A work-in-progress chapter of my pro-atheist book

Chapter 1: Conventional Religion

Religion has commonly been defended by our personal experience. People who don’t take an in-depth look into their respective theological texts will often use anecdotes to defend their beliefs and usually say that they have faith. Favorable perceptions are argued as reasons for why a particular religious faith is true and the majority of people use faith as a guidepost for certain everyday activities. This creates a convoluted and harmful standard that people live under but don’t recognize. As a consequence, many people don’t give much consideration to this issue because they feel it is normal. It is not dissimilar to observing the harmful effects of believing in the lucky chance of winning the lottery. For example, people who play the lottery and have faith in the belief of good fortune often don’t give any consideration to the detrimental effects of their gambling habit nor the mathematical chances involved in determining the winner. Typically, there are several false assumptions made by the purchaser that cause this problem. The most notorious – and wrong – belief is that purchasing more tickets increases the chances of winning. This assumption isn’t true and it is proven on the very ticket sold; to explain further, let us say there are 60 different possible combinations of numbers on a combination of ten numbers in a ticket and the winning combination is 1234560789. What are the chances of winning the lottery by that combination of tickets?

Shocking as this may sound, the winning chances is determined by the number of possible combinations of each digit. Thus, because there are sixty possible combinations at the start, the actual chances of winning are 60 x 59 x 58 x 57 and so forth. The only winning ticket is 1234560789 so every other combination from 1-60 will lead to waste of your money. A lottery ticket such as the Powerball has an approximate chance of 1 in 70,000 years and the odds of the Powerball are around 1 in 900 million for any set of combinations. Which means that every U.S. citizen – from child to adult – must buy three tickets each and among those people only a single person can win the lottery; a single person buying more tickets won’t change this fact or strengthen the odds because each ticket has a 1 in 900 million chance of being the winner. For those readers who purchase lotto tickets, please compare the combinations of real life tickets that you know of. Count the possible combinations of each sets of numbers or – in some cases – just look at the back of the ticket where it explains the chances of winning. Usually, the lottery ticket combinations exceed the amount of people living within the country by a wide margin. In some cases, due to the combinations being 3 times the number of actual citizens in the country, the chances of actually winning the lottery can be greater than 1 in 70,000 years. This is because the amount of times you play, how old you are, and what special meaning – such as a birthday that a particular combination has – is absolutely inconsequential to the total combinations of numbers that are possible. Lottery players are simply being duped and using irrational thinking to waste their savings on gambling. This means that millions of people both within your country and across the world who strongly have faith that they will win the lottery believe in an utter falsehood; it means that people who play the lottery out of habit are still squandering their money away on a useless and detrimental pastime. It shows that millions of people can be utterly wrong despite the popularity of a belief and defensive arguments that lottery purchasers make such as statements similar to “You never know” only display arguments demonstrating a basic ignorance of how lotteries function. This can be proven on a demonstrable mathematical level, if need be. Lottery gamblers have been duped by their faith in the power of luck and good fortune. Scholars have privately regarded the lottery as a stupidity tax.

This duping is largely because they use personal experience – their own anecdotal events in life – and selectively focus upon the lottery winners who won millions. They have not considered the millions of people who have played the lottery throughout their lifetime and never won. Even if small rewards such as $3000 is won by a lottery player, it wouldn’t be a gain because they would have to compare the amount won with the total amount lost during their lottery ticket purchases throughout the years. Their purchasing power was diminished on every ticket that was not a winner. A community of lotto ticket purchasers only serves to normalize this self-destructive gambling habit. So, why does this matter and what does it have to do with religion? It shows that millions of people can be utterly wrong about assumptions regarding the normal activities that they partake in, it shows that despite repeated behavior they don’t realize the negative consequences of wasting money that could be saved for their future, it shows that using a large population size to justify a belief isn’t a good reason at all to argue in favor of that belief, it shows that people can have positive beliefs used against them and harm them both emotionally and financially without them recognizing the problem, and that relying on “luck” through arguments from their own lack of knowledge of the odds can cause people to waste years of their life on a harmful belief. All of this is a consequence of using only personal events – anecdotes – and a belief in a metaphysical “luck” as a way to justify ones choices. A community that helps reinforce the normalcy and treats the lottery as a positive activity can only serve to harm the individual. Lastly, highly educated individuals don’t fall for the lottery trap and recognize the personal experiences and faith of the lottery gamblers is a falsehood despite the amount of lottery players who strongly believe in these fanciful qualities about the lottery.

Anecdotes            

A focal problem with anecdotes is that they can be argued in favor of any position; no matter how contradictory, racist, homophobic, or even positive. Anecdotes are a logical fallacy because they don’t account for the actual statistical figures of a given subject and instead argue in favor of a position through personal events or isolated incidents. Some of these anecdotes can be inferred from viewing events on television. An example to understand this would be the statistics on wars. Despite what is displayed on the news, wars have been on the decline since the 1960s. After World War 2, there has been a huge drop in the ratio of violent conflicts throughout the world, but this sounds ridiculous in the face of war stories that occur on the news virtually every week. Evidently, the only reason that the majority of people perceive that humanity has become more violent is the easy coverage of violent conflicts as they are happening. During the era of newspapers, this was not possible. The modern media has allowed people across the world to gain insight on conflicts far removed from their location and NGOs have allowed people to give aid to suffering refugees to a greater extent than in the past. A greater awareness of these violent events has actually allowed better responses for the people who are suffering. Yet, the erroneous perception that humanity is becoming more violent still remains because of people’s repeated exposure to news about different wars across the world. The 19th century accounts for the most violent of times throughout human history in terms of wars and mass genocides.

Religious anecdotes are just as problematic. If, for example, a child is suffering from cancer but is cured either through medical treatment or the cancer disappears because their immune system successfully fought it off then religious believers often say that God has cured the child of cancer. If, however, the child regrettably dies of cancer then religious believers are most likely to – after giving honest condolences – say the child is with God in the afterlife. Thus, what changes aren’t the horrible circumstances of the events but rather the interpretation of the events to make the observers of the event feel better. It is the same for children in third world countries; the majority of people in first world countries ignore the issue of starving and dying children in third world countries under the basis that it has nothing to do with their personal lives. People often tout that the dead children are in heaven and no longer suffering. However, what changes aren’t the horrific circumstances of innocent children dying from the world at large having failed them, what changes is a religious believer’s perception of the event and only to the comfort of the religious believer so that they don’t have to think or feel horrible from knowing there are children dying from starvation in third world countries. Sadly, this creates another problem, predatory missionary groups use anecdotes to their advantage on unsuspecting and uneducated people to argue in favor of their religion by holding people hostage such as pretending a transport vehicle is broken down until impoverished people living in a third world country pray to the religion of the missionary group to get the bus “working” again. Worse still, some missionaries are known to refuse health services until impoverished people pray to their God. The level of apathy for the plight of the third world has prompted wealthy families to create public works projects like the Gates Foundation to combat these continued issues.

Anecdotes and Symbolism

Anecdotes often require symbolism in order to maintain the state of normalcy. Religious symbols are often displayed to instill feelings of hope; especially during harrowing times. Religious symbolism is often utilized in books, films, and sometimes in court proceedings to create a veneer of God defending the rights of the people for the sake of equality and to further symbolize moral goodness. Flag symbols in the background of a superhero character, religious symbols such as the cross, and of course the statement “In God We Trust” behind the court judge serve as common examples of these symbols. Symbols help facilitate the pattern recognition bias within humans; that is, perceiving a correlation between two different events where there is none. Instances of justice failing or unfair laws are often ignored and people gain a fallacious understanding of what the law is really meant to be. Laws are dependent upon interpretation; juries are to determine if a particular incident broke a set of rules. Yet, when instances such as the failure of the law are displayed then it is argued that humans are imperfect. So what good is the symbolism in the first place? It is a deception and one that is used against individuals who harbor such perceptions.

An example of this nefarious deception, the faultiness of symbolism, can be shown by the following: most US citizens believe that US police officers have a lawful duty to protect them from any harm. This is legally false; a Supreme Court decision in 2005, Gonzales V. Castle Rock, determined that police protection was not a protected entitlement under the 14th amendment and that the protection of private citizens was not part of the public duty doctrine. In the context of the case itself, Gonzales noticed her children missing from her front yard and called the police to inform them that her estranged husband had probably taken them. He wasn’t allowed to take them during that day because of the custody rules in place for when he was could spend time with the children. The police didn’t take the claim seriously; Gonzales then tried calling the police at several times during the hours and even went to the police station to show the legal document whilst desperately asking for help. The police refused to do anything, the police officer at the desk took a lunch break after hearing her pleas, and the next day her ex-husband committed suicide by cop and the officer found the dead bodies of Gonzales’s three young children in the trunk of the ex-husband’s car. The trial went to the Supreme Court and the case was dismissed on the basis that Gonzales’s children and by proxy all Americans had no legal right to police protection within the United States. According to the ruling, the police don’t have to help you, even in instances when you are being robbed, assaulted, raped, or murdered. The Castle Rock police department was quick to reframe the event in order to blame the grieving mother and politicians hailed the decision by focusing strictly on how police had to make tough decisions when on the field of duty. What wasn’t mentioned was how the US government, from the local to federal level, no longer had to pay any damages to victims who suffered from the police failing to uphold their supposed duty in protecting the citizens from harm. The Supreme Court of the United States had determined that the lives of children were less important than the government losing sums of money.

If you are a US citizen, you may have feelings of disbelief upon reading the aforementioned paragraph. After all, you’ve likely grown up with an entire culture of police dramas like Law and Order, NCIS, and other American TV shows with a plethora of episodes depicting valiant police officers doing their utmost to aid rape victims, children, and the wrongfully accused. These depictions usually consist of a main character having a strong personal connection with the victims to help them cope with the horrible events. The reality of the law seems ridiculous in comparison to what you might believe about the justice system; what you may not have realized is that you are using aspects of fiction to fill the gaps in your understanding of reality. You have used fiction as a substitute to fill in what you didn’t know because we humans feel safe when we have a coherent understanding of the world. These stereotypes have been formed by shortcuts that you have developed regarding the world around you and your ignorance of the real law could be utilized against you. You may have formed a coherent story and expectations based on what you knew about the law but the fact remains that you probably didn’t know about the actual laws governing you. Psychological studies have found that, due to our increasingly complex societies, people use shortcuts to quickly determine what different subject matter represent and mean. This is natural because as human beings, we cannot make deep insights about every single subject matter that we are confronted with even in a single day. As a consequence, stereotypes about certain jobs, organizations, and different types of people abound and will probably always exist. These psychological shortcuts are only worsened by our human bias to see pattern recognition but more on that in later chapters.

We humans need to use shortcuts in our increasingly complex societies and so we use them without even realizing it. Whatever you thought might be credible laws depicted on television shouldn’t be trusted. A repeated marathon of episodes in which fictional police only act positively towards the general public would cause an obvious bias with an implicit understanding that police are legally required to protect the public; it follows along the lines of the motto “protect and serve”, it is what young children are led to believe when meeting friendly police officers during their time in school, it follows the norms of what we expect when we see TV shows like COPS that selectively show favorable police chases, and the fact remains that it isn’t legally accurate. US citizens don’t have the right to police protection. What people have done is let the belief in symbols, the repeated exposure to favorable police shows, and the popular opinion of the public give them a misrepresentation of the actual law. Neither the fact that the majority of the 300 million people living in the US believe that police are legally suppose to protect citizens nor the fact that 300 million people are bombarded with imagery, symbols, and stories of police heroics make the law any less valid or impactful upon people’s daily lives. If you believe that this is a lie then I encourage you to independently verify the lawful impact of “Gonzales V. Castle Rock” for yourself. The fact is that we humans have a tendency to go by the information and repeated exposure to what is most available to us. It is known as the availability bias within psychology and it is a psychological factor that governments, police organizations, the national media, and psychologists are well aware of.

How does this apply to religion? It shows that millions of people can wholeheartedly have an understanding about the norms of their society, harbor an overwhelmingly positive outlook on an organization and what it is perceived to do based on implicit understandings, and be completely wrong. The fact that millions upon millions of people believe that police officers are legally required to protect them and this belief is what they consider to be a normal aspect of their everyday lives doesn’t make the belief true. If you were in a similar position to Gonzales and lost a loved one through police failure in doing their duty, your ignorance about this ruling would serve as a detriment to you; the police wouldn’t need to pay any damages for failing you or your loved one. At best, they would simply be forced into retirement. Your ignorance, created by an obfuscation of the real facts through positive cultural imagery, will be used against you. It is also important to consider how many of us come to these beliefs. We often observe and consider what other people think or do and copy that behavior in order to remain in a favorable view to the majority of people; that is social proof. Therefore, the majority of people being confronted with this law would probably be skeptical and may view such a legal fact to be a conspiracy theory. After all, it doesn’t follow any coherent understanding about their beliefs regarding American society and it doesn’t fit a coherent expectation about the law itself. Yet it is a real law, but accepting that would require a drastic change of perception regarding what most Americans have come to expect regarding their own safety and the safety of their loved ones.

Christians make up the largest population in the world. In almost every country, there is at least a minority Christian population. For all the speeches about how India and China have a majority Hindu or majority atheist population, it remains true that Christianity – as a whole – has the largest population size. Yet, this is not a valid argument favoring Christianity. This is what is known as the appeal to population fallacy. Consider this hypothetical argument: what if Judaism turned out to be the one true religion? If that were so, then it wouldn’t matter how many people across the world believed in Christianity, it wouldn’t even matter if every country in the world outside of Israel believed in Christianity or even if every person in the world believed in Christianity while Judaism was no longer believed in. It would be meaningless in the face of Jewish people being the chosen people of God. You can substitute this proposition with another religion or reverse it; if Christianity is true then Jewish people have suffered throughout history for a meaningless cause or – worse still – they have endured suffering to be killed en masse for some apocalyptic prophecy. Now consider this: according to most polling data, Islam will be the world’s largest religion by 2050. If that prediction becomes true, then what value can there be in Christians making up the majority of the world population currently? It has no value and on closer inspection, it is less meaningful than most Christians might realize. Christianity has long been divided into Protestants, Catholics, and East Orthodoxy; in other regions of the world Christianity has blended with local religions in the regions that it has spread. For example, Christians of India follow a Caste system just like the Hindus. In the Philippines, books of local religious witchcraft have been blended together with Christian teachings. There is no, and there probably will never be, a uniform Christianity; but this is not a unique problem to Christianity. It is the natural occurrence of any belief spreading; it is why India has had a tradition of Hindu heterodoxy, why Islam has differences in Sunni and Shia, and intrinsic differences in several Buddhist schools of thought. In the context of the United States, liberals and conservatives have diametrically opposed views of Jesus Christ’s teachings and expectations. What use is the term Christianity, or indeed any religious identity, when it has belief systems that conflict with each other on fundamental levels?

In the following chapters, I will extrapolate on the faultiness of open interpretation and how each of the major religions suffers from being unable to grapple with modernity.

Convenience

Religion has often been used to suit our conveniences. In the previous section, I mentioned how people living in first world countries ignore the circumstances of children in third world countries as having nothing to do with them and how religion helps ameliorate the immorality of such a position by the presumption of a positive afterlife for the children who have died. This is a regrettable truth that we should confront because it takes away the easiness and simplicity of religious answers. Religion, for the longest period of time, has helped facilitate apathy to problems of child mortality in third world countries but the apathy and convenience of religion doesn’t end there.

The majority of people in any first world country don’t give much thought to the problems of countries outside of theirs. Beyond selective media portrayals that create negative stereotypes, there is very little about foreign countries that residents of any given country understand and why should they? After all, it has little impact on their lives. As a result, due to our increasingly complex world and the shortcuts we use in understanding foreigners, we create negative stereotypes about other regions of the world and their people. Religion implicitly creates differences of in-group and out-group conditions and according to psychological research; the grouping of people into these different codifications is instantaneous. We humans are “groupist” by instinct. Race, religion, age, gender, political affiliation, citizenship, and other aspects of our personal identity have consequences for how we are all viewed by society. People codify us into groups, we codify them, and stereotypes are soon formed because of these rash generalizations from our “shortcuts” about other people. This societal reality has a pernicious and demoralizing effect upon entire groups of people.

In my discussions with fellow millennials on facebook, in college clubs, and among friends; I would ask whether they noticed an implicitly racist codification conducted by the generations before us. Almost unanimously, the millennials that I spoke with – among different social classes, having different racial backgrounds, and coming from different political affiliations – agreed with the strange behavior of the generations before us. What we all agreed on was thus: the older generation would assess the quality of an entire racial group by comparing the good and bad people of that racial group that they personally met. For my group of friends and I, this seemed both fundamentally absurd and stupid. By defining people by their racial group, you are erroneously attributing negative qualities to people who have nothing to do with each other beyond being born with the same skin pigmentation. This is fundamentally unfair and racist. To the keen observer, the argument from followers of this belief attributing these distinctions from the “good” or “bad” qualities of the racial “community” does little to obfuscate the underlying racism. A disturbing implication from this viewpoint is the ignorant idea that skin pigmentation is linked to bloodline. In online forums, people will speak of how racist family members of theirs will demand that certain other racial groups be kept out of their family line. However, if people believe that “race” has to do with one’s familial blood then what these racists are advocating is incest. If they truly believe that skin pigmentation determines similarities in blood then this is an advocacy for certain degrees of incest. Fortunately, ignorant racists are entirely wrong; skin pigmentation was determined by people adapting to their specific climates in their environments and skin pigmentation is a phenotype and not a genotype. In concise terms, skin color has nothing to do with how genetically close you are to someone else. For example, if you’re white, you may be closer in genetic relations to your fellow black members of society than your fellow white members. This is primarily because skin pigmentation is just one small part of our genetic make-up; these racial boundaries are a cognitive illusion fostered by misapplied cultural history and historic racism. Examples of this fact can be seen across the world: Northern Indians of India are genetically closer to British people than Central and Southern Indians in genetic make-up, most Europeans can trace their roots to the Near-East, Iraqis are classified as Caucasian and in fact have a significant percentage of people who typical Westerners would generally classify as being “white”, and Mexico has more diversity among different racial backgrounds than at first glance. These distinctions are worthless anyway because the generalizations of each group are based on either racism or ignorant cultural discrimination. Generally speaking, racists have a difficult time classifying anything that isn’t their expected similarity. The predominance of incestuous beliefs seems to be the root of most racism; this provincialism seems to be true of each country that practices it. I’d make the argument that US citizens are criticized for it because it is inconsistent with the championed diversity of the US and shows a failure of the education system of the US; furthermore, government codifications via racial background may be a double-edged sword because it promotes these implicit divisions by the evaluation of society through skin pigmentation.

During a news panel on Fox News in 2014, Megyn Kelly received a wide amount of criticism for openly saying to any possible children watching that Jesus Christ and Santa Claus were white. After the public’s derision of Kelly’s statement, politicians ignored the part about Jesus Christ and shifted the focus to Santa Claus being a diverse cultural icon for children of all skin pigmentations. Virtually no politician or social media critic confronted the quirk about Jesus Christ being a white man and the backlash quickly died down. The educated members of the general public pointed out historical inaccuracies in social media regarding Jesus’s skin pigmentation, groups of Christians stated that the skin color of Jesus Christ obviously didn’t matter because his love for humanity is universal, and discussions about a black Jesus were largely met with an equal possibility to a white Jesus. This type of controversy over the racial background of a religious figure isn’t unique to Jesus Christ or to religious discourse itself. Ancient stories about Cinderella, Ali Baba, and the 16 labors have changed a multitude of times to the renaming of the characters, the changes to the skin color of the characters, and the sanitization of the more morally dubious aspects of the stories that don’t fit with the moral guideposts of the cultures that adopt the stories. In the context of religion, the Buddha has faced similar issues of cultural appropriation; his racial background has changed from Indian to the race of the majority population of each country that adapted Buddhism. In Korea, his appearance is reshaped to that of a Korean and in Taiwan, he looks Taiwanese; this is a blatant historical inaccuracy but these types of iconography persist throughout history and persist within each country where the majority population is of a different racial background from the revered figure. For the most part, within each country that Jesus and the Buddha are revered, their racial background changes to the majority population of that country. So, if the racial background of Jesus Christ and Gautama Buddha don’t matter then why does this form of cultural appropriation overwhelmingly persist throughout the world? A pernicious and unpopular answer could be our psychological biases; psychologists have found that human beings prefer to associate with others who are similar to them. Psychologists have coined the term “relatedness” but from my studies in political psychology, I would argue that this terminology skims over the true impact of the meaning. A more appropriate term might be “narcissistic impulse” and each racial group’s desire to praise their revered figure only under conditions in which the figure is depicted to have the same racial background as them – while wholly ignoring the historical inaccuracies – reveals each individual’s narcissistic desire for their racial background to be the most important in the world. I suspect that it is an explicit and irrational form of religious convenience that isn’t challenged because it would engender a plethora of racism and hate speech from any group that faced such a challenge to their religious worldview because the iconography is more important to satisfying their narcissism than historical facts. While the socially progressive religious adherents are willing to acquiesce to the legitimate history of their religion, it would be more challenging to convince the more ignorant groups in any given country to do the same. This religious convenience reveals a depth of difference and fracturing beyond the multitude of religious denominations that just isn’t discussed. People remain silent about this global racist phenomenon throughout their religious practices precisely because challenging the issue would harm the convenience of the majority of religious people.

Convenience and Coherence

In his best-selling book, Thinking Fast and Slow, Psychologist Daniel Kahneman unveiled the multitude of biases and cognitive shortcuts within the human psyche. The human mind has a bias to frame events in the manner of storytelling. We create stories and form a coherent understanding of the world through this biased framework. As a result of this, we create a coherent framework of the world through our own biased assessments and formulate our own causal relationships for why events happen. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Gods or God itself is a concept of convenience for humankind as a result of looking for the causes of events. These examples can be seen in every religion. In polytheism, different Gods serve different aspects of human convenience from concepts such as a fountain goddess of luck in Rome, to a goddess of love in Hinduism, to a God of trickery in the Norse religion, to goddesses of death in Celtic religions, and to a God of either love or torment who helps people in mysterious ways in the Abrahamic faiths including the dualistic concept of God and the Devil. They are depictions of the human mind, the justifications for our actions, and the human biases that we have.

We use this framework of coherence in our understanding of history and the attachment we place upon historical figures that are similar to us; they help serve our desires for inspirational storytelling and our narcissistic impulse with how we draw similarities to them. An example of this is the stories of the Crusades. Depending on whether you are Christian or Muslim, you may attach yourselves to some of these heroic depictions in films, books, or television shows about the Crusades and liken yourself to one of the so-called heroes. But, were you aware that both the ancient Christian and Muslim warring factions practiced cannibalism and ate the people that they killed – including children? This wasn’t simply one side; it was both religious groups and the censoring of this significant historical fact displays a chief problem with religion. Similar to the apathy of first world peoples to the plight of the third world, religious people ignore the horrific acts in the name of religion for the sake of their own convenience. They ignore the barbarity for the sake of their own coherence to defend the view of religion being morally good for people. The negative history of their religion on the world is argued to be causes other than their religious teachings: the evil nature of humanity, the evil of politics, the instigation of the enemy, the mysterious will of God, and a multifarious amount of other causes. Typically, the popular justification is that false interpretations of the faith occur and cause violence; it is an appeal to purity, that is, an attempt at defending some perceived special and unique goodness of the religious faith. Apologists are willing to downplay, disingenuously misinterpret, and vilify attempts at highlighting horrific acts in the name of religion; to the extent that they ignore ongoing human rights crimes, ignore the victims of the past because they harm the positive coherence of religion, and may even come-up with a convenient notion that the victims are in a better place in the afterlife regardless. The lives and deaths of others become an abstract concept instead of a real event that has hurt real life people. The notion of victims finding peace in the afterlife only serves the convenience and narcissism of the religious believer.

Criticisms of the religion itself can be obfuscated and ignored through the cognitive dissonance and convenience of certain religious principles. The argument from ignorance that God’s plan is unknowable serves the convenience of the religious adherent to ignore human rights abuses. Some religious believers try to dispense with their previous religious identity from their religious faith; often by arguing that their faith isn’t truly a religion and that they’re simply spiritual without identifying with the religious identity because of the negative connotations associated with it. This is consistent with the psychological act of substitution, in which people find alternative reasons to justify their beliefs or actions because of unwillingness to change and an apathetic disposition for the victims because victims are part of the out-group. To that end, people are self-centered because they are far more willing to ignore the victims for the sake of arguing for the purity of the religious faith. People simply don’t care because they’re unwilling to inconvenience themselves by examining their own beliefs.

The obfuscation and self-centeredness doesn’t exist strictly for religion; it can exist in lesser known cultural forms but it is most damaging in the context of religion because of how easily people ignore human rights abuses because it doesn’t fit into the positive image that they have about their own religious beliefs or those of their loved ones.

The Convenience of Good and Evil

The dualistic concept of Good and Evil creates a limiting and damaging worldview that ultimately harms people who believe it to be the truth; even the idea that there are small gray areas in a mostly good and evil framework is harmful because it is also an oversimplification. The concept of good and evil – above all other concepts – leads to extremism, xenophobia, bigotry, hatred, and mass murder. This is primarily because the dualistic concept of “Good versus Evil” is a framework and promotion of extremist ideology; this concept isn’t a safe and carefree ideology for children as is often touted via mass media and popular parenting ideas. It is a concept that compels people to hate and murder under a veneer of justice. The reason for these issues is due to our groupist mentality intermingling with the extremist ideology of absolute good and absolute evil. The idea of mostly good or mostly evil is self-damaging because people have anchored their viewpoints on an absolutist concept and given small concessions to what is still largely an absolutist disposition. When we apply these dual extremist ideologies to our fellow human beings that are different from us then we will always be generalizing them with a simplistic worldview. There are different degrees of how pernicious this concept is but the problem is the concept itself being flawed and instigating hatred toward others.

Apologists of the dualistic concept of Good and Evil are quick to point out truly horrific crimes as proof that the concept itself has merit: the Holocaust, an anecdotal account such as the gruesome death of a child at the hands of a pedophile, or terrorism. Yet, upon a deeper look, these show a shallow understanding of the consequences of believing in good and evil. The Nazis committed a mass genocide after a voluminous amount of religious and political propaganda condemning the Jews for being evil people throughout the history of Christian Europe; they used the economic crisis, the belief that the Jews were responsible for murdering Jesus Christ, and anecdotal stories to argue that Jewish people were a villainous and hateful group that ruined their country. The narrative of doing what must be done to protect the innate goodness of the German people were used to instill the idea, for German soldiers, that they were heroically going through hell and committing these atrocities to protect the goodness of the German public. A violent pedophile who made a child suffer probably emphasizes their other actions, perhaps such as giving to charity, to ameliorate themselves from their horrific sexual tendencies; they vindicate themselves of responsibility by telling themselves that they are a mostly good person. How can we know this? Because that is exactly what the national media does to protect their image and many pedophiles wearing religious garb had defenders who blamed the victims or found examples of a priest being a “good person” to vindicate their rape of children. Psychologists have found that terrorists, by and large, aren’t insane extremists but rather people who turned to violence after seeing their efforts through more peaceful means being ignored or violently crushed – such as peaceful protests or the judicial system being purposefully ineffectual. A terrorist would argue the innate goodness of their actions or possibly highlight how the foreign country that they’re trying to destroy committed more egregious acts of violence upon their people to justify their behavior. In fact, that has been done in the case of Iraqi insurgents; they justified the beheadings by blaming President Obama for beginning an initial bombing campaign that Wall Street and the US’s Gulf allies demanded of him to protect global economic interests.

For the most part, Good and Evil thinking seems to lead people to believe in a “Good Person Syndrome” to self-exalt themselves and other people that they believe to be their in-group. Unsurprisingly, they ascribe villainous characteristics to a perceived hostile out-group. People living under the belief system of good and evil typically perceive themselves to be a good person; they thoughtlessly purchase cheap consumer commodities such as clothing made from Chinese sweatshops, jewelry that was found from child labor in India, the latest electronic gadgets that were made from factories that have long hours while paying their workers pennies a day, oil from dictatorships in OPEC, and when confronted with any of these realities then they argue that they’re a good person because of the positive relationships that they have in their personal lives. They argue that they’re a good mother, a good father, a good spouse, a good friend, and give to a few charities and that evil is just part of how the world exists. They don’t try to inconvenience themselves or admit to profiting off the suffering of the third world because it enriches their lives. Attempts at pointing this out lead to a backlash of calling out hypocrisy from those pointing out these issues, or blaming the out-group by arguing their governments and therefore they themselves are responsible despite the fact that some of these groups live under authoritarian rule or have no means of defending themselves. Once blaming the victim is accomplished, the Good Person Syndrome, makes itself content by arguing perspectives of self-worship via arguments such as how they treat their in-groups civilly, how their in-group is more civilized and open than the out-group through anecdotal evidence presented in the national news media to promote jingoism and confirmation bias used from the media to continue self-celebrating jingoism, and ignore or distance themselves from these realities by arguing that they are a humble folk who have nothing to do with the complexities of the world. Evidently, once there are moral questions that cannot be answered, a believer of good and evil will always argue that they are less than the complexity of the world and that these issues are “greater than themselves”; they ignore the fact that these questions would require them to rid themselves of their convenient, enriched lifestyle and they attribute negative qualities to vilify the people who point out these challenging questions. This isn’t because they are secretly horrible people or because of some evil nature in humanity; it is because they wish for their lives to have a coherent and largely positive narrative. To effectively have a positive worldview when believing in the extremist ideology of good and evil, they need to ignore or find “causes” for what their belief system teaches them is evil in the world. We humans have a negativity bias and negative information is more difficult to get rid of than positive information. Yet, it remains true that this dualistic and extremist teaching serves to create impotence towards complex problems in human affairs and leaves young people unable to deal with the real world.

The psychological effects known as the contrast principle and the consistency principle play a significant role. Psychologists have noted, and national news media has taken advantage of, the fact that people put more emphasis on contrasting characteristics than what is necessarily there when we observe two different subject matters; this can apply to people, expensive items, political ideologies, and many other things. Psychologists have also noted that most people don’t have the time or they’re disinclined to take the effort in assessing each event respectively and instead choose to automatically respond with their prior behavior to the particular issue. An example of the news taking advantage of these two psychological principles would be Piers Morgan, a US news reporter, interviewing Alex Jones, a conspiracy theorist, when his viewership was low on CNN. Morgan’s arguments would obviously look more favorable compared to that of a conspiracy theorist and comparing Morgan to a loudmouth who wasn’t making much intelligible sense would further emphasize Morgan’s positive qualities by a comparison of the two. Unless the viewership is predisposed to Alex’s views, they would overwhelmingly see the positive aspects of Piers Morgan because of the contrast to someone perceived to be a worse person. Incidentally, the contrast principle is probably why Godwin’s law, reductio ad Hitler, is used in so much in Western social media to defend poor arguments or to emphasize the bad qualities of an opponent’s arguments; virtually any action or argument looks better in contrast to a mass genocide by a genocidal and racist maniac.

It is imperative to understand that good and evil itself is an extremist concept to the core of its very definition because it creates a grotesque oversimplification and anchors good and evil caricatures from cartoons onto real human beings. Instead of assessing events, peoples, places, or opposing arguments as their own individualistic concept; good and evil creates an anchoring effect, framing individual concepts with a favorable or antagonistic predisposition, which typically describes out-groups as mostly good or mostly evil compared to the in-group that is making the assessment. Good and evil leads to generalizations of entire peoples and these generalizations serve to create fanciful narratives similar to children’s fantasy books about the real world. We, as a culture, give ourselves narratives of self-exaltation of good and championing the good of the world, while presuming villainous or evil intent from all others different from us. We would be predisposed to assume evil intent on the part of other countries and peoples; this is especially true when the rational reasons for events are absent. When we have no rational basis for our understanding of why events happened – such as war, police taking down protests, or terrorist attacks – then we presume that the other side has an evil intent because that is the coherent framework of good and evil. Worse than that, good and evil is a concept that is averse to listening to rational discourse; the basic premise of the concept is that we must stand for the good and that means celebrating our peoples and cultures as morally or economically superior to the evil Other. The need for coherence in our minds would presume evil intent on the part of others for their actions and the externalizing of evil then compels us to frame racist, bigoted, and hateful narratives. The lack of a rational basis for events makes it easier for people to hate others under the framework of good and evil. The inculcated framing of entire groups of people as “the other” through nationa news media then compels us to conduct war or mass violence. It isn’t just bigoted framing, but distancing to create a gap between the “good” people and the “evil” people, terms such as “foreign nationals”, “Hajis”, “Dykes”, “illegals”, “aliens”, and other such terms create this distance to form dehumanization campaigns. An important part of this, one that politicians, journalists, and psychologists understand about the general public, is that when you aren’t given rational reasons for why an event happens then you will find your own “causes” to form a coherent narrative because every human being needs a coherent understanding of the world around them to both maintain a sense of control and to reduce personal anxiety over dangerous events.

The 2015 Baltimore riots serve as an important example; many detractors blamed the “thug culture” of young black Americans as the basis for the riots. This is an erroneous claim for most open-minded peoples; rap music isn’t going to compel people to act differently than what they already were inclined to do. The true cause of the riots were Baltimore police’s brutality of the civilian populations; there were mass settlements amounting to 5 million per year to settle cases of police brutally assaulting civilians – in one case, the police assaulted a pregnant woman. Baltimore citizens were appealing to their government and demanding legitimate change for over five years but absolutely nothing was done. Upon agreeing to the settlements for family members who were hospitalized from police brutality, the civilians were legally obstructed from bringing these instances of police violence to the national news media. As a result, the national news media was able to frame a very one-sided narrative. While it is true that crime is a problem in Baltimore, the local government and the national news media have simply obstructed and ignored the suffering of the residents. But do you see how shallow framing this issue in terms of good and evil is? The national news media isn’t entirely wrong about gang violence and the crime rates of Baltimore but they ignored the average citizen being brutally attacked by police officers to give a slanted view of what was the true cause of those riots. The burning down of shops, more often than not, is because of opportunistic anarchists from outside of the area coming in to destroy property; this was true for both Ferguson and Baltimore but the belief in “thug culture” created a racist predisposition that made people believe that black Americans just wanted to burn down their own cities to riot.

Apathy and Silence towards Warfare

One of the greatest challenges, and least discussed topics, against religious faith is how shallow these so-called moral convictions truly are when jingoism sets in to begin war against a foreign entity. The sad fact of life is that war propaganda is successful at instilling hatred, racism, bigotry, and a desire for warfare against foreign countries. If morality truly was an important component of our existence then why does it become drowned away when a government prepares itself to launch a war campaign? This is essentially true for every country in the world; at some point, your country went to war and morality went to sleep. Notice that religious organizations of countries launching wars will always become silent about the morality of killing during times of war; they will almost unanimously grow silent in any moral objections. Worse still, average citizens will ignore the war crimes, bombings of foreign civilian homes, and largely create a fictitious understanding of warfare to praise their soldiers as humane when they conduct night raids, bomb houses, kill civilians, and – in some cases – rape civilians. The narrative of good and evil takes a strong hold to make the other side similar to the boogeyman to justify war – i.e. to justify organized mass murder. Foreign civilians are always caught in the crossfire; through two sides shooting at each other or through bombing campaigns. A nation-state always ignores or drowns out the civilian killings committed by their soldiers. The afterlife, the idea of a Higher Power’s plan, and other abstract concepts become excuses to ignore such barbarity.

How can we explain this nigh-universal cognitive dissonance in morality? Why do citizens of all countries have apathy towards their country committing war crimes? Where is the moral condemnation when it truly matters? It is simple: it suits our convenience as an in-group; when people aren’t being forced into conscription and aren’t personally affected by something then they simply won’t concern themselves with the issue. For the most part, people pay attention to their immediate surroundings and daily routine – soldiers committing war atrocities upon innocent civilians in another country is equivalent on the news to changing weather forecasts. People simply don’t care; religious beliefs – when they are truly needed – are met with intense social apathy and usually ignorance of the political events in question. That is the reality of how most people practice their religious faith; jingoism wins. Usually religion blends with racial or cultural jingoism to defend wars and ignore war atrocities; what use is morality in these repeated scenarios?

Consequently, we differentiate killings during war versus murders within our countries. This isn’t simply true of soldiers battling combatants, this is also true in the case of soldiers slaughtering an entire village of civilians – such as in the Haditha killings. Why? A possible utilitarian reason is this: the nation-state differentiates killing in the name of obtaining a political or economic objective (which maximizes State power) versus killing people within the country. Killing people within the country is an act that weakens State power because the murdered individual is useful human capital and further weakens the strength of a nation-state should such acts go ignored because people of similar ethnocentric, gender, sexual orientation, or political background will want equal treatment for their group and demand punishment for the murder committed. Incidentally, in the case of Haditha – and almost all other instances in which soldiers have massacred foreign civilians – the Good Person Syndrome takes full effect; the murdering of children, the handicapped, and other foreign civilians are wholly ignored whilst news media runs stories about how the soldier, usually a man, is a family man with children and a wife. The paradigm of good and evil sets in and the most inconsequential displays of the abstract “goodness” of the soldier are trumpeted while the heinous deed is ignored. Thus, the soldier faces no jail time. Usually the story is never editorialized again because it hurts the coherence of their country being a force of good that the majority of people believe about their country.

This is not meant to be snarky and I didn’t single out an example from the United States to insult it; I’m simply pointing out a modern example of a realistic fact about all nation-states. The late 19th and earliest 20th century was the worst periods of war, genocide, and human rights crimes in terms of scope and scale. This example is simply meant to convey an evident fact: good and evil doesn’t work and results in ignoring morality over providing positive moral answers to the most important questions. It is limiting, shallow, and makes people confused and disoriented in understanding real life events. In Part 2, I will elaborate my contentions on specific religions and why they cause pro-war narratives that result in mass death. However, before that, there are still other mostly universal issues of religious faith that need to be covered.

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10 thoughts on “A work-in-progress chapter of my pro-atheist book

  1. You say:

    The most notorious – and wrong – belief is that purchasing more tickets increases the chances of winning.

    But then I think:

    If I bought a single ticket, I have a 1 in 900 million chance of winning.

    If I buy 2 different tickets, I have a 2 in 900 million chance of winning.

    By purchasing two separate tickets, I have just doubled my odds, have I not?

    Now, 2 in 900 million is far from good. However, it seems totally disingenuous to say that the odds have not changed, when they have.

    Or am I misunderstanding things?

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  2. You’re misunderstanding and I should probably clarify it better so thank you for the feedback.

    The short answer is that each ticket itself only gives you 1/900 million chances each. According to news reports, this translates to 1 in 70,000 years. The example might be crass but it’s like looking for a rare item in a video game. If the rare items chance is 1/64 rare encounters then going for more rare encounters actually doesn’t increase your chances because the game system is set on 1/64 rare encounters per encounter with a monster who will drop the item. Each individual encounter is only 1/64 chances and fighting more of the monsters won’t increase your chances.

    The long answer: Basically, the lotto tickets have a sequence of combinations that are the specific winner. Every other combination, therefore, is a loss. The specific sequence of numbers range from 1 – 60 therefore it doesn’t matter how many times you play because you don’t have that specific sequence. Now, because there are 60 possible combinations in the first number, there will be anything from 1 to 60 so you have to multiply 60 possible combinations of numbers to the next number (i.e. multiplaying all possible numbers you can get with the next set of all possible numbers). The next number is 59 because only one number was taken out of that equation to give you the next number of the possible number of combinations. And we keep going with that. So you will have 60 x 59 x 58 x 57 x 56 x 55 x 54 x 53 x 52 = 1 in 895 million chances. Although, if you add the multiplier then it could possibly range to 1 in 22 billion for the Powerball. There are only 7 billion people on this planet.

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  3. You said:

    The short answer is that each ticket itself only gives you 1/900 million chances each.

    I reply:

    But if I have two tickets, each with different numbers, are not my odds 2/900 million?

    So I have a simple question for you.

    Are the odds of winning not better with two tickets than with a single ticket. This is a question about whether the 1/900 is better or worse or the same as 2/900.

    Even I can calculate these numbers.

    So, it seems your reasoning is mistaken. Playing the lottery more does increase your odds of winning. While it does not increase the odds for any given ticket, holding more tickets increases you chances in a linear manner.

    In your video game example, if you take two people, person A and person B, and person A says they will fight the monster only once, while person B will fight the monster 5 times, person B will have better odds of exiting with the rare item than will person A. That is a fact. Thus, the odds of ‘winning’ increase with the number of times that one plays.

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  4. No, your math is flawed because each ticket is a 1/900 million chance. You have assumed that the previous ticket bought actually matters but it doesn’t. Each ticket is a chance of either winning or losing but that doesn’t mean your odds increase. It means that you had a 1/900 million chance on both occasions. That sounds odd, I know, but this is how the math works because it’s based on the formula of the ticket and not your purchasing of additional tickets. So, in your game example, it is still flawed. The player B had five more chances but the odds didn’t increase. Each chance was a 1/64 odds. That number didn’t grow because of the previous chances.

    To be more clear: In lottery, one specific combination is all that matters, gaining a large amount of the other combinations is irrelevant. It doesn’t increase your odds of gaining that one specific sequence of numbers.

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  5. In the example of the lottery we are likely taking past one another.

    I am talking about purchasing two tickets for the same drawing — in which case the chances for each ticket is 1/900, however, the overall chances (taking into account both tickets) is 2/900.

    In the case of the video game, you are demonstrably wrong. While it is true that each encounter carries with it a 1/64 chance, the person who fights the monster 5 times will have better odds of obtaining the rare item.

    In fact, the person that plays once will have a ~1.5% chance of obtaining the item (1/64) while the person that plays 5 times will have a cumulative chance of ~7.5% of finding the item (1-(1/64)^5). This is a simple probability problem taught to high school math students, and you should be able to find validation of this relatively easily.

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    • That ignores random chance; the independence of each event (since you’re assuming that the past events actually matter but they don’t). You’re putting a disproportionate amount of focus on the 1 in 1/64 while ignoring the 63/64 chances of not gaining the item. If you believe that the 1/64 chance increases then you must also do the math for the 63/64 odds of not gaining the item. It’s due to the fact they’re equally likely outcomes. I’m also confused why you would ask me the question since you seem perfectly capable of checking it out for yourself.

      For more: https://www.problemgambling.ca/EN/ResourcesForProfessionals/Pages/ProbabilityOddsandRandomChance.aspx

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  6. There was a mistake in my formula, and I apologize for that — it should have read: (1-(63/64)^5), but the percentage that I gave was correct.

    In the very article that you linked, the section titled “combinations” explains why I am correct. When you say that someone is going to fight the monster 5 times, then you are asking for the probability that they will NOT find the item five times in a row (i.e. (63/64)^5). Since that is the probability that one will not find the item 5 times in a row, the probability of finding the item is 1 minus this answer — or the corrected formula above — which corresponds to a ~7.5% of finding the item.

    Thus, while the probability of each even doesn’t change (1/64), the combinatorial probability does change — and will increase with trials.

    The same will hold for the lottery, by the way.

    The reason for asking it as a question should be clear: it is a rhetorical device that engages the other person, and lets them reveal the level of their knowledge first. Standard debate tactics, yes?

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  7. Well, it’s hardly a debate when you yourself have confused others by being unclear in the contents of your question, your intentions, and needing your math corrected by the opponent to get the correct answer. But, I’m glad I could help in whatever it was that you were trying to do.

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  8. I was trying to help you understand why your statement regarding probabilities was incorrect. I hope you understand this now.

    The reason that I was doing this was because you said this was for a book, and I figured you did not want to include factually incorrect information in your book.

    In the end, it is up to you whether or not you wish to be wrong, but I thought I would try to help. I apologize if you found my attempt to help offensive.

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