Monday, April 26, 2010

Pie in the sky

A new study suggests that people in Africa are among the most religious in the world.

The following extracts from Weijagye J.K Tukwasiibwe's 'Politics, religion & Society' give an all too rare perspective: let's banish gods from skies and capitalists from Earth.

The impact of religion on mankind, especially the African, is that of doom. The principles of religion are similar and only differ on the surface. First there is a belief in a supernatural power, second there are prayers and rituals and, third, there's a belief in life after death.

There is, of course, no concrete evidence to support all this. The belief in supernatural powers, a god and a spirit world arose out of early man's lack of understanding of the universe and his own particular limited environment. This was coupled with his curiosity, desires and needs. Man himself has been creator and inventor of his own God in his own image (imagination). In fact it's not a case of God creating man but of man creating God - God and all gods exist in man's mind only.

For example, by extracting verses from the Bible and relying on them in addition to trying to put verses into practice, some religious groups have gone as far as destroying fruit trees, having "free" sex, not accepting family planning methods, refusing medical treatment, seiling their possessions and so on.

The Bible, which is claimed to be a holy creation and the foundation for Christianity and several other religions, was of course man-made and there are only a minority today who would accept it word-for-word. It's inconsistent and self-contradictory. In fact it would not stand up in a court of law. It is a book of assertions and many "educated" and "artistic" people are employed to blend truth and fiction in whatever proportions they calculate are most effective in misleading the public. The ideas that people should be contented with the life the market system gives us while waiting for a "paradise life" after this life.

We only have one life - this one. There is no afterlife, nor is there reincarnation. This life is the only life we have, and the only way we humans can improve it is by our own collective action. No messiah or saviour is going to come and lead us to a better life. We are on our own. Can something be done about this? Yes, if we set aside all the anti-human dogmas about "original sin" and "misused free will" to be found in the sacred texts and theologies of religions and look at the situation objectively and rationally.

If we do this we can see that the root cause of mass human suffering is that wealth today is not produced directly to satisfy human needs but for gaining a profit.

We don't know how the universe came into being or indeed that it did "come into being" (it might have always been there). The concept of "beginning" may itself be meaningless. What we do know about it is that forms of matter able to think arose at a later time than non-thinking matter and non-living (i.e. non-self-reproducing) matter generally, and in fact evolved out of it.

It is important to concentrate all our efforts on working for a better world for humans to live in instead of waiting for The Millennium, The Second Coming, The Age of Aquarius, or whatever.

To solve a problem you have to understand and remove its cause. The root cause of most of our problems is poor education. From childhood most folk are mentally conditioned into religious beliefs, superstitions and the like and overturning such a lifetime of mental conditioning can be a very difficult process.

Such education aims and ends at imprisoning the mind. Unfortunately dogmatists cannot give up their fairy tales so easily. It is just that sometimes being right is painful. It was for Galileo, Darwin, Copernicus and, of course, Marx. I often wonder how some of the great scientists of the past must have felt when people denied the truth of their findings. And I take comfort in the comment of the early 20th century mathematician and logician, Bertrand RusselI that "through most of human history most people have been wrong on most things".

"Human nature", according to religion is inimical to the patterns of social co-operation which a rational alternative would require. The perversion of distorting humanity's need for fellowship into blind acceptance of reliqious ideas has been a barrier to human understanding throughout history. But no one is discredited by testing their beliefs or ideas and being ready to modify them by persuasion. It's an easy thing to tell a lie, but it's difficult to support the lie after it's been told, for false testimony works against itself. What we should also know is that it's not our consciousness that determines our life but our life that determines our consciousness, and that consciousness, in turn, influences our life. In other words being determines thinking and thinking influences being. Imagination only needs consciousness for it to become areality. But if we stand for nothing, as is the case in religious beliefs, we definitely fall for anything.

"Politics and religion don't mix." Yet nothing wrong is seen in priests, parsons and popes commenting on social and political issues. Throughout history politics and religion have been interwoven. The Church and all other religious institutions have always been relied on to be the blood-thirsty recruiting agents for the killing machine of warfare. During both world wars priests and parsons on both sides were assuring the troops that "God was on their side". The first recruit in every war has always been God.

Many people are sincere in their beliefs. They are decent men and women who genuinely believe in the teachings of the various religions. They do not do so for any material gain.

I don't take the view that such people are silly, idiotic or mentally deranged, as many rationalists do. It would be foolish to imagine that people who produce all the wealth of the world are imbeciles. But how do we explain the apparent contradiction of intelligent men and women who behave in a sensible fashion in their real everyday lives but believe the world is subject to supernatural forces?

It would be a strange worker who blarned the malfunction of a computer on the acts of devils, or sought an exorcism of his electronic calculator. In their everyday working lives, people base their actions on a materialist view. lt's only when dealing with conflicts that they see as being between good and evil that they have recourse to religious superstitions and unscientific ideas.

At the weekend in their place of worship they profess all sorts of weird notions, but Monday to Friday in the workplace they are as materialist in outlook as any non-religious person.

We live in a harsh, competitive society where everyone's hand is turned against everyone else yet human beings crave social identify and companionship. The appeal of religion in modern-day society is that it offers at least the consolation of a future state of peace and harmony. It stresses brotherhood and social cohesion. The harsher the reality the more fantastic the solace offered by religion. It is no accident that early Christianity spread amongst the staves of the Persian empire, nor that in India and Africa where poverty is so harsh, we have the devout religious zealots.

In modem, capitalist, society the emphasis of social status is put on possessions. Everything has a price. Religion in its professed rejection of the material benefits of ownership stresses a desire deep in the human character for something more worthwhile than mere property ownership. In actual practice the religious bodies that stress the importance of something beyond mere ownership are often the most money-grubbing organisations in the world. But their appeallies in the apparent rejection of the values of the society that they all support.

No matter how different the various religions may be they all have a common basis-suspension of logic. The history of religion is one of retreat. In primitive society it claimed to be able to placate the mountain god or the river god. Such claims were made foolish by humanity's growing knowledge of geology and meteorology. Today religion no longer claims to control the material world. It has retreated into the social sciences. It blarnes all the social problems on the imperfectability of humankind. It can do this because the present ruling class cannot allow the unrestricted scientific investigation of the cause of poverty, war and other social problems. That ideas are a product of real, social circumstances is nowhere better illustrated than in religion.

The religious view sees workers and the poor as incapable of solving the problems that confront them. The consolation they offer is one beyond the grave. They believe that human beings should adopt a slavish attitude ... be humble ... be grateful ... and not attempt to abolish the ills that afflict them. Socialists view the human being as a superb animal that has adapted the natural world to meet its needs. We view with wonder and astonishment the magnificent accomplishments of men and women in the fields of science, medicine, agriculture and advanced modern technology. The working class should not place its faith in gods and supernatural forces, but use its intelligence and knowledge to bring about a world of social equality.

The transformation of society will not be brought about by the actions of gods, but by real people, determined to end the profit system and establishing a society for satisfying human needs. The perversion of distorting humanity's ne ed for fellowship into blind acceptance of religious ideas has been a barrier to human understanding throughout history.

As people sense a loss of control, in an increasingly complex and alienating world, they are more susceptible to beliefs in the supernatural-whether religion, magic or whatever. If one believes in God as a matter of faith then it is easier for one to believe that, for example, the planet Venus is made of cream cheese as a matter of faith.

But actually it's much easier to make out a case for Venus being made I of cream cheese than for the existence of God. At least Venus exists-it has a clear physical identify-which means that it's observable which God is not. There seems no point in trying to undermine people's emotional security. Indeed there seems very good reason why we should respect people's beliefs, as long as they are not dangerous or socially disruptive, although we may want to challenge them.

I think people who have religious beliefs present particular challenges. They place themselves outside human affairs by claiming that, whatever might be said, they will go on believing as they do, because they "believe in God" or some such. We should tell people that since they are not prepared to consider the merits of propositions on the basis of the evidence, and to change their mind if necessary in the light of this evidence, it's very difficult to have any kind of rational discussion with them. Discussion depends upon accepting a priori the importance of deferring to the facts and taking note of the rules of logic and the meaning of words. People who accept as an unshakeable belief that God exists, place themselves outside this logical frame.

If people cannot learn by way of reasoning properly and rethinking their ideas, certain events and circumstances may unfold from which some of them may learn. We hope they do, but we can't accept responsibility if they don't.

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