Thursday, September 3, 2015

Debate on Religion from True Detective


by Michael S. Russo
Molloy College

I’ve begun watching the first season of the HBO series True Detective and I have to confess that I’m greatly enjoying the compelling story lines and complex characters in the series.  But even more than that, I’m really intrigued by the fabulous dialogue, written by Nic Pizzolatto.  It certainly came as no surprise to me to discover, as I did recently, that Pizzolatto was a former philosophy major at Louisiana State University, because the series, perhaps more than any other I’ve seen in a long time, is chock full of philosophical ideas at every turn. 

The third episode in particular blew my mind with its fairly sophisticated treatment of theism and organized religion (see the clip below).  To set the scene up, two detectives, Rust Cohle (played by Mattew McConaughey) and Martin Hart (played by Woody Harrelson) are investigating a ritual murder that leads them to an outdoor evangelical service.  As they listen to the preacher give his sermon, Rust, an atheist and skeptic, shares his cynical views about the nature of religious belief to his fairly devout colleague, Martin, who feels compelled to offer a defense of religion.   As the scene plays out, we see these same characters later on as they continue to reflect on the debate that occurred between them a decade earlier.  





From Rust’s perspective, those who believe in the existence of a supreme being are basically pathetic, irrational suckers who are so fearful of life that they are willing to accept ridiculous fairy tales as truth.  Martin, on the other hand, sees religion as a positive element in society, without which we couldn’t survive as a species. 

Rust’s position is basically a contemporary spin on the psychological critiques of religious belief developed by the great 19th century “Masters of Suspicion”—Nietzsche, Marx, and Freud.  Although their positions on religion differ slightly, all three see the origins of religious belief in fear of the sufferings of this world and anxiety over the inevitability of death.  Because we are basically cowardly, weak and childish, we create the illusion of a benevolent father figure (God), who loves us unequivocally and who offers us the soothing balm of eternal life with him after death.  True maturity, these thinkers argue, demands that we learn to accept the world as it truly is—full of pain and suffering, Godless, and terminal—and start taking our lives here and now much more seriously.

Martin response is more sociological in nature than theological.  Notice he never argues directly for the existence of God or the truth of religious belief, but instead makes the claim that we need religion for three reasons: (1) It’s a binding force, enabling some semblance of community to exist among individualistic human beings; (2) It keeps us from acting on our more vicious natural instincts by instilling in us the fear of divine punishment; (3) It helps us to function in everyday life, by enabling us to overcome the existential fear that all human beings—even atheists—possess and which otherwise would cripple us.

What is missing in this debate is a truly theological or philosophical defense of religion of the kind that we find in great theistic thinkers like Anselm, Aquinas, or even Dostoyevsky.  The only remotely theistic argument in the scene is the one made by the preacher, who seems to appeal to exactly the kinds of fearful, narcissistic longings that Rust criticizes so well.   So we’re left in the end with two very cynical options:  (1) religion is basically a con game that needs to be rejected outright, though there may be nothing positive in the end to take its place (Rust’s position) or (2) Religion needs to be embraced, not because it’s necessarily grounded in anything true, but because a world without it would be too horrible to contemplate (Martin’s position).    

Perhaps the absence of a strong theistic defense of religion in the series is intentional.  I don’t know what Nic Pizzolatto’s own views on theistic matters are, but it could be that he gets the religious zeitgeist of the times pretty well.  In the end, we don’t really give a damn whether something (i.e., God, the afterlife, original sin, etc.) is true or not.  The only legitimate question for us seems to be “does it work for me?”  If I feel better about my life by believing in a Supreme Being, then  I’ll believe in one.  If I think that it’s necessary for society to be grounded in religious institutions in order to function effectively, then  I’ll support organized religion.  But when religion suddenly starts to seem like something bogus to me, or when it no longer seems to fulfill its pragmatic function in society, then I’m going to ditch it like a handful of smelly dung. 

So maybe, like the characters in True Detective, we don’t really care about religious issues at all.  All we really care about is feeling good.  And if religion makes us feel good about ourselves, then it automatically is valid; and if it makes us feel badly about ourselves then it is just as assuredly invalid.  But, if this is all that religion really represents to the theists and non-theists alike, it seems to me a fairly silly, superficial thing….a kind of spiritual pop psychology for those who lack the ability to think critically and rationally about the human condition.

Or am I, like the main characters in True Detective, missing some important piece of evidence here?  

61 comments:

  1. the evidence that you're missing is the money piece....religion has and always will be big business. there's money to be made by convincing moronic losers that they can remove their sins and ensure a place in heaven if they just believed--that is, make a hefty contribution to the church. as long as there are weak minded dopes around, there will always be predators to take advantage of them. and organized religion is the greatest predatory institution known to man...always has been and always will be.

    as i keep repeating on this site, the only hope for our species is the total and complete eradication of organized religion. then and only then will we stop fixating on the fantasy of the next life and focus on our real problems in this one.

    by the way, I do agree that true detective is an awesome show. you should try to get the show's creator to come to molloy to speak. even i'd turn out for that!!!!!

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    1. Religion does not only offer salvation through donation to the church. Each major monotheistic faith suggests that giving charity to those less fortunate is of the utmost social and spiritual concern.

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    3. Organized religion has tremendous competition for the role of the greatest predatory institution known to history. Hitler and Stalin certainly are in the running in the 20th century. Marx claimed religion was the opium of the people. But now that communism has been discredited, there is a powerful revival of religion in Russia and Eastern Europe.

      Many religions focus on real problems in this life. The Black Church has played an essential role in African American history. Expand your horizons and go to services at nearby black churches. I recommend my church, St. John the Evangelist Episcopal Church in Lynbrook with its dynamic woman priest, Mother Collins.

      The belief that the US is the greatest country on earth seems as objectionable to me as the beliefs of religious zealots. Americans seem to be substituting worship of their technological toys for religion. That hardly seems an advance in human history.

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    5. More often than not, people do believe that church simply takes the money that is collected and places it into its pockets. I'm guilty of believing that sometimes myself too. But the buck does not stop there, not at all. The church uses the money to give to the poor and the unfortunate, to charities. Yes, sometimes the money is allocated to renovations or repairs of the church building or to programs such as outreach or training, but those are outlets for the church to provide for the community. This practice of responsible planning of a particular resource -- in this case, money -- to help the people of the church is stewardship.

      -Kathleen D.

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    6. @Kathleen Dauz

      Wouldn’t it have been wonderful if people had given all that money to the charities directly without passing it through the church middlemen, who siphoned off most of it for salaries and maintenance? If you say the people wouldn’t have been motivated unless they were spurred on by the promise of a blissful afterlife or the threat of hell, then given the lack of evidence for those hypotheses, it is at least questionable that religious people are acting with the highest moral purpose, given that, like little children, they can only behave properly by threat or the promise of goodies.

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    7. Fred, yes, it would be wonderful if people would donate to charities without passing through the middlemen, but let's be realistic, who actually donates directly? Sometimes people do need the middleman in order to get that push to donate to a cause. But that "push" does not come from a "promise of the afterlife or the threat of hell", rather, it comes from the intial urge to help someone in need, and who better to relay that massage than your own faith community?

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    8. I agree that compassion is an inner urge, but who better to relay that message? Humanists, that's who.

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  2. I've always felt that you have to make a distinction between valid and invalid forms of religious belief. The kind of belief that you are talking about that is based upon life-denial is definitely problematic. But in my work as an activist and social worker, I've met many very religious people who are quite rational and definitely not life-denying. These are not believers who are fixated on heaven, but who are focused on the Kingdom of God here on earth. They actually understand that problems like global warming, for example, are real and caused by human behavior and they are willing to work collectively to solve this problem. They're not like the kinds of fanatics who are just biding their time waiting for the rapture to come.

    Alex, it seems to me that you are just as dogmatic as the religious-types that you are always railing against. Can't you think of anything positive that organized religion contributes to the world? What about the Pope's recent encyclical on the environment? Wasn't that at least a step in the right direction?

    Sara

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  3. Okay. Daniel Dennett in his Breaking the Spell makes the crucial distinction between belief in the existence of a god and belief in the belief in the existence of a god. The Martin Hart character seems to be arguing for the latter. It is one thing to believe in a god’s existence and another to believe that belief in a god’s existence is a good thing. Dennett surmises that there are many people who do not actually believe in god, but think that faith in a god is a good thing for themselves or for a society. This is belied by the fact that there are societies such as in Denmark and Sweden that are getting along just fine without widespread belief in god.

    As for the actual arguments for the existence of a god, a prior question is which god are we arguing for or against. There are thousands to choose from. If we pick the Intelligent Designer of the 18th century Deists, there probably was a time in which a rational, logical person would be justified in the belief that the order of nature provided sufficient evidence for Designer god. However, Darwin exploded that argument. Further the Argument from Evil, i.e., that argument against a god as evidenced by the existence of massive moral and natural evil, has not been satisfactorily disputed by theists.


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    1. There is only one God and he is the one called "I am Who Am." Note the "is" in this appellation. Is implies existence ....and not just any kind of existence but existence qua existence....pure, infinite, perfect existence. He is who is, who was, and who will be, the beginning and the end, the SUPREME LORD OF THE UNIVERSE.

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  4. I agree that "the absence of a strong theistic defense of religion in the series is intentional", because, from an entertainment perspective, the writers chose to include a quintessentially bible-thumping, evangelical preacher in the scene. The writers of True Detective could have presented a more neutral account by appealing to the ethos of viewers as well as that of the crowd within the scene and having an eloquent, well-reasoned speaker as opposed to the screeching man we see from 2:33-2:45.

    While I have maintained a set of personal beliefs for a number of years, they are always subject to the process of evolution as I further my education and consider new perspectives. However, I think I can safely conclude that most religions serve at least four fundamental purposes:
    1) Provide a moral framework by which humans may live a "righteous" life.
    2) Explain creation/offer purpose to existence
    3) Establish a method of worship
    4) Account for an afterlife (or a lack thereof).
    The existence of God may either determine each of the above OR be inconsequential altogether. Recent thinking has given rise to the maxim "I don't need religion to be a good person" and it would seem that Rust aligns himself with that view.

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    1. Humans use religion to make sense of the world around us. Given the argument that religion is at least somewhat man-made and is not solely Heaven-mandated, it is reasonable to conclude that the spiritual significance of each scripture's parables are intended to take precedence over the literal words and exact language of each text. Even a basic understanding of each tells me that unity, peace, respect and love are core values that transcend whatever divisions we humans go to great lengths to implement. While each faith does proselytize in some way, they each have some form of the notion "to each, his/her own." To many, the values promoted by religion are more important than the institution of religion itself. However, it is often those same people who either struggle with the concept of an afterlife, or deny it outright.

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    2. Hey Ray read over your response and I liked the fact you mentioned the "explanation of our existence" part of religion. Let's face it probably nobody has any clue or idea as to why we are here and do what we do. But without religion I have a feeling a very high volume of people would spend countless hours trying to figure out the point of our existence. Instead religion helps subdue that thought for the most part by giving us a reason to believe why we are here. Even though it does not completely rid of the question "why are we here?" it limits the thought just enough so we can focus more on our day to day tasks rather than the bigger picture at hand.

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    3. @Ray

      1. You don’t need a god to live a moral life. I think Moses lit a bush on fire on Mt. Sinai and carved the ten commandments on a stone. The Jews would have been pretty stupid people if they had to wait for Moses to come down the mountain before they believed that murder, lying, adultery, or stealing were wrong. If Moses had brought down commandments that were radically different from ordinary morality, they would hardly have been believed to be the edicts of God.
      2. A god does not explain creation because who created god? If you say the god created itself, then you have all you need to believe that the universe created itself! Besides physicists have discovered that 95 % of the universe is dark matter and dark energy and even the Primordial fireball of the Big Bang theory could have come out of that, whatever dark matter and dark energy are. No one has a clue.
      3. Religions have all sorts of methods of worship. There have been many thousands of gods on record and each was worshipped in all manner of crazy ways. We lose sight of the craziness of the religious worship we were brought up in.
      4. We Westerners have no trouble comprehending our non-existence before birth, so we have no problem comprehending our non-existence after death. However it scares the dickens out of us and we’ll do just about anything to prevent it from happening, including wishful thinking. No one has been able to stay the executioner’s hand by believing that he’s just going to fake it.

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    4. Faith should not be subject to "evolution." There either is a God who is LORD of us all or there isn't. He either took on "the frailties of the flesh" and became man or he didn't. He either died for our sins or he didn't. He will either come again in righteous anger to judge all men or he won't. Which of these facts can you dispute either now or as you "evolve"?

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    5. @Fred

      In regards to your 4th point, I do not think that most people really ever comprehend their non-existence. A baby is a "gift from god" and when we die we move onto "a better place." Not many people truly acknowledge the randomness with which we are thrown into existence and the immediacy and the definiteness with which we are taken out of it. Religion does not accept non-existence, it is one of the many institutions which clouds the idea of it. A religious person does not recognize the fact of his or her own inevitable non-existence and then believe as a reaction against it. Their belief in a religion presupposes their acknowledgement, understanding, and acceptance of non-existence.

      Religion, however, is not the only means by which we deny the inevitability of our non-existence. An atheist can easily deny their own inevitable non-existence, whether by some form of art or by the creation of a family. The atheist writes a composition, paints a picture, or has children and says "There, now I am immortal." This outright denial of non-existence is just as bad as the theists outright denial of non-existence, if not worse. The atheist sees his or her non-existence and flees from it, while the theist often times never pursues the understanding of his or her own non-existence.

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    6. Dear Patricia Del. Re, No, atheists don't believe in immortality of any kind. Sadly, due to physical entropy, everything is ultimately lost. This would include the works of Shakespeare and Homer. Sadly there is no permanence, not even for the pyramids or the Grand Canyon. Still, there is beauty in the moment and in the sweet memories, so long as they last.

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    7. Dear Lance, either the Flying Spaghetti Monster exists or he doesn't. Either the Flying Spaghetti Monster died for our sins or he didn't. Which of these 'facts' are you going to dispute? And why on earth would a string of disjuncts get us anywhere close to a sound conclusion?

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  5. More often than not, people do believe that church simply takes the money that is collected and places it into its pockets. I'm guilty of believing that sometimes myself too. But the buck does not stop there, not at all. The church uses the money to give to the poor and the unfortunate, to charities. Yes, sometimes the money is allocated to renovations or repairs of the church building or to programs such as outreach or training, but those are outlets for the church to provide for the community. This practice of responsible planning of a particular resource, in this case money, to help the people of the church is stewardship.

    -Kathleen D.

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    1. this was supposed to be a reply to Alex's post at the beginning. I'll repost it there, sorry for the confusion, posting comments'replies on this is confusing!

      K. Dauz

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    2. Oh, Kathleen, how cynical you are about those holy ministers of the faith and the necessary role they play in our degenerate society! Besides what would you rather have people do with their money than give it to their church: spend it on "women and song, and the lascivious lures of the flesh"?

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    3. I never disagreed with where the money goes, nor did I stomp on the ministers' toes. The money that people donate to church go into programs the church runs. A weekly donation of what you can give is suggested. And so what if they don't donate? That doesn't mean the person will be spending money on women, sex, and booze. He just might not be able to donate right now.

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  6. I expect to make several comments. This is a subject I have wrestled with for 63 of my 70 years. But I want to start with Pascal’s Wager. Blaise Pascal was a 17th century philosopher, mathematician, and physicist. He argued that humans gamble with their lives whether God exists or not. Given the possibility that God does exist and assuming a vengeful god who punished unbelievers by an eternity in heaven and hell, a rational person should try to believe in God and live as though he exists. If God doesn’t exist, the person won’t have lost anything near as important as what he could gain by believing in God.

    Pope Francis has rejected the concept of a vengeful God who will banish all nonbelievers into eternal hellfire. "“You ask me if the God of the Christians forgives those who don’t believe and who don’t seek the faith. I start by saying – and this is the fundamental thing – that God’s mercy has no limits if you go to him with a sincere and contrite heart. The issue for those who do not believe in God is to obey their conscience."

    “Sin, even for those who have no faith, exists when people disobey their conscience.”

    An extraneous bit of information--Many Evangelical Christians don't accept that Catholic are Christians. It is appalling that too many journalists equate religion and Christianity with Evangelicals.

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    1. @Mary Joan Koch

      It’s hard to believe that Pascal really thought the Wager was a really good argument. It probably was designed as a last ditch effort to get his skeptical colleagues to give religion a try. It certainly has a funny logic. Suppose a friend of yours told you it was “revealed” to her that, unbeknownst to you, you had an elderly distant relative with a fabulous fortune. She said that this relative had left this fortune to you and also that this relative would be dead in five years. You could choose not to believe this or to believe this. If it wasn’t true, well then you’re in the same situation you are in today; but if it’s true, big time rewards! Now you probably would get a lot of kicks believing this. However if there were no other evidence to support it, you probably wouldn’t see the point in deluding yourself.



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    2. Pascal was no true believer. He was using logic to try to prove the existence of God. But the "logic of God is the foolishness of man." As the sagacious Pastor Raftor always say, "If you believe in your heart of hearts against all logic and reason, if you believe with a FURIOUS FAITH, you shall be saved." This is called DIVINE LOGIC!

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    3. Lance, try this out: suppose I say: I believe that.no gods exist. I believe this with a furious faith. I believe it with my whole heart and mind. If you too Lance would only believe this fervently, live deeply in its light, and bear witness to it, you too will come to see its truth." I think Lance that you would see right through that as the nonsense it is. But if that's all you have to offer as the basis for religious belief, then your position is just as nonsensical. Faith is just obstinacy.

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  7. I disagree with your stance on this debate that there should have been more philosophical input on the existence of god. I feel like that is a different argument entirely and that this debate was on the topic of 'ignorance is bliss' versus the truth. I personally feel like the debate was too objective on both sides because the argument and that the argument was written to present the existence of this argument. The reason I say this is because the argument given by Martin (the theist in the argument) is easily refuted by simply presenting facts, not even philosophical thinking. Let's look at how much of America is Atheist, around 3% (possibly more by now). While the prison population is only .07% atheist. Which would mean the overwhelming majority of the people committing crimes in America are religious. Also it is important to note that the predominantly atheist countries in the world have significantly lower crime rates when compared to religious ones.

    Theists differ from atheists morally speaking; in that they have ways to justify their wrong actions in ways that don’t require them to make up for their actions or even acknowledge that what they did was wrong. This includes indulgences, reconciliation, or simply cherry picking or uniquely interpreting a religion’s sacred texts. For example, a slave owner can maintain a clear conscience with their lifestyle by looking at the parts of the bible that condones slavery.

    A person can interpret the bible as saying that the genocide of all homosexuals is perfectly find if they believe in Leviticus 20 verse 13 where it actually says to kill gay people. A religious person has a lot of means in which they can forgive themselves and feel forgiven for the wrongs they can commit. An atheist that isn’t a sociopath is more likely to carry that guilt with them for the rest of their lives. Humans innately understand compassion and love for one another for that is what truly keeps society from collapsing and keeps us together as a race. Religious people keep saying that humans are not and have never been primitive apes and they should believe what they preach. We don’t need god and the moral loopholes he offers to be good people. Put me in the ring with Woody Harrelson next time and I think it will go differently.
    -Paul Wilson

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    1. Oh my god the typos.. I'm sorry

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    2. Paul you are right about religion; it has been a facet for tremendous crimes and has provided justification for wrong doings. Look at radical religious groups throughout the centuries from the crusaders all the way to ISIS in Syria and Iraq. These groups have all used their interpretations about religion and God to torture anyone who does not share their same opinion. Lets say that there was no religion; do you really think that the world would be better off?

      I do not think so, and this is where I disagree with the point you are making about atheists and theists. Your argument is flawed because you fail to realize that religion is largely the cover for a more systemic problem, which often leads people to commit atrocious acts. These systemic issues largely include economic distress and geographic separation of people. It is likely that almost any war waged in the name of God or religion will find its true roots in economic desires or simply geographic separation. This is even seen on a small scale. The people you have mentioned who are incarcerated in prison likely would have committed the same acts even if they were atheist. It is likely that the reason they committed those acts is in part because of their economic situation, not because their religion gave them justification for their crimes.

      In addition, atrocities of a secular nature happen all of the time. Look at North Korea today. One of the most well known examples of pervasive secular crime happened in Germany from 1934 to 1945. In this time a secular leader (who does not deserve to be named) inspired a nation to destroy most of Europe and exterminate 6 million Jewish people. This person and those German people believed in the idea that the Jews were an inferior race who deserve to be killed because they were deteriorating their country. The Nazi’s did not need religion to justify their actions. Now if this leader said we are Christian and therefore anyone who is Jewish deserves to be exterminated, people like you would say Ah-ha! Religion is the facet for crime and atrocities, when the reality is that the Nazis made their conclusion due to economic jealousy and their economic depression.

      Today, why is ISIS so powerful? It is not because Islam teaches Muslims to kill anyone who does not share their own faith, but rather there is a large group of disadvantaged young Muslim people who do not have much viable options in their lives; therefore joining a group such as ISIS and becoming powerful and infamous overnight is appealing.

      Overall, the point that I am trying to make is two fold. Religion does not determine the morality of people, and economic distress and geographical differences are the main catalysts for those who commit crimes even in the name of religion.

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    3. Before I react to your response let me just say that I had no sleep last night and I am not even at 50%. But let's get to it... Let me just make sure I understand what you're saying. You're saying that Nazism is as much as a reflection on religion as Russia under Joseph Stalin reflects on atheism. What you need to understand is that communist countries that rule with dictatorship trying to get this perfectly controlled 1984 style society use atheism as a way to further control the thoughts of the people. The tactic is used so that the residents of the country will look at its leader as a god, as the final authority. This is in no way similar to the modern strain of atheism that I am defending. Whether or not Stalin truly believed that there was a god or not is irrelevant to why he wanted a secularistic nation. He did it as a means of crowd control.. Hitler on the other hand has even said that what he is doing is God's work and 99.9% of Nazi Germany were christian (or of some christian denomination). The difference between this and Russia is that atheism in the circumstances where there is no specific dogma to follow. It is only what these sociopathic dictators say that is sacred and that's exactly the motive behind the whole tactic. But the reason religion is the greater evil in this case is because one could actually read the bible and interpret it as condoning the acts of the holocaust. It says in the bible that man has dominion over all animals in the world. Hitler took that and said that Jews were a sub-species of humans. Why don't you look at what the bible has to say about genocide:
      And we took all his cities at that time, and utterly destroyed the men, and the women, and the little ones, of every city, we left none to remain. -Deuteronomy 2:34

      Thus saith the LORD of hosts ... go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass. - 1 Samuel 15:2-3
      (I'll leave a link to the rest of the list if you want to see where I got these from: http://skepticsannotatedbible.com/says_about/genocide.html)

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    4. The problem with Religion is that there is no defined set of rules and everything is up for cherry picking and interpretation. If the bible were a perfect book like so many people say it is it wouldn't have hundreds of contradictions, which you can also find on SkepticsAnnotatedBible.com. The same could be said for pretty much every other sacred text.
      Sure, you can't say that Religion was the only driving force for the horrible things that happened in the world. But it is too big of a coincidence that most if not all of the big horrible events and wars that have taken place with religion as one of it's motives. You don't see atheists (of the brand I am supporting) crashing into buildings and wreaking havoc throughout the world.
      Also I never said people are numbers but you cannot simply dismiss the statistics and facts. Most of the well known major terrorist groups throughout history have had religious motives fueling their fire. Not to mention 95% of scientists (some of the most brilliant minds we have to offer) and the smartest people who have ever lives such as Albert Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci, and Stephen Hawking who have all been atheist. I don't know how you can just dismiss the fact that only 0.7% of the prison population is atheist. Those numbers prove something; it proves that you don't need religion to have compassion and empathy for others. And in fact, it seems atheists in america have more of that than the religious people do if there are hardly any behind bars. And you said these people would have committed the crimes even if they were atheist. How the hell could you say that as if it's true beyond any reasonable doubt. That is purely subjective, there's no way to even test that right now, and frankly it's just your way of dancing around the topic acting like the statistics mean nothing when they clearly really do. It is without a doubt true that people live more successful lives without theism and I don't know how you could possibly refute that with facts because so far you've been using arguments subjective in nature.
      Also I never said that religion was evil on a personal level. Most of the people I love in my life are religious, of course you can be a good person and still be religious. But on a large scale it is clearly a negative influence, which is only proven time and time again. ISIS might have its political motives but what do laws are they enforcing? Muslim laws.. Misogyny, punishment for not dressing and grooming oneself traditionally, punishment for homosexuality. I'm sure there are motives that don't involve religion but just like Nazi Germany religion resides in the roots of their evil.

      No disrespect intended, enjoyed reading your response!

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    5. Beautiful debate....Remember, only small-minded people never had typos!

      Mike

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    6. @Andrew Capobianco

      I think that Stalin was a true atheist as follower of Marx. However, Hitler believed himself to be divinely ordained to lead the German people. He had a messianic personality and he claimed that the Nazi’s would reign for a thousand years. But I don’t like to get into a numbers game when it comes to who is more sadistic and murderous, atheists or theists. Theirs blood on the hands of both sides. At the very least the atheist doesn’t try to justify her actions with scribbling in a book, voices in the head of a prophet, or customs claiming supernatural origin. At least the atheist knows that she is directly responsible for her actions.

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    7. Oh, you foolish philosophers. All of the great sins of this world are committed by the enemies of the LORD: atheists, communists, liberals, and mimes. There has never, in the entire history of the world, been a sinful act committed by a true SON OF THE WORD. For "the LORD OF LORDS infuses the righteous with his HOLY SPIRIT so that they may live out his LAW with fear and trembling!" How can you commit a sin with the Holy Spirit abiding within you? It's simply impossible!

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    8. Dear Lance. Did you skip the part where your god said: all ye who are without sin, cast the first stone ". So too the Apostle Peter was sinless when he denied knowing Jesus of Nazareth? I tell you, I'd rather be up there with the mimes and the other people you condemn than to accept your self-righteous resentful reading of your own scripture.

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  8. This discussion is as idiotic as the show you are describing. God exists...we all know that in our heart of hearts. But "the fool hath said in his heart that there is no God" (Ps 14.1). Thus scripture itself proves that God exists IPSO FACTO. Or, as Pastor Raftor puts it in his amazing work "Don't Start the Rapture without Me", those east coast liberals, homosexuals, mimes, and men who don the clothing of women for pleasure or profit deny God at their own peril. For the apocalypse that all true believers await with longing is a mere 457 days away. Let them laugh now at the righteous, but they will weep rivers of tears on that fiery day!

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    1. If you have any wisdom at all, you can read my blog post about this very issue:

      http://gnc1.blogspot.com/2013/09/and-moses-ascended-up-to-summit-of-mt.html

      Do not fall prey to the great mime conspiracy!

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    2. I'm not going to say prove that the bible is historically accurate because that's impossible. But maybe when you can prove that the bible is more of a history textbook than sacred texts from other religions you can make such claims saying that the bible proves god's existence. Watch out, you have some competition. Siddhartha Gautama was a real person.

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    3. @Lance B. Dowd

      You don’t know that a god exists anymore than I do. You assume that a particular book is written by a god and then use that book to prove that the god exists. That’s a nice trick.

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    4. @FredN But couldn't you agree that the people of this world 2000 years from now will say the same things about our documentation of our history? You could argue that we have photographs and videos to document but you being a scholar and all should very well know that those things are just as deceiving if not more deceiving than a book. All Lance did was reference a piece of literature in trying to explain our history. Did Lance do anything wrong? Or are you just ignorant and dismiss literature in a discussion?-Kenny

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    5. @Kenny, I'm certainly hoping that the people of the future will understand the difference between fiction and non-fiction literature. I hope that when someone in the future claims to be a god or hears spiritual voices in their head that they will be diagnosed as psychotic and get the treatment they so desperately need. And, no I don't think Lance is simply trying to explain our history. I think he takes the Bible literally as the word of some god! Those so-called holy words started out as an oral tradition of illiterate nomads, got written down by a dozen or so authors hundreds of years after the events they learned by hearsay, and subsequently ended up in translations that introduced all sorts of errors and distort ions. I sincerely hope that future historians will maintain higher standards for truth in reporting. I may be ignorant but the use of literature is certainly fair subject-matter in a discussion. The Bible is literature, but Lance believes it's so much more than that.

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    6. @FredN @FredN Clearly you just contradicted yourself. Which in rhetoric which is a part of philosophy is a big no no. You clearly stated that #1 you maybe ignorant and #2 that "use of literature is certainly fair subject-matter in a discussion." Even though Lance believes the bible to be much more than you perceive it, that does not make it a dismissible point since in your statement you say that literature is a fair subject matter and fair by definition means "in accordance with the rules or standards; legitimate." Unless you want to contradict yourself once more and seem even more philosophically challenged and also get another English lesson you basically said that the bible which you said was literature is "Legitimate" because of your wording...Opps :) -Kenny

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    7. Oh please Kenny. Are we going to resort to ad hominem attacks? Philosophically challenged? That's a slur not an argument. You claim that I've contradicted myself by saying that literature is a legitimate topic of discussion and so I must admit that the Bible is legitimate as a source of a god's expression. I suppose then if I said to you "meet me at the bank" and you show up at the First National and I show up at the side of the river, I would have in your view contradicted myself. There's a big difference between legitimate as a topic for discussion and legitimate as factually true. We can discuss Sherlock Holmes all day long without ever thinking that a real Sherlck Holmes ever existed.

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    8. @Lance, some of your arguments are just ridiculous. God wrote the bible, the bible says God exists, therefore God exists? Not really sure how logical that is. Everyone claims that their god is the only god, so why are you right and they are wrong?
      --Gina

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  9. I have sat and pondered this question for quite some time now. Really the only piece of evidence I can see that you are missing is the fact that you didn't mention the monetary aspect of religion. Though it is a very controversial matter it can't be overlooked that some religious organizations seem to be more driven by money than by faith. Not only do religious organizations generate high amounts of money but also have tax exemptions. I do not have a problem with this but I feel it should have been something you talked about to spark up more debate on the subject.

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    1. I agree with your point about the monetary aspect of religion. It would have been a good point for Dr. Russo to bring up. Money drives people and one would be naive to think that this is not the case. While we would not like to think of religious organizations as businesses, it does seem to be the case in many situations.
      --Gina

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  10. I never feel any obligation to stay strictly on topic. My biggest problem with all religions is that God is portrayed as male, and for most of history, priests, ministers, holy ones were male as well. My problems with Catholicism started at 7. I have 5 younger brothers. As we practiced for our First Communion, I noticed the boys went up first. I asked the nun why. "Because they are closer to God. They can be priests."

    The redeeming feature of Catholicism is the possibility of worshipping Mary as mother.
    My 6-year-old grandson protested: "The Mother of God is God, not the son." I frequently wear a miraculous medal that belonged to my grandma, then my dad. When my grandkids ask about it, I always tell them, "This is Mommy God."

    Cassandra Woolf is my pseudonym. Mary Joan Koch

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  11. People who think either of the ways you have previously described are missing a fundamental point surrounding the idea of God. Most religions are far fetched and the sacred scriptures from these religions are not divine writings, but to believe that no God or divine being exists would be just as frivolous.

    Your thesis is right, most people choose to believe or not believe in religion based on emotion and how they feel about the concept of religion. Most people do not think rationally, either they like the idea of religion and thus believe, or they do not like the idea of religion so they do not believe.

    BUT! The most important thing your thesis does not mention is another group of people who have largely put emotion to the side when determining their belief in a divine being. These people use logical reasoning in the form of scientific study to help determine their belief in a divine being. To disregard science when trying to determine the existence of a God would be a huge mistake. Some of our greatest scientific thinkers of the 20th century, including Max Planck (Father of Modern Physics), John Eccles (Nobel Prize Winning Neurophysiologists) and Albert Einstein (whom nearly everyone knows), all concluded that a divine being must exist based on their scientific studies and understanding. Although these great minds have all made earth-shattering discoveries about the world we live in, their discoveries do not disprove the existence of God but rather further support the fact that the world we live in must have a divine creator due to the awe-inspiring order and symmetry we observe. In fact, the deeper scientists' search for the truth of the world, the stronger their conclusion becomes that it has all been divinely created.

    It should be noted the distinction I have made. These scientists do not blindly believe in religion and religious texts, but rather believe in the existence of a divine being. Religion is the community and the sect of people who share similar interpretations about divinity while this third group of people have been inspired to believe in God based on their scientific work and discovery.

    These are the three types of people in the world; those that feel good about religion and thus believe, those that feel uncomfortable about religion and thus don’t believe, and lastly, those that think critically about our world and make their own determination that God exists based on scientific facts. This is what you are missing; a third piece to the puzzle about the types of people and their belief about God and Religion.
    (There is also tremendous amount of gray area where people may fall in between one of these three categories.)

    -Andrew Capobianco

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  12. I often like to see the idea of religion as a large house with many doors and hallways, and something valuable in the center room. Buddhists could enter one way and take a completely different path to that valuable something, while Baptists could come in a different door and never come across the other party because their view of religion is radically different.

    An outsider can't comment on a religious practice he or she has no information about. It's even worse if he or she criticizes and generalizes the entire faith community based on one event with one particular group of that faith. It's important to be educated about what you're talking about before you preach.

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    1. @Kathleen Dauz

      There was an interesting survey showing that atheists knew more about religions than believers. I agree that people shouldn’t shoot their mouths off about things that they know nothing about. That would go for things like the origin of the universe, how we should spend our Sundays, or what happens to us after death. However, there are quite a few outsiders who know personally what it is like to experience the world from inside a religion, namely the formerly religious who have given up their belief in a god. Not every non-believer is as ignorant as you assume.

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  13. The belief or disbelief in a God is about more than feeling good. Look at Rust, the nihilist, in the present day scenes when he is being interviewed by the investigators. His long wiry hair looks as if it has not been washed in days, he appears emaciated and exhausted, has empty cans of cheap beer in front of him, and he takes pulls from his cigarette that seem to be unending. Does he look like a vision of happiness? Rust would disagree that all anyone cares about is feeling good. He himself knows that that cannot be the case. He would even say that the congregation gathered before them is not and cannot ever be truly happy. Without the ability to stand on their own two feet and own their personal identity separate from a God or religion, they cannot understand what it is to truly feel, well, anything (or so Rust would argue).

    Conversely, if religion is only about feeling good or being happy than Marty has missed the memo. Throughout the show, he struggles with his marriage, his partner, and with alcohol throughout the show. He finds comfort in drinking and in the arms of a much younger, highly attractive woman. The man who says he believes in traditional Southern Christian family values spends his nights away from his wife and kids, drinking in bars and sleeping in the bed of another woman. He seems to talk the talk very well when it comes to his sociological and psychological aspects of his defense of religion, but by no means does he walk the walk. (Hypocritical believers like Marty are probably part of the reason Rust is so resistant to religious ideals.) If religion acts as some duller of the senses that makes the dregs of everyday life bearable, it does not seem to do the trick for the drunk, girl crazy detective.

    Marty’s communal, sociological support of religion falls short as well. His belief that heinous, debaucherous, murderous events would occur without religion is not wrong. However, these events would not occur as a result of the absence of religion. They would occur because individuals do bad things. In most cases, religion does not stop people from doing bad things. Furthermore, in some cases, religion causes people to do bad things. Putting that aside, the idea that religion makes our society more civil is a fallacy. Religion serves NO purpose in the public arena in the great US of A. The Founding Fathers made it clear in the Constitution that religion cannot and will not infringe upon the functions of American society. However, they also made it clear each and every person is entitled to his or her own religious opinions, a concept that the characters on this brilliant show seem to have forgotten.

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  14. I don’t have any major issues or subjective critiques to Dr. Russo’s post, as he took a rather neutral stance summarizing the scene. Yes, we are presented with two contrasting points, on religion in society. And yes, the scene creates an ultimatum through Rust & Martin’s perspectives.

    As Ray mentioned a few posts up, there is most probably a cinematic rationale for the absence of a theistic defense. Whether the reason is to remain as an unbiased program, or to create a thought-provoking series for individual viewers - we don’t know. And we won’t know. Which leads quite well into my main point: accepting what we don’t and can’t know.

    Now, as I said, I don’t have any critical objections with Dr. Russo’s post, therefore there isn’t much for me to elaborate on. But the video clip itself is overflowing with controversy, and presents two varying ends of the religious spectrum, so I’ll bore you with my opinion on the belief of religion in society...Here we go:

    I briefly mentioned the acceptance of lacking complete knowledge, and if it’s not all that clear by now, I consider myself an agnostic. I assume everyone knows what this means (but for anybody who doesn’t know exactly, here’s a link for a quick definition). Broadly speaking, most major religions (including varying denominations and sects), provide answers for the unanswerable questions (i.e. what is our purpose, how did we get here, what happens when we die). Most of these major religions have different answers to these unanswerable questions, while some tend to overlap. So let’s take the topic of an afterlife as an example, considering that it’s been a hot topic on the tongues of varying theists for centuries, if not millennia. I think the main question that many major religions are aiming at answering, in regards to life after death, is “What happens to our souls (broadly defined as our consciousness) after our bodies ultimately die.” The best answer I can give for that question is quite simply “I don’t know.” I can also say with certainty, that “you don’t know.” You may have a theory, some sort of belief, but you do not know the answer to that question with complete certainty. That is an undeniable fact. If you do know the answer to this question, then you are a prophet, similar to the individuals who influenced the writings of the New Testament, or the Islamic view of Jesus as a prophet.

    What I am really getting to is that it is okay, it is fine, it is ALRIGHT not to know. If religion is the plug that keeps society at a certain ethical status-quo (which can be a positive or negative benchmark, based on your opinion), then we must look at the people as the main issue here, not religion. Accepting our ignorance on certain topics has a degree of self-enlightenment, and for all intents and purposes, is a realistic and rational mindset. I am not trying to persuade anybody to think the way I think; but I do think I have a leg to stand on when saying that if we choose to follow religious beliefs, we should do so rationally. We should examine our questions logically. When I realize that stealing a book from my sister is wrong, I don’t say three Hail Mary’s and five Our Father’s before apologizing. I comprehend the immoral values of thievery, try to understand what led me to act in such a manner, decide what I can do to prevent similar acts from happening again, and apologize. We live in a gray world; so let’s use our cognitive abilities to distinguish black from white when we are able.

    Please feel free to rip me apart. I would rather know where I am making mistakes, rather than believing that my opinion is the fact, merely because it is my opinion.

    -Christian Romanelli

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    1. https://www.google.com/search?sourceid=chrome-psyapi2&ion=1&espv=2&ie=UTF-8&q=agnostic&oq=agnost&aqs=chrome.0.69i59j69i57j0l4.2047j0j7

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  15. "From Rust’s perspective, those who believe in the existence of a supreme being are basically pathetic, irrational suckers who are so fearful of life that they are willing to accept ridiculous fairy tales as truth. " The hubris of those who believe they are superior to most human beings who have ever lived is staggering. People are fearful of death, not life. Dismissing most people are pathetic and fearful seems to scream: "I am a person who has never experienced suffering, grief, poverty, serious illness or loved people who have. I have not truly lived. I am a winner, not a loser."

    The existence or nonexistence of God cannot be proved. Faith leads people to God. I was an atheist for 13 years, from 15 to 28, until I looked into the mesmerizing eyes of my first daughter in 1973 seconds after her birth. She gazed into my eyes and repeatedly stuck her tongue out at me. "Oh my God, I thought, I never expected you. You will always be too much for me." Vanessa could not be the result of a chance collision of molecules. I joke she should have been born with a printout: "You will win only 5 battles with this girl. Choose them carefully."

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    1. I think it's a pretty weak argument to use the fact that you can neither prove or disprove god as evidence for his existence. I could say that a council of elves, dragons, and unicorns visit me when no one is looking to discuss the politics of middle earth; and that there is no way to record our conversations because no one can see them but me. Would you be able to prove that I am lying beyond any reasonable doubt? Of course not, just because you can't prove something wrong does not prove it's existence. God is just as real as Santa Claus, you can neither prove or disprove their existence.
      The one thing that absolutely drove me crazy growing up was when I would have a religion or science teacher tell me while standing by a window "Look at the clouds in the sky and tell me that there is no god." The beauty of the world does not prove that god is real. Especially because finding something beautiful is a trait humans have developed through evolution. In the eyes of a human a woman is beautiful when she has wide hips, has anatomical and facial symmetry, and (excuse me for being graphic) large breasts. We evolved to think this way because full hips and large breasts meant that the woman would be more capable to bear children and more capable of nourishing them when compared to another woman that lacks these traits. In the same way that is why we believe that things such as babies and clouds in the sky are so beautiful. Not to mention humans are capable of giving birth to babies independent of any magic or divine intervention. There are also scientific explanations as to how we are here on this planet by natural causes.

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  16. @Redstocking Grandma
    I don’t know why people can’t look into their newborn’s eyes and exclaim over his or her exquisite beauty without then going to the fantastic conclusion that a god made her. She is the result of billions of random variations some of which provided the mutants with a survival edge in a hostile environment. It is perfectly understandable why more evolved creatures bond with their offspring and care for them more than say fish. Mammals have a lot fewer babies than fish, so the solicitude an orangutan or bonobo give to their babies is precisely what the species needs to survive. As primates, we humans have inherited this bonding behavior.

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    1. Fred, I can't resist descending to your level of insult. Perhaps after you give birth to your firstborn after a ten-hour labor without drugs, you might lose your philosophical edge and react the ignorant way I did. How gracious of you to concede that I might have bonded more with my daughter than would a fish. I won't give you the benefit of the doubt. I don't believe you have inherited the bonding behavior of a orangutan.

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    2. Dear Redstocking grandma,
      I did not intend to insult anyone. If comparing your daughter to an orangutan is insulting I point out that Aristotle define humans as rational animals. I wouldn't mind at all being called a primate or a relative of an orangutan because I am. I (all of us) share 99% do our genetic makeup with the apes. There's clearly a difference between humans and apes but that difference is less than 1% genetically speaking. It's a difference in quantity , not quality. I think I've bonded quite nicely with my offspring, thank you very much, and that's all due to natural selection in apes and other mammals.

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  17. I am having trouble coming up with an argument to Dr. Russo's post. I do not think that I know enough about the topic to have a strong opinion about it. However, I will say that I believe that Dr. Russo should have brought up the monetary aspect of religion. Like it or not money does influence people, so does it have any affect on religious organizations? I think yes. The existence of God cannot be proven. In my opinion, if you believe in God, good for you. If you do not believe in God, good for you. I would not look down on anyone for whether or not they believe.
    --Gina

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