Sometimes I wonder if religious people think I am just picking on them for the sake of being contrary. As in "Mary, Mary quite CONTRARY how does your garden grow?" Because I do comment a lot on religion, its history, its processes, its political agendas and its claims of cultural superiority, this may seem to some to be contrariness. Like other people who are skeptics, agnostics, free-thinkers, or atheists, I think it is necessary to intellectually challenge belief systems, especially if these belief systems appear to act out of kilter with their expressed tenets. So there is a considerable amount of time spent by these skeptics, of whom I am one, examining the history of institutionalised religions to see how their actions stack up beside their creeds. Talk to many a christian or many a muslim and they will ensure you that their religion is peaceful, loving and the highest expression of godly endeavour.
There seems to be a kind of cultural or religious blindness when it comes to being able to either acknowledge the terrible things which have happened to humans through religions, or a denial that their religion or god belief, could result in anything but love, prosperity and kindness. So, if a sceptic mentions things like the crusades, the witch trials, the inquisition, or various wars fought with the concept of the respective god or gods leading the charge, one is inevitably faced with a religious person stating something like this: - "Well, that is true, but those people weren't REAL christians, muslims, hindus, buddhists, jews. (Insert religious belief here.) Then the skeptic feels compelled to point out the "no true scotsman fallacy" which goes on for a few pages until they eventually tire from trying to explain it, or the religious person shuts down and pretends that it isn't happening.
Well, I am here to say that they are and were true christians, muslims or whichever religion they claim. Unless they claim to be gods, perfect and all knowing and incapable of fault or flaw, then they ARE true christians and muslims. They are just muslims or christians whose actions of which you do not approve. There is no guarantee that religious people are going to act or behave any better than anyone else. There is, of course, the hope that they will, which is why many people become religious in the first place through a desire to become a "better person" perhaps better than they saw themselves as being previously to conversion. With these comments by a sceptic comes the inevitable retaliation from a religious believer that atheists are ALSO terrible people who went on killing sprees in Russia, China and (insert any nation which doesn't follow the model of the free market economy here.)
The initial reaction by many a sceptic is to point out the tu quoque fallacy associated with a comment such as this. That is, that saying YOU TOO HAVE DONE TERRIBLE THINGS does not address the issue of the terrible things that human beings have done to each other in the name of religion. What it does do is salve the conscience of the religious believer as they can then feel justified to sit back with a kind of smug superiority emanating from the idea that they are in some way, not as bad as those people who also did horrible things. So, the use of the tu quoque fallacy doesn't actually solve anything, and one would not expect that it should, as it is a fallacy after all, but in a world where people have the idea of only two teams and that if one team is right, and that therefore the other team must be wrong, it becomes a way to supposedly save face without addressing the issues as to WHY human beings do the terrible things that they do to each other.
So, the tu quoque fallacy works like this. The religious believer states something like: - "But look at what the atheists did in Russia and China. Look at the terrible bloodshed that is evidenced in those authoritarian regimes. Look at the brutality and the oppression of religion that occurred." And my reply is - "You are right. People committed terrible acts of violence and repression against the traditional cultural system in Russia and in China." People did horrendous things during the cultural revolutions in both Russia and China. There was brutal violence. There were bloodbaths of horrific proportions. I would also like to point out that these horrific acts, especially in Russia, occurred as a revolution against institutionalised religion. In fact, many of the so-called revolutions in Europe including the French Revolution, were cultural revolutions against institutionalised religion and the power it represented.
So, what do I mean by "institutionalised religion?" Institutionalised religion is where the religion of the nation, in the case of Russia, the Russian Orthodox Church, condones and promotes the existing social and cultural order. The existing social and cultural order was expressed as a monarchy through which the religion derived its power. Synonymously, the power of the monarchy was sanctioned and dependent upon the power of the church. In essence, a combination of church and state. The church supported the monarchy as its power was held in trust by this hierarchy and the monarchy supported the church as its power was held in trust by the religion. Accordingly, the monarchies in Europe under this system of the combination of church and state, each dependent upon the other for its political power, had carte blanche to do whatever they wished. Both partners in this arrangement, the church and the monarchy, continued to get extremely rich under this " you scratch my back and I will scratch yours" political model. They were religious states, (not including China, though the cultural revolution in China has similarities which I may not have time to express on this post.)
So, the orthodox, conservative hierarchical culture was maintained by the church. The kings got to reign and the churches got richer and more politically powerful. It was a great combination and a very successful model if you happened to belong to the hierarchy of royals, or the hierarchy of religion. As the fat cats got fatter, those on the bottom of the food chain got thinner, leaner, meaner and angrier. Basically the monarchies in Europe were hierarchies with the monarchy and the church at the top of the pyramid and a nation of serfs below; many of whom were starving and impoverished. It was the classic feudal system where everyone knew their place and no one was to step outside of their place in the hierarchy. Religion told people that their suffering in this world was the will of god and that better things awaited them in the next world if they just got on with their lives and didn't complain or make a fuss.
People were encouraged to be stoics and to accept that suffering was good for their immortal souls. Eventually, the people began to realize that the monarchy, and the people in the hierarchy of religion, the class system of princes, princess and nobles that it supported, that it didn't seem a requirement for these elements to suffer; just the people on the bottom of the food chain. And that no matter what happened, they were going to stay on the bottom of the food chain, with no political or economic power, and no way to improve their lot in life. Their destiny in life was predetermined by the religious hierarchical powers that existed and they either had the option to put up or shut up. That they decided to revolt against a regime in which they saw held no future for themselves or their generations is part of history.
It was a bloody and violent revolution against the institutionalised power structures supported and propped up by the religious state. Unfortunately, the revolution with its high ideals then went on to be but a parody of that which they revolted against. They replaced one dictatorial regime with another. But the taste of institutionalised religious political power lingered long in the mouth of many russians to the extent where I will speculate that wherever they saw evidence of its existence, they rooted it out and removed it in a bloody and violent fashion.
So, what's is the point? The point is that power corrupts and that absolute power corrupts absolutely, which is why the recently formed nations like the US, Canada, and even Australia decided in the foundations of their nations, that religion would NOT be allowed to be a dominant political force supported by the state. That there would be no more kings and queens who could claim the "divine right of kings" as per religious teaching, and that there would be nations of men (and eventually women), who would decide through reason how their nations would be run and organized. Where the right to a religion is protected, but where the right to impose religious law upon others through political means is NOT part of it. Please note that the Declaration says nothing about rights secured by Christianity.
It bears repeating: "... Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, ... That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."
The founding fathers founded a nation which would not have to, theoretically, revolt against institutionalised, religious, political power. Let's hope they are right.
Paul Mc Cartney - "Back in the USSR" - Live from Red Square