Friday, January 07, 2011

Is Religion a Scam?

David Silverstein, president of the American Atheist Group was on The O’Reilly Factor the other evening to explain why his group is claiming that religion is a scam. His answer, “because it is.” Reaffirming as true something you claim is true is not the same as proving it is true. So right away viewers knew that they were in the presence of a propagandist rather than a philosopher.

Now in the interest of full disclosure, I too sometimes say that religion is a scam.
When I use the “s” word I mean to say that all religions can be used to manipulate people to adhere to whatever rulings their respective leaders find it in their best interests to make. It is always easier to get people to do evil things when you can convince them that it is God’s will. As the Qur’an says, "Fighting is prescribed for you, but you dislike it. But it is possible that you dislike a thing which is good for you, and that you love a thing which is bad for you. But God knows, and you know not (Sura 2:216)." As long as you believe that God knows and trust that your leader knows what God knows, you are apt to do what the leader says because you believe it is what God wants.

When I read the Book of Leviticus, for example, I see the Priestly Writer promoting the power of the priesthood, and when I read the Book of Deuteronomy, I see the Deuteronomist promoting empire sometimes through genocide. I suspect that these authors knew what they were doing, i.e. that they were using peoples’ belief in God to promote their respective agendas. And thus what they were doing was a scam.

I suspect the same was true when the Roman Catholic Church invented Papal Infallibility in 1870, and when Mohammed received the revelations in Medina that conveniently allowed him to expand his power and the power of Islam.

Priests, popes, prophets all too often hear what they want to hear to promote what they want to promote. This doesn’t mean that religions don’t contain timeless and universal truths, they do, only that they also contain self-serving propaganda as well.

If this was the conversation Bill and David had had, it would have been wonderful. Unfortunately they couldn’t rise to the occasion, and took refuge in ignorance in stead.

When seeking to explain why he believes in God Mr. O’Reilly pointed to the regularity of the tides: the tides go in and out and nobody knows why, he said. Bill has obviously not gotten the news about gravity. Unfortunately, neither did Mr. Silverstein who admitted that he too couldn’t explain how tides happen, but he was certain that it wasn’t caused by an invisible man in the sky. Honestly, David, without gravity in the equation, the invisible man is as good a cause as any.

Stupid is as stupid does, as Mother Gump told us, and discussions of religion on TV are really stupid.


KEVIN said...


Lou Mindar said...

Rabbi --

Stephen Prothero lampoons (my word, not his) the atheists in his book, God Is Not One, by pointing out that the atheists (particularly "hard" atheists) are just another religion. They happen to preach a different gospel, but they have many of the same underpinnings as other religions.

In many ways, atheists remind me of many Harley Davidson riders. In order to promote their image as societal non-conformists, they ride their hogs, all the while dressing alike in HD t-shirts, leather vests and jackets, etc. To prove they are different, they all act the same.

Anonymous said...

It seems to me a true atheist doesn't really care, one way or the other. He would be indifferent. On the other hand, an atheist who carries a flag of atheism, what another commenter called a "hard" atheist, is really an anti-theist. Me thinks he doth protest too much.