In Britain today there are strong pressures
not to upset people of a different colour, race or religion. At
the same time there is talk of increasing the number of religion
based schools. We also have the situation where people have taken
sides in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq because of their religious
beliefs. I think that these people have been and are misguided
in the absolute literal sense of the word.
Most acts of terrorism in modern times have been motivated by self-appointed religious "leaders". Suicide bombers have been brainwashed into believing that killing a lot of people by committing suicide will bring them benefits in "heaven" or "paradise". Some, if not all of these people have been told that they can have unlimited sexual pleasure in "heaven" or "paradise" as a reward for killing themselves while killing others. These people never stop to think that it would be impossible to have sexual pleasure without the body that will be destroyed when the bomb is detonated. In a secular society, a religious "leader" who persuades someone to commit suicide in order to kill others should be treated as a an accessory to murder - at least. Yet, religious terrorism is motivated by a a sense of powerlessness against an occopying force in many cases. If the occupying force has good defences, the religious terrorists will find ways to attack supporters of the occupying force who have weaker defences. The occupying force will, in almost all cases, claim that the occupation has taken place for "good historical reasons" which would not be acceptable in most western countries. This exemplified in the Palestinian-Israeli situation.
All the major religions and most of the minor ones are based on the idea that a god or gods exist that can influence life on Earth and can provide some sort of existence for humans after death. Death is the common denominator because all living creatures do their best to avoid it for as long as possible. Humans have devised higher authorities in the names of gods to provide an answer to death.
If the evidence is looked at dispassionately
one finds that all reported communications with deities have been
Wherever one looks there is no independent corroboration that such a communication has ever taken place.
No god ever seems to have had the power to communicate with more than one person at a time.
This indicates that that all alleged communications with a deity have been due to some form of hallucination or in a dream. In many religions there are reports of people behaving in a manner that is likely to produce hallucinations. The most notable of these is fasting. (Fasting is self imposed food deprivation. Food deprivation is a known cause of hallucinations.) Other causes of hallucinations include the taking of drugs, eating poisonous or unhygienic food, or participating in extremely violent exercise.
Examinations of mummified bodies indicate that the people who were mummified suffered from a range of diseases that can still cause problems for humans today. The evidence indicates that humans who lived around 10,000 years ago were not significantly different from modern humans. It can therefore be presumed that ancient humans suffered from mental illnesses in a similar proportion to the current human population. In this context the critical mental illness is schizophrenia. Schizophrenia can vary in severity in an individual and can exhibit itself in several ways. One of the symptoms of schizophrenia is that the sufferer hears "voices". These voices seem very real to the sufferer. Some of those who suffered from relatively mild schizophrenia would have been able to live relatively normal lives and some of these would have risen to a degree of eminence among their fellows. Such people would be able to say with misguided absolute conviction that they have heard the voice of god - and be believed.
Ancient humans lived in tribal societies. The records of these societies that exist show that the ancient tribal ways and customs have their counterparts in tribal societies that are in existence today. Anthropological studies of tribes in Brazil and elsewhere show that a tribe is likely to have a dual leadership. The tribe will be nominally led by a strong man or one of his descendants. However, the person with most power and influence in a tribe is the shaman or medicine man or witch doctor. Note that two of these three western names for tribal shamans imply that these people provided tribal medicine for their fellows. These practitioners of tribal medicine usually learned their trade from their fathers or other male relatives. They learned what herbs and fungi could alleviate if not cure some medical problems and what potions could kill without an apparent cause. At some point success or failure would be ascribed to a spirit or deity. The records show that when tribes became settled in the past, the shamans used less medicine and made more use of an alleged association with a spirit or deity. Some shamans became leaders of their tribes through their claims to have a close association with a spirit or deity. Others found that it was better to have all the power that they wanted over a community without the risks and responsibility of being the chief.
As tribal societies merged and cities were built, some shamans got together to agree on a common spiritual standard of reference. In time, one or two of these references became what we now call religions.
I changed from being an agnostic to being an atheist because of common factors among all the religions that now exist. If there was a god and he, she or it had any influence over human affairs, sooner or later the religions would converge to become one universal religion. History shows us that religions have become increasingly divergent. These differences have been progressively exaggerated by the actions of past and current religious leaders. This recorded evidence shows that the variations in religions are all man made. Some of these have been brought about by "divine revelations" that could have been caused by hallucinations, or by charlatans who just claimed to have heard the voice of god.. It is undoubtedly true that many religious leaders past and present have gained and maintained their positions of power by such claims. In more recent times there has been a tendency for religious leaders to avoid claiming any direct link to a deity. Instead they use interpretations of passages from a "holy" book. They imply or even state that what is written in the holy book cannot be questioned so it must be a guide that has the force of law. If the ancient writings in a holy book cannot be questioned, there is an implication that the validity of the holy book is insecure and might not withstand independent scrutiny.
Religious leaders also have one thing in common that makes their status questionable. They are all originally self-appointed. In nearly all cases they are petty despots. Where an organised hierarchy is in existence, an ambitious person can progress to having a religious title that implies some form of superiority as an interpreter of a religion.
I am tempted to identify two people who are long dead who still have a great influence on the way two religions are practised today. If they were alive today and behaved in the same manner as is recorded, they both would be regarded as untrustworthy people with problems. One would have been diagnosed today as having a long history of a recurrent mental illness like schizophrenia. The other would be regarded nowadays as a "turncoat politician" of a (then) foreign nationality who had a "miraculous conversion". He talked about a "Promised Land" that he claimed was promised by his newly adopted god. Such a person would never have been accepted as a leader in any modern society. None of the claims by these two people (that they had been in communication with a deity) can be verified. Tragically, many millions of people believe today that these two long dead people had been in contact with a deity and accept their claims as truth.
This essay would not have been written if religions were not the cause of a lot of bitterness and suffering in the world as we know it today. A believer in any one religion has to face the fact that there are millions of people who believe in other religions or none at all. This can and does cause doubts in the minds of many believers. For some, the existence of another religion is a challenge to their beliefs. There are countless instances in relatively modern history where people were killed because they had the "wrong" religion. Even in 2004 there are religious leaders who advocate killing those of other religions. A prosecution is in progress, as I write this essay, against a religious leader who has made videos instructing people to kill those of other religions. In this case, as in all other similar cases that have been recorded, the leader in question appointed himself. The alleged ancient rule of the Greeks applies to believers who feel that their faith is undermined by another religion. "Kill the bringer of bad news." There are millions of people who are not convinced believers who say that they are for sake of peace and quietness or to avoid trouble and persecution. At the same time there are others who have been duped or brainwashed into believing that unsupported religous claims are the absolute truth. Some of these brainwashed or otherwise deluded believers have appointed themselves as guardians of morality. They intervene in such issues as human fertility and abortion and have links with Creationists and animal rights groups. They will use propaganda, threats, intimidation and violence to try to enforce their points of view on society in general. It is not easy to convince these people that their beliefs are based on the claims of charlatans and those who would be regarded today as being mentally ill. It is wise to stay well out of the way of someone who suddenly realises that he or she has been duped by religious lies.
The countries and regions that have been governed by theocratic regimes all have a record of repression. They have been responsible for heinous punishments of people who were alleged to have committed offences against religious laws. Most of these laws were drafted hundreds of years before the modern concept of human rights was thought of and put into practice in the secular world. The people who drafted these laws were self appointed like all religious leaders. The existence of these religious laws is virtually proof that that they have no connection with a deity. If an all powerful deity existed, he, she or it could enforce the correct behaviour among believers. The laws imply that the deity has no power on Earth to influence the behaviour of his/her/its followers. A deity without power can hardly be described as a deity. Religions attempt to get around this problem by claiming that the deity has authorised or commanded religious leaders to act on his/her/its behalf. However, when one looks for the source of the authorisation one finds that the deity has communicated this information to only one self appointed person.
All of these alleged communications with a deity have a common format: "He/She/It 'up there' has told me to tell you..."
A clear indication of the real nature of Islam is the complete absence of protest by any Islamists anywhere in the world about the heinous ethnic cleansing currently being perpetrated by the Islamic Sudanese government. The Sudanese Islamic Arabs are pursuing a scorched earth policy to evict millions of animist blacks from the south of the country. Contrast this Islamic silence with the cries for vengeance from the Islamic world about the ill treatment of 100 or so Iraqi prisoners.
A check on holy books will reveal that all claims concerning communication with a a god are never questioned. There is evidence that when many of the reports about communication with a deity were written down, the writers were associated with the religious hierarchy in existence at the time. In modern terms the writers had to 'toe the party line'. All reports had to show the religion in a good light and would be regarded nowadays as religious propaganda.
Many past religious leaders are referred to as prophets. These people claimed that things would be better in the future and that a god would provide all the answers in some way. The most common promise was life after death. They may have been associated with, or were, astronomers who had studied the way the planets and stars apparently move during the year. The concept of a rotating and orbiting Earth was unknown to them. As the movements of the stars and planets could be predicted with reasonable accuracy, some of these people behaved and were treated as if they could predict other events with comparable accuracy. The pseudo science of astrology is derived from this concept. Some religious events are associated with heavenly occurrences. There have been attempts at identifying the sources of these phenomena by modern researchers. The appearances of supernovae and comets were treated as signs of great significance for good or ill until recent times. However, the records we have of religious associations with astronomical events have a very poorly defined chronology. The reports were often written many years after the alleged events occurred. It is fortunate that the ancient Chinese kept pretty good records of astronomical events with an identifiable chronology. These records are apparently less encumbered with religious orthodoxy and are therefore more credible than comparable reports from other sources. We now know that any association between an astronomical event and an event here on Earth is purely a matter of coincidence. (Large meteorites being a notable exception.) Yet in 2002 we find that several religions have feasts or festivals associated with events that were reported as being foretold by, or associated with, astronomical events in the past. In today's terms these events are comparable with associating the return of Halley's Comet with the election, defeat or assassination of a political leader.
A critical point about alleged communications with a deity is the absence of any information about the world and the universe. If there had really been a deity involved there would have been some information about agriculture, geography or astronomy included in the alleged communications. In all the reports of such communications there are no references to anything that was not general knowledge at the times when the communications took place. On the other hand there are many instances when religious authorities have denied, or tried to suppress, verified information gained by secular means. If there had been a god to communicate with, these organisations could have checked the accuracy of the secular information. One can therefore conclude from the history of such behaviours that the religious organisations did not communicate with a deity or there was no deity to communicate with. The absence of any communication with a deity is effectively proven by the actions of the Roman Catholic Church against Galileo. He was forced to deny what he had seen of Jupiter's moons through his telescope.
If the proposal to have more religion-based schools goes ahead, the schools should be governed by absolute rules. No uncorroborated reports of communications with a deity should be included in any part of the education of the children. The children should be told of the occasions when a deity has communicated with two or more people at the same time and when the deity imparted information that was not general knowledge to the people concerned. Information about heaven should only be taught by teachers who have been there. The same rule applies to teachers who wish to teach children about hell. Information about life after death should be supplied exclusively in lessons by dead teachers who have come back to life. In this way religion based schools could contribute to a body of information that could be used as the religious part of the National Curriculum. This curriculum could then be used by school inspectors to check that only verifiable facts about religion are taught in all religion based schools. All applications to set up religion based schools in future should be accompanied by a verifiable communication from the deity concerned. Existing religion based schools should be given one year to revise their religious courses and to hire teachers to match the National Curriculum requirements. Holy books should be edited to include only verified reports of communications with a deity. In this way Britain will be able to set the highest standards of religious education in the world.
A summary of proposed questions for religious
leaders and teachers.
(If I had my way, all these questions would have to be answered before the person concerned could be licensed to preach or teach in Britain.)
1. List the recorded communications with your deity (or deities) which were shared by two or more humans at the same time.
2. List the recorded communications between your deity (or deities) and a single human that can be proven not to have been hallucinations or inventions.
(See Note 1.)
3. List the communications with your deity which have provided useful practical information that was not known to the local community at the time when the communication(s) occurred.
(See Note 2.)
4. List the aspects of your religion which are not based on the laws and traditions of a tribal culture.
(The answer may include all information given in the answers to questions 1 to 3.)
5. Give the name or names of people who have definitely been to heaven or hell and have returned to describe where these places are and what they are like.
6. Please say how your religious leaders are initially selected. (This does not include promotions.)
7. Would you believe that God told me to write this?
(See Note 3.)
8. How would you use only the answers from 1 to 5 to promote and justify your religion?
(See Note 4.)
Modern science has shown that food deprivation often leads to hallucinations. Many major religions regard fasting (self imposed food deprivation) as a way to become closer to a deity. Hallucinations seem real to the person who has them. Hardly anything was known about the causes and effects of hallucinations before the middle of the 20th century. It is therefore reasonable to infer that many claims of contact with a deity (that are written about in ancient books) were based on hallucinations. The writer of this questionnaire knows of no reports of communications with the deity concerning two or more individuals at the same time in the ancient literature. There are many reports of such communications with individuals that mention visions and dreams. This indicates that few, if any, reports of such communications would be regarded as reliable today.
Practical information in this instance should relate to things like: advice on animal husbandry and crop husbandry; advice on medicines, care for the sick, and physical and mental illnesses; information about the nature of the world, the nature of the universe, the weather and climate; advice on the sterilisation, preparation and storage of food; advice on sanitation, dealing with parasites like lice, fleas and worms, etc. etc
If you would not believe that someone you could meet and talk to (like me) had been in communication with God, why would you believe that someone who lived many years ago, who you have only read about, had been in contact with God?
Religious people should be restricted to using only the answer to question 8 in any administrative, teaching or advisory capacity that concerns people of other religions or no religion at all.