Hitler – The Last Refuge of a Theist

My childhood friend who was upset about my trashing of the bible as a source for moral authority has now commented on my Happy Darwin Day post:

Kerry D. Fitts commented on your post.
Kerry wrote: “don’t forget to credit Darwin with the nazi’s and the Holocaust Hitler was a big fan of darwin and his eugenics”

Ah, bringing up Hitler and the Nazis, the last refuge of scoundrels. Oh, wait, that is patriotism, we are talking about religion and science. We could apply Goodwin’s law, but I’m not sure that really applies. Still, dragging the Nazis into it is always bad form, unless you are discussing history.

I say to you, Kerry, that what hitler believed or promoted from his understanding of evolution is immaterial to wether Darwin or evolution is correct or bad.

Hitler also used Christianity and his Christian beliefs to justify almost everything about his regime. Check out these quotes by Hitler to find out just how prominent a role Hitler gave Christianity in his words and deeds.

Based on these copious quotes should I then say that Jesus and Christianity should be given credit for the Nazis and the holocaust as well? If anything, the prevailing Christian belief that the Jews were Christ killers is and was at the core of the anti-semitism that produced the horrors of the holocaust.

The fact that you seem to feel so threatened by a scientist and a scientific theory that you would stoop so low as playing the Nazi card shows me that you are deeply affected by cognitive dissonance caused by your religious beliefs. It is obviously pointless to continue discussing these topics with you as you are too entrenched in your dogma to make them productive.

Have I Read The Bible, Hell Yes! That’s Why I’m an Atheist!

A childhood friend on FB responded to my post, The Bible is the Literal Word of God; Except When Its Not. Here is what he said:

“have you read the Bible? or are you simply regurgitating ignorance from others? I have offered answers, yet I have not been taken up on this. Again, it is very irresponsible to propagate unsubstantiated opinions. Why this venom towards Christians and the Bible? If you wish to be an athiest be one, that is your right. Why the all out war on the belief of others. What is freethinking? Oh just freedom to think apart from responsibility and accountablity? Freedom from any form of religious thinking? Maybe free thinking should be folks who examine an issue and think for themselves. Not simply robots who cannot originate a though for themselves. Freethinking is a misnomer”

Yes, I’ve read the bible, cover to cover, at least twice, and many parts of it, the New Testament especially, many, many times over the years. It was this almost continual reading of the bible that made me see more and more contradictions that I just couldn’t rationalize away. Then I studied the history of the writing of the New Testament, how there were originally hundreds of gospels and competing camps of bishops supporting one version of the theology against the others. I learned about the political machinations that took place to arrive at the New Testament we have now. It was, totally and completely, cover to cover, created to fulfill political agendas of the most powerful bishops and the rulers who backed them.

Why do I have such venom toward the bible and the people who misuse it (I refuse to lump all Christians into one group as this would be irresponsible)? Ask Madeline Neumann, a 12-year-old girl whose parents, based on their religion, allowed her to die of diabetic ketoacidosis rather than save her life by allowing physicians to administer insulin and fluids. They thought prayer would save her. It didn’t. Ask the thousands of people who have been killed over the last 2000 years for their refusal to follow the prevailing version of Christianity. Ask the irresponsible ministers and political leaders who wish to brand homosexuals as immoral, second-class citizens. Ask the 156,000,000 women who’s reproductive organs are held hostage by a religiously motivated white, male, privileged class of cretins.

I wage an all out war on anything that conspires to take rights away from people. That includes holier-than-thou Christians, militant, closed minded Muslims, Zionistic Jews willing to steal and kill to get their land, white supremacists who wish to overthrow the U.S Government, wide-eyed, white, privileged Greenpeace and PETA people who would rater see millions starve and die of disease than allow GM foods and medicines tested on animals be developed that could save countless lives.

Christianity is my main focus because, almost without exception, all of the people in this country right now who would seek to take rights away from others self-identify as Christians and claim that their sense of morality comes from their religion. If things change and the largest group of privileged people in power become Muslims or Hindus or Wiccans, I’ll fight them just as loudly and forcefully.

I don’t claim to be able to tell people how to live their lives. As long as no one is being harmed, taken advantage of, or being forced either by law or by custom to kowtow to some group’s beliefs, then I say let people believe whatever they like. You can believe in God and Jesus, you can believe that Homosexuals will go to hell, but keep that belief within your churches and homes, don’t force it on others.

I don’t go door to door trying to get people not to believe in God. I don’t support any law that would outlaw any kind of religion or religious belief. I don’t lobby for my personal beliefs to be the law of the land, but don’t try to tell me that Christians aren’t doing that every day, in every town and state in the country. When the Christian majority (and yes, you are well over a 70% majority) tries to tell the rest of us what we can do and say and believe and think, then yes, I will fight for my rights and the rights of everyone else who are forced to listen to people tell us we are less American and less patriotic than they are because we don’t believe in their god. This country was founded on religious freedom (freedom for and from religion) and freedom of conscience, not on Christianity or any other religion. Yes, I will fight for that kicking and screaming, every fucking step of the way.

Living In The Real World Is Hard For An Idealist

I just finished watching Crimes and Misdemeanors by Woody Allen. I’d never seen it before, nor many of his other movies. The only ones I’ve seen before were Zelig and Sleeper, and those back in college.

A very dear friend of mine suggested to me that I watch the movie, which I watched on Netflix. She also mailed me Hannah and Her Sisters, Manhattan, and Annie Hall, which I plan on watching in short order. She said that she thought that the themes explored in these movies were the same that I explore here in this blog and after watching Crimes and Misdemeanors, I have to say that she was right.

What I found most compelling about the movie was the struggle that the main character, Judah, has with himself between his life long rejection of religion and superstition and the Jewish religion that his father raised him and his siblings in. As a youngster he questioned his father’s beliefs and as a man, he openly rejected them, but after he commits a terrible crime, he is racked with guilt to the point of a mental breakdown.

At the end of the movie, he is at a wedding reception talking to Cliff, the idealist and romantic, played by Woody Allen. Cliff is despondent over a lost love and sardonically say, thinking about his brother-in-law who got the woman Cliff was in love with, that he was contemplating murder. Judah, knowing that Cliff is an aspiring film director, tells him that he has this great plot for a movie about murder with a twist.

“And after the awful deed is done, he finds that he’s plagued by deep-rooted guilt. Little sparks of his religious background which he’d rejected are suddenly stirred up. He hears his father’s voice. He imagines that God is watching his every move. Suddenly, it’s not an empty universe at all, but a just and moral one, and he’s violated it. Now, he’s panic-stricken. He’s on the verge of a mental collapse-an inch away from confessing the whole thing to the police. And then one morning, he awakens. The sun is shining, his family is around him and mysteriously, the crisis has lifted. He takes his family on a vacation to Europe and as the months pass, he finds he’s not punished. In fact, he prospers. The killing gets attributed to another person-a drifter who has a number of other murders to his credit, so I mean, what the hell? One more doesn’t even matter. Now he’s scott-free. His life is completely back to normal. Back to his protected world of wealth and privilege.”

Cliff, the idealist and moralist, says that the murder would never be able to live with what he did and, if he were directing that movie, he’d have him confess to the police, becoming the moral authority of the story. He says that it would be a great tragedy. Judah chides him by telling him that his ending only happens in the movies, he is talking about reality.

The meaning is clear, we can, and do, rationalize away those things that cause us guilt, or else we wouldn’t be able to live with ourselves.

I have written quite a bit here about cognitive dissonance, the theory that people, when faced with uncomfortable facts that contradict their world view, will resolve the dissonance by either accepting the truth and rejecting their world view, or rationalizing the facts away, so as to be able to live with themselves. The situation portrayed in the film is very similar, in that Judah had to rationalize away the crime he had committed in order to live with himself. After all, the reasoning goes, if he turned himself in he would destroy his family and himself end up in prison for life, and what would that accomplish; who would that benefit?

It is a very seductive and, in many ways, reasonable way of resolving the guilt he feels. Of course, this goes against our concept of morality. We believe that someone who commits a crime should be held accountable for it. Yet if that person is not the type to normally commit crimes, if they don’t pose a reasonable danger to anyone else, what really is accomplished by confessing and accepting the consequences? It is a tough nut to crack and one that rationalists and ethicists have been debating for thousands of years, and I certainly don’t think that I have an answer.

It is a fascinating topic for reflection and debate. What is the real reason for punishment for those who commit crimes? On the larger scale, it helps keep social order, but what about on a personal scale? It can give the victims a sense of justice, but isn’t that really just rewarding their desire for revenge? Of course, if the offender is a career offender, or has a pathological personality that drives them to commit crimes, then prison makes plenty of sense, and this is probably the case with many offenders. But what about those people who are basically good and decent, but are driven to commit a crime out of fear or mental anguish? Is the same penalty we would give a dangerous career criminal really appropriate for them?

The movie doesn’t answer these questions. Judah is shown as having moved on with his life, in fact, his life is better than ever. Cliff is left alone with his idealism, even though it has failed him once again. This is as real as it gets, and real life is messy and arbitrary and the film gets that perfectly.

Dealing With Believers – Accommodation VS Confrontation

My dear friend Maria has an ongoing debate on her blog, The Fledgling Skeptic, about Accommodation VS Confrontation in the skeptical community. Her and Rob Smith had and interesting first round of their debate and I suggest that you go read it at the link above.

This is a debate that has been going on for a while now. Phil Plait brought it to the forefront in his, “Don’t be a dick”, speech at TAM 8, and it was a major topic of conversation and debate at Skepticon III.

As I said in my reply to Maria’s and Rob’s first round, it seems that the more we debate this issue, the muddier it gets, and I think it is because every situation is different. What is important is to avoid blatant accommodation of the kind where we are afraid to criticize someone’s beliefs. Beliefs can always, and must always be criticized if they are based on superstition and magical thinking. The important thing is to show respect to the person(s) who’s beliefs you are criticizing, unless, of course, you are dealing with the Sylvia Brown’s, Rush Limbaugh’s, and assorted religious leaders who are doing real harm, where open ridicule is more appropriate. But for your average believers who have only a personal stake of their own beliefs, respect the person, but criticize the beliefs.

I believe that we need to respect the believer and let them know that we respect them and aren’t just writing them or their beliefs and opinions off. At the same time, we cannot give an inch when it comes to calling out their superstitious beliefs. We need to engage them in conversation and ask them to tell use why they believe what they do. Make them defend their beliefs with more than just, “Because the bible says so”, or, “It is God’s plan”. They need to give us real, tangible evidence. Of course, they won’t be able to, but we need to insist on it. The tone we use, sarcastic, sincere interest, etc, will depend on their tone. It is a play-it-by-ear situation and each person and situation will be different.

The really important thing is to gage their mood and level of attachment to their beliefs and then attempt to engage them in dialogue. Unless you are debating a hell bent (that’s an ironic term!) true believer, with whom you will almost surely get nowhere, you need to realize that this person, this believer, is human, with the basic human inclination to assign agency to things in their world (some say it is an instinct, an evolutionary trait developed to protect our hunter/gather ancestors from predators). They don’t realize that they are involved in superstitious or magical thinking because thinking rationally and critically goes against that particular part of our evolutionary development. We need to show them that we can use another product of our evolution, our capacity to reason, to overcome that other evolutionary by-product that is rarely ever needed anymore.

Respect for the individual is the key with dealing with most believers. When they know that you aren’t attacking them personally, you can start to help them separate their beliefs from themselves. Its no small task, but every journey starts with just one step, and showing them that they are valuable not because of their beliefs, but in spite of them, is a good beginning.

Cognitive Dissonance – A Practical Example

When I woke up this morning and checked my email, I saw that I already had a comment on my latest post. I think it is a great example of cognitive dissonance and I’d like to share it with you, along with my reply and then we will examine this issue a bit more closely.

        Thanks for being generous in your hatred. I was beginning to feel as though you didn’t care that others might employ more than their brain         in this life.

        By His Grace.

        Comment by buttermilk80 | December 27, 2010 | Edit | Reply

        Your reply is a perfect example of cognitive dissonance. You assume that just because I criticize your beliefs that means that I hate you. If         I criticize someone who believes that communism is the best form of government that doesn’t mean that I hate them for believing that, I         just disagree with their belief.

As regular readers of this blog know, I’ve written here before about cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance occurs when a thought or idea conflicts with other thoughts, ideas, or beliefs in our mind. A typical example of cognitive dissonance would be someone who continues to smoke even though they know that it is bad for them. People will often make excuses for their continued smoking in the face to overwhelming evidence that it can kill you. They will either dismiss the evidence as inconclusive (these days this borders on delusional), marginalize it, or ignore it. Even when they try to do this, there is always a part of their mind that knows it is bad and with creates discomfort that they will try to resolve by basically lying to themselves.

The example above is very similar to this, except in this case, the person is in complete denial about the evidence against religion. This leads to their first reaction being one of lashing out and insisting that I hate them, or other believers.

I don’t hate, or even dislike, anyone just because they are religious. I do, however, disagree strongly with their beliefs and say so in no uncertain terms. People at this level of cognitive dissonance can’t even bear the slightest questioning of their beliefs. The dissonance is so strong that they aren’t even able to make rationalizations, but instead can only lash out at the source.

By pointing out cognitive dissonance to buttermilk80, my hope is to prod them into a discussion about their beliefs so that they may move onto the next phase and actually consider why they believe what they do. This is the first step toward the truth. All we can do is to gently encourage discussion and debate so that the facts can come out and they can start to really question if what they believe is true. There is no guarantee that they will give up their belief, but if we can get them to at least think about why they believe what they believe, that is moving them one step closer to the truth.

The Last “War on Christmas” Post For This Year

I’ve talked a lot about the “War on Christmas” here lately. The whole thing is pretty stupid if you ask me and it is driven almost entirely by Christians who feel like their beliefs are under attack because someone dares to say, “Happy Holidays”, instead of, “Merry Christmas”, or, FSM forbid, someone puts up a billboard suggesting that the nativity of Jesus never really happened. The Christian majority would have you believe that it is the atheists who are the ones engaging in a “War on Christmas”, but in fact, it is these Christians who are making all the fuss about these things.

The reality is that Christians are easily in the majority. According to a survey done by Trinity College, as of 2008, 76% of Americans identify themselves as Christians, while only 15.0% identified as “none”, which includes agnostic and atheist. How can it be that people who are among a groups that constitutes a full 3/4 of the population possibly consider themselves persecuted? It is not like they are discriminated against in society. On one is losing their jobs because they are Christians. They aren’t being marginalized in society; no one is shunning them or calling them evil or bad people because they are Christians. The same certainly can’t be said of atheists.

If these Christians are so sure of their beliefs, if they are so confident in their world view, then why do they take such easy offense when someone dares to question their beliefs? Normally, if someone is confident in something, they aren’t particularly worried about dissenting views. Being confident means you aren’t worried about things. You know you are right and are comfortable in that knowledge.

These Christians who cry foul when someone dares to question their beliefs show all the hallmarks of insecurity. When someone is insecure, they tend to get defensive. Why the insecurity? I believe it has to do with cognitive dissonance. These people are holding these beliefs in their heads, but the reality of the world they live in contradict their beliefs. They must either abandon their beliefs in light of the overwhelming evidence against them, or find ways to rationalize and justify their beliefs. The greater the dissonance, the more hysterical their defense of their beliefs becomes. This leads to seeing enemies in the slights criticism, paranoia and a persecution complex. Of course, I’m not a psychologist so I can’t say that this is exactly what is happening, but it seems to fit pretty well with what I know of cognitive dissonance theory.

I’m glad that Christmas is over. That’s not going the be the end to this pseudo-Christian-percecution-complex that we have been seeing, though. It will manifest itself in other ways, I’m sure and I’ll be reporting on it as it keeps rearing its ugly head.

More Stupid Mail Privilege

Roger Vadim was a French director known for starting the career of Brigitte Bardot, whom he married. He was also married to Jane Fonda and Catherine Deneuve .

According to this article on cracked.com, he ditched his lover Catherine Deneuve when “my shy adolescent had blossomed out into a hard-headed woman ruthlessly in control of her own life,” as he put it. The whole point of Brigitte Bardot as a sex symbol was the natural, unabashed charisma she exuded as a confident woman, but it didn’t do anything for Vadim, who said, “From the moment I liberated her … the moment I showed her how to be truly herself, our marriage was all downhill.”

This is another example of male privilege. Here, the man tries to assume control over the woman by “liberating” her.

There are two main pieces of douchebagery going on here.

The first is that this cretin has the arrogance to assume that he somehow caused the “blossoming” and personal growth of his wives, when in all likelihood, they simply matured naturally (they were fairly young when they married him, after all).

The second, and this is the really despicable act here, is that once they had become their own person, or in his eyes, stopped deferring and relying on him so much, he completely lost interest in them.

To the sanctimonious Mr. Vadim, his wives were conquests, pure and simple. Everything about these women only had value to him as long as he was able to see himself reflected in their actions and affections. Once they became “truly themselves”, and were able to control their lives, it was, for him, all downhill.

This kind of sense of privilege is more than just the plain, ingrained male priviliobes (a unit of privilege that I just made up that is similar to a microbe in that in infects the host). There is also a large amount of ego to be contended with here. I haven’t read anything about Roger Vadim except what I read on cracked.com and wikipedia.com, but I suspect that he was a ripe asshole in his other dealings with his fellow humans. Unfortunately, while you might be able to educate men to recognize their male priviliobes in order to help them rid themselves of them, being an asshole is a lot harder to cure, taking a willingness to admit you are an asshole and years of therapy.

I can only hope that his ex-wives were able to figure out that it was themselves, not him, that lead to their own growth as persons.

Cognitive Dissonance Revisited

I have written about cognitive dissonance here before (here, here, here, here and here). In brief, cognitive dissonance is holding two contradicting ideas in your head at the same time and the emotional discomfort that causes.

Cognitive dissonance is something that we all experience to one degree or another on a fairly continuos basis. Most of the time, the dissonance is easily and painlessly resolved simply by making a decision. For example, say you know that you need complete a project deadline by the day after tomorrow and you have planned on completing it today, but then you get a call from a friend asking you to go out for lunch and shopping. You feel unease because you know you need to get the project done. If you decide to work on the project instead of go with your friend, you have resolved the dissonance and the unease gone now that you know you will complete your project today. If, on the other hand, you decide to go with your friend, the dissonance remains. You justify your decision by telling yourself that you have all day tomorrow to complete the project. In this case you haven’t really resolved the dissonance, but you have rationalized it to yourself effectively enough so that you are able to go out and enjoy your time with your friend, even if the dissonance may be nagging at you in the back of your mind.

We deal with situations like this all the time. The vast majority of times, we resolve it by making a decision that makes the dissonance go away. Sometimes, we choose to let the dissonance remain and we rationalize it away in order to allow ourselves to function without the emotional discomfort.

In situations where the dissonance involves a very important idea to us though, it becomes much harder to remove the dissonance because that could mean making a very big change in our worldview. A good example of this is religious belief.

I was a devout believer in god for much of my life, but was constantly changing my reasons for believing because the more I thought about it the more I saw that the evidence for god’s existence was non-existence. For a while I found ways to rationalize the dissonance that arose from keeping the ideas of a perfectly good and loving god and of suffering and evil in the world in my head at the same time. Eventually, I could no longer justify away the dissonance and accompanying emotion distress without abandoning either my rational, scientific view of the world, or my belief in god. As those of you who have been regular readers of this blog know, I abandoned the later.

How we deal with cognitive dissonance has huge implications for our society’s future because those who are devout believers in god are actively trying to interfere with and limit government funding for much important scientific research. From climate change to stem cell research, vital research into subjects that will have a profound impact on our future is in danger.

I will be continuing to research, think about, and write about cognitive dissonance and what can be done to successfully deal with it here on this blog.

Facebook Comment Followup

Bob responded to my last post here. He felt I was being rude in not responding to him. Here is my response:

Bob Santaniello: OUCH!! Thanks for short changing my comment and the artificial sincerity of your first response. Off to work in the ‘magic’ kingdom.

Jay Walker: Bob, you are right. I was rude not to respond. I apologize. My response is basically what I said in my blog post. I just think you are picking and choosing to suit what makes you feel good. You see the things that you don’t like in the Bible and rationalize and justify them away.

This is called cognitive dissonance, which is when you are faced with information that contradicts your beliefs. This can cause great mental discomfort and even pain. You can either give up your beliefs in the face of evidence or find a way to rationalize the evidence away to resolve the cognitive dissonance.

I believe you are rationalizing these threatening ideas away because to admit that the Bible, with, according to you is the word of God, actually teaches terrible things would mean that possibly none of it’s true. Or it means that your god is a vengeful, sadistic god. In either case, you would have to admit that the foundation of your belief system is gravely flawed.

I Get Facebook Comments

Facebook has been a very good source for examples of magical thinking and the interesting conversations that can ensue. Here’s another one between me and Bob:

Jay Walker: Biblical guidance on how to deal with rape, a graphical view: http://i.imgur.com/TsK9R.jpg

Bob Santaniello: Good thing God’s people aren’t living under the ‘law’ of the Old Testament.

Jay Walker: So how do you decide what parts of the “Old Testament” to believe and which parts not to? I thought the whole bible was the word of god? I’m not asking to be sarcastic, I’m honestly curious.

Bob Santaniello: It isn’t a decision; I believe as you said, all of the Old and New Testaments is the true word of God as given to men by the Holy Spirit. The deciding part is to hermeneutically figure out to whom the different parts were written, why thing…

Can you say, “I always rationalize my cherry picking.”? This is such a great example of how believers can find ways to throw out all the things from their supposedly divinely inspired holy books that make them uncomfortable yet hang on to the things that affirm their personal values.

Reading things like that actually makes me almost respect the hard core fundies who insist that every word of their holy books are true. At least they are being consistent. After all, if you truly believe that a book is divinely inspired by a god who can get mightily vengeful when you don’t listen to him, you really want to make sure you follow every lesson and admonition in that book. Of course, anyone who relies on one book as a guide to living every aspect of their lives has more serious problems than a magical sky man who will rain down fire and brimstone onto them when he’s been pissed off.

I haven’t responded to Bob yet and I’m not sure I will. His entire life is literally dedicated teaching and living, as he says, “The word of the one true God.” I seriously doubt that anything I say will have any effect on him what-so-ever. Instead I will use our conversations, like this one, to highlight the irrational lengths believers will go through to try to resolve the cognitive dissonance that is surging through their brains. Hopefully my dear readers will be able to take something valuable away from it.