Maryam Namazie on the Islamic Inquisition

I’m sending you all away.  For one thing, I’m busy and woefully short of advance posts.  But most importantly, there’s something I think you need to read.

It’s Maryam Namazie’s speech at the World Atheist Conference.  You really should read it in its entirety.  But I’ll put an excerpt here, because I believe this bit needs to be understood clearly by all of us:

Nowhere is opposition greater against Islamism than in countries under Islamic rule.

Condemning Islamism and Islam is not a question of judging all Muslims and equating them with terrorists.

There is a distinction between Islam as a belief system and Islamism as a political movement on the one hand and real live human beings on the other. Neither the far-Right nor the pro-Islamist Left seem to see this distinction.

Both are intrinsically racist. The pro-Islamist Left (and many liberals) imply that people are one and the same with the Islamic states and movement that are repressing them. The far-Right blames all immigrants and Muslims for the crimes of Islamism.

[It is important to note here that Islamism was actually brought to centre stage during the Cold War as part of US foreign policy in order to create a ‘green’ Islamic belt surrounding the Soviet Union and not concocted in some immigrant’s kitchen in London; moreover many of the Islamists in Britain are actually British-born thanks to the government’s policies of multiculturalism and appeasement.]

Both the far-Right and pro-Islamist Left purport that Islamism is people’s culture and that they actually deserve no better, imputing on innumerable people the most reactionary elements of culture and religion, which is that of the ruling class, parasitical imams and self-appointed ‘community leaders’.

Their politics ignores the distinction between the oppressed and oppressor and actually sees them as one and the same. It denies universalism, sees rights as ‘western,’ and justifies the suppression of rights, freedoms and equality for the ‘other.’

Civil rights, freedom and equality, secularism, modernism, are universal concepts that have been fought for by progressive social movements and the working class in various countries.

As a result of such politics, concepts such as rights, equality, respect and tolerance, which were initially raised vis-à-vis the individual, are now more and more applicable to culture and religion and often take precedence over real live human beings.

Moreover, the social inclusion of people into society has come to solely mean the inclusion of their beliefs, sensibilities, concerns and agendas (read Islamism’s beliefs, sensibilities, concerns and agendas) and nothing more.

The distinction between humans and their beliefs and regressive political movements is of crucial significance here.

It is the human being who is meant to be equal not his or her beliefs. It is the human being who is worthy of the highest respect and rights not his or her beliefs or those imputed on them.

It is the human being who is sacred not beliefs or religion.

The problem is that religion sees things the other way around.

And she quotes from Mansoor Hekmat at the end:

“Moreover, in my opinion, defending the existence of Islam under the guise of respect for people’s beliefs is hypocritical and lacks credence. There are various beliefs amongst people. The question is not about respecting people’s beliefs but about which are worthy of respect. In any case, no matter what anyone says, everyone is choosing beliefs that are to their liking. Those who reject a criticism of Islam under the guise of respecting people’s beliefs are only expressing their own political and moral preferences, full stop. They choose Islam as a belief worthy of respect and package their own beliefs as the ‘people’s beliefs’ only in order to provide ‘populist’ legitimisation for their own choices. I will not respect any superstition or the suppression of rights, even if all the people of the world do so. Of course I know it is the right of all to believe in whatever they want. But there is a fundamental difference between respecting the freedom of opinion of individuals and respecting the opinions they hold. We are not sitting in judgement of the world; we are players and participants in it. Each of us are party to this historical, worldwide struggle, which in my opinion, from the beginning of time until now has been over the freedom and equality of human beings…”  (Mansoor Hekmat, Islam and De-Islamisation,January 1999)

Remember these things, because they’re important.  You need to remember them when charges of racism and cultural imperialism get thrown your way by people who would prefer you not criticize their faith.  Do not let people stop the conversation.

Got that?  Good.  Now go finish the speech.

Sod This, I’m Holding Out for Ragnarok

Oh, my god.  What a surprise.  The End Times have not come.  I am so shocked.  I just do not believe it. I-

(Hee hee.  Ho ho.  BWAH-HAHAHAHA!)

I can’t keep a straight face. 

The excuses as to why the Rapture failed to happen on schedule will no doubt be mildly amusing.  Same ol’ song and dance, I’m afraid: some doofus predicts the apocalypse, the apocalypse mysteriously fails to happen.  (When reached for comment, Jesus Christ is reported to have said, “Ha ha ha PSYCH!  Matthew 24:36, bitches!”)  Wot an anti-climax.

I’m holding out for Ragnarok anyway.  The Twilight of the Gods is so much more awesome than all the silliness in Revelation.

The Morality of Religion: If This Is Morality, I’d Rather Be Immoral

I’ve been planning a set of posts on atheism and morality for some time now, but kept kicking the can down the road because I’ve had easier things to write about.  I’m still busier than a one-legged woman in an arse-kicking competition, but it’s time to open me gob on the whole subject.  Consider this the prelude.

There’s this perception among too many people that being religious automatically equals being moral.  Do yourself an experiment: hit random people up with a scenario.  They’re on a jury, and have to decide who is the most convincing character witness for the accused.  Would they place more weight on the testimony of an atheist or a pastor?  Based on how atheists are viewed in other surveys, I’d be willing to be the vast majority of the public would plump for the pastor.

They shouldn’t.

Being religious doesn’t automatically make you moral.  We’ll explore that in some depth in upcoming posts.  But for now, I just want to present a case study.  This is what one of the big theological thinkers had to say about genocide, infanticide, et al:

By setting such strong, harsh dichotomies God taught Israel that any assimilation to pagan idolatry is intolerable.  It was His way of preserving Israel’s spiritual health and posterity.  God knew that if these Canaanite children were allowed to live, they would spell the undoing of Israel.  The killing of the Canaanite children not only served to prevent assimilation to Canaanite identity but also served as a shattering, tangible illustration of Israel’s being set exclusively apart for God. 
Moreover, if we believe, as I do, that God’s grace is extended to those who die in infancy or as small children, the death of these children was actually their salvation.  We are so wedded to an earthly, naturalistic perspective that we forget that those who die are happy to quit this earth for heaven’s incomparable joy.  Therefore, God does these children no wrong in taking their lives.
So whom does God wrong in commanding the destruction of the Canaanites?  Not the Canaanite adults, for they were corrupt and deserving of judgement.  Not the children, for they inherit eternal life.  So who is wronged?  Ironically, I think the most difficult part of this whole debate is the apparent wrong done to the Israeli[sic] soldiers themselves.  Can you imagine what it would be like to have to break into some house and kill a terrified woman and her children?  The brutalizing effect on these Israeli [sic] soldiers is disturbing.

This comes only after William Lane Craig claims God “has no moral duties to fulfill.”  And an enormously long passage of nonsense that snipes at Richard Dawkins apropos of nothing, presents one of the lamest “logical” arguments for God’s existence ever put forth by someone who purportedly possesses a functioning brain, and then childishly claims atheists have proven God exists if they say the God of the Old Testament did something morally reprehensible in commanding the Israelites to slaughter every man, woman and child in Canaan.  William Lane Craig has proven my (and my Christian best friend’s) point that too much prayer completely rots a person’s brain.

Now, better thinkers than me have given William Lane Craig’s reprehensible “reasoning” the disrespect it deserves.  Greta Christina sums up his argument succinctly and without all of the flowers and frills that might make it look attractive to someone trying to reconcile the violent, jealous fuck of a rat bastard deity evident in the Old Testament with the loving, compassionate God they think exists:

And he said that as long as God gives the thumbs-up, it’s okay to kill pretty much anybody. It’s okay to kill bad people, because they’re bad and they deserve it… and it’s okay to kill good people, because they wind up in Heaven. As long as God gives the thumbs-up, it’s okay to systematically wipe out entire races. As long as God gives the thumbs-up, it’s okay to slaughter babies and children. Craig said — not essentially, not as a paraphrase, but literally, in quotable words — “the death of these children was actually their salvation.”

That’s what he’s saying.  And the reason why he’s saying it is because the Bible is supposed to be inerrant, and God is supposed to be good, ergo there must be some reason why God can order genocide without being placed in the same category as Hitler, Pol Pot, and Milošević, among other homicidal maniacs of history, and still be considered anything approaching good, much less perfectly good.

If you are an honest person, this is impossible.  If you’re a lying fucktard or a believer desperate to believe, then you come up with this ridiculous shit.  And then you go on to feel sorry for the poor, pathetic killers:

Can you imagine what it would be like to have to break into some house and kill a terrified woman and her children?  The brutalizing effect on these Israeli [sic] soldiers is disturbing.

PZ responds:

No. No, I can’t imagine that. I can imagine parts of it: I can imagine a long, heavy piece of sharp metal in my hands. I can imagine a frightened, unarmed woman in front of me, trying to shelter her children. The part I can’t imagine, the stuff I’m having real trouble with, is imagining voluntarily raising my hand and hacking them to death. I have a choice in that situation, and I know myself well enough that if have to choose between killing people and letting them live, I’d let them live, not that it would be a difficult decision at all. I also have no illusion that, in this imaginary situation where I have all the power and my ‘enemies’ are weak and helpless, I am the one who is being wronged.

That’s the morality of an atheist, as opposed to the morality of a Christian theologian.  Which do you believe is the more moral?

Really, what it comes down to for believers is this question: is the kind of God who would tell you to pick up a weapon and hack a baby to death because that infant would supposedly cause you to turn away from God if allowed to grow up really a God worth worshiping?  Do you have a moral obligation to obey such an order?  Will you be able to salve your conscience by saying, “I was just following orders?”

Can you trust the “morality” that emerges from such a deity?  How?

Eric MacDonald is right: “Cruelty does not become something else, just because it is imagined to be the command of a god.”  And if you have to perform such contortions, if you have to twist morality until it breaks and bleeds to get it to fit your concept of a loving, good god, then you’re following the wrong damned god.  And you are destroying your own moral foundation in the process.

I’d like to finish out this post with another bit from Greta Christina’s post (although I suggest you read it in its entirety):

See, here’s the thing. When faced with horrors in our past — our personal history, or our human history — non-believers don’t have any need to defend them. When non-believers look at a human history full of genocide, infanticide, slavery, forced marriage, etc. etc. etc., we’re entirely free to say, “Damn. That was terrible. That was some seriously screwed-up shit we did. We were wrong to do that. Let’s not ever do that again.”
But for people who believe in a holy book, it’s not that simple. When faced with horrors in their religion’s history — horrors that their holy book defends, and even praises — believers have to do one of two things. They have to either a) cherry-pick the bits they like and ignore the bits they don’t; or b) come up with contorted rationalizations for why the most blatant, grotesque, black-and-white evil really isn’t all that bad.

William Lane Craig plumped for option b.  Too many believers do.  And the results are horrifying.  Far too much evil gets done because people believe God is on their side.

 As Blaise Pascal said, “Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.”

I’ve seen religious morality.  If that’s what morality actually is, I’d rather be immoral.

Two Posts on Religion Everyone Should Read

Back before I got so completely immersed in Doctor Who and the subsequent explosions of ideas that I haven’t had time for much else, I was spending quite a lot of time catching up on every post ever written by Eric MacDonald.  His blog, Choice in Dying, is one I can’t recommend highly enough for those who need a philosopher’s perspective on these thorny issues of religion, atheism, morality, and choices.  He reminds me a bit of Dan Dennett, one of our Four Horsemen.  All I can say is, someone had better saddle that man a horse, because we’ve got a fifth Horseman.

Two posts from January particularly caught my eye.  In one, Eric talks about the cost of religion:

I do not think the sums have been done. Religion is not a peaceful thing, despite all claims to the contrary. It has been protected, for centuries, just as Islam still protects its holiness, by threats of violence. The English Bible that, for all its glories, is sometimes pedestrian and dull, is regarded with special reverence, in large measure because it had to be fought for, and people died so that they could read the Bible in their own language.

And in this, about the social pathology of religion:

We are becoming so accustomed to religious oppression and pathology that we scarcely dare to talk openly about it, and to call it openly by its name. Governments and large press organisations do a clever soft-shoe shuffle around it every time it becomes too obvious to be simply ignored, but no one is saying that this religious idiocy should end, and that it is intolerable that religions should play this role in the world. It seems to be taken for granted that there is nothing that we can do to moderate these pathologies except to try to insulate them in ghettoes of religious belief, the result of which can only be a mosaic of intolerant communities intolerantly related. If Roman Catholic hospitals want to kill women by refusing them appropriate medical care, well, that is just a peculiar belief system which has nothing to do with the rest of society. And when Roman Catholics or Muslims band together to oppose the practice of contraception in a world bursting at the seams with people, well, that too is just a religious peculiarity, and we must learn to live with these things.

Eric, once an Anglican pastor, has a very clear view of the harm religion can do and does.  He doesn’t believe we have to live with it.  He doesn’t believe we should stay silent in the face of it, just to spare the feelings of believers or in the interests of a false social harmony.

I wish all of my friends who were still believers would read his blog, start to finish, and really think about what it is they’re doing, and what religion truly is.

The Limits of Tolerance

Johann Hari asks a very good question: “Can we talk about Muslim homophobia now? (h/t)”

Here’s a few portents from the East End that we have chosen to ignore. In May 2008, a 15 year old Muslim girl tells her teacher she thinks she might be gay, and the Muslim teacher in a state-funded comprehensive tells her “there are no gays round here” and she will “burn in hell” if she ever acts on it. (I know because she emailed me, suicidal and begging for help). In September 2008, a young gay man called Oliver Hemsley, is walking home from the gay pub the George and Dragon when a gang of young Muslims stabs him eight times, in the back, in the lungs, and in his spinal column. In January 2010, when the thug who did it is convicted, a gang of thirty Muslims storms the George and Dragon in revenge and violently attacks everybody there. All through, it was normal to see young men handing out leaflets outside the Whitechapel Ideas Store saying gays are “evil.” Most people accept them politely. 
These are not isolated incidents.

Johann brings up the point that because Muslims are so frequently targets of bigotry, harassment and violence themselves, there’s an understandable reluctance to speak out against their less-admirable acts.  It’s easy to get yourself branded Islamophobic for pointing out that Islam isn’t necessarily a religion of peace, and that strict adherence to Islam leads to despicable acts.  But, as Johann says,

It’s patronizing – and authentically racist – to treat Muslims as if they are children, or animals, who can only react to their oppression by jeering at or attacking people who have done them no harm, and who they object to because of a book written in the sixth century. Muslims are human beings who can choose not to this. The vast majority, of course, do not attack anyone. But they should go further. They should choose instead to see us as equal human beings, who live and love just like them, and do not deserve scorn and prejudice.

Giving people a pass to be bigoted, damaging jerks just because they’re a member of a despised minority doesn’t do any sector of society any good.  It normalizes dangerous behavior.  It doesn’t confront the intolerance before it gets wildly out of control.  And it only feeds cycles of oppression.  No one – not even atheists – are saying Muslims have to give up their religion.  But we expect Christians and Jews and members of other faiths to respect gay folks, even if they do think gays are icky.  It’s ridiculous to give homophobia a pass out of some misguided sense of fairness.  It’s not fair.  It’s not fair to Muslim people who are lesbians or gays or bisexuals or transgendered.  It’s not fair to those Muslims who might discover that their religion can accommodate gays just fine.  And it’s not fair to the wider community, LGBT and allies, who are sick to death of seeing people get harassed, hurt and killed because of the way they love.

There are limits to tolerance.  We can tolerate people of other faiths.  We can’t tolerate actual harm they do for the greater glory of God. Let’s do talk about Muslim homophobia, just as we talk about homophobia in all its many disgusting forms.  Let’s not stay silent about issues that are so critically important.

Tell Me Again that Science and Religion are Compatible

But before you do, consider this (h/t):

The official Vatican position on evolution tilts towards intelligent design. Its point man on the subject, Cardinal Schönborn, says: “Scientific theories that try to explain away the appearance of design as the result of ‘chance and necessity’ are not scientific at all, but, as John Paul put it, an abdication of human intelligence.” Ouch.

These are folks who have a fundamental, willful, and very large blind spot.  They deliberately twist science to fit their own dogma.  And that is something that’s absolutely incompatible with science.

NOMA my skinny white arse.  As Jerry Coyne sez:

So yes, the true biological view of evolution as a materialistic, unguided process is indeed at odds with most religions.  Organizations that promote evolution, such as the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), prefer to avoid this critical point: all they care about is that evolution get taught in the schools, not whether believers wind up accepting the concept of evolution as it’s understood by scientists.  (If all they want is evolution to be taught, that, I suppose is fine. But it’s not fine if they want public understanding of evolution.)

And it’s not fine when millions of people are told by their pope that science ain’t science.  That twisted, skewed view of what science is matters.  That twisted, skewed view leads people to mistrust and misunderstand science.  It leads them to believe science can be bent to their own wishes, no matter what the evidence is. 

That’s not science.  That’s religion trying to steal science’s respectability after having lost its own.  It’s pseudoscience, and it’s right on par with the cons, crooks and crazies who snatch a few words out of a science dictionary to try to make their wackaloon theories about homeopathy or magnetic bracelets sound plausible to people who don’t know any better.

It’s nice that the Catholic church is so cornered by reality that they’ve been forced to swallow a little bit of science in a desperate attempt to stay relevant and retain their power.  But it’s giving them indigestion.  And anyone who believes that science and religion are perfectly compatible isn’t paying attention to reality.

I Don’t Get It. I Don’t Understand.

Confession: I was, for a few brief months in my teens, a Bible-thumper.  So it may seem odd now that I can’t get myself into the minds of believers.

I’d never been a religious kid, not particularly.  I had this nebulous idea that God existed and that he was good.  I prayed when things were beyond my control.  But we didn’t go to church, and outside of the illustrated children’s Bible I had, there wasn’t a huge amount of God stuff around.  My parents believed, and my mother put me in a summer Bible camp once – maybe for religious instruction, maybe just because it was the best and only way to pawn me off on other people for a couple of hours so she could have some time for herself.  Considering she played Mom to the entire neighborhood, one can’t blame her for needing a break.  And I learned how to glue Jesus to a wooden spoon, and stick him in a walnut shell, so it wasn’t a complete waste.  One thing I do know, the people there didn’t impress upon me the necessity of believing or going to Hell.  They gave me warm fuzzy feelings about Jesus and an indelible association between ancient Jewish carpenters and spoons.

Then we moved to Page.  I’ve seldom lived in a city so religious.  There was a road completely lined with churches, and more churches scattered around the city, and I believe there were 2.5 churches for every household.  Kids were released for seminary in the afternoons if they belonged to the Mormon church, and nearly everyone belonged to the Mormon church.  Didn’t impress me.  People would pester me about which church I belonged to, and when I told them “none,” they’d then interrogate me about my beliefs.  I finally told them I was Tarlonian just to shut them the hell up.  It seemed easier to believe in a faith I’d made up, anyway.  It wasn’t that the Bible stories I’d read as a kid had put me off.  It was the believers, and that creepy way they had of insisting that everyone who didn’t believe just like them was going straight to hell.  I didn’t know much about God, but I figured all-knowing and all-loving meant he didn’t have much interest in condemning good people to an eternity of suffering.  When people started going on about religion, they got damned annoying.  Church, I decided, rotted brains.  Easier to be a good Christian if one avoided Christian churches.

But you couldn’t avoid such things in Page.  It came down to a choice between getting dragged there by an acquaintance I didn’t like and a rather closer friend, so I plumped for the friend.  I went on a Wednesday night, and wore my usual uniform: ripped jeans, steel-tipped boots, metal t-shirt and Slaughter headband (yes, this was the 90s).  My friend was appalled.  “Are you really going to wear that?”

Well yes, yes, I was.  If I couldn’t be accepted as a child of God despite my attire, then I’d know I didn’t belong there, wouldn’t I?

So we went, and we sat, and I got narrow looks from a lot of people.  This was a Holy Roller church.  This was Wednesday night.  Only the rabidly faithful were there.  They didn’t know what to do about this headbanger in their midst.

But Pastor Lynn Peters did.  He walked over, shook my hand, smiled, and said, “It’s wonderful to see you here.”  I’ll tell you something.  Lynn Peters was one of the kindest, most generous, least-judgmental people I’ve ever met in my life, and one of the first things that ever shook my faith in God was the fact he had to leave the congregation to get treatment for cancer.  Where was the justice in that?  Where was God when Pastor Peters needed him?

But for a little while, I fell under the spell.  I believed.  I was saved, and God was great, and I wanted everyone to share that good news.  My friend was overjoyed.

For a few months, I read my Bible and read Christian fiction and tried to live the way God wanted.  I went to church every Sunday.  And that was the first step on the road to becoming an atheist, because if you are a decent human being with half a critical-thinking brain cell left, you cannot sit in church during testimony and hear, “God healed my radio!” without thinking, “Holy fuck.  Millions of children starving and dying in Africa, Pastor Peters dying of cancer, and more tragedies than you can keep up with on the evening news, and God takes the time out of his busy schedule to heal a fucking radio?”  But it had to be true.  She’d tried and tried to fix it, but it didn’t start working until she laid her hands upon it and prayed God to heal it.  And lo, the radio was healed!

But that was just one silly woman, so my shaken-faithed self kept coming back to church, and my persistence was rewarded one day by the youth group hammering on M.C. Hammer for having some dude in a red devil costume in a video.  Yes, that M.C. Hammer.  The Christian preacher one.  But according to our youth group, he was spawn of Satan because he had some dude in a red devil costume in a music video.

I walked out and didn’t come back.

Some people may get the idea that it’s science that made me an atheist, or perhaps the evil influence of PZ.  Truth is, I was an atheist long before that.  It was a long, slow slide.  I held on to my faith, even despite some pretty intense shakes and a breakup with God or two.  Like an abusive relationship, though, I kept going back to him.  And I can’t for the life of me remember why.

I’ll tell you what made me an atheist.  Seeing how different Christian sects treated each other, every one of the hundreds and thousands of them having the exclusive line on Truth, each sect the only who knew God’s True Will.  Seeing how conservative Christianity had very nearly destroyed my best friend’s self-confidence, sense of self-worth, and really fucked up his ideas of sexuality.  Seeing how so many different religions all came up with different answers to the ultimate questions of why are we here, who are the gods, and what do the gods want us to do.  If other religions were myths, then why wasn’t Christianity?

But still I held on to God.  Clung to a Karen Armstrong type nebulous deity Somewhere Out There.  I was sure it was the Christian god.  Then I couldn’t be sure anymore.  After years of being pulled in a thousand different directions, I finally chose a different path.  I decided to explore other notions of the Divine in earnest.  I’d give up Christianity for good.  But before I did that, I prayed.  I said, “God, if this is the wrong path to take, show me, and I’ll turn right back.”  I never got a sign.  So I never turned back.

I worshiped Odin for a while, but mostly in good fun.  Beside, he was so much more awesome than the God of the Bible.  Did the Lord give his eye for wisdom?  No.  He already knew shit, and yet didn’t seem to know shit.  How boring.

Explored Hinduism and Taoism and Buddhism, all of which made far more sense than Christianity ever had.  But somewhere along the way, without my realizing it, I stopped believing in the reality of the supernatural.  I’d stopped believing in UFOs and ghosts and faeries, too.  Quite enough that myths and stories were beautiful and fun and made me think about what it meant to be human.  I didn’t need to believe there was anyone out there watching over me anymore.  And I really don’t even know how that happened.  The transition was too natural to take especial note of.

I started calling myself agnostic, and then one night I took the God Delusion Index test, and had to admit that I wasn’t even that anymore.  No, folks, I was pure-D Atheist.  And since then, since I admitted that, I’ve been free to explore the real wonders of the world.  Without guilt.  Without worrying about where God fits in.  Without dealing with all this NOMA shit.

And I’ll tell you something, and this is the point of all of this: the world is a far more wondrous place without deities.

I am overwhelmed every day by the scope of the universe.  It beggars the imagination.  There are things in it that we didn’t even suspect until we started looking at it with telescopes and mathematics and probes.  There are things more beautiful, more majestic, more awe-inspiring and powerful and terrible, than anything I’ve ever read in a holy book.  And when I look at pictures from Hubble, when I read about new discoveries in physics or watch a lunar eclipse, when I learn what we know about those things, I cannot imagine why on earth anyone would need to inject gods into the equation.  They feel distinctly surplus to requirements.  They feel tacky.  It’s like putting tinsel on the Queen’s tiara.  Some people look at this stuff and say, “Wow, what an awesome God we have, he created all this!”  And I say God didn’t have the imagination for it.  Not any God I’ve ever heard of.  Not one that stands apart from its creation.  It’s tinsel on tiaras, people.  It’s something humans, not the universe, needs, these gods.

It’s biology, not God, that made me appreciate all creatures great and small.  Evolutionary fucking biology, people.  Back when I was a believer, I’d see a spider, and promptly squish one of God’s own creations.  I sacrificed cockroaches to Odin.  When I fell under the sway of Buddhism, I started feeling vaguely guilty about it.  Fellow creature, after all.  But after studying up on evolution, I see a spider, and I’m enthralled.  They’re magnificent little things.  They’re captivating.  And there’s a story in them, of mutation and selection and a long, slow trip from single-celled critter to these beings who do utterly remarkable things like spinning webs and eating other magnificent critters.

It’s geology, not God, that made me appreciate landscapes.  God didn’t take away my fear of volcanoes, vulcanology did.  There are rocks in my house that could be beautiful to no one other than someone who knows a little something about geology.  There’s stories in the most boring bit of mudstone.  There are other worlds, vanished worlds, contained within the humblest of rocks.  Pick one up, and I used to be holding something created by God.  It hardly seemed worth bothering with, and I’d toss it aside.  Now, I cradle these nondescript brown rocks in my hands, and I see ancient mudflats.  I see the young Earth.  I see star stuff.  I am holding thirteen-plus billion years of history every time I pick up a bit of stone, because every bit has a pedigree that stretches all the way back to the Big Bang.  You religious folks want to tell me the rantings of goat herders have anything to add to that?  I don’t see it.  I don’t get it.  I don’t understand.

I vaguely remember the chasm in my life.  I vaguely remember needing so much to believe in something supernatural, frantically searching for it in myth and religion and pseudoscience, because the world seemed so mundane without magic.  But magic abounds.  There’s magic in an equation.  There’s something divine in chemistry.  Any of the sciences provide more wonder than all of the religions of the world combined.  I didn’t know that, back when religion was presented as the only way to become fully human and science was a useful something we should respect, but a mere human endeavor and not worthy of worship.  What I didn’t realize was that worship is surplus to requirements.  One does not, despite reports, need worship to become fully human.  One does not need the supernatural.  There is quite enough super in the natural, thank you ever so much.

And so now I struggle.  I struggle to comprehend why people cling so tightly to their belief that myth is really real.  I don’t remember why that felt so necessary, and I fail to see how anyone can drink even a few sips of science and need anything more. Why this overriding urge to tinsel tiaras?  Why Biologos and all of the other ridiculous attempts to reconcile science with religion?  Why this death-grip on the rantings of goat herders?  Why this insistence that the fiction be true?  I don’t get it.  I don’t understand.

I wish I did.  Not because I have a hole to fill, or because I envy the believers, but because that stubborn clinging to faith leads to so much misery and denial and danger.  Because it hurts so many of us so.  And because I’m curious as to why, when surrounded by the riches of the universe, one would choose to remain so impoverished.