PZ is at it again!

I’m going to need a whole category for this wonderful homo sapiens sapiens accademicus pretty soon. Over at my favourite atheist blog, pharyngula, PZ is ranting and raving at christians: american, evolution-preaching christians. (Whew! does that last phrase even square with the grammar of american english?) Now, i have myself been for a number of years a fervent devotee of what he has now baptised ‘enlightenment sunday’ (the i’m-not-going-to-church kind of day of rest), but i just cannot let him get by with his … enlightenment (read: XVIIIth century) views on religion.

So, PZ, here’s what religion is not (certainly not on the european side of the pond) (all the time): its not just a bunch of metaphysical gibberish about gods in the sky and creepy men walking on water. That stuff is the icing on the cake, it’s the fluff that makes it all sound nice, it’s the catalyst to get things going in stubborn minds. But it’s not what religion is about. Religion is about getting people to be good and giving them some way to wonder about those mysteries no one can fathom except when expressing them metaphorically.

I will most willingly grant you that it is high time that we revamped our smoldering heap of religious ideas, not simply demythologizing them, but completely re-working them into something much more appropriate to our enlightened times. Yet, i would never want to abandon the natural impulse in (many) human beings (homines sapientes sapientes religiosa) that leads them to perpetually ask those impossible questions that we cannot answer. For it is in fervently searching for the answers that we sometimes stumble upon great truths (freedom, equality, love, etc.)

So get rid of the obtuse and very dangerous metaphysics, throw the gods, demi-gods and i’m-not-dead-anymore gods by the way side of human spiritual evolution, but don’t ask people to sit alone at home with a picture book featuring pharyngula-stage embryos when every strand of their double helixes yearns for company, music and that wonderful sense of awe at the mystery behind all those things that the scientists of the day cannot begin to explain.

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7 Comments to “PZ is at it again!”

  1. Great rebuttal. Did you post the entire response on his blog? If not, I think you should.

  2. Your argument is largely semantical, it seems.

    “So get rid of the obtuse and very dangerous metaphysics, throw the gods, demi-gods and i’m-not-dead-anymore gods by the way side of human spiritual evolution”

    What you’re describing is philosophy. We have that already.

    I don’t agree with your characterization of the referred blog post either. It doesn’t seem like it’s advocating any of the stuff you say it is. I haven’t read the blog before, so I only have that one post to go by though.

  3. no i don’t think i’m describing philosophy. Because if you remove the metaphysical jargon of religion, you are still left with rituals, with gettings-together, with mystery. Those are all things that philosophy in its purely intellectual aims misses. Religion binds people together and helps us wade through a world that remains in large part incomprehensible: i don’t want to get rid of those very good and necessary features – only of the gobbledygook that is presently used to make them stick.

    And the Pharyngula blog is most certainly 100% anti-religion. That’s why it’s so popular (and why i love to read it myself).

  4. “Because if you remove the metaphysical jargon of religion, you are still left with rituals, with gettings-together, with mystery.”

    I suppose.. though I don’t think we have a lack for any of those things–especially since we have the Internet. I just think you’re looking starry-eyed and nostalgic at something that really people would do anyway. And really, the rituals are a simply a pretext for the metaphysical jargon. Taking away the jargon nullifies any purpose for the rituals. I’ll agree with you that religion is a unifying force, though.

  5. i will grant u the internet comment: any revamping of religion will have to embrace online relationships.
    That this is “something that really people would do anyway” is, imo, precisely the problem. (Some) humans are essentially religious and will do religion no matter what. The problem is then to come up with a form of religion that is no longer prone to rash and violent outbursts. And it think that one of the reasons why religion can be so devicive and violent is because it is linked to metaphysical dogma. If we can get people to stop burning candles because they think that Mary will then heal their cat, and start burning candles because it has been shown that burning candles soothes the mind, then we will have a useful and much less dangerous religion.

    People will always wonder what happens when they die and we are nowhere close to having the grand majority of us believe that _nothing_ happens. But if we can convince them that they will not please God by blowing themselves up – or by shoving ID down people’s throats – because there is no (known) God to please, then we will have made the world a somewhat better place.

    And finally, i don’t think that removing the jargon would destroy the rituals. The two are intimately linked, but the practice of, say, prayer is probably a good way for the brain to reboot itself once a day – regardless of who you pray to or weather you just sit there silently.

  6. We have lots of rituals in today’s society that have nothing to do with religion. Sports events are full of them, for instance. I don’t see what the necessary connection between religion and rituals is. If people feel the need to get together and do some rituals, they will do them. Religion doesn’t have a monopoly on that.

    What most people want (it seems to me) is a feeling of belonging and meaning. What many don’t understand is that even though religion has traditionally been a way to get those, it’s not the only way. Take sports events: people experience the same sense of belonging and meaning when they cheer for their team together with thousands of others as they do when they pray together with lots of other people.

    What you’re describing sounds like philosophy plus some rituals. We already have them outside of religion. To ask the timeless questions, you can turn to philosophy. To get the sense of belonging and meaning, you can turn to whatever makes you feel belonging and meaning.

    People seem to imagine some artificial relationships between religion and other things. Morality and religion. Meaning and religion. Belonging and religion. The truth is that while religion has traditionally been one way to get all of those it is far from the only way. Those “spiritual” moments can be had from something other than religion. They can even be chemically induced, which says something about the non-connection between religion and that “spiritual” feeling of awe and mystery.

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