Sunday, May 18, 2008

Why I Seldom Argue With Religious Types Any More

So I got into this, um, discussion with a Christian evangelistic type over at Atheist Revolution. I’ve said it before; arguing with clever religious types reminds me of a “conversation” between 5-year olds.

“My daddy’s a fireman!”

“I have a new dolly!”

The comment thread got quite long, and I only have one more thing that he brought up that I would like to address. First, a little background to set the context and illustrate my point above.

Joshua’s opening gambit:

Your entry statement says 'breaking free from irrational belief'. With respect, what do you mean by this?What, exactly, do you mean by rationalism? Plato would have argued that rationalism is about perceiving reality through the mind - that reality can only be really known through the mind - not through experience or the senses. Berkeley argued that we don't even know for sure that what we perceive with our senses actually exists at all - putting into the doubt the whole material world including science. And even if you accept that the senses can be trusted - what about the 'irrational' nature of science - take, for example, string theory that modern scientists are taking very seriously: that there are more than 3 dimensions! If rationalism is about perceiving things in time and space in a logical, coherent way - well, then, modern science is suggesting that we may have to think again.

Therefore what do you mean 'irrational [belief]'.

This to show that nothing is irrational, or everything is, or we puny mortals can’t really tell the difference.

My response:

This is a brain-muddling argument, made to create self-doubt. It applies equally to the religious bullcrap that you have been spoon fed, and will be spoon fed from cradle to grave. Here is the key to unlock this box: it makes no difference. If you think it does, light a match and hold it to your hand and try not to be burned. Do it often enough, and your friends will have you committed. Reality has a way of imposing itself, no matter if it's as it seems, or we all live in a bowl of shaving cream.

There are [more than 3 dimensions]. There are at least four. Time is the fourth, and Einstein and others have the math to prove it. Nothing can exist for no time at all.


If that's not enough, thinking of solid objects in three dimensions (length, width, height) is a very linear (two-dimensional) way of looking at things. Moreover, all dimensions below "#4" are imaginary, not being able to exist on their own.

We always have to think again, when new information is uncovered. Unless, that is, some clowns steeped in dogma make us drink Hemlock.

"Therefore what do you mean 'irrational [belief]'."

Death is life, down (burial) is up ("Heaven") "First causes" had to come "ex machina" from a Deus whose very complexity defies the "first cause" and complexity arguments. How's that just for starters?

The response:

Are you suggesting that rationalism - that Plato, Descartes, Leibniz, Spinoza and others were guilty of something negative in some important way?At the end of the day all philosophy, whether it is rationalism or empiricism is open to doubt.

Are you suggesting that all western philosophy is negative in some important way?

Am I trying to impugn Famous Western Philosophers when I suggest that religious people put forth the, “we can’t know what’s really real” argument in order to create self-doubt?

See what I mean?

Later on, Joshua holds out St. Paul and St. Francis of Assisi as examples of what’s good and right about Christianity. This is in response to my belief that religious institutions are money machines. These guys are supposedly the models of self-sacrifice, martyrdom, and poverty. I tell Joshua (in so many words) that I think Paul was a little more opportunistic and self-serving than the popular press would have one believe, just not terribly successful at launching the money machine in his own lifetime. In hindsight, the response should have been predictable.

What about St. Francis?

Ok, What about St. Francis?

St. Francis belongs to a group of people known as ascetics. Lots of religions have them.

They are really good PR. In addition, they are really good fund-raisers because they look poor. They dress and act that way not because they have to, but because they want to. This is the dress code of the Order that they have joined. Typically, they take a vow of poverty, but they are panhandling all the time. The money goes to the Temple, or the HMIC (Head Monk In Charge). The monks themselves might live an austere life, and perhaps have some kinky prayer or penitence rituals, but historically, they have eaten well when others in the neighborhood were not so fortunate. Historically too, this is one of the finest examples of a working commune. That always amuses me a little when religious types start ripping on hippies or Marxists.

There were compelling reasons for the working poor to consider the monastic/cloistered life that had nothing to do with spirituality. The prospect of three square meals, a roof and a cot for life, along with some kind of education still has its appeal today. Now, some people enlist in the army for much the same reasons. People who join monasteries or convents are, for the most part, people who believe that it is nobler to be pissed upon than to piss on others. Or, they believe in the nobility of being a drudge for their chosen cause. They either have a bit of a masochistic streak, possibly as a result of church-induced guilt and paranoia, or they have a strong desire to let someone else tell them what to do so they don’t have to think about it. The sameness of everyday ritual would also be appealing for high-functioning autistics and borderline autistics.

Back to the “great PR” assertion.

This is the face that the church wants you to see:

Not this.


Not this:


Not this:

Quoting Prof. Thomas J. Reese, an American Vatican expertfrom Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University "Inside the Vatican" (Harvard University Press, 1996) “In 1994, the [Price-Waterhouse Independent] audit listed: - 1,483 billion lire in assets [About $848 million]: - - 732 billion lire [about $419 million] in liabilities (in the"Consolidated Financial Statements of the Holy See" (410 billion incash, 479 billion in stocks and bonds, 29 billion in gold, and 470billion in fixed assets - investments and real-estate) . 269 billionlire are in deposits and accounts of Vatican entities, 96 billion foremployees' severance indemnities and 262 billion at the value ofpensions to present employees;- 750 billion are in net assets [$430 million]. These figures are without the bank and the Vatican City. Reese estimates that it would add up to$500 million to $1 billion. However, deducting the Vatican City'sbudget and the $270 million reported as "fixed assets", the sum islower than $1 billion, maybe even less than quarter billion dollars.

That was 14 years ago, and does not include “priceless” works of art, or inflation in the Real Estate market. One should note that closing churches, and consolidating diocese in the US and selling off Real Estate to pay for the pedophile lawsuits was not, strictly speaking, necessary. The Church has a very proprietary attitude towards assets already in their possession. The Vatican is not going to take it on the chin, not when the parishioners can.

This tally also does not include the total net worth of the Anglican Church, the Episcopal Church, the Methodist Church, the Baptist Church, The Church of Latter Day Saints, the Church of Scientology, The collective worth of the Televangelistic mega-churches, Jehovah’s Witnesses, etc., etc, etc.

This tally also represents only one of three financial statements that are normally used to track business activities, the Balance Sheet. There is also an Income Statement, and a Statement of Cash Flow, or whatever they are calling it this year. The Income Statement tracks annual revenues, before and after expenses, and the Statement of Cash Flows, basically shows where the income was generated, and where the expenses originated. This last document is something that a tax-exempt, “not-for-profit”, religious organization would kill to protect, I suspect. The amount of “charitable donations” that actually make it into the hands of charity cases after everyone gets paid, bribes change hands, kickbacks are counted, and all expenses are deducted might make people think twice about donating.


At 8:21 PM, Blogger TarBabyJim said...

Interesting Blog. Thank you for the read.
Jim Baldwin
LetHerIn dot org

At 6:43 AM, Blogger Romeo Morningwood said...

It is better to look poor than to be poor. It is a 'Miracle' that the scales cannot fall off of their eyes...when those of us on the outside look at the glorious Fleecing that the Flock gets we shake our heads in..dare I say it..disbelief.
It is only when you remember and realise that FEAR is the prime motivator, that you can understand why the flock doesn't dare ask too many questions.

It is like arguing with a 5 year old so please feel free to invoke the ultimate debate bomb..

I know you are but what am I INFINITY!

At 10:59 AM, Blogger Rita said...

Yay for you! that was a great rebuttal.

I was just thinking this morning how actually insane some of the now venerable Catholic saints were, esp. the ascetics.

Irrationality is religions best friend

At 12:00 PM, Blogger vjack said...

Wow! That was really interesting. And to think that I almost deleted the comments of that Christian troll. Doing so might have made me feel better, but we'd have missed out on this. I'm glad I didn't.

At 3:54 AM, Blogger breakerslion said...

donn: Quite right. Most want to believe so badly that they shy away from any conflict that might wake them out of the dream.

handmaiden: Thank you again for the kind review. Irrationality and fear, as donn said. Fear of death, fear of making their own decisions and being wrong, fear of adulthood, and so on.

vjack: So glad you didn't. That thread really took off in spite of Joshua's long-windedness.

At 4:23 AM, Blogger TarBabyJim said...

There is another reason people stay in a religious system, family. Nobody wants to be branded a trater to the Pope and the church.

I grew up in the catholic church and I always hated the church. They frightened me. Nuns hitting you on the hand with a ruler while a dead saints bones hang from thier necks. (they call the bones blessed "relics").
Kissing stone statues and talking to dead saints and Mary. Man, that shit was CrAzY.
Somehow I got away from religion but still love Jesus.

I guess it's hard to get ALL the crazy out of a person.
LetHerIn dot org

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