I had written:
“My definition of 'atheist' also applies to infants and toddlers who haven't the vaguest understanding of a god. Since I hold that human beings are born tabula rasa, I hold that human beings are necessarily born without god-beliefs. In other words, they are born atheists. Now, no doubt, many theists will not like this. But that is my view on things. In other words, I think that atheism is the natural and normal condition of man, that god-belief is abnormal.” <o:p></o:p>
“I think the vast majority of evidence is against you on this point.”<o:p></o:p>
There is more than one point in the section quoted above. The principle point is that atheism as I define it (namely, absence of god-belief) applies to infants since they are born without a god-belief. Those who have no god-beliefs are atheists. However, from what Peter writes, it seems he is not taking exception to this (for he does not question this point, nor does he cite counter-evidence to dispel it). Rather, he appears to be contesting my opinion that god-belief is abnormal. It seems that Peter thinks it is not normal to be an atheist. That’s fine, and if we assume the meaning of ‘normal’ which he has in mind (which seems to be more or less what is popular among the crowd), then he’s right, for some form of mysticism or another (quite typically expressed in some variation of a god-belief of some kind) is extremely popular among the crowd.
However, when I use the term ‘normal’ in the present context, I am referring to what we can reasonably expect of a man who embraces reason fully, as he should. Aristotle identified man as the rational animal. With Aristotle, I view man as rational to be the ideal to which I would hope men would aspire to achieving in their lifetimes. In my view, reason is the norm for man qua man, not mysticism. Unfortunately, most people today seem to be quite unconcerned with reason and are more concerned about what will happen tonight’s episode of Survivor or the latest scandal in the neighborhood church or some other inconsequential diversion. But I suppose it is true: rationality is chosen by the uncommon man, not the sheep pretending to be a man, and thus his atheism is considered abnormal and unnatural due to its rarity among men. Indeed, in a culture where mystic beliefs hold popular currency at all levels of society, few will summon up the courage to question the theism with which they were indoctrinated in their youth.
“A god-belief, to use your term, is central to humanity. Yagob is correct in asking "Where from, and when, did the 'notion of a god' come into the society"?”
One should keep in mind that monotheism (the belief in only one god) is a relatively recent phenomenon in the history of religious belief. Monotheism arose in opposition to polytheism, the belief in many gods. Scholars (e.g., Barbara Walker et al.) believe that the first religions were most likely fertility and animistic cults (as evidenced by cave art and similar artifacts), and that it was from these beliefs that later religions eventually grew. In fact, evidence strongly suggests that the first gods were feminine, not masculine personalities as we find in western monotheism today. While feminine gods were associated with birth, growth, the creation and maturation of life, and balance or fulfillment, the idea of a masculine god was a later development and was associated with destruction, warfare, social order, power struggles and racial supremacy.
wtf makes a very important point when he writes, “Religion was created out of a need for explanation.” Essentially, he’s right on. Religious ideas sprang in answer to certain questions which the ancients could not answer by their understanding of nature (as science enables us today). The ancients witnessed certain things, such as the changing of the seasons and erratic weather patterns, lightning, volcanic eruptions, etc., and, at the mercy without science and a rational view of existence, they relied on their imaginations to fill in the gaps. Now, granted, they probably didn’t think they were simply imagining things up. They may have thought their explanations were quite justified. But quite often they uncritically assumed that some conscious being was the answer to all their questions. The seasons changed because of the seasons gods; changes in weather reflected the moods of the sky gods; lightning was cast down from the heavens from some pissed off god; and likewise with other violent acts of the earth. The younger, more impressionable and suggestible individuals most likely thought these “explanations” were unquestionably true, and probably thought that their elders possessed a privileged link with the beings they asserted in those explanations. (Thus, the development of the idea of ‘revelation’ and the like.)
It most likely seemed commonsensical to the ancients to assume that these events were caused by conscious beings. This is a kind of personification of nature, a projection of the human condition to nonhuman elements, and thus postulating actors who are responsible for causing lightning probably seemed readily to make sense to the ancient mind. Postulating personal beings as the cause for unknown phenomena is still universal among primitive cultures today. There is no reason to suspect that many of the primitives of thousands of years ago were significantly different in this regard.
Monotheistic religions have survived principally because their myths, legends and teachings were written, while their predecessors were not, and thus died when their cultures died out or were subsumed by other cultures. Furthermore, with the use of force, prevailing religions would take any action deemed necessary to secure and maintain a foothold in a culture. These cultures did not build their beliefs on rational arguments, but on the claim to direct knowledge (cf. “revelation” etc.) and on the use of force. And this is exactly what their writings tell us today.
Keep in mind that a religion is nothing more than a cult which has become popular. In fact, many Christians do not realize that, before Rome was Christianized by Emperor Constantine, Christians were called atheists, since they denied the Roman gods. Christians, like other minority religious groups, were despised by Roman culture at this time since their beliefs were different from the beliefs which Romans held popularly. Eventually, this changed, and Christianity came to replace those beliefs. In fact, once Christianity gained sufficient foothold in Roman society, Christian leaders sought to stamp out any competing religious influences, and as a result many of those religions are little understood today, since the Christians were quite thorough in this act of religious cleansing. Obviously, they perceived competing religions as a threat. And what was the real aim? Securing power over others, nothing more.
“Because there is no place on earth that you can go where you cannot find a religion of some kind or another.”
That’s true, mysticism in one form or another is found all over the world. That’s simply because mysticism had a head start over reason in the realm of philosophy. That shouldn’t be too hard to figure out. But also note the demographics of god-belief. If you were born in Saudi Arabia, chances are you would be a Muslim. If you were born in Ogden, Utah, chances are pretty good that you would be Mormon. And if you were born in Mexico, you would most likely be a Catholic. People pick up their god-beliefs from the people in their environment. Exceptions to this are frequently found to be instances of migration or personal disenchantment with a religious view and a developing interest in another view. In other words, there is a causality to religious belief; it is not a spontaneous phenomenon; babies are not born quoting Leviticus. Belief in the supernatural typically begins as belief in the superiority of others. We see this in Christian families today all the time. A child looks at his father with awe, and what his father says must be true, he thinks, for he gives him complete trust. There is a such thing as a misuse of trust. Many children are even warned against not only disobedience, but also doubting what they are told in a religious context. Thus, questioning the religious ideas results in sometimes overwhelming guilt and even paralyzing fear in many cases.
“Another excuse I have heard which CV has not yet stated but my guess would be that he would agree with it is that religion was imposed on primitive peoples at an early time in order to control them through the priesthood. This sounds somewhat convincing until you consider the position rationally. Why would it be that someone would fall prey to such a lie unless the concept of a god were not already in place? “
That’s pretty easy to answer. People fell for it because a) they had no philosophical defense against it, and b) the priestly elites who rose to power also had the support of those who would initiate the use of force in order to enforce what the priestly elites dictated. Thus, the Atillas and the Witch Doctors were in cahoots with each other, for they both wanted the same thing: power over other individuals. Those who did not obey were threatened with destruction in one form or another. If they did not obey, they would meet with punishments and destructions. The history of religion is full of such examples of the wedding between church and state and the exaction of punishments for not following a religious creed either fully or in part (cf. Inquisition, witch hunts, genocide against minority religious groups, such as the Jews, the Anabaptists, etc.).
Notice that the Bible nowhere prohibits the initiation of the use of force, nor does it prohibit slavery. Nowhere did Jesus speak against slavery in the many sermons attributed to him, even though it is hard to think he would have failed to address this point if indeed he were a man of justice as many claim of him. On the contrary, slavery actually endorsed in the Bible and there is no identification or development of a theory of individual rights to be found in the books of the Bible. Thus, the churchmen saw no contradiction between the practice of slavery and the Bible, just as they saw no contradiction between the initiation of the use of force and the “holy scriptures.” This ignorance of individual rights was most likely inherited by Christians as they amalgamated their religious beliefs from the pagan religions which influenced them. And of course, since faith and force are corollaries, Christian leaders certainly had no motivation to develop a theory of individual rights, since this would be anathema to their goal of world domination.
Is it no wonder that church leaders did not make the Bible available to lay readers for many, many centuries? It’s a common tactic of those who acquire and seek to maintain power over others: keep one’s subjects ignorant and defenseless. Additionally, enlist the support of a government which holds the key to the use of force over individuals. There are examples of this throughout history, and denying that this ever happened is simply naïve.
“If the concept of a diety were really an alien thing, and in fact "abnormal" as CV stated it, then there is no reason for more than just a few to be decieved by a claim that there is such a diety.”
Well, since there were various forms of mysticism all throughout history, it need not be posited that the notion of a deity were “an alien thing.” So, it should not be surprising that many did fall for these beliefs (and still continue to in modern times), since they think it’s normal. When I say that god-belief is abnormal I am speaking of man as a rational being as Objectivism conceives of him, not as the sheepish herd animal that religions view him as. A genuinely rational man does not view himself as part of a collective or a flock of servants bowing in unison to some mythic object of worship, but as an independent being capable of dealing with others as equals, not as a subordinated automaton. Nor does a genuinely rational individual point to imaginary beings to answer questions which he’s not been able to answer. Instead, he developed his ability to reason and invented science, and consequently religion has been on the retreat ever since (at least wherever science has wide acceptance in a culture), while churchmen constantly try reform their religion in order to survive. The early Christians, for instance, influenced by Greek civilization, did away with the animal sacrifices of their Jewish forebears, since this practice was viewed with disgust by the prevailing civilized culture. Conveniently, the churchmen of the time wove into their new religion mythic motifs intended to rationalize this change.
“Deception cannot occur in an area unless it is in a place that people will naturally go to.”
That’s not necessarily true. People are much more easily deceived than many would like to admit. And if they are philosophically defenseless, like the primitives were, and like children today are, many will of course succumb to mystical suggestion, mistaking it for truth. Germany in the early part of the 20th century was one of the most religious societies in Europe. But look how quickly they turned to Nazism. Why did this happen? Because of the primitive elements in their philosophy. The primacy of consciousness was present in virtually every sphere of academic thought, and thus the society was ripe for dictatorship. Look at any dictatorship, and you will find hundreds of years of religion leading up to it. Many like to point to the Soviet Union as a result of embracing atheism. But this ignores the fact that Russia was forcibly Christianized by Prince Vladimir I in 988, and for 9 centuries Russia was the home of the Russian Orthodox Church, which was married to the state. The soil of Russian consciousness was steeped in religion by the time the Communists took control. The claim that atheism led to dictatorship in the Soviet Union also ignores the fact that communism shares every fundamental with religion. It is perceived by western religious people as a threat because communism is a competitor for the same goods that the religious seek: power over people. Where religion expects men to amass themselves in a collective sacrifice to a so-called spiritual being, the communists expected men to amass themselves in collective sacrifice to the State. Both advocate the morality of self-sacrifice and the politics of collectivism. And so long as men embrace the religious view of the world, the threat of dictatorship will always be with us. We don’t call the age when people took Christianity the Dark Ages for nothing. And look at the state of Muslim countries today, where religion is taken just as seriously as Christianity was centuries (or decades) ago. The religious leadership and the civil leadership are either one and the same, or in complete cahoots with one another. I sure don't want to live there. I don't even want to visit such places.
Anyway, there’s a lot more to say on this subject, as it is a ripe field of inquiry. But, this should suffice to generate some dialogue for now.