Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Scathing Atheist: is it fear of death?

Like all Scathing Atheist podcasts, this isn't safe for work. Well, depending on where you work, I suppose...

But it's an interesting question. Is it fear of death that causes otherwise intelligent people to cling to ancient myths? Or is it the narrative?
You're confronted with two worldviews. In one, you're a chemical anomaly that occupies an insignificant portion of a cosmic pebble for an insignificant fraction of time. You're going to spend that time engaged in activities that have no cosmic significance. ...

And then along comes this competing narrative. In this one, sure, you still have to do mundane shit to comport with your secret identity, but even when it seems to the casual observer like you're just looking for a parking space, you're really communing with the divine. Right, you spend your days playing a critical role in the cosmic battle between good and evil. ...

It may look like you're singing a hymn. But when you strip away the mortal facade, you're battling demons! You're locked in combat with the Devil himself, warring alongside God in the only battle that's ever mattered. Now, even an atheist has to admit that's more appealing than pond scum that learned to wipe, isn't it?

As I say, it's an interesting question. Of course, religion existed long before they invented Heaven. And it existed before human beings imagined some cosmic significance to their everyday lives. At least, not every early religion included that feature. But back then, we knew almost nothing about how the world worked.

Primitive myths probably weren't so primitive when they were invented. They were serious attempts to explain reality (combined with entertainment and the desire to enhance their political, social, and economic status, of course).

But they are primitive today. They're so primitive that apologists have to jump through hoops to try to rationalize away the problems with that. They're so primitive that reading the Bible - actually reading it, rather than having portions of it spoon-fed to you - is a good way create another atheist.

I suspect that there are lots of reasons why people cling to whatever religion they were taught children, but this is probably an important one. We love a good narrative, don't we? Especially when we get to play a starring role in it?


Jim Harris said...

I'm working on this topic too at my blog. What's interesting is the shift between the Hebrew bible and The New Testament. I can't fathom why Christians publish the two books together as one. Heaven and eternal life wasn't an issue in the first volume, and its everything in the second. The first book is political and theocratic, and the second isn't. I tend to think most conservative Christians are influenced by The Old Testament and liberals by the new.

I wonder what the United States would have been like if Christians rejected The Old Testament 1900 years ago. Maybe we'd be less politically polarized.

Bill Garthright said...

Jim, as you probably know, there was an early Christian sect which did just that - Marcionism. Modern Christians might wish they'd gone down that road, don't you think? They'd certainly have less to explain away.

Of course, as bad as the Jews were persecuted already, they'd likely not have survived at all if Marcionism had become orthodox.

But I do not think it would have changed right-wing thinking much. Christians - right and left - don't get their views from the Bible as much as they pick and choose from the Bible and interpret it in a way that agrees with what they already think.

That's the whole point of faith-based thinking, isn't it? What's the point of having a religion if you can't believe whatever you want to believe?