Religious Exploitation

I often refer to religious belief as an indulgence comparable to drugs, alcohol, or even excessive or unhealthy eating. However, the thing which I don’t find associated with those other indulgences to anywhere near the level in religious indulgence is the compulsion to get others to indulge by whatever means necessary. Sure, alcoholics will try to convince you to drink with them and I’m sure anyone can bring up cases where other types of indulgers try to sell their indulgences, but it would be a difficult task to try and argue any of that is on the level of both the proselytizing and imposing of religious belief by religious indulgers on non-indulgers (or indulgers of another religious brand).

Sadly, there are many examples of the attempts to impose religious belief on others. Any history book will be littered with such examples, but our present day has enough to make the point. A less forceful, yet potentially as damaging or worse is the compulsion to exploit whoever or whatever to help push the indulgence. We’ve just emerged from a month where we routinely see exploitation on various levels. The Christmas holiday has been a means to exploit the time of year where many cultures have celebrations to shift those celebrations to a celebration of, and thus an indulgence in, Christianity. Many Christians then build on this to exploit government property to impose their views and help sell the indulgence or exploit those in need, and our human empathy to help them, to make a show of charity efforts and push their beliefs. (For the record, I think any organization willing to provide aid to those in need should be praised, but if that aid comes at the price of having to put up with proselytizing and/or the act of providing aid is done as a show to help sell the beliefs of the organization, then that’s exploitation.)

As atheists, we’re all familiar with the Stalin, Hitler, Mao, etc arguments by believers where if they were atheists, then their actions are due to being atheists and therefore, atheism is bad. I don’t have the time to address that nonsense, and it’s been addressed so many times already elsewhere. What I want to focus on is the other side of this strategy which is to point to good examples of fellow indulgers as evidence that their indulgence is justified and therefore, good. It’s the same faulty logic, but it’s perhaps the nicer variant of this strategy because rather than having to point negatively at any other person or group, you can point positively at someone as an example.

I think we’re going to see a fair share of this as Christians will be exploiting the new book Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. I haven’t read the book and honestly, I have no idea if she has any interest in Christian proselytizing or not. I am familiar with the story. It basically tells the tale of being an American POW held by the Japanese during WWII and the subsequent toll that took, followed by solace achieved via indulging in Christianity. If the indulgence brought some peace to the man and such indulgence didn’t hurt anyone else, than so be it. From what I can tell, he went on to be a Christian inspirational speaker, which perhaps threatens that idea of not hurting others, but I don’t know the details of his speeches. I would like to think that he’s never disparaged non-believers or used the belief to justify harmful actions like opposing stem cell research or equal rights, but again, I don’t know. What I do know and expect more of is Christians exploiting this book to at least push their indulgence, but also to poke at and disparage non-believers.

A relatively mild example of such exploitation can be found here.

Actually, this would be a fantastic book for atheists to read, because it would challenge some of their cherished assumptions about Christianity.

The author continues to exploit the story to sell the indulgence by getting into the details of how the indulgence helped Mr. Zamperini through and after his ordeal and how awful it must be to not have the comfort of such an indulgence. These kinds of justifications for belief always bring me back to the story of Dumbo. Dumbo initially flew because he believed he had a magic feather that made it possible. Should that be a justification for believing a lie? I don’t think so, however if that’s what someone needs to do, believe a lie, to get through the day and that belief doesn’t hurt anyone other than themselves, then so be it, but as far as I know Mr. Zamperini didn’t use the belief to disparage or at least poke jabs at non-believers, yet many believers are using his story to do just that. Perhaps then, the ones who should be warned not to read this book or else learn a lesson might be believers, not atheists.

Why does religious belief, unlike other self indulgences, seem to compel indulgers to have to sell or impose the indulgence on others? Why does that compulsion override any concern or respect for others? How does the exploitation of people, things or events become justified as long as it furthers the selling or imposing of the indulgence? Good questions for us to explore, but perhaps more so for religious indulgers.

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18 Responses to “Religious Exploitation”

  1. Excellent points there, the encouraging other people to join in an unhealthy activity is generally not a good thing. Sometimes it is right for a non-indulger to tell an indulger to stop though, however sometimes the indulger views the non-indulger as indulging in non-indulgence (maybe bragging about it or something), when in fact non-indulgence is often times the healthy alternative. I realize there are exceptions when indulgence is healthy, such as drinking a glass of wine or smoking a pipe every once in a while but not too much, or maybe getting that weekly exercise in or watching a movie once in a while or sex, etc, indulgence in moderation.

    Note – From here, I'm going to go way way off on a tangent on this one to make the case for my own particular indulgence:

    However, I just don't quite get the idea of indulging in a fantasy though, at least constantly indulging in a fantasy. I know, some people really like to be lied to just so that their fantasies can be supported, kind of like telling somebody that smoking is good for them (aside from aiding digestion of course). The bizarre thing is that some fantasies are supported by politicians and business men, and other fantasies are supported by religious institutions (also supported by politicians lies and such) and yet other fantasies are supported by outright con-men (religious, political, business, sexual, criminal, etc).

    Maybe the politicians support the religions because that fantasy is so spectacular that it keeps the masses gullible, and thereby easier to brainwash via the fantasy news programs. It seems that everybody universally likes to be lied to in order to support their particular brand of fantasies of grandiosity. You think that history as taught in schools isn't a fantasy either, hardly, history class is just another aspect of the fantasy propaganda machine to instill pride in the history of certain cultures and political affiliations, yet it does have it's beneficial effects on society as well in terms of pride and productivity of the nations.

    Given that pretty much everything that people learn is a concocted fantasy (the scientific method would seem to support the claim that the vast majority of hypothesis are just plain incorrect, that pertains to religion, politics, news, history, even most scientific theories are probably in need of revision too). Of course, all hypothesis are subject to some manner of revision in light of new evidence, thus is the nature of inductive reasoning in a Bayesian statistical sense. In fact, the only thing that is an absolute, and thereby independent of any degree of fantasy is pure logic and abstract mathematics.

    However, given that there is some element of truth in all fantasies, in an inductive sense of it being grounded in some factual truths (not all premises are true, however, the more premises that are true the more accurate the conclusion ought to be, assuming no logical fallacies are being made along the way).

    This brings me to my own fantasy indulgence, which is the idea of ancient astronauts, the idea that the gods of the ancient religions maybe have been aliens whom regularly ascended and descended from outer space. Why do I advocate this? Mainly because it is coloring much closer within the lines of physical possibility than the faulty assumptions and conclusions that the religious institutions would tell people to believe, assuming that some of the premises in all the ancient texts may indeed be factual but that perhaps the people back then and perhaps the translators throughout history may have deeply boggled it into greater and greater fantasies as time went on. Here are my new guidelines for fantasy telling, when it comes to children, since everybody is inevitably going to do that anyhow:

    If you're going to tell myths to children, at least make them fantastic and inspirational, yet still try to avoid making them outright unbelievable though, at least still try to color within the boundaries of reality, perhaps aiming at the very edges of technical possibility such that they are pointed in the proper direction…

  2. It's human to indulge in fantasy, but inhuman to impose one's fantasies upon another.

    Most of us encourage others' fantasies to some degree for personal gain (hint: if your girl ever asks if she looks fat in what she's wearing, the answer is ALWAYS no). If you think you don't, and instead do it to spare someone's feelings, you're just sparing yourself both the confrontation of telling the truth and dealing with the emotional aftermath.

    Aliens as gods makes for good fiction, but could just as easily be used to justify fucking people over (ie – see Xenu and Scientology).

  3. What are these "cherished assumptions" that atheists make about Christianity? Isn't the reviewer's conclusion, "At least Christianity offers us an explanation of why [evil] exists and an ultimate solution for how it will eventually be banished. Atheism, not so much," a simple (and simplistic) assumption about atheism? Perhaps the reviewer should learn about atheism before prescribing literature for our edification and enlightenment.

  4. Indeed. The author exhibited the usual ignorance of atheism, the Problem of Evil being one example. That statement you quoted could be addressed two ways. The first would be to point out that fabricating an answer doesn't trump acknowledging you don't have an answer. The second would be that evil isn't necessarily something an atheist believes exists. Sure, people do bad things and bad things can happen (ironically called "acts of God") but are they evil? Are people evil? Those are subjective opinions. There are people who cheered when the Towers fell on 9/11. Are they all evil people? Villagers were massacred in Vietnam and some terrible shit has gone down in Iraq and Afghanistan yet Americans cheered. Are Americans evil?

  5. It's human to indulge in fantasy, but inhuman to impose one's fantasies upon another.

    Why does the word "rape" pop up in my head when I read this?

  6. Were you just watching Deliverance?

  7. It is inevitable that people are going to impose their fantasies on each other. That, I take it, is part of nature. I know, the keyword is "impose". However, Microsoft once was a fantasy in the mind of Bill Gates, only later did it become a reality. Same goes for guys like Henry Ford, Tesla, Wright Brothers, Edison, etc, etc, etc. It's all just a fantasy until it becomes a reality, and it never will happen unless somebody takes that first step of spreading their ideas around, by seducing the investors with their fantasy so that it can become a reality.

  8. Note, the ancient aliens series is actually result of NASA and History Channel getting together and discussing their ideas. It is a result of a contract, and very good series as it is, the more people who get mesmerized by it the better off society will be…also, who is to say it's not actually true either!? Okay, maybe it didn't happen exactly like they think it did, history is scant as far as the evidence goes and thus the conclusions are speculative as it is, however perhaps we might as well do the fantasies of the ancients a major service by painting them a little bit more realistically than the idea of magic sorcerers and such.

  9. http://www.hearst.com/press-room/pr-20100225a.php

    …not a contact, maybe ^^that's what it was instead, why the history channel is doing UFO files and Ancient Aliens episodes…I know I read something about that some time ago.

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