TF: The Illuminati

TF: The Illuminati February 1, 2010

So I'm reading a painstakingly thorough work of investigative journalism when suddenly, in Chapter 6, our friend Tim LaHaye makes a surprising and pivotal cameo appearance.

The book I'm reading is Selling Satan: The Evangelical Media and the Mike Warnke Scandal, by Mike Hertenstein and Jon Trott. It expands on the reporting the duo did for Cornerstone magazine in the early 1990s, exposing as a hoax the "Satanism" stories of best-selling Christian-brand author and speaker Warnke, who was swindling millions with his odd combination of "Christian comedy" and grotesque tales of his supposed pre-conversion life as a high priest of Satan.

The authors do a commendably thorough job of debunking and refuting Warnke's claims. Their earnest, devout perspective makes that debunking even more thorough as it requires them to take agonizing pains to avoid bearing false witness or a lack of charity. You'll rarely encounter muckraking conducted with such sorrowful reluctance or such genuine lamentation over every bit of dirty laundry uncovered.

And their case against Warnke is further strengthened, oddly, by the authors' apparent willingness to accept his initial claims as not just possible but plausible. They share the same predisposition that Warnke exploited in his consumer-followers — a religiously based inclination to believe that there really might be an international conspiracy of Satan-worshippers conducting Black Masses and blood rituals while infiltrating the highest levels of government, media and finance. The authors don't start where I might have — by pointing out that no such global satanist conspiracy does or even could exist, but instead they focus primarily on the specific question of whether or not Mike Warnke, as an individual, was really a part of it.

My interest in the Warnke saga is different from Hertenstein and Trott's. They were primarily interested in the question of whether or not Warnke was telling the truth. I'm much more interested in the question of why so many people were so eager and enthusiastic to embrace his lies. As H&T note themselves, those lies were transparent and obvious to anyone who wasn't previously inclined to want to believe them:

Formidable chronological problems exist in [Warnke's alleged memoir] The Satan Seller, totally apart from the historical investigative research which appears in this book. These discrepancies could have been uncovered by anyone else in the past 20 years … with minimal research. But nobody took the time to do the math.

"Formidable chronological problems," in that paragraph, is a euphemism for "clumsy, obvious and flagrant lying." This is what fascinates me. Mike Warnke's success as a lying con artist was not due to his skill as a snakeoil salesman. It was due to his stumbling across an audience desperately eager to spend its money on snakeoil.

Just absorb that for a moment. Warnke was selling a vision of the world that was much, much worse than the reality his audience seemed to be living in. He offered them sordid, Satan-haunted tales of mass torture, rape and human sacrifice routinely occurring in a larger context in which freedom and democracy were merely illusions. And his audience, in turn, ate it up.

Given a choice, they preferred the nightmare. Even though choosing to believe the nightmare required the strain of actively pretending to overlook Warnke's "formidable chronological problems" and demonstrably ridiculous claims.

That astonishes me. I can't quite grasp it. I can understand enduring the strain and the dissonance it requires to pretend to believe a comforting lie, one that offered some illusory solace that might seem worth the price of self-deception. But what on earth motivates millions of people to prefer a horrifying lie that makes the world out to be even worse that it is? Why do millions of people respond to such tales of satanic conspiracies and bloody rituals as though they were reassuring?

Those are the questions that led me to read Selling Satan. And I've got a pile of similar titles on deck — including Warnke's The Satan Seller, Lauren Stratford's Satan's Underground and Jeffrey S. Victor's Satanic Panic: The Creation of a Contemporary Legend.

My fascination with this question is driven, in part, by my attempt to understand the popularity of things like the Tea Party "movement," or the popularity of Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh — mendacious peddlers of a politicized version of Warnke's snakeoil.

I had regarded this interest as something wholly separate from my hobby here of dissecting the sublime awfulness of the Left Behind books, but that neat distinction was called into question in Chapter 6 of Selling Satan, as Hertenstein and Trott recount their conversation with none other than Tim LaHaye, who described his encounter with a young Mike Warnke and the way that encounter came to shape and inform the lies Warnke was selling.

During their short stay in San Diego, Mike and [first wife] Sue visited Scott Memorial Baptist Church, pastored by Tim LaHaye, who would later become a well-known evangelical author. Mike Warnke's version of what happened at that meeting was included in The Satan Seller:

I had already told him [LaHaye] I had been to an occult conference. "There were some weird guys that seemed to be the real backers of the whole thing. … I heard the word Illuminati. …"

But Tim LaHaye remembered it differently. "The conversation really wasn't like he put it in his book," said Dr. LaHaye. "I brought up the term Illuminati first. I had been reading a book on the subject called Pawns in the Game, and I tried testing him to see if he really knew anything about it. He didn't seem to have ever heard the word before."

This is delicious. Warnke's shtick up to this point had involved a smallish, parochial version of satanism. His stories up to then had been focused only on the B-movie scenarios of black-robed rituals and bacchanalia in his insular little imaginary "coven." LaHaye's quizzing introduced him to a whole new realm of material with which to embellish his ex-satanist testimony.

After failing the "test" in his conversation with LaHaye, Warnke began reading up on this Illuminati stuff, incorporating the larger mythology into his account. The single "coven" he had described began to be recast as but one branch office of a global satanic conspiracy of puppet-masters secretly running the world.

H&T describe how LaHaye's inadvertent advice is what really enabled Warnke to make the leap from small-time fabulist to mass-market con artist:

In retrospect, if Mike had not added the international conspiracy link to his tale, it might never have left San Bernardino. He would probably never have … become an ex-satanic star. The Illuminati myth was the booster rocket propelling Warnke's story, and it seems only fitting that Warnke's story further popularized the conspiratorial mind-set spreading like an epidemic among evangelicals by the 1980s.

Warnke's new-and-improved, Illuminati-illuminated version of his supposed life as a satanic high priest, H&T write, also led to his presenting his audience with a world in which they could ignore:

… the nature of evil as a banal mystery, profoundly meaningless … Instead it was a grand chess game with Christian and Satanist scooting about the board, a cartoon version of the demonic which left actual evil, a personal as well as corporate matter, virtually untouch
ed.

This image of a cartoony chess ga
me between good and evil will seem familiar to anyone who has read LaHaye's Left Behind series.

But apart from the significance of his influence on Mike Warnke's tapestry of lies, notice what else we learn here about Tim LaHaye. When this young man approached him claiming experience with Satan-worship and the occult, LaHaye's first instinct was to quiz him to see if he was for real. "So you think you know something about Satan-worship, kid? What can you tell me about the Illuminati?"

LaHaye simply assumed, matter-of-factly, that anyone who really worshipped Satan would surely know all about the Illuminati and their secretive cabal running the world from behind the scenes. In LaHaye's mind, this was the truth of the matter. He dismissed the young Warnke as a poser because he didn't seem to know enough about the real satanists and their real international conspiracy of demonic Jewish financiers.

This is what Tim LaHaye believes.

Does this mean that LaHaye is, in fact, stark, raving mad?

It seems hard to see any way not to answer "Yes."

Tim LaHaye clearly believes in things that sane people do not, cannot and will not believe in. Sane people, unlike LaHaye, reject nonsensical theories about the Illuminati because those theories contradict a host of facts they know to be true. For most sane people, casting aside a whole host of truths in exchange for an obvious and ugly lie is not a reasonable choice.

And let's take a moment to reflect on the extreme ugliness of the ugly lie Tim LaHaye has chosen to believe. He cites — as authoritative — the book Pawns in the Game. H&T provide some helpful background on that book and its author (who also wrote, The Devil's Poison: The Truth About the Fluoridation Conspiracy):

William Guy Carr's Pawns in the Game (1958), claimed that all history should be seen through the lens of an Illuminati conspiracy orchestrated by the devil himself through a small band of human agents. …

Carr offered a step-by-step history of the Jewish plotters which was most unflattering. His history explained that Christ was crucified by the Illuminati who used "false priests and elders in their pay" … referring to them as "the Synagogue of Satan." … Carr also suggested that Hitler was an innocent victim of the Illuminati. …

Carr also lent credence to the rabidly anti-Semitic, allegedly Illuminati-authored Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion: "The document details the plan by which a small group of international financiers have used, and still use, Communism, Zionism and all other agencies they can control … to further their own secret totalitarian ambition."

Crazy, stupid, ugly and racist. And integral to Tim LaHaye's understanding of the world.

This Illuminati insanity isn't some superfluous thread that can be separated from LaHaye's supposedly literal, supposedly biblical prophecy schemes. It's woven throughout his whole vision. Yank out this thread and the whole thing — the End Times Check List, the Antichrist secretary-general, the OWG with its OWC, OWL and OWR — unravels.

LaHaye's premillennial dispensationalism is not, as he claims, based on a literal reading of Daniel and Revelation. It is based, in part, on a literal reading of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. It is based on lies based on lies based on lies.

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  • K.Chen

    Would you clarify what you mean by “an answer”?

    What I was trying to get at, is that religion is best when it isn’t providing any answers. How was the earth created is actually not a religiously compelling question. Neither is when. These are questions of material facts and science. Religion is not useful for “Whats up with that six/seven colored thingy in the sky?” Religion is useful for driving the curiosity about the natural world – to pierce past the surface questions of what, when and how, and ask questions about why, and should. Including by the way, “why should I care?” Do we need religion for that? Probably not, but many great scholars of various sorts are theists, and it seems to be their faith that drives them forward to produce knowledge.
    He oversells the case entirely, but I’m just going to incorporate by reference everything that Gould said about nonoverlapping magisteria.

  • K.Chen: Religion is at its best, not when it guides people to an answer, but when it gives people a reason to seek an answer. Some of the mysteries aren’t unique to any particular faith. An honest grappling with free will is difficult no matter what your beliefs on theism are. Religion isn’t about navel gazing – it is, in a real way, about knowledge. About seeking truth, a living breathing truth. Christianity in particular I think, its ultimately a religion about relationships. The relationship between the believer and God, the believer and the fellow believer, the believer and family, the non believer, society at large, and the relationship between the believer and the believer’s self.
    That probably didn’t make a whole lot of sense, so let me try something simpler. The problem is not religion, its people. We have to become more mature about how we handle religion, but we’d be far worse off without it.

    You’re right, it didn’t make a whole lot of sense. It’s very easy to make generalities about “all” religions–they all seek truth, they all seek to understand free will, they all seek knowledge.
    As at least one other person has pointed out, however, it gets a bit more difficult when you ask the adherents of the specific faiths to define such terms as “truth,” “free will,” and “knowledge”…not to mention when you ask them what truth and knowledge are good for…
    Then you brought up relationships. I hear quite a bit from Christians, in person and in their writings, that Christianity is about a “relationship.” Except that the phrase, “Christianity is a relationship,” is very often prefaced with a defensive cry of “Christianity is not a religion!” To such people, religion (well, Other religion) is a bad thing, to be avoided at all costs. I have my doubts that people with that attitude would be willing or able to come together with people of other faiths (or no faith at all) and concede that we’re all working together in peace and harmony to find “truth.”
    You are also ignoring the fact that religion often provides the answer at the outset, not merely “a reason to seek” the answer. (Additional fun fact: plenty of people manage to find “a reason to seek” without the aid of religion.)
    I suppose, in short (too late!), I would ask you to tell us this again when you have found the meaning of “a living, breathing truth” that all religions can agree upon.

  • Jason

    The problem is not religion. The problem is with closeminded unwavering dogmatists like Ken Ham.

  • K.Chen

    Then you brought up relationships. I hear quite a bit from Christians, in person and in their writings, that Christianity is about a “relationship.” Except that the phrase, “Christianity is a relationship,” is very often prefaced with a defensive cry of “Christianity is not a religion!” To such people, religion (well, Other religion) is a bad thing, to be avoided at all costs. I have my doubts that people with that attitude would be willing or able to come together with people of other faiths (or no faith at all) and concede that we’re all working together in peace and harmony to find “truth.”

    That definitely wasn’t where I was going. I think religion, on its face, is a good thing, by which I refer include faith based religions, “spirituality” and a whole host of other things. Maybe even civic religion (by which I refer to ritualized patriotism). I mean, religion can be, and often is, a bad thing, but I’m suggesting that if we could ever boil down to an essential generic, religion, it would be benign, and slightly pleasant.
    The relationship thing was more of an attempt to get at an example of what religion can do – Christianity, in specific, focuses attention on relationships a human being has as a transforming device. Do we need Christianity to have relationships? No. My apologia, as it were, seeks something more minimal – merely that religion is useful.
    If I get where this back and forth about the “answer” is going, what I’m saying is that you’re focusing too much on a very limited set of questions. Scientific questions of “how and when was the world created” and a half dozen philosophical ones on the end of life and morality. Religion, and most religions I know of, seek and do a great deal more.

  • lonespark

    I can’t believ it took me the entire commute to realize I typed “Moses” where I meant “Noah.”

  • K.Chen

    Some of them could have been speaking metaphorically, but my issue is with the literal claim of gods creating universes and physical laws. It takes the causal chain and tries to attach a link that is neither testable nor falsifiable. No matter what the intentions of the scientists involved, postulating gods as creators of universes and physical laws amounts to proposing hypotheses about how those things came to be. Elsewhere I’ve had believers say that science is only about the how and not about the why. But “why” is simply a restatement of “how.”

    Actually, it takes the causal chain and tries to hang it on something. That something is not testable, nor falsifiable, because that isn’t the point. There is more to knowledge than causality.

  • lonespark

    I think religion, on its face, is a good thing, by which I refer include faith based religions, “spirituality” and a whole host of other things. Maybe even civic religion (by which I refer to ritualized patriotism). I mean, religion can be, and often is, a bad thing, but I’m suggesting that if we could ever boil down to an essential generic, religion, it would be benign, and slightly pleasant.
    Well I don’t agree. I do think that religion/spirituality/faith/folklore/etc. is an important thing, and not, on balance, a bad one. A vital human thing (not to every human, but to humanity). I disagree with the tendency of many religious people to define spirituality and religion as the better angels of human and/or divine nature.
    Good is good. The divine isn’t good or evil. The divine is everything. Therefore religion is everything, too.
    But clearly that springs from/feeds into my religious beliefs and practices, and Christians especially tend to see it differently. I feel like the entirety of human religious experience supports me more than it does them, and they often feel like the development of humanity supports them, and I wouldn’t mind them being right on that, I just don’t see it.

  • redcrow

    >>>I can’t believ it took me the entire commute to realize I typed “Moses” where I meant “Noah.”
    Then Pharaoh’s daughter went down to the Nile to bathe and saw the Ark among the reeds…

  • K.Chen

    Lonespark,
    I’m not sure if we disagree on this point, but I don’t see religion as necessarily having anything to do with the divine. It certainly frequently serves as a bridge of some sort between the human and the divine, but not always.

    Good is good. The divine isn’t good or evil. The divine is everything. Therefore religion is everything, too.
    I think if you look at it that way, the universe is very flat – and Good and Evil are not things that humans recognize, but something we’ve merely created. I’m not suggesting you need to buy into the monotheistic benevolence, but some sort of platonic universe seems necessary to give morality any satisfying substance.
    And, I think it honestly makes more sense to think of the divine, or the universe, or anything, as good. And evil, as a departure, corruption, aberration, of or within good. It seems like this is an underlying theme of many religions, and human experiences.

  • sophia8

    Bah ! Too easy. Marx/Lenin is not bad, but how about Engels/Krupskaya, or even Krupskaya/Uliyanova ? Bam !

    I’m thinking Ayn Rand/Emma Goldman…..

  • K.Chen: That definitely wasn’t where I was going. I think religion, on its face, is a good thing, by which I refer include faith based religions, “spirituality” and a whole host of other things. Maybe even civic religion (by which I refer to ritualized patriotism). I mean, religion can be, and often is, a bad thing, but I’m suggesting that if we could ever boil down to an essential generic, religion, it would be benign, and slightly pleasant.
    How would you suggest it would be even remotely possible to “boil down” the religions of the world into one generic religion? How many of their core beliefs do you think Christians, Jews, Muslims, Wiccans, Hindus, and Buddhists (to name only a very few) would be willing to give up in order to find a “benign, and slightly pleasant” middle ground?
    The relationship thing was more of an attempt to get at an example of what religion can do – Christianity, in specific, focuses attention on relationships a human being has as a transforming device. Do we need Christianity to have relationships? No. My apologia, as it were, seeks something more minimal – merely that religion is useful.
    Christianity has many foci, depending very much on the individual practitioner and hir interpretation of the Bible. Some branches of Christianity have a special focus on the “relationship” with Jesus, and some of those use that relationship as a springboard for dealing with other relationships. Once again, you are trying to find a great deal of common ground where very little exists.
    On the question of religion being useful: please name a real benefit, derived from religion, which you cannot obtain by secular means.
    If I get where this back and forth about the “answer” is going, what I’m saying is that you’re focusing too much on a very limited set of questions. Scientific questions of “how and when was the world created” and a half dozen philosophical ones on the end of life and morality. Religion, and most religions I know of, seek and do a great deal more.
    And you are focusing on a limited answer–a genera-religion which will result in “vague pleasantness,” but which has nothing to it. By stripping religions of their core beliefs to find only the “good” parts, you are effectively stripping the word “religion” itself of all real meaning.

  • lonespark

    redcrow,
    perhaps I am just flustered over trying to get Sexy Young Joe (Stalin) out of my head.

  • J

    *The problem is not religion, its people.*
    No. The problem is religion and religious people.
    *We have to become more mature about how we handle religion…”
    Yes.
    *…but we’d be far worse off without it.*
    No.

  • hapax

    I would ask you to tell us this again when you have found the meaning of “a living, breathing truth” that all religions can agree upon.
    Well, that’s the thing. It depends if you see religions as a set of doctrines to which one gives assent — in which case, fat chance of getting agreement — or a set of basic orientations in how you should look at life and choose to live it — in which I think there is more consensus than you might think.

  • Fraser

    Ruby: “How would you suggest it would be even remotely possible to “boil down” the religions of the world into one generic religion? How many of their core beliefs do you think Christians, Jews, Muslims, Wiccans, Hindus, and Buddhists (to name only a very few) would be willing to give up in order to find a “benign, and slightly pleasant” middle ground?”
    Well, Nicolai Carpathia managed it just fine, didn’t he?

  • lonespark

    Hmmm. Thinky-think.
    I’m not sure if we disagree on this point, but I don’t see religion as necessarily having anything to do with the divine. It certainly frequently serves as a bridge of some sort between the human and the divine, but not always.
    Huh. Then how would you define religion? I’m not saying gods or spirits or whatever actually have to act in some way for religion to function. But I do think it tends the be an expression of human concepts of…ok, “the numinous” might be a better way of putting it.
    I think if you look at it that way, the universe is very flat – and Good and Evil are not things that humans recognize, but something we’ve merely created.
    Are you saying good and evil exist independent of beings (generally human for our purposes) to perceive/define them? Cuz I don’t think I really agree with that.
    And, I think it honestly makes more sense to think of the divine, or the universe, or anything, as good.
    In the sense that the existence of the universe and life are way better than the alternative, I agree.
    And evil, as a departure, corruption, aberration, of or within good.
    Um. Noooo, I guess I mostly don’t agree with that. But I don’t particularly believe in Evil as such. More like That Which Is Not Desirable From My Standpoint such as the invitable end the world and forces that might bring it about.
    I absolutely believe in unconsionable, despicable, and yes, evil acts that can be performed by humans and perhaps by gods and must be opposed. But there’s no Repository of Evil or something. Evil actions (by people) do seem to defy the best high purpose of beings like humans, but I don’t see it as corruption since I have no indication that humans ever acted much differently.

  • lonespark

    Sophia, you win a…something, for putting “Emma Goldman” in a sentence that makes me want to claw out my eyes. (I might read it, but it’d have to be an author I really respect.)

  • lonespark

    Noooooo!!!!!!!!

  • lonespark

    Life with Typepad is pain!

  • Fraser: Well, Nicolai Carpathia managed it just fine, didn’t he?
    My point exactly. ;)

  • lonespark

    How would you suggest it would be even remotely possible to “boil down” the religions of the world into one generic religion?
    I’m gonna go out on a very stout limb here and say K. Chen will be a lot better at doing this than Nicolae Carpathia.

  • lonespark

    On the question of religion being useful: please name a real benefit, derived from religion, which you cannot obtain by secular means.

    Why would that be necessary? Why can’t religion be useful without being the only thing that is?
    I love riding my bike, but sometimes it’s better to drive a car, and some people hate bikes, etc. etc.

  • redcrow

    I see dead italics…

    And I can’t blame young Stalin for their appearance.

  • hapax

    I’m gonna go out on a very stout limb here and say K. Chen will be a lot better at doing this than Nicolae Carpathia.

    But would he be willing to ride the pig?
    (P.S. Add me to the group who, despite my frustrations with K.Chen on t’other thread, finds his observations provocative and interesting on this one)

  • hapax: But would he be willing to ride the pig?
    Only if he can fit his fist into one of the pig’s nostrils…

  • redcrow

    Flare your nostrils, piggy/We’re gonna ride tonight/We’ve got freaks to the left/They’ve got jerks to the right…

  • lonespark

    Also, when it comes to Jack Black as Christ figure, I kinda prefer Jeepers Creepers, Semi-Star to Prop 8 The Musical.

  • lonespark

    Augh, wrong thread!

  • Tonio

    Religion is useful for driving the curiosity about the natural world – to pierce past the surface questions of what, when and how, and ask questions about why, and should.
    But “why” in that content is based on the assumption that events require agency.
    Actually, it takes the causal chain and tries to hang it on something. That something is not testable, nor falsifiable, because that isn’t the point. There is more to knowledge than causality.
    How so? What is the point of trying to hang the causal chain on that something? It doesn’t add to the hypothesis, since the observable data would be the same with or without the something. My point is about knowledge about the universe, not knowledge about human concepts and values.

  • Tonio

    And regarding Gould’s concept of NOMA, he didn’t take into account that many religions do make claims about the universe. I would revise NOMA to define religion’s magisterium to exclude anything about the universe, to focus solely on human concepts and human values. Any claim that supernatural beings cause events to happen amounts to religion intruding on science’s magisterium.

  • K.Chen

    How would you suggest it would be even remotely possible to “boil down” the religions of the world into one generic religion? How many of their core beliefs do you think Christians, Jews, Muslims, Wiccans, Hindus, and Buddhists (to name only a very few) would be willing to give up in order to find a “benign, and slightly pleasant” middle ground?

    Dear God no. Trying to find essential religion is an academic exercise and occasionally useful for ecumenical outreach, but it will not replace the existing religions. Anyone who tells you they know exactly what that substance is should be greeted with intense skepticism and with your hand protecting your wallet. Since I’m being asked to put on my best anti-christ hat, what we’re actually doing is comparing religion to anti-religion. You can swing towards OWR by saying the differences that religions have are simply the equivilent of personality quirks. They are all blindfolded with multicolored semi transparent cloth, in a randomly lit room, shackled to their seat, placed in different positions in a circle around an irregular, four dimensional object in the center of the room, which they have been asked to describe. The differences are those of perspective, and (here’s the OWR twist) enhanced communication between groups will lead to greater description of the object in the center.
    Hapax brings up a good point as well:

    Well, that’s the thing. It depends if you see religions as a set of doctrines to which one gives assent — in which case, fat chance of getting agreement — or a set of basic orientations in how you should look at life and choose to live it — in which I think there is more consensus than you might think.

    Which I will unsubtle use to spring to my next point.

    And you are focusing on a limited answer–a genera-religion which will result in “vague pleasantness,” but which has nothing to it. By stripping religions of their core beliefs to find only the “good” parts, you are effectively stripping the word “religion” itself of all real meaning.

    If you boil down religion to its essentials, and try to discard the rest of it as mere quirks like my anti-christ imitation above did, you’re actually throwing away the good parts. Religion is a sort of orientation, positioning the self relative to Something Else Out There (or In Here, as it were). From that orientation springs a great deal of things, many of them good, some of them not so good as they dovetail into Us and Other mentalities that somehow end in acrimony and bloodshed.

    On the question of religion being useful: please name a real benefit, derived from religion, which you cannot obtain by secular means

    Thats the wrong question by several strains of analysis.
    First, you want to look at it on a personal level. Pretending for a moment that religion is something could be disentangled from someone’s personality completely without any damage (unlikely, but lets go with it) the question is not whether a person COULD seek science As a collary, unless we pierce the Rawlsian veil of ignorance (I think I’m alluding correctly here, an actual professional philosopher might want to correct me) we’re in a significant amount of trouble actually trying to sort out how much religion we want.
    Then, you start adding in a marginal cost analysis: how much more effort does it take for secular means to inspire and get to a good than it takes religious means? Perhaps the religious means are more efficient?
    Then, and I apologize for the continued economics, you have a barrier of entry problem. Is there a certain threshold of circumstances where non-religion can be successfully sustained? The course of history strongly correlates to that proposition.
    It isn’t a coincidence by the way that the current strong blend of scientific methodology and atheism (the so called new atheism) A. grew out of where Christendom used to stand and B. Is in places where prosperity is fairly wide spread. Its easy to say you can be led to good morality and ethics and a love of the truth where you’re in a culture that has been steeped in certain interpretations of those concepts for a long time and you’ve been given great education and you, and most people you know, are well fed and reasonably happy. Being able to look at religion at arms length, is, in many ways, is a luxury of wealth that we have. I haven’t explained this paragraph’s conclusions particularly well, I’ll try to expand on it if requested.

  • lonespark

    Many windows, one light…or not.

  • Jason

    @lonespark-
    Why would that be necessary? Why can’t religion be useful without being the only thing that is?
    yes, this exactly! Religion is useful and meaningful for a large number of people who don’t try to impose it on others or use it to oppress others. If we get the same meaning and happiness from religion that you get from a secular equivalent, why should it matter as long as I’m not trying to impose my way on you? We are 2 different people.
    My good friend and I both grew up playing video games in the 80’s. I personally am a big fan of Super Mario Bros. He likes Sonic the Hedgehog, which I think is a fairly mediocre game. I don’t believe that Sonic games should be eliminated and everyone should be forced to play Mario, just because Mario more fun personally for me.
    @hapax-
    Well, that’s the thing. It depends if you see religions as a set of doctrines to which one gives assent — in which case, fat chance of getting agreement — or a set of basic orientations in how you should look at life and choose to live it — in which I think there is more consensus than you might think.
    Interfaith groups and organizations are getting more and more common these days as are those bumperstickers that say “coexist” with the different letters representing symbols of different world religions. I agree.
    @J-
    Ok, we get it. When you were in 3rd grade some Baptist kid knocked you down and took your cookie on the playground. No need to take out your hostility on all of us. If you are going to post stupid crap like this either a) back up what you have to say with some sort of verifiable fact b) actually engage people in arguments rather than disappearing like a snivelling little coward whenever people call you on it or c) only post on topics that don’t have to do religion, because you seem to actually have intelligent things to say then.
    If you can’t do one of those 3, then please either go the hell away or become even more damn obnoxious so that Fred finally has to ban you, because I’m tired of seeing your noxious shit.

  • lonespark

    Being able to look at religion at arms length, is, in many ways, is a luxury that we have.
    I’m not sure I’d call it luxury, since that seems to imply that it’s more desirable, rather than just different, but yes. Religion as a belief system separate from the entirety of the cultural environment is not the way a lot of peoples view it. I know traditionalists and reconstructionists who call their religious practices “folksways,” “lifeways” or similar, as well as devout practitioners of Native American traditions who identify as atheists because they don’t believe in anything most Americans would recognize as God.
    And that’s related to the holistic “good parts” you mention above…when I joined my church I said my favorite thing about religion is the holidays and food. And not just my religions. Everybody’s. Pluralism is a wonderful thing, but it would be diminshed be if religions lost their very specific attributes.

  • lonespark

    Jason, there’s no need to feed trolls. Even part-time trolls.

  • lonespark

    Also, I recommend Street Prophets (streetprophets.com) in general, but the top front-page post right now is especially awesome, telling the story of the outstanding life and career of Opechancanaugh, uncle of Pocahontas.

  • K.Chen

    Huh. Then how would you define religion? I’m not saying gods or spirits or whatever actually have to act in some way for religion to function. But I do think it tends the be an expression of human concepts of…ok, “the numinous” might be a better way of putting it.

    A functional definition would be an orientation of the individual towards non material questions. That is, not “where will I get food” or even “was it ok for me to kill that rabbit to eat it” but “what is the relative place in the world between I, and the rabbit?” Religion encompasses the whole of those sorts of questions. A particular person’s religion(s) in specific, defines the general boundaries of those inquiries.
    I’m not entirely sure I like that actually. I may come back with something bettter.

    Are you saying good and evil exist independent of beings (generally human for our purposes) to perceive/define them? Cuz I don’t think I really agree with that.

    I believe there is some sort of objective component, yes, but I’m not sure if its proper to say good and evil exist without moral beings. I would paint it the same way you divide the mind and body. I’m certain that if my brain is destroyed, my mind is, for all purposes on any conceivable existence, gone. Yet, it seems that it, in some way, my mind exists beyond merely my brain.
    Another way of thinking about it (which I don’t like, for reasons I’ll get to) is that Good and Evil are like magnetic poles. Now, last I checked, you can’t dig up the pole anywhere, but it exists none the less. An inevitable emergent feature.
    So, I don’t believe it exists out there in the universe like a photon does (although, sometimes I’m not sure photons exist. Quantum physics is confusing) but I am saying there is something more than merely our machinations involved in good and evil.

    I absolutely believe in unconsionable, despicable, and yes, evil acts that can be performed by humans and perhaps by gods and must be opposed. But there’s no Repository of Evil or something. Evil actions (by people) do seem to defy the best high purpose of beings like humans, but I don’t see it as corruption since I have no indication that humans ever acted much differently.

    I dislike the magnetic pole analogy, because I think its misleading as to the nature of good and evil, so I’ll answer this point with a better analogy. When someone does something horrible, we have two immediate reactions: A. That’s horrible! Its inhuman. B. Thats horrible! Why are humans so horrible?
    At least, I go through that. YMMV. What that language reveals (but does not prove) is that humans think of ourselves in some way, as something good. Or at least, better than that. At the same time, we seem to despair and think of ourselves as innately horrible. (Which is a great point to launch into an original sin sermon, but I’m going somewhere slightly different)
    I’m saying that if you want to try to make any real, substantive sense of morality, you’re going to have to side with reaction A more than reaction B, and apply it to the universe writ large. [Most] Christians [that this audience is likley to be familiar with] solve this issue by saying “God is Good, and he created Good Things and then Sin screwed it up.” That isn’t the only solution. Plato (or was it Aristotle, explaining Plato?) suggested that there was out there, somewhere ideals, and all things on this reality are mere shadows of the ideals. The Theravada Buddhist understanding of life as suffering intuited that there is something else, that this existence is lacking compared to. Granted, that something else sounds a lot like non-existence to me, but the theme is the same.

  • Mark Z.

    Ursula L: Young Earth Creationists. Absolutely reject the evidence in the world, in favor of a self-contradictory Biblical explanation of the origins of the world. Some self-identify as scientists. Many wish their beliefs to be taught as science, in addition to or instead of evidence based explanations of the origins of the universe. Any discrepancies between the world and the story are treated as a mystery, and any modification or interpretation of the story based on contradictory evidence is rejected.
    In my experience (which includes a few years of receiving science education from them), young-earth creationists don’t believe in mystery. The origin of the world isn’t a profound unanswerable question that demands that we approach in a spirit of humble contemplation. It’s an answered question. The answer has been known for thousands of years, and is actually kind of boring. And the discrepancies between the world and the story aren’t treated as a mystery either–they’re furiously explained away, which is not how one handles a sacred paradox.
    And in response to Bugmaster, yes, this is a problem with ideologues trying to do science. But it’s not the specifically religious nature of the ideology; it’s an extreme form of a problem that anyone has trying to do science, which is excessive attachment to the first explanation you’ve heard. We all do this, and it gets in the way when the evidence is pointing in a different direction. On the other hand, it keeps every scientific paper from having to start by establishing the laws of thermodynamics, which saves a lot of trees.

  • Jason

    @lonespark-
    Jason, there’s no need to feed trolls. Even part-time trolls.
    I don’t think he’s a troll, because half the time he engages in the conversation and posts intelligent things. Hell, even a couple of times he posted something I agreed with. He is capable of contributing to the conversation in a meaningful way and he has many times in the past. In fact, until a couple of days ago, I thought maybe he had changed his ways, because he had gone weeks without being rude.
    That’s worse than being a troll. Sorry, it doesn’t work that way. You can’t be a rude asshole when your the issue that presses your berserk button comes up, run away like a little coward when people call you on the bullshit that you post, and then come back and be civil and gracious when there’s a different topic. Not without at least apologizing and making some sort of effort not to do it again.

  • K.Chen

    You can top off the bottom half of my response to Ruby and replace it with Lonespark’s pithy comeback:

    Why would that be necessary? Why can’t religion be useful without being the only thing that is?

  • K.Chen: If you boil down religion to its essentials, and try to discard the rest of it as mere quirks like my anti-christ imitation above did, you’re actually throwing away the good parts. Religion is a sort of orientation, positioning the self relative to Something Else Out There (or In Here, as it were). From that orientation springs a great deal of things, many of them good, some of them not so good as they dovetail into Us and Other mentalities that somehow end in acrimony and bloodshed.
    In that case, you are directly contradicting your own previous assertion:
    I’m suggesting that if we could ever boil down to an essential generic, religion, it would be benign, and slightly pleasant

    First, you want to look at it on a personal level. Pretending for a moment that religion is something could be disentangled from someone’s personality completely without any damage (unlikely, but lets go with it) the question is not whether a person COULD seek science As a collary, unless we pierce the Rawlsian veil of ignorance (I think I’m alluding correctly here, an actual professional philosopher might want to correct me) we’re in a significant amount of trouble actually trying to sort out how much religion we want.
    Religion is something that can be disentangled from someone’s personality (or rather, perhaps, from their life, as I’m not sure we can describe “religion” as a “facet of personality”) without lasting damage. There are people on this very site who are living proof of that. It may be a difficult journey, but this can often be linked to the fact that most religious indoctrination begins at a very young age, not that a person disentangled from religion is damaged.
    Then, you start adding in a marginal cost analysis: how much more effort does it take for secular means to inspire and get to a good than it takes religious means? Perhaps the religious means are more efficient?
    If we’re going to talk about cost and means, then perhaps we should consider the fact that religion needs to add terms to the equation (god(s), unsolvable mystery, sin, salvation, reward, punishment) in order to inspire in the first place. This seems remarkably inefficient.
    It isn’t a coincidence by the way that the current strong blend of scientific methodology and atheism (the so called new atheism) A. grew out of where Christendom used to stand and B. Is in places where prosperity is fairly wide spread. Its easy to say you can be led to good morality and ethics and a love of the truth where you’re in a culture that has been steeped in certain interpretations of those concepts for a long time and you’ve been given great education and you, and most people you know, are well fed and reasonably happy. Being able to look at religion at arms length, is, in many ways, is a luxury of wealth that we have. I haven’t explained this paragraph’s conclusions particularly well, I’ll try to expand on it if requested.
    Indeed, you have not. Are you trying to say that Christianity is responsible for the scientific method? Are you once again conflating Christianity and religion in general as the means of achieving a prosperous society?
    Indeed, in a prosperous society, we have the luxury of examining religion at arm’s length. The same can be said for philosophy, art, politics, etc. We are free to engage in a wide variety of intellectual activities when our days are not spent solely in the pursuit of food, water, and shelter.

  • Jason: yes, this exactly! Religion is useful and meaningful for a large number of people who don’t try to impose it on others or use it to oppress others. If we get the same meaning and happiness from religion that you get from a secular equivalent, why should it matter as long as I’m not trying to impose my way on you? We are 2 different people.
    My good friend and I both grew up playing video games in the 80’s. I personally am a big fan of Super Mario Bros. He likes Sonic the Hedgehog, which I think is a fairly mediocre game. I don’t believe that Sonic games should be eliminated and everyone should be forced to play Mario, just because Mario more fun personally for me.

    If we’re going to reduce religion to merely a matter of opinion, on the same level as favorite video game or flavor of ice cream, then that sounds lovely.

  • lonespark

    It may be a difficult journey, but this can often be linked to the fact that most religious indoctrination begins at a very young age, not that a person disentangled from religion is damaged.
    B.S.
    People do indeed change what they believe. They can go away from something that doesn’t make sense to them. Toward something that makes more sense to them, or both.
    Many (most) people’s worldviews can’t be disentangled from their essential personalities. That’s why not everyone raised in the same religious, political, cultural, etc. setting continues to believe the same thing, and even if they do, the whole family/church/party doesn’t believe the same basic things in the same way.
    I really don’t see where any of us said anything that invited this kind of “atheism is more involved and better for humans” proselytizing.

  • K.Chen

    …in favor of a self-contradictory Biblical explanation of the origins of the world…

    I’m sure someone else has said it already, but its also not particularly Biblical so much as “Biblical”

    In my experience (which includes a few years of receiving science education from them), young-earth creationists don’t believe in mystery. The origin of the world isn’t a profound unanswerable question that demands that we approach in a spirit of humble contemplation. It’s an answered question. The answer has been known for thousands of years, and is actually kind of boring. And the discrepancies between the world and the story aren’t treated as a mystery either–they’re furiously explained away, which is not how one handles a sacred paradox.

    My experience as well, with the exception that I find the creation of the world pretty damn neat. On a less scientific bent, there is a rather large difference between a Christian (and I presume, Jew, and Muslim, I’m just not familiar enough with the permutations to speak confidently) who is honestly struggling with the Problem of Evil, and a Christian who just jumps up and goes: “haha! FREE WILL! I WIN!”
    Honest moment, I was that kid in middle school, though I was an atheist at the time.

  • Jason

    @Ruby-
    If we’re going to reduce religion to merely a matter of opinion, on the same level as favorite video game or flavor of ice cream, then that sounds lovely.
    No, life philosophies are in no way as trivial as favorite video games, but the point was you are an atheist. It works for you. I’m a Christian. It works for me. Why should you care that I’m a Christian?

  • lonespark

    If you boil down religion to its essentials, and try to discard the rest of it as mere quirks like my anti-christ imitation above did, you’re actually throwing away the good parts.
    ***
    I’m suggesting that if we could ever boil down to an essential generic, religion, it would be benign, and slightly pleasant

    I don’t think these things do contradict each other. K. Chen defines the common essence of religious life differently than I do, but we both agree that that “boiled down” common essence is not the main thing that makes religion useful or meaningful.

  • lonespark

    If we’re going to reduce religion to merely a matter of opinion, on the same level as favorite video game or flavor of ice cream, then that sounds lovely.
    I think we could pass that motion here. But some people are really, really devoted to their favorite games.
    Or rather, no, I think it’s not “merely a matter of opinion.” It’s a matter of conviction, of conscience, as important as any system of values that can link or divide people.

  • lonespark

    evolved, not involved.
    Must be time for lunch.

  • BBKing2127

    First!
    (2 years later)