Posts tagged ‘why we have religions’

Boycott Pepsi?

I just read a call to boycott Pepsi, as the blogger relates the offense, for omitting “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance so as not to be divisive.  Pepsi supposedly did that when printing the phrase “one nation…indivisible…” on cans.  The call came from a Christian I know.  To put words in her mouth, she is probably saying that the Pledge should be recited as Congress has dictated it.

It took about ten seconds of my time to search on the words “Pepsi Pledge of Allegiance” to find that this is a rumor started about a decade ago over something Dr. Pepper may have done.    The “one nation…indivisible” phrase, it would seem obvious, is what one might say in saluting the nation.  “One nation, under God” is a religious observation.

Once again, though, we nonbelievers would have received the default discrimination, one that some beverage company would have tried to save the world from–sticking religion into everything–when religion was the intrusion in the first place.  (I’m sure you know, but around 1954 in the communist-obsessed environment overheated by Senator Joe McCarthy and others,  Congress thought they’d trip up the Commies but injecting God into the Pledge–the same environment that brought us Vietnam–because Commies wouldn’t say “under God” if it was in the Pledge.  Will someone one please answer my question:  Why would the Commies say the Pledge as it was?  And if they were going to falsely recite the Pledge, why wouldn’t they falsely Pledge to God as well?).

That’s what it is, you know.  A Pledge or acknowledgement that we recognize that the U.S. nation is under God’s charge and loyal to Him.  I would venture to say that the communist threat from within has passed… so is Congress likely to remove the phrase?   Congress has not only shifted Right, it has shifted even more to the Christian Right.  Individually, those congressmen and senators will tell you that their first loyalty is to God… just like their radicalized Muslim brothers would.

You may be familiar with my theory of why or how the religiously affected get that way (Religion is God’s Way of Showing Us it’s a lot Earlier in Human Evolution than We Thought).  If they are deceived, even if willingly, that makes ours a rough row to hoe.  Everywhere that religion encroaches, once it’s there, it’s locked on.  Marked territory not only to never be freed again–the religious are blind to it.  It no longer is open to question.  Religion gets a free ride, a pass.   It is outside the questions, outside the equation of things that can be examined for fairness or equality.

That’s why it is so hard for us to gain any ground even though religion has encroached so much into are world.  Blind justice may treat us fairly, but not if justice is blinded by religion.  Why do they think they should be able to treat us unfairly?  Well, they pay lip service to tradition, but it’s the underestimated effect religion has on the religious that  they are most blind to.

If you consider civil rights laws, and rest assured that is the field where the discrimination against us lies, we are being discriminated against due to religion.  The bigots among the religious say we can’t be because we have no religion.









July 19, 2014 at 4:20 pm Leave a comment

The Echo of the Eons

Consider a man, an early man, maybe 100,000 years ago or a little more.   Just like his animal counterpart of 4 to 5 million ybp, he thinks there’s someone out there in the dark.   He can hear this someone in the wind.   It may be the same someone who brought the fire.  They remember a lightning bolt that appeared to be thrown to the clan but then struck a tree.  Was it the gift of fire?  Or was this force evil?  Did he try to strike the clan?  Or was it just a warning?  They tried to keep the fire, but didn’t know how. 

 “Uuhhh.  Uhhhh.”  They asked the fire to come back.  Nothing happened.  

The next time they thought this powerful One was coming (they thought he hid in the storm clouds), they repeated their plea.  “Uuhhh.  Uuhhh.”  Nothing.   All the men came into the tribe’s clearing.  They all began, “Uuhhh.  Uuhhh.”  It was a distressing noise.  The strong man rammed his staff on the ground.  It startled the others.  He tamped a spot softly with his staff.  He tapped the spot harder and harder, then he spoke the word on the beat.  “Uuhhh!   Uuhhh!”  He leaned toward the others emphasizing the sound and the beat.  “Uuhhh!  Uuhhh!”  Slowly they joined in.  And as one, they raised their voices, Uuhhh!! Uuhhh!!”    Nothing happened.

 The next time storm clouds gathered, the clan assembled on their common ground.  The strong man pounded the ground.  They all chanted, “Uuhhh!  Uuhhh!!”  After a while, they became tired.  As they were about to give up, lightning struck in the distance.

 Renewed, they began chanting again.  “Uuhhh!!  Uuhhh!!”   The strong man continued pounding the beat.  The leader of the hunt stepped before the men and spread his fingers wide.  He made his hands quiver as if it was a prelude to some coming event.  The men, continuing the chant, spread out into the open meadow beyond the clan’s compound.  They kept their voices strong.  It was hard to hear them over the gathering storm so they stood their ground.  One of them motioned to the man farthest out to stop.  He was into a creek up to his shins.  A blinding bolt of light burst out of the man’s chest and he fell dead into the stream. The crackle of thunder reached the others.  Son of a bitch! the strong man said, though, in the words of their day, “UH uh uh UUUUHHH!!”

 When the next storm gathered the men again met on the pounded ground of the clan’s common.  The strong man tamped the beat, the others chanted.  The leader of the hunt palmed the air in front of him with both hands indicating the men should stay put.  There were a few lightning strikes visible, but no fire appeared.  This went on for a few months.  The men started stamping their feet to the beat of the chant.  It seemed to ease the monotony of the monotonal chant. 

 At the next storm and chant session, a weird little guy, who’d yet to hit the first animal on a hunt, had his spear with him!  He started tapping it to the beat of the strong man’s staff and the tribal chant.  Every so often, after a downbeat, he’d raise his spear toward the storm and it caused the men’s emotions to swell until they let out a yell.  The tribesmen looked at each other.  One by one, they slipped away and returned with their spears.  Before long, the tribe was tapping their spears, chanting, and pointing toward the storm and shouting in unison, “UUUHHHH.” 

Soon enough, the lightning struck a tree on the meadow.  The hunt leader motioned for a couple of men to fetch the fire.  As they got to the tree, lightning struck again.  They both fell dead.   “UH uh uh UUUUHH!” said the strong man.

April 14, 2013 at 9:33 am Leave a comment

An Atheist Defends Religion

Maybe your eye would be caught like mine when I saw this title in the bookstore. The atheist in question is Bruce Sheiman and the subtitle of his book is: Why Humanity is Better Off with Religion than Without It.

Also, like me, perhaps, you’re not only curious how another atheist would defend this thesis, but whether our secret, or maybe not so secret, deepest, darkest fear could be true: Is humanity better off with religion than without it? We can all recite some pretty gory events even in Chritianity’s history, e.g., upwards of 50,000 burnt at the stake in the Dark and Middle Ages for heresy, blasphemy, and other offenses against God–justice provided courtesy of the Church.

In our evolutionary past, yes, religion did have survival value for the species. It wouldn’t just be a spandrel–an evolutionary by-product rather than an adaptation in it’s own right–given it’s universal spread. If religion wasn’t an advantageous adaptation surely there would be one or more cultures somewhere in the world without it. But it is universal.

Bruce Sheiman indicates the various benefits, social and psychological, that religion can give to it’s participants. I think most of us would have to give religion and it’s followers that–they do derive some benefits from it. At the risk of over simplifying Sheiman’s work much of what he says seems to be compatible with the idea that believers have religion and its various benefits due to a process, maybe rational, that comes to the conclusion, “Religion is good; let’s have it.” In other words, believers have religion because it is good, or at least, they perceive it that way.

I think we owe the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, and Hitchens) a lot; thank you for your service. They’ve done much toward our liberation. That’s taken some courage to speak out and strength to face largely unfair criticism (My bent is a tad bit more soft, maybe not a lot, and a smidge more “spiritual.”). I, and perhaps you, have been buoyed up by their work and words. I was disappointed, though, to learn that some (at least Dawkins and Dennett–I don’t know that I’ve heard Harris’ or Hitchens’ positions) believe religion is NOT an adaptation, but a spandrel.

For me, all the pieces of the puzzle snapped together when I learned of the evolutionary origin of religion. That was the greatest revelation of my life. It was the “missing link” in the understanding of why there is religion. Religion IS NOT a response to supernatural beings in a spiritual realm, but an adaptive characteristic that gave some tribes, some cultures an advantage–akin to something like our bellicose nature and territoriality.

Save that discussion for another time, Sheiman’s book, I think, is worth a read, if for nothing more than stimulating the discussion on the more interesting topic, that an atheist would defend religion. I can see a humanist offering tentative support to the extent that religion serves humanity, but stopping short of any cowtowing to religious dogma or a hierarchical power structure. (Not on this blog, but I wrote a short story a few years ago about an anti-religious man in a post-apocalyptic distopia–my default crucible for what-if-reality–who found himself defending a church as his humanist gut told him to do.)

In what seems to me to be a cursory discussion, since the book was printed in 2009, though it could have been written earlier, Sheiman gives short shrift to the idea that any genes could carry forward much of a propensity toward religious belief and grants even less merit to the truly scientific parts of neurotheology–those parts being the the cause and effects of neurochemicals in religious belief and thought. Sheiman dealt with both of these in less space than a single page.

Those are not directly his topic of course. And it’s not my intent to drag his thesis through my flower garden (well, maybe it is), but the thesis that religion is an evolutionary adaptation, to me, is as important an organizing principle in the study of religion’s origins as evolution is as an organizing principle in the study of biology.

What’s germaine about this to Sheiman’s point? It goes to the heart of why we have religions–and how the religious practitioners “get ahead.” (Long story short–think of the time scale–the last hundred thousand years. The tribes or troupes that have deep, committed involvement in they’re common identity, origin myths, ultimate destiny, and, possibly, fidelity to the same deity, as well as a common “rant, chant, dance and trance,” these peoples would thrive where less bonded–and less bound–early humans would not. Coupled with bellicosity and territoriality, what’s stronger than invoking God & Country as we go to war?) And there you have what would be the strong sense in which it was better for humanity to have religion than not.

I hope these twin theses, of religion as an evolutionary adaptation and the neurochemical underpinnings of belief, which might be a corollary of the former, weren’t discounted by Sheiman as I fear they might have been by Dawkins and Dennett to fit well within their belief structures about religion. That is, could Sheiman want religion to have such a source in the heart of humanity that it exists precisely for the good it does, while at the same time, Dawkins and Dennett reject the possibility that religion served as an advantageous adaptation–and that that legitimizes religion to a greater extent than they wish it did?

In spite of its evolutionary origin, if religion offers an enjoyable association of people who’ve come together to express gratitude for life, health, and each other’s company in good will and who intend to do good for those in need, it would be hard to fault that.

July 30, 2011 at 3:04 pm 1 comment


I write for agnostics, freethinkers, atheists and humanists. In my nonfiction, the purpose is the celebration of our noble human spirit. The general pursuit may be Evolutionary Theology, though believers seem to populate that field (so maybe it's evolutionary Humanism). By looking at who we are and where we came from, we can derive much meaning, and perhaps more importantly, understanding, as well as some sense of where we could go.

Religion is God’s Way of Showing Us it’s Earlier in Human Evolution than We Thought

This title is an upcoming book at the publisher's now. I'd like feedback on this title. It's meant to make people think and feel something. And to hint at things for both believers and non- on multiple levels. The book is of a wider scope, though, one which is ultimately a way to grasp more meaning for ourselves. Believers are always telling us our lives don't have meaning without a god. We often counter that it's more meaningful to be looking for our own meaning than to be arbitrarily ascribed it by an imaginary supernatural being. Ultimately, and this is what I think is unique about this book, you'll see how we can be just as spiritual in our own way. Since we've inhertited a capacity for religion (some more than others) as an evolutionary adaptation, believers and non- are both potentially spritual in the same way--but it is an earthly, secular spirituality in which we all can share.