Second Generation of
Europe's Dawn of Reason
My name is Cassandra Reed and I'm 16 years old. I was born in England to atheist parents, and I realise now how lucky I am to have been born to non-superstitious people. I'm homeschooled, since my parents believe that most schools teach people to conform and join a herd, and they don't want me or my sister to be part of any herds. They want us to think for ourselves. As part of this week's homework I had to look up some websites maintained by atheists, and I happened upon yours.
I enjoy learning about myths, since they are fun. I like learning about the pantheons, the different gods and the legends and myths associated with them. Some of them are very saucy indeed! I'm now learning about the Christ Myth and the striking parallels between the story of this character and those of other characters in other pantheons (such as Mithras and Dionysus). I've also learnt about what may very well be the origins of the Christ and Christ-like myths: the superstitions of the early humans, who saw animals die and then apparently come back in the spring (I suppose a bear always looks like another bear, and a wolf like another wolf, and so forth, and they thought they were the same animal reincarnated). The animals gave their life for the good of the community (or so these people thought), and so they were revered, because with their blood they brought life to the community. But they didn't die; they resurrected, just like the Christ character.
What I don't like is how people today, with all the science that's lying about,* can still hang on to these myths as if they were reality. My theory is they can't reason, for if they could, they'd see that the Bible and other books are just stories, just like Hansel and Gretel and other tales. They're good for entertainment, and they may teach something, but they're not about anybody real. One might as well worship Harry Potter. One thing that upsets me is the intolerance. If these religions are supposed to come from an all-loving being, why then are those books filled with hatred for those who are different? And why do they hate women so much? Everyone has a mum, so I don't see why one should hate the women so, for without them, nobody would be around. I think religion is entirely unnecessary. Ethics is what keeps society working. Without gods, we still have ethics, and we come to the same conclusions: killing is wrong, stealing is wrong, lying is wrong, etc. We don't need some messiah to tell us that, and we don't need any temples or religious organisations to tell us how to behave. We can come to the same conclusions by using reason, but apparently that's about as common as unicorns. [*Note: An American teen might say, "...with science all over the place..." or something similar; the word "lying," here, does not refer to falsehood as some might suspect.]
I think religious people are afraid. They fear that they will be punished and sent to some ugly place full of demons and fire. Let's face it, this is really ridiculous. When we die, we die. We don't come back. There are no consequences, even for evil people. Sure, there's prison, but no consequences after death. Ethical behaviour is what keeps us, or should keep us, on the straight and narrow, and not the fear of thunder and lightning and devils with forks.
I'm a bit partial to the character of the Devil in the writings of the world religions. He seems to me to represent reason ,or at least someone who makes us think. He is the adversary, the person who gives us a different point of view. From a literary point of view, he's the one who keeps the hero from making silly mistakes, because he presents alternatives.
I think people in America are rather foolish. They have this amazing Constitution that gives them freedom of and from religion, and they have separation of church and state. If people want to be stupid and worship imaginary beings, I say let them, but why should everyone have to pay for that? Nowadays it seems to me the Americans, or at least a goodly number of them, want to bring the church into everything. Haven't they learnt anything from history? Bringing the church into a person's affairs has never paid off. As long as we all respect the social contract we should all be good citizens. Prayer and worship don't improve things. They usually make them worse: just look at all those priests who abuse children.
Religion is like chains. It ties people up and tries to force them to live up to unreasonable, contradictory, and ridiculous standards. It breeds depression and guilt, and also anger. It creates zealots who smash into buildings and kill thousands and who hold the stupid idea that they will be rewarded with virgins, rivers of honey and wine. It creates zombies who are unable to think for themselves.
I found many atheist sites, and that made me think that maybe there's hope for humans as yet. I can only hope to see evolution at work and to see atheists carry their message across to the masses. But of course, in the midst of this hope comes something like Mr. Mel Gibson's new movie, which is a torture-fest about the life of an imaginary person, and I see that people rally round the flag, so to speak, and leave behind any traces of gray matter that may have inhabited their brains. Maybe it will take millenia to grow out of this childhood phase, this superstitious rut. Hopefully it will happen, and one day we will all be proud of our accomplishments and not give the credit to the invisible friend. Thanks for maintaining your site. It's like an oasis in the desert.
holding a candle for reason in London
From: "Positive Atheism
To: "Cassandra Reed"
Subject: Re: Mythology: Both Entertaining and Dangerous
Date: March 03, 2004
Thanks! This is most excellent!
The numbers from the City University New York study appear to be pointing toward the strong likelihood that America will follow Europe in her abandonment of the Abrahamic religion. Of all the "sects" (atheism not really being a sect -- but), atheism is growing the fastest both by percentages and by sheer numbers. I have made the observation, based upon the fact that atheism would be the third largest "sect" in the U.S. (behind the Baptists and the Roman Catholics), that if we were to have a rift of some kind and divided into two distinct "sects," those aged 30 and older versus adults under the age of 30, then the over-30 group would still be Number Three -- even without this substantial subset of our number! And we see just how substantial that subset is when we note that the newly formed "under-30" group would be in sixth place!
My theory is they can't reason, for if they could, they'd see that the Bible and other books are just stories, just like Hansel & Gretel and other tales.
My hypothesis is that they can reason in most areas of life, but many have been brainwashed from infancy to express loyalty to the Church at the cost of social ostracization. This conditioning, I think, produces a reflexive fear of any hint of dissenting from "The Creed."
In other words, there are two completely different parts of the brain at work, here, each running on two entirely different sets of values one, familial and loyal and the other working in a nuts-and-bolts world of direct observation.
It is also very possible for highly talented people to brainwash themselves as adults. For example, if I were to meet a wonderful Jewish woman whom I just couldn't live without, her father might insist that I go to Synagogue every Friday night to "prove" my half-hearted claim that I was "Jewish at heart" (made to placate him, of course: I want his daughter! Right!?). After months or years of this, after severing relations of the past and spending all my time with her (or at work, of course) and only cursory times with old relations, I could very easily succumb to the Hebrew faith's constant tugs at my loyalty. If all these elements of isolation, consolidation, repetition, and a strong motive are present, it's quite conceivable that I, Cliff Walker, might convert to Judaism!
I doubt it, but it is conceivable! It can happen if I am not careful. A scenario quite similar to this one has played out in my own life: I converted, basing the move very heavily on emotional reasons. The things people do are not always their first choices. We often find ourselves in situations wherein we simply grit our teeth and make the best of it.
More to the point, many of us simply take the word of the pastor (the religion's salesman, actually) and trust that his education and experience, being superior to ours, is trustworthy. Few if any American Christians have actually read the Bible beyond the select passages that the pastor reads from the pulpit and the select passages used in "devotional" videos and books. Of the handful who do venture beyond that, any time we read something that we don't understand (that is, that appears to contradict or otherwise go against what our pastor has told us to believe), we ignore it, justifying it on similar grounds as before:
The pastor knows best! This is the Word of God, which by definition cannot have any errors, contradictions, or discrepancies, so it must be my understanding that is flawed.
This line of reasoning can go quite far when combined with a powerful motive such as building or maintaining a family or, as only we Americans seem to understand, to avoid the stigma of being a questioner, a disbeliever, an atheist.
The most important observation I've made along these lines, however, is that not everybody holds the same set of values. Even though they will give flowing lip-service when asked, many people do not give truth a very high ranking in their list of moral priorities. My column, "On Truth And Credibility" is the result of my coming to terms with this fact.
Nevertheless, you have some clear and compelling answers to this question later on in your essay.
Positive Atheism Magazine
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people with no reason to believe
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THE GENERIC ATHEISTIC VIEW, IN ITS ENTIRETY:
"My conclusion is that there is no reason to
believe any of the dogmas of traditional
theology and, further, that there is no
reason to wish that they were true. Man,
in so far as he is not subject to natural
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The responsibility is his, and so is the
-- Bertrand Russell (1872-1970), from
"Is There a God?" (1952), being
the minimal religious opinion of
one-fifth of the World's and of
one-seventh of America's adults
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to such acts only as are injurious to others."
-- Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), from
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THE MEANS FOR MAINTAINING THAT LIBERTY URGED:
"They that can give up essential liberty to obtain
a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty
-- Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790), from
"Historical Review of Pennsylvania"
I like your point about the brainwashing believers get since infancy. I think people have a great capacity for self-brainwashing as well. A few months back I studied about groupthink, and I think its characteristics are also those of any religious group:
Having an illusion of invulnerability
Rationalizing poor decisions
Believing in the group's morality
Sharing stereotypes which guide the decision
Exercising direct pressure on others
Not expressing true feelings
Maintaining an illusion of unanimity
Using mindguards to protect the group from negative information
Most religions actively foster groupthink, and they also throw in guilt and implied threats of punishment for "non teamplayers." And in some cases, the punishments are very real. That lovely, peaceful Islamic religion includes such wholesome, bonding acts as severing of the hands for those who steal, or stoning for women who are accused of committing adultery (which apparently they do even if they're raped). Isn't god just brilliant?
For example, if I were to meet a wonderful Jewish woman whom I just couldn't live without, her father might insist that I go to Synagogue every Friday night to "prove" my half-hearted claim that I was "Jewish at heart" (made to placate him, of course: I want his daughter! Right!?)
My father always says you can make a bloke do absolutely anything if you add "and then you get to meet girls" at the end of the request. Of course, I know many girls who would dive head first into a bucket of cow dung if the boy they like says so. I think silliness is pretty evenly divided between the sexes.
Seriously, in a case such as the one you propose, wouldn't you feel, after your emotions had settled (say after a few years of marriage and whatnot), self-loathing for having gone against your principles? Or do you think you would indeed become so brainwashed that you would have a sort of mental breakdown and actually start believing all that twaddle?
I saw a documentary in which scientists made people have religious experiences (or in the case of some people, alien abduction experiences) simply by applying magnetic forces to the temporal lobes. The researchers wouldn't tell the subjects what the true purpose of the experiment was. You'd go into a booth and they'd stick some electrodes on your head, and a magnetic band. Then they'd start the whole thing and you'd see God or some X-Files type alien being and it'd seem very real to you. I thought all that was very illuminating. Religion is a sort of brain dysfunction!
After months or years of this, after severing relations of the past and spending all my time with her (or at work, of course) and only cursory times with old relations, I could very easily succumb to the Hebrew faith's constant tugs at my loyalty.
Sounds like what cults do. Isolation, repetition, control, etc. Frightening.But it sounds like you did experience something similar. That's just creepy.
Well, sorry to take up so much of your time. I can see by your site you're awfully busy! Thanks again for standing up for reason.