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When God Goes Away, Superstition Takes His Place
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  • Ellen

    Thank you Professor Mead, for that valuable insight. The first audience that needs to hear your words, sadly, are your very own colleagues in the faculty lounges of America’s universities. The biggest concentration of idol worshippers in the world is the tenured professoriate. Having abandoned the worship of God, whose presence cannot be proved, they have adopted the worship of many different sorts of idols that they have created with their own hands and are thus clearly visible and touchable. First and foremost among these idols is themselves, with their endless self promotion and narcissism. The ideologies they have invented, like Marxism, vegetarianism, environmentalism – among others – to replace religious life, nonetheless prove to be unsatisfying to their spiritual yearnings. So, they end up like Barack Obama, worshipping at the alter of the holy self.

    Unfortunately, most of the liberal elite that rules America (and Europe) fall into this category and it is hard to see how we get rid of them before they destroy completely the moral foundations of the society. Someday, we may have a revolt of the fruitsellers (a la that poor fellow in Tunisia) here in the US and elsewhere against this elite. And it won’t just be fruitsellers.

    • theresanursemom

      Indeed, the human spiritual sense abhors a vacuum…

    • Fat_Man

      Marxism. Marx was a journalist and an agitator, not a professor. Marxism grew up outside of the academic matrix, but has infected that institution like mold in a poorly built house.

      They are all Marxists now, not industrial grade Stalinists, but cultural Marxists theorized by Adorno, and Gramisci, and the French lumpen-philosopes such as Foucault and Derrida. But, even those variants of Marxism demands atheism.

      Also atheism, especially, the nasty anti-intellectual atheism of Dawkins et. al., allows them to indulge their favorite passion — Contempt for the unwashed masses of Americans — the obese bitter clingers who inhabit fly-over country and cling to their guns and religion.

    • Blackbeard

      Well said

    • Arkeygeezer

      Amen Sister!

    • Kevin

      Real quick, and unfortunately probably not for the last time, President Obama is a Christian. The rest of your rant is fine I guess.

      • Ellen

        My point was not that he is a Muslim. He isn’t a Muslim or a Christian in belief. He is a worshipper of the Greek god Narcissus. He thinks he is an infallible messianic figure. No matter what the mess he causes and how much slaughter goes on, after he received his Nobel Peace Prize mind you, he thinks he is “improving” the world. He is surrounded by sycophants – mostly white liberals – who have made careers sucking up to people like him, who won’t inform him of the truth. And the leadership of his party won’t tell him, “you’re an ignorant disaster.” He worships only himself.

        • Anthony

          Propaganda is fine (to induce action on your behalf rather than provide information for intelligent judgment by others) I suspect given perceived motive; but wishful thinking posted as psychoanalysis inclines to the self-serving or perhaps personal obsession motivated by irrational animus towards The President. In the field of propaganda few devices are as insidiously effective as the innuendo.

          • Terenc Blakely

            What foreign or domestic policies of Obama have been a success? Is Obama utterly inept or cleverly undermining this nation? In the end it doesn’t matter other than his ‘rule’ has been a disaster. Sadly, people deserve the government they get so ultimately it’s our fault.

      • SClanding

        He lies an awful lot for a Christian…..and his disdain for every other Christian sect in defense of Islamic terrorist would suggest otherwise.

        Jeremiah Wright’s “church” is a Liberation Theory theology concocted in the 60s by godless Marxist to use the trappings of Christianity to bring communism to urban American communities.

        And Barack Obama is a prime epitome of its fruits…….

      • A Smith

        Well, as others have said, he’s as Christian as a gender studies professor at Swarthmore.

  • Pete

    In America, when the elite gave up the belief in God, those snobs substituted the state in His place.

    • Fat_Man

      Marxism. See my comments above.

  • j3relowf
  • amoose1959

    I don’t think you have the nerve to even express that theme at your faculty meetings. Put your money where your mouth is and stand up to your overwhelmingly secular colleagues at your next meeting.I must say just using this one example is not sufficient.Let us know the results.

    • jeburke

      I think that is grossly unfair to Mead, who has no hesitation in expressing his Christian faith publicly.

    • Matt B

      I’m picturing the anxious WRM, hesitating before he clicks the “post” button, dreading the possibility that one day, one of his colleagues may read his columns. 🙂

      • Jim__L

        It’s entirely possible that his colleagues are vaguely aware of his leanings, but tolerate him because he’s a nice guy who doesn’t rock the boat. Even if they did read his columns, a conspiracy of silence or indifference could protect him for quite some time.

        It’s only when it becomes an open challenge to the overarching orthodoxy that people get angry. However, that’s what we’re called to do (Matthew 28:19-20) even if it rocks the boat (Matthew 10:34-35).

        On the other hand, on social issues WRM has demonstrated he’s perfectly willing to ignore Scripture to go along with the new orthodoxy, so I don’t know how much to hope, there.

  • solstice

    “Human beings feel
    instinctively that the visible reality that we live in day to day is connected
    to something larger and more mysterious.” Professor Mead, what human
    beings “instinctively feel” has no connection to what is or is not true.
    The majority of human beings once instinctively felt that the earth was flat,
    that the sun revolved around the earth, that neurological and psychiatric
    illnesses were caused by demonic possession, that natural disasters constituted
    divine vengeance, that human sacrifice could appease wrathful deities, and so
    on and so forth. This is what peoples’ instinctive feelings caused them to
    believe before microbiology, physics, meteorology etc. proved them wrong.
    Humans, due to their imperfect brain structure and design, are instinctively
    irrational, arrogant, and solipsistic animals, which causes many of us to
    grossly exaggerate our individual importance in the grand scheme of things. It
    causes us to absurdly believe that the creator of a vast universe with hundreds
    of billions of galaxies, stars, and planets takes a special interest in one
    stupid and violent primate species living on one small planet in an obscure
    suburb of one galaxy.

    who think themselves too rational for religious belief end up believing in
    ‘astral forces’, ghosts and other phenomena. Sometimes these superstitions take
    the deadly form of political ideologies that fanatical believers take up with
    religious fervor—communist atheists murdered tens of millions of people in the
    20th century in the irrational grip of an ugly ideology.” Not true. The
    rational among us who reject the existence of the supernatural regard belief in
    ghosts, reincarnation, karma, ESP, astrology etc. to be as false and ludicrous
    as the more mainstream Abrahamic monotheistic cults. And once again we see a
    desperate theist try to blame atheism for the atrocities of Hitler, Stalin, Pol
    Pot, Mao, the Kim family, etc. Atheism is merely the rejection of the notion
    that deities exist–it is morally neutral. There is nothing inherently moral or
    immoral about atheism, but religious “holy books” are replete with passages
    that explicitly endorse deeply immoral ideas and practices that have caused
    untold misery for billions of people throughout human history. If anything, the
    ideologies and actions of Hitler, Stalin etc. were religious in nature in that
    they strove to violently suppress critical thinking and dissent, which many
    organized religions have a long history of doing. Yes, they violently
    persecuted traditional religious institutions, but only because they wanted to
    replace the blind veneration of those institutions with the blind veneration of
    themselves and their political parties. In other words, they wanted to destroy
    the old religion in order to make way for the new religion. Anyone who
    thinks North Korea is a secular state is a fool. North Korea is a theocracy where the people
    are brainwashed from childhood to blindly worship the leader and the party as

    world without faith in God wouldn’t be a more rational or more humane
    place.” A world without faith, whether in God or anything else,
    would be a far more rational and humane place. A world in which science,
    logic, and critical thinking prevail would be far more conducive to human
    wellbeing, dignity, and liberty than the world in its current state, where
    belief without evidence is the norm and where grown adults believing in obscene
    fairy tales is celebrated.

    • jeburke

      Ah, the athiests strike back, and not surprisingly, “solstice” believes that humankind is a “stupid and violent species,” a meaningless speck in a vast universe, and “due to their imperfect brain structure and design, are instinctivel irrational, arrogant, and solipsistic animals.” Thus, perhaps unwittingly, he (she?) expresses exactly the contempt for humanity as a whole and utter disregard of the importance and dignity of each individual human being that has given us murderous collectivist ideologies responsible for the deaths of millions.

      We Christians, in sharp contrast, believe that every human being is a child of God, perfectable through grace, and every life sacred. So, who is more likely to make the world a more humane place?

      • Anthony

        Remember je, “every life sacred”.

      • solstice

        Christianity teaches that the creator of the universe felt that humanity deserved punishment for its sins, but decided to decided to give us a second chance, and couldn’t think of a better of way of redeeming us than to send his son to (of all places) Bronze Age Palestine to issue some sermons, violate the laws of nature, and be executed in one of the most sadistic and gruesome ways possible. It absurdly teaches that this indicates God’s “love” and anyone who doesn’t accept this story will be convicted by God of thought crime and tortured in hell for eternity. In other words, the Christian deity is more evil than any human being that has ever existed and any rational, self-respecting person would consider being this deity’s “child” utterly degrading and revolting.

        Pointing out the glaring imperfections of the human species does not denote “contempt for humanity;” rather, it denotes honesty and realism. If any belief system expresses contempt for humanity, it is the Christian doctrine that we are all born as wretched sinners who can only be saved by worshiping the fictional Nazarene. My descriptions are objectively true and one merely needs to study history or read the news to see that. We have these flaws through no fault of their own but rather because we are an imperfectly-evolved mammalian species. Genetically, we are only half a chromosome away from chimpanzees; our behavior reflects that and attests to the truth of evolution. As Charles Darwin said, man “bears the indelible stamp of his lowly origin.” You imply that one must believe in Big Brother in the sky in order to be moral and care about the suffering of other sentient beings. This is nonsense; many great philanthropists and humanitarians have been atheists and most of the scientists working to cure our most devastating diseases are atheists or agnostics. Science and human compassion treats diseases and alleviate suffering–not magic tricks from Jesus.

        • Matt B

          OK, you don’t like Christianity. Do you have an opinion on this article, which asserts that we will always latch on to some transcendent belief system, and that institutional atheism is destructive?

          • solstice

            In my first post, I rebut Professor Mead’s claim that those who reject the existence of the supernatural “always latch on to some transcendent belief system.” I also rebut the argument that atrocities committed by totalitarian regimes in the 2oth century can be attributed to atheism.

          • Spychiatrist

            No…communism wasn’t atheistic at all.

          • solstice

            Atheism is merely the rejection of the notion that deities exist. Atheists can be communists, psychopaths, serial killers, humanitarians, mathematical geniuses, or the future discoverers of the cures for cancer, AIDS, mental illness etc. But communism, psychopathy, serial killing, humanitarianism, mathematical genius, and discovering cures for disease are not intrinsic to atheism because, once again, atheism is merely the rejection of the notion that deities exist. Objectivism, the philosophy that Ayn Rand devised, is fiercely anti-communism but also fiercely atheistic. Does this mean that objectivism is inherent to atheism? No, it does not.

          • Matt B

            Your first point is that you reject God and you aren’t superstitious either. So you’re proving that the NYT observation about atheists is not an absolute rule, but doesn’t refute the idea that it is a tendency. You’ll find that most social scientists, including atheists like Emile Durkheim, will yield the point about the persistence of religion.

            On the destructive nature of atheism, you argue that the most murderous regimes in history just happened to be atheist, atheism didn’t cause the murder. Can you cite an explicitly atheistic society that has not also been murderous? Or if you are hypothesizing that such a society is possible, can you explain how it would be different from every other actual attempt to create one?

          • solstice

            Atheists do not believe in the supernatural. Someone who rejects Abrahamic monotheism but still believes in ghosts, reincarnation, tarot cards etc. is by definition not an atheist. I explained in my first post how the 20th century communist regimes adopted the characteristics of organized religions in that they sought to suppress critical thinking and dissent and demanded unquestioning obedience and veneration from the masses. I also stated that the reason why they so violently persecuted traditional religious institutions is because they wanted to supplant the function that those institutions were performing of brainwashing and exerting power over the masses. The majority of the world’s atheists are not communist totalitarians who want to promote worship of a political party/ideology. Rather, they tend to be secular democrats who want religious influence out of government and, while they tend to regard the beliefs of the religious as harmful nonsense, they respect the right of the religious to believe in and practice their religions so long as their religions do not affect state law. As this website shows, countries with the highest rates of atheism tend to be prosperous democracies with good quality of life: Also note the Ethiopian village that abandoned organized religion and is far more prosperous than its religious counterparts:

        • jeburke

          My descriptions are objectively true and one merely needs to study history or read the news to see that.”

          Ah, there we have it. The sophomoric assumption of our self-appointed betters that, having read a couple of books and a newspaper, he knows anything to a certainty — certain enough to offhandedly dismiss the wisdom of a hundred generations of very smart people. Nay, more than dismiss it; mock it and condemn it as unworthy.

          Oddly though, our savant doesn’t see the irony of his, on the one hand, faulting Christianity (in his cartoonish imagination of what it is) for teaching that “the creator of the universe felt that humanity deserved punishment for its sins,” while on the other faulting humanity for being “imperfectly evolved,” close kin to chimps, and, quoting Darwin, indelibly stamped as bestial.

          Interestingly, when lecturing us about what it takes to be moral, even then he can’t bring himself to speak of caring for humankind, only caring about “the suffering of other sentient beings” (presumably including spiders but not broccolli).

          We humans have trod the road of atheism and nihilism for more than a century, and it has led to nothing but oppression, mass murder, alienation, and moral and cultural depravity. Personally, I’ll take my chances with a loving God.

          • solstice

            You offer no rebuttals or arguments–only snide ad hominem remarks sarcastically referring to me as “our self-appointed better” and “our savant” for having the audacity to criticize your religion. Is this Christian morality? How impressive. You also can’t be bothered to carefully read what I wrote. I specifically stated that humans are imperfectly evolved “through no fault of their own” but that didn’t stop you from accusing me of “faulting humanity” for being poorly-evolved. My view of Christianity is “cartoonish?” What did I say about it that is incorrect or not part of mainstream Christian doctrine? I used the term “sentient beings” because I also oppose animal cruelty. Humans are sentient beings along with many other animal species, so what is the issue?

          • jeburke

            I offer no rebuttals or arguments? Well, that’s because there are no “arguments” to rebut — only sweeping conclusions that are altogether suppositional. Like this: “the Christian deity is more evil than any human being that has ever existed and any rational, self-respecting person would consider being this deity’s “child’ to be utterly degrading and revolting.” Seriously? You imagine that to be an “argument” and expect a “rebuttal” to such trash? You badly need to read quite a few more books.

      • Spychiatrist

        I love visiting hospitals, orphanages, and soup kitchens built by Atheists don’t you?

        They do so much for society.

        • solstice

          There are numerous secular humanitarian organizations that do tremendous good for the suffering and the disadvantaged. And atheists are among the most generous philanthropists. See: Bill Gates.

          • Spychiatrist

            Is that the same Bill gates that loves pushing those creepy ‘vaccinations’ on all of those underprivileged Africans?

            Yeah boy, Bill and Melinda are such loving progressive secularists. They do soooooo much good in this world. Just ask them.

    • Matt B

      Read Nietzsche. He understood the implications of a godless culture, and identified the will to power as the only logical alternative. The fact that you would like a more humane world just shows that you are not the one who would be in charge. Your quaint idea of morality would hold you back, and then eventually it would be beaten out of you.

      Your bromide about an atheistic society being more humane has no historic basis. As Professor Mead points out, history has demonstrated the exact opposite.

    • johngbarker

      The Mass in B Minor, the Sistine Chapel, Paradise Lost– are these among the celebrations of obscene fairy tales?

      • solstice

        Great artists can hold false and immoral beliefs and still produce great art. Wagner was an extremely gifted composer who was also an anti-semite. We can detest his beliefs regarding Jews while appreciating his musical talent.

        • Spychiatrist

          Can you appreciate the good that Christianity has done in this world or must you throw the baby with the bathwater?

          • solstice

            You are reducing religion to charity work. What good works can Christians perform that atheists cannot perform? We can help our fellow human beings without believing in myths.

          • MontyBurnz

            What good works has atheism ever inspired? The systematic murder of millions by the atheist regimes of Mao, Stalin and Hitler?

            The great cultural, literary,musical, artistic and architectural achievements of the West were produced because of Christianity, not in spite of them.

          • CosmotKat

            “We can help our fellow human beings without believing in myths.”
            Yes, you do this quite well by spending other people’s money. When it runs out that’s when your amoral ideology picks up the slack.

          • Spychiatrist

            I’m still waiting for the atheists hospitals and soup kitchens then.

            Still waiting……..

        • MontyBurnz

          You missed the point.

          Wagner’s anti semitism did not inspire his works, the above referenced works were inspired by belief in God.

          • solstice

            They still would have been talented artists without Christianity and some critics state that Wagner’s anti-semitism did influence his work. What about all of the brilliant Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Persian, and Chinese civilizational achievements that occurred before or without Christianity? What about geniuses like John Lennon, who detested Christianity and yet still managed to produce musical masterpieces. You really need to think through your arguments more.

    • Anthony

      solstice, sincerely and honestly presented without malice.

    • Jim__L

      If you have “irrational, arrogant, and solipsistic” humans without any super-natural reason to treat each other decently, you get the atrocities of the 20th century… not to mention the centuries before.

      It’s only the conditioning of 20 centuries of Christianity that make modern man — yes, even the atheists — as decent as they are today. If we lose that foundation — or like the atheist communists and the One Nation Over God fascists, consciously reject it — It’s pretty clear where we end up.

      Man without God is, in the big picture, like Plato’s Invisible Man — ultimately accountable to no one and nothing but the will to power of the other “irrational, arrogant, and solipsistic” people around him.

      Happily, the Word of God endures forever, the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness will not overcome it.

      • solstice

        You are arguing that people cannot be moral without believing in an invisible, all-powerful Big Brother who is watching us and knows what we think at all moments. Not only is this claim false, it is totalitarian and profoundly immoral. It suggests that people can only be good to each other out of hope for a reward or out of fear of punishment in the afterlife. Contrary to oft-repeated claim that “If there is no God, everything is permitted,” history has shown that “if there is a God, everything is permitted.” Among the worst atrocities (including those committed by ISIS) have been committed by those who have believed that God is on their side in their Crusade, jihad, Inquisition, or witch trial. And, as I point out in an earlier post, communism is not intrinsic to atheism; therefore, atheism does not bear responsibility for the atrocities perpetrated by communist regimes in the 20th century. I am an atheist who despises communism and other collectivist, totalitarian ideologies.

        • MontyBurnz

          The argument is not that systematic evil is intrinsic to atheism but that atheist regimes have consistently demonstrated their moral depravity on a large, murderous scale. More innocents were killed during Mao’s great leap forward or Stalin’s 5 year plan than were killed by the Crusades, the inquisition and all the witch trials combined. Your argument that its communism or totalitarinism that produces these evil, proves WM’s point. When atheists get to power, they substitute belief in God for the State and commit atrocities in the name of the State. Instead of believing in nothing, they believe in superstitious totalitarian ideologies and turn that into an idol that they compel be worshiped by force of the State.

          • solstice

            The 20th century totalitarian regimes killed more people with respect to absolute numbers only because of more advanced weaponry and larger populations However. the religious wars and pogroms throughout history killed more people as a proportion of the population. Your argument does not explain why the countries in the world with the highest rates of atheism tend to be prosperous democracies with high standards of living: It also does not explain why the previous atheist prime minister of Australia, Julia Gillard, did not transform Australia into a totalitarian, state-worshiping gulag during her tenure. Many of the founding fathers of the United States, including Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, George Washington, and Benjamin Franklin, were ardent secularists who expressed dislike for the Christian religion but who also revered individual liberty and distrusted the power of the state. Ayn Rand, an ardent atheist, believed that state power should be limited as much as possible.

          • MontyBurnz

            Again, you miss the point. The Australian PM was personally atherist, she did not impose atheist materialism on all Aussies, same goes for the founders, they respected the judeao-christian morality and believed in a natural law and a creator God who imbued the world with rationality and an inherent moral code.

        • Jim__L

          I am arguing that without a foundation to return to, “morality” can be defined to be anything anyone wants it to be, and only the strongest force will prevail. It’s not simply a matter of being held accountable; it’s a matter of having some established norm to be accountable *to*. Without that, what was good becomes “evil”, and what was evil becomes “good”.

          I’ve participated in discussions of morality from a non-religious, open-minded, relativist point of view. You can talk people out of just about anything, and talk them into just about anything, as long as you’re sure to stay strictly non-judgmental and keep flattering their openmindedness as you do it. It’s scary how easy it is.

          Of course, if you challenge them, or challenge relativism — if you say that they aren’t actually being moral, their defenses go up (like yours are now). Chances are they rally around something that looks very much like the traditional Judeo-Christian ethics that this culture has deeply, deeply ingrained in it (minus whatever carve-out they were trying to make room for at the time).

          So on the plus side, just about every culture on Earth has been exposed point to Judeo-Christian ethics (the last ones that hadn’t had some really scary practices) which provides a good foundation, whether it’s acknowledged or not. On the downside, you can always find people who are willing to reject and deny that foundation so they can arrogate to themselves the power to judge morality. These people can be flattered into agreeing with just about any moral premise, no matter how repugnant.

          That’s a really big problem — the humanitarian disasters of the 20th century were huge, and what made them possible was atheism. It’s actually not that hard to find a basis for communal living in the New Testament. Those communities (monasteries being one example) are common throughout history, and as they were founded on an appreciation (worship, even) for Christ and his Word (an explicitly peaceful global revolutionary philosophy) instead of the explicitly violent revolutionary philosophy of Mao or Marx, the results were predictably less fatal to participants and bystanders.

          Atheism makes things worse, as it destroys the foundation for true morality and replaces it with arbitrary whims — sometimes good, sometimes horrible.

          • solstice

            My response to Fred’s post also addresses your post.

          • Jim__L

            OK… not really.

        • Fred

          You are arguing that people cannot be moral without believing in an invisible, all-powerful Big Brother who is watching us and knows what we think at all moments.

          You could feed a stable of horses with that straw man. The point is not that God rewards good and punishes evil but that God grounds the very distinction. In the absence of God there simply is no good or evil.

          Of course atheists can act in a manner consistent with Judaeo-Christian morality (and make no mistake, as a product of Western European culture, any morality you would support is Judaeo-Christian in origin). But to the degree one acts truly morally in the sense you yourself describe, doing the right thing for no other reason than that it is the right thing, he does not act as an atheist. To act in that manner assumes a “right thing,” an objective morality that binds us regardless of our desires. Where does that morality come from? Some have argued that it is a cultural construction. But if it is, then it is not objective. Why adhere to the morality of your culture and not another or of no culture at all? Others would argue morality is an evolutionary adaptation. Fine, but that’s just a random mutation that happened to adapt a particular species to survive. Such material forces cannot create morality but only the illusion of morality just as Darwin’s finches’ beaks created the illusion of design. Once one has seen through the illusion, why be bound by it? Only God can ground morality. If there is no God, there is no morality. There is simply nothing to make anything more or less moral than anything else. What, are there material moral particles? Maybe we can call them morons.

          To the degree our hypothetical atheist acts as an atheist, as one who believes that nothing beyond the material exists and who has the courage of his convictions, he does not act morally in the above sense. He may behave “morally” in order to avoid punishment, to avoid being ostracized, for personal gain (as in dealing honestly so his business prospers), or as an act of arbitrary will, but he does not act in accordance with any morality outside
          himself. Indeed he cannot because he doesn’t believe any such thing can exist.

          As for religious people who have behaved badly, that results either from believing in a religion that is wholly or partly in error (e.g. Islam, Baal worship, Aztec paganism) or acting contrary to the fundamentally good principles of one’s religion (e.g. Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism). Finally, morally speaking, Western culture has been living on its Judaeo-Christian seed corn for nearly two centuries. It is an open question what happens when that seed corn runs out.

          • solstice

            What a surprise that the religion you happened to be born into is the the religion you claim represents the fullness of truth and an objective standard of morality for all of humanity. You classify Islam as “a religion that is wholly or partly in error,” yet if you happened to have been born to Muslim parents in a predominantly Muslim country, chances are you would be an indoctrinated Muslim condemning Christianity as a religion in error. If one regards a book as immoral, historically inaccurate, contradictory, and nonsensical as the Bible as the objective morality revealed to humanity by the creator of the universe, then that person has a very low standard of morality. And if the Bible is the inspired word of a deity, then it reflects extremely poorly on that deity who, by human standards, would be classified as a narcissistic psychopath. Human beings derive their morality from their innate sense of empathy and compassion–not ancient books of immoral fairy tales.

          • Jim__L

            You must have had a very, very difficult time with multiple choice tests as a child. “There’s more than one answer available. That means none of them could possibly be right!”

            The vaunted “innate sense of empathy and compassion” you speak of? Rousseau is one of its main celebrators. Look at what he did to his own children. (If science has discovered any tendency towards altruism, it is towards one’s own family.) Rousseau sent his children to orphanages, where they were not expected to live to adulthood. This was over the objections of his wife, which he compared to the protests of an animal.

            No, I don’t think we can put our faith in human “virtue” — unless you happen to like nepotism and clannishness, with the occasional exception of a foray into of child abuse and abandonment.

            If you need more, look at the French Revolution, which Rousseau’s humanist thinking spawned. “Innate sense of empathy and compassion” in the Terror? Seriously? Also, please consider that the last major “religious” war in Europe was atheists trying to exterminate Catholics during Revolutionary-era France. Previous (and subsequent) to that, the Peace of Westphalia proved that if you take the temporal-power dimension out of “religious” conflict, somehow those conflicts stop.

          • Fred

            I’m guessing you’re about sixteen (emotionally if not chronologically). I also question your reading skill. Apparently, you believe I was born a combination of Jewish, Christian, and Buddhist, since I mentioned favorably all three. Or did you miss that? If I were born a Muslim, no doubt I would consider Islam the truth. If I were born in medieval Europe, I would have believed the heavens revolved around the earth. The fact that some people believe something that is false in no way entails the falsity of any other beliefs. That’s just basic logic. I also believe that the fact that I was born Christian in no way entails its truth. I am a Christian first because I find several philosophical arguments for theism quite convincing. While those arguments cannot get one directly to Christianity (as no one, not even Aquinas, ever claimed they could) they do demonstrate the existence of a God with many of the qualities the Abrahamic God must have. If such a God exists, as the arguments at least prove it is rational to believe, then it is rational to believe that He could incarnate himself if He so desired. As St. Thomas maintained and St. John Paul II reiterated in his Fide et Ratio, Christian faith is beyond reason but does not contradict it. Truth is one.

            Humans’ “innate sense of empathy and compassion” is a pretty slender reed to lean on morally speaking. The slightest knowledge of history should tell you that. For eons, our “innate” empathy and compassion was limited to our families and our tribes. We were hardly compassionate to humans outside those groups, generally killing, raping, and enslaving them and either making off with their stuff or conquering their territory. The first people to advocate extending that empathy and compassion to those outside our families, clans, and tribes were . . . wait for it . . .Christians, who believed that each human being was created in the image of God and that humanity was sanctified by the Incarnation. Anything you would call morality is a remnant of Christianity. The fact that Christians violated that morality at times in no way invalidates it. Believe me, there is a profound difference between behaving in violation of the moral order and in believing there is no moral order outside the self. The latter is far more dangerous.

    • johngbarker

      As a member of this “irrational, arrogant, and solipsistic” species, how can you trust your own mind?

      • solstice

        My mind’s perception of reality is constrained by the limits imposed on it by the physiology of my brain. And, as a member of a poorly-evolved primate species in a tiny speck of a vast universe, I acknowledge that there is so much in the universe and in reality that my finite brain cannot access. But having a finite brain does not mean accepting belief without evidence. There is so much about the universe that science has not yet discovered and scientists themselves acknowledge this astonishing scientific ignorance. Contrast this humility of science to the arrogance of religion, which makes wild claims about the nature of reality unsupported by evidence.

        • texasjimbo

          ” And, as a member of a poorly-evolved primate” Do you even grasp the concept of evolution? Any large mammal that reaches a total population of nearly 6 billion, inhabits almost every region and climate, causes the extinction of numerous other species is by definition well evolved. You grasp of evolution is as weak as your grasp of theology and philosophy.

          • solstice

            Nice. The current human population is not “nearly 6 billion” but over 7 billion. Try and get facts right–even the basic ones–because they matter (but apparently not so much to the religious). Scientists generally estimate that homo sapiens has been in existence between 100,000 to 200,000 years. In evolutionary time, that is less then a blink of an eye. Dinosaurs were the dominant land creatures for over 100 million years and crocodiles have been in existence for hundreds of millions of years. We are a very young species and have not even come close to approaching the success of other species. Our species and other species possess numerous and glaring design flaws ( that attest to the truth of evolution and refute the notion of a benevolent designer god. The vast majority of the earth is uninhabitable for humans because it is ocean. Likewise, humans cannot inhabit large swathes of the earth’s surface for extended periods of time because they are either too hot or too cold. What an impressive species. Over 99 percent of all species that have ever been in existence on earth have gone extinct and the vast majority of planets in the universe are either too hot or too cold to support life. They are large spheres of rock and gas floating purposelessly in an indifferent universe. When our sun turns into a Red Dwarf, it will swallow the earth and completely incinerate it. You call this the design of a benevolent deity?

        • johngbarker

          “…while we have no reasonable scientific evidence for the existence of “minds” that do not
          have a physical basis, we cannot be completely sure. Moreover, many of a
          religious persuasion would argue strongly for the possibility of independent
          minds and might appeal to what they regard as powerful evidence of a different
          kind from what is revealed by ordinary science.” Roger Penrose, “Road to Reality”, p. 19
          This eminent mathematical physicist does not seem quite as sure as you are about the absence of a spiritual dimension in life. Why do you suggest that all who study religion and spirituality foolishly believe that they are in possession of absolute truth or uncritically accept the claims of retail religion?

    • texasjimbo

      “The rational among us who reject the existence of the supernatural” Of the three basic answers one can offer to the question of the existence of God and the spirit, there is a clear hierarchy in terms of rationality/reasonableness. From top to bottom, they are:
      1. agnosticism (since we don’t know if God exists or not), 2. theism (since there could be a deductive or empirical proof of the existence of God), 3. atheism (since it is impossible to prove that God does not exist deductively or empirically). The sense of moral and cognitive superiority exhibited by you and many atheist is completely unwarranted.
      Your attempt to absolve atheism of culpability for the murderous acts of atheists ignores the impact that the notion of there being no higher moral authority may profoundly impact the behavior of some and is completely self serving. That maneuver, also common to atheist is especially perverse in light of the imputing of moral responsibility to religions for the immoral acts of their adherents.
      The factual accuracy of religious beliefs is completely irrelevant to its moral impact; all that is required is a sincere belief and the corresponding social pressure. The examples of evil behavior commanded by the Old Testament mentioned by atheists were practiced on a wide scale by members of many religions when the text was written; in fact, in some cases, the verses mentioned are actually a step in a less murderous direction in comparison to other cultures and earlier times.
      There is really so much wrong with your arguments that an exhaustive reply would be way too time consuming.

  • Fat_Man

    “When people stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing — they believe in anything.”

    This quotation actually comes from page 211 of Émile Cammaerts’ book “The Laughing Prophet: The Seven Virtues and G. K. Chesterton” (1937) in which he quotes Chesterton as having Father Brown say, in “The Oracle of the Dog” (1923): “It’s the first effect of not believing in God that you lose your common sense.” Cammaerts then interposes his own analysis between further quotes from Father Brown: “‘It’s drowning all your old rationalism and scepticism, it’s coming in like a sea; and the name of it is superstition.’ The first effect of not believing in God is to believe in anything: ‘And a dog is an omen and a cat is a mystery.'” Note that the remark about believing in anything is outside the quotation marks — it is Cammaerts. Nigel Rees is credited with identifying this as the source of the misattribution, in a 1997 issue of First Things

    Umberto Eco wrote:

    “G K Chesterton is often credited with observing: “When a man ceases to believe in God, he doesn’t believe in nothing. He believes in anything.” Whoever said it – he was right. We are supposed to live in a sceptical age. In fact, we live in an age of outrageous credulity.

    “The “death of God”, or at least the dying of the Christian God, has been accompanied by the birth of a plethora of new idols. They have multiplied like bacteria on the corpse of the Christian Church …”

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    My belief in God is that “God created the Universe”. That God is Omnipotent, Omniscient, Omnipresent. That God is perfect and doesn’t make mistakes. That the will of God is written in God’s own hand in the very fabric of the Universe. And since God has given us the Scientific Method, God wants us to use it and the minds God gave us, in finding “The Truth”. This leads us to the inescapable conclusion that God wants us to treat God’s existence as a working Hypothesis that we should be attempting to disprove. I call this set of facts “The Church of God the Creator”, and as far as I know I am the sole member of the Congregation. The Church believes that taking the word of man, from any of the religious books, over that of God, written in God’s own hand, is sacrilegious and stupid. The religious books out there like the Bible, can be shown to be cobbled together from dozens of other religious texts like the story of Gilgamesh. And there are so many different versions of all the religious books, that taking one over the other as the true “Word of God” is foolish. Especially when God’s own word is available all around us, if difficult to decipher and translate.

    • Matt B

      Unless there’s more to your church than you described, you sound like an agnostic and you have plenty of company.
      You may not know that orthodox Christianity includes the idea of “two books”, scripture and nature, and they are complimentary revelations of God.
      Also, the idea of “Biblical inerrancy” is a 19th century innovation; Christianity has not always demanded that scripture trump science.
      Your God seems a bit cold and impersonal. You can find a fuller picture of God in the Christian church, and don’t assume you will be thrown out as a heretic.

    • Tom

      You’re a deist. And you’re not that special.

    • CosmotKat

      In a few words, “The mystery of Faith.”

  • Pete McCutchen

    Lots of atheists think the spirit stuff is a bunch of hooey. In fact, reading skeptical literature, they’re often down on mediums, etc.

    It is true that a lot of atheists substitute a secular pseudo-religion for religion — Marxism, environmentalism, feminism, etc.

    Those are real dangers. But it doesn’t make religion true.

    • Fred

      Perhaps not, but that is not the argument. The argument is that something goes missing spiritually when religion goes and people will do all kinds of weird, silly, and horrible things to fill that void. The truth of religion is another debate, although it could be argued that the very spiritual need Mead writes about counts as some evidence for transcendence, though there’s a lot more argument to go to establish a particular religion. If you’re interested in those arguments, I highly suggest here and <a href=""here

    • CosmotKat

      I think what you mean to say, “it doesn’t make the existence of God true.” Well, I wonder how many call out to a higher power when the end is near for them?

  • lukelea

    The variety of religious belief around the world is almost beyond reckoning. What distinguishes the Hebraic concept of God — surely the most influential idea in Western intellectual history — is that it was a belief in something that had wondrously beneficial consequences for the societies in which it flourished. For a plausible explanation of the historical origins of this idea, including why the Jewish people have played such an outsized role in the history of our civilization, I invite readers to look at the research described in this essay:

  • roastytoasty

    Here”s 90 minutes of Ravi Zacharias giving clear answers to difficult questions about God & Christianity:

    • A Smith

      You lost me at “Here’s 90 minutes of”.

  • A Smith

    “a world without faith in God wouldn’t be a more rational or more humane place.”

    I’m reminded of the South Park episode where Cartman wakes up 500 years in the future, and God and Religion have been replaced by Science and Reason.
    They were still blowing each others’ heads off.

    • Jim__L

      You could also look back in history at the French Revolution.

  • George Pepper

    My formulation is, “Atheists are spiritual retards riding the short bus to hell.”

  • Chuck Pelto

    RE: Ghosties and Geasties and Long-Legged Beasties

    I’m a born-again Honest-to-God Christian. And I also believe in the existence of unsettled spirits, a.k.a., ghosts.

    I do believe we have at least two, possibly three, in this big [6500 sq ft, 4-level, brick and sandstone] old 1901 house. It was built by the vice president of the big bank in this town back then. And he died in the house, making a death-bed confession of embezzling millions from the bank.

    We’ve had a number of ‘interesting’ incidents since moving in. One such incident convinced a friend of the family who, with his wife, spent the night in the live-in nanny’s suite, that the place IS ‘haunted’. He was skeptical when I explained the incidents to him, but on the drive back to their home his wife explained something that happened to her while she was still in bed while he and I made breakfast. The moment he got home, he phoned and said, “Okay. I believe you.”

    [There’s more to this venue than you think…. 😉 ]

  • theBuckWheat

    Human nature is a constant, no matter how secular it may think it is. Much of secular western society practices something new in the human experience, a “deity-free” religion. For the time being, humanity has given themselves permission to think that God doesn’t exist. In the previous century, when that idea ran its course in a society, it cost the lives of millions. History may be getting ready to repeat that lesson for a new generation.

  • becvarisi

    The great Chesterton put it this way: “A man who won’t believe in God will believe in anything”

  • Frank Natoli

    People who think themselves too rational for religious belief end up believing in “astral forces”, ghosts and other phenomena.
    Or they become environmental zealots:

    • Spychiatrist

      Their god is Darwin.

  • Terenc Blakely

    “Sometimes these superstitions take the deadly form of political ideologies that fanatical believers take up with religious fervor—communist atheists murdered tens of millions of people in the 20th century in the irrational grip of an ugly ideology.”

    Militant atheists get real pissed when you point out that their ilk have killed more people in a far shorter time period than all the religious persecutions in history. They somehow think that religious persecutions are a ‘logical’ outcome of being religious but that the wholesale slaughter done in the 20th century by atheists has nothing to do with atheism.

    • Jim__L

      Particularly when Marxism and Nazism specifically called for violence, and Christianity specifically calls for non-violence…

      • mikehorn

        Soviet socialism was officially not just atheistic but sometimes anti religious, except when it needed religion to help stir patriotism. Stalin was notably adept at playing this game, and the Russian Orthodox Church continues this game today with Putin. Soviet ideology was in many ways religious in a party-worship way.

        Nazism was explicitly anti-communist in every way, including religion. Some of the best informants and spies the allies had in WWII were German communists. Ditto in the French Resistance to Nazi occupation. Nazism was explicitly religious and Christian, adopting the anti semitism preached by the Christian churches for centuries. Catholicism finally repealed institutional anti semitism with Vatican II in 1965, in part in horror for what it had wrought. Hitler himself called exterminating Jews a religious necessity. From Mein Kampf: “Hence today I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord.” Hitler was a Christian, baptized and confirmed Catholic. He never rejected his faith and was never excommunicated.

        • Jim__L

          Nazism was not Christian, it was neo-pagan. See the writings of Archbishop Galen. (As well as the operas of Wagner and the movies of Riefenstahl, if you prefer.)

          Deeply Christian Germans such as Archbishop Galen, the Scholls, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, provide most of the few bright lights to come out of that very, very dark time.

          The Nazis believed that the Nation was “uber alles” (which is why Eisenhower put “under God” after “one nation”), and that churches needed to fall beneath the government. (We’re seeing shades of that today in America.) The Confessing Church, against the Nazi regime, was the Lutheran answer to the Nazi attempts to bring the church under the domination of the state.

          • mikehorn

            Last first. Under God was inserted into the Pledge and God into the motto as a reaction to stalin’s soviet regime. It was not eisenhower’s idea. Your claim is just wrong on a factual level. You get no concessions on that at all. You are flat wrong.

            Nazism had neo pagan aspects to it, true. So does American patriotism, especially in the 1950s when we inserted God into places it had never been before. But it’s basis in Christianity, the Christian status of hitler, the “Gott mit Uns” on every Nazi soldier’s belt buckle, the requirement of every SS member to profess a belief in Catholicism, Protestantism, or the rare “believer in God”.

            The Nazis struggled against clerics and churches over political power, and Catholicism especially had real worldly politupical power in Germany at that time (still does today). This struggle was far less bloody and brutal than the history of England in the decades after Henry VIII. That doesn’t make it any less Christian. The history of German anti semitism is ancient and very much Christian in nature. Hitler considered himself continuing the work of Jesus in rebuking Jews, ending their influence, displacing the Old Testament.

            The operas of Wagner depict standard Rheinland and Norse mythology. So what? So does Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings, an explicitly Christian book with Gandalf as the primary Christ figure, complete with resurrection and sacrificial death.

          • mikehorn

            Then there is the Rwandan genocide, perpetrated in part by conservative churches to include priests and clergy that remain at large, unprosecuted for their crimes. The church leadership used the violence to cement local power. I’m talking bishops.

  • CosmotKat

    There is a real parallel in my mind between the ultra religious who believe fervently in the end of times scenarios such as the Rapture and the eco-fascists who claim the end is near if we don’t buy into their global warming dogma. Each is on their respective corner soapbox shouting to all that will listen, “the end is near!” Each attempt to convince others that they must take action. In the former they might interest a few to embrace their belief, in the latter they use the power of government to force adherence. To me the religious are more easily tolerated as you can ignore them, but the latter demands conformity and the implications of their coercive demands is where the dead of history lie.

  • bruceamcallister

    This is nothing more than a preference for the seemingly more benign superstition you adhere to. What the world would be like without any superstitions, you have no idea, nor do any of us. It is tempting to think of a world in which we no one had illusions.

    • Terenc Blakely

      And how exactly is that possible? Are you planning on replacing humans with robots? Wow, talk about ‘illusions’ if you think such a thing is remotely possible.

      • bruceamcallister

        I didn’t say it was possible or even desirable except to the extent A) one thinks that belief in a benign supernatural Creator who cares about us is ancient (but understandable) hooey, and B) one regards truth as the ultimate desideratum.
        I suppose some superstitions are “better” than others.

  • Jack

    What a pile of nonsense.

  • G0ldkloud

    I mean, maybe for YOU, but not for most people. Tons of people live perfectly healthy and easy lives without any form of religion. It’s not hard. People (like me) can live perfectly easily without any form of superstition or religion. And, yeah, maybe some people who were skeptics end up believing in this sort of superstitious stuff, but that doesn’t mean that EVERYONE would. It’s not hard to be atheistic, and it doesn’t naturally lead to superstitions. That’s just dumb.

  • Phil Mitchell

    Chesterton’s (somewhat misstated) famous quote: “When people stop believing in God they do not then believe nothing; they believe anything.”

  • Papa Mincho

    So if we stop believing in angels and miracle births and eternal pits of fire, we might believe in astral projection instead? Sobering thoughts, indeed. I guess we should believe in your superstition, then.

    Mr. Mead, do you know the difference between a religion and a political ideology? Can you elaborate a bit on the difference between a belief system based on an infallible All-Father versus a belief system based on an economic mechanism? See, they’re two different things, and you can’t just blanketly conflate the two because screaming ‘NAZI’ is a good way to make people afraid.

  • mikehorn

    I find it interesting that believers cannot comprehend what it means to not believe in anything in a religious way. Atheists have tried to come up with analogies. Atheism is a religion like bald is a hair color. Atheism is a religion like turning off the TV is changing the channel. When you stop believing in Santa Claus, is a replacement belief necessary? Atheism is a religion like not exercising is a sport.

    Atheists come in all types. There is no book. There is no dogma. There is no political outlook. The only requirement for atheism is no belief in a god. I’d dispute that folks who believe in auras and ghosts and such are atheists – I’d call them pagans. Modern Western atheists for a long time tended towards political libertarianism, but recently that has changed, mainly because of the Culture War and 9/11 and the GOP being the party of American Protestant fundamentalists. Now atheists tend to be politically liberal, but even that is hard to be certain of.

  • fenster moop

    “People who think themselves too rational for religious belief end up believing in “astral forces”, ghosts and other phenomena.”

    Golly Wally, what does it say about poor old me that I lack both religious belief and belief in astral forces? I must not be possible. Or maybe I am kidding myself. Or maybe my astral force phase is a-comin’ and I just need to hold on. Or maybe you paint with too broad a brush.

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