Since USA Today decided to publish this nonsense, I will address its errors, point by point. Block quotes are the author’s original writing:
..”a nation that once prided itself on its Judeo-Christian heritage”
Not a great way to start. Considering that “Judeo-Christian Heritage” accounts almost exclusively for the sum total of resistance to social progress and scientific inquiry until the early 20th century, I’m not so sure I would be waving this banner so pridefully and carelessly.
“The superstition of atheism”
That was the title of the first section of this op-ed. It was obviously meant to rile non-believers, but it is simply inaccurate and nonsensical (most atheists, obviously, hold no superstitions whatsoever. It’s kind of a requirement.)
“They do believe in something — the philosophical theory known as Materialism…”
I’m not sure what that means. Firstly, no modern scientific atheist is a materialist. “Materialism” is an outdated monist philosophy that holds no water, as it ignores the existence of Energy (big “E” on purpose). So far as all of science knows, everything in the observable universe currently falls under one of these two very broad categories. For now, I will ignore semi-theoretical physical concepts like dark matter and dark energy, because I don’t need them for this discussion. If you want to call me a “dualist” since I “believe” only in Matter and Energy, so be it. I have no use for an artificially-produced title with no innate meaning. Curently, matter and energy are what we can measure. If more comes to light, I’m willing to change that, just as every good scientist would be.
On the other hand, have you ever heard a religious person say, “If someone showed me [blank] I would change my belief system.” Of course you haven’t. Because to religious people, faith–by definition a concretely-held belief supported by no evidence–is a virtue. To scientists, it’s what you want to avoid at all costs. It’s also what most people want to avoid at all costs. I don’t think anyone would take a newly-developed medicine on “faith.” They would want double-blind, placebo-controlled studies done as they rightfully should. But choosing to apply this standard sporadically is intellectually disingenuous at best, and extraordinarily destructive at worst.
Pictured: At Worst
“The problem is that this really isn’t a theory at all. It’s a superstition; a myth that basically says that everything in life — our thoughts, our emotions, our hopes, our ambitions, our passions, our memories, our philosophies, our politics, our beliefs in God and salvation and damnation — that all of this is merely the result of biochemical reactions and the movement of molecules in our brain.”
If we were to hook our lovely author up to a PET scanner (a very expensive machine that literally uses antimatter to map your brain. How cool! Now burn the witch!) we could see that when he prays, a specific part of his brain lights up. If we had the right tools, we could look inside and see exactly which neural synapses were firing, at what time, and exactly which neurotransmitters were being released and absorbed in order for his prayers to be mentally articulated. On the other hand, if I asked the author to explain, objectively, what prayer does to him, he would certainly give me some nonsensical answer about a “personal relationship” and an unquantifiable feeling. What use is this to anyone but himself? It’s massively ironic that he accidentally wrote the truth and referred to it as a myth.
“We can’t reduce the whole of reality to what our senses tell us for the simple reason that our senses are notorious for lying to us.”
This is partially correct. For example, out of the entire electromagnetic spectrum, we can only physically view a very small slice (the visible light spectrum). But, we have instruments (that God didn’t exactly hand to us, by the way) that tell us that things like gamma radiation exist, and we’d better be careful not to be around it for too long. If we only used our non-augmented physical senses, we’d be pretty shitty at science. In addition, it would be logical to ask that why, if we were “intelligently designed,” were we built to view the cosmos with the sensory acuity of a fucking mole rat? Unless, that is, we weren’t “designed” at all, but were instead subjected to the omni-present forces of natural selection, which ensured that we would obtain the skills/qualities/physical properties required for survival, but not so many that it would be a waste of energy (i.e. there was no reason for us to “need” to see gamma radiation with our eyes while we were busy hunting and gathering. It was enough to be able to see more pertinent dangers, like saber-toothed tigers.)
A more pressing issue than gamma rays.
But the most important things in life can’t be seen with the eyes. Ideas can’t be seen. Love can’t be seen. Honor can’t be seen.
Beside noting the dubious grammatical choices present in this sentence, this is a very good example of how you should never let flowery, fatuous prose trick you into thinking that the words on the page have any value or meaning whatsoever.
“No less a genius than Albert Einstein once said…”
I’m not even going to quote the rest of this. Albert Einstein was a self-avowed atheist. Any reference to God, a Creator, or anything similar was 100% metaphorical. I’m actually glad he included this. If you get into a debate with a religious person and they cite an Einstein quote to reaffirm their religious beliefs, you may as well stop the discussion. That person has clearly not read enough arguments against their own position (if they’ve really ever read at all) to have a rational debate, as evidence of Einstein’s disbelief can be found with even the most cursory of research onto the topic.
“…a world of miracles, a world of grace, a world of angels, a world of diabolical warfare, a world where the highest values are completely opposite from those of our secular society — where weakness equals strength, sacrifice equals salvation, and suffering equals unlimited power.”
I loathe the patently false idea that morals come from the Bible. I could write an entire esaay (or book) on why. But here are just a few, easy-to-remember reasons why this statment is so wrong:
1.) Do not kill, do not steal, and do not lie did not originate with the Ten Commandments. They just don’t.
2.) The first three Commandments are just the lunatic ravings of a, self-admittedly, jealous God. (This is God speaking to Moses in the third person in: Exodus 34:14 – “…for the lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God”) All the first three commandments entail are instructions to the lowly plebes on how best to worship their heavenly master. Who kinda sounds like a huge dick, by the way.
3.) “Thou shalt not covet” is an an admonition of a thought-crime. This is not ok.
4.) There is no commandment that says “Thou shalt not commit genocide.” Why? Well, because, in the very next chapter, God tells the Israelites to completely wipe out the Midianites, including the elderly and children, and to keep as many women as possible for breeding purposes. But, hey, it wasn’t in the commandments, am I right? Genocide high five! This also goes for domestic abuse, child abuse, rape, incest, and a myriad of other acts that society has come to despise. But since the ancient Hebrews were busy doing all of those things, God couldn’t very well ban such acts, now could he?
I’m also putting the above quote in here so that in 50 years, when my kid says:
“Dad-Unit Alpha, what’s the dumbest thing you’ve ever heard in the Virtual Immersive News Machine?” I’ll say:
“Well, actually Kal-El, (my son will be named after Superman’s Kryptonian name) the silliest thing I’ve ever heard in the media was actually not in the VINM. It was something I read in what we used to call ‘newspapers.’ It was in a publication called ‘USA Today.’ And there it is, kiddo. Just a little ways up on the page. The dumbest fucking thing I’ve ever read.”
Future me, and my future son, probably.
“…the product of weak human psychology; a psychology that is so afraid of death that it must create “delusional fantasies” in order to make life on Earth bearable.”
I wouldn’t say weak. There are obvious evolutionary advantages to listening, with complete adherence, to anything your elders tell you. (i.e. Don’t eat those delicious looking berries! You’ll die!) Religious admonitions are a natural extension of these tendencies to heed authority. We now have the tools to recognize the value such biological urges, and to judiciously decide when using these ancient instincts is appropriate. If you refuse to use these tools (say, by being a Creationist) then yes, I think your mind should rightly be considered weak.
“Is it wishful thinking to believe that we should discipline our natural bodily urges for the sake of some unseen ‘kingdom'”?
It’s not wishful thinking. It’s profoundly stupid thinking, bordering on literal insanity. Read his sentence again. Mr. DeStefano is putting forth, as a completely reasonable and, in fact, noble idea, that abstaining from physical pleasure in the name of an Invisible Monarchy (excuse the literary twist) is a perfectly reasonable thing to do. One that we should all do. One that we should write about in the goddamn newspaper. Does anyone else have a problem with that? Are tears of laughter currently blocking your view of your monitor like mine are? Or maybe it’s the rage-blood seeping from my eye sockets. Either way, I’m losing liquid.
Pictured: Anthony DeStefano; not masturbating.
He’s right about one thing. Religious leaders have always liked to reign supreme over our genital habits. For example, St. Jerome–one of the four “Doctors” of the Catholic Church, whose literature is considered of nearly equal value to the Bible–once had visions of naked maidens dancing in his head. To solve this problem (if you can call it that) Jerome burst into hysterics, weeping and wailing, rending his garments and gesticulating wildly, until he found a crucifix before which he prostrated himself in reticence. Then, seeing a nearby rock, he bashed himself in the chest, repeatedly, as penance, before sprinting off into the desert to be in solitude with his “shame.” None of that was made up. Why is it okay to revere such a man because he was an ancient religious figure, when the same behavior today would have you quickly institutionalized? Anyone? Bueller?
Moral dictation from the pulpit (and, far more nefariously, from the political pulpit) is my main problem with religious institutions. As Christopher Hitchens–eloquent as always–once said “If you want to have your silly playthings, you can have them in your home. But I will not be made to play with your toys.” For some reason, large portions of humanity have long considered it acceptable to have their bodies ordered around by old men in fancy robes and even fancier hats. If you want to “discipline your body” (read: Anthony DeStefano does not, repeat, does not beat off) that’s fine. But leave me, and my manhood, out of your silly little game.
Pictured: Pope Benedict models the latest look from the Dolce and Gabbana "Infallible" Collection.
“If human beings were going to invent a religion based on wishful thinking, they could come up with something a lot “easier” than Christianity.”
The author thinks about this backwards. The origins of religion, almost unequivocally, come from our fear of the Three D’s: disease, destruction, and death. From roughly 100,00 B.C. until the Enlightenment, we had no way of understanding the microscopic world that surrounds us, or the implications that the fields of geology, biology, chemistry, and physics (among others) would eventually have in helping us understand our world. The ancient man, completely incapable of understanding any of what I’ve just described probably thought (and not unreasonably, I must add, given his limited resources):
“Well, the Earth just split open and swallowed my whole village. We must have done something to piss off whatever put us here!” Some explanation provided more comfort for our ancient man than no explanation. It at least allowed him–via adulations to and pleas with the sky–to attempt to change his fate. Our self-regulation and, to some extent, self-loathing, comes from our complete lack of scientific knowledge at the dawn of humanity. Then, when we finally started to understand the processes that shaped the our world, as well as the cosmos at large, the Catholic Church tried its hardest to set fire to anyone who was attempting to expand upon our newly-found powers of reason. One must wonder how much more technologically advanced we would be had Mother Church not spent most of its history immolating brilliant thinkers in the name of Jesus. So, no, your superstitions aren’t “easy.” They’re simply the remnants of a bygone area.
In addition, the author accidentally deals a grievous blow to his religion with this quote. If religion were divinely inspired, you would expect that all religions, regardless of geography, would be similar in their doctrines and practices. Since they are not, the author has two choices of beliefs:
1.) God decided that only Europeans/Americans (mainly) were worthy of his Divine Word. This seems pretty dickish.
2.) They’re all make-believe. This seems more reasonable.
The enormous breadth of religions both past and present is further evidence of religion’s genesis as a man-made machine, rather than some divine edict from on high.
“No matter how hard they try, they will never succeed in making Christianity ‘a thing of the past.'”
The statistics cited in the author’s own piece suggest that this is probably not the case.
“…one simple fact remains: 2,000 years ago, on that first, quiet Easter Sunday morning, Christ did rise.”
Let me explain the concept of “falsifiability.” A hypothesis is considered falsifiable if said hypothesis could theoretically be proven wrong. For example, I could say something like “I believe that the sun will rise in the east every morning.” If I awoke at dawn for a number of days in a row, I could see that this is, in fact, the case. More simply put, a hypothesis is falsifiable if you can measure something about your hypothesis. Since the author’s above statement cannot be tested and, oddly enough, scant evidence remains that a “Jesus of Nazareth” even existed as a literal person, I find no need to waste my time prostrated in worship of a deity that, even the author would admit, cannot be seen, measured, or experienced in any objective and/or reproducible way.
Pictured: Anthony DeStefano, still not masturbating.
Then we come to the idea of “onus of proof.” Many theologians like to say that, since most people are religious, the burden of “proving God wrong” lies with the non-believer. This is false for two reasons. Firstly, the idea that something must be right because a lot of people agree that it’s right is a logical fallacy known as anargumentum ad populum, or, roughly, an “appeal to popularity.” It’s an elementary error in rhetoric to assume that your argument is correct because other people agree with you, and one that USA Today should be ashamed of not editing. Secondly, and more importantly, I think it’s pretty obvious that if you say something to the effect of:
“My way of thinking about the universe is the only correct way to think about the world, and if you disagree you will be subject to eternal punishment!”
..then you had better have a damn good reason for your holy arrogance. I’m not the one telling you how to use your reproductive organs, raise your kids, what to do on Sunday afternoons, who you can or can’t marry, why Creationism (read: theology) should be taught in public schools, what to eat, when to eat it, things to not mix with what you’re eating, who to love, who to hate, what to watch, what to listen to, what women should wear, where women should be allowed to go, what women should be allowed to do, why it’s okay to hit your kids, why it’s okay to hit your wife (oh wait, not anymore. Whoops! Divine mistake?) what superstitions to believe, what superstitions not to believe (heresy!), and basically every other aspect of your divinely-restricted life. On the flip side, religious adherents have been perpetually engaged in such authoritarian moral-making since the advent of religion itself.
Since we’ve been on the subject of reproductive organs quite a bit, I’ll share what I consider to be a very good explanation about how people should treat their religion (though this only works for males): “Treat your religion like you treat your pecker: keep it stowed away in public, and don’t force it down anyone’s throat.” But that’s just the problem, isn’t it? Basically every religion commands its adherents to “Go forth! Spread our Gospel!” most times as a prerequisite for proper salvation. I’ve never heard of an atheist travelling to a foreign land, attempting to convert the indigenous population (and usually plundering the land while they’re at it) and slaughtering those who don’t care to switch metaphysical allegiances. Have you heard of an “atheist missionary” or a ” medieval atheist Crusader,” or an “atheist Inquisitor,” Mr. DeStefano? I thought not.
Francisco Pizarro subjugated the Savage Incas on behalf of Good Christians everywhere.
The bottom line is this: you certainly have the right–unfortunately–to your superstitious beliefs, and you also–regrettably–have the right to publish them in a public forum, especially if you can find a fellow supplicant on the staff of your friendly, neighborhood
coloring book opinion poll machine simulacrum of a genuine journalistic endeavor nationally available newspaper. Just don’t expect anyone to take you seriously, and expect to be mocked voraciously by people who have chosen learning and reason and intellect over superstition. And not in a “Well Jesus said we’d be mocked for following him” kind of way. No no no. I mean the good, old-fashioned, “You’re an incredible asshole and should be publicly shamed” kind of way. As alchemy gave way to chemistry, so must religion eventually yield to scientific philosophy. That is, if we ever want to progress past the mythological manacles of our species’ ancient past.
Pictured: Anthony DeStefano; still not masturbating. Not ever. 'Cause Jesus says so.