Yes, and then again, no. It is one central, crucial concept in Christianity that I find abhorrent, anti-hominid, and an abomination unto MY lord, DNA-nature-reason. In words attributed to a supernormal spiritual advisor, the late Aleister Crowley wrote, "The word of sin is restriction." In his case, he may have had Victorian morality in mind, but he made a point. The Superman envisioned by Nietzsche (one of Crowley's gnostic saints, after all) is perhaps nothing but a rehashing of Taoism's Superior Man (Crowley was a Taoist as well) "worships" reason and fact over superstition and myth. But both men excoriated Christian morality. Once one accepts dogma as truth, one capitulates to antiquated, presentist impositions of restriction -- strictures. But the problem with "sin" does not end there.
Sin is the child of guilt. I write on learning that Matthew Warren, son of Rick, has died of his own hand. The Warren camp is closing ranks, telling the press that his son, Matthew, died of mental illness. The word tossed around is "depression," in itself ridiculous because depressed people don't ordinarily commit suicide, while seriously, chronically depressed people are hard to distinguish from bipolar syndrome, and a minimum of six months is required before any clinical psychiatrist worth her salt pronounces the specific character of the mental illness. The Warrens have told us nothing. Frankly, I should imagine that poor Matthew simply caved under the heavy burden of so much guilt. He could never measure up to Rick. That was a monumental task. Herculean. Sisyphian. But the Matthew we are not being told about probably saw the gargantuan hypocrisy of Rick Warren and could no longer tolerate it.
"Sin" presumes dogmatic wrong. It makes no room soever for individual drives and essential orientations. One is automatically a sinner for eating pork or shellfish; one must rest on the seventh day as God did and go to church; one must not go in public without a burka. The list is endless and, as Yogi might say, it never ceases. Mosheh's code, the Decalogue, is allowed on courthouse grounds because it is not a statement of Judeo-Christian morality but an illustration of the basis of almost all Western law, the principles on which our own American law was founded. And it is, indeed! All of our law, with codified exceptions, is based on much of the Top Ten shalt not's. People revile Crowley partly because of his personal habits and behavior, but also partially because they misunderstand his message. He was full aware that his "Holy Guardian Angel" was in reality his moral compass, his subconscious mind: he had no right not to become a heroin-addicted debauchee. This was his "True Will" (i.e. his personal essence, the "spirit" understood by Sir Richard Burton when he wrote, "He noblest lives and dies who keeps his self-made laws").
Free-thinkers and atheists have muchin common with all three men. Facing reality, the atheist has no bogey man to prick him with a fork, nor supernormal "lord" to reign him in when he errs, and when he fails, the atheist has no God to apologize to, certainly not to "His" "representatives on earth," The Priesthood, purveyors of poppycock and champions of confidence games played by wolves in sheeps' clothing preying on the sheep. These cowards sell imaginary "remission" and "God's" forgiveness, thriving on human weakness and guilt. The Priesthood is a cabal of confidence men who sell myth and superstition as if it were truth, then de-shekel the suckers to build McMansions with air conditioned dog houses. (Now that the televangelist scandals appear to be abating, the lifestyles of the rich and famous megachurchmen are going to be the next wave.)
The worst aspect of religion is that it discourages responsible independent thinking and choosing in favor of adherence to a fixed point of view and a rigid moral code, removing the principal way in which individuals advance ethically. Regardless of how good that code may be, holding to it without ever questioning its tenets blocks individual development.
Very succinctly put. Let me add to that the discomfort that comes into the pit of my stomach when I hear a parent with parent-child legal problems tell me that they presently or in futuro plan to put their pairs of patting feet into what is euphemistically called "home schooling." Our public schools are democratic institutions, and it strikes me as terribly, tragically ironic that "public schooling" is typically lambasted by conservatives even as they vote to cut off funds for public school teachers and maintain such a stupid, misguided curriculum that stamps out ignoramus cyphers of thinking people with education. I am glad I am among the last generations to get a good public schooling, but there are reasons why parents home school. Sometimes they are religious fanatics who see public schools as temples of the devil: a man called Charles Darwin. But of course in some parts of the nation it is not merely anti-critical thinking, it's also anti-black, brown, and yellow.
The central element of the Christian religion is obedience to the (presumed) word of God and since there is no word of God in actuality, this demand is converted into obedience to the church. Christians are encouraged to submit their lives completely to Jesus Christ, to surrender their independence, to sacrifice their own desires to the demands of religion, to make religion the most important facet of life. They view anyone who dissents from this as "rebellious" and "willful."
I don't think that we can forget that a lot of these people are victims, too. They've been indoctrinated this way from birth. That's why I am such a big fan of the atheist bus campaign, billboard campaign and so forth. We can appeal to those who may be questioning religious belief in an indirect way to let them know that they are not alone.
To your last point, Dr. Clark, I agree with you. Is our enemy not the ideas that are ingrained in their minds, and not the believers themselves?
Aaron, at the moment, there is no active acrimonious conflict between atheists and believers, at least not in the US. Personally, I am not convinced that, given the continuing decline in influence which religion in general and christianity in particular are experiencing, that will continue to be the case. A telling example to me is the current attitude by many muslims who want to take violent action against those who revile or mock their religion. That trend hasn't made it to the United States yet, but I am not willing to dismiss the possibility of its happening out of hand.
I am perfectly willing to respect a believer to the degree that he or she respects me. Their beliefs get no rhythm, PERIOD ... and if they want to take their anger, regardless of its source, out on me or mine, it will be my focused purpose to make them sorry they did, whether that involves calling the police or resorting to my own devices.
The last line is somewhat redolent of the late Anton Szandor LaVey, who influenced my thinking in such matters. LaVey preached that if one literally turns the other cheek, a religious freak will slap that one, too. I thought LaVey a bit of a charlatan, but actually he was in a line of crazy gurus like Crowley, like Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. They tried to cut through the believer bullshit and realize that there is no difference between a turd and a bar of chocolate. (Crowley said something similar.) This may be tantric in origins, but tantrism is probably not quite so inconsistent with atheism as some might suppose. What is the difference between, say, Zeus, and, say, Jesus. No thing. Rajneesh: He had his rich followers buy him a Rolls Royce...after he had accumulated several of them. He knew the value of a dollar. Do you think maybe he was separated at birth from (or actually was, in makeup) Donald Sutherland?
Of course. Just because someone differs in his beliefs he is not an enemy.
One thing children learn at an early age—three or four in most cases—is that different minds hold different information and different views. In that sense it should be seen as a sign of mental progress when a child first tries to lie.
The lesson is expanded and reinforced when the child goes out of the home to school and encounters others with different religious and political beliefs. It is a lesson that for many is never fully assimilated and they will even arrive at college with the notion that their ingrained beliefs are naturally superior to others.
A study of this phenomenon was made a long time ago (1970) by William Perry, head of the Harvard Bureau of Study Counsel. He tried to discover why some students have such great difficulty in their studies and one answer was adherence to rigid beliefs. It was not the beliefs themselves, but the way in which they were held that made their path difficult. The Perry scheme has held on as an explanation for over forty years now.
I figured that we would be harmonious on that point, Dr. Clark. And I will try to remember to reference that study in the future. The situation you described in your second paragraph is much like what I encountered in college. I think I heard one man make every debunked creationist claim I've heard to date over the course of one semester. This was in a Controversial Issues class and even though I was the only atheist in a class of about twenty-five, I found the majority of the class agreeing with my points of view. My points were not only on science, but on morality and reason as well. I was pleasantly surprised.
I'd like to invite all participating here to my discussion "The moral failure of western religion and why eastern religion is no better." Check it out when you have time.
As you well know, the first tenet of Islam is submission. I have always thought that the lands where that religion predominates never seem to fully realize their potential and that their exposure to the West, and capitalism (including the charging of interest on loans) is so repugnant because the poor in those lands cannot see that their hands are tied by their own beliefs. The situation is nicely satirized by the presumably Christian Robert Bolt, who wrote the screenplay for Lawrence of Arabia (with borrowings from Seven Pillars of Wisdom, of course). In the magnificent movie, Lawrence of Arabia, Omar Shariff as a cocky young prince tells L-Aw-rence "it is written" when some insurmountable obstacle (the Nefud Desert as I recall) lies before them and Allah will not allow them to go on. To which Peter O'Toole as Lawrence replies: "It is NOT written." (Of course, this is blasphemy.) If any exchange won the Oscars for both men that year, I suspect it was this one. But the point is this: when you can excuse your faintness of heart on some metaphysical friend in the sky, you eventually think that every misfortune you encounter was fore-ordained by someone called Allah. What is the difference between that and the Christian slogan, "God works in mysterious ways." Excuses, excuses. It never occurs to them to get off their fucking knees and start walking toward any goal you set for yourself. There is no god but Man.
hmmm yes but it's not just sin. Sin is necessary for xtianity's particular salvific theology, which goes back to it being a death cult where a human sacrifice atones for everyone's sin.
Christianity derives its value from death, non reality and non being rather than life and nature, reality, being. It is fundamentally Platonic. It is THIS error that Nietzche abhorred about it. This explains how he thought of Jesus as a type of Superman even as he hated the Pauline School's version of Christianity.
Also, don't forget that Nietzche said that after Epicurus, Western thought only degenerated. Epicurus' enemies were the Platonists, the people who believed in 'essences' of things that weren't there, who had a wrong view of reality. Epicurus' salvation was a salvation from fear based religions, whether sin and guilt was a major theme or not. The first of the four remedies in the Tetrapharmakon is 'do not fear the gods', the second is 'do not fear death'. In other words, don't fear non-being, non-reality. The whole of Epicurean theory of happiness and doctrine is meant to protect our minds from Platonic false beliefs.
Notice that the Overman is defined as an intellectual hero who creates meaning and value in this world, he IS the meaning of this world. Epicurus is a type of Overman because his hedonism is based on his early theory of natural selection and how, by paying attention to our pleasure principle, we can know how our ancestors survived. Pleasure leads us to that which helped our ancestors to survive, which is pleasurable. And so the values are biological, the Epicurean ethics are rooted in life, in reality, in biology.
Super comment, thanks! Now, I finally understand what my intellectual friend in Washington State meant when he commented on the Platonic nature of Christianity, though you take it further, showing how Stoicism is exactly opposite in critical ways. Nietzsche is difficult for me. It is not just that his writing is framed in a kind of archaic language; his ideas are so complex I am never prepared to decipher finer meanings. You help plenty.