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How to Get Rid of Religion: An Inconvenient Liberal Paradox by Floris van den Berg

How to Get Rid of Religion: An Inconvenient Liberal Paradox by Floris van den Berg

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Published by Erroll Treslan
In this pamphlet "How to Get Rid of Religion. An Inconvenient Liberal Paradox", Dutch philosopher Floris van den Berg argues that because religion is an obstacle for ethics and the good life, we must get rid of religion – with liberal means only. He proposes a strategy of 17 points in order to liberate humanity of
the malignant virus of religion.
In this pamphlet "How to Get Rid of Religion. An Inconvenient Liberal Paradox", Dutch philosopher Floris van den Berg argues that because religion is an obstacle for ethics and the good life, we must get rid of religion – with liberal means only. He proposes a strategy of 17 points in order to liberate humanity of
the malignant virus of religion.

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How to Get Rid of Religion

An Inconvenient Liberal Paradox

Floris van den Berg
12 January 2009

How to Get Rid of Religion

Dedicated to those who suffer from religion.

How to Get Rid of Religion

‘Modern knowledge is on a collision course with the ubiquitous personal spiritual belief systems of one kind or another that are held by billions of people. Putting it in secular terms, no one has told the kids yet there is no Santa Claus.’ Michael Gazzaniga, The Ethical Brain. The Science of Our Moral Dilemmas, 2005, p. 163.

How to Get Rid of Religion

Contents I: Why Should We Get Rid of Religion? II: Moral and Epistemological Atheism III: Religion, Culture and Traditions IV: No Guarantee for Utopia V: Strategies 1. Prevention of Religious Indoctrination 2. Political Secularism: Separation of Religion and State 3. Moral Secularism: a Plea for Moral Esperanto 4. A Policy of Determent 5. Secularization of (International) Law and Treaties 6. Coming Out 7. The Role of Public Intellectuals I: Debunking and Criticizing Religion 8. The Role of Public Intellectuals II: Positive Atheism, Individualism and Secular Humanism 9. Scientific Investigation of Religion 10. Interdisciplinary Research Programs on the Cure for Religion 11. Inclusive Versus Exclusive Identity: Cosmopolitan Humanism 12. Do Not Use Religious Language 13. Broadening Your Horizon: Literature and the Contingency of Fate and Faith 14. Scientific Philosophy & Naturalism 15. Cultivating Nonreligious Practices for Body and Mind: Arts, Sports, Hobbies & Social Life 16. Humanist & Atheist Organizations

How to Get Rid of Religion

17.

Partial Versus all-round Rationality

VI: Index of New Atheism Books VII: Appendix: The Meme Theory of Religion

A Note on Gender Language Many languages, including English, are not gender equal or gender neutral. Of course, many writers nowadays, when they write ‘he’, they mean ‘he or she’. There are many options to write politically correct, gender-neutral language. However, the problem of having to refer to a person as a man or a woman remains. I propose a gender-neutral contraction: ‘he or she’ becomes: s/he ‘his or her’ becomes: hir ‘him or her’ becomes: hir ‘him or herself’ becomes: hirself ‘man or woman’ becomes (only when referring to both man or woman): wo/man in plural: ‘men or women’ becomes (only when referring to both men and women): wo/men Not used in the text, but in order to be complete: ‘Male(s) or female(s)’ becomes: fe/male(s) Language can (and should) be changed artificially for moral purposes, like gender equality.

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How to Get Rid of Religion

Acknowledgment I would like to thank the following friends for their various kinds of comments, corrections and support: Annemarieke Otten, Lex Hagenaars, Paul Cliteur, Yvonne Otten, Paul Voestermans, Johan Braeckman, Bill Cooke and Sarah Strous.

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I: Why Should We Get Rid of Religion? It is time to take up the project of the radical Enlightenment and try to liberate humankind of ignorance, unreason and superstition, some of which have been institutionalized as religions. It is time – it always was – to stop treating religion with respect, as if it is something precious. Patients are precious, not their illnesses. In recent years a plethora of books about and against religion have been published, called the New Atheism, which I have listed in the bibliography. However, the most important question about religion is neglected in public discourse, even in the wave of books about and against religion: How to get rid of religion? Fierce criticisms of religion like Dawkins’ The God Delusion, and Sam Harris’ The End of Faith do not touch on ways to dispense with religion. If religion has been diagnosed as something bad –which is the case - , then it is time to move forward and find liberal ways to become free from religion and superstition. New Atheism is also on the Internet. ‘Humorous humanist’ Pat Condell reaches a whole new audience – including those who will never read any of the New Atheism books - by using You Tube as a medium to criticize religion. American psychiatrist and Muslim apostate Wafa Sultan has had the courage to criticize Islam on Al Jazeera. Her passionate condemnation of Islam is easy to find on You Tube. Her speech infuriated Muslims who threaten her with death. The criticizing of Islam by (ex)Muslims is very dangerous. Islam critics like Salman Rushdie, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Wafa Sultan, Ehsan Jami (founder of the Dutch ex-Muslim committee), Irshad Manji, Ibn Warraq and many others are
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How to Get Rid of Religion

seriously threatened. Pop star Deeyah, called the ‘Muslim Madonna’, born in Norway from Pakistani parents, uses her pop music to criticize Islam, which infuriates Muslims. Her video clips and interviews can be easily found on You Tube too. Deeyah criticizes the Islamic attitude towards women. No ideology, no idea, no religion should be beyond the possibility of critique. Everyone can be wrong, especially those who are very sure they are not. The New Atheism books have diagnosed religion, including contemporary religion, as an illness. Now it is time to find a cure. This pamphlet is a help to find strategies to liberate humankind of religion. There is consensus in the New Atheism books1 on the diagnosis of religion: Religion is false and morally wrong. It is overwhelmingly clear that the truth claims of religion are either false or meaningless. Not one single argument for a transcendental being or realm has stood the test of critical inquiry. The morals of religion (like an almost universal taboo on homosexuality, and the degradation of women) cannot withstand critical scrutiny as is expounded in the New Atheism books. Human rights activist Azar Majedi, of Iranian descent, draws the following conclusion about religion in general and Islam in particular: Religion is not only an oppressive institution, suppressing freedom of thought, speech and criticism and oppressing women. It is also the machinery for terrorizing societies. In the
1

See: www.newatheism.org

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How to Get Rid of Religion

history of mankind, more people have died under the name of the God, than any other ideology or cause. In fact religion is a mafia-like institution. As in regards women, all religions are very oppressive and Islam particularly is well-known for its oppressive nature towards women.2 Moreover, the justification of morality by religious appeal is problematic. There are two options: taking the ‘word of god’ seriously, or selecting what you like. On the one hand one can take seriously that some texts have moral authority. The problem is why do only some texts have moral authority? Why read the Bible as a moral handbook and not Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey or Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead? Are there any external reasons? – No, none at all. Morality, according to believers, comes from god through texts and spokesmen of god. Morality in this conception is based on what god commands as being good. This is the so-called Divine Command Theory of ethics. Ultimately this comes down to blindly obeying orders: Befehl ist Befehl. If god demands that you kill your son, you are prepared to do it. Christopher Hitchens in God Is Not Great and Sam Harris in The End of Faith elaborate on this theme. Fortunately only fundamentalists take their chosen texts literally. A different, more liberal, approach on the other hand is to read your own morality in texts you believe have moral authority. This is ‘cherry picking theology’. Thomas Jefferson for example, compiled his own version of the Bible (the Jefferson Bible3) in
2 3

Azar Majedi, Women’s Rights vs Political Islam, p. 74. www.angelfire.com/co/JeffersonBible/

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How to Get Rid of Religion

which he omitted passages (the entire Old Testament), which he considered outdated and immoral. Of course, anyone can likewise make hir own version of the Bible. It would be an idea to make a humanist Bible (which would probably be very thin). Recently, much interdisciplinary research on the origin and explanation of religion has been done, especially from an evolutionary perspective.4 It is important to note the difference between explaining religion, like the origins and functions of religion, as being something completely different from the (moral and epistemological) justification of religion. There has been much research on social and psychological functions of religion, which have been studied in anthropology, sociology and psychology. This new scientific knowledge about the phenomena of faith, belief and religion in the different fields of science should be harvested and applied to develop methods to remedy and get rid of religion. It is time to apply the knowledge about religion and to overcome the taboo of treating religion as holy and untouchable. II: Moral and Epistemological Atheism My claim is that most human progress has occurred in the face of religious reaction, and
4

Scott Atran, In Gods We Trust. The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion, Stewart Guthrie, Faces in the Clouds. A New Theory of Religion, Pascal Boyer, Religion Explained. The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Thought, David Sloan Wilson, Darwin’s Cathedral. Evolution, Religion, and the Nature of Society, Michael Shermer, How We Believe. Science, Skepticism, and the Search for God. Aaron Lynch, Thought Contagion. How Belief Spreads Through Society, Daniel Dennett, Breaking the Spell. Raymond Firth, Religion: A Humanist Interpretation. I have my own ‘pet theory’ of religion: ‘The Meme Theory of Religion. Religion as a Virus’, see Appendix.

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How to Get Rid of Religion

that most human suffering other than that caused by disease or other natural evils has been the result of religion-inspired conflict and religion-based oppression.5 There are two major reasons why the disappearance of religion would make the world a better place. In the first place, religion is either false or nonsense. Religious claims about the nature of reality can and are an obstacle to free (scientific) inquiry. This could be called epistemological atheism. I refer to the New Atheism books for a detailed elaboration of this point. The second objection to religion is moral. I am primarily a moral atheist. Moral atheism is concerned with religion because religion often is an obstacle for individual freedom, choice and selfdetermination. If religion were relatively innocent, like the belief in flying saucers, I personally would not be much interested in it. Skeptics are. Skeptics are never tired of proving paranormal claims wrong.6 If religion – though false – would have an enormous positive influence on individual liberty, social justice, sustainability and animal welfare – I would not bother to criticize and scrutinize religious beliefs too much. That is my pragmatism. As it is, I am not convinced of the blessings of religion. Religion seems to be a malignant virus, which on balance causes more harm than good.7 All books of the New Atheism linger on the evil aspects of
5 6

Anthony Grayling, What is Good?, p. xi. For example: Joe Nickell, Adventures in Paranormal Investigations, 2007. 7 I am not so much of a consequentialist that I think it a good idea that evil can be compensated by good. Even if religion would in general have caused more good than evil (quod non) than still there undoubtedly remain the insurmountable evils of religion.

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religion. Religion is not the root of all evil, but of much human-made evil and misery.8 Even if religion would completely disappear, it would not automatically lead to utopia. Just like a cure for cancer is not a guarantee for health. I take it that the diagnosis has been made; now we should focus on a treatment to be cured from religion. First, attention should be focused on the most malignant forms of religions. But because of the dangers of regress, also liberal and soft toned forms of religion should be submitted to treatment. Religion is as an illness, ranging from athlete’s foot (rather harmless, but still a bother) to lethal cancer. Where are the therapists to help cure people of the disease of religion? Sigmund Freud was perhaps one of the first to consider religion as a lack of mental development to be treated as an illness. Philosophers such as Condorcet and Auguste Comte argued that religion would disappear in time when civilization would further develop. The paradox of modernity is that religion has not disappeared, not even in modern technological welfare states. Religion has been tolerated too much. It should be public and government policy to find democratic and liberal ways to treat religion. III: Religion, Culture & Traditions It is time to reverse the prevailing notion that religious commitment is intrinsically deserving of respect, and that it should be handled with kid gloves and protected by custom and in some cases law against criticism and ridicule. 9
8 9

Religion can reinforce evil, just like nationalism. Anthony Grayling, Against All Gods, p. 15.

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How to Get Rid of Religion

Apologists of religion will respond to accusations of the evils of (their) religion with: ‘(my) religion is good; those who have done evil deeds in the name of religion are not real believers’. However, for an outsider, there is no difference between a real and a fake believer. If someone says ‘I am a Muslim/Christian etc.’, then I believe hir. The criterion for belief is the believer hirself claiming to be a believer. Any other definition of what belief is, is likely to run aground in debates between believers. For example, religious transformers: are they true believers? Luther claimed to be a true Christian. Roman Catholics accused him of being a heretic. The word heretic does not make any sense outside a religious discourse. For an atheist there are no heretics, nor ‘true believers’. From the atheist’s perspective there are believers (those who claim to believe some belief 10) and nonbelievers. Some cultural traditions partially overlap with religion. Take for example female genital mutilation. Many Muslims do not circumcise women and do not think circumcision is part of Islam. However, in Somalia and Egypt, Islam and female circumcision overlap. For me it is enough that there are people who claim to have religious reasons for female circumcision. If no one would use religious arguments for such horrible practices as female circumcision, then of course it is easier to make a distinction between religion on the one hand, and tradition and cultural practices on the other. However, as it is, some people use religious arguments for horrendous crimes. Voices of protest from believers against illiberal practices, such as
10

‘Belief’ here refers to a claim on absolute sure knowledge/truth based on no empirical, logical, rational evidence whatsoever.

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How to Get Rid of Religion

female circumcision, are very quiet, tough not nonexistent.11 Another point to note is that the critique of religion in the New Atheism books does apply to cultural traditions as well. As a moral atheist, it is morality that matters most, not whether or not it is religion. Any cultural practice should be morally evaluated by some standards like: 1. are there any victims? (can you want to trade places?) 2. does it contribute to the wellbeing of individuals? and 3. is it true? These criteria will rule out a great many cultural practices. Many cultures do not respect individual rights, especially the rights of women. In her autobiography Infidel Ayaan Hirsi Ali talks about her youth in Somalia. Many cultural practices there are not (directly) related to religion (Islam), however they can be morally evaluated with the same argumentation as is done in the atheists’ books when religious practices are criticized. In many cultures, including Somalia, women are not equal to men. No man would want to change positions. Hirsi Ali describes the way women are supposed to behave in Somalia: A women who is baarri is like a pious slave. She honors her husband’s family and feeds them without question or complaint. She never whines or makes demands of any kind. She is strong in service, but her head is bowed. If her husband is cruel, if he rapes her and then taunts her about it, if he decides to take another wife, or beats her, she lowers her gaze and hides her tears. And she works hard,
11

Ayaan Hirsi Ali remarks that the self proclaimed spokesman of liberal Islam Tariq Ramadan has never spoken against evil done in name of Islam.

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How to Get Rid of Religion

faultlessly. She is a devoted, welcoming, welltrained work animal. This is baarri.12 Can you voluntarily choose to be baarri? And if so, would you? IV: No Guarantee for Utopia A cure for AIDS makes the world a better place because it would save many people from suffering and premature death. However, this cure does not guarantee health, because there are many more threats to a person’s health than AIDS alone. Still, a cure for AIDS is a moral good.13 A cure for religion makes the world a better place, because it saves many people from evil and ignorance. However, this does not guarantee sanity, because there are many more threats to sanity and morality than religion alone. Still, a cure for religion is a moral good.

12 13

Hirsi Ali, Infidel, p. 12. The Catholic Church thinks differently. Many catholic officials declare AIDS to be a punishment of god for promiscuous behavior. So, rather than prevention (by condom use) or cure (by medicine), the catholic officials preach obedience to ‘catholic sexual morality’. This is a good example of the evil of religion. I do not understand why the pope is not brought to trial for the international tribune of justice as the head of a transnational criminal organization which is responsible for the unnecessary suffering of many people whom have (unnecessarily) contracted AIDS.

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V: Strategies 1. Prevention of Religious Indoctrination14 Children […] have a human right not to have their minds crippled by exposure to other people’s bad ideas – no matter who these other people are. Parents, correspondingly, have no god-given license to inculcate their children in whatever ways they personally choose: no right to limit the horizons of their children’s knowledge, to bring them up in an atmosphere of dogma and superstition, or to insist they follow the straight and narrow paths of their own faith.15 ‘Prevention is the best cure’, is a folk wisdom. Many illnesses in the western world are easily preventable illnesses, which are caused by unhealthy life styles. Religion is also an unhealthy life style, for yourself, your family and others. The best way to get rid of religion is to stop imposing faith/belief/religion on children. Not only should people be free to choose or change religion, children should be free from religion. ‘[Faith based education] involves the indoctrination of intellectually defenseless children, and that is a form of child abuse.’16 I am a secular humanist, who takes individual liberty as a core value. That limits the range of means that can be used for the cure for religion. A
14

An enlightening essay is ‘What Shall We Tell the Children?’ by Nicolas Humphrey. And Stephen Law’s book The War for Children’s Minds. 15 Nicolas Humphrey, ‘What Shall We Tell the Children?’, in The Mind Made Flesh, p. 291. 16 Anthony Grayling, The Form of Things, p. 112.

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How to Get Rid of Religion

totalitarian dictator, like Stalin, who, for completely different reasons, wanted to get rid of religion, used totalitarian means – violence and suppression – to abolish and abandon religion. Just like liberal democracies cannot and should not use illiberal means in the ‘war on terror’, there should not be illiberal methods used to dispense of religion. What matters most is the individual. Most people will probably frown when they read the phrase ‘how to get rid of religion’, because it has become common to grant religion special privileges, like infusing children’s minds with nonsense. Furthermore, it is claimed that religion has a good influence on morals and ethics. The New Atheism books offer plenty of examples and arguments to prove this idea wrong. Philosopher Stephen Law, who has written popular philosophy books, recently published a reflection on education: The War for Children’s Minds. Religions try to impose their views on small children and that is why there are so many religious schools in the world. There are two arguments being used in favor of religious schools, both wrong. Firstly, ‘it is the right of parents to decide what kind of education children receive. Parents have the right to create religious schools.’ This is religious pluralism: if there are enough parents who agree on one specific religion, they should be allowed to establish a school. In the Netherlands for example there are Christian schools of many denominations, Jewish, Islamic, theosophical and Hindu schools. All are subsidized by the government. Within general guidelines the schools are free to do as they please. In Calvinistic Christian schools evolution is almost taboo – it is taught to be ‘just a theory’, for example. Islamic

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schools ban music, sex education and illustrations in schoolbooks. Individual liberty is the core value of the (radical) Enlightenment, of liberalism (as interpreted by e.g. Dutch philosopher Paul Cliteur and Belgian liberal thinker Dirk Verhofstadt) and secular humanism. And if individual liberty is the core value, then why should parents, or any other guardian, have the right to impose nonsense, ignorance and sexual taboos on a child and have the right to withhold (scientific) knowledge about the world? A free flow of information, without censorship, is a necessary prerequisite for both individualism and an open society. The second argument in favor of faith-based schools is pragmatic, and only makes sense in secularized liberal democracies, like present day Northern European welfare states, namely: ‘the religious schools are fairly liberal and do not take religion very seriously.’ Indeed, most schools with a religious flag are liberal, but the problem is there are (some) religious schools, which are not liberal. A problem with school inspection is that orthodox schools present a more liberal face and employ Double Speak. A Swedish documentary from 2003 about Islamic schools was an example of this. When asked, with cameras rolling, the school director denied that physical punishments were used at the school. On a different occasion, there was another interview with the same man with a hidden camera, this time the man did say that physical punishments were common usage at the school. In order to prevent a clash of the right to freedom of religion and children’s rights, the best method is to have no religious education whatsoever.

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Schools should teach about religions. What is taught about religion should be science-based. So, if children ask the teacher whether or not god exists, the teacher should give the scientific answer: there is no evidence whatsoever for the existence of god or gods. In secondary education there might be given attention to theories about the functions and origin of religion. To exclude religion as religion from the schools is not atheistic indoctrination, as religious apologists and multiculturalists commonly say. There is a fundamental difference between an open education and a closed frame of mind. What apologists and multiculturalists fail to notice is that a critical inquiry excludes many things. Carl Sagan’s adage is: ‘Keep an open mind, but not so open that your brains fall out’. Education should be the institutionalization of handing down: 1. evidence based (scientific) knowledge of the world (a scientific world view) 2. the method of critical inquiry in all areas of human endeavor 3. a broad cosmopolitan and humanistic outlook. The goal of education is not indoctrination, but liberation; knowledge, not ignorance. Teaching scientific facts (which are fallible) and the scientific method is not indoctrination. Freedom is not slavery. True is not false. Evidence based knowledge is not faith. For those who cannot grasp the difference of the three above-mentioned contradictions my argumentation is futile. 2. Political Secularism: Separation of Religion and State
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How to Get Rid of Religion

Political secularism, or laicism, is about a separation of religion and state. Religion is a private matter, like a hobby. Religion should not be privileged in the public domain, like tax exemption for religious organizations. All existing privileges should be abolished, including religious schools. Religion has historically permeated law and gained privileges. It is time to undo this injustice. Essential for an open and free society is that its citizens have as much freedom as is compatible with the freedom of other individuals. The state should be neutral in matters of religion. Religion is not a state matter, nothing that happens between (well-informed) consenting adults (who cause no harm or damage to others or the environment) is a state matter. Political parties should not be based on religious doctrines. There is an analogy with the pluralism of faith-based schools. In the pluralist model (as in the Netherlands) religious people have their own faithbased schools, broadcast time (in the Netherlands this is also based on the pluralist model, and recently there is indeed an Islamic broad cast company, subsidized by the government). But, as I argued against faith based schools and the pluralist model in general, I argue against political parties based on religion as well. There should be rules that guarantee that political parties are religiously neutral in their ideology. Of course believers can group together and establish a political party, but this party should not use religious language in their political statements. In a neutral state political parties should be neutral. The political ideologies should be formulated in a political Esperanto – all arguments should at least be in principle understandable to everyone. Religious arguments,
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How to Get Rid of Religion

on the contrary, only have appeal to believers. Of course, individuals can base their personal morals on religion, but in a secular state there should not be explicit religious political parties. Politicians, when in office, should not use religious arguments (see: moral secularism). State officials in a position that requires a neutral point of view should not be allowed to wear symbols of a religion or any other group or organization which distorts their neutrality (so, also no button of one’s favorite soccer club). For example, law officers and judges should not be allowed to wear a cross on a necklace, nor may they wear a headscarf, yarmulke or turban. Also, a religious beard (a beard which is only grown in religious groups) should not be allowed for those public officials. In a multi-religious society – as is the case in most western societies nowadays- all individuals, including religious people, benefit from a secular state and government, because believers are free to do as they please, within the bounds of the (secularized) law. In an open society all individuals are equal: believers and nonbelievers alike. Paul Cliteur discerns five types of relations between state and religion. 1. Theocracy. Religion has political and social power. This is the type of society of present day Iran and Afghanistan under Taliban rule. When religion holds power, individual liberty vanishes. In a theocracy there is no separation of religion and state. 2. State religion. There is one official state religion, like in Norway and Denmark. Other religions are discriminated against or forbidden. The official state religion is privileged and influences politics and usually education and moral matters. 3. The pluralist model. The state subsidizes and gives privileges to all
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How to Get Rid of Religion

religions equally (at the expense of nonbelievers). This is the model of present day the Netherlands. 4. The neutral state of secularism and laicism . There is strict separation of religion and state, like in France. The state is neutral towards any religion. Education is free from religion. The state does not subsidize religious organizations. Religious pundits do not have a privileged role in moral matters. Religion is seen as just a hobby like stamp collecting. 5. The atheist state. The state actively opposes religion or even forbids religion. This was the case in communist countries of the former Soviet Union. However, this is contrary to liberal and humanist values, because it denies individuals their freedom of expression and thought. Model three, the neutral state, is the model that fits best with the ideal of an open society in which individuals can do what they want – from stamp collecting to celebrating a religion – as long as they do not harm other individuals. 3: Moral Secularism: A Plea for Moral Esperanto When people discuss ethical problems no religious arguments should be used, because it is a priori impossible to reach consensus if people do not share the same (religious) vocabulary. For example, in a debate about abortion, only arguments that do not refer to religion should be used. Philosopher Paul Cliteur pleas for a moral Esperanto. If people use the same secular discourse it is possible to reach consensus or at least agreement. Moral Esperanto is not only a means for communication between believers and non-believers. Believers from different religions would benefit as well if they refrained from
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using religious arguments and spoke in the moral discourse of Esperanto. See also the paragraph ‘Do Not Use Religious Language’. A moral and political theory should be secular and not rely on religion. Atheism, or at least an exclusion of religion from the moral domain, is a prerequisite for ethics. Ethical theories, which depend on god or some other kind of transcendentalism, are not true, and often immoral, when analyzed from the perspective of its victims. Secularism, a strict separation of church and state, is a necessity for liberal political philosophy, which takes as core value the freedom of each individual citizen and the free flow of information. The political argument against ethics based on religion is that without the use of repression and violence there is no way there will ever be consensus about which god and what religion is right. People cannot reach agreement in a multi-religious society when using idiosyncratic religious arguments, which appeal only to believers of the same faith. And secondly, even if there would be only one religion, then there would still be no consensus, because all world religions have many widely differing sects. It is important to be clear about secularism, because the overwhelming majority of political and moral philosophers thought they needed some kind of religion in their theory in order to back-up the moral righteousness of their claims. A liberal state is necessarily secular, and religion (or what’s left of it) will be a strictly private matter, and therefore will most likely disappear from the front stage of the theater of history. Derek Parfit takes an atheist position: ‘Belief in God, or in many gods, prevented the free development of moral reasoning. Disbelief in God,
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How to Get Rid of Religion

openly admitted by a majority, is a recent event, not yet completed. Because this event is so recent, NonReligious Ethics is at an early stage. We cannot yet predict whether, as in Mathematics, we will all reach agreement. Since we cannot know how Ethics will develop, it is not irrational to have high hopes.’ 17 Thus writes Derek Parfit in 1984. Paul Cliteur takes a secularist position and argues that in order to communicate, socialize and live together people need a common language of morality, a set of basic moral norms and values, a moral Esperanto. This moral Esperanto, which is a necessary condition for living together peacefully, consists minimally of 1) a strict separation of church and state that is a neutral state (political secularism) and 2) a separation of religion and ethics (moral secularism). In moral matters religious arguments are invalid. Richard Rorty acknowledges that the secularization of the public domain is one of the central achievements of the Enlightenment. 18 ‘The actually existing approximations to such a fully democratic, fully secular community now seem to me the greatest achievement of our species.’ 19 In order to reach common ground religious arguments should not be used in public debate about politics and morals.

17 18

Parfit, Reasons and Persons, p. 454. In his pamphlet Nederland seculier! August Hans den Boef shows that in liberal democracy religion has a special status and enjoys more privileges than other clubs. Religion is more than a private view, it has a privileged status in the public domain. Even though the secularization (the percentage of the population that consider themselves nonreligious) is high, there is not much enthusiasm for reform (that is the institutional secularization of society). Den Boef argues that in Dutch society religion still has special privileges. 19 Rorty, Philosophy and Social Hope, p.20.

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There is a sharp difference between religious and humanistic ethics: ‘Where humanism premises autonomy as the basis for the good life, religion premises heteronomy. In humanist ethics the individual is responsible for achieving the good as a free member of a community of free agents; in religious ethics he achieves the good by obedience to an authority that tells him what his goals are and how he should live.’20 Another argument for secularism is the moral argument: when religion gains political power, it is the end of freedom: ‘For whenever a religion is in the ascendant, with hands on the levers of secular power too, it shows a very different face – the face presented by the Inquisition, the Taliban, and the religious police in Saudi Arabia. The instinct of a religion, when it has power, is to coerce compliance with its orthodoxy, and to pursue or punish those who will not conform.’21 In present day Iran religion has its hands firmly on the levers of power using it to limit freedom in many ways, especially for women. Wherever religion has secular power society is turned into a prison. 4. A Policy of Determent […] imagine if we identified children from birth as young smokers or drinking children because their parents smoked or drank.22 Government should have the same attitude towards religion as it has (recently) in regards to smoking:
20

Anthony Grayling, What is Good?, p. 248. See also: Paul Cliteur, Moreel Esperanto. 21 Anthony Grayling, What is Good?, p. 80. 22 Daniel Dennett, Breaking the Spell, p. 323.

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government allows the private use of tobacco for adults, but informs smokers that it is bad for their health, and government protects secondary smokers so far as possible by banning smoking in public (indoor) areas. Taxes deter people from buying tobacco. The analogy with tobacco is partial: individuals should be allowed to wear and publicly expose (symbols of) their religion, and this is part of the right of the freedom of religion, because this does not harm others23. Of course people should not be forced to wear anything against their wish (uniforms and special requirements of course excepted – a surgeon is not free to choose not to wear a hygienic outfit). Headscarves should be forbidden in primary and secondary schools, because children should be free from religion (at least at school), and should be free and well informed to choose a religion, or non at all, when they are adults. Children should not belong to a religion at all, and there should not be religious ceremonies or rituals involving children, like circumcision, baptism, or catechism. Wearing a burka – any outfit that makes a person unrecognizable in public space, should not be allowed, because it is a threat to public safety. A (religious) headscarf should not be forbidden because it is no threat to public safety.24 Wearing a burkini, a bathing suit that covers almost the entire female body but leaving her face free, should be
23

With the exception of public officials in a function that requires a neutral point of view (law officers, judges etc.). See: 2. Political Secularism. 24 Iranian feminist Chahdortt Djavann has written a strong pamphlet ‘Away with the Veil!’, against the Islamic veil because it is a sign of submission and inequality. She writes: ‘[…] religion is an alibi for gender discrimination.’ [transl. FB].

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allowed in public swimming pools, because this outfit is not a threat to public safety.25 A paradox of liberalism is that it is impossible to impose freedom upon others. People should be free to be unfree - within limits though, individuals have the right to opt out. It is not allowed to submit yourself as a slave: you are allowed to play as a slave for some time, but people cannot forfeit their right to escape. Everyone can voluntarily enter communes or sects where there is little personal freedom. This is all allowed. But individuals always have the right to step out and leave. Freedom is absolute and not conditional. The liberal state, therefore, should not tolerate intolerance and be on the side of those individuals who are being coerced into doing or not doing something against their will26. A liberal state can and should try to create the best possible institutions and cultural climate to foster individual freedom, autonomy and well-being. If well-informed women freely decide to wear a headscarf, this should be allowed. But of course government should be suspicious as to whether this is a real free choice and keep attention focused on this issue. Amartya Sen writes about this paradox of freedom: The critical link includes our ability to consider alternative options, to understand what choices are involved, and then to decide what we have reason to want.27
25 26

Wearing no swim suit at all, should also be allowed. Yes, we all have to pay taxes by coercion. What I mean by coercion is there being a victim. 27 Amartya Sen, Identity and Violence. The Illusion of Destiny, p. 114.

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Religion should be a private matter. Religion should be an individual’s choice, like a hobby, sports or a joining a society. The state should not encourage or subsidize religion and religious organizations (see: political secularism). The state should be strictly secular and neutral. It is not the role of the state to try to get rid of religion. Laicism and a policy of determent are as far as the government should go. It is the role of public intellectuals, scientists, humanist and free thought organizations to try to get rid of religion. 5. Secularizing (International) Law and Treaties Article 18 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948): Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance. This article should be omitted from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in all its subsequent uses in other declarations, treaties and constitutions. It is enough to state: Everyone has the right to freedom of thought and expression.

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It is not clear to me that conscience is not part of the freedom of thought. Imagine if an article would read like this: Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, expression and sports; this right includes freedom to change hir sport or hobby, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest hir sports or hobby in teaching, practice, worship and observance. Yes, this looks weird, but why doesn’t it look weird to most people, including many non-believers, when applied to religion? 6. Coming Out It is time to let our voices be heard regarding the intrusion of religion in our schools and politics. Atheists, along with millions of others, are tired of being bullied by those who would force their own religious agenda down the throats of our children and our respective governments. We need to KEEP OUT the supernatural from our moral principles and public policies.28 People should speak out about being an atheist. Non-believers, non-theists, atheists, rationalists, skeptics and freethinkers have kept quiet for too long. While religious believers speak out loud and proud about their belief; nonbelievers have been polite and quiet in their defense. Outspoken atheists
28

Richard Dawkins on his website: www.outcampaign.org.

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like Dawkins, Dennett, Harris and Hitchens are accused of hitting religion too hard. But that is the world turned upside down: religion makes claims about reality, prescribes social and ethical rules and evangelizes these ideas and ideals. For centuries religion had such a strong grip on social life that it was impossible to be an outspoken atheist. Still, even today it is practically impossible for an outspoken atheist to run for office in the USA. Robert Green Ingersoll, the 19th century agnostic, was the Dawkins of that time: he lectured in the United States criticizing religion, and demonstrating that an atheist can be a moral human being, not a devil in disguise. Ingersoll outlined his creed with a famous maxim: The time to be happy is now. The place to be happy is here. The way to be happy is to make others so. 29 Of course, the only reason to call oneself an atheist is because there are theists. If nobody claimed to know that a god exists (a theist), there would be no atheists. Atheists do not say out of the blue ‘god does not exist’, but atheists claim that none of the arguments for the existence of god(s), is true. (Well, there are indeed some atheists that claim that the existence of god is impossible. I am one of them). Atheism is part of the scientific outlook, which is called naturalism. Atheists should speak out. Perhaps wear a button, a T-shirt, stick a bumper sticker on their car. Atheists are not as well organized as believers. Most believers take their beliefs more seriously (as part of
29

Bill Cooke, Dictionary of Atheism, Skepticism, & Humanism, p. 283.

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their identity) than atheists their atheism. Of course atheism is part of my identity. But I cannot say I am proud to be an atheist. I am embarrassed that there are believers. Am I proud to be a non-believer of the Loch Ness monster, or am I proud to be a denier of the existence of UFO’s or the viability of astrology? I think not. By speaking out, atheists should show that atheists are normal, and that believers are strange, weird or even mentally ill. Psychiatrist Anthony Storr writes: ‘When comparing the beliefs held by psychotics with the beliefs held by normal people, it is impossible to say that one set of beliefs is delusional while the other is not.’30 This means there should be a Gestalt shift in public opinion. But a similar Gestalt shift has occurred with the public attitude towards smoking. Though there is a financially powerful tobacco lobby, public smoking is now a taboo. And rightly so.31 Atheism is not something to be ashamed of. Believers question the possibility of being moral without god, but this also should be the other way around: is it possible to be moral and to believe in god? 7: The Role of Public Intellectuals I: Debunking and Criticizing Religion Philosophy begins where religion ends, just as by analogy chemistry begins where alchemy
30 31

Feet of Clay, p. 203. I hope a similar Gestalt shift will also happed with regards to vegetarianism. Now vegetarians are often asked ‘Why do you abstain from eating meat?’ But this is the (moral) world upside down: meat eaters should be the one to explain why they do eat meat. Because eating factory farm meat causes unnecessarily harm to countless of animals and eating meat is much less sustainable than a vegetarian diet.

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runs out, and astronomy takes the place of astrology.32 Morality starts where religion ends. As long as there are people making nonsensical or false truth claims it is necessary to criticize them. The arguments against religion are not new, but still there are many people out there who have not, or cannot, understand the flaws of their truth claims. If atheists keep quiet because they are bored of seeing the same stupid arguments over and over again, believers will gain influence and followers.33 Religion is a persistent virus that lingers on. Atheists who criticize the New Atheism authors miss the point of these books. These books are not meant for outspoken atheists (though paradoxically many atheists have read New Atheism books). These books are also not meant to persuade fervent believers. These books are meant for those people who have not given much thought to religion and want to make up their minds; or believers who have an open mind. If one takes these books seriously, it is logically impossible to remain a believer. That, however, does happen, because many believers are so immune to rational scrutiny of their beliefs and practices that rational arguments do not count. But even the most arduous believers do have some rudiments of rational behavior. Most believers use modern technology, which is based on science and rationalism. Believers have somehow managed to compartmentalize their minds. Liberal believers just
32 33

Christopher Hitchens, God is not Great, p. 256. B.C. Johnson has compiled a list of the most commonly used arguments used in debate in his concise The Atheist Debater’s Handbook, Prometheus Books, Amherst, 1983.

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have a smaller ‘religion compartment’ than fundamentalists, or none at all. 34 Public intellectuals should criticize religion and unreason, and criticize those who are apologetic towards religion, like Roger Scruton and John Gray. Public intellectuals should continuously and politely campaign against religion. No more flirting with religion, but embracing the ideals of the Enlightenment. Flirting with religion is a danse macabre. 8: The Role of Public Intellectuals II: Positive Atheism, Individualism and Secular Humanism Secular humanism rejects supernatural accounts of reality; but it seeks to optimize the fullness of human life in a naturalistic universe.35 It is not true that criticizing religion is ‘only negative’ and not constructive. No one will say of a doctor that s/he is not being constructive because s/he focuses on the negative. A doctor tries to cure illnesses and injuries. Medical science develops better treatment and medicine. Likewise public intellectuals should try to cure ignorance, unreason and religion in public discourse. Atheism can be more than liberating people from the fetters of
34

Atheists can also compartionalize their mind in a rational and irrational part. Atheism can/could go hand in hand with a belief that communism/socialism would bring wealth, justice and happiness. Some atheists believe in reincarnation. Some atheists belief in free market economy and the necessity of economic growth as a panacea for all problems. For me atheism is part of the ideal of all round rationality: free critical inquiry into all areas of human endeavor, a secular humanist life stance. 35 Paul Kurtz, What is Secular Humanism?, p. 8.

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religion. Positive atheism, individualism and (secular) humanism have a positive outlook and philosophy. Individualism takes as the core value of ethics the individual: each and every individual is of equal value. Individualism is not unbridled egoism nor vulgar hedonism. Individualism takes seriously the needs, desires and life plan of individuals, insofar as they are compatible with that of other individuals.36 Paul Kurtz for example gives an exposition of positive atheism as secular humanism in his book Living without religion. Eupraxsophy. Many people, including liberal believers, are implicit humanists. People should dare to speak out and call themselves humanist. Humanism is a wo/man made ideology, which can and will change due to arguments and public reason. Anthony Grayling’s beautiful book What is Good?, Bertrand Russell’s The Conquest of Happiness, Peter Singer’s How Are We to Live? and Julian Baginni’s witty book What’s It All About? are examples of living meaningful and ethical lives without religion. It’s practical to have a label: humanism. Universal Subjectivism as Secular Humanistic Ethics and Political Philosophy My proposal of a non-religious, naturalistic ethic is called Universal Subjectivism, based on contemporary social contract theories, most notably John Rawls’ A Theory of Justice, and Martha Nussbaum’s Frontiers of Justice. Disability, Nationality, Species Membership. This is a brief sketch of that theory.
36

See: Dirk Verhofstadt, Pleidooi voor individualisme [‘Plea for Individualism’].

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Imagine you are miraculously lifted up from your existence on planet earth and you can look at the world from ‘the point of view of the universe’. From this position you know you will go back to planet earth, but you do not know what kind of being, capable of suffering, you will become. You can be ‘born’ in any possible form of existence. What you can do is create the institutions of the world in which you know you are going to be ‘born’. You are the lawgiver. You are in the Original Position, the position from which you have to decide what the institutions and laws will be like. From here you look at the world through a ‘veil of ignorance’: you do not know what your position will be in the world. You do not know if you are a woman or a man, you do not know in what shape your body is, you do not know the color of your skin, you do not know your sexual preferences, you do not know where you will be on the planet. You could be in any of these positions. I give five examples. (I) Imagine yourself being born into the world physically handicapped. You find yourself in a world with institutions, which you yourself from ‘up there’ had invented, but there are no ramps to get into malls, shops, and buildings. For you, being in a wheelchair, this is a serious problem. However, there could be a world in which this problem was solved by the availability of wheelchair ramps. Therefore – hypothetically – you go back up there, change the institutions to include ramps, and go down again. You cannot exclude the possibility of ending up in a wheelchair, because there are people in the world who are physically disabled. Hypothetically it could have been you. What you can do is to try to help society accommodate as
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best as possible the needs of the physically disabled. In a utopia one could imagine no people being disabled, but that’s not how reality is. The second best option – optimizing the conditions and accepting the contingencies of fate – is the most rational thing to do. (II) This time you find yourself as a woman. More specifically, you find yourself as a woman in a misogynist society, like Saudi Arabia. You probably want to get out of this position as soon as possible and change the conditions again so that no society will oppress women. According to Islam scholar and critic Ibn Warraq no one could freely and rationally want to be a Muslim, especially when you are a woman. I took the obvious example of Saudi Arabia, but even in liberal western societies, one should imagine oneself in a female position in which the woman is denied her freedom or fair opportunities, such as the ban on abortion in some countries. Imagine yourself being unwontedly pregnant and being denied an abortion: could you rationally want that for yourself? (III) You happen to enter the world as a homosexual, but you ‘created’ a society in which homosexuality is forbidden. It is not somebody else, but it is you who happens to be a homosexual. It is about a one out of ten chance that you are a homosexual. Society therefore should not discriminate against homosexuals. The denial of one’s emotional and sexual flowering as a person does have severe consequences for psychological wellbeing and happiness. For die-hard homophobes it will be hard to go through this thought experiment because they would have to imagine themselves to be a homosexual.
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One should include in the thought experiment the option that you yourself happen to be a fervent anti-homosexual and it is not seen as a problem that homosexuality is forbidden. It is the homophobe who interferes with the life of the homosexual, not the other way around. However, the homophobe will probably reply that he is personally deeply offended by the homosexuality of others. In liberal theory that’s just how it is: you might be upset and grieved by how others behave, as long as they do not directly interfere with your behavior, you will have to cope, and be grieved. Just like Muslims will have to cope with cartoons and critique that they find offensive. (IV) You are born and you see the world through the eyes of a cow. This cow is confined to harsh and cruel conditions in factory farming. It might be a stretch of the imagination to think of yourself as a cow, but it makes moral sense, because cows too have an ability to suffer and the ability to suffer is what makes an entity fit for moral concern. I am not sure if I can vividly imagine what it is like to be a cow, but I can imagine the difference of being a cow in a lush meadow and a cow in dark confinement. So you probably go back and change the world into a world without factory farming. (V) Now take into account future generations: there are more people in the future than there are now. Imagine being born into the future, on a barren planet. The chances of being what you are in this comparably privileged position are tiny. Thinking about the contingency of existence can perhaps be compared to the emotions of insignificance one experiences when contemplating the scale of the universe.

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The model of Universal Subjectivism is a procedure one can do oneself at any time. To do this rationally one should consider the worst possible positions, the so-called ‘worst-off’. It is irrational to maximize positions, which are already good at the expense of those in a worse off position. Taking into account the chances of these positions, it is not rational to bet on ending up wealthy and therefore maximizing this position. What is rational is to try optimizing the worst-off position, whatever that may be. Ideologically this is what the welfare state is about: the state tries to make life better for those worst-off in society, no matter the reason of their predicament. The procedure of Universal Subjectivism is that one should pick one’s ‘favorite’ worst-off position, go hypothetically behind the veil of ignorance and change the world as one thinks optimizes the conditions for this worst-off position. Then one descends mentally, imagines how it works and adjusts if one thinks it can be better. Universal Subjectivism is a dynamic process of mentally jumping into different existential possibilities. It is a mental moral journey. Universal Subjectivism is universal because the model can be applied to everybody equally. It is subjective, because it is you and your feelings and emotions, who decides – when hypothetically switched to a different existence – what could and should be changed in society and institutions in order to make life more bearable and, hopefully, enjoyable. It is you yourself who has to imagine oneself in all these different, worst-off, positions. The paradox is that although it is a subjective model, the outcome, though not objective, is universal (all rational individuals would want the
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same in the same worst-off position). It is not relativistic. There are two ways to use this model. In the first place, individuals can use it for themselves as an ethical tool. When confronted with a moral problem, you mentally change positions with the others concerned and imagine yourself in that position. Can you rationally want yourself in that position? On the other hand, there is the social and political level. This model can be used to test how just a particular society is, and change it for the better. Universal Subjectivism tries to maximize the freedom of the individual, not the group, because it is always imaginable that some people in the group do not want what the group wants. Therefore, the State should guarantee maximum freedom for the individual. However, even maximum freedom has limits. Individual freedom cannot intrude in the freedom of other individuals. Individuals should not limit the freedom of other individuals; only if there are strong reasons to do so, like compulsory education. Paradoxically, education is interchangeable: most adults agree that their parents were right in insisting they go to school. The idea of interchangeability, that is the contingency of any existence, limits the domain of possible options. The axiom on which the theory rests is that you cannot rationally want to be in a worst-off position, or, in other words, you cannot rationally want to be tortured (even for a masochist there are kinds of torture where the ‘fun’ stops). In the case of pedophilia for example there are victims. When there are victims, interchangeability is irrational and self-destructive. Of course most
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people are not rational, or at least not all the time. But within the ‘moral game’ of doing the model of Universal Subjectivism, people are assumed to be rational. In order to test a particular position, look for the possibility of interchangeability. Why should anyone bother to do this thought experiment? Because, hypothetically it could be you in any of those worst-off positions. Of course many people do not care at all about the moral irrelevance of their fortunate existence and are unwilling to consider giving up privileges. Not being willing to perform this model, is the end (or at least a severe limitation) of moral discourse. It is a personal choice whether or not you want to be involved in (this) moral discourse. It is a choice anyone can and has to make. Education, more specifically moral education, is pivotal. It is important to be able to imagine oneself to be in the position of someone else. What else can do this better than the study of literature? When you read a novel you see the world through the eyes of some character. You see and experience what the world looks like from the subjective perspective of another human being. If you are able to do this yourself, you are able to play the game and see the world from different perspectives. Seeing the world from a different perspective is one thing, the next thing is to have empathy: to feel the emotions. In Universal Subjectivism you do not have to have sympathy with the fate of somebody else, but only with your own fate, which could be anything. In order to prepare yourself for the worstoff positions you have to have empathy. You have to have sympathy only for yourself. Universal Subjectivism is a tool to overcome blind spots. So, imagine what it is like to be in a
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worst-off position. Doing that means you acknowledge the moral weight of contingency. 9: Scientific Investigation of Religion Science should not only try to explain natural phenomena that frightened ignorant people who then made up stories trying to make sense of nature. Thunder is no longer an angry god. Science can go further. As naturalism assumes – with good reasons – that all phenomena are natural, religion itself is also a natural phenomenon. Daniel Dennett makes clear what happens when religion is seen as a natural phenomenon: the spell is broken. When one knows the trick, magic loses its appeal.37 Religion is a complex phenomenon that can be studied in different ways. I discern four categories: description, function, explanation, and justification. 1. Description (with subcategories, a) history, b) textual c) criticism, and d) comparison) a. Encyclopedic description and taxonomy: Mircea Eliade and his helpers compiled the immense Encyclopedia of Religion (16 vols.) in which they briefly describe all known religions both existent and inexistent (like the Mithras sect). The thought that immediately comes to mind is, which of these approximately 200,000 religions is true? The chances for you to be born to parents of the only true and right religion are very small. Or are all religions a little bit true? In that case it does not matter at all what you believe as long as you believe something – however, some gods seem to get very angry
37

See for example Richard Wiseman on the psychology of deception in his book Quirkology, and also his website: www.quirkology.com.

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when you believe in the wrong god. And, what happened to the gods whose religions have disappeared? Do they no longer exist, or are they waiting to be revered? Recently, in Greece the ancient religion of the Olympic gods has been officially reestablished. Apparently, Zeus is now amongst the ‘living gods’. This religion is called Dodekatheism, ‘the worship of the twelve gods’.38 b. Historical: The archeological, philological and historical study of (the roots of) religion makes clear how many of the claims of religion are untrue. For example, the Jesus Project39, which investigates the historical Jesus, diminishes what can be historically corroborated as evidence about him. The historical Jesus (if he did exist) and the historical Mohammed (who did exist) are very different from what is written about them in the ‘holy’ documents. About the Koran see for example: Ibn Warraq, The Origins of the Koran. c. Textual and logical criticism: close reading of religious, theological (and many philosophical) texts and analyzing arguments and testing for coherence shows many inconsistencies, contradictions and weaknesses. In the Netherlands Maarten ‘t Hart, writer and apostate of Calvinism, has written two humorous volumes of Bible criticism pointing out incoherencies, contradictions and absurd
I quote from Wikipedia: ‘About 2,000 people are members of Hellenic Neopaganism (Dodekatheic) congregations. However, the leaders of the movement put the number much higher: from 100,000 or 200,000 (1%, 2% of the total) to 400,000 (4%)’ 39 www.jesus-project.com
38

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consequences of scripture.40 Ibn Warraq critically studied the Koran resulting in What the Koran Really Says: Language, Text and Commentary. d. comparison: cultural anthropology includes the study of religion and the comparison of religions among cultures.41 2. Function Religion fulfils psychological and sociological functions. Religion can be explained by the function it fulfils. Paul Kurtz, for example, argues that people have a natural inclination towards the supernatural, which he calls: the transcendental temptation. In Kurtz’ s analysis religion and the paranormal are on a par: religion is institutionalized superstition. The functions can be focused on from different scientific disciplines: a. Sociological42 b. Psychological43 c. Anthropological44 d. Biological 3. Explanation
40 41

Maarten ‘t Hart, De Schrift betwist (‘Scripture Contested’), 2 vols.. For example: Jeppe Sinding Jensen, The Study of Religion in a New Key. Theoretical and Philosophical Soundings in the Comparative and General Study of Religion, 2003. Eric J. Sharpe, Comparative Religion. A History, 1998. 42 For example: Inger Furseth, Pal Repstad, An Introduction to the Sociology of Religion. Classical and Contemporary Perspectives, 2006. 43 For example: Bernard Spilka (and others), The Psychology of Religion, An Empirical Approach, 2003, M.D. Faber, The Psychological Roots of Religious Belief, Prometheus Books, Amherst, NY, 2004. Marvin Harris, Cows, Pigs, Wars & Witvhes. The Riddles of Culture, 1989. 44 For example: Fiona Bowie, The Anthropology of Religion, 2000.

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Fairly recent are the attempts to explain religion from the perspective of evolutionary biology. See footnote 4 and my version of the meme theory of religion, which sees religion as a malignant virus, in the Appendix. 4. Justification Philosophy is concerned with the justification of religion and belief in general. As stated earlier, the outcome of a thorough analysis is both moral and epistemological atheism. Believers will retreat by appeal to faith. Religion will have to deal with a ‘God of the gaps’; believers say: ‘science cannot explain X, therefore God caused X.’ Scientists answer: ‘Science has not yet explained X, but we probably will!’. Science will debunk all rational reasons for belief in any god whatsoever. What is left is stark unreason – which believers call faith. 10: Interdisciplinary Research Programs on the Cure for Religion In academia theology – not to be confused with the scientific study of religion – apologizes for religion. Theology gives religion a scientific air. In one way or another theologians are trying to reconcile science and (their) religion.45 Theology takes the existence of a god or ‘something’ for granted. Theology is an embarrassment to science and academia. Richard Swinburne, for example, the (thank god retired) Oxford theologian and Fellow of the British Academy (!) argues that the holocaust is god’s help for people to be good:
45

If a theologian happens to do real science, s/he is not a theologian anymore, but a scientist.

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The possibility of the Jewish suffering and deaths at the time made possible serious heroic choices for people normally (in consequence often of their own bad choices and the choices of others) too timid to make them (e.g. to harbor the prospective victims), and for people normally too hard-hearted (again as a result of previous bad choices) to make them, e.g. for a concentration camp guard not to obey orders. And they make possible reactions of courage (e.g. by the victims), of compassion, sympathy, penitence, forgiveness, reform, avoidance of repetition, etc. by others.46 There should be no place at scientific institutions for people like that, like there are no astrologists employed at the astronomy department.47 Instead of theology, there should be interdisciplinary research institutes, which study religion in order to work towards its evanescence. Like medical institutes that do research in order to find cures for illnesses, or like gender studies, which
46 47

Swinburne, Providence and the Problem of Evil, 1998, p. 151. Richard Dawkins writes in The God Delusion that Swinburne has said that in a television program. Personally, I heart Swinburne say the same thing during a guest lecture at Utrecht University in 2006 – that the Holocaust is ‘a wonderful opportunity to be courageous and noble’. See Swinburne’s response to Dawkins on: http://richarddawkins.net/article,427,Response-to-Richard-DawkinsCriticisms-in-The-God-Delusion,Richard-Swinburne Swinburne in the above mentioned article: ‘I certainly did not attempt to justify the very wicked conduct of the Nazis, but I did and do attempt to justify God's non-interference.’ So, God did not interfere with the holocaust and Swinburne does justifies that, that is, he still considers god to be good. I like to quote Peter Atkins reaction to this (in The God Delusion and as Atkins told me personally): ‘May you rot in hell.’

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study gender-related topics in order to overcome discrimination and submission. Anthropologists also have a tendency not to be too critical about the different belief systems they study. Anthropologist James Lett is one who does and who argues that the question ‘But is it true?’ should be dared to be asked: It seems to me that the obligation to expose religious beliefs as nonsensical is an ethical one incumbent upon every anthropological scientist for the simple reason that the essential ethos of science lies in an unwavering dedication to truth […] In science there is no room for compromise in the commitment to candor. Scientists cannot allow themselves to be propagandists or apologists touting convenient or comforting myths […] When anthropologists fail to publicly proclaim the falsity of religious beliefs, they fail to live up to their ethical responsibilities in the regards.48 United Nations University, which concentrates on research on global problems, would be a logical place for this kind of research. Humanist research centers like the Center for Inquiry Transnational and Utrecht University of Humanistics49 could also contribute to this kind of interdisciplinary research.

48

James Lett, ‘Science, Religion’, in: Stephen D. Glazier (ed.), Anthropology and Religion. A Handbook, (1997), p. 111-112. 49 There is one official University of Humanistics in the world: Utrecht University of Humanistics. Unfortunately, the dominant opinion at this university is to see humanism as equal to religion. Utrecht University of Humanistics does not want to get rid of religion at all.

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11: Inclusive versus Exclusive Identity: Transnational Cosmopolitanism […] many of the conflicts and barbarities in the world are sustained through the illusion of a unique and choice less identity.50 In spite of high-spirited slogans such as ‘the brotherhood of all man’, and ‘love thy neighbor as thyself’, religion strengthens exclusive identity: by emphasizing being, for example, a Catholic, you make it clear that you are not a Protestant, a Jew or a Muslim. Identity is like a hobby taken too seriously. For example, when you love playing bridge, it is uncommon to introduce yourself as being a ‘Bridge’. Loving bridge is not a part of the self-declared identity of most human beings. Nationality, religion and some (non-liberal) ideologies (like communism) are. I am Dutch, but I do not take that too seriously. I aspire to be a citizen of the world. My mother tongue is Dutch, but I do not mind writing, reading and thinking in English 51. Being Dutch is not my main identity.52 It is enlightening to see how Amartya Sen gives various labels, which together make (some of) his identity:
50 51

Amartya Sen, Identity and Violence, p. xv. I would prefer to use a political neutral and logical artificial language like Esperanto. 52 Being a Dutch person I am familiar with Dutch culture and literature, which I like. But I also like many other things. As a Japanologist I like many things in Japanese culture. As a political philosopher I read mostly Anglo-Saxon contemporary writers. I wouldn’t care if the Netherlands would be a province of Europe, which it more or less already is. I am many labels which together make up my identity, for example: eupraxsopher, liberal, secular humanist, (deep) vegetarian, environmentalist, atheist, free thinker, rationalist, feminist, nudist, hedonist, writer, reader, speaker, member of a hand full of organizations, colleague, partner, lover, parent, son and more.

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I can be, at the same time, an Asian, and Indian citizen, a Bengali with Bangladeshi ancestry, an American or British resident, an economist, a dabbler in philosophy, an author, a Sanskritist, a strong believer in secularism and democracy, a man, a feminist, a heterosexual, a defender of gay and lesbian rights, with a nonreligious lifestyle, from a Hindu background, a nonBrahmin, and a nonbeliever in an afterlife (and also, in the case the question is asked, a nonbeliever in a “before-life” as well). This is just a small sample of diverse categories to each of which I may simultaneously belong – there are of course a great many other membership categories too, which depending on the circumstances, can move and engage me.53 The best medicine against fundamentalism, be it religious or nationalistic, is not to take anything too seriously, like singling out one specific label as your most important identity and neglecting or denying other memberships. A fundamentalist will say: ‘I am a XXX!!!’. And that XXX is involved in deciding most or all aspects of hir life. Remember that you could be wrong. All opinions are fallible. Religious believers believe their beliefs to be absolutely true, beyond doubt. Even if they have doubts, believers consider it a virtue to suppress their doubts and continue believing. A criterion for civilization is a healthy cabaret culture, which ridicules, satirizes and criticizes society and beliefs. In totalitarian societies or
53

Sen, Identity and Violence, p. 19.

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theocracies there is nothing to laugh. In those societies politics is bloody serious. There is no Pat Condell in Saudi Arabia or Sudan. Being aware of the moral weight of contingency is a consciousness raiser for (social) injustices. 12. Do Not Use Religious Language Sometimes nonbelievers speak about god, metaphorically, like Albert Einstein sometimes spoke about god. A study of his writings makes it absolutely clear that Einstein was a naturalist, who did not believe in a personal deity, for example: It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.54 The idea of a personal God is quite alien to me and seems even naïve.55 Believers, however, like to point out that Einstein was on their side due to his religious phrasing. If you do not believe in god: please do not speak metaphorically about god, because believers will
54

Albert Einstein, in a letter March 24, 1954; from Albert Einstein the Human Side, Helen Dukas and Banesh Hoffman, eds., Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1981, p. 43. Albert Einstein in a letter to Beatrice Frohlich, December 17, 1952; Einstein Archive 59-797; from Alice Calaprice, ed., The Expanded Quotable Einstein, Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2000, p. 217.
55

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say you are a believer. Like they do with Spinoza. Spinoza was an atheist, but in his time it was impossible to speak out loud.56 He managed to find a trick by calling nature god: deus sive natura.57 In this way he emptied out the monotheistic concept of god, without dropping the name. If you are free to speak out, speak out and watch your language. It is not god alone that should be dropped from a naturalistic discourse, including metaphorical usage. There are many religious concepts in use, like human dignity, the sanctity of life, the concept of holiness, reference to the Ten Commandments, sin, et cetera. Feminists have pointed out that the use of language can be part of a polity of submission. The wave of feminism has succeeded in raising consciousness about gender equal or neutral language and indeed most contemporary (western) texts try to be gender/neutral equal. The same holds true with reference to different races. Most writers take care not to use derogatory words for people of a different race. Fairly new is a linguistic turn about referring to humans as human animals.58 A measure of civilization is how people refer to ‘enemies’:59 how do Muslims refer to Jews, Christians
56 57

See: Jonathan Israel, Radical Enlightenment. Spinoza might have been sincere in his belief that ‘god is nature’, but nothing changes in his philosophy when one deletes god from it. It is my bold conjecture that Spinoza uses his deus sive natura as a safety phrase. It seems to me Spinoza censored himself. Also, a work on philosophy in the 17th century without any reference to god would be unimaginable. So, my second conjecture is that Spinoza uses god as a rhetorical device to get his naturalistic message through. 58 Peter Singer, Animal Liberation. 59 Jonathan Glover analyses in his groundbreaking book Humanity. A Moral History of the Twentieth Century how people speak of their enemies in terms that dehumanize them, which makes it easier to kill, torture, rape them. It seems trivial what words are used, but it is of

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to atheists, and Hindu to Muslims? What words do they use? Keep a close watch on what words people of faith use when they refer to those whom they consider morally inferior: women, people of different faith, non-believers, homosexuals, and apostates.60 13. Broadening Your Horizon: Literature and the Contingency of Fate and Faith That is the great service of attentive and thoughtful reading: it educates and extends the moral imagination, affording insights into – and therefore the chance to be more tolerant of – other lives, other ways, other choices, most of which one will probably never experience oneself.61 In their anthology, The Moral of the Story. An Anthology of Ethics through Literature, Renata and Peter Singer devote a chapter to ‘Animals and the Environment’ in which they include four selections. In their introduction to this chapter they emphasize the importance of the imagination for ethics and especially for the expanding circle of ethics: ‘One way of establishing that an interest is morally significant is to ask what it is like for the entity affected to have that interest unsatisfied. Imaginatively, we can put ourselves in the place of that being, and ask: how would I like it if I were in that situation?’62
utmost importance not to dehumanize or degrade in words. 60 It might not be polite to refer to believers as ‘mentally ill’, but, as Dawkins and Storr argue, God is a delusion, and people who have delusions are mentally ill. 61 Anthony Grayling, What is Good?, p. 228. 62 The Moral of the Story, p. 403. My political and moral theory Universal Subjectivism. In Search of Moral Blind Spots (2008) [to be

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A characteristic of fundamentalism of any kind is a small mental, cultural, ideological and emphatic horizon. 14: Scientific Philosophy & Naturalism If you want to know your place in the cosmos; if you want to know how to live best; if you want to know why humans are as they are; and if you want to know how to solve moral problems, where do you begin your studies? There is a hard and uncertain route and there is a short, direct and clear route: which do you want to take? The long and uncertain route is the path of philosophy as it is taught in academia. The short route to knowledge and understanding is to study science. Science, however, is fragmented in specialized fields of study, which can lead to a compartmentalized narrow-minded outlook. What is needed is a broader interdisciplinary scientific outlook. This is scientific philosophy. The purpose of an academic program in Scientific Philosophy is to educate reflective liberal democratic world citizens who are able to 1) propagate science and reason, 2) research complex problems associated with the good life and a just (world) society, 3) elaborate on a philosophical and scientific world view, and 4) criticize religion, the paranormal and unreason. Scientific Philosophy is the training school for philosophes who want to work towards the fulfillment of the Enlightenment project: ameliorating the human condition.
published] gives the idea of interchangeability a central place by stressing the moral weight of the contingency of fate. It could be you in that worst off position, therefore there should be a political and moral system which optimizes all possible worst off positions.

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The philosophical heritage of the West is at least 90 % nonsense - the percentage is still higher when it comes to the philosophies of the East. The history of philosophy is a history of errors and fallacies. Some knowledge is outdated – like Aristotle who gave it an honest try to describe, explain and understand the natural world. Aristotle is a naturalist and protoscientist. The knowledge of Aristotle is mostly wrong and/or outdated, but his frame of mind is the same as that of modern scientists. Plato, on the other hand, was not a naturalist. His transcendental speculation about the nature of reality is meaningless nonsense. Sadly enough, Plato’s frame of mind is still common among believers and philosophers. Through the ages philosophers asked themselves many senseless and meaningless questions. Susan Blackmore puts it succinctly: ‘philosophy is feeding on itself and going nowhere.’ A large part of contemporary philosophy is more related to theology than to science. Heidegger for example, a guru for many contemporary philosophers, is quite similar to a theologian, even a prophet. The post-modern conception of science is one of suspicion and even contempt, declaring that science cannot ever answer the deep and fundamental questions of meaning and truth. To put it boldly, science, in the postmodern view, is just solving (trivial) problems and technology is on its way to destroy humankind. Worldview and morality traditionally are the domains of religion. Even today in our scientific and technical era, many people have some kind of religiously inspired worldview. Philosophy should embody the quest for a rational worldview based on the sciences: not sky hooked, but earth bound.

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Therefore, there should be an academic program of teaching philosophy starting with problems – the first question being: what is the problem? When the problems have been stated the search for answers can begin. The quest is open. The answer can be everywhere. The history of philosophy is one place to start looking. But the search should continue to scan different academic disciplines that can shed light on the problem at hand. Science itself cannot solve ethical problems, though it can prove many ethical answers to be false or to point out disastrous consequences. Scientific Philosophy should have two dimensions: 1) science and 2) free thought. Ethical theories based on false beliefs should not be used as moral guides, and therefore religious ethics should not be a moral guide. On the other hand philosophy should be free thought, that is, critical and rational thinking about social and ethical matters. In order to learn about nature one should study scientists who can explain scientific knowledge to non-specialists, such as Dawkins on evolution, Atkins on chemistry, Hawking on cosmology, Wolpert on the nature of science. Philosophers like Daniel Dennett try to define what consequences scientific theories have for a naturalistic worldview. Moral philosopher Peter Singer tries to reason rationally and to discuss moral problems from a naturalistic perspective. Solutions to ethical problems should be in harmony with scientific knowledge. There are two types of fundamental questions humans can pose: What is nature, the world, the universe and what is the place of human animals in

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it? And on the other hand: what is the good life? How are we to live? The study of scientific philosophy – which I will call eupraxsophy - should stimulate all-round rationality and critical inquiry in all areas of human endeavor, in order to battle compartmentalized thinking and immunization against critical inquiry. Eupraxsophy is not morally neutral – taking scientific philosophy and critical inquiry seriously, one should be prepared to accept the conclusions and consequences. Eupraxsophy is reflection on how to make the world a better place. Philosophers like Jeremy Bentham, Peter Singer, Michael Fox, Phyllis Chesler, Richard Dawkins, Anthony Grayling and James Rachels are examples of this kind of philosopher. They are philosopher-activists, or, to use a term coined by Paul Kurtz: eupraxsophers: ‘eu’ is Greek for good, ‘praxis’ is practice, ‘sophos’ is wisdom. A eupraxsopher searches for good practical wisdom. The goal of the course Scientific Philosophy is to work towards a: ‘a comprehensive nonreligious life stance that incorporates a naturalistic philosophy, a cosmic outlook rooted in science, and a consequentialist ethical system.’63 Eupraxsophy differs from antiseptically neutral philosophy in that it enters consciously and forthrightly into the marketplace where ideas contend. Unlike pure philosophy, it is not simply the love of wisdom, though this is surely implied by it, but also the practice of wisdom.64
Definition by Tom Flynn, editor of The New Encyclopedia of Unbelief. 64 Kurtz, Paul, Living without Religion. Eupraxsophy, p. 20.
63

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15. Cultivating Nonreligious Practices for Body and Mind: Arts, Sports, Hobbies & Social Life If anyone is looking for the joy of working with others toward a common goal, let him join one of the many organizations devoted to helping refugees, the poor, the sick, and the unfortunate.65 Taking care of the body, as in many eastern religious practices, seems a promising way to enrich humanist practices. Yoga and (Zen) meditation seem excellent ways to incorporate in a humanist way of life. Transcendental and spiritual language will have to be abandoned however. Work out, capoeira, tango, running, cycling, rowing, mountaineering etcetera all can be part of living the good life in a humanistic way. In order to be humanistic care should be taken that there are no (future) victims due to your life style. A humanistic life style can be exuberant, but should be sustainable as well. Racing, for example, doesn’t seem to fit in this scheme. In order to enrich your experience you could do some cosmopolitan cherry picking: taking form different cultures things you like. However, this should take place within the naturalistic framework. For example, I like Zen (Japan), yoga (India), Arabian/Islamic tile decorations (North Africa), mint tea (Morocco), jasmine tea (China), etcetera. On my desk is a small statue of a severe looking Zen priest,

65

Storr, Feet of Clay, p. 233.

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and a picture of Jan van Eyck’s The Adoration of the Lamb (1432).66 Wellness centers, spas and sauna seem to fit a humanistic tradition to take care of the body and enjoy the good life. Saunas, nude beaches and nudist camping’s & resorts where people of both sexes are naked must be the nightmare of many fundamentalists. Imagine a public mixed sauna in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Poland. The more public (mixed) saunas and public nudity, the less religion. One of the criteria of civilization is nude beaches. This sounds trivial, but it is not. A free and open society is about tolerating as much freedom as is consistent with the freedom of others. This includes tolerating things that you may abhor personally. Sociologist Ruut Veenhoven who studies conditions of happiness concludes that happiness is increased by more individual freedom.67 It is possible to live a good life without religion.68 The exuberance of life can be experienced and appreciated without religion. 16: Humanist & Atheist Organizations There are two reasons for atheists to organize themselves. First, to be able to counterbalance and resist religious organizations. When atheists do not organize themselves, believers will override their interests. So, support and/or join humanist and atheist organizations!
66

Yes, this is Christian art, but it can be appreciated by atheists as well. I am not an iconoclast. On my stereo I am listening to Bach’s Christian music. I am cherry picking from several (religious) traditions. 67 Ruut Veenhoven, The Conditions of Happiness. 68 Paul Kurtz, Exuberance. An Affirmative Philosophy of Life.

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Second, religion fulfills psychological and social needs for many people. These needs should be taken seriously. Atheist and humanists should find ways to fulfill these needs within a naturalist framework. Humanist celebrations and rites of passages are examples of this. Humanistic counseling is another example. This area needs a lot more research and practice. I propose to establish interdisciplinary research for studying conditions of happiness and finding ways to improve the good life. Sam Harris in his book The End of Faith, for example, takes seriously mystical inclinations some people have and tries to get mystical experiences within a naturalist worldview. Religion is usually family business. Religion is about community life. Hobbies usually are individual. Perhaps humanists should try to fill the gap by creating cultural centers and have regular gatherings (‘celebrations of life’), open to everybody. It would be enriching if there were humanist cultural centers, with all kinds of activities: sports, hobbies, discussions, reading groups. This idea comes close to the way Unitarians are organized. Perhaps it is a good idea for humanists to copy the best practices, while taking care not to let god in through the back door. For architects it is a challenge to envision daring, stimulating and inspiring buildings, which encourage the good life. Many people do voluntary work for NGO’s like Greenpeace, Amnesty International, Oxfam et cetera. Would it be an idea if the NGO activities could be combined with social activities, as happens in many churches where they do charity activities in combination with socializing? 17: Partial versus All-Round Rationality
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...it is undesirable to believe a proposition when there is no ground whatever for supposing it true, I must, of course, admit that if such an opinion became common it would completely transform our social life and our political system ….69 Reason notwithstanding, the transcendental temptations of the paranormal and religion remain strong.70 Reason has much less popular appeal than unreason. Freethinkers should start a marketing campaign for reason. That is what the Enlightenment was all about: a marketing campaign for reason, contra the authority of the church and aristocracy. In some ways this campaign for reason has succeeded, and in general the living conditions for people in Western society have improved tremendously. Western culture is heavily influenced by science and reason. But, contrary to the hopes of some Enlightenment philosophes and their presentday admirers, religion and unreason remain in existence even today. It is hard to grasp the blatant incoherence of many believers who suspend their rationality in some domains of life. Nobody would survive long without at least the partial application of reason in their life. No one, not even pious believers or diehard fundamentalists, cross a busy street by closing their eyes, trusting on faith. Many fundamentalists, that is, those who take their irrationality seriously, use modern technology, like cell phones and the Internet, to further their cause. They seem to have compartmentalized their brain
69

70

Bertrand Russell, Sceptical Essays, p. 12. Paul Kurtz, The Transcendental Temptation

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into rational and irrational parts. This is what psychologists call cognitive dissonance; and what logicians call parallel logic. They use reason to support unreason. That is exactly the tragedy of the 20th century: the use of technology by unreason, for example as happened with fascism and communism. Frankfurt School thinkers point out the dangers of the instrumentalization of rationality. Freethinkers on the other hand, use reason to criticize unreason. Freethinkers try to use reason in all their endeavors and try not to compartmentalize their brains. Of course, it is not always possible to make optimal rational choices. Rationality is bounded by limited information, time and calculating techniques. Rationality is an ideal to strive for. Behavior and opinions can always be corrected by (new) arguments and critique. Decisions and beliefs are fallible, and critical inquirers realize this. ‘All-round rationality is no doubt an unattainable ideal. […] I believe that all solid progress in the world consists of an increase in rationality, both practical and theoretical.’ 71 In many cases reason cannot make the decision. Choosing between coffee and tea is arbitrary. Either way is fine, you can choose whatever you like best at the moment. However, the situation would change if someone told you that coffee is bad for your health, or that by drinking coffee you support terrible working conditions72, or, by drinking a latte you support factory farming. Once such information is provided, the situation of the choice changes. The choice between coffee and tea is not arbitrary anymore now you have this
71

Bertrand Russell, Sceptical Essays, p. 41 Watch Black Gold (www.balckgoldmovie.com) and drinking coffee will never be the same.
72

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information. You can decide whether or not to alter your choice in the light of the new information. In comparison with the needs of people starving in Somalia, the desire to sample the wines of the leading French vineyards pales into insignificance. Judged against the suffering of immobilized rabbits having shampoos dripped into their eyes, a better shampoo becomes an unworthy goal. The preservation of old-growth forests should override our desire to use disposable paper towels. An ethical approach to life does not forbid having fun or enjoying food and wine, but it changes our sense of priorities. The effort and expense put into buying fashionable clothes, the endless search for more and more refined gastronomic pleasures, the astonishing additional expense that marks out the prestige car market from the market in cars for people who just want a reliable means of getting from A to B – all these become disproportionate to people who can shift perspective long enough to take themselves, at least for a time, out of the spotlight. If a higher ethical consciousness spreads, it will utterly change the society in which we live.73 In order to answer the question ‘Can morality be guided by reason?’ it makes sense to consider the alternatives. What would be the alternative of using reason as a guide in morality? Some people might say emotion, intuition, authority or faith, are moral guides. Emotions, intuition, authority and faith, however, are often limited in scope by custom and
73

Peter Singer, How Are We to Live?, p. 271.

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conventions. These moral guides are not of much help in finding blind spots in the morals of a particular culture or group. The expanding circle of morality and the emancipation of women, slaves, homosexuals, non-whites, handicapped, children and animals did not emanate from a morality based on emotion, intuition, authority or faith. Bertrand Russell found a better way to combine reason and emotion as he did with his adage: ‘The good life is one that is guided by reason, and inspired by love.’ It is useful to think this aphorism through; with love as moral guidance the circle of moral empathy could be very limited. For example: I do not love dogs or horses and there are many people I really do not love. Love limits, reason widens. Reason guides, even to unforeseen areas. When going down the road of rational inquiry of moral values, it is possible one will find flaws and blind spots. Love, or rather empathy, is needed because reason alone is not enough: knowing some people desperately need your help is not enough. You need love, or empathy, to act upon rationally acquired knowledge. Reason is a tool that can be used to explore areas as of yet completely unknown, like science investigates the unknown systematically. Love is needed to act upon moral knowledge. For example, the idea of animal rights is first and foremost a rational idea, not based on emotions. Many pet lovers, who care for the wellbeing of their fancy pet, seem not to care for the cruelty imposed on animals in factory farming. This is a form of partial moral rationality. Animal rights activists on the other hand are not necessarily pet lovers. Personally, I do not care much for animals, but I am convinced that animals should have rights like human animals. Not the same rights however.
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The guidance of reason in morality is not a guarantee for justice and happiness, but by using reason, flagrantly immoral behavior and institutions can be spotted and corrected. What is good might be hard to define, what is bad is much easier to spot. It is better to get rid of the bad first, in order to find the good. All-round rationality could mean we will have to change our way of living dramatically in the light of reason. Adopting a rational point of view not only has cognitive consequences, like the vaporization of god, it will have to have consequences on how we are to live as well. Adopting reason as our guiding light has consequences for our moral conduct. Peter Singer: ‘Once we start reasoning, we may be compelled to follow a chain of argument to a conclusion that we did not anticipate. Reason provides us with the capacity to recognize that each of us is simply one being among others, all of whom have wants and needs that matter to them, as our needs and wants matter to us.’ The light of reason is a moral appeal; it is the end of blind obedience, the end of speciecism, the end of moral exclusiveness, the end of moral ostrichism. Imagine No Religion… Many evils, which torment humans, are man made, let’s try to get rid of them. Let’s make the world a better place. Let’s get rid of religion.

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VI: Index of New Atheism Books Many books critical of religion have been published in the last ten years or so.74 Apart from the books criticizing religion in general since 2001 there are piles of books published about Islam, most of them critical to some extent. Atheism is criticism of all religions. Christianity, Islam, Shinto or the religious beliefs of the Dowayoo75 – for atheists they are all false beliefs. Cliteur’s book Moreel Esperanto is a plea for strong secularism and thus keeping religion at bay. Strictly speaking Stephen Law’s book is not one of the New Atheism books. However, The War for Children’s Minds touches on the most important point in getting rid of religion: liberal education. Michelle Goldberg’s book, Kingdom Coming, also is not directly a New Atheism Book: she describes the rise of Christian fundamentalism in the US due to the presidency of George W. Bush. Fernando Savater analyses and questions Christian ethics in his book The Ten Commandments and proposes a humanistic ethic. Allister McGrath published his book The Twilight of Atheism: The Rise and Fall of Disbelief in the Modern World in 2006 in which he claimed atheism is something from the past. Apparently, McGrath lives in a universe next door.

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I have only listed books in English. In the Netherlands for example there also have appeared books in the New Atheism tradition. I will mention just three: Herman Philipse, Atheïstisch manifest and Verlichtingsfundamentalisme? and Dirk Verhofstadt, De derde feministische golf. 75 Read about the beliefs and practices of the Dowayoo in the hilarious book An Innocent Anthropologist. Notes from a Mud Hut by Nigel Barley.

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Is it possible that someone can read this list and still be a believer? If s/he can, what is the point of debate and arguing? Reading this pile of books makes one thing overwhelmingly clear: we should get rid of religion. 1. Angeles, Peter (ed.), Critiques of God 2. Antony, Louise, Philosophers Without God. Meditations on Atheism and the Secular Life 3. Baggini, Julian, Atheism. A Very Short Introduction 4. Barker, Dan, Losing Faith in Faith. From Preacher to Atheist 5. Barker, Dan, Just Pretend. A Freethought Book for Children 6. Barker, Dan, Godless. How an evangelical preacher became one of Amierca’s leading atheists 7. Bawer, Bruce, While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam is Destroying the West from Within 8. British Humanist Association, The Case for Secularism: A Neutral State in an Open Society 9. Boston, Andrew G., The Legacy of Jihad, Islamic Holy War and the Fate of NonMuslims, 2005. 10.Brooks, David M., The Necessity of Atheism 11.Chesler, Phyllis, The Death of Feminism. What’s Next in the Struggle for Women’s Freedom, 2005 [on Islamic gender apartheid] 12.Cliteur, Paul, Moreel Esperanto [‘Moral Esperanto’] 13.Condell, Pat, www.patcondell.net: spoken columns

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14.Cooke, Bill, Dictionary of Atheism, Skepticism and Humanism 15.Dacey, Austin, The Secular Conscience. Why Belief Belongs in Public Life 16.Dawkins, Richard, The Root of All Evil [documentary] 17.Dawkins, Richard, The God Delusion 18.Dennett, Daniel, Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon 19.Djavann, Chahdortt, Weg met de sluier! [‘Away with the Veil!’] (original in French) 20.Drachmann, A.B., Atheism in Antiquity 21.Drange, Theodore M., Nonbelief and Evil: Two Arguments for the Nonexistence of God 22.Eller, David, Natural Atheism 23.Eller, David, Atheism Advanced: Further Thoughts of a Freethinker 24.Esposito, John L., Unholy War. Terror in the Name of Islam 25.Everitt, Nicolas, The Non-Existence of God 26.Flynn, Tom (ed.), The New Encyclopedia of Unbelief 27.Gisburne, Nick, The Atheists Are Revolting. Taking Back the Planet, Saying No to Religion 28.Goldberg, Michelle, Kingdom Coming 29.Grayling, Anthony, What is Good? The Search for the Best Way to Live 30.Grayling, Anthony, Toward the Light of Liberty. The Struggles for Freedom and rights that Made the Modern Western World 31.Grayling, Anthony, Against All Gods. Six Polemics on Religion and an Essay on Kindness 32.Grayling, Anthony; Mick Gordon, On Religion, [play], 2007 33.Grayling, Anthony; Mick Gordon,
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34.Griffith, Lee, The War on Terrorism and the Terror of God 35.Harbour, Daniel, An Intelligent Person’s Guide to Atheism 36.Harding, Nick, The Good Atheist 37.Harris, Sam, The End of Faith. A Challenge to Faith 38.Harris, Sam, Letter to a Christian Nation 39.Haught, J.A., 2000 Years of Disbelief: Famous People with the Courage to Doubt 40.Hecht, Jennifer Michael, Doubt. A History. 41.Hegener, Michiel, Vrijheid van Godsdienst [‘Freedom of Religion’] 42.Henderson, Bobby, The Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster 43.Hiorth, Finngeir, Introduction to Atheism 44.Hirsi Ali, Ayaan, Infidel. My Life 45.Hirsi Ali, Ayaan, Submission [documentary] 46.Hitchens, Christopher, God is not Great. The Case against Religion 47.Hitchens, Christopher, The Portable Atheist: Essential Readings for the Nonbeliever 48.Hitchens, Christopher, The Missionary Position: Mother Theresa in Theory and Practice. [unmasking the myth of religiously inspired goodness of Mother Theresa] 49.Holloway, R., Godless Morality: Keeping Religion out of Ethics. 50.Huberman, Jack, The Quotable Atheist: Ammunition for Non-Believers, Political Junkies, Gadflies, and Those Generally HellBound 51.Israel, Jonathan, Radical Enlightenment. Philosophy and the Making of Modernity 1650-1750

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52.Israel, Jonathan, The Enlightenment Contested. Philosophy, Modernity and the Emancipation of Man 1670-1752 53.Jacoby, Susan, Freethinkers, A History of American Secularism 54.Jansen, Johannes, The Dual Nature of Islamic Fundamentalism 55.Joshi, S.T., Atheism: A Reader 56.Joshi, S.T., Icons of Unbelief. Atheists, Agnostics, and Secularists 57.Jespersen, Karen; Pittelkow, Ralph, Islamisten en Naïvisten. Een Aanklacht. [‘Islamists and Naivists. An Accusation] (original in Danish) 58.Juergensmeyer, Mark, Terror in the Mind of God. The Global Rise of Religious Violence 59.Kepel, Gilles, Jihad 60.Krueger, Douglas E., What is Atheism? 61.Kurtz, Paul, What is Secular Humanism? 62.Kurtz, Paul (ed.), Science and Religion. Are they compatible? 63.Le Poidevin, Robin, Arguing for Atheism: Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion 64.Lewis, Bernard, What Went Wrong? The Clash Between Islam and Modernity in the Middle East 65.Lewis, Bernard, The Crisis of Islam. Holy War and Unholy Terror 66.Loftus, John W., Why I Became an Atheist. A Former Preacher Rejects Christianity 67.Long, Jason, Biblical Nonsense: A Review of the Bible for Doubting Christian 68.Maguire, Daniel C., Shaikh, Sa’Diyya, Violence against Women in Contemporary Religion. Roots and Cures 69.

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70.Maisel, Eric, The Atheist’s Way: Living Well Without Gods 71.Majedi, Azar, Women’s Rights vs Political Islam, Iransk Mediaförening, Gothenburg, Swede, 2007. 72.Malkani, Gautam, Londonstani 73.Manji, Irshad, The Trouble with Islam Today: A Muslim’s Call for Reform in Her Faith, 2005. 74.Martin, Michael, The Big Domino in the Sky 75.Martin, Michael; Monnier, Ricki (eds.), The Impossibility of God 76.Martin, Michael, Atheism, Morality, and Meaning 77.Martin, Michael (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Atheism 78.Mayer, Ann Elizabeth, Islam and Human Rights. Tradition and Politics 79.McTernan, Oliver, Violence in God’s Name. Religion in an Age of Conflict 80.Mills, David, Atheist Universe: A Thinking Person’s Answer to Christian Fundamentalism 81.Nafisi, Azar, Reading Lolita in Teheran 82.Naipaul, V.S., Among the Believers. An Islamic Journey 83.Naipaul, V.S., Beyond Belief. Islamic Excursions Among the Converted People 84.Narisetti, Innaiah, Forced into Faith. How Religion Abuses Children’s Rights 85.Norman, Richard, On Humanism 86.Onfray, Michel, Atheist Manifesto. The Case Against Christianity, Judaism, and Islam 87.Pataki, Tamas, Against Religion 88.Paulos, John Allen, Irreligion: A Mathematician Explains Why the Arguments for God Just Don’t Add Up

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89.Roy, Olivier, Globalized Islam. The Search for a New Ummah 90.Roy, Oliver; Holoch, George jr, Secularism Confronts Islam 91.Savater, Fernando, The Ten Commandments 92.Selengut, Charles, Sacred Fury. Understanding Religious Violence 93.Shelley, Percy B., The Necessity of Atheism and Other Essays 94.Shermer, Michael, How We Belief: the Search for God in an Age of Science 95.Shermer, Michael, Why Darwin Matters: The Case Against Intelligent Design 96.Singer, Peter, The President of Good and Evil. Taking George W. Bush Seriously 97.Smith, George H., Why Atheism? 98.Smith, Graeme, A Short History of Secularism, 2007. 99.Smoker, Barbara, Freethoughts: Atheism, Humanism, Secularism 100. Stahl, Philip A., Atheism. A Beginner’s Handbook. All You Wanted to Know About Atheism and Why 101. Stenger, Victor, God: the Failed Hypothesis. How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist 102. Stern, Jessica, Terror in the Name of God: Why Religious Militants Kill 103. Storr, Anthony, Feet of Clay. A Study of Gurus 104. Thrower, James, Western Atheism: A Short History 105. Warraq, Ibn, Why I am not a Muslim 106. Warraq, Ibn, Leaving Islam: Apostates Speak Out

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107. Wheen, Francis, How Mumbo Jumbo Conquered the World. A Short History of Modern Delusions 108. Williams, David Allen, A Celebration of Humanism and Freethought 109. Williams, Robyn, Unintelligent Design. Why God Isn’t as Smart as She Thinks She Is 110. Woerlee, G.M., The Unholy Legacy of Abraham 111. Yeldell, Jason Scott, A Call to Sanity: The Collision between the Existence of God and the Non-Existence of God from a Rational Atheistic Perspective

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VII: Appendix: The Meme Theory of Religion Religion as a Virus ‘God exists, if only in the form of a meme with high survival value, or infective power, in the environment provided by human culture.’i I: A New Gestalt Shift: the Memetic Turn A meme is an idea that reproduces itself by means of human brains. Culture is a collection of memes. The idea of the wheel is an example of a strong, now almost universal meme. We can hardly think of civilization without the wheel. However, there have been many cultures that have been unfamiliar with the idea of the wheel, like the Incas and aboriginals. The power of the idea of the wheel, the wheel meme, is so great, because it creates many possibilities such that cultures that come into contact with this meme take it over, even if only in the form of a cart, a bicycle, a scooter. The wheel meme is a contagious idea and, once it has entered your brain, you can never get rid of it. In his majestic book Ideas. A History of Thought and

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Invention, from Fire to Freud (2005), Peter Watson tells the story of successful memes (without using or mentioning the memetic perspective however). Any idea that is not exclusively private (only accessible to one person, like Wittgenstein’s notion of a private langue) is a meme. The success of a meme can be measured by how many individuals have the meme and for how long it continues over time. These are two different criteria. An idea can be popular, like this year’s fashion, but next year the meme is almost gone. Other memes linger around for quite a long time, but only in a select group of people, like disbelief in gods. Anything that can spread itself from one brain to another is a meme. There are large differences in the successfulness of memes. ‘Memetics’ is an upcoming scientific discipline, combining biology, sociology, psychology and anthropology, which explores why one meme is popular and others are not. Scientific research is necessary because the outcome of the research differs from people’s intuition and is neither logical nor rational. Ideas that are not true and do not lead to more happiness, but instead generate misery,

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can still be strong and widespread. The god-meme for example. A Short History of the Discovery of the Meme The locus classicus of the idea of the meme is chapter 11, ‘Memes: the new replicators’ in Richard Dawkins’ innovating exposition of evolutionary theory The Selfish Gene (1976). Philosopher Daniel Dennett uses the idea of memes in his theory of consciousness in Consciousness Explained (1991). Psychologist Susan Blackmore elaborated on the theory of memes in her study The Meme Machine (1999). In addition to this there appeared several monographs on memes, such as Richard Brodie’s Virus of the Mind: The New Science of the Meme (1996), and Aaron Lynch’s Thought Contagion: How Belief Spreads Through Society (1996). On the internet there is an enormous amount of information (and 'disformation') about memes. Dawkins mentions the success of the idea of the meme in his preface to The Meme Machine. The meme-meme is incredibly successful. However, though the meme idea is widely known, it is not (yet) accepted in academic circles.

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The Selfish Gene is an exposition about the importance of genes in the theory of evolution. Genes are the vehicles of life. In a single chapter, Dawkins puts forward the possibility that there could be more replicators than just genes. ‘Just as genes propagate themselves in the gene pool by leaping from body to body via sperm or eggs, so memes propagate themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain to brain via a process which, in the broad sense, can be called imitation.’ii Dawkins argues that evolutionary theory is more encompassing than the evolution by genes. Genes are just one form of evolution. The theory of evolution is a mechanism of which genes are a specific application. Dennett therefore calls the theory of evolution Universal Darwinism: whenever there are replicators that replicate with a small amount of variation by mutation, external conditions (like scarcity, changing weather conditions) necessarily select the mutations out, that is those which are best adapted to the situation. In short: replicators + mutation + natural selection = evolution. Genes are self-replicating molecules that

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by the blind process of evolution have grouped together in an organism in order to replicate themselves, not the organism. Genes are the basic unit of evolution, not the species, not the individual. That point is the Gestalt shift in the theory of evolution that Dawkins makes in the The Selfish Gene and The Blind Watchmaker. Dawkins argues that in the human brain a new replicator has emerged, a creatio ex nihilo: the meme. Memes are ideas that can be spread to other people. ‘Whenever conditions arise in which a new kind of replicator can make copies of itself, the new replicators will tend to take over, and start a new kind of evolution of their own. Once this new evolution begins, it will in no necessary sense be subservient to the old.’iii Both genes and memes are replicators, so far the only known replicators.iv Genes and memes are not the same: there is an analogy. Genes have a physical substance, DNA, which can be seen. Memes do not have a physical appearance. Consider, again, the wheel-meme. Almost every living human being knows what a wheel is and what it is used for. So, in

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other words, most people have the wheel-meme. But wheels can have different physical appearances, from tiny to huge. Wheels, or even wheels on illustrations or in texts, are manifestations of the wheel-meme. In order to clarify this difference between ideas and physical manifestation Daniel Dennett distinguishes the phenotype from the genotype. The genotype is the idea in the brains of people; the phenotype is the manifestation of this idea in reality.v This distinction brings to mind Aristotle’s distinction between matter and form. A form cannot exist by itself; it needs matter in order to come into existence. A problem for memetics is the ontological status of memes. Memes themselves cannot be seen or otherwise detected. Memes are not substance. That does not have to be a problem, because the laws of nature aren’t substances either. But these laws can be determined by precise analyses. Memes cannot be described or modeled in mathematical language, because the scope of the concept of the meme is large. So large even that it is hard to falsify the hypothesis of the meme. Memetics cannot be used in the same way as

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genetics and perhaps it is best to acknowledge that memes are a perspective to look at the world, and especially culture, and find out if this perspective is useful. I will argue that it is, especially the moral implications of the memetic perspective. Meme scholar Susan Blackmore describes memes as follows: ‘Memes are instructions for carrying out behavior, stored in brains (or other objects) and passed on by imitation.’vi When both replicators, genes and memes, are taken seriously as two sides of a scientific model of explanation, many cultural phenomena can be explained, including religion. Biological evolution (genes) and cultural evolution (memes) are congruent: the co-evolution of genes and memes. Memes originate from genes, more specifically: from the genes that make up human brains, which are (almost) the only brains sophisticated enough to host memes. Memes supervene on a specific constellation of genes: the brains of the homo sapiens.

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Sociobiological explanations of cultural phenomena usually go back to the biological basic idea that everything should have a genetic reason. Sociobiologists, like E.O. Wilson, have developed ingenious theories in order to explain phenomena, which appear not to be successful for the replication of genes. For example: homosexuality, the adoption of children, contraception and altruism. Homosexuality appeared to be a problem for evolutionary explanations, because homosexuals do not replicate themselves, so, it appears, that it is ‘not-natural’. Only behavior that is good for the replication of genes can be explained by Darwinism. In the 1930’s and later, evolutionary biologists used statistics to show that apparent contradictory behavior was in fact not, like the apparent selfishness behavior of bees. For an individual bee the best thing to do to get reproduced is to help the queen have more bees, because they are sisters. Evolutionary theory can explain some apparently contradictory forms of behavior, but not all, far from all. What about war? What is the Darwinist explanation of war? War kills people and it cannot be predicted who is going to be killed. Whole

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families can be killed. So, even by using statistics for genetic advantage, there is none. Genetic explanations will continue to be important to understand animal behavior, including, of course, humans. Humans are gene machines. Genes ‘use’ individuals to copy themselves. Humans, like all other living organisms, are a pool of genes that, in the process of evolution, have cluttered together into an organism. Humans are the result of genetic evolution, because humans seem to be successful in replicating. Genes copy themselves and cluttered together into a human being and manage to reproduce themselves. The human is a synergetic collection of genes. The elaborate structure of the human brain has made possible a new replicator (like the telephone and the personal computer has made e-mail and the internet possible): the meme. When a critical level of development and elaborateness had been reached, like the take off speed of an airplane, the meme could come into being. This sounds mysterious, but it is not. Once upon a time written language appeared out of nothing. There also must have been a time before (mimetic) art, and then

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suddenly, in a cave, someone started to draw. Some things are just possible, but are dependent on other things in order to come into being. A television could not be invented before the invention of electricity. When memes could come into being, the memes themselves have further developed the human brain. Human beings are the result of genetic and memetic evolution. The most elementary meme (or cluster of memes) is language. Humans have an elaborate language. Language creates many possibilities for communication and thus expands the range of possible ideas (memes). Dennett even argues that consciousness is a product of memes, not of genes. ‘The haven all memes depend on reaching is the human mind, but the human mind is itself an artifact created when memes restructure a human brain in order to make it a better habitat for memes.’vii Language memes structure human thinking. Memetic evolution when humans begun to use language for communication, but the memetic boom

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took place only some hundred years ago. The evolution of memes is many times faster than genetic evolution.viii Many cultural phenomena, as has been said, are neither constructive for the replication of genes nor for the wellbeing of individuals. What then is the use of these phenomena, these malevolent ideas? Well, these ideas are good in replicating themselves! These ideas are contagious for human brains. These ideas, like the idea of war, are successful memes. Good, successful memes are good in copying themselves, like good genes are those that are good in replicating and manage to stay around for a long time. It is the fittest memes that survive. ‘Evolution is a blind process, without central steering or design.’ix There is no basic unit of the meme. Like the problematic search for the essence of things, the search for the essence of memes is vain. There is no essence of a table, no table-ness, like a Platonic idea. However, the idea of a table is a meme, which can manifest itself in many different shapes made from many different materials.x Everybody knows the four notes at the beginning of Beethoven’s Fifth

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Symphony. These notes together are a successful meme (much more than the other notes of the symphony). The Bible is probably the most successful text of all times. The text has been translated in many languages. There are organizations, like the Gideon Society, (www.gideons.org) that give away Bibles for free. Therefore in all hotels or cabins one can find a copy of the Bible. When people own only a small number of books, it is likely that the Bible is one of them, along with a Dan Brown novel probably. A meme can take many shapes and what constitutes a meme is not clear. A meme is somewhat intangible. The most essential feature of the meme is that, in order to survive, it depends on human brains. Memes cannot exist independent; memes are viruses of the mind.xi Memes supervene on human brains, like a telephone conversation supervenes on electric pulses. A library is dead when no human uses it. There are two necessary and together sufficient, conditions for memes to exist and spread. In the first place a medium is needed and second there is the need for communication. A contagious

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disease does not spread among a population when the carrier of the disease is isolated. The human brain is the haven of memes (as Dennett argues). From a brain memes can spread themselves by an elaborated process of imitation. Human brains are both selective copy machines of memes, as well as the origin of the memes. People can and do create new things, which other people can take up. For example (the brain of) Mick Jagger has created many lyrics that a lot of people around the world can (at least partially sing): ‘I can’t get no …’ Imitation is the most fundamental process of learning. The psychologist Thorndike defines imitation as follows: ‘learning to do an act from seeing it done.’xii Memes, however, are more than just acts that can be copied by imitation, because abstract ideas can be copied by imitation as well, like free thought. Although the verb ‘to ape’ suggests differently, apes, primates and monkeys have a limited ability to ape behavior. This difference in ability to ape ideas, the ability for memetic hospitality, is so large

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that people tend to think of themselves as special in the order of thingsxiii. Secondly, there has to be contact with other memes (or more precisely: meme carriers). Communication is essential. Memes are units that people imitate from each other. Communication enhances imitation. The explosion of the meme pool by cultural (r)evolution has been invigorated by the creation of communication devices. In the first place, language itself. Language seems to be a prerequisite for thinking and consciousness. The development of language and the explosion of the brain are interdependent. Because sufficiently sophisticated brains exist; there are memes, most notably language itself. Language is a double-sided meme-unit. Language is itself a meme or a meme pool: the words and phrases continue through time because there is a community of speakers. Secondly, language is a meme carrier: ideas need words and language to be carried from one individual to another. Vocabulary and grammar are memes that are carried around by imitation and that are successful as long as they are used (actively, or passively, like the dead languages) in language

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communities. Written language is an enormous leap forward for spreading memes as compared to oral culture. Memes that are written down do not depend on oral tradition, which enhances the liability of the original (everybody knows the Chinese whisper), the longevity and the range or domain of the meme. The next stage in the evolution of the success of the meme revolution is the art of printing. By printing, many exact copies of a text can be made. Printing enhances the speed of transfer. In the last few decades many new, fast and efficient communication devices have been invented. One could say metaphorically: memes created new vessels for themselves in order to grow exponentially. Firstly, the telegraph and soon afterward the telephone created the possibility to communicate fast over long distances. The development of transportation of goods, such as mail, was stimulated by train, and somewhat later, by road transport and airplane. The telex, facsimile machine, and, even more, the internet and cell phone made the world into a global village, in which everyone (who has access to the Internet) can communicate instantly with anybody else, no matter

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where they are on the planet. Internet is in itself an extremely large meme pool. With one language, English, as the lingua franca of the internet, communication, problems are largely avoided. The internet makes clear what memes are: pieces of information that can be spread. The internet is, just like the human brain, a haven for memes. In contrast to human brains, the internet is not (yet) an independent meme haven, but it might be in the future, as Blackmore argues. For the time being memes are dependent on human beings. Internet is just a large meme pool, a library of information and disformation. For the existence of memes both a medium and communication are essential. Not all memes are equally successful, like not all living things are as successful as others.xiv The red thread in Blackmore’s book is one central question that she repeats as a mantra: ‘Imagine a world full of brains, and far more memes that can possibly find homes. Which memes are more likely to find a safe home and get passed on?’

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Analogies There are two possible analogies of memes. In the first place memes are analogous with genes. Darwin, being influenced by the theory of population growth by Malthus, observed that in nature there is an abundance of creatures, of which the largest part dies before reproducing themselves. Like turtles, who lay hundreds of eggs of which only a few will grow into adult turtles and reproduce. Which genes (‘wrapped’ as animal or plant) will be lucky enough to reproduce? According to Darwin: those who are best adapted to their surrounding, and those who are lucky.xv The idea of ‘the survival of the fittest’ (itself a successful meme) has lead to much confusion. In social (vulgar) Darwinism this idea is interpreted as meaning: survival of the strongest. This is a small interpretation of ‘fittest’. The wide and correct, and Darwin’s own, interpretation of ‘fittest’ denotes those organisms that have succeeded in having survived long enough to reproduce themselves. A tiger may be agile, strong and fast, but if there is no game around for food, it

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will die. The strongest individual is not always best of. The other analogy is the analogy of memes and advertising. There is an abundance of consumer goods on the (western) market. Because of this abundance there is competition. Advertising is a means to sell products. The success of a product depends on the marketing methods. In commercials simple jingles are being used that stick to the mind easily. Some tunes stay with you for your whole life, together with the name of the product, like the Randstad tune. Marketers are constantly looking for strategies to get attention for whatever product their employer wants to sell. Therefore, marketers are memetic specialists, managers of memetic success strategies. Memes are reproducing tactics for ideas. The success of a meme depends on its ability to spread itself or get itself spread. Memes are seducers. Jokes are good memes. A good joke spreads incredibly fast among a population, but then disappears. Or, rather, it goes in hibernation. Slogans are also good memes. Examples of basic, naked, slogans are: ‘Copy me!’, ‘Say me!’ or

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‘Repeat me!’. Each self-replicating sentence is a meme. These bold naked memes are not strong, but slogans like ‘God bless’ are much stronger. A strategy to get a slogan repeated is to promise or to threat. ‘If you copy me, you may do a wish.’ Or: ‘If you do not copy me, you are cursed.’ A promise of an afterlife is a successful strategy to get copied. For example the Eucharist in Roman Catholic Church. Curses are among the strongest memes. Although not in time, because cursing is influenced by fashion. ‘Fuck’ and ‘Shit’ have become widely used words because of frequent usage on television and in movies. English cursing is not restricted to native speakers only. In Dutch, for example, cursing in English is common. Psychological and sociological research can be done to investigate which strategies are successful and why. Aaron Lynch’s book Thought Contagion, for example, is a sociological study about what kind of memes are successful, as is explained in the subtitle of the book: How Belief Spreads Through Society. Susan Blackmore focuses more on the psychological side of memetics. She analyses which dispositions make people susceptible for which

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memes. It is the form and style that influences how well an idea spreads. Form seems to be more important than content. One might think back to the communication guru McLuhan from the sixties who coined the well-known slogan: ‘the medium is the message’. This slogan is a self-fulfilling prophecy and a paradox: although it is not exactly clear what this slogan means, the slogan was spread widely nevertheless. Religion seems to be a good medium to spread the word (whatever the message). Daniel Dennett formulates exactly how powerful the memetic perspective can be for our worldview in the following slogan: ‘A scholar is just a library’s way of making another library.’xvi When libraries are viewed as a meme (that is composed of many other memes, i.e. the books and the ideas that are in those books), then the success of the spread of libraries is dependent on its users, i.e. scholars. Scholars use libraries and themselves create books of which libraries are composed. Dennett’s argument can be restated in the negative:

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Without scholars, libraries would wither away and no new ones would be build. For example in China during the vehemently anti-intellectual era under chairman Mao’s regime, not only many libraries where destroyed but scholars were killed as well. xvii The memetic perspective asks for a Gestalt shift. Like the gene perspective created a totally different view on what constitutes life, a seizure from the Christian and Aristotelian tradition. The meme perspective is a new turn. It is not a turnover of the gene perspective, but an addition. The autonomy and freedom of action is further restricted, perhaps even denied. Memes ‘fight’ for a place in the brain in such a way that the brain is used to copy the meme. Like a parasite uses its host in order to replicate and spread itself. Like its genetic predecessor, the meme perspective undermines the religious worldview. The traditional religious worldview sees humans as the zenith of everything, creation, and the universe. But Earth turned out not to be the centre of the universe (like Galileo argued), and humans are not created, but humans have evolved from other animals. Humans have a common ancestor with all living organisms.

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Therefore humans will someday become extinct, like many other species and life on Earth will probably continue longer without conscious human life. Behavior is influenced by genetic disposition. Individuals are packages of memes with a mission: get yourself copied – this is the Dawkinian interpretation of Darwin. Dennett uses the concept of memes for his theory of consciousness. In Consciousness Explained he tries to explain consciousness and how consciousness, like all other organic features, evolves through evolution. Dennett’s philosophy is naturalistic, materialistic and reductionist, because he explains all known phenomena by the law of nature, without using magical, godly or transcendental powers. Human beings are a product of evolution. Like the eye, wings, teeth, sonar navigation of bats and instincts (‘programmed’ modes of behavior) the human mind is no exception, all has evolved through the process of evolution, which is random mutation, plus natural selection and an enormous amount of time. Because of the enormous difference of the human mind from all other known minds, even though humans and

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primates are genetically much alike, the mental difference is huge; it is tempting to make an exception on evolution for the human mind including the mysterious phenomenon of consciousness. In Christian theology humans are sometimes called ‘special creation’, some modern believers believe that nature evolves by the process of evolution, but humans are created by god in his image, the crown of creation. Dennett however does not accept special pleading. However, in order to explain human consciousness, a lot of knowledge from different scientific disciplines needs to be brought together. Dennett built his Multiple Drafts Theory of Consciousness from biology, philosophy, psychology, artificial intelligence, computer sciences and cognitive science. There is one thing that makes human brains special, a special feature that made an explosive development possible: the human brain has become the habitat of a second replicator: the meme. From the moment memes could nestle in the brain, when a critical level of development was reached, the take off in development could start. Memes are the beginning of culture. One of the

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most basic memes is language. Language consists of memes and by language culture can develop. Dennett and Blackmore contend that selfconsciousness is a meme, Blackmore calls this the selfplex. Dennet argues that the idea of a central command post in the brain is an illusion. There exists no physical entity that houses ‘self consciousnesses’. Dennett thinks memes are meaningful and important for understanding and explaining consciousness: ‘Once our brains have built the entrance and exit pathways for the vehicles of language, they swiftly become parasitized (and I mean that literally, as we shall see) by entities that have evolved to thrive in just such a niche: memes.’xviii On first sight it seems strange that when the brain has reached a certain level of complexity by evolution, memes can nestle in them. Where do these memes come from? That is a misleading question. Airplanes made it possible to go to tropical islands to spend the Christmas holidays. Where did

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this come from? It is a possibility that has become possible by airway transportation facilities. Airplanes have materialized many potentialities. Not only humans and artifacts can be transported fast and far, even across high mountain ranges and impenetrable forests, but also ideas. Airplanes have transformed human culture; most importantly it has globalized human culture. The universe of possibilities, design space as Dennett calls it, is infinitely large. In order to realize parts of design space cranes are necessary. Brains are such a crane. Before there were brains with a certain level of complexity, no tools could be made. Human brains can make tools (some primates as well). Tools are itself a crane, because with the use of tools different tools can be made which can be used for a plethora of things, like cooking, hunting, building, fishing, et cetera. In order for an airplane to get in the air it needs to have a certain speed, the take off speed. Without that speed the airplane will never get off the ground, but when it reaches that speed, it can take off. The take off speed is the crane for a whole new domain of possibilities: aviation. Of all species that ever have evolved on

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earth, only one species has reached the take off speed for cultural development. When brains are complicated enough, by means of genetic evolution, memes can nestle and develop. From this meeting point genes and memes depend on each other. Memes (i.e. culture) expand the survival rate of the species (genetic package) that carries them. The population seize of human beings has risen exponentially. The evolution and spread of memes can be much faster than the evolution of genes. ‘And just as the genes for animals could not come into existence on this planet until the evolution of plants had paved the way (creating the oxygen-rich atmosphere and the ready supply of convertible nutrients), so the evolution of animals had paved the way by creating a species – Homo Sapiens – with brains that could provide shelter, and habits of communication that could provide transmission media, for memes.’xix ‘Meme evolution is not just analogous to biological or genetic evolution, not just a

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process that can be metaphorically described in these evolutionary idioms, but a phenomenon that obeys the laws of natural selection exactly.’xx II: Religion as a Meme ‘The world bustles with religion – because religions effectively harness human activity toward belief propagation.’xxi There are many theories about religion, about features, explanations and justification. xxii A plausible explanation theory is the meme theory of religion. The meme theory gives a naturalistic account for the phenomenon of religion and therefore it is a critique on the truth claims of religion, like any naturalistic account of religion. The memetic perspective shows that the functions of religion are just those that have a strong psychological appeal. Also the memetic perspective clarifies different features of religion. Religions are many memes together, constellations of ideas, views, values, standards and

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appearances like churches, artifacts, rites, fashion, prescriptions, morals, texts. Organisms are packages of genes, and so memes can be packages into larger entities, like religions or nations. Blackmore calls these memeplexes. Believers differ in which aspects of their religion they have incorporated into their lives. It can be ritual or moral behavior or some dogmatic tenets. The essence of the memeplex of religion is the ‘identification meme’ meaning ‘I am a …(Muslim, Christian, Jew, Buddhist, Hindu, etcetera). There are minimalist believers who only have this identification meme without much of the rest of the memes of their religion: ‘I am a catholic, but I do not go to church, nor do I accept the authority of the pope, nor do I believe in the transubstantiation of breads into human flesh during the Eucharist, and I do not disapprove of contraceptives. Dawkins advances the thesis that god is a meme: ‘God exists, but only in the form of a meme with high survival value, or infective power, in the environment provided by human culture.’xxiii

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How does the idea of god replicate itself? Well, by the spoken and written word, for short by evangelizing, supported by music and art. Of course, there are more brutal ways, like submitting people to believe by force, or to impose religion on children. Why is the god-meme so strong that it has lasted for so long? The survival value of the god-meme is that it has a great psychological appeal to humans. Paul Kurtz argues that the raison d’être of religions is their emotional appeal, their transcendental temptation.xxiv ‘It provides a superficially plausible answer to deep and troubling questions about existence. It suggests that injustices in this world may be rectified in the next.’xxv Because of strong psychological needs of humans for meaning and (simple) answers to metaphysical questions, the idea of god, or, more abstract, transcendentalism, is widespread amongst many different cultures. Not only is the Christian god a meme, all gods are memes. God-memes compete

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with each other. Monotheism is a threat to polytheism. In polytheism an extra god in the pantheon is not a problem, but the god of Christianity, Islam and Judaism does not tolerate any other god. It seems that the more tolerant version is weaker than divinely intolerant monotheism. People not infected with some god-meme or other make up a fraction of humanity. The atheist-meme is much weaker than the god-memes. In their analysis of memes Blackmore and Lynch do a marketing research as to what are the features of successful memes. Not all memes are successful. The total number of religions in human history is estimated to be 200,000. The present world religions are amongst the few survivors. ‘All the great religions in the world began as small-scale cults, usually with a charismatic leader, and over the years a few of them spread to take in billions of people all across the planet. Imagine just how many small cults there must have been in the history of the world. The question is why did these few survive to become the great faiths, while the vast majority

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simply died with the death of their leader or the dispersal of their few adherents.’xxvi The movie Monthy Python The Life of Brian (1979) shows this comically. Brian, persiflage of Jesus, is one amongst the many preachers of his time and his message did not vary fundamentally from the other gospels. Looking at this movie from a memetic perspective one could say that it is irrelevant if the message is true, nor if the message yields good results, but only if the message is heard and repeated. In The Life of Brian the message is accepted against all evidence: the people want to believe what Brian says. Because this movie has a memetic interpretation about the origin of Christianity and it is at the same time a critique on Christianity. If Monthy Python’s’ view of the origin of Christianity is true, Christianity does not have any divine or transcendental origin, but has its roots in the will to belief and the power of memes. Believers often brand critique of their religion as blasphemy. Blasphemy is a protecting cordon around ideas that are vulnerable for rational criticism. Blasphemy is a

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taboo on critique, just like lese majesty. Both taboos are still part of Dutch penal law. Mormonism is one of the fastest growing religions of this moment.xxvii Why has this nineteenth century Christian sect founded by the self declared prophet Joseph Smith evolved so rapidly in the US and abroad? The meme-plex of Mormonism has two strategies to spread itself. On the one hand child bearing is encouraged amongst Mormons. People marry at young age, sex before marriage is taboo. All sexual practices but for procreative sex within marriage are forbidden, including masturbation. This results in a high birth rate. Children are raised in separation from children with parents from different outlooks. The children are carefully raised in the Mormon tradition, i.e. indoctrinated. Most children born in Mormon families turn into Mormons. Lynch points out that the Amish the percentage of apostates is about 20%. This means that 80% of those children do accept the meme-plex of their parent’s religion! These children are phenotypic clones of their parents: the meme-plex has been spread to most of the children. The other strategy is to actively evangelize. Mormonism has

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institutionalized evangelizing as a form of subscription. Each male Mormon from around twenty has to go and spread the Word across the globe for two years. The strategy is that these missionaries first learn the language of the country they will go to. In the Netherlands there are evangelizing Mormons as well. The evolution of genes has no overall purpose. The evolving and spreading of memes neither has overall purpose. Memes that succeed in spreading themselves will last long in the meme pool. Memes depend on genes (that is, those genes that are the ‘recipe’ for human brains), but they do not depend on individuals. Destructive memes, those memes that destruct memes by killing people or destroying cultural objects, can and do spread. War is a destructive meme, which has a long history and predictably a long future. War is of all times. With the beginning evolution of memes, the war meme could spread among other animals, most notably primates. Among primates there exists violence and even raids, but not large scale organized warfare as humans do. War causes casualties, therefore many potential havens of the war-meme are destroyed.

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Despite its gruesomeness to individuals the warmeme is still going strong. The twentieth century has been the bloodiest of all ages.xxviii The purpose of memes (to spread themselves) is not always congruent with the purposes and needs of individuals, as the successful warfare-meme makes clear beyond reasonable doubt. Memes are contagious ideas and some of those ideas are evil, which is not good for the individual. These evil memes are viruses of the mind. Aaron Lynch describes memes as contagious ideas and therefore calls his book Thought Contagion. Apart from their value to individual well being, there is no necessity for memes being true. Urban legends spread incredibly fast, but have a low probability of being true.xxix Memes are epistemologically neutral. Although it is a rule of the thumb that ideas that have (or appear to have) some handy value for human survival or well being, will become popular and therefore spread amongst a populace, there are numerous memes that are neither true, nor have any positive value for individuals, but are popular nevertheless. Religionmemes are notorious examples of these non-true

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and non-beneficial memes. Not one religion is true. To be more precise: none of the transcendental claims of truth can be founded by empirical arguments. However, the largest part of the human population, in history, present and most likely in the future, is religious in some degree. Apart from religion there are more follies, like alternative medicine, or astrology. Some people try to show that these believes and practices are untrue and worthless, like the skeptics, some of them organized, for example CSICOP inspired by Paul Kurtz.xxx They fight a losing battle. Skeptics do not have the transcendental appeal. They are right, but not many care. Psychological human need is much stronger than epistemological strictness. Like warfare was amongst the first memes to nestle in the human brain, so was religion. Religion is one of the most persistent viruses of the mind. When religion not only includes institutionalized religion, but superstition as well (Paul Kurtz does not distinguish between them, and I agree), then my estimate is that 95% of the human population is religious. Religion can be analyzed in a scale of religiousness. On the one end of the spectrum is

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fanaticism and fundamentalism, and on the other hand personalized ‘take-what-you-want’- religion of New Age, those who believe in ‘something’. All of them carry the virus of religion and are contagious for their surroundings, most notably for children. Can religion, which is so pervasive and influential, be dysfunctional? This is a question posed by many, among them biologist and anthropologist David Sloan Wilsonxxxi. Wilson does not think religion can be completely dysfunctional, me neither. Religion does have many functions. But the enigma of religion is not its function within society – the functional analysis is the scoop of the social sciences, expanded by evolutionary theory, as in Wilson’s case - , but the question how it is possible that a set of ideas which are contrary to reason, science, and furthermore a set of values which are, to say the least, not helpful for individual wellbeing – that such set of ideas can continue to be in existence and are an enduring part of human culture. Wilson looks at the phenomenon of religion from an evolutionary perspective. He interprets religion as a living organism, which evolves by evolutionary principles as adaptation and random

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mutation. Though Wilson gives interesting accounts of a, randomly chosen, set of religions, he does not make clear why there is religion at all. If religion does have functions, why would those be only fulfilled by irrational and transcendental bogus? He does not seem to care, as most social scientists, that religion is not true. Therefore, Wilson does not seem to grasp the essence of the enigma of religion. When the memetic perspective on religion is adopted, religions appear to be a mental illness, like a malicious virus. If rationality is the standard, then the invasion of non-rational ideas can be seen a an illness. Sanity means some degree of rationality, insanity means a lot of irrationality. Religious persons hold a lot of irrational ideas. The mental illness of religion does not necessarily have malign consequences for the individual and its fellows. There are mild forms of religion, the mildest of which have been watered down so much that it is just a name, like most contemporary Christians in the Netherlands, the secularized Christianity does not hold much Christian dogma, nor any irrational life rule of dietary prescriptions, nor taboos. An important sociological question is whether or not

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religion will continue in an age of secularization, at least in Western Europe. There are different possibilities. In the first place the Enlightenment idea that secularization will continue and religion will disappear completely. Religion in this vision will be watered down from institutionalized to individualized spiritual experiences, then it will vaporize. A different possibility is that New Age will stay popular and that a fixed percentage of the population will remain religious in the traditional institutionalized sense. Lastly, and most plausibly, there might be a revival of institutionalized religion, possibly Islam. I do not think complete secularization is a viable option, because the transcendental temptation is too strong. Religion has strong self-protecting mechanisms. Even in an age of secularization people do find it provocative when people are publicly negative about religion or even when people speak out as atheistsxxxii. Although many intellectuals are de facto secular, they do not speak out openly and some even stand up for believers and criticize those who criticize religion.xxxiii

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Normative Evaluation of Memes Daniel Dennett has put memes on an evaluative scale measuring their value from the perspective of an individual: ‘[…] there is no necessary connection between a meme’s replicative power, its “fitness” and its point of view, and its contribution to our fitness (by whatever standard we judge that).xxxiv Some memes are good from our individual perspective. Dennett gives some examples: Cooperation, music, writing, education, environmental awareness, arm reduction; and such particular memes as The Marriage of Figaro, Moby Dick, returnable bottles, the SALT agreements. Other memes are neither good nor bad, for example: Shopping malls, fast food, commercials, queues.

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And there are memes that are just evil for (groups of) persons or that cause trouble and despair. There are many memes without which the world would be a much more agreeable place and life happier, like: Anti-Semitism, highjacking, computer viruses, graffiti and religion.xxxv Trying to be a rationalist philosopher, I find two faults in religion: an epistemological and a moral objection. First the epistemological opposition against religious memes. Being a skeptic, I hold that when a proposition is false, it is false, no matter how many times or how vehemently it is asserted. The truthvalue of a proposition does not depend on its pragmatic usefulness (pace William James). Memes can be successfully spread among many people and still be false. Even scholars, academics, writers, intellectuals, philosophers, and theologians all the time, can and often do, have false beliefs, but nevertheless hold positions in well-respected institutions like universitiesxxxvi. Richard Swinburne is a charlatan philosopher at Oxford University, and an

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apologist for Christianity. He, as internationally respected ‘thinker’, is a blame for academia. Rhetoric teaches, and informal logic analyzes, fallacies, for example the ad autoritam argument: ‘the truth of a proposition depends on the status of the person who asserts it’. Roman Catholic Church institutionalized this fallacy in a hierarchical organizational structure headed by the pope. Statements of the pope even have attained the status as being infallible. However, the skeptic’s epistemological objection against religion is not the most important. After all, as long as false beliefs do not restrict the freedom of others, every irrational idea should be toleratedxxxvii. When people belief in gnomes, I am amused, but I don’t care. When a belief has bad moral consequences, then this belief enters the arena of moral discourse. By and large religion does have bad moral consequences, and therefore religion should be subjected to moral scrutiny. However, liberal religious people often find it hard to make such a harsh generalization about religion in general. They find it hard to see that the largest part of religion has brought, and still brings, misery.

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Religion is not a fountainhead of happiness, justice, equality or freedom. But even if religion would bring about happiness and misery, it still brings about misery and it is still false. Religion is not, and cannot be, the foundation of morality. To cut this problem short: without god, no divine ethics. It is possible to evaluate memes on a moral scale. To make a moral judgment about memes a benchmark is needed. I suggest that the perspective of each individual (by which I mean any sentient being who can suffer) is taken. All sentient beings are, so to say, in the same vessel: we all have to share the scarce resources on planet earth. Only humans can deliberately try to make life as good as possible. So it should be tried to avoid pain as much as possible and to create as much happiness as possible. Rational planning should be used to optimize happiness and decrease the amount of pain. There is no absolute, normative, metaphysical, transcendental skyhook for mortality. Morality is man made, indeed morality is a meme itself. Thinking rationally about how people can live best together will lead to a form of social contract theory. It is however, much easier to decide which memes

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(ideologies, ideas, opinion, norms, values, theories) are morally evil, than which are good. However, if memes lead to a victimizing ideology that structurally subjects specific groups of individuals (most commonly women), this meme is pernicious. It is for this reason that the meme-plexes of religion can be morally judged to be negative. After Thought: Memetic Self-reflection It would be wonderful when this essay would be more than an armchair perspective on religion. It would be wonderful if this essay would act as an anti-virus against religion as well. However, the memetic perspective makes it clear that it is implausible that rational analysis has much power of persuasion.xxxviii The marketing value of plain and objective knowledge is small. Irrational promising, preaching and bogus are some of the ingredients of persuasive success. The memetic perspective is no philosophical self-help, it does not provide solace for existential distress. That’s just how it is.

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About the Author Floris van den Berg aspires to be a eupraxsopher; he is Board member of Dutch Freethought Association De Vrije Gedachte (www.devrijegedachte.nl), Co-Executive Director and Dean of Academic Programs of Center for Inquiry Low Countries (www.cfilowcountries.org), and involved with the Virtual Museum for Offensive Art (http://verlichtingshumanisten.weblog.nl/museum_kwetsende_kunst/). florisvandenberg@dds.nl.

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Notes

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i

Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1976, p. 193, Dawkins (1976), p.192. iii Dawkins (1976), p.195. iv In science fiction there are more replicators, like self-replicating robots on molecular scale (nanobots), as is described in Michael Crichton’s Prey (Avon Books, New York, 2002). Although the idea of nanobots is far from realistic considering the present level of technology, the idea of a third replicator makes sense. These nanobots – these might be called nanenes, like genes and memes – are man made things that can continue themselves into the future by replication, without any more intervention from humans. Man can truthfully be called a godlike creator. The control over the nanenes, when they start replicating, is limited. In Prey nanenes constitute a threat to mankind. v Daniel Dennett, Consciousness Explained, Penguin Books, London, 1993 (1991). vi Susan Blackmore, The Meme Machine, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2000 (1999), p. 17.
ii vii

Dennett (1993), p. 207. Tom Schoepen's Time Line of Human Evolution, Culture and Knowledge has two time tables. The geological timetable of the evolution of life (genetic evolution) and the Gregorian timetable of written history (the explosion of memes). ix Cf. Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker, Gardner’s Books, London, 1990. x This is a new interpretation of the theory of ideas from Plato: the memetic interpretation of the Platonic theory of ideas. xi Richard Brodie, Virus of the Mind, 1996. xii Blackmore, (2000), p. 47. xiii Primates like chimpanzees and bonobo’s have some degree of ability to copy each other’s behavior, to have some life of the mind. Primatological ethologist Frans De Waal described a colony of chimpanzees in a zoo where they had lots of room. The social struggles in this group much looked like human politics, even so much that De Waal wrote a book about it: Chimpanzee Politics. xiv However, it is of course completely subjective what to regard as successful. Some species have existed for a long time. Other species have changed a lot. Other species have been populous some time. Are humans a successful species? Well, it depends. Homo sapiens have not been around for a long time, not as compared to trilobites. Success depends on how long we will manage to stay around. Human being are quite populous and extinct many other species. But in number of other species like ants are more numerous. One could say that success is measured by brain development, but that is anthropocentric. Perhaps success could be measured in the power to destroy other species. In this respect the homo sapiens is supremely well skilled. xv Darwin discovered the structure of evolution, not the medium. Genes have been discovered in the first decennia of the twentieth century. xvi Dennett, (1991), p.202. xvii Mao’s little Red Book on the other hand is an extremely powerful meme, not only there were millions of copies of the booklet in China, translations into many languages were made and the books was popular in the West as well. xviii Dennett, (1993), p. 200. xix Dennett (1993), p. 200. xx Dennett, (1993), p. 202. xxi Aaron Lynch, Thought Contagion. How Belief Spreads Through Society, Basic Books, New York 1996, p.97 xxii See my ‘A Philosophical Analysis of Religion’, forthcoming. xxiii Dawkins, (1976), p.193. xxiv Paul Kurtz, The Transcendental Temptation. A Critique of Religion and the Paranormal, Prometheus Books, Amherst, NY, 1986. xxv Dawkins (1976), p.193. xxvi Blackmore, (2000), p. 187. Dutch novelist Karel van ’t Reve wrote an amusing novel about a man who started his own religion as a means to make money, Nacht op de koude berg [A Night on the Cold Mountain]. This novel unmasks founders of religions. But as rational arguments do not have any appeal to believers; neither can a simile enlighten believers. xxvii The fastest growing religion of our time is the Old Order of the Amish, the autarchic farmer sect I the US that keeps modernity at bay. The population of Amish doubles every 23 years. In 2000 there were about 140.000 Amish. The sect is small but thanks to its growing rate has enormous potential. In contradiction to the evangelizing Mormons, the rapid population growth of the Amish is solely due to the high infant rate and the young age of motherhood (the younger the mother, the faster generations succeed each other, the larger the population growth). Personally, I do not think the Amish religion will eve become a world religion. The negative attitude towards modern technology will be an obstacle. I think there will be a point when the growth stops because the pressure and temptation of the rest of society is too big. Mormonism on the other hand has more potential to become a world religion, because it has to different ways of growing (high infant rate and fanatically evangelizing) and because it incorporates modern technology, like Internet. About the Amish: Lynch, (1996), p. 1. xxviii In his Huizinga-lecture of 2003 sociologist Abraham de Swaan analyses the State as a murderous machine of the twentieth century. Rudolph J. Rummel in his Statistics of Democide calculates the amounts of casualties who have been murdered by the state during the twentieth century (not victims of warfare!) at 170.000.000 people! See also: Jonathan
viii

Glover, Humanity. A Moral History of the Twentieth Century, 2001. xxix For example: In Nigeria during the summer of 2004 there was a wave of anxiety among the populace for cell phones. People were afraid they would get phone calls from unknown numbers and if you would take the call, you would drop dead on the spot. Or: the warning for tourists in Asia not to lean your arm out of an open window risking your finger cut of for your ring. Or: Tourists in South America who awake underneath a bridge with pain in the stomach who finds out a kidney has been removed. There are books with collections of these stories, like: Jan Harold Brunvand, The Vanishing Hitchhiker, New York, WW. Norton, 1981. xxx www.csicop.org Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Religion. In the Netherlands: www.skepsis.nl Skepsis. xxxi David Sloan Wilson, Darwin’s Cathedral. Evolution, Religion, and the Nature of Society, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 2002. xxxii Daniel Dennett has plead in Free Inquiry that atheist should speak out and call themselves ‘a bright’, which is a positive term. xxxiii John Gray does exactly this in his book Straw Dogs. Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals, 2002. xxxiv Dennett, (1991), p. 203. xxxv Examples by Dennett and Van den Berg. xxxvi Theology is an accepted academic discipline, though it is completely bogus. xxxvii This is Poppers open society, the liberal democratic state. xxxviii I do hope that readers will think (and say forward!): “Of course, that must be true!’ It would be marvelous when this paper could free people from irrational, pernicious memes. I assume each writer of scientific papers tries to persuade readers of some well-founded hypothesis.

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