On God Warriors

At first I thought this was funny, figured it might make a good “Sundaily Hilarity”, but the longer I watched and the more I saw the pain this woman was causing her children and the obvious pain she was in herself, the clearer it became that there is nothing funny about this at all.

Clearly the majority of religious people are not remotely like this.  Clearly we all get angry and make fools of ourselves.  And clearly some people, including possibly this woman, have actual mental illness problems which will manifest one way or another, regardless of whether it is in a religious idiom or in some other one if they lack a religious idiom.  So, no, I don’t post this video or others like it to paint all religious people with the same brush or to blame religion for all the problems of mentally disturbed people.

But there are two things instructive about the video, that make it worth highlighting.

1. She could have said everything she said in a calm voice and it still would have been complete lunacy.  And a sizeable portion of religious people do say things quite like this on a daily basis and it helps sometimes to show people a mirror that makes clear what they sound like to the rest of us.

2. While psychological causation is complex, people who exploited this woman’s superstitiousness and tendency towards fantasy by encouraging her to read the Bible literally and to believe in all the superstitious entities found in that book (sorcerers, demons, witches, etc.) certainly did her no favors.  They may not be the sole reason that she’s a fanatical fantasist but they certainly played a contributory role in encouraging these intellectual and emotional habits as legitimate and in stocking up her imagination with crazy ideas to work with.

They actively cultivated her credulousness fantasies about her own powers (that she could “speak into existence” the things she wants to happen in the world if only she does it “in Jesus’s name”), where any one responsible and concerned with developing other people’s reason properly would have focused on aligning those around them with reality as closely as possible instead.

What I’m fundamentally getting at is this:  when you promote or condone or otherwise abet the power and social and/or political authority of religious institutions to teach people epistemology, metaphysics, and ethics, you are giving the vulnerable among us over to people who will teach them that their superstitious or otherwise irrationally grounded feelings and intuitions are legitimate sources of truth, who will then exploit that superstitiousness into accepting a metaphysics rife with fantasy beings, and who will structure their ethics around the interplay of these magical fantasy beings, with the result that some of these vulnerable people will vilify their fellow human beings as pawns of the devil or read events as the work of “dark siders”.

Yes, I know, that’s not what religion is to you. It’s a bunch of metaphors and symbols and ineffable sense of something inexplicably magnificent about the universe or whatever might transcend the universe.  To you it’s just accepting what you take to be a logical argument that there must be a source of all being and it must be distinct from the universe and whatever that is, it’s worth meditating upon and calling “God”.  The average believer needs to believe the metaphors or the noble lies so that she can tangibly grasp this philosophical point she wouldn’t otherwise get, that’s all.

I think that’s unacceptable.  If you really think the superstitions are false, if you clearly think this woman is a sad raver disconnected from reality and her family and anyone outside of her cultically closed religious community, then you should really reconsider whether it might not be worth it after all to dissuade your fellow believers of their literalist fantasies as a higher priority than defending them against atheists.  Maybe you should ask yourself whether your religious institutions on the whole do people’s understandings of epistemology, metaphysics, and ethics an actual service or a disservice—regardless of whether you and other especially smart believers have highly sophisticated accounts of epistemology, metaphysics, and ethics of your own.

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