Sunday, May 24, 2009

George Carlin, Religion, and Atheism

The late George Carlin was a funny guy. His comments were disturbing but for the most part right on. One of his most penetrating insights into religion was his comment that over 65% of the United States population believes that there is a super human being living up in the sky who looks down on us and judges our actions. If we are good he allows us to live with him. If we are bad he sentences us to an eternity of torture and suffering without any hope of escape. And he loves us.

I guess you can spin this many different ways. But fundamentally, this is the basic belief system of both Christianity and Islam. I'm not sure about Judaism. Their concept of heaven and hell is more ambiguous and subject to individual interpretation. Matter of fact the Jews have so many different interpretations of the bible that somewhere in their vast body of commentaries you can find any viewpoint you want.

I feel a little guilty when I criticize religion because it does have some value and I believe that there is a truth and valuable teaching behind all the great religions. However, there are too many aspects of fundamental religious beliefs that are at best problematic and at worst destructive and harmful to our progress.

First of all the emphasis on faith as the final determining factor of belief no matter how illogical or unbelievable are the religious stories undermines logic and science. This type of thinking holds us back and hinders our advancment. It is an antilife type of thinking, although it is ironically called "pro-life" I am not just talking about abortion . I am talking about the fundamental religious view that glorifies death and the after-life at the expense of enjoying ourselves in the here and now.

I also have a problem with the religious emphasis on worship of god. Why would an all powerful, all loving god desire worship? Why does he need to continually remind us of our helplessness and sinful ways. If he emphasized our need to be logical and see things clearly rather than believe based on faith in a supernatural world we would get all the humility we require. Also, why he is worried about putting other gods before him or worshipping other gods. It seems he should encourage us to be skeptical and check out all of his competitors or pretenders so that our ultimate belief would be a result of choice rather than fear.

Although religion in its present form has plenty of weaknesses, atheism makes even less sense. How can we be totally positive that there is no god.? We can't. The reason that atheism is growing in popularity is that the religious point of view alienates those who assume they are scientific and logical. The bottom line is that religion has not marketed itself well and has not delivered on its promises. The world has not gotten better because of religion. It has gotten better because of science and enlightened thinking based on a belief in the power of the individual rather than that of an unseen supernatural being.

None of this means that God does not exist or that there is not a MAPOL that can be investigated and discovered. We need to rethink our religions, probably eliminate all of them that believe they have the whole truth, and admit that at the present time we really don't know why we are here or how we got here.


  1. The starting point of my spiritual growth commenced when I chose to abandon my fear and be skeptical. I took just your approach. If the God of the Bible is real then He should be able to stand up to his competitors. I don't think we have to abandon our religion to do this either, we just need to ask questions like your post did.
    I think part of the problen is we too often see religion through the lens of its adherents, rather than what for example the Bible actually teaches. This topic touches on points from many of your recent posts. One example is subjectivity and our view of reality. Here we are, nearly 2,000 yrs after Jesus died and we are interpreting the Gospels through a worldview which Jesus and some of the Gospel writers never held. Even early greats like Augustine interpreted the New Testmaent through a Roman-Greco worldview which ascribed to a totally different view of the body and soul (platonic dualism) than the Hebraic worldview which Jesus himself had. We are at a point now in history which allows us to realize this!
    I have asked myself this very question too; Does God want me to love Him and worship Him out of fear of eternal damnatin or is it something else? Maybe, if we can start to grasp these words by Jesus; "greater love hath no man than to lay down his life for his brother" then we can begin to look differently on what type of relationship it is God seeks with us. This gets into one of the biggest pet peeves I have with Western Christianity and it ties into what I commented about in previous posts.
    I think if we really understand Chrsitianity we have to see that it is not about being a good person. It is about who God is and what He has done for us. If i can attempt to remain relevant, I think the problem can almost be viewed in terms of classification. I am a Christian, he a Buddhist and she a Muslim. Rather, we need to see we are all humans, we all have flaws, we all fall short-- we are all equal under God. This status doesn't change according to my religious beliefs.
    Recently I read "Crazy for God" by Frank Schaeffer, about his dad, Francis, who was a great philosopher and Christian apologist. You read that book and you find out Francis was just like us. He suffered from depression, contemplated suicide and sometimes displayed a fierce temper. We can see someone like Ted Haggard, who seems to understand more about God's nature now then he ever did as the zealous and judgmental leader for the religious right.
    Like your post said though, we have to make admissions. While I might disagree and say I do have some insight into why I am here and where I come from that doesn't mean I get it all or what i claim to beleive or know makes me better, worse or more enlightened than others. I tend to believe that all peoples, cultures and traditions have pieces of genuine knowledge concerning MAPOL and all can be useful in our pursuits. It is as if we are one body with many parts, none are the same and yet we cannot be an operationa whole without them all working together.
    As an addn'l note, Francis Schaeffer wrote a book called "Escape from Reason" in which he argued that the modern (now post-modern) worldview is not based on reason and he defends Christianity as the only unified theory of life while maintaining rationality in the process. It can be done!
    Lastly, I think saying "the world is getting better" is a highly subjective statement and open to debate.

  2. I think if you look in the bible, worship is not a command from God but rather a show of respect from man of the position of God. It is suggested that God approves of worship when he states to let his people go from Egypt so they may worship him and it is also used when ascribed to other Gods in many warning not to give that honor to them. It would be somewhat disrespectful to anyone who freely gives to have an ungrateful taker and that is my take on his jealousy towards affection to other Gods. (As an aside, the other Gods, which were created by men, have no real power which would make their worship really hard for the true God to understand. JL

  3. It was Eric Hoffer, not a religious person, who opined that "the atheist is a religious person." Indeed, a tolerant agnosticism is the antithesis of rigid religiousity, not atheism. "Regligulous" was just as dogmatic and unyielding as the religions it hoped might someday be outlawed.

    I'm a believer of sorts. Then again, I have trouble with other believers. I often find I have more in common with agnostic friends than with people who go to my church.

    Gustave LeBon noted that science give us a great deal, but never promised to make us happy. It gives us facts, but not meaning. And Jung didn't understand where religious inclination in human beings comes from, and surrendered himself to the idea that most humans are religious (or spiritual) creatures.

    How about we try being nice to each other? Let's start there, agree to not shut each other up, and work out the rest as we go along.

    Nice blog, Ira. I found my way here through Seth's writings which I've enjoyed for a couple of years now.