More Thoughts of Richard Dawson from his book 'The God Delusion', Mono and Polytheism
It is not clear why the change from polytheism to monotheism should be assumed to be a self-evident progressive improvement. But it widely is - an assumption that provoked Ibn Warraq (author of Why I Am Not A Muslim) wittily to conjecture that monotheism is in turn doomed to subtract one more god and become atheism. The Catholic Encyclopedia dismisses polytheism and atheism in the same insouciant breath: 'Formal dogmatic atheism is self refuting, and has never de facto won the reasoned assent of any considerable number of men. Nor can polytheism, however it may take hold of the popular imagination, ever satisfy the mind of a philosopher.'
Monotheistic chauvinism was until recently written into the charity laws of both England and Scotland, discriminating against polytheistic religions in granting tax-exempt status, while allowing an easy ride to charities whose object was to promote monotheistic religion, sparing them the rigorous vetting quite properly required of secular charities. It was my ambition to persuade a member of Britain's respected Hindu community to come forward and bring civil action to test this snobbish discrimination against polytheism.
Far better would be to abandon the promotion of religion altogether as grounds for charitable status. The benefits of this to society would be great, especially in the United States, where the sums of tax-free money sucked in by churches, and polishing the heels of already well-heeled televangelists, reach levels that can only be described as obscene. The aptly named Oral Roberts once told his television audience that God would kill him unless they gave him $8 million Almost unbelievably, it worked. Tax-free! Roberts himself is still going strong (NOTE, this book was written in 2006 when Roberts was still alive) as is 'Oral Roberts University' of Tulsa, Oklahoma. It's buildings valued at $250 million, were commissioned by God himself in these words: Raise up your student to hear My voice, to go where My light is dim, where My voice is heard small, and My healing power is not known, even to the utter-most bounds of the Earth. Their work will exceed yours, and in this I am well pleased.'
On reflection, my Hindu litigator would have been as likely to play the 'If you can't beat them, join them' card. His polytheism isn't really polytheism but monotheism in disguise. There is only one God - Lord Brahma the creator, Lord Vishnu the preserver, Lord Shiva the destroyer, the goddesses Saraswati, Laxmi, and Parvati (wives of the Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva), Lord Ganesh the elephant god, and hundreds of others, all are just different manifestations or incarnations of one God.
Christians should warm to such sophistry. Rivers of medieval ink, not to mention blood, have been squandered over the 'mystery' of the Trinity, and in suppressing deviations such as the Arian heresy. Arius of Alexandria, in the fourth century AD, denied that Jesus was consubstantial (i.e. of the same substance or essence) with God. What on Earth could that possibly mean, you are probably asking? Substance? What 'substance'? What exactly do you mean by 'essence'? 'Very little' seems to be the only reasonable reply. Yet the controversy split Christendom down the middle for a century, and the Emperor Constantine ordered all copies of Arius's book should be burned. Splitting Christendom by splitting hairs - such has ever been the way of theology
Do we only have one God in three parts, or three Gods in one? The Catholic Encyclopedia clears the matter up for us, in a masterpiece of theological close reasoning;
In the unity of the Godhead there are three Persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, these three Persons being truly distinct one from another. Thus, in the words of the Athanasian Creed: 'the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, and yet there are not three Gods but one God'
As if that were not clear enough, the Encyclopedia quotes the third-centuray theologian St Gregory the Miracle Worker:
There is therefore nothing created, nothing subject to another in the Trinity: nor is there anything that has been added as tough it once had not existed, but had entered afterward: therefore the Father has never been without the Son, nor the Son without the Holy Spirit: and this trinity is immutable and unalterable forever.
Whatever miracles may have earned St. Gregory his nickname, they were not miracles of honest lucidity. His words convey the characteristically obscurantist flavor of theology, which - unlike science or most other branches of human scholarship - has not moved on in eighteen centuries. Thomas Jefferson, as so often, got it right when he said, 'Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions. Ideas must be distinct before reason can act upon them; and no man has ever had a distinct idea of the Trinity. It is the mere Abracadabra of the mountebanks calling themselves the priests of Jesus.'
Richard Dawkins. Portion of Chapter two of 'The God Delusion"
It is not clear why the change from polytheism to monotheism should be assumed to be a self-evident progressive improvement. But it widely is - an assumption that provoked Ibn Warraq (author of Why I Am Not A Muslim) wittily to conjecture that monotheism is in turn doomed to subtract one more god and become atheism.
This is an important idea.
The movement away from polytheism, towards monotheism, was actually proceeded by a movement away from animism, towards Polytheism. There was a time in our history when we held all of nature, everything around us as being Devine. When the sacred was experienced constantly, and not seen as being a separate entity from nature or indeed, separate from ourselves.
I know it bothers a lot of people, but to me the logical conclusion, many generations from now, is atheism. The major religions are strong now, but each has major cracks that could split them open someday.
I admit that atheism confuses me some. I mean, I think I understand the no-god idea (not as in agreeing, but rather stating what I think I understand), what I don't understand is, what is believed in. Besides having a doctrine of no-god, what does atheism believe in? Do you know what I mean?
I understand what you are asking. Atheism is sort of the anarchy of belief. There are no doctrines or dogma or rituals or church meeting, etc. There are some light atheists who have joined together to try to advance it, but to me that's still just another religion. Just another faith. I have no faith. It's not that I don't believe there is not a god. Belief has nothing to do with it at all. It is the opposite of belief, an absence of belief. I know there is not one. I am a "strong" atheist.
Dawkins lists people like this:
- Strong theist. 100% certain there is a God. In the words of C.G Jung, 'I do not believe there is god, I know'.
- Very high probability, but short of 100%. De facto theist. 'I cannot not know for certain, but I strongly believe in God and live my life on the assumption that he is there.'
- Higher then 50% but not very high. Technically agnostic, but leaning towards theism. 'I am very uncertain, but I am inclined to believe in God.'
- Exactly 50% Completely impartial agnostic. 'God's existence and non-existence are exactly equiprobable.'
- Lower then 50%, but not very low. Technically agnostic, but leaning towards atheism. 'I don't know if God exists, but I am inclined to to be skeptical.'
- Very low probability, but short of zero. De facto atheist. 'I cannot know for certain but I think God is highly improbable, and I live my life on the assumption that he is not there.'
- Strong atheist. 'I know there is no God with the same conviction conviction Jung 'knows' there is one.'
That's seven possibilities and Dawkins describes himself as a 6, leaning toward 7 (strong atheist). I am a number 7 with no doubts whatsoever.
Thank you Randy, that helps.
Would you consider an animist then to be an atheist?
btw, hope you are well. It appears that some places out your direction have had some flooding and mudslides.
Well I still think that being an animist is still a form of worship, but I certainly consider it harmless and fine by me. I strongly doubt an animist is going to knock on my font door and ask if I have heard the good news of Oak trees.
Yes, we are getting quite bit of rain in some areas nd after 4 years of no rain and terrible wild fires, we get the opposite, too much rain all at once (it's supposed to be a very, very wet fall and summer) which causes the burned hillsides to slide down, with houses at the bottom. We have flood control channels that guide the water out of the valley here. I wish someone would find a way for us to save some of that flood water and store it for future use.
A door-to-door oak tree evangelist,,,I like it!
It seems though that suspension of belief isn't really completely possible though is it? For instance, belief in science is more than just an intellectual abstraction that facilitates our understanding of nature, it is a belief system as well isn't it?
Worship as well may include ritualistic activity, but may rather be instead a conscious awareness of what we find worthy of our time, energy or love. One could say realistically that one may worship their money, or drugs, or job, or favorite pop star.
Though Animism may include ritual or such, it doesn't for all, and I would say in many instances didn't for ancient peoples. They didn't even have such a word or concept as animism or religion. Instead, there was no separation for them between the physical and spiritual worlds,,,,they were one and the same, and as accessible as waking up in the morning.
True to an extent. Belief in science has evidence to back up the belief. It's peer reviewed and scrutinized by other scientists who would like nothing more then to find something wrong with the hypothesis, theory or conclusion. If it makes it though this crucible, then it's not really a belief any longer and is just a scientific fact. Indisputable. So while it is belief, it's proven belief with evidence and research to back it up. It stops being faith and becomes fact. I don't believe in science. I know that it's been so peer reviewed that it is not just a thought or idea or belief. It is truth.
As for worshiping a band or such, many people say they worship the music of a particular star or band, but the truth is they don't. Their belief, their worship, is shown to be hollow when the next star or band comes along that they transfer their worship to. It's no different then I did with Pink Floyd or Queen. It's not true worship or belief, it's temporary infatuation. Though I still love to listen to Pink Floyd.
Thanks for the discussion Randy. I think we have made some progress in understanding. I do hope you plan on more of these articles about Dawkins so we can explore some more.
In particular I have interest in science as a dogma. It seems that many of the old models that science has been using are becoming irrelevant in light of new discoveries such as Quantum Mechanics and symbiotic evolutionary theories of bacteria and fungi. It's not that I discount science, to the contrary; rather I think that science needs to be held to a higher scrutiny of it's conclusions. Science itself needs to come clean with not just what it thinks it knows, but what it doesn't know as well.
I am finding in my own research that science and religion both seem to be asking the same basic questions, and that both are susceptible to dismissing what they can't explain, and for holding on too tightly to tradition.
I once held Dawkins' work in much high esteem. Now I have migrated to something that is making more sense to me... T he Ascent Of Humanity by Charles Eisenstein. This guy presents a powerful and fresh take. If I recommend any one book on this subject, it would be that one.
The concept of monotheism has always confused me. In a universe as vast as this one is, if there were some supernatural force that caused a god to come into existence (or whatever), why would this event be limited to just one? If someone can get their brain to accept that one god exists, then why not two, or fifty, or 500,000,000? The universe is big enough to contain 500,000,000 of them and still have them never even cross paths.
If we meet ET from a distant galaxy some day, and they have the same strange quirk that humans do (ie religion), will monotheistic religionists here finally accept polytheism? Their religion(s) will no doubt be as steeped in folklore and doctrine as ours are. Would we really be so stupid as to insist that they're worshipping the wrong god?
I'm so glad that I'm an atheist. It's the only thing that makes any sense.
Jefferson's words on the Trinity and Dawkin's analysis of them is indisputable. Since there is no way to make it reasonable, it can not be taken seriously.