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You didn't come here because you're a bad person. Au contraire, chances are you're a charming and respectable fellow. You're known to be quick with a smile, a helping hand and an absorbent shoulder. You're soft-spoken and polite. Your peers think highly of you. You're an asset to your community.

But lately, you're more thoughful, downright sullen and broody. Your smile is still there, but it fades quickly when you think no one's watching. Your eyes are downcast, there's an almost imperceptible stoop to your walk. You've taken to biting your lip, perhaps even your fingernails. You make excuses when people invite you to share a good time. You go home early, but there are dark rings under your eyes because you're not sleeping well.

What happened?

Brother, you may think that what's plaguing you is a deep dark secret but in reality you're not alone. You've sinned! You've broken a commandment, or perhaps only an injunction, a tradition. Perhaps you haven't even outright DONE anything, you've just considered doing something. Do you covet your neighbor's wife when she smiles hello over that low-cut top? Did you fudge the numbers on your tax return? Do you catch yourself using His name in vain when someone cuts you off on the road? You know, God knows, and if you're Catholic your priest knows too. With that on your conscience, it's no wonder your soft bed is little comfort once you consider that you'll probably spend the rest of eternity in Hell.

Guilty. What now?

Friend, help is just around the corner. For the price of reading to the end of this writeup, I can make your past sins a thing of the past, and bestow you with the power to never sin again.

First, a little psychotherapy.

Pardon me for improvising here, but I don't have an office, a diploma and a couch. As you read this text, imagine a pendulum swinging before your mind's eye. Your eyes and your mind follow, you get sleepy and I send you into your childhood. Before you drift away, I tell you you'll come back when I snap my fingers!

You're three years old, maybe four, sitting in a warm and happy glow under the Christmas tree. Your dad lovingly tells you about little baby Jesus in the manger. You don't follow the whole story, but you understand that you're getting that big red fire truck because of baby Jesus.

You're eight, and on Sundays your parents send you to Sunday School. A kindly old lady tells you stories from the Bible. You're proud to have your own Bible.

You're twelve, and your parents take you to church with them. It's boring, but everybody else is there too. The Reverend talks about the power of God, and then there is singing.

You're fourteen, and it's your big day: Communion! People give you presents and you shoulder the burden of now being formally one of His flock.

Snap!

Ah, it's just as I thought. From early childhood, everyone has been telling you about God, and what he does, and what he wants you to do. And they gave you a book with all the details. You dad told you, the nice Sunday School teacher told you, the sincere and earnest preacher told you. Everybody knows it's so.

Or is it?

As a kid, you believed your dad because he knows. But how does he know? Yep, his dad told him. But how does Grandpa know? How does anybody know? You guessed it: Their dad told them. For an interesting little exercise, ask your dad, your grandpa and anybody else you meet at church whether they've seen God. And if they talk to Him, has He ever answered? In His omnipotence, has He ever stood before anyone and said, "Hi, I'm God. How can I help you?"

Well, God is a busy man, err deity, but 2000 years ago he sent his son to us to talk to us and help us. But we, I mean, some other people long ago weren't nice to his son, and ever since He's not been on speaking terms with us. We know this because it's all written up in the Bible.

Did God write the Bible? No, he's too busy for that too. But some buddies of His son did. They each wrote a chapter or two, and someone put them together.

So what have we learned?

That's right: Your authorities for the existence of God are your dad and some other people whose authority is their dad, and a book written by some rag-tag Palestinians and Greeks 2000 years ago.

I admire your faith.

On second thought, no I don't. If it weren't for the fact that you've been brainwashed since childhood, I'd say you're pretty gullible. Hey, can I interest you in this bridge?

Not to make fun of you or anything, but as I see it the reason for all your depression and worry is a fairy tale. Or, acknowledging that you're not a kid any more, a mass delusion.

Some people will tell you that if you're troubled by doubts like this, the solution is to believe even more fervently in God; that your faith and His love will conquer all troubles. That may or may not work for you. As a kid, did it help when you pulled the covers up over your head?

Imagine!

Imagine that your dad and all those nice people in your life are wrong. Imagine that religion is the greatest swindle in the history of mankind.

Imagine that when millions of people die violent deaths, it's not God testing us, it's just some wicked people with no good people to stop them. Imagine that when a hurricane wipes out your home town, it's not a punishment from God but the simple consequence of your government's failure to give a dam. Imagine that when you tail-ended that car in front of you, it wasn't God at the wheel but your own human incompetence.

Imagine that God didn't plant oranges in Israel to turn the desert into an oasis; it was thousands of settlers. When that house on the corner burned down but everyone got out unhurt, imagine it was not God who rescued them, but a brave and well-trained fire brigade. Imagine that when you aced your physics final, it wasn't God's accomplishment but your own!

The consequences are staggering.

  • There is no invisible higher authority telling you what to do.
  • The decisions you make are your own, as are the consequences.
  • There is no punishment other than the mess you get yourself into.
  • There is no reward other than what you earn for yourself.

Here's what it will cost you:

Here are your rewards:

  • You can stop worrying about an all-seeing, all-knowing, all-powerful and blatantly wrathful entity watching your every move. You can stop looking over your shoulder.
  • You don't have to plan for an uncertain afterlife. You can plan your life to be rich and fulfilled so that you get the most of it in the time you're here.
  • You don't have to go to church, pay church tax or make donations. You can sleep in on Sundays.
  • You get to plan and manage your own life.
  • You achieve a higher degree of freedom.
  • You can forget about sin.

Finally, a special note to... well, you know who you are!

Some organized religions are like totalitarian statesmanship: In a state where picking your nose is illegal, everyone is a criminal. In a religion where thinking about tits and ass is a sin, everyone is a sinner. Your guilty conscience is the stick that your church holds over you. Discard religion, and out the window go sin, your guilty conscience and your sleepless nights. If you're of a suitable age and have a willing partner, there are better ways to spend nights. And as long as you're loving, respectful, fair, considerate and truthful to her (qualities which, I may add, exist independently of religion), there's only one thing to worry about: Remember to use protection - it's not a sin, it's common sense!


An attempt at reasoned discourse with my esteemed respondents

Someone whose comment I've unfortunately already discarded called my postulate ridiculous: He seems to think that anyone who takes their religion seriously enough to worry about their sinning is hardly going to drop it because they finds themselves troubled.

My response: Being troubled gives one pause, pause makes one think, thinking can mean re-evaluating basic premises. I am a living counter-example to Someone's claim: It so happens that I was once in this position, and found satisfaction and freedom after dropping God like a hot potato. I'm aware that not everyone will come to the same conclusions, but if I can rescue just one fence-sitter in the same position, the effort of this WU will be more than justified. Please /msg me if you'd like to see your real name here.


Jaez, in the same node, explores some other avenues germane to my topic. However, I take exception at his first paragraph.

I never claimed that people believe in God purely because their parents told them to. What I do claim is that most people feel a need to address some personal questions that fall into the realm of the mystical/supernatural/philosophical, and most parents channel this need by pointing their children toward their own answers to these questions, usually their religious faith. By human nature, most children thus accept their parents' faith, and this is the prevalent mechanism for the propagation of the meme. While I haven't read the book yet, I suspect that this is something that Richard Dawkins puts forth in The Selfish Gene. So while the faithful may have trouble swallowing this proposition, I believe it is valid and I'm not alone in asserting it.

Jaez seems to mistake the light tone of my WU for mockery. I do nothing more than expose the fragile nature of religions: Every religion is held together by faith/belief, nothing less but nothing more, give or take a bit of social/personal inertia. Any person's personal faith can implode in the blink of an eye, merely by a conscious decision to abandon it. Certainly there are the steadfast who will defend their faith to the death; but there are also many who harbor doubt and for whom that decision is within their grasp. And given that this is so, making the decision to dump one's religion and free oneself from the bogeyman of sin is entirely plausible.

In short: You may not like my conclusions, but I don't believe you've unearthed any flaw in my premises or my reasoning.


Jaez, I'm very willing to play but at the moment I get the impression you're playing with yourself rather than with the subject at hand. A whole paragraph to tell me you disapprove of my use of the word meme? 128 million occurrences indexed by Google, 9 writeups in Everything should give the word some legitimacy but if you insist I'll happily say idea instead. You're going through the motions of arguing; if all you can do is nit-pick then you might as well just give up before you embarrass yourself even more.

Why the increasingly smaller print? Are you coming to realize that your pseudo-intellectual discourse is full of sound and fury, signifying nothing? I believe that there are noders who might be able to destroy my line of thinking with strong and valid arguments; but I don't believe that you are one of them. Here then, is one of my beliefs, nay two, and both could be destroyed in the blink of an eye by a well-crafted sentence or two. Demonstrate that religion is more than just belief (plus the warm feeling of sharing that belief with a community), and I'll stand corrected. Otherwise, stop using big words to confuse simple ideas.

To answer your question, E = mc2 is believed by scientists worldwide to be an excellent mathematical model for the interconversion of matter and energy, among other things. Yes, that's a belief, but it's backed by mountains of experimental evidence; it has proven its worth in predicting the power of atomic explosions. This is the difference between belief in a scientific theory and belief in God. There, now was that so difficult?

The idea of believing in God purely due to the traditions of our ancestors is as problematic to those sincerely engaged in religion, as it is to (I presume) atheists/humanists. This is a classical example of a Straw Man Fallacy. The idea that we can attack someone's argument by first painting a caricature of it, and then making fun of the caricature. In this case, the central issue, and indeed conflict (how to stop sinning) remains unresolved.

Now, attacks on religion to one side, the nominal argument given above applies to a primarily Christian view of 'Sin'. As most of the readership of this node will be familiar with the association of the two words above the notion of 'sin' in other religions, it's fair to assume they may not realize just how limited the scope of the argument actually is when rendered. I propose that a more general view of sin is needed so here's the oxford compact dictionary definition:


Sin:

• noun (1) an immoral act considered to violate divine law. (2) an act regarded as a serious offence.

• verb (sinned, sinning) commit a sin.

There is a subtle but profound difference in the two definitions above. Note that (1) is personal and ideal, while (2) may also be considered in a wider community context. The notion of divine law can only extend as far as the persons understanding of the law, and the underlying principles enacted by the law, consequently there is a scope for escaping the wrath of the Divine as anything beyond normative cognitive closure may be discounted. A good example of this is in babies, those with severe learning disabilities, or those whose mental function is impaired through environmental or other causes. For these individuals they cannot sin beyond their reason in much the same way that a dog can't make a mistake at calculus - the issue is simply orthagonal. The principle can also be extended to those incapable through other means.

This leaves two conditions for option (1). The sincere, or the insincere agent responsible for the act. As someone sincere, they must show that they were coerced in order to escape the sin, for just as someone who is hypnotised cannot be blamed for clucking like a chicken when prompted, neither can someone who was forced at gunpoint to empty the cash register. This is basic jurisprudence and can be left here neatly.

The real interesting stuff happens with the second case. How can someone who maliciously, and insincerely commits an immoral act in violation of Divine Law stop sinning? The differing religions have a variety of views. There is the ready acceptance that this is impossible, and consequently the individual is doomed to Hell, or at the very least Purgatory. There is also the view that repairing the damage as much as possible, atoning, repenting, and altering one's behaviour and personality to prevent the violation and further violations is enough. There is the view that one may accumulate good/bad karma from the actions within the universe and this will all eventually catch up until enlightened guidance steers one to a life of goodness and bliss and consequent freedom from the cycle of rebirth.. etc etc.. Basically you can take your pick.

My personal view is that the only way to escape sin is through remaining sincere, and constantly evolving to meet the challenges of living with the personal ideal each day. Regardless of one's faith I believe elements of this approach can be seen.

This still leads to the question of (2). The Serious Offence. That is, ironically, more of an ecumenical matter. Hire a Lawyer, Publicist or Bodyguard as appropriate. Beware though, like O.J Simpson the shadow of the sin will follow you around always and will taint future actions. Best not to offend in the first place, and for that one needs to bind oneself back from excesses of character. The latin for this is the reflexive of ligio (to bind) which is re-ligio, from which 'Religion' comes.

 


Alrighty, firstly there is no difference between a 'meme' and an 'idea'. The only thing is that they are used in different ways. Ideas are open to analysis, discussion, revision, insight, and the whole glorious variety of thoughts available to human being. Memes are ideas which are just passed on and traded. It's an economic thing, and honestly I think Dawkins coined it (pun intended) because it sounded clever, while anyone with any real sense would ignore the terminology for what it is, a dead end. It's valid in the sense that saying the bachelor is single is valid. It adds nothing of substance - no matter how many other people assert it. The notion that ideas are traded and replicated has been around for Aeons. Credit where credit is due, and it ain't due to him.

"I do nothing more than expose the fragile nature of ..." This is a vastly grandiose claim considering the muddled thinking inherent in the whole paragraph from which it is lifted. After all, the whole of academia is the development of belief structures which are verified to a greater or lesser extent by the experience of the mind which hold them. This is true of Einstein (e.g is E=mc^2 just a belief?), Kant with his synthetic and analytic, Dawkins with his neo-darwinist rants, or the Hasidic Jews and praying Muslims of the world, or indeed anyone. The distinctions between noetic structures, and rational leafing and action states are under considerable scrutiny by neurologists, psychologists, and the vanguard of modern thinkers. If they find it difficult if not impossible to rule out normalised cognitive function (of whatever sort including religion) I daresay it would be premature for us to do so here.

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