophical architecture

(i.e, me resorting to dumbing down my attempts to educate the masses my including crude little drawings, to delight and stimulate their little minds.)
by A. Uiet Bhor

My attempts to explain the inherent problems with religion and the urgency of embracing a secular ethical system usually results in a prolonged rant that is dismissed by theists as the ramblings of a disgruntled atheist. In an attempt to demonstrate my thinking on such matters I will keep this brief and include visual demonstrations of why I consider all religion irredeemable, and what actually makes a decent ethical philosophy.

Religion is a very complicated phenomenon, and there are many ways in which it can be studied and understood. History, cognitive anthropology, psychology and meme theory have all given us insights into how religion develops and occasionally what is wrong with it. My personal approach is to look at how religious institutions are organised, and what affects their structure has on issues such as ethics and the worldview of its adherents.

I use the term theological architecture to describe how concepts are arranged due to the way religious and theistic influences define how things should be organised. For contrast I also studied other philosophies including various political ideologies and the outlook common to many rationalists, those of a scientific persuasion and of course humanists.

I did this in order to understand why certain institutions commit atrocities or demonstrate inhumane tendencies. From my personal philosophy any inhumane behaviour invalidates a religion or ideology, but that is due to my strict moral principles which dictate my attitude towards religion and the severity in which I judge it. As far as I am concerned, anything which creates that much harm must have something inherently wrong with it. However I find that when arguing with theists, I need to do more than merely cite the many brutal examples of history. As they see things entirely from a Theistic Vs Atheistic point of view and they clearly think that communism and its death toll is a good defence against their own.

I need to show that immoral and inhumane behaviour is inherent to the way religion is structured, and the only way to remove such in-built tendencies is to remove the very elements that make a religion a religion.

I also need to demonstrate why it is that non-theistic institutions also commit atrocities, and why it is not purely down to their lack of religious adherents.

I looked very intensely at four main ideologies, Communism, Nazism, Christianity, and Humanism. I found that the one thing that they all have in common, (all except humanism), was there in-built focus on non-human and non-ethical considerations. When you have a religious system you encourage your members to fixate on deities or concepts removed from the material or human world. Mankind is usually demeaned and a religion’s "ethics" are mainly included as part of a religion's justification for its existence, as well as an attempt to further glorify it's deity(s) by claiming it has moral supremacy. Such "pseudo-ethics" are designed to control humanity with ritual and social constraints, as well as act as demonstrations of divine authority. As a result they serve religion rather than life, humanity or any humane ideal. They are not derived from any empirical data or observations of what works in society, they have a life of their own, inexplicably linked with the destiny of the religion in question.

Occasionally such "ethics" are maintained even when the religion has faded away, only then can they be questioned or altered, and they are often found to be lacking in relevance, and trail far behind the moral values that a more enlightened and secular society have developed. Although they originally were derived from legal or moral customs, once they are included in a theology they are no longer modifiable and are followed regardless of what effect they actually have on society. They do not promise to make a culture more humane or society safer or more stable, but justify themselves by their sacred origins rather than any practical or humane applications.

"But what of secular tyranny?" I hear you say, well there are two types of secular governments, those that become secular in order to monopolise their authority, greedy atheistic tyrannies like communism, and those enlightened democracies that recognise the need to create safeguards in order to reduce the risks of any dictatorship arising, whether from a political or religious source. Democracy is in itself a safeguard against political dictatorship providing it is correctly structured. The only safeguards against a theocracy is the separation of church and state. The self evident nature of which often results in even wise and cautious religious people often creating what is referred to as a secular state, but what is really an anti-totalitarian political philosophy, trying to be fair, and recognising the tendency of unaccountable religious authority to do terrible things. Such people can be very religious, but also very keen to create a just nation and realising that regardless of God's existence or inherent goodness, no religious governments in history has any ever been anything other than a nightmare for many of its subjects.

This is the most common type of decent secular authority, but my personal favourite would be a humanistic democracy that allows religion to exist only under its strict supervision. As leaving religion to fend for itself often creates desperate money grabbing ministries, which can range from enlightened to fanatical and immoral. This can be seen very clearly in America where religion is a given enormous tax brakes and allowed to do whatever they want, perhaps as compensation for the separation of church and state, and perhaps because most members of the government are stupid religious jerks. The trick is to find a balance, we do not want to be seen as a power hungry Commie style atheistic dictatorship, but you do not want to allow religion the run of the land, as that will create isolated pockets of backward superstitious loony bins, which can often be as bad for those within such hellholes as a theocratic despotism.

So religion tends towards despotism, but then so does politics, both must be controlled by rational ethical standards, why rational? Well, that is all we are left with when religious ethics are shown to be impractical, as well as having a rather large impediment attached to it, mainly religion. For a theist the removal of religion is evil, for a hard-line atheist a secular government is a necessity for any civilisation, both tend oversimplify the complexities of the issue, and demonise each others perspectives. To me whether a government is religious are not is irrelevant, as many hard lessons are learned from communism. It is only a pity that theists seen unable to learn from the lessons of the many theocracies of history, but one thing we both having in common is Nazism, which was a example of what can go wrong both with religion and a secular authority.

Despotism's like Nazism maintain ties to religious organisations but do not allow any power to be kept by the churches within their control. They do not harbour any pretence at being above religion like Engels or Marx, but many see religion as a cynical ploy, mainly because it takes one to know one. Nonetheless in the case of Nazism many of its queues were taken from the Christian church, such as its attitude towards Jews and its belief in a “manifest destiny” from a higher power. The religious like a reverence and awe that the political propagandists attempted to foster in the German people very much played on their Lutheran and Catholic backgrounds, and no one really saw any problems with war, oppression and genocide given that the Bible consisted almost entirely of the same. Many dictatorships, white supremacists, and dangerous cults model their behaviour on that of the Israelites in the old Testament, from harsh laws to absolute confidence that they and they alone are chosen among over all other people's in the world.

All in all I think the blame for Nazism must lie with both politics and religion, triggered by economic problems, and a culture on the brink, so desperate that they'd accept salvation from anyone, much like 1st century Judea. ( I’ll avoid all the usual Hitler and Jesus parallels, and just mention that both leaders created ideologies that killed countless numbers of Jews, made promises that came to nothing, and died shortly before their nations were reduced to rubble. )

Such parallels can be dismissed as trivial, but one thing that is not so easily ignored is that both showed no signs any knowledge of what their work would come to. Both, judging by their words and actions, would not have wanted what history tells us happened their regimes, or the legacy their lives created. Hitler would not have wanted his Reich to have lasted for only two weeks after his death, with his name cursed for ever more. Jesus, giving him a generous appraisal, would have been driven insane to know his name would be used justify every horror mankind could commit, and for 1700 years it would bring out the very worst in entire continents. Both fucked up, and both clearly didn’t have a clue about the future, or both would have kept their stupid mouths shut.

The Imperial government of Japan during the Second World War was another example of politics and religion intermingled to create a nightmare state. Only this time the ratio was more in favour of religion, combining the hitherto benign Shinto spirituality with the rigorous code of the samurai and the ruthless efficiency of Western-style authoritarianism and industrialisation. Essentially it was the worst of everything, and a clear demonstration of what can go wrong with virtually every aspect of human civilisation.

Many of my essays had dealt with similar political and economic difficulties, as I find an intensive study of the problems of religion often leads to a larger understanding of ethics and culture. It is important not to fixate purely on religion as although it has many inherent problems, the same flaws can be found in almost all other institutions. Anti religious bigotry may be entirely justified but it is narrow-minded, and all too similar to the theistic tendency to demonise all secular organisations. In attempting to identify what the problem really is, I have found that the cause lies in the organisational structure and order of priorities. A re-ordering of the place that ethics and life has among institutions can quickly solve the problem.

Both politics and economics can be reformed in this manner, however religion would have to be changed beyond all recognition, and specific faiths like Islam and Christianity would have to be totally abandoned. This conclusion is not derived from my dislike of religion but purely from the way these religions are structured. This judgement, that certain religions are unsalvageable, also applies just as much to Communism, Nazism, and any authoritarian or inconsiderate economic model, but it is this conclusion when applied to religion that I will get the most flak for. If I were in China my condemnation of Communism, not religion would result in the most negative feedback, so I do not see this as an atheist verses religion issue but rather a vested interest issue.

So anyway, I found that only one of the four institutions I studied was set up in a way not open to abuse. That was of course Humanism, because if you are worried about ethics and humanity then only an institution dedicated to those two causes, stands much of a chance of creating a humane society. This has been clear to me for quite a while, the trick is getting the point across to other people, particularly theists. Some challenge me to show a humanistic society that works, and then ignore the examples I provide. So I will emphasise the logical results of any given hierarchical or philosophical structure within an organisation.

The first step is to illustrate what these structures are, and then demonstrate why they will lead to the end I predict. I will begin by showing the contrasting structures of Christianity and humanism.

Xtianity, especially Catholicism and Fundamentalism

As you see in fig. 08, Christian theological architecture tends towards a "few ruling the many" model, with two major problems, the first being that the authority depends on a spiritual or transcendent ever increasing degree of removal from humanity and the material world. This means that the public are made to have a greater degree of trust in their theocratic rulers than is reasonable, as such leaders are semi-divine, or at least able to benefit from the unquestionable and unassailable nature of the powers that they "represent".

Above them is the Bible, which in some liberal Christian communities is seen as a guide to life, a series of allegories and metaphors, but among the more extreme Christian sects it is seen as an absolute authority, with every word taken seriously. And as the Bible is an amalgamation of nationalistic and religious propaganda by various groups of scribes, priests and crazy hermits, ( along with of course the usual cults leaders and religious authorities after power ), and as it displays all the flaws inherent to humanity, particularly those of past days, this makes the Bible a particularly bad thing to render unquestionable. It is this very degree of detachments that results in the cognitive dissonance, the myth of inerrancy and the ever-recurrent use of quotes to justify any action or thought.

Above the Bible is the ultimate authority, God, and abstract concept with as many different interpretations as there are believers, that can never be questioned or understood except via other people's interpretations, or consulted on all that has been done in his name by all the various denominations and religions. The Bible as an objective thing can be analysed, dissected and discredited, and among the more rational theists this is already acknowledged as having been done. But other than through semantics and logical analyses that only serve to question the existence or nature of God, the character of God can only be analysed via the Bible.

Although there are plenty of more enlightened or mentally developed people who can defy, and disbelieve or even despise God, it is a difficult thing to do if you acknowledge the transcendent hierarchy. Particularly in versions of Christianity like Catholicism where the theocrats are a significant obstacle, let alone the Bible. This creates a spiritually unbreakable chain allowing any person to convince anybody else that they represent God, or more commonly allows the priests to convince the masses that their reading of particular words of the Bible signifies what God wishes them do or believe. It is very difficult for anyone else to work their way through the hierarchy to investigate anything for themselves. This in itself causes mankind to be crushed under the weight of authority that is, within the confines of belief, unapproachable and has many mechanisms that it can use to get people to obey them, from threats of hellfire to bribery and psychological control. But all such methods would be difficult to utilise without this theological architecture.

The second problem with this structure is that there are levels beneath mankind. Not the levels of animal or material existence that can be verified through science but personified lower life forms that are either anthropomorphised forces or concepts similar to those of other religions, or labels which serve to de-humanise people in the name of the Christian agenda. These are derived from doctrine and the church’s various strategies that it has developed to destroy its rivals. The parallels between this and the race ideology used by the Nazis to dehumanise the Jews and it's other victims is obvious. The Church has consistently, for a great many centuries used this tactic to get its followers to destroy the followers of rival religions. From pagans to Muslims to rival versions of Christianity and even people who have conformed and live within the control of the church, simply by declaring that they are heretics, thus transforming them into handy scapegoats.

A political or economic system can be reformed or replaced, people will always have a tendency to fight for a flag, a nation, a culture, perhaps even a race, but all these things can be dealt with using reason and objectivity. Although such tools can render religion vulnerable it is much harder to convince someone of the non-existence of God than the irrelevance of race or the insufficience of nationality as a justified label of superiority to others. It is also dangerous having a subset, of which sections of humanity can be placed, and as both the absolute authority and the subhuman category are such an integral part of most Christian denominations, it is for this reason that I consider religions inherently inhumane and immoral.

These subset categories are particularly worrying, and I've noticed this tendency in computer games, television and movies where they come up with some way of having people killed in an acceptable manner. Either by, in the case of Buffy the Vampire Slayer saying they are demons or vampires, or in the case of The Terminator by saying they are machines. Whichever method they utilise it doesn't change the fact that, visually, human beings are seen as being rightfully killed. Though they are not all humans within the story, but they are still human physically and people get used to the idea of heroes being able to kill things which, although they are sometimes personifications of evil or danger, they nonetheless are personified as human. If you look at Nazi propaganda posters or the drawings of medieval Crusaders you notice the way they render the Jews or Muslims as demonic creatures, making it a more acceptable spectacle when their heads are split open or when they are burnt alive, either in illustrations or in reality. We need to make the image of a humans being killed either less acceptable or common, people should stop simply accepting that certain people should be harmed, or that it's OK to see people killed as long as, in some way, they are not really human.

Now my pyramidal diagram is a simplification, as I've not included ethics or the various levels of angels, church hierarchies or editions of the Bible, principally for clarity, but also because in the case of ethics it is the importance of the authorities that defines the importance of the ethics. Such "morals" are interwoven through the image, reputation or example of these theocrats, the message of the Bible, and the nature of God. As the ethics are dependent on such authority and open to gross misuse, reinterpretation and negation they are not such a considerable factor as theists have been led to believe. An example of this is the idea of God as an all-powerful creator being the most important consideration, rather than his alleged goodness. "God is good" is a recent emphasised label, and not only one that contradicts the way he's displayed in the Bible, but also a very clear attempt to con people into accepting Christianity out of a fear of such ethical dilemmas as abortion, crime and invented concepts such as sin and the devil.

The principal problems with this religious architecture is not just that it is very much to mankind's disadvantage for such a system to exist, but also that it is built on a lie. An issue which will not be dealt with in this article, but one that needs to be briefly addressed here, as the so-called ethical values of Christianity as well as the evils it claims to combat are, like all theological concepts, complete fantasies, specifically invented so as to manipulate humanity. They invented the devil, demons and witches to keep you afraid, they invented angels and God to make you humble and grateful, but worst of all they redefined ethics as meaning something other than the best and most moral behaviour for a human being, making it what pleases God. Leaving aside the Euthyphro dilemma, this simply means that, not only are actions or thoughts made “sins” when they are not even unethical, but also that people are made to waste their lives doing things which they think are eternally good. Whereas they are not even moral, but simply a waste of time, such as praying, or proselytising. This ability to make black = white, to make what some people regard as unethical and intrusive a spiritual “ideal”, or to make things which are perfectly natural, sinful and evil, has really screwed mankind up. Creating an entire industry of psychiatrists dedicated to trying to sort out all the people whose minds have been seriously damaged by the pressures of their religious society. Forcing on them inhuman standards with the intent to make them more like the spiritual (i.e. non-existent) ideal rather than simply accepting their humanity and allowing them to lead full and natural lives. The problem only get worse when the church authorities choose to use their extremely subjective and presumptuous interpretations of "God's will" to condemn things that have either appeared after the Bible was written or were simply never mentioned, such as abortion, euthanasia, scientific discoveries or certain types of music.

This insistence that morality is dependent on the Bible or on people's ideas of God, means that the ethical standards of many Christian denominations are not only completely insane, irrelevant, divided among churches or even individuals, but also do not really deserve to be categorised as ethics. This is why I do not consider the moral pretensions of religion to be in any way a factor when searching for what is best for humanity. These "pseudo-ethics" that the church authorities use to unjustly steal the moral high ground in the eyes of the public is just a confusing distraction, similar to all the theological inventions and issues which are best ignored when dealing with a subject as important as morality and the human race.

Ethics must be derived from reason and observation. It is insane to suggest that we should follow a set of "ethical" laws because they were allegedly dictated by some fiery God up a mountain 3000 years ago, according to the tradition of a superstitious and backward tribe of Semitic zealots. Especially when it is clear that if such principles were applied, they would do humanity great harm. So the best test for any morals is how they affect humanity, after all we are the ones that are going to have to apply them, as well as the only things that are going to be affected by them. Thus taking ethics from the realm of religious absolutism to rational and empirical objectivity. No theist can show me why I am wrong in this issue, so we will continue on the assumption that ethics refers to morality as defined by reason, not the church.


Fig. 10 demonstrates the radically different philosophical architecture of humanism, such a diagram can also apply to philosophies such as Epicureanism, Stoicism and Buddhism, because their ethical principles, although not always so dependent on empirical reality or on scientific objectivity are at least the principal factor of such philosophies.

It will require a brief explanation as again this diagram is a simplification, but basically it can be approached either from the top down or the bottom up.

Bottom-up basically shows that the many values that we have, either political, patriotic, economic, or materialistic must serve the ethical values of society. Now humanism as a philosophy recognises this necessity and thusly places itself between all other values and that of ethics, essentially acting as a custodian of society, making sure of that our values do not subvert and remain subservient to the right ethical values. In a sense humanism can be bypassed, as you can be an economist or political leader that continually bears in mind that no matter what you do or want, all things must pay heed to ethics. However it is difficult to convince people of this, and humanism as a philosophy is dedicated to that end. It is one of the few philosophies that recognises the Moral Imperative and places things in what I consider to be the best conceivable order.

One crucial thing, is my definition of humanism as either a broad umbrella term that can even be used to describe people who do not consider themselves or do not know anything about humanism, or as anybody who places ethics above all other values, and humanity above ethics. My use of the term humanism is inclusive, which is why I do not use the term secular humanism, or any of the other denominations. Simply because I think that as many people as possible should be convinced that such a philosophical architecture is the ethical minimum of any civilised human being. I do not wish to scare people off who have alternative lifestyles or philosophies, but convince them that whatever they think or believe, such a set of priorities can be easily integrated into their worldview. With of course the obvious exceptions of Christianity, Islam, Communism and all the other absolutism doctrines.

Many people here who have liberated themselves from Christianity have found other paths, such as paganism, Universalism or Deism. It is to these people as well as the undecided or agnostics that I appeal, has whatever our differences are humanity must be our common bond. All here who are not still chained to theism would either feel better about themselves in relation to Christianity or be more closely united under a humanistic outlook. As you can be many things and atheistic, you can also be many things and humanistic. I feel that we need to be united by more than just our common dislike of Christianity, otherwise the organised religions will always have the advantage of unity as well as the moral pretensions. We need to, not only demonstrate that we are morally superior to them but also that their religion is a curse on humanity. To this end I will further demonstrates why humanism works and religion doesn't.

In the top down approach you can see more clearly that the ethical values, for all their superiority over other values, (including humanism), always remain below humanity, as they derive their importance and purpose from human life. This is of course because they are invented by humanity, entirely for humanity, and by maintaining this relationship, human life will never be harmed in the name of ethics. Examples of this inhumane action in the name of morality are when a person is executed for breaking a law, when a person is demonised or ostracised for breaking a taboo. Corporal punishment, pseudo-ethical religious oppression and the corruption and confusion of normal morality with entirely theological or ceremonial principles, that in turn effect humanity, are all examples of ethical principles being placed ahead of life.

Now of course people should be imprisoned or otherwise punished for unethical behaviour, but it must always be because they harm mankind in some way. Not purely because ethical rules were broken, as although the definitions of a victimless crime are very much open to debate, there are ethical principles, particularly within religions, which do not in any way have anything to do with humanity. Such as the ceremonial or dietary laws of Judaism, and especially blasphemy or other laws based on superstition. We must never forget why we have ethics, they must never become the supreme goal that would, like God, the state or the Law become the alter on which so many people will be sacrificed.

To reiterate, we must always start with life, move on to ethics, and then, if so inclined to humanism, and only when all these three things have been consulted, in that exact order, do we consider other values. This is the order, this is the way, anything else is immoral, anything else is inhumane, I hope I have made it clear.

Just as a quick further demonstration, the remaining illustrations will show the equivalent philosophical or theological architecture within other worldviews.



Liberal Xtianity

AUB - Giving religion a whopping headache.


By Eric Merrill Budd (sent in by Jeff Reid)

What happens to individuals who have been psychologically
abused and morally betrayed by fundamentalist cultic religious
groups? how can they recover from the damage done? Physically
leaving such a group is relatively easy, but the emotional and
psychological departure can take months or even years. This is
why many people do not understand how any person can stay
within a situation of religious abuse - much the same way that
people fail to see how battered women stay with their abusers.

Such dysfunctional and destructive groups often use
manipulation, fear, and deception to maintain a hold on
members. They also shower their prey with unbelievable amounts
of affection and approval for staying in the group and meeting
their expectations ("love-bombing"). Groups also control and
distort information from the outside. Thus it becomes a sin to
read any "worldly" publications or "spiritual pornography."
The group makes an extremely sharp distinction between right
and wrong, good and evil; everything in the group is positive
(godly), everything outside is negative (satanic). Ambiguity,
doubts, and serious questions are not tolerated. The authority
of the group's leadership is virtually absolute. All problems
are oversimplified and deflected either away from the group or
back towards the individual (this is a methodology that
I have come to call conflict isolation).

It is no wonder, therefore, that the religiously abused
frequently suffer from emotional and psychological problems. I
believe that it is high time that our society recognizes and
deals with religious abuse as a social-psychological disorder
in itself.

Generally, a person who breaks involvement with a
dysfunctional group will encounter the following problems:

* Depression - the product of group-induced self-doubt and

* Isolation and loneliness - the shock of crossing the barrier
from one social environment to another.

* Impairment of decision-making and other intellectual skills.

* Floating - occasional lapses into the group's imposed
mindset, often triggered by certain stimuli (music,
symbols,key words or phrases, etc.).

* Difficulty in talking about group involvement - often
related to strong feelings of guilt, fear, and bitterness.

* Interpersonal difficulties - communication, expression,
making new friends, organized activities, dating, emotional
and physical intimacy, etc. Recent walk aways are frequently
mistrustful and suspicious of other people and groups.

So, how does one recover? How does a person heal the wounds of
religious abuse? Hopefully, within a caring and understanding
new social setting. This can be a family, a support or therapy
group, or an organized community such as a humanist society.

It should also be done with patience and the consideration
that recovery will take time and effort. The following are
some ideas for persons who have walked away from religious
abuse and who are on the road to reclaiming their lives.

* Work towards trusting yourself and relying on your own

* Put your experience down in writing. This will help you to
evaluate, understand, and cope with your past involvement in
the abusive group.

* Get in touch with other people who have gone through similar
experiences, either one-on-one or in a support group.

* Find a hobby or pastime to reinforce a positive sense of

* When floating occurs, firmly remind yourself that the
episode was triggered by some stimulus. Remember also that it
will pass. Identify the trigger, learn to make a new
association, and repeat the new association until it overrides
the old one. Talking it over with someone who understands can
really help, too.

* Handle decisions, tasks, and relearning of interpersonal
skills one step at a time. Don't rush yourself, talk and think
things over, and don't be afraid if you make mistakes - we all

* Be more willing to help people as you go along. This builds
up self-esteems and exercises your problem-solving skills.

* Take a breather from organized religion for three to nine
months, at least. Deal with your questions about religion,
ethics, and philosophy in an honest and challenging manner.

Remember, you are no longer a victim but a survivor. **

Ideas Do Have Consequences

"...and be ye transformed by the renewing of your minds," - Apostle Paul.

One argument to which Christians are prone to resort revolves around the concept that without a Christian worldview, moral chaos is the result.

To a degree they are correct - what we mold our minds with will certainly influence our behavior.

Let me explain by relating something I heard on the radio today. The sister-in-law of Osama Ben Laden gave an insightful interview into the mind of an Islamic Fundamentalist on public radio. She has been separated from her husband for 16 years and has adopted a western life-style in part because of the Islamic marginalizing of women. For instance, she talked of how her brother-in-law Osama would not look at her or speak to her because for a man to look upon or speak to his brother's wife is a sin. Since Osama believed speaking to or looking on his brother's wife was a sin, he refused to acknowledge her at all.

Our present world wide struggle with terrorism speaks volumes to how beliefs, strongly held, mold or transform the way we think.

Hitler is constantly held up the epitome of a non-Christian worldview. More accurately Hitler was the epitome of a Fascist worldview as Stalin was the epitome of a Communist worldview.

I would agree with the Christian that the three non-Christian worldviews expressed above are destructive, and therefore not in the best interest of human kind. There are now, and in the past have been, millions of people who also agree that those three worldviews are not desirable.

Christians use this fact to conclude that Christianity is superior and therefore true. Our modern Christian worldview may indeed be superior to fascism, communism, or any other form of despotism or religious fundamentalist domination, but not because Christianity is true. What makes the modern version of Christianity preferable is its comparative tolerance to differences and its grudging acceptance and promotion of personal freedoms.

Christianity has not always held this tolerant view, as any student of history has no choice but to admit.

The reason the United States is a rich and powerful nation has nothing to do with Christianity. The US holds the pre-eminence in many areas because it was founded on the premise that all men are created equal and are entitled to pursue happiness, where ever it may be found, so long as that outworking of freedom does not harm others.

Does this system always work? No. Is this system in constant need of revision, re-examination and development? Yes. It is admittedly a man made system and as such cannot claim to have reached final development.

Fundamentalist Christianity does not really allow for personal freedom. Real Christianity is not the opposite of other despotic systems, it is a variant despotic system. Christianity plainly teaches that all who deny Christ are doomed to eternal perdition. Those who reject Christ are infidels who will be confined to eternal torture while the faithful are granted eternal reward. Ultimately, Christianity is a system built on threats of punishment, accusations against all detractors, and promises to a ruling elite.

When Christianity ruled the western world, the consequence of Christian ideas was a 1000 year period of scientific darkness. Monstrous plagues ravaged mankind, exploration was minimal, medical arts made no significant advances, education was almost non-existent, women were second class citizens - the list goes on and on.

Personal freedom and the right to pursue personal happiness is the superior human condition, and religion does not offer that alternative. Mindless belief is the requirement of religion.

Are there many Christians in the western world? That depends on who you ask. Fundamentalist Christians would say there is only a remnant of real Christians in the world - today or ever.

The people who fought Hitler were not all Christians. The people who resisted Stalin were not all Christians. Those who resist terrorism are not confined to Christian fundamentalist believers.

Those who fight against and resist these forms of human bondage are lovers of personal freedom. That is the core of the truly superior way.

What we think and what we believe undoubtedly has an influence on our behavior.

The Christian wants to say that without Christ, there is nothing wrong with despotic worldviews. The whole topic is black and white to them. Christ against everything else. Everything else is of the Devil, and only Christianity, or more accurately only the true version of Christianity, is the only defense against horrific crime sprees, rape, murder, perversion, you name it.

Yet time and time again we find non-Christians fighting against systems that create bondage, heartache, death, and the destruction of human freedom throughout history and the world.

I agree with Paul, but with a qualifier. Be transformed by the renewing of your mind, but be sure you are molding your mind with concepts that protect the freedoms of others. In that way you promote a worldview that also protects your own freedoms.

Freedom at Last

sent in by Lavonne

My husband made me aware of this site almost a year ago. It was a "testimony" he showed me today that convinced me it was time for me to share.

I was always aware of heaven and hell/angels and demons - the conflict for my soul that I would need to heed lest I suffer torment for all eternity.

My earliest memory is of a tornado threatening just before my 5th birthday. Mom assured me that, if a tornado did strike, I would be in heaven for my birthday. I wanted a cake and presents.

I responded to my first altar call when I was 7 years old. Mom was surprised, telling me I had "asked Jesus into my heart" years earlier. But that minister said that, if I did not love my brother, whom I could see, how could I love Jesus, whom I could not see" - I John, I think, I don't want to look it up. My brother is 3 years younger. Growing up, I did not always "love" him. I responded to the altar call and the hymn, "Just As I Am".

During ensuing years, I was very aware of all the emotions that a christian girl should not have. Any time I heard "Just As I Am" or a similar hymn, I began to feel so bad about my sinful feelings - and started walking. We were church people twice on Sunday and every Wednesday. It was never questioned. It was our life.

At some point in my early teens, my parents talked to me about "assurance of salvation" and gave me verses. I was a bright but rather plain teenager. My older sister was more adventurous - a source of significant family distress. As Dad and my sister were having a confrontation, Mom would be in my bedroom, praying for my sister. It was not good. But I was the good daughter.

There were times our church youth groups elected me to leadership positions. My mom said it was too bad no boy could fill those positions. My dad let me know that I was "too much and not enough" - too domineering, not submissive enough - too smart and outspoken, not demure or feminine enough - it was assumed I'd never marry, I was "too much and not enough" to attract a man.

So I went to college - you've probably now guessed we're talking some years ago. I attended a christian college as a freshman (1969) and became involved with politcal activism and civil rights, much to the dismay of my parents. I transferred to a local state college for my sophomore year. I had been scared by what I was becoming. I admired and wanted to be like the demure wives and mothers I saw at church. I was scared. I was especially scared by a worldly, state college and the potential for a non-christian roommate. I joined the Navigators. Those tales are too numerous. I also gained 20 pounds.

Cut to the chase....

At age 30, I decided that life was too hard with god and I would do it on my own. During that decade, I met the man who became my husband. My parents did not attend our wedding, as we had had a "consenting adult" relationship prior to our marriage. While his mother was a fundamentalist, she gave us our wedding, because she knew we were happy.

At age 40, we moved to his hometown, to simpilfy our lives, return to "country". I had an intense desire to belong. I joined my mother-in-law's church. It was actually kinder than the one I was raised in, as children were not constantly hearing about hell. That didn't happen until they reached the "age of accountability" during teen years.

At first, I was hoping that my husband would join the church and we could be part of his "home" community and church together. This church reminded me rather of a modern version of Amish. They take care of their own. While a member, I had access to plumbers, electricians, carpenters.... I was well cared for.

After a few years, though, I began to recognize family/church "traditions" were really rules, with a nicer name. I began to wake up in 1998 when I heard my sister-in-law was pregnant. I knew I did not want an infant or toddler to associate me with a religion that, when s/he reached critical ages (13-17) made him/her afraid to venture out and make the world his/her oyster. I also began to realize that I was glad my husband would never be a member because they afforded me greater freedom, due to having a husband who was a "friend of the faith", not a "member". Since my primary duty was to be subject to him, I was given greater latitude.

The final straw was the belittling/cruelty I saw in my professional role in the schools that church girls did.

It is a tribute to my husband that he supported me when I felt I needed to become a "member". When I began to realize I might need to leave, he told me he would support whatever decision I made.

He had been a freethinker for some time.

When I left the church, I still held to the christian religion, but was able to talk about it with my husband for the first time in years. I hadn't realized how afraid I had become to discuss these things, as his views made me fear for his eternal security.

I began to read. A mainline minister actually gave me some books that were a personal epiphany.

I am a gardener. I love the outdoors and nature. Deism suits me beautifully. My husband is an atheist, but is open to deism, especially since so many of the holidays involve great food.

In coming to myself, I've been able to lose weight and be the person I always thought was inside there, somewhere.

In some ways, I regret that I was 52 before I was able to free myself from the fears and chains of christianity. In other ways, though, it just feels so good.

City: Francesville
State: IN
Country: US
Became a Christian: Mom says I was 4 years old or so, the first time I responded to an altar call that I remeber was age 7
Ceased being a Christian: 52
Labels before: Fundamental, Evangelical, Navigators, Apostolic Christian
Labels now: deist fits bets
Why I joined: fear of hell
Why I left: First, I did not want an infant nephew to associate me with the Church, then, because it made so much sense

Death of an atheist

by A. Uiet Bhor

I am often confronted by those who ask me whether I think about death, especially as I regard it as the final curtain. Some theists find the idea quite terrifying, I personally think about it very little if at all, I fully intend to die when I am old enough, but until then I see no reason to dwell on the subject.

As a total atheist on these matters, the afterlife just seems like naive wishful thinking, but in talking with theists I've discovered that not only do they take the idea seriously, but as a result they think about death a great deal. Also it's consequences have a profound effect on their theology, and even how they live their lives. (Of course, I regard this as an example of the creators of religion taking advantage of people's fear of death and inability to accept mortality, in order to create a series of exploitative behavioural restraints, but that's beside the point.) This has caused me to think about how my views on death, such as they are, affect my lifestyle and compare the way the acceptance of my mortality, makes me who I am, to the way that the lives of theists are shaped by the idea of an immortal "soul". This is the first time in my life I have contemplated death, I have always thought it a rather morbid subject but now that I've looked at it in greater detai,l in light of my thoughts on religion and reason, I have developed a very positive view of it.

For a start, death keeps us from outstripping this planet's resourses, it is the inevitable result of existing in a material form that is the sustainer of our consciousness. If anything could make us immortal, i.e. indestructible, I am sure nature would have utilised it. However nature could not do this, as that is beyond the limitations of matter. Maybe that is what nature is aiming for, as it could not do it in one step, the best thing it could do is increase the chances of any creatures or species survival. The only known way to do this is through the combination of genes that have the capacity to mutate, thus creating improvements through natural selection. In other words, nature took advantage of the inevitability of death to improve itself, without such a condition, life would not have led to us.

We would not have evolved if the first life was forever, we'd still be a bunch of amoeba in a pond, just flouting around for billions of years, bored to tears. With no need to replicate to increase the chances of life continuing, and no need for our genetic makeup to develop through breeding, and competing. In other words the nature of all life forms is defined by its need to survive, not for the individual, not even the species, but for life itself. If life did not need to struggle in order to survive the constant threat of extinction, complexity would not have arisen, as it is a by-product of life's quest for the improvement of it's chances. The survival imperative is defined by the threat of death.

As human life is the result of nature trying to compensate for the inevitable reality of death, this shows that although we may believe in an afterlife, nature certainly doesn't. If there was a permanent existence to be found, nature would not have to bother with variations, and life would be dull grey and uniform, like a church congregation. This is a perspective that makes death the driving force that we owe our lives to as humans. It may suck for the individual, especially now that we are sentient, but we cant be selfish and wish to be exempt from the reality that makes all life on this planet so special.

Consciousness puts a new spin on things, as all of a sudden the individual becomes so much more important. One life can achieve so much more than an entire species of normal creatures, and this sense of ego is combined with instinct. Because are naturally developed minds are based on the need for self preservation, the result is all the many cultural, and eventually theological products of the conscious being's attempt to deal with it's seemingly unimaginable non existence. I think of the first emperor of China, so obsessed with immortality that his life was cut short by taking so many elixirs meant to prolong his reign. Most funerals today are for the living, their need to continue, move on, except the end of another, but maybe also mortality itself.

Religion seems to provide the only consolation for those not able to except a finite existence, maybe that's why belief systems never appealed to me, I still hadn't decided I wanted this life let alone an eternal one. However not all faiths have such comforting after-lives, so how did other pre or none xtian cultures cope? For a clue we look at the pharaohs and the lengths they went to guarantee the right outcome in the afterlife. They weren't obsessed with death, as some assume, they so loved life that they simply wanted it to continue, the life to come was no higher existence but consisted of precisely the same things enjoyed by the nobility, but continued ad infinitum. However all this was contingent upon following the pre-requisite priest-led burial ceremonious, and leading a good life, the alternative do not doing so was oblivion.

The Nordic as well had a afterlife that was just fighting all day and feasting all night, which clearly, although not every ones idea of paradise, was certainly seen as a preferable existence to those who enjoyed doing that sort of thing in this world. I know many who would choose Valhalla out of all the afterlives offered, myself included sometimes. However all this was contingent on dying in battle, according to the standards of the Odin worshipping warrior, any misdemeanours and you ended up in one of the lower levels of the underworld.

These two examples showed that the local religious institutions and traditions used the next life to impose their authority, and impose certain standards of behaviour. These techniques are similar to the monotheisms today, as well as Hinduism and Buddhism. But if you remove the institutional and moral elements of afterlife mythology, you are left with what people really yearned for, life. In the aristocracy, royalty or among honoured warriors what they clearly wanted was a continuation of the life that they had. However, at certain periods in history, usually in areas less abundant and lush, where life was harder, an ideal after-life developed. Not just a polished off version of everyday life, but a blissful paradise, far removed from this life of suffering As more complex theological elements entered into the religions in question, oneness with God, or some Nirvana like higher state became how such conditions were described. The idea that the afterlife would be better than this one was clearly a later development, a more attractive alternative to the original.

So many afterlives are simply a continuation and show the desire for life to never end, understandable, but I have never asked for more, I am contended simply to read, think and write. Yes I'd like to have a nicer coat, faster computer, and deliverance from this very painful repetitive strain injury that hampers my work, but life to we is about making the most of what you've got, getting more, if you can without hurting others, but excepting what you can't have. Yes I have ambitions, I'd like a job that doesn't suck, and maybe a place of my own one day, but if I can have just 60 more years in which to make my mark, that is all I wish. I'm not after fame and fortune, or world domination, (but I wouldn't say no to it either), all my ultimate ambitions and even the wildest dreams are centred on this world, because this is where it counts. An afterlife would be as meaningless as absolute death as either way I would have no more effect on the world that I care and think so much about. The Christian afterlife particularly, (leaving out the ethical problems of obeying the xtian requirements in order to get to heaven), sounds to me like it consists entirely of hanging around your relatives, and praising god all day, which just sounds really, well, gay.

I'm happy because I except life as it is, finite, and non-refundable. This gives me focus. Does it make me materialistic? Does it make me want to have it all, while I still can, and hang the consequences? Well, no, but I'm not that type of person, if you don't care about others, you'll be a prick regardless of whether you believe in an afterlife or not. And before you throw that "acknowledgement of heaven and hell makes you a better person" argument at me, I pose this theological query. If a person only does good out of a fear of going to hell, then the good done was for selfish reasons, and not out of a genuine compassion, or sense of altruism, and thusly; that person should be judged unfit for paradise. If god is just and intelligent, then hell would be the result of evil, not a threat used to negatively reinforce good behaviour, as that would assume that we were incapable of decent behaviour without crude external pressure, which is a devaluation of mankind's inherent moral capacities. Hell then should have been kept secret, a just punishment, but not such a crude and brutal threat.

Heaven would not be the reward of those who do good deeds, as this would amount to bribery, but the destination for those worthy of god's presence. Preachers may be unintelligent enough to use heaven and hell as merely promise and threat, however we can hardly expect such thinking from a super intelligent "higher" being. Especially one that is supposed to truly understand us better than we understand ourselves. Ergo even if heaven and hell did exist, there's no correlation between it and decent behaviour, as it is not about hell as punishment, but whether you earn the right to heaven, and avoidance of hell, the fall back position. As the only way to earn the right to enter god's presence is to become a believer, then you can count me out. The satisfaction of actually being able to ring some sense out of him is not worth the cost of my self-respect and free use of my mind.

Better off without it…

A sense of urgency is created out of the recognition of ultimate mortality, but it is for those who wish to achieve something that this is most apparent. Focus on this world may make you devoid of spiritual concerns, but I have yet to hear a convincing explanation of why this s a bad thing anyway. I mean, if we are right and there is no extra dimension to life, then not wasting our time on fantasy is surely a wise thing to do. You cant criticise us for not doing what according to our understanding is irrelevant and meaningless, without first proving that a spiritual dimension does exist. That's just criticising people for living a life that reflects the fact we don't buy your claims, what are we supposed to do, act like hypocrites, and go along with what we don't agree with?

I prefer to be true to myself, money and pleasure is not more important to me just because I see nothing beyond this world, as I have what I regard are higher concerns, including intellectual exploration, or blasphemy as you'd call it. Also my ethical values have far more immediate and relevant applications as they are focused entirely on humanity rather than on achieving a spiritual goal, the positive effects of which, in this world, are indirect, if they are positive at all.

A.person who has a shallow unproductive life, then a spiritual life, will still be as much of a waste, as neither selfishness nor a focus on non-worldly things contribute to humanity. What we should do is encourage other to think of ways they can "transcend" death by putting themselves into the rest of us. Though effort, words, providing an example to follow, raising happy and considerate children. If even if god exist, he can surely not object to you improving life for others, and he may well disapprove of a spiritual life which neglects others. If all he cares about is you servicing his ego through prayer, worship, preaching, bible study and hymns, then he's a selfish dick and not the guy you keep going on about. You can't keep claiming god is good and just, if the end result of the things you think he wants you to do are not just and anything but good. Either god is an unworthy deity, or Christianity and Islam have got it all horribly wrong.

A wasted life is a wasted life regardless of what comes after. I've always had the sense that altruism was the highest ideal, my atheism never had any effect on it, as my philosophy is what I developed before my attitude to religion. Hence my conviction that morality is the key to discerning theism's flaws, as I have a firm ethical background from which to attack it. My certainly of naturalism is a recent thing, and it has made me think about the things theists say about us. I never encounter prejudice here in Britain, and I haven't given religion a second thought outside my academic studies, I've always observed it with detached interest, but going deep into xtianity, I have found so many ideas alien to me, the afterlife is one of them. Yes I've been aware of it, as well as the holy spirit, gods judgement and other things theists seem to fixate about, but the idea of actually thinking these things were real, seems a bit odd. Yes as a kid I entertained some spiritual ideas, ghosts, gods etc, but I grew out of them, as did most of my friends, and by my mid teens, had left Noah's ark, and Adam and eve behind along with transformers and fantasy's about time travel and turning invisible. To actually meet adult who actually still believe in these things was quite a shock, I don't know whether it's an just American thing, but they do seem a bit behind the standards I usually attribute to sensible adults.

So here I am, actually considering what until recently was simply who I was, but know its a label, "atheist", its a term with virtually no meaning here, but it seems to have a particular significant in the land of the supposedly free. Anyway, of the many aspects of my life that apparently seems to odd to these theists, death apparently becomes a big deal, or maybe I'm just getting old, and as I approach my late twenties I start to feel the grim reaper catching up with me. Maybe I'll make will, visit old friends, give more to charity, but apart from tidying up of yourself, there is little any of us can do about death. Accepting this would certainly reduced distress and worry that theists seem to suffer from.

As an atheist, (and how!) I regard death, like many before me, such as Asimov and Sagan, to be an opportunity to get as much done, said, and achieved before the end. It is also a great deterrent against laziness. What we do in this world is till what we do, regardless of whether there is an afterlife, and the atheist sees the contribution to be made as paramount, as it is all that survives us, intellectually, or materially if you like. The afterlife is of zero importance to us; too many die due to its non-existence as far as wee are concerned. Belief in its existence does tend to distract one from reality, a person may do good, usually charity for an xian, as a way of improving there lot in the afterlife, and that is doing good, although for the wrong reasons. Others attempt to repent, confess, convert, or do acts for a faith, non of which are productive, and some harmful to the occupants of this world. And therefore to have an afterlife at all is a detriment to the world, to regard it as important is asking for trouble and saying it is more important than reality, is a terrible crime as it renders people often indifferent to material needs, or natural concerns.

Like life, and silly worldly thing like that.

A dying atheist, realising it is his/her last opportunity for what we regard as our immortality, may do much good, as altruism is the outcome of the recognition that we are finite. We are soon to become nothing as a conscious personality, so selfishness for the sake of the individual is ultimately pointless. What benefits only us, dies with us, while others around will still be. This makes the importance of life far greater, the one soon to be without need, gives to those who will still need. To see are legacy residing in the memories of others, makes us want to make our memory all the more positive, and to leave as much of our selves behind has possible. All this results in the enrichment of this world and our race, at the hand of the dying atheist. And this principle can be easily applied to an atheist at the beginning of life, who realises that no matter how much time is left, it is still ultimately for the world that we should live.

Saying the after life is important is one thing, denying the importance of this world, is the greatest act of irresponsibility a religion can commit.

Heaven and hell does not amount to anything in the context of this world, whether I go to hell makes has no effect on anyone here. No one will know my ultimate destination, or the reason for it. What they would have is a load of different denominations claiming different things, with no evidence either way. I might as well have simply died, as talk of afterlife is just that, talk.

Claiming that without heaven and hell nobody would behave themselves is an immensely cynical attitude and demeaning to any civilised human being. Theists say "give me examples of countries that do not have a god or heaven and hell and that are not tearing themselves to pieces" and when I name the many nations of the world that are becoming increasingly secular that are not developing any problems, especially not those in America that right-wing Christians capitalise on to spread their power, they simply shrug these off as anomalies. They do not acknowledge that many nations, no longer religious are becoming inherently humanistic and that people are accepting the virtue of morality and human life in itself without reference to their deity, or eternal punishment or reward after death. The need to get it inot their heads that there is no direct correlation between being good and submitting yourself to what you perceive as a higher power, we do not need to be on our knees to be moral, there is no connection, all religion does is destroy civilisations, and make a primitive, backward, superstitious, oppressive and hypocriticaly stagnant "culture".

They cannot imagine a life without God, or being able to behave themselves without heaven or hell because they are the ones that are obsessed with such concepts, they are so conditioned that such thoughts run around in their minds continuously, so they can't imagine we could live without, or be decent human beings. This fits in with Christianity's constant demonising campaign against all outside itself, or even within. To them there is only one reality, godliness versus devilness, and if anything does not fit that narrowminded worldview, it simply doesn't exist, it is very difficult trying to persuade the deluded theists that humanism has any moral worth, that death does not need to dictate a person's behaviour, that a finite existence can lead to altruism, because these concepts run counter to the falsehoods that make up their core doctrine and psudo-ethical principles that many religions are built on.

They need to realise that you cannot have morality with god, and that the fiction that you cannot have morality without God is just one of the many mechanisms religion uses to attract and trap it's victims. Reality does not bear out these claims, they can't give an example of Christian nations that do good, but throw up examples of Communism, as if that had anything to do with ethical principles based on the truth, that we are all going to die, and we must accept this fact and act like responsible human beings, not live in a fantasy world that has such a strong hold on them that reality is harmed for the sake of it.

There is no such thing as an absolute moral standard, it is a meaningless word when applied to ethics. What you do have is the objective reality of humanity, therefore the ethics which are applied to mankind must be objectively beneficial, and not derived from subjective religious experience or delusions of absolutism.

AUB - Yesterday was a nightmare, tomorrow is a dream.

Add-ons - the contradictory peripheral extensions to core doctrine

Or, my salute to fundamentalists
by A. Uiet Bhor

Part one

Religions starts out as a series of theological and moral, and occasionally historical, "truths" that eventually become the faith's core doctrine. It is a haphazard process, with various ideologies competing either intellectually or physically, the end result is an amalgamation of sometimes contradictory ideas that are rationalised into one supreme voice of authority.

After awhile the core doctrine becomes the status quo, which inevitably leads to people wishing to rebel against it. This leads to splinter cells, factions, denominations, and almost inevitably the evolution of the faith's principal orthodoxy. Sometimes the central authority capitulates and incorporates new ideas or elements as interpretations of the revealed "truth", as in the case of the pro Roman sympathies and pagan mystical elements in Christianity. Or sometimes counter doctrines are created to demonise and ostracise a rival theology or culture, as is the case in the anti-Gnostic elements of the Gospels.

For the sake of argument we will assume the Torah is the core doctrine of Judaism, the Bible for Christianity, and the Koran for Islam, this keeps it nice and neat. Out of these three religions have developed peripheral "add-ons" that differed greatly among the different denominations, such as the mystical and esoteric extensions in Kabbalism, when compared to the more rational and almost secular culture of certain reform branches. Judaism is incredibly diverse, which like Buddhism freely explores the many avenues to God and the Jewish cultural or spiritual ideals. This contrasts sharply with the Christian denominations that are often at each other's throats. Although there are subtle differences between the Bible in Protestantism, Methodism and Catholicism they are still ultimately the same book. The disagreements are in the peripheral superficialities, and this creates some interesting complications when arguing with these particular theists. Many do not regard other denominations as "true", and use linguistic semantics to distance themselves. However it is clear to any objective observer that these are transparent demonisations, and unbiased judgement can only be reached by impartial study rather than listening to any one or more particular "Christianity". I will assume that no one side has any more insight than any other, that as the Bible was written by different people with different agendas then there is no correct interpretation, as the Bible is not homogenous, but represent the ideals and intentions of specific people at specific times. These may be divided up into old Testament nation-building, and new Testament cult creation.

As mentioned before, Judaism has a far more relaxed attitude toward alternate Jewish viewpoints, however there is a common parallel between the orthodox Jews and fundamentalist Christians. Both prefer a back to basics approach that is far more Bible derived, and one would say crude, as well as literal. Fundamentalist Christians are often dismissed by more progressive liberal churches and denominations such as Presbyterianism and Protestant derived sects, and even by Catholicism. They regard Christianity as being a tolerant, charitable and at times even a progressive faith. They see Jesus as a gentle healer and teacher, and the many Christian charities as indicative of the religion as a whole. This is how they believe Christianity has always been, and when they see belligerent, harsh and bombastic Bible bashers shouting the odds about homosexuality and attempting to put women in their "place" they see these people as backward bigots, not truly representative of "true Christianity". They point out to critics and commentators that they are a strange extreme fringe, in the same way Muslims regard their fundamentalists, terrorists, and suicide bombers.

This however is ignorance and presumption, anybody who studied the history of Christianity knows that these fundies represent how Christianity has behaved historically, and are a symptom of the inherent problems with the religion as a whole. The majority of Christians today are not what could be called "true Christians" but merely a modernised version, who's brutal enthusiasm has been curbed by society's overall progress. Due to the words and deeds of forward-thinkers and revolutionaries who fought against injustice in the West, often in the form of tradition and religious doctrine. Christianity lost its power at crucial moments, and has been forced to trail behind the better instincts of humanity ever since. Many have rediscovered the wisdom of pre-Christian Europe, as well as of the East, and many more have come up with bigger, better and greater ideas than those contained in any religious scriptures. This involuntary improvement is regarded by many "historical amnesia" suffering Christians today as the true state of the faith. Those who actually have studied the unenviable record of most denominations regard the atrocities in history as mere abhorations, wrong turns on the path leading to the inevitable contemporary incarnations that the continuous reinvention of Christianity has spawned. This is as far from the truth as you can get.

If you study Christianity's core doctrine, you begin to realise that the so-called corrupted and perverted interpretations of fundamentalists, as well as those of the tyrants of history such as Torquemada, Ivan the Terrible and Hitler, in fact represent a far truer form of Christianity than the majority today exhibit. The fundamentalists are often a far more honest and consistent group than the moderates, and I have more respect for them (i.e slightly less than for the dog turd I trod on this morning) than for those who have to use cognitive dissonance in order to reconcile their denomination's beliefs with it's core doctrine. The fundies may be brutal primitives, they are what their faith has made them, and I am surprised that there are not more, but I find it amusing that so many moderates are puzzled as to where they come from. Not realising the answer is right under their noses, within the pages of the (most likely unopened) volume on their laps, their "good book". (If they even bother to read it, rather than have it spoon fed to them by a preacher, after cleaning it up for a family audience.) Honestly if you went into a modern church and actually read specific segments of the bible word for word, very loudly, you'd probably be thrown out, several people may even faint or throw up. Although all theists have earned my pity and others my disgust, I cannot fault the reasoning of those who are viewed as beyond the pale by the majority. If the Bible is literally inherent, then they are right, if religion comes before morality and social conscience, then they are right, if God is more important than life, then they are right, fortunately for us, there is not one thing in all religion that is.

Bit of a bold statement I admit, however many of us will be aware that there are some pretty brutal things going on in the old Testament, as well as some subtle atrocities committed in the new Testament. In Judaism the brutality of the O.T is tempered by the more enlightened commentaries of the Talmud, which explains why Judaism often exhibits a degree of moderation that far exceeds its core doctrine. No such moderation’s exist within Christian holy books, has all they took from Judaism was the O.T, which is a pity as there is a lot more to the Jews than the Tanach. This critical oversight led to such atrocities as the burning of witches, as without the wisdom of rabbinical teachings to restrain them, Christians were inspired by the archaic cruelty of their Bible to make the dark ages even darker.

The core doctrine of Christianity remains the same in virtually all denominations, the fundamentalists stick to the fundamental basics, and as a result exhibit what is commonly viewed as unenlightened, or un-progressive ideals. But they merely reflect the moral nature of the Bible, and even they are a moderate voice when compared to the really nasty stuff. Those advocating the clinical "treatment" of gays, or the subjugation of women, and the really extreme ones calling for the murder of abortion doctors and the de-emancipation of blacks still fall short of advocating outright genocide, or the burning alive of heretics, or even the instant death of all those who don't hand over all their possessions come conversion. Anyone who knows the Bible well enough will acknowledge that they could be far worse, and see extremists as a reminder of how things used to be, and a warning of how bad things could still get.

-side note, my inclusion of Hitler in the list of barbaric Christians.
It is good to have accurate information, it is embarrassing when other atheists tried to paint Hitler as an xtian, but it is also important to note that Christianity was a very pliable tool for oppressors like him.
Nazism and Christianity are not inextricably linked, but Christianity has elements within it's doctrine that can be easily used to justify atrocities. The nazis utilised as many concepts as possible, any kind of religion, any kind of science, and it is annoying when xtian's use Hitler's quotes on evolution and survival of the fittest to cast aspersions on Darwinism. However when the Nazis used Christianity they were not too far from a legitimate interpretation of biblical material, there are clear passages in the bible which advocates genocide, in fact if I was going to commit the worst atrocities in human history the bible is the book I'd use.
I do not regard Nazis as having corrupted or perverted biblical material, as that implies that the bible is inherently good, or misunderstood. Unlike Darwinism which is as far removed from political extremism and racism as you can get, the bible was written by people with racist ideologies and a mass murdering bloodlust, 1 sam 15 for e.g.
It is quite irritating when xtian's try to claim that the bible would do good if only people would interpret it properly. I do not regard the Nazis, modern fundamentalists or the Ku Klux Klan has a corruption of Christianity, they are the faith pushed to it's logical conclusion, or a cruder literal interpretation. You can focus only on good parts, or focus only on the bad, but does not change the fact that the bible contains both good and bad. As a result, it cannot possibly be considered moral, as it has many flaws as humanity, and is no better than us, and should not be exalted.
I have spoken to people who used Christianity to bash gays and blacks, and I cannot fault of their interpretation of their Bibles. According to their understanding they are doing good, and as long as they use the bible, they are being "true Christians". So xtian's should stop trying to ostracise these people, claiming that they are not truly part of the faith, and look hard of who these people are, and what makes them the way they are. They're not just racists or homophobes using the bible to legitimise their position, they are bible believers who have been made racists by looking too hard at what the bible actually says.

Anyway. Christianity has to acknowledge that as long as it relies on the bible, even indirectly, it is inviting fringe denominations, or even worse major ones, to go "back to basics". They have to acknowledge their history, and the inherent unethical nature in the Bible. The consistent reasoning of extremists, and their regard for god above all things, combined with their absolute confidence in the bible, makes it impossible to reason with them. The moderates must be made to see the fundamentalists are their dark side, they're not false Christians, they are just simply Christians.

The same goes for Islamic fundamentalists, it is the many passages in the Koran referring to hellfire and martyrdom, that is the legitimiser of their campaigns. Short of actually cutting these passages out of every copy of every Koran there is nothing much one can do about this. The only way is to encourage non-literal interpretations, is with enlightened commentaries and lessons on the dangerous tendencies of religion. In other words, denominations need to start teaching their members what we have been pointing out for centuries, that within religion lies the potential for the worst atrocities mankind has ever seen.

What is "true" Christianity? Or for that matter what is the true nature of any religion? Given that all religion is a lie this is impossible to answer, what we can say with a reasonable degree of certainty is that the many religions today have so many denominations that they represent virtually every position on the theological spectrum. There are so many esoteric or just plain eccentric diversification’s within Judaism that only the ultra orthodox resemble the Israelites as described in the old Testament. Even then they are restricted in their behaviour to what is allowed within the secular legal system of Israel. The archaic legal and social customs first recorded around the time of the Babylonian exile has since been an heavily modified by rabbinical and Talmudic teachings. During the Middle Ages Judaism and Islam had an intellectual enlightenment that resulted in further progress that, coupled with the freethought achievements during the European Renaissance and after, created Jewish sects which more closely resemble Buddhism at times, or even humanism than the Bronze Age nomads of the Torah. This is why I have far more respect Jews than any of the other mono-theisms. if I thought they were capable of reproducing the activities they describe themselves committing in their holy books I would be as harsh to them as I am to Christians and Muslims, the small percentage of them that are dangerous fundamentalists can be easily attributed to the fact that among a large enough number of people you will always gets a few lunatics, the ratio of such people in Christianity and Islam is far too high for such a dismissal, and the source of such troubling groups needs to be understood.

Religions are the product of their environments, if as a result of less religious and more progressive individuals or organisations a nation or culture is modernised, then religion is usually dragged forward a generation or so behind it. If a civilisation becomes backward so does the religion, if its origins are in the distant past then chances are during its dark ages and among its "back to basics" extremists many reasons will be found from their obnoxious behaviour. But on the up-side at least we are sufficiently enlightened now to not only be able to regard all religion as it truly is, but also have a large percentage of religious people who have become more ethical and humanistic, due to the more enlightened climate of the modern world. But still the potential remains, if you maintain a group based on past cultural values then you will never truly be free to move forwards.

There will always be aspects of your culture or religion that will hold you back, whether it is ancestral worship, idealisation of the past, or theistic presumptions of some kind. If some things are sacred then some things can never be questioned, removed, or improved, and even if they are removed they can often the reinstated, and if they are improved then such improvements can be ripped off by fundamentalists and the original meaning reinstated. Even the most liberal or progressive theists regard some things as intrinsically holy, the concept of the sacred writings or institutions is a continuous counter to all improvements. As long as people regard any aspect of the past has been unassailable, or beyond improving then even the most humanistic theists can still be made to strip away the trappings of progress and embrace a rose tinted image of the past, that screws us all over.

Many freethinkers revere the teachings of the ancients Greeks but they don't stick rigidly to what they say for the simple reason that they were not represented as gods, and their works were not seen as eternal, inherent, or sacred. As a result we can see them dispassionately as they truly were, warts and all, embracing what works and has proven itself, and acknowledging but abandoned what we can no longer accept. The moment anything transcendent or spiritual is added to any idea or system of thoughts it becomes virtually impossible to ditch them no matter how much harm they do to us. Many aspects of the ancient philosophers teachings have been surpassed, many have yet to be fully realised even in this day and age, but no freethinker would suggest living entirely as the ancient Athenians did. We acknowledge their errors in the same way that the mistakes of past scientists are acknowledged, because such acknowledgements are of great assistance in our quest to improve ourselves. The inability of spiritual or theistic groups to recognise error or identify mistakes means that there will always be a barrier that only the complete abandonment of religion will remove.

Life, on its own, growing up, having sex, pregnancy, babies, parentage and dying of old age surrounded by your family is great. Natural human life with all its trappings removed is really good, by default. The crap things in life are the accumulations that our cultures through their evolution collect on it's journey to the present. One of these accumulations is religion, a completely unnecessary appendage that can be scraped off are culture with no ill effects.

Remove all the enlightened principles of liberal religion that are a combination of salad-bar pic 'n choose, resulting in the little good within religion exulted as if that was all there is to it, and progressive elements derived from classical works and recent ideas, and you are left with something that would not look out of place in an archaeological dig. If you want to get in a muddy pit with the skeletons, rusty swords and grave goods, be my guest, but the rest of us do not want to live in a retarded time-warp. Many of us like the improvements we have, and acknowledge their origin, which for the most part can be traced to virtually any source but religion. When Christianity or Islam's positive virtues are held aloft as an example of what religion is, I simply mention the history which clearly shows that such meagre positives were largely ignored by the majority of their religion's practitioners.

The less immoral standards have only come to light today because they sometimes match up to "modern" ideals which were attacked or ignored by religion for generations. Ideas which often pre-date the setback that is xtianity, and now Islam. The remaining great achievements and leaps forward can only be credited to people living within the last few centuries, some of which were religious, many of which were not, and without which fundamentalism would be all religion today.

You embrace concepts from the past that work, and new ones only for as long as they do. If you deify anything from the past then many will be compelled to utilised it, regardless of whether it ever worked, but simply because it is “holy” or “sanctified”. The same goes for contemporary ideas, if people decide that this is what a deity wants, then regardless of how harmful or unwanted it may be, it’s going to get pushed on the rest of us. The problem with religion is not fundamentalism, but that religion is.

AUB - Time to rage against the dying of the light.

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